Wednesday, March 29, 2006

NEW WEBSITE FOR EYE ON WILLIAMSON COUNTY!

Please change your bookmarks. All new content will be on the new site. The new website is:

www.eyeonwilliamson.org





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TTRC Report Is Out

Go to there site to download the report and draft of the tax bill, TTRC

[UPDATE]: AAS story, Perry, Sharp unveil school funding proposal.


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Perry Offers Propaganda As TTRC Is Set To Release Its Report Today

The governor has learned his lesson and has the media carrying his message loud and clear. He sat down a bunch of editorial page editors and told them that this proposal is fair and family friendly, no matter what the reality is. And it appears they got the message even though early LBB reports show that the wealthy fair much better. Also keep in mind this does nothing to solve the funding issue for public schools.

Taxing business:
The plan unveiled today by the Texas Tax Reform Commission would accomplish those minimal, essential goals, but it has much more to recommend it. Not least, it would not repeat the sin of earlier proposals that would have taken more money from the poor and conveyed it to the rich.

The commission, chaired by former state Comptroller John Sharp, does wish to sharply raise the tax on cigarettes, which are increasingly an unhealthy delicacy of the poor. However, taxpayers can escape this tax and improve their health by quitting, which an onerous tax would encourage.
Perry proposal cuts taxes for all income groups:
"By raiding the surplus to pay for a property-tax cut, Perry is proposing a plan that is still $1 billion short of inadequate because it forgets one very important thing: schools," Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell said through a spokesman.

[...]

Tax reduction

$14,042 and below...1.4

$14,042-$23,872...0.9

$23,872-$33,190...0.9

$33,190-$43,403...1.2

$43,403-$53,968...1.1

$53,968-$67,019...1.4

$67,019-$82,976...1.5

$82,976-$104,865...2.0

$104,865-$146,804...2.8

$146,804 and more...3.3

Source: Legislative Budget Board analysis
I'll bet he could've got that billion he's lacking if he kept that tax cut to 1.4/1.5 for the wealthy too.

Tax plan reduces families' burden:
Texas families at all income levels would get a tax break -– with the wealthiest Texans receiving the biggest relief -– under a massive tax-swap plan that Gov. Rick Perry and his Texas Tax Reform Commission will unveil today.
Of course those with the most deserve the most tax relief!?

And of course they take it out on smokers, and poor smokers the most, If you don't puff, you'll get a break in tax proposal:
Nonsmoking Texans at all income levels would see a net, modest reduction in taxes under a proposed tax overhaul to be formally unveiled today by Gov. Rick Perry.

Wealthier Texans, however, would realize about three times the savings, proportionately, as low-income taxpayers, according to a Legislative Budget Board analysis of the tradeoff for lower school taxes.

[...]

The tobacco tax increase, which would hit poorer smokers harder, was omitted from the analysis, because it would have had a negative impact on the overall projected savings.
Perception is reality and if the media says it it's got to be true.


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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Chairman Soechting To Speak At Sun City Democrats Meeting On Saturday

Sun City Democrats & Friends


Regular Club Meeting: Saturday, April 1, 2006
Place: Sun City Activities Center Atrium
Time: 9:30 - 10:00: Coffee and Social time
10:00: Regular Meeting

    Program:
  • Our speaker will be Charles Soechting, Chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. Mr. Soechting is a fifth generation Texan, a lifelong Democrat and an excellent speaker. Try not to miss his presentation!
  • Mr. Soechting practices law in San Marcos, TX. He was elected to his full term as Chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, at the Texas Democratic Convention in June of 2004. Previously, he had been elected in October of 2003 at a meeting of the State Democratic Executive Committee to serve out an unexpired term as Chair of the Texas Democratic Party. Soechting was previously the Hays County Democratic Chair and Texas Democratic Party General Counsel. He will be resigning his post as Chair of the Texas Democratic Party at the Texas Democratic Convention in June of 2006.
Be sure and check their web site, www.suncitydemocrats.com for more details.


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More On The Upcoming Sessoin and The TTRC

Perry not only became governor when Bush became president but he also got a time bomb left for him, Perry is under a gun that George Bush never faced:
AMONG the Texas accomplishments that then-Gov. George W. Bush touted during his first successful campaign for president six years ago were his effective working relationship with Democratic legislative leaders and his ability to cut taxes.

Both the Democratic leaders and the tax reductions back home are now as long gone as the "Mission Accomplished" banner that Commander-in-Chief Bush once unfurled over the Iraqi war. They have disappeared, along with the good political fortune that favored Bush during his statehouse years.
More special speculation, Will Carole bedevil the Big Three?:
Let's have a bit of masochistic fun.

Let's run a scenario on the Texas Legislature's attempt to reform the school tax system, as the state Supreme Court says it must by June 1.
And two from out west:

They're for the quick fix, State leaders facing tough choices:
The biggest problem that may face our lawmakers this session is being distracted by too many issues. Several lawmakers have said they also want to tackle such items as high school reform and merit pay for teachers.

We hold that it would be to our advantage to tackle school reforms and teacher incentive programs at another time. First and foremost, we should be tackling the finance portion of the agenda. In light of failure of past attempts at solving the school funding issue, there are enough problems associated with school financing than taking on other items even though they may be of great importance to the education of our students in Texas.
And read this one in case you were wondering what the oil and gas industry will get out of the coming tax swap proposal, The Sharp Commission proposal: How will it affect oil producers?
So, how will this new tax affect the typical oil and gas operator? Let's assume your gross income is $l million per year (a good round number) and your permitted deductions total 50 percent of your gross income, giving you a profit "margin" of $500,000. You will pay $5,000 under this new tax plan.

How much do you stand to save in ad valorem taxes? I pay a total combined tax rate of approximately $2.30 per $100 of valuation in the counties in which I operate. If the school district in each of those counties is currently charging the maximum M&O rate of $1.50, I will save $0.50/$2.30, or approximately 22 percent of my total ad valorem tax bill. I have found over the years that ad valorem taxes on working interest properties typically run 4 - 4.5 percent of my gross revenue, about equal to the severance tax on oil. So, the "typical" company with $1 million in gross revenue is currently paying about $42,000 annually in advalorem taxes and will save 22 percent of that, or $9,200. It appears that our industry is not going to realize the hoped-for significant net reduction in overall tax burden (which would be justified because of the severance and other taxes that we pay), but we may come close to breaking even or better, at least initially.
I wonder if that will be a sticking point in the House? You know the Speaker being from Midland and all? I think the oil and gas industry is pretty important there.


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Tuition Deregulation Paying Off, But For Who?

Here's what the governor had to say back in '03:
I join Speaker Craddick in calling for tuition deregulation so our colleges have greater control over their dollars. In addition to any savings this may generate, it's a matter of principle. If we're going to appoint Boards of Regents, let's give them room to do the job.

By estimating higher education income better, reducing special item projects, and asking community colleges to pay a proportionate share of insurance costs, we could net $1.1 billion in savings and recovered costs.
It also appears that our own Senator Ogden was against tuition deregulation until he was, ahem, assured by the university systems that they would not abuse their power:

In order to gain support for tuition deregulation, the university systems assured members of the legislature they would not abuse the new power. According to the Houston Chronicle, on June 1, 2003, State Sen. Steve Ogden, whose district includes A&M, stated that members of the Texas A&M Board of Regents assured him that tuition rates would not increase dramatically.

On March 26, 2004, less than a year after reportedly telling Ogden that it would not abuse its power to set tuition rates, the Texas A&M Board of Regents increased tuition rates by 21 percent.


[UPDATE]: There's a great report and timeline of the tuition deregualation process here.

If that's not abusing their power I'd hate to see what abuse of power is. Here are the latest results of tuition deregulation. This will not be a problem since low and middle class incomes have been rising so fast lately, sarcasm of course.

UT tuition, fees may rise 9.6% in fall:
Tuition and mandatory fees for undergraduates at the University of Texas at Austin would rise by about $400 in the next two years, to an average of $4,050 a semester, under a proposal to be considered today by the school's governing board.

The plan for a 9.6 percent increase this fall and a 1.3 percent increase in the fall of 2007 has stirred little controversy on campus, where there seems to be a consensus that additional revenue is needed to pay for repairs, hire new faculty members and give raises to faculty and staff members.
A&M regents lean toward tuition hike:
Texas A&M University students would pay an additional 8.9 percent in tuition and fees this fall under a proposal the Board of Regents will consider Friday.
ACCD raises tuition and fees:
Trustees for the Alamo Community College District voted Thursday night to raise students' tuition and fees by 5 percent to offset inflation and a general slump in state money. This is the fourth year in a row tuition has risen.
UNT considers tuition increase of 5.2 percent:
University of North Texas administrators Tuesday proposed a 5.2 percent tuition increase that would push the cost of a full-time undergraduate education past $3,000 a semester.
Texas Tech tuition rising; more hours reduces rate:
Students attending Texas Tech University in the fall will see a 4.5 percent increase in tuition, the board of regents announced Friday.
[UPDATE]: Tech is still thinking or tinkering, Regents order more tinkering on tuition plan:
Texas Tech ended Thursday not knowing what or how it will charge undergraduate students next year after its governing board tabled discussion of tuition and fees.

Regents were leery of a plan that charges students more money for taking fewer classes, concerned that the proposed "incentives-based" plan would punish students who must work to afford school along with those just wanting lighter course loads.
It's always good to see the free market at work.

Chris Bell has a plan to end this, Higher Education in Texas: An Agenda for Opportunity:
Mainstream Texans understand that investing in our higher education system is a much better long-term economic development strategy then giving huge subsidies to big-box superstores. Higher education is the key to helping Texas remain at the cutting edge of tomorrow's economy. The next generation of Texans will join the New Mainstream only when we have a governor who shares these priorities.

Higher Education in Texas: An Agenda For Opportunity
  • Ending tuition deregulation to keep college affordable for middle class families.
  • Giving our public universities the state funding they need to remain world-class.
  • Giving students a break at the bookstore by making textbooks tax-free.
  • Vigorously defending the TEXAS Grant program and other initiatives to make a college degree accessible to all Texans willing to put in the hard work.
  • Recognize the role community colleges fill in our state's economic development.


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Monday, March 27, 2006

More Catch Up

Two via Off The Kuff:

First on the lack of ethics accountability from the Ethics Commission, You don't need to know:
The Texas Ethics Commission decided Friday that public officials who receive cash or other gifts don't have to disclose the value, stunning open-government advocates.

"This is absurd, dangerous and completely undermines the reform legislation," said Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth.

The seven commission members, appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker, wrestled with disclosure laws that compel public officials to report gifts over $250. The law calls for a description of the gift, and some commissioners said indicating simply "cash" - without an amount - satisfies the statute.

But government watchdogs told the commissioners that they are failing to enforce the clear meaning of the law, rendering it useless.

"This ruling leaves a big enough loophole to drive an armored truck full of money through," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, which advocates for public disclosure. "All you would have to say is 'a truck.' "
Democratic State Representative Lon Burnam deserves all the credit for this. Here's Rep. Burnam's editorial from Friday on this subject, The elephants in the dark:
From Austin to Washington, Republican politicians and their cronies are destroying the public trust. For democracy to work, public business must be conducted in the light of day. Secrecy and nondisclosure have no place in honest and open government.

The ongoing controversy over Republican crony Bill Ceverha is a perfect illustration of the endemic secrecy and corruption in the Republican Party.
And Second a link to an HChron article on the declining state of women's health issues in Texas and the response form our Senator Steve Ogden, Who needs health care, anyway:
One of the House's most conservative Republicans, veteran Panhandle Rep. Warren Chisum, who helped pass the state's ban on same-sex marriage and longs to outlaw abortion in Texas, joined efforts to thwart the provisions before they passed. He's still hoping Panhandle funding will be restored.

"I'm not for abortion. I'm pro-life. But I'm not anti-women's health," Chisum said. ''You have your mixed emotions about it, but actually, in the Texas Panhandle, they don't perform abortions, so it's unfortunate that they're one of the ones that got their funds cut."

Yet Republican Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden is skeptical of the outcries, saying the complaints seem more about "turf protection and employee protection" than denying women services.

"There is not a single piece of evidence that anybody has offered to suggest that those changes have hurt an individual out there," said Ogden, of Bryan. "I would argue that it could have conceivably helped."

Health department officials, for their part, still are evaluating the effects of the provisions and say they may reallocate unspent funding as early as May.

Critics fear that might be too little, too late.
That's a great back-and-forth. Chisum, who authored the same sex marriage bill cannot even go as far as Sen. Ogden is willing to go. Is Sen. Ogden anti-women's health?


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Playing Catch Up

After noticing this:
Mike Krusee, Gov. Perry's Freeway Toll Road lap dog, was late reporting his personal financial disclosure last week with the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC). Filing this document late triggers an automatic $500 fine. Krusee can fight the fine, with an administrative process that involves going before the TEC.
Sal Costello started wondering what Mike Krusee does for a living when he is not in his role as the "Godfather of Toll". Here's what he's found out so far:
This incident has caused me to look closer at his financial disclosures from past years. The TEC disclosers are supposed to give citizens an insight on where legislators make their money. Krusee has listed such nebulous sources of occupation as "consulting" and "legal services". This is strange since Krusee has NO college education for anything, and he's certainly not a lawyer.

In 2005, Mike Krusee, Wilco's House 52 State Rep, listed he received occupational income by being Vice President of Paramount Document Retrieval (PDR), 550 Westcott, Houston, TX 77007. The Secretary of State shows David M. Hasha being VP of PDR and Mike Krusee is not listed for any position at all.
Interesting.

Next I'm starting to think that the Republicans in the legislature are now willing to work with the teachers to bring about something more substantial than just Gov. Perry's crony commission tax swap. This article from the FWST is a good place to start, Politicians listening to teacher organizations. Nothing like taking down the chair of the Education Committee to get their attention. Did you hear that all of you that are opposed to the TTC? If you want them to take you seriously why not take out the chair of the Transportation Committee, aka, the "Godfather of Toll". There is an alternative, Karen Felthauser.

And last the AAS published a the right-wing-James-Leininger-think-tank editorial today which basically tries to make the case than anyone who wants to tax wealthy people is just envious. He goes to great lengths to show this but the funny thing is he never mentions the word greed.


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Friday, March 24, 2006

Report From Blackland Coalition Forum Tonight

Received this via email tonight:
I just came from the candidates forum in Seaton where Kinky, Strayhorn and Bell spoke. Strayhorn brought the standing room only hall to its feet and had every one clapping loudly. She is by far the best and most forceful speaker and better able to rally people who need to feel that someone at a higher level is going to back them in their cause.

Bell who I like, however came across as a really wishy-washy and would lose his train of thought during his speech. If people would clap while he was in the middle of a sentence, while Strayhorn just got more and more motivated when folks interrupted her with applause and laughter. No one there really seemed to take Kinky seriously at all and just laughed at his jokes.

I talked to Chris Bell briefly and I like him however. No one in the corridor's path is apt to vote for him. They are all die hard Republicans and they are all in Strayhorn's camp. My feeling and just my feeling and opinion is this that Republicans are going independent in the rural areas and are not going to vote Democratic unless they have no choice. If they have no choice they may vote Democratic for a strong candidate like Brig Mireles or Jim Stauber that they feel will represent them.

This of course is just my opinion. There were a lot of news media and photographers there so there should be some news out soon about the situation.

The PAC has not made a decision however they introduced Strayhorn 1st so thats may give you an idea where they are.
Standing room only! Sounds like it was fun and funny. Too bad Perry wasn't there.

[UPDATE] Statesman article on the Forum, Candidate forum focuses on Trans-Texas Corridor.


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Don't Forget The Gubernatorial Candidate Forum Tonight

Come see the governor defend his plan to give away Texas farm land to a Spanish owned corporation for the good of our state. Oh yeah, I forgot Gov. Perry won't be there:
Perry foes to attack corridor plan

Gov. Rick Perry's three challengers will gather tonight east of Temple for what is likely to be a two-hour attack on the GOP governor's Trans-Texas Corridor plan. The Blackland Coalition, formed a year ago in opposition to the proposed network of intrastate toll roads and rail lines, is hosting the forum on the plan and eminent domain. It begins at 7 p.m. at Seaton Star Hall, 10842 Texas 53.

Democrat Chris Bell as well as independents Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman (who are attempting to qualify for the November gubernatorial ballot) will give 15- to 20-minute speeches. All have said they oppose Perry's corridor plan as well as all or most toll roads.

Perry was invited but will not appear.
A few things here. First, notice the title by the AAS. Makes it sound like just a bunch of people sitting around complaining. The Blackland Coalition was formed to give voice to those who didn't have one in our current state government. What else were they supposed to do? Certainly their state representation wasn't voicing these constituents opposition to this plan. In actuality one of they were instrumental in shepherding - I personally like the moniker of the "Highway Twins" - this plan through the legislature. Second, it mentions nothing about the fact that this "proposed network of intrastate toll roads and rail lines" will be taking away family farms and some of the best farmland in Texas and has had little, if any, public input about it's proposed path. And last, If this is such a good plan shouldn't Gov. Perry be able to attend an event like this and defend his plan?

Get the details for the event here.


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OTG Caves, Stops Payment To Federalist Group Too

With pressure from BOR, Strayhorn Received Money from Maloney's Lobby Group:
Strayhorn Ignored Lobby Group That Donates Generously to Republicans -including Strayhorn Campaign

At least one of Maloney’s Federalist Group partners, Wayne Berman, contributed $5,000 to the Strayhorn campaign on October 19, 2002. (Source: Texas Ethics Commission)

The Lone Star Project disclosed in a report issued on November 18, 2005 that former Tom DeLay senior staff member Drew Maloney, who leads the Federalist Group’s Texas lobby effort from Washington, has contributed over $6,500 directly to DeLay and $22,750 to Texas Republican Congressmen since the contract was signed. Other associates at the Federalist Group have added thousands of dollars to Texas Republican’s campaign accounts. (Source: Houston Chronicle 1/19/2006 and Federal Election Commission)

Drew Maloney gave no money to Texas Democrats (Source: Federal Election Commission)

Maloney joined other Federalist Group members in sponsoring a Washington, DC fundraising event for DeLay on November 17, 2005. (Source: Roll Call, 11/17/2005)
And more pressure from Chris Bell, Bell slams payments to state's outside lobbyists:
Bell on Thursday said Strayhorn also should have cut off payments to Texas' other outside lobbyists, the Federalist Group. The Washington-based group's lead lobbyist for Texas is Drew Maloney, a former top aide to DeLay who had raised money to help Republicans take control of the Texas House in the 2002 elections.

"If she were really serious about shutting down the cash-and-carry system that (Gov.) Rick Perry has set up, she wouldn't show favoritism to Tom DeLay's good friends at the Federalist Group," Bell said.
With that showing the blatant hypocrisy of her actions or incaction, OTG has now stopped the payments to the second firm in our Republican controlled state governments crony-lobbyist payment scheme. She tried to cover it up but Kathy Walt is there to help out:
Matt Angle, with the Democratic Lone Star Project, noted that Strayhorn in 2002 took a $5,000 contribution from one of Maloney's lobby partners, Wayne Berman.

But Strayhorn spokesman Will Holford said the comptroller did not have to freeze the Federalist payments because the state-federal relations office has not put in a request for payment for the firm since October.

Holford said the company has a contract to lobby for the state through August 2007 for a total amount not to exceed $220,000. The Federalist Group had been paid at a rate of $15,000 a month.

Holford said Strayhorn's auditors will be looking at payments to both Cassidy and Federalists. If any improper spending is discovered, he said, she will seek a refund from the companies.

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said Strayhorn's office was wrong and the Federalist Group has received at least two state checks since October 2005.

Walt issued a detailed rebuttal to Strayhorn's reasons for blocking the payments to Cassidy, describing the comptroller's work as sloppy.

Walt noted that Strayhorn claimed Cassidy was paid $302,363 by the governor's office in 2004, but the payments actually were to a related company for tourism promotion.

She said Strayhorn also claimed she had "auditors on the ground" when she decided to freeze the Cassidy payments, but Walt said the auditors didn't arrive at the offices of state-federal relations until a day later.

Walt has defended the decision to hire outside lobbyists as good for the state in terms of bringing in extra federal dollars.
It's always good to see Republicans fighting over who is more corrupt. It also shows what a farcical campaign trick this whole event has been.


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Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Few Items

Q & A with Senator Ogden, next Tuesday:
The public is invited to the Rotary Club meeting at 7 a.m. Tuesday, March 28, at Cedar Park Methodist Church. Sen. Ogden will present a straightforward message and answer your questions. If you would like to eat breakfast with the Rotary, call Jack Spillman at 259-8034 and let him know you will attend.
Report from yesterday's House Corrections Committee hearing, Gallows humor:
Best Line:
"What's our prison population?" asked Chairman Madden. "Full," replied Connolly. Right now it's at 151,585, she said. "But there's an execution today," deadpanned Rep. Jim McReynolds, "so that's 151,584."
The lastest blog post from Barbara Ann Radnofsky at Capitol Annex:
Week of March 20-22: Highlights of this week so far included a spirited discussion with the Blackdems in Houston, and receiving their endorsement; many talks with vibrant and educated teachers; and planning for the opening of our office and endorsement announcements on Friday at one thirty.

I hope you'll come! Chris Bell will lead off with his endorsement at one thirty at our new campaign office in Houston at 1770 St. James Place just off of San Felipe and Chimney Rock.
And last but by now means least from the TFT's website on yesterday's "Fair Funding for Kids" summitt at the Capitol:
On TFT's behalf (Rena) Lara spoke out in support of a grass-roots agenda of "fair funding for kids," calling among other things for an across-the-board pay raise for teachers, across-the-board funding equity for schoolchildren statewide, and a reform of the tax structure to avoid undue burdens on working families and the indigent.
Check out their 6-point plan (.PDF).


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CHIP Architect Would Like To Make It Right Again

Former State Rep. Patricia Gray, who shepherded the landmark CHIP legislation through the House in 1999 is not happy with what has been done to it. The Austin Chronicle has the story, Chipping Away at CHIP. CHIP was instituted and working well and then in came the Republican majority and privatization:
The agency's (Health and Human Services) privatization plan calls for shuttering the state's community-based offices, firing thousands of workers, and replacing both with privately operated call centers to determine a person's eligibility for receiving CHIP benefits, Medicaid, food stamps, and other social services.

This is not what the original architects of CHIP had in mind when they designed what was supposed to be a relatively user-friendly program for families who can't afford health insurance but don't qualify for Medicaid. The state-funded program was set up to tap $423 million a year in federal matching funds to serve more than 500,000 eligible children.

The CHIP upheaval stems from the 2003 Legislature's two-pronged massacre of the state's health and human services programs, first with deep budget cuts (since partially restored) followed by a massive consolidation and overhaul of the state's health and social services. The changes wrought by that year's HB 2292, authored by former GOP Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, also opened up new contract opportunities for Accenture. Several states have hired Accenture to develop new electronic voter file systems or to manage state-funded social service programs. But Accenture's record on both fronts is shoddy at best. In the last two years, at least half a dozen states have fired the contractor for failing to deliver on its obligations.
More from Gray here:
"This notion that private business always does it better than government is just stupid," Gray said. "What we've done is create a whole new network of people who get the big money and then dole it out in little bits. We've just created another class of people who survive off taxpayer money."
Privatization is not the panacea it's been made out to be, there have been mixed results so far from Accenture in Texas. Our government is supposed to promote the general welfare of the people, not corporations.


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"One 'Selectively' Silent Grandma's" Campaign Strategy

Her campaign strategy appears not only to be to co-opt the Democratic candidates ideas, but she is also going to try and hold herself out as the clean, moralistic, sanctimonious, uncorrupt candidate to swing Republicans in Texas to her side. Case in point, yesterday's campaign stunt. OTG is trying to show she has gotten religion on this issue of Perry's cronyism. Phillip Martin at BOR has the story, An Open Letter to Comptroller Strayhorn. But she's only got a problem with some of Perry's corruption:
Yesterday, you/(OTG) announced that the Comptroller's office is indefinitely stopping the state'’s payments to the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm of Cassidy & Associates, the infamous lobby group that has lobbied Congress on behalf of the Office of State-Federal Relations. This action comes as a result of the audit you launched on Cassidy & Associates on January 27, 2006.

There's an expression that goes, "day late, dollar short." You are years late in acting, and your prolonged silence risked millions of dollars of taxpayer money. Your decision to stop payments is long overdue, and what's worse is that you're only doing half of what you should have done a long time ago. You still must stop the payments to Drew Maloney, the high-power lobbyist of the Federalist Group, who is also being paid with taxpayer dollars.
Why did she wait to do this until after the primaries? The point of the post is that she's been writing the checks the whole time and continued to after this was exposed in January. She could have stopped this from the beginning or certainly soon after it was exposed. No, in true OTG form she waited until it would benefit her the most to do what's right. More from BOR:
The public's trust can not be bought and sold with your cheap tricks any more than it can with Governor Perry's endless cronyism.

You remained silent until it benefited you and your campaign. As a proud Texas Democrat, I find your silence appalling. It is my sincere hope that you immediately take action on Drew Maloney's contract, and stop pretending you're "tough" for doing what you should have done a long, long time ago.
Well said.


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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Session Ahead

With the Republican Party in Texas lacking a single leader or anyone with the ability to bring all the factions within the party together it should come as no surprise to anyone that going into the upcoming session there is no consensus on what to do in the upcoming special session. As this article shows, Top 3 officials at odds over session, the so-called “Big 3” (Gov., Lt. Gov. & Speaker) can't agree on what needs to be done:
In a sure sign of political fireworks to come, the state's top political leaders parted ways Tuesday on how they perceive the Texas Legislature's mission for the special legislative session.
Oooh, fireworks. Anyway, here's a random sampling of what's being discussed before the session starts:
  • Just a tax swap to satisfy the Supreme Court (Perry)
  • A teacher pay raise
  • Reform the entire Texas public school system (Dewhurst)
  • Use the surplus now to satisfy the court and then revisit this in full during next year's regular session (Chisum, et al.)
Now we all know that the governor sees a tax cut as the manna he can give to his Republican base/disciples in order to seal his reelection deal in November. He needs this so bad that he even enlisted his once and again best friend and fellow Aggie John Sharp to lead a commission of cronies and business people to devise the best way to tax themselves.

David Dewhurst has ambition for higher office and is trying become a “uniter not a divider” - like someone else we know – by trying bring about something nobody has ever been able to do in Texas, a complete school finance overhaul, and he is one of the weakest Lt. Gov.'s in modern history. Probably not gonna work.

Speaker Craddick, with his House caucus in shambles, is going to have to try and form a coalition in the house out of lame ducks, scared incumbents and pro-voucher members in his own party. Good luck.

The question on the Republican side is...is there anyone in their party that wields a big enough stick or has enough power to bring these three guys together on a plan that they can then go and threaten the legislature to pass or else? Harvey Kronberg's latest at News 8 says there's two likely outcomes:
With failure not an option, there are two likely scenarios.

The first is the plan to expand business taxes developed by the Sharp Commission. It is the most ambitious of any of the offerings to date and has a lot to recommend it. Although the plan has not yet been finalized, it includes a low business tax rate and incentives for hiring and employee health care. It would also raise cigarette taxes.

As attractive as the plan may be, its opponents include a group of major law firms who are prepared to argue that it amounts to a personal income tax on partners. Mr. Sharp disagrees.

Another proposal by a group of lawmakers argues that you cannot pass a major tax bill when the state is enjoying a surplus of at least $4 billion which may balloon to as much as $8 billion next August. The money is not really a surplus, it is simply unspent cash that will be needed to fulfill financial commitments next year. But that may be a distinction without a difference for many voters and while it is only a temporary fix, it may be the most that this exhausted and politically bloodied legislature can do.
What will the solution be? Well, your guess is as good as mine. I believe the legislature will come up with something. They will not let the schools be shutdown, no matter what. That could mean buying down property taxes with the “surplus” and put off debate on school finance, again, this time until the 2007 regular session. Since the governor's call will be narrow, and I doubt if they get his property tax swap accomplished they will stick around or the governor will call another special session to deal with school finance in an election year. But remember a good percentage of the surplus is money that was set aside by the legislature last year for school funding which could be used for a teacher pay raise It was also built by taking from the least among us:
This surplus that Chisum and others are touting is less than meets the eye, however. For one thing, included in it are sums the legislature last year said would be reserved for education programs and personnel, not for tax cuts. Legislators also need to remember that the so-called surplus exists largely because of harsh cuts in compensation imposed on school employees in the 2003 legislative sessions--cuts that continue in effect today. And that's not to mention the other cuts in vital programs like children's health insurance.
Just a quick aside. For us here in Williamson County we don't have to worry because our two state representatives, Rep. Krusee and Rep. Gattis, will vote with the Speaker and the pro-voucher crowd like they always have. I've searched to find any kind of statement from either one of them on the upcoming session and can't find anything. (Of course the Godfather of Toll has better things to do). I'm sure if they did say anything it would be the tired ol' line of property taxes are too high, we need greater accountability, yada, yada, yada.

Inevitably, of course, in response to criticism like this the Republicans will say that the Democrats don't have a plan. My answer to that is what chance would a Democratic plan have in the Republican dominated legislature? Exactly, none. Those who say that should also remember that the only plan that got majority support last session was from Rep. Hochberg, a Democrat. Which just goes to show two things. We have a complete lack or leadership and ideas in today's Texas Republican Party and also Republicans hold the majority in every branch of government. That is something that every Democratic candidate for any office Federal, state and local need to make very clear. Republicans control Texas government and therefore they are to blame for the state of things in Texas.

[UPDATE]: Received this tip, Governor calls special session, via email I didn't check the TDP before posting, thanks for the tip:
Republican Representative Mike Krusee said he wants to see a solution that includes lower property taxes.

"Most importantly we have to meet the court's demand that we fix school finance," he said. "I hope while doing that we can lower property taxes dramatically. I think we can solve the school finance issue, lower property taxes and leave with a better, fairer tax system than when we started."

[...]

Krusee also said changes to the tax system were critical to finding the right solution.

"Some legislators are going to be attracted to not fixing tax system but using the surplus. I don't think that's a long term solution," he said. "I think next session the legislature will likely have a large surplus and it is my hope that surplus will fund further property tax decreases and a pay raise for teachers."


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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bell Calls For Teacher Pay Raise, Strayhorn Piggy-Backs

I found out about Chris Bell's plan to raise teacher pay yesterday from BOR, Chris Bell Calls For Teacher Pay Raise. Looked like a good idea and a great way to attack the governor who only wants to give a select few teachers a pay raise. You can also read about "Put the schools back in school finance":
Surrounded by local Democratic elected officials, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell accused Rick Perry of pursuing temporary solutions and ignoring schools in the run-up to the special session on school finance.

"Rick Perry'’s biggest priority is to pass a tax cut," said Bell, who helped pass a property tax cut on the Houston City Council. "My top priority is different. Texas can have the best public schools in the country, but only if we avoid a fiscal 'sugar rush' that would use $1 billion from the budget surplus to soothe our craving for a tax cut at the expense of a balanced revenue diet for our schools."
Who were those local elected officials?
Big thanks to Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos for introducing him, as well as state Reps. Elliott Naishtat and Eddie Rodriguez, city council members Brewster McCracken and Lee Leffingwell, Constable Bruce Elfant, and state senate candidate Kathi Thomas for lending their support.
The SAEN has a good wrap-up, Bell says tax cut won't fix schools:
Simply using a budget surplus to reduce school property taxes during a coming special legislative session would be like "a sugar rush" without fixing the state's school funding system, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell said Monday.

[...]

"Texas can have the best public schools in the country, but only if we avoid a fiscal sugar rush that would use the budget surplus to soothe our craving for a tax cut at the expense of a balanced revenue diet for our schools," Bell said.

[...]

"If you are proposing revenue-neutral ideas, you are basically rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," Bell said. "We need more money coming into our state coffers."
Bell did this at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Austin, that's right a union hall, I doubt you'll see OTG hanging out there anytime soon. I hope teacher's union members see and hear that! But from what I can tell Chris Bell brought this up first yesterday as this DMN/AP article shows:
Earlier Monday, Democratic nominee Chris Bell called on Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Perry to give all Texas teachers a $6,000 pay raise.
No matter, the DMN/AP saw fit to give OTG top billing in there story and hardly even mentioned Bell. I guess this is the kind of treatment from the press Chris Bell will have to expect over the coming campaign. He comes out with a great idea and the liberal Texas media will drown it out by either Kinky with an open beer, OTG piggy-backing or Gov. Perry with a bad hair day.

One last thing on the teacher pay raise. From today's AAS Gardner Selby does his best to show that those challenging the governor are just playing politics with teacher pay. The funny part is how he tries to do that. By quoting defeated incumbent and still chair of the House Public Education Committee Rep. Kent Grusendorf:
Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, chairman of the House Public Education Committee, sniffed politics in the pay proposals.

Grusendorf, who lost his re-election bid last month to Diane Patrick, a GOP challenger backed by teacher groups, said of the proposers: "They're in a bidding war for the teacher vote." He said: "Aw, let's give them $10,000. It's not my money anyway, what do I care?"

Grusendorf said: "Our best teachers are underpaid. We have to try to find a way to solve that." But, he said, lawmakers should focus in the 30-day session on answering the Texas Supreme Court's judgment that schools are too dependent on property taxes.
Only "our best teacher are underpaid", he says. I wonder how he determines who "our best" teachers are? Call me crazy but if I'm Gov. Perry I'd be trying to find some common ground with Texas teachers. One way to do that would be to replace Rep. Grusendorf for the upcoming special session with someone who is a little more friendly with Texas teachers. Obviously I'm not Gov. Perry and that would also take cooperation from Speaker Craddick. But that would probably go a long way and since we know Rep. Grusendorf is not friendly to teachers, help the governor politically.


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The Blackland Coalition Is Holding A Forum For The Candidates For Governor...

...and guess who hasn't responded?
Gubernatorial Candidates: Bell, Friedman and Strayhorn confirmed to speak on TransTexas Corridor and Eminent Domain

March 24, Seaton Star Hall (5 Mi. East of Temple on Hwy 53 - 10842 State Hwy 53, Temple, Texas 76501), 7:00-9:00 PM, the Blackland Coalition will hold a meeting open to the public and interested parties. All four candidates running for Governor of the State of Texas were invited to speak, only Rick Perry has not responded. Chris Bell (D), Kinky Friedman (I) and Carole Strayhorn (I), candidates for the office of Governor will speak on the issues and impact of the proposed TransTexas Corridor and Eminent Domain. Time permitting, a limited number of written questions from the audience will be addressed.

Blackland Coalition will present information regarding the status of the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) and the process for filing comments and objections by the public.

Seaton Star Hall SPJST will open at 5:30 PM - BBQ and refreshments will be sold. Meeting begins at 7:00 PM.

Blackland Coalition is organized to educate, protect and defend Texans against the TransTexas Corridor.
Come and give a listen to what a governor not named Rick Perry will do about the Trans-Texas Corridor and Eminent Domain.


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Monday, March 20, 2006

Despite Deregulation Texans Paying More For Electricity

Via PLAN and the FWST, Study: Rates are up, not down. The opening paragraph says it all:
Under electricity deregulation, Texans have paid some of the highest rates in the nation -- a reversal of at least a decade of relatively cheap electricity under the state's old regulated system.
Here are the numbers:
$108.40: The average utility bill for a typical Texan.

$94.80: The average utility bill for a typical electricity consumer in the United States.

40th: The ranking of Texas among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., on the affordability of electricity.

SOURCE: Office of public utility counsel, based on 2005 figures


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Military Support & Homeland Security In Congressional District 31

As we all know the Republican Party has tried to say that they are the party of security and military support. But unfortunately there actions betray them.

This scathing OP-ED, A Top-Down Review for the Pentagon, written by Paul D. Eaton, a retired Army major general, was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004, calls for Rumsfeld to resign among other things. It ends with a couple of solutions. I don't agree with Lieberman for Sec. Def. but the policy he puts forth is sound.

First, President Bush should accept the offer to resign that Mr. Rumsfeld says he has tendered more than once, and hire a man who will listen to and support the magnificent soldiers on the ground. Perhaps a proven Democrat like Senator Joseph Lieberman could repair fissures that have arisen both between parties and between uniformed men and the Pentagon big shots.

More vital in the longer term, Congress must assert itself. Too much power has shifted to the executive branch, not just in terms of waging war but also in planning the military of the future. Congress should remember it still has the power of the purse; it should call our generals, colonels, captains and sergeants to testify frequently, so that their opinions and needs are known to the men they lead. Then when they are asked if they have enough troops -— and no soldier has ever had enough of anything, more is always better - the reply is public.

Our most important, and sometimes most severe, judges are our subordinates. That is a fact I discovered early in my military career. It is, unfortunately, a lesson Donald Rumsfeld seems incapable of learning.

How could this possibly happen with the current Republican leadership? It can't. We need new leadership, especially in TX CD 31 where the military contituency is so imporant.

The other thing that happened in the last week to shine a light on this is the Bush blowback furor over the Dubai ports deal. After the deal was killed the Democrats tried again to get money added to the budget to fund port security. You'll never guess what happened. Right-Wing Blocks Funding For Port Security, Disaster Preparedness. You can see Congressman Carter's vote against the amendment here. But they did put in $1.7 billion dollars for the still unproven so-called missle defense system.

The good news in all of this is that in November there is a choice and a good one at that. We need new leadership for the security of our country and to support our military. That leader is Mary Beth Harrell.


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A Few Items

The SAEN has this article today on the Leininger election wrap-up, GOP winners say cash won't guide their votes. Right, and George W. Bush is a compassionate conservative. Tell me another one. Here's a few quotes:
Two victorious candidates who filled their campaign war chests with money from a wealthy San Antonio businessman resent allegations that they were "bought," despite sharp criticism from their opponents after the Republican primary votes were counted.

Both Nathan Macias of Bulverde and Wayne Christian of Center said Dr. James Leininger's money -— although much appreciated - would have no influence on the way they vote on the state House floor.

Furthermore, they said, it wasn't the money that led them to victory, but their effective campaigns against two incumbents who had lost favor with their constituents.

[...]

"I think our party is in trouble," she said. "I don't think it's representative of the masses who vote Republican. We've turned it over to the extremists."

Casteel pointed to well-funded interest groups that can flood mailboxes and airwaves with slick ads and misleading claims.

"The more immediate threat is the purchase of seats," she said. "First, it may stifle independence. 'If I don't vote the way so-and-so wants me to, I won't be back.' It scares me that democracy is for sale. That's not a good thing.
The long and the short of the Casteel v. Macias race is that if he doesn't get all that money from Leininger it doesn't matter what his message is, it doesn't get out. How much worse do you think Rep. Krusee would have done if Barbara Samuelson would have had that kind of money? Exactly. He'll also think twice, at least, when he benefactors pet project(s) are up for a vote.

Looks like things with the TTRC, aka the Sharp Crony Commission, changed over the weekend. They were scheduled to release their report tomorrow and hold hearings Tuesday and Wednesday. Now from this article in the AAS on Saturday they are delaying it for a while,
Preparations for special session begin. Here's the subtitle, Business groups, lobbyists, lawmakers gearing up to consider possible solutions to school finance system. I'm sure that parents, teacher's, school administrators and hopefully voters are too. Anyway, here's the part about the delay:
A commission appointed by Perry is studying the state's tax structure. The panel of two dozen business leaders, led by former state Comptroller John Sharp, is expected make recommendations soon. However, the group's report may not be issued next week as planned, its staff director said.

The recommendations might include reducing school property taxes by a third without raising the state sales tax. To do that, they will probably suggest revising the business franchise tax, raising the cigarette tax and using $1 billion of the state's $4.3 billion budget surplus.
And they've postponed the hearings (scroll to the bottom) until the end of March. I wonder if those business groups, lobbyists and legislators had anything to do with that?

Capitol Annex has the latest from PLAN on the 65% Rule.


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What's Needed For Public Schools

This is a great editorial in today's DMN, Get it right, Austin. It does a good job of laying out what we really need in Texas to fix our public schools. It also does a godd job of stating that it's probably too big a chore for us to expect with the current leadership vacuum we have in Texas:
Austin, this time you really do have to fix the mess. Will the upcoming special session bring an end to the mess? Do not bet on it. Here's the rub: Gov. Rick Perry supports lowering school property taxes but opposes increasing school funding. Moreover, fixing the state tax system so that it can generate the tax revenue needed to end all the problems is not being considered. Instead, the plan is to push through a small illusory fix that uses the state surplus and then publicly claim that all is well. In truth, our public schools will remain inadequately funded, our state tax system will still not have the needed capacity, and our courts will again have to intervene.

Texans expect a real fix and will see through any charade. Trying to sneak by with something less than a real fix will invite their wrath. Hopefully, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Tom Craddick and a majority of the Legislature will resist this route and do a real long-term fix.

In the absence of strong political leadership and courage in Austin, Texans can be sure of one thing - the mess will just get messier.
I have to disagree with the writer of this on one thing. Texans have been unable to see through charades for a while now and I think a surplus scam would work just fine on enought Texans to get most of these people reelected. I would be very happy to be wrong on that front. It does a great job of pointing out what's needed, courageous leadership.


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Sunday, March 19, 2006

The 65% Rule Exposed, Again

This article from the AAS, Spending on instruction varies among Texas school districts. It's the same stuff we already konw. It doesn't work and that shouldn't surprise anyone becuase that has nothing to do with the reason for it being implemented. The 65% rule is all about dividing teachers and administrators. Here's a few key quotes from this article:
Even Texas' highest-performing school districts vary widely in how much they spend on instruction, according to a study released this week by a coalition of education groups, a finding that adds to the debate about the reasoning behind Gov. Rick Perry's "65 percent rule."

[...]

"To have a one-size-fits-all number that is used not just for reporting but for sanctions is inappropriate," said Catherine Clark, associate director of the Texas Association of School Boards.


[...]

"I am open to having an annual process by which I must explain (spending decisions) to the public," Austin Superintendent Pat Forgione said. "But having an arbitrary trigger of 65 percent, . . . I've not seen any research that says it's better than 60 percent or 70 percent."


[...]


The study also found greater spending variations when it compared higher- and lower-performing districts among their peers in the same class than when comparing higher- and lower-performing districts to each other.

For example, Palo Pinto, a small district outside of Fort Worth that was rated exemplary by the state, spent less than 50 percent on instruction in the 2003-04 school year because it has higher transportation and utility costs, Clark said.

By comparison, the Hamilton school district near Waco, also rated exemplary that year, spent about 64 percent.

Lower-performing districts tended to spend more on instruction than higher-performing districts.

State Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley has not released spending guidelines for Perry's rule.
Why is this still going forward?



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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Tarrant County DEC adds a data point

A number of you have commented on my recent post on DEC strife Note: DEC is short for "Democratic county Executive Committee". I really appreciate the feedback.

Annatopia added Tarrant to the list of counties with DECs fighting amongst themselves. Tarrant is the Texas county containing Fort Worth. Annatopia's post details the fireworks from a Tarrant DEC meeting to canvass the March 7 primary vote. Read all about it.

On that note, the WCDP EC met Wednesday to canvass the March 7 Primary results. The meeting was incredibly smooth and positive. One precinct chair wanted to discuss and item not on the posted agenda. The parliamentarian instantly found the discussion out of order. This was good for the purpose of handling the crucial task of canvassing the vote, but left a few in attendance grumbling. We will have a chance to bring up new business at our next regular monthly meeting on April 13.


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Friday, March 17, 2006

Perry Calls Special Session For April 17th

Gov. Perry says One more time for the Supreme Court:
"The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that Texas -’ current tax system must be reformed by June 1,"” Perry said. "This special session provides legislators of both parties a rare opportunity to significantly reduce property taxes, make substantial reforms to the franchise tax so it is fairer and broader, and ensure our schools have a reliable and constitutional stream of revenue."
No big shocker here. We knew this was coming. Sharp's crony commission the TTRC will be releasing it's report next week and will be holding two hearings in Austin next week. Some are joyous and think that Sharp is a miracle worker for coming up with a fix this quick. He may have. Bur remember this puts no new money into schools, it's revenue neutral, and the legislature hasn't got a hold of it yet.



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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Popular Myth Destroyed

Republicans Control Congress


It's really important to know that, especially when you see headlines like this, Expect Congress to take a pass on cutting spending and this, Senate sets vote on federal debt limit.

Today's popular myth destroyed is that we have "fiscal conservatives" running Congress. They may be "conservative" but not fiscally. When the Republicans became the majority in Congress and tried to institute the Contract on America one of their main points was a balanced budget amendment. It was able to get through the House but not the Senate. But that Republican Congress along with a Democratic President was able to balance the budget none the less. Fast forward to today, of course there is no contract anymore, and the "fiscal conservatives" run every branch of government. If you didn't know any better that would lead one you to believe that the budget is balanced, right? Well wrong. It's not tax and spend it's spend and spend.

The interesting part to us here in CD 31 is, of course, where our Congressman stands on all this. After touting his vote for the so-called Deficit Reduction Act in February:
"The Deficit Reduction Act is important to reducing wasteful spending and encouraging a more efficient government, while continuing to support the needs of Americans," Congressman Carter said. "I am proud to have supported a bill that takes important steps to reduce the federal deficit and keeps government safety net programs sustainable."
On Wednesday Rep. Carter voted for raising the debt ceiling. Here's what the head of the conservative Republican Study Group, of which Rep. Carter is a member, had to say:
Twenty-nine House Republicans (Rep. Carter not included) voted against their party leadership Wednesday on a rule to set terms of debate on the spending bill. It was an extraordinary defection on a measure that typically receives a party-line vote.

"House conservatives were profoundly disappointed," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., the leader of House GOP fiscal conservatives.
But check out who's leading the fight against this and why the Republicans that control Congress won't do what they always said they would do:
The Senate this week fended off, in a tie vote, a Democratic effort to require all new tax cuts and spending increases to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere. The House of Representatives on Wednesday beat back an attempt by fiscal conservatives to require offsetting cuts to pay for $91.8 billion in spending for Iraq and the hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast states.

In both cases, Republican leaders led the fight against budget restraint. In the Senate, Republicans said Democrats only wanted to make it more difficult to extend expiring tax cuts. In the House, GOP leaders wanted to avoid forcing Republicans facing tough re-election fights to cut popular programs.

"It's difficult to do that with small majorities in an election year, when every cut and slice is going to get magnified," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va.
Quick fact:
The national debt has grown 50 percent during Bush's presidency.
The real reason that the Republicans in Congress are doing this is not just election year politics. It's polls and the new Majority Leader thinks the American people need to be educated about the deficit:
A poll this week by the Pew Research Center found that the public no longer views the deficit as a crisis, unlike in the 1990s. In 1993, 17 percent listed the deficit as the most important problem facing the nation, behind unemployment and the economy. In January, only 2 percent considered the deficit the most important issue.

As a result, Republicans calculate that cutting spending is politically riskier than not.

House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said this week that if lawmakers want to tackle Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, they first must educate the public.

"To go in and start making cuts without first helping people understand the problem, the extent of the problem, and the fact that these programs are not sustainable for the long term is, I think, political suicide," he said.
When your worried about a terrorist attack the budget deficit doesn't seem like such a big deal, does it? Rest assured though, this is all part of the overall plan of running up the deficit to astronomical proportions so that someday the only thing left to do will be to cut social spending to the bone. And then we'll all be educated about the budget deficit.


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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Formatting Problems...Please Bear With Us.

I am sorry for the technical difficulties. If you looking for the links, etc..scroll down to the bottom of the page. We have support ticket into Blogger and are waiting to hear back.


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John Sharp Floats A/His Plan (So Far)

Here's the story from the DMN, Sharp foresees no change to sales tax rate:
The state can reduce school property taxes by a third without an increase in the sales tax, a key component of plans considered by the Legislature last year, the chairman of the governor's tax reform commission said Tuesday.

The panel is heading toward a recommendation to use $1 billion from the state's budget surplus, overhauling the business franchise tax and raising taxes on cigarettes to fund the property tax cut, said its chairman, former state Comptroller John Sharp.

Speaking in an interview a day after the 24-member panel completed a series of 16 public hearings across the state, Mr. Sharp said his commission is ready to start drafting its recommendations for a special legislative session that Gov. Rick Perry is expected to call for next month.

"We believe we can safely use part of the state's budget surplus, and we intend to recommend the use of $1 billion of the surplus to buy down property taxes," he said.

That will help avoid an increase in the state sales tax – already one of the highest in the nation - and will still leave enough surplus funds to handle other expenses the Legislature chooses to pay for, Mr. Sharp said.

"Why increase the sales tax when you don't have to?" Mr. Sharp said, asserting that use of the surplus to buy down property taxes represents real tax relief rather than a tax swap.
Come now Mr. Sharp. You may not be swapping taxes not to raise the sales tax but I'm sure you're aware that most of the "surplus" was created by cutting benefits to the neediest among us. But, of course, your whole plan is a tax swap and I'm not really sure why the business lobby will accept it, this time. You must have something really horrible you're using to threaten them. Here are the particulars:
Cut local school property taxes by one-third.

Base the business franchise tax on gross receipts of most businesses after either salaries or the cost of goods are deducted.

Increase the cigarette tax $1 per pack.

Spend $1 billion from the state's surplus to help offset property tax cuts.
Now we know this isn't a fix. It's just a short-term fix to get us through until the next crisis. The article also mentions an even shorter-term fix that is circulating around the capitol:
Meanwhile, as the special session approaches, a group of House Republicans has been trying to drum up support for a temporary fix that would use more than half the budget surplus to reduce property taxes by about 20 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Supporters say that would allow lawmakers to avoid a big tax bill in the special session and finish the job in the 2007 regular session.

Mr. Sharp, a Democrat, said that would be a big mistake and could leave the state with a deficit ‚– especially if lawmakers can't agree on a new tax system in 2007.

"That's how you wind up getting yourself in big financial trouble," he said.
Shouldn't that say a more temporary fix? Leave it to a lame duck legislature to put off today what it can fix tomorrow.

The other thing to remember about this plan and what the TTRC has, or hasn't as the case may be, done. This is revenue neutral, meaning it puts NO NEW MONEY INTO PUBLIC SCHOOLS. This does nothing to fix the school finance problem it just lowers property taxes, for now.

[UPDATE]: Found this little snippet from the Texas Weekly RSS feed:
While former Comptroller John Sharp and the rest of Gov. Rick Perry's tax reform commission works on proposed revisions to the state's business taxes, they're starting to hear more noise from lawmakers and lobbyists. That's not unusual with a special session approaching, but it's dangerous for tax bills: An unprotected tax bill lasts about as long as free pot at a rock concert and isn't nearly as much fun.
Which I believe means that as of right now a sales tax hike is off the table and business will bear most of the burden for the TTRC plan. But this plan is being put ouf for scrutiny and is not being backed by anyone outside the TTRC, most notably the governor, at this time.


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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

TxDOT Has Setup A Hotline For TTC-35 Info

Here's the number,877-872-6789, if nobody answers you can leave a message. If my home was anywhere near - within 100 miles or so - one of the proposed paths I would definitely be calling this number to find out about the release date of the path and about when and where any public meetings will be held. Of course be polite and don't call too often.


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Teachers Don't Turnout To Vote? They Did This Time!

Reposted From Yesterday

Harvey Kronberg rehashes the primary and points out that teachers vote made a difference in a couple of races, Political fallout from primary elections.

Everyone always said teachers don't vote, well they did this time:
The education community proved that if you push too far, they can produce enough votes in some traditionally low turnout GOP primaries and bite back.
And teacher's and those that agree with them voting makes for a very interesting upcoming special session and November election:
As we go into the special session, there are a lot of nervous legislators. On paper, the November election should be irrelevant. But apparently, quite a few traditional primary voters skipped last week's election so they could sign petitions for Carole Strayhorn or Kinky Friedman. Those folks may well be sick of incumbents in general. So, despite the redistricting effort to disenfranchise November voters, there is no telling what might happen in more than 50 contested races next fall.
The Texas Federation of Texas is continuing the fight into the runoffs, Do you and other educators have the respect and influence you deserve at the capitol?
As previously reported, TFT members scored big wins in the March 7 primary election. Volunteer members reached about 35,000 primary voters by mail in targeted legislative elections.

The wins, listed below, add to the gains our Educator-to-Voter campaign achieved with the recent special elections of Donna Howard of Austin and Ana Hernandez of Houston. The nine March 7 winners in our targeted races included:

Diane Patrick of Arlington (defeating Kent Grusendorf)

Charlie Geren of Fort Worth Delwin Jones of Lubbock
Dora Olivo of Fort Bend County Garnet Coleman of Houston
Juan Escobar of Kingsville Norma Chavez of El Paso
Tommy Merritt of Longview Pat Haggerty of El Paso

If you are a TFT/AFT member and you are willing to send 20 postcards by mail to voters in the April 11 primary runoff elections and the November general election, click here.

If you already participate in the project, please forward this message to your fellow AFT members or immediate family using the "Tell a Friend" link below.
Help them out if you can and make a legislator nervous.





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Why Are National Republicans Treating Texas Like This?

Texans, and in particular Republican Texans, probably don't understand why their state with a Republican governor and a Republican Senate and a Republican House and a Republican everything is being treated like this by a Republican president. This article is what I'm talking about, State may not get paid for Katrina help. The governor went to D. C. and got walloped:
On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry told the Senate Appropriations Committee that Don Powell, federal coordinator of Gulf Coast rebuilding, told the state not to expect any additional help from Washington because the damage the state sustained from Rita was caused mostly by wind, not water.

Additionally, Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson said communities had been compensated very well for providing millions upfront to Katrina evacuees for housing.

The biggest wallop to Texas pride came Thursday, when Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., doubted Texas' need for compensation.

"I know there are costs and burdens, but I need to be convinced that they should be compensated," Bond said in a Senate Appropriations hearing.

He suggested that Texas has benefited from the influx of evacuees. "I think it's time we get back to being a good neighbor and not a paid companion," he said.

Bond was not available for an interview last week to elaborate on his concerns, spokesman Rob Ostrander said. Ostrander declined by e-mail a request for an interview in Bond's place, insisting that questions be sent to him first.

"Senator Bond's statement from earlier this week speaks for itself," he said in an e-mail.
Kit Bond? KBH had this to say:
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who lashed out at Bond at this week's hearing, said in an interview Friday that Bond's comments were "unnecessary" and reflect "a fundamental misunderstanding of what Texas has done."
She's right, but will that change anything and can she? The reason for this, and this is going to sound simplistic, is because of politics. In case you haven't noticed the president's poll numbers are bad. To get them up the White House is trying everything they can and it still ain't working. But at this point the last thing they're going to do is start pumping the little remaining money they have to play with into a state that is one of the most reliable Republican voting blocks in the country. In other words because of Texas' sheep-like quality of voting Republican, no matter what, our state can be ignored by the RNC and national Republicans. They figure they can do anything, or in this case nothing, and Texans will still vote for Republicans. As many have said, when we have one party rule we have no accountability. Whether it's on the county commission or the entire state government, once they control it all and believe they can't lose that control, then they can, and most times, will ignore the public opinion and do whatever they want. Whether it's toll roads, voting for publicly funded vouchers, or voting against money for a Crisis Center. The way to change this is to vote them and their party out of office.


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Overcoming DEC Strife

After five consecutive electoral cycles of defeat, Democrats finally appear poised to make electoral gains at all levels of government. The only thing standing in the way of Democratic victory may be other Democrats.

The problems vexing the Williamson County Democratic Party are pandemic in Democratic party county Executive Committees (DECs) nationwide. Continue reading for an article about our local problems, links to related stories around the country, and a discussion of how to transcend petty grievances and focus energy on defeating Republicans.


In 1994, when former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill wrote "All Politics is Local", Democrats controlled the Presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives. A dozen years later, Democratic influence over government has receded to an unprecedented nadir.

The transition from O'Neill's world to the one we inhabit today has been tragic for America's working families. The challenge for Democrats in 2006 is to unite those displaced by Republican corruption and incompetence into a unified opposition that is strong enough to defeat ineffectual incumbents' lobbyist-financed warchests.

There is no shortage of displaced Americans from which Democrats can form a base of support. Seniors, college students, minimum-wage employees, scientists, former residents of New Orleans, school children, veterans, the unemployed, homosexuals, women who desire reproductive freedom, environmentalists, the uninsured, Freethinkers, employees threatened with outsourcing, employees forced to accept reduced health and retirement benefits, miners, competing local exchange carriers, air travelers and generally any person who is not a white male Christian have significant grievances.

Indeed, the widespread displacement of mainstream Americans is partly to blame for the Democrats' inability to congeal. With so many disaffected, driven by injustices large and small to engage their local Democratic Party, there is a steady supply of highly motivated political neophytes. These "activists" begin attending DEC meetings, asking questions, volunteering and participating in executive decisions.

It does not take long for the activists to cross swords with the party "establishment". These are the long-time DEC members who have long ago sewn their activist oats, and tend to be less idealistic and more plugged into the statewide and national party machinery.

Soon, the activists and the establishment find themselves expending more energy fighting each other than the Republicans we seek to defeat. Even worse, the vitriol can often drive potentially hard-working volunteers away from participating in the DEC.

For months, the Williamson County Democratic Party Executive Committee has been beleaguered by conflict. To grotequely oversimplify, one group consists of members loyal to outgoing chairman Jimmy Rocha (the "establishment"). The other is made up of various EC members who have at one time or another been offended or slighted by Rocha's actions; inactions; or worse yet, actions taken without adequately consulting the EC. The latter group loosely comprises the "activist" camp.

Those who fault poor Democratic message control should commend the
WCDP-EC for keeping a fairly tight lid on the fireworks. Some reporters have come around, but lacking a strong lede, the story has "no legs." When viewed up close, the WCDP's troubles are not particularly newsworthy. However, it is becoming clear that similar dramatics are playing out in DECs across the nation.

The recent problems in nearby Bexar county have been widely reported.

Gatordemocrat has been reporting on DEC battles in Florida over at MyDD. He has started a blog to discuss several possible solutions to county party woes.

A month ago, Demondeac related his frustration with the DEC in a North Carolina county (probably Forsyth County). A commenter from Corpus Christi referred Demondeac to the Nueces County Democratic Party as a model for other DECs to emulate. Very nice site, NCDP!

MetaData's excellent comment on Demondeac's diary deserves repeating:


My personal experience with volunteering met similar resistance or incompetence. A friend of mine exerted a huge amount of effort, and finally got to be half-precinct captain. Even then, when she showed up first in line for the county meeting, she was 20th to sign in because the "in-crowd" had already met behind closed doors.

Your report about the difficulty of entry into the local Democratic Party has several possible interpretations (all of which I think are true):
- (1) Dysfunctional Management; long-termers just holding down a chair between elections
- (2) It is human nature to work with known factors (friends, culturally similar)
- (3) Intentional barriers to maintain control and keep out people and ideas they don't like.

Perhaps you mostly need persistence to push through barriers 1 and 2, although you can see how difficult-to-open the gates might be to busy people, different culture from present club members, minorties, less-educated.

Barrier number three requires strategy, intentionality, and knowing when to keep your mouth shut. I know, it's supposed to be democratic, but think about it more like getting a new job at a company where you have to start at the bottom rungs, perhaps even a company where you don't agree with corporate policy or the corporate culture. You're not going to change things right away, but build a resume over time. In the short term, competence, courtesy and volunteering for the dirty jobs can gain you respect.

In the medium run, generating money, voter registrations, volunteers and ultimately voters moves you up the ladder.

Speaking of resume building: Join a non-profit board with community visibility. Learn how to fund-raise. Make lots of political friends. Dress nicely. Speak articulately.



Hudson at MyDD provided a nice overview of the successful tactics employed by a small group of activists in New York's Hudson Valley.

Dkulju at DailyKos pointed us to the Rochester County (New Hampshire) Democratic Committee website.

In Williamson County, our DEC has been significantly demoralized. The voters have probably detected the despondence. In the 2002 Democratic Primary, voters cast 6,228 ballots. Last week, only 2,581 voters cast ballots in the Democratic Primary.

The path to victory in November requires maintaining a positive attitude, persistence, forgiveness and continued Republican miscues. The most important thing each one of us can do to improve government is to converse with our neighbors (in equal parts talking and listening) to improve our political acumen and restore our faith that an informed electorate can be trusted with the most important decisions society faces.

Improve the world by improving oneself. All politics is local.


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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Where Does Gov. Perry Stand On An Across The Board Teacher Pay Raise?

Here's how you do it. Take an issue everyone agrees on, a teacher pay raise, and make the governor and his party show which side of the issue they are on. Homer calls for teacher pay raise:
State Rep. Mark Homer, D-Paris, is calling on Gov. Rick Perry to add an across-the-board teacher pay raise to the call if he summons lawmakers back to Austin next month for a special session on school finance.

"“This is the first request we have received on the subject,"” Rachael Novier, spokeswoman for the Republican governor, said Friday.
What was the governor's response?
The governor'’s spokesperson reiterated Perry'’s stand on both teacher pay and the upcoming special session.

"Gov. Perry strongly supports increased pay for teachers, especially those teachers who motivate students to achieve at high levels,"” Novier said.
In the upcoming session Gov. Perry is for a narrow call until the tax shift is accomplished:
"In the upcoming session, the governor has asked legislators to focus on the Supreme Court mandate to lower property taxes and modernize the way we finance our public schools,"” she continued. "“Once that is complete, he will consider expanding the call."
Teachers again take a back seat under this governor.


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Friday, March 10, 2006

Barbara Ann Radnofsky For Senate

It appears BAR's campaign should have spent some money in the primary which may have saved her this runoff:
I've always said BAR was too busy running for November and not thinking about March like she should have been. He might be an old-coot, but one shouldn't underestimate the name of Gene Kelly.
But as Kuffner says they realize it and are moving forward:
At least the campaign has recognized that it needs to run against Kelly for the next 30 days. He's as easy a target as you could want. The contrast between the two of you and the reason why you're the only choice couldn't be plainer. Be just negative enough to remind people why they can't afford to go with him, and play up your qualities for all they're worth. The rest will follow.
BOR has a Texas map by county and analysis here. More evidence that the Radnofsky campaign is getting the runoff off to a good start:

The Dancer is Dead...Don't Let Him Kill the Party!
Texas Democrats need a fighter to take our state back and to keep fakers like Kelly from ruining our party. Barbara Ann Radnofsky has made 328 campaign appearances and received the endorsement of every major newspaper in Texas. And Kelly? Commentators describe him as a clown, a perennial joke, and an embarrassment to the party.

Barbara Ann fights for veterans' rights, for education, for better healthcare, and for Texans.

The dancer is dead, folks...please don't let him kill the Party.

Donate now and spread the word for the April 11 runoff.
BAR's Guest Post at Capitol Annex:
If we hadn't had this runoff, we'’d never have had the opportunity to make a massive appeal and get my name out in a state mailing one, two or three times or to ask people like the folks on this blog to please rouse others out of their apathy and go vote (early on April 3 and in the election on april 11). As I mentioned, and to his credit, the Chairman of the State Dem Party has endorsed me, which is not often done in a contested dem race.
Barbara Ann Radnofsky is the only choice for Democrats if we want to have a chance in November.


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More Cracks

As we try to decipher what the meaning of Tuesday primary results are most of the newspapers around the state seem to think it's has weakened the Speaker, deepened the divides inside the TRP, and left everyone wondering about what will happen in Austin in about a month or so.

As one of the articles above states, it doesn't matter what happened on Tuesday, that doesn't change who's going to show up for the special in about a month. It's pretty much the same cast of characters from last year. Oh yeah, there's two more Democratic votes in the House than there was last summer.

The big question remains, what will be considered success in the upcoming special session(s)? Is success just getting to June 1st without the schools closing? Is success "reforming" the whole school finance system? Will there be another attempt to squeeze vouchers in? At this point it looks like Gov. Perry is trying to have it both ways, :
Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for the governor, said that no one has been a bigger champion for lower property taxes than Perry. She said his plan is to call lawmakers back to first craft a tax plan that passes constitutional muster, and if time permits, they might then turn their attention to other matters.
But as this shows that divide is much deeper than that:
But Democratic state Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston said he won't be satisfied with a quick fix for the public schools. Ellis said in an e-mail to his constituents that he intends to push for a significant pay raise for teachers and for a more generous health insurance package for educators. In addition, he said, any effort to raise taxes on consumers to offset property-tax reductions would likely meet with Democratic resistance.

"It makes little sense to raise the nation's highest sales tax to cut some of the highest property taxes," Ellis said.

Lutz said the challenge facing Republican leaders will be to smooth over the hurt feelings on the political front and to forge a consensus in the face of deep divisions over policy.

"Voters made it real clear that they want this done by the June 1 deadline," Lutz said. "Anyone who doesn't get that is taking on a big risk."
Republicans can rest assured that the Texas Parent PAC will be watching.


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Precinct 4 & HD 52 Primary Analysis

The Taylor Daily Press has an interesting article, Election shows precinct diversity , showing the disparity that exists between Republican primary voters in Williamson County's Precinct 4. Not only in the commissioners race but in how they voted in the HD 52 race.
When candidates spoke to voters in various forums prior to the March 7 primary election, they generally agreed that Williamson County's Pct. 4, which stretches from the east side of Round Rock to the eastern county line, is very diverse.

An analysis of the voting results for the 12 polling places east of the SH-130 toll road ratify that conclusion.
The commissioners race and the HD 52 race have given us an interesting look into the an emerging dynamic with the Republican voters in precinct 4. From Tuesday's election we can see there is an East/West, or rural/suburban, difference in voting patterns developing in precinct 4. It also shows that those in the Eastern part of the precinct are looking for an alternative or a candidate that doesn't represent the status quo.

There are a few things that need to be analyzed here. This shows a fracture in the Republican voters in precinct 4. Some may say it's because of the low turnout because there was not serious challenger in the governors race and many Republicans sat out the primary. Many of them, not all of those who sat out, may have sat out the primary because of their dislike of Gov. Perry and saw the only alternative to be signing one of the independents petitions. Either way it shows that in precinct 4 there are some previously reliable Republican voters that are at least looking at their options.

The eastern part of precinct 4 is more rural and much, much more concerned about the future route of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), which is responsible for much of this, but why? This means that they feel their issues are being marginalized or forgotten by those that are currently representing them No amount of corn, cotton and computer slogans are going to change that. Say what you will but if someone wanted to, or is willing to go along with those that want to put a freeway through my families property I'm sure I wouldn't vote for them either. It's unaccountable government that's the issue. That's what I've been trying to point out for a long time. The fact that if Williamson County keeps electing Republicans and Republicans only and expects the situation with the TTC to change they're kidding themselves.

If you really want to have a shot at ending the TTC then make sure the current chair of the House Transportation Committee doesn't keep his seat. That's right, Rep. Krusee had serious trouble in the eastern part of precinct 4 as well. He ran almost 9 percentage points lower in the eastern part of the precinct than he did in the precinct all together.
The voting patterns show that Mike Krusee, the incumbent state representative, is less popular east of SH-130 than he is on the west side. Over the entire precinct, Krusee defeated Barbara Samuelson by a margin of 63.76 percent to 36.24 percent, but east of SH-130 Krusee's margin was 55 percent to Samuelson's 45 percent.

In voting precinct 433 in Coupland, where anti-toll road sentiment is strong, Samuelson had 65 votes compared to Krusee's 25. Samuelson also beat Krusee in precinct 456 at Our Lady of Guadalupe by a margin of 15 to 11.
One interesting dynamic to watch in the runoff will be to see if either of the candidates tries some sort of anti-TTC gambit now that it's a two man race.
Coe and Morrison said they'll be studying these returns closely as they prepare for the April 11 runoff, especially in light of their close county-wide race which Coe won by a margin of 34.62 percent to Morrison's 32.67 percent
Remember all of you anti-TTC Republicans and Democrats as well. If you didn't vote in either primary you can vote in this runoff and can still register to vote in the runoff until March 13th. If you voted in the Democratic primary you cannot vote in the commissioners runoff.

This also provides an opportunity for the Democratic Party in this precinct and HD 52. Rural voters who started voting Republican in the late 80's and early 90's in Williamson County because of social issues appear ready to look at an alternative now that they see their family farms and economic livelihood being put in the path of this Republican lead toll road scheme. Whether they didn't vote or if they voted against the status quo, disaffected Republicans need to know that the Democrats in Williamson County are opposed to the TTC and will not sit idly by and allow this to happen when we are elected to office. Remember, your current state representative is for this scheme and neither one of the two remaining Republican commissioner candidates were against it before the runoff. One will probably try to go after your vote by claiming they are now, but I wouldn't buy it if it was my family farm. The only way you can make the commissioners court stands up and take notice is to vote for change in November and change is Brig Mireles and Karen Felthauser.



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