Monday, July 11, 2005

Representing whose interests?

Guest Post by Melissa Irion


Yesterday (Sunday, July 10), some concerned citizens and I went to the Legislature to watch what was really going on in the Texas Senate. We had heard that there would be debate over a how to finance schools and other important budgetary items, known to the politicians as Committee Substitute to House Bill 3 (CSHB3). We thought that they were going to start the debate at 2 p.m., as scheduled. Well, the Senate Gallery was full of people at 2 p.m., ready to watch the debate, but to our dismay, Senator Dewhurst delayed the session until 4 p.m.

We are all from Williamson County so when the break was announced, we thought we would stop by our Senator's office, Senator Ogden. Again, we were disappointed because his office wasn't open. True, it was Sunday, and I'm certain that his staff was somewhere at the Capitol, working hard, but he didn't have staff there to speak with constituents. Okay, we said, we understand, let's go meet with some other Senators whose offices might be open. We were able to speak with senate staff from Senator Shapleigh, Senator Barrientos, and Senator Ellis's offices. It was good to sign in, talk to some staffers, and at one point, talk to Senator Barrientos himself.

We went back to the gallery at 4 p.m., at this time there were fewer people in the gallery, but still a sizeable crowd. Again, Dewhurst recessed the Senate until 6 p.m. We went down to the area where the Senators exit the chamber, and saw Senator Ogden coming out. We were delighted to have the opportunity to meet with him, particularly because he is the chair of the Senate Finance Committee and the author of CSHB3. He stated that he was going to close the franchise tax loopholes, and lower property taxes and asked us our opinions of how our government should be financed. I told him that I was glad to see that they were going to close the franchise tax loopholes and lower property taxes. I also told him that I supported the state income tax, rather than raising the sales tax. The reasoning behind this is because under the sales tax 9 out of 10 Texans will pay a higher tax rate, whereas an income tax is a much more equitable system.

Well, we come back to our seats at 6 p.m., finally ready to hear the debate. Even fewer people are in the gallery now. We wait, and wait, and wait.... At 8:30 p.m., they begin to start the debate!!! Very few people were still in the gallery. I'm sure that's part of the reason why they waited so long -- to keep the public from hearing about anything in the evening news, the next day's papers, and keep the number of people as eyewitnesses to an absolute minimum. Another rumor is that the Republicans couldn't work out an agreement on how they were going to vote. As time would tell, they certainly needed all the time to choreograph the vote.

What we witnessed was a sellout to corporate interests, and frankly, just disgusting.

The debate started off mildly, with Senator Ogden proposing to close the franchise tax loopholes, raise the sales tax, and lower property taxes.

However, Senator Shapleigh questioned why Senator Ogden had not requested a tax equity note with the bill. Senator Ogden in his arrogance stated that he is not requesting the tax equity note because he believes it's "fundamentally flawed". In his own intellectual superiority, ignoring the tradition and intelligence of the other agencies of the state, he goes without requesting the tax equity note, which would clearly show Texans that what he is proposing is not equitable. It was all downhill from there.

Subsequently, Amendment no. 1 was passed which repealed the franchise tax for corporations and doubled the professional fees on several professions (at least 16) including chiropractors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, etc. Under CSHB 3, the franchise tax loophole was proposed to apply to every until 2008, however, amendment no. 1 will completely repeal the franchise tax in 2008. The repeal of the franchise tax was stated to cost the state of Texas 1.6 billion. Folks, this is revenue that we do not have, desperately need for our schools, and should not be giving to greedy corporations. Senator Brimer and Janek were the co-authors of this dastardly amendment. When Senator Whitmire asked Brimer how they chose to double the fees for those certain professions, Brimer responded that it was handed to him. He would not disclose his sources, surely powerful corporate interests. Yet he is supposed to be the author of those provisions on the bill. The amendment was given to him on Sunday by an outside party, so who is running our government? It doesn't look like the citizens of Texas anymore.

(By this time, 11:00 p.m., I had gone home and was watching the debate from my couch).

A vote was finally taken on Amendment 1, after much tough questioning by Senate Democrats. If Ogden had voted no on Amendment 1, instead of present not voting, the amendment would not have passed. The vote was 15-15 and Dewhurst broke the tie with "aye" making it 16-15. The Republican party sold out the interests of the public and our schoolchildren to powerful corporate interests, and Senator Ogden did not take a stand for us, as we desperately hoped he would have. He could have been a great leader at that moment, but chose to bow to his party's special interests.

Later, Senator Shapiro proposed an amendment to cut out computer software from the
sales tax. Ogden made a motion to table which was defeated somewhere along the lines of 16-13 (I can't remember exactly). Shapiro's amendment cost the state 180 million. Having lost the motion to table, Ogden did not call the measure for a vote on the amendment itself. Why not? Everyone's position should be directly known. Ogden decided to accept the amendment, and there was no objection from the floor, so it passed without vote. Guess who's in Shapiro's and Ogden's district? EDS and DELL, respectively.

Thereafter, Senator Barrientos proposed an amendment to help low income families that would have cost 75 million, but this was quickly tabled by the Republican Senators. This type of enriching of the rich, and utter disregard for the poor played out repeatedly on the Senate floor.

I was sick to my stomach last night when I turned the TV off at 1 a.m. I hear that they went on until 3:45 a.m. The later it got the worse they got, although they were bad when they started at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday night!!

I'm sad to report that the people of Texas were left battered, bruised, and bloodied. All in a late Sunday evening's work...

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