September 23, 2016      6:33 PM

GOP Ethics Commissioners: We are working to ensure Texas disclosure rules are predictable and fair

In letter to Abbott, Patrick, and Straus, the Republican members of the Texas Ethics Commission outline "blatantly false" accusations made by Tim Dunn's group Empower Texans and affiliated organizations

All the Republican members of the Texas Ethics Commission have now told Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker Joe Straus that an effort led by Midland oilman Tim Dunn’s group Empower Texans to change the direction of the agency is based on claims that are “so blatantly false that we feel duty bound to respond to them directly."

In a letter to the big three dated September 16 and obtained by Quorum Report on Friday through an open records request, Chairman Chase Untermeyer along with Commissioners Hugh Akin, Jim Clancy, and Robert Long said they had no choice but to respond to a letter sent to all Republican lawmakers by Dunn’s Empower Texans and co-signed by other groups including Texas Right to Life, the Texas Home School Coalition, and the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party.

In the Empower Texans letter sent last month, which you can read here, the professional activists made many claims about the Ethics Commission including that the “process is the punishment.” The commission has, QR readers are aware, been investigating Empower Texans for years leading to a maximum fine for illegal lobbying and protracted court battles on multiple fronts.

Lawmakers should “investigate the commissioners and staff at the TEC for their inexcusable and inexplicable actions,” the paid activists wrote. “All of the commissioners need to be replaced, and the agency needs to be fundamentally reformed or abolished,” argued Dunn’s spokesman Michael Quinn Sullivan.

After Dunn’s group demanded TEC commissioners be replaced, Lt. Gov. Patrick did his best.

By Scott Braddock

September 23, 2016      6:32 PM

In Texas Energy Report: Energy all-star panel reveals legislative game plan for oil and gas

Fast-tracking Railroad Commission Sunset, tapping $10 billion Rainy Day Fund and more

HOUSTON – A long-elusive sunset bill to reauthorize the oil-and-gas regulating Texas Railroad Commission for 12 more years will be fast-tracked next spring and stripped clean of such controversies as replacing the agency’s outdated name or moving certain functions elsewhere, a key lawmaker said Friday.

Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, chair of the Sunset Advisory Committee, promised members of the state’s leading oil and gas lobby that the RRC’s sunset bill will contain what members of his committee deem necessary instead of the traditional recommendations of the Sunset Advisory Commission staff.

“The idea is the (sunset) staff won’t write the bill. We the committee will write the bill. I would like to see the sunset legislation in the first 60 days. We’re going to take the Railroad Commission up early on the House side so it is not changed so much in May and becomes this terrible thing that won’t pass anymore,” said Gonzales, referring to the legislature’s practice of tagging otherwise dead or “zombie” bills on to sunset legislation.

In the Senate, “We will pass a Railroad Commission Sunset bill, and it will be a clean bill,” added Sen. Craig Estes, incoming chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee. “It won’t have any bells or whistles on it to drag it down.”

The full story is in the Texas Energy Report.

September 23, 2016      5:56 PM

Press Releases: Honoring Gold Star mothers, appointments, endorsements, disaster funding, and more

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September 23, 2016      5:27 PM

House budget chair urges greater use of outside contract reviews

LBB: “… we have a responsibility to do our best to protect the treasury, to ensure the proper use of taxpayer dollars, and also to ensure your directives, as legislators, are being carried out by state agencies.”

The chair of the Texas House budget-writing committee is urging agencies to take advantage of the contract review functions triggered by the failure of the Attorney General’s T2 contract.

Of late, two scenarios have emerged with larger state contracts plagued with problems: The self-dealing scandals such as the Health and Human Services’ 21CT contract; or, more often, problematic delivery of a contract such as the AG’s child support overhaul, which is unlikely to go live before the end of 2017.

Both House Appropriations and Senate Finance sat down with the agencies charged with deploying the changes under Senate Bill 20. And while Chairman Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, will soon by ceding his chair because he is retiring, he remained emphatic about improving contracting processes.

By Kimberly Reeves

September 23, 2016      2:53 PM

Sen. Cruz endorses Donald Trump

Days after Lt. Gov. Patrick applied pressure, Cruz took to Facebook to give a lengthy explanation and confirmed he will vote for Trump

Here’s the Facebook post where Sen. Cruz confirms the endorsement.

September 23, 2016      2:52 PM

Video flashback: Sen. Ted Cruz vs Donald Trump

When Cruz went after the eventual GOP nominee, Trump called him "the single biggest liar."

September 23, 2016      12:50 PM

Smith: Hostilities at Hofstra: The First Presidential Debate of 2016

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith previews next week’s Clinton-Trump debate in Hempstead, New York

Is it just a coincidence that Donald Trump held a bizarre event with fight promoter Don King the week before his upcoming bout with Hillary Clinton in the first presidential debate of 2016? King’s first gig in boxing was the Ali-Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle” fight of 1974. Is Trump promising “Hostilities at Hofstra?”

The phrase doesn’t have the punch of “Rumble in the Jungle.” The debate, however, might match the fight in South Africa in pre-hostilities hype and over-the-top news coverage. Which, we should agree, is not a good thing.

Presidential debates are not about awarding a gaudy golden belt to someone. They are about – or they should be about – the selection of the President of the United States. Elections past have seen good debates and bad debates. Few challenged the political media the way the 2016 debates do.

Why is this?

The full column by Glenn W. Smith is in the R&D Department.

By Glenn W. Smith

September 23, 2016      12:48 PM

Sources tell Politico that Sen. Cruz will fold and endorse Trump

“If he announces he endorses, it destroys his political brand,” said someone who had worked for Cruz's campaign.

The breaking report from Politico is here.

September 23, 2016      11:09 AM

As promised, Paxton appeals Voter ID case to SCOTUS

The petition is here.

September 22, 2016      5:44 PM

Greenfield: Projecting revenue that will be available for the next Legislature

Our resident number cruncher writes that “Even with a positive rate of growth for tax revenues in FY17, these growth rates will be applied to a lower base. Unless growth rates are increased substantially, tax collections in FY17 will again be $1 billion less than in the CRE.”

With the close of Fiscal Year 2016, signers of the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) pledge can rejoice. They can genuflect to the statue of Grover Norquist and proclaim that – under their brilliance – tax revenue declined while maternal mortality increased and special education services suffered. Is that not fulfilling the ATR directives of lower taxes, smaller government?

My sarcasm aside, tax collections at the close of the fiscal year, as Comptroller Hegar stated, were less than the Comptroller estimated in October 2015. While the Comptroller had estimated that all funds tax collections for FY16 would be $49.7 billion, actual collections were $48.5 billion, $1.2 billion less than the estimate and $3.3 billion less than FY15 tax revenue.

Figure 1 shows the cumulative YTD growth for FY10 through FY16. Only FY09 (-8.5 percent) and FY10 (-6.5 percent) had greater declines in tax collection than FY16 (-6.2 percent).  Following the decline in FY10, tax collections increased by 9.9 percent in FY11.

The full column from Dr. Stuart Greenfield can be found in the R&D Department.

By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

September 22, 2016      5:43 PM

Press Releases: Simulated Convention of States, mourning the loss of Jacqueline Ellis, counterterror, and more

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September 22, 2016      1:25 PM

Poll: Clinton leads Trump in Harris County by 9 points with likely voters

“Clinton’s lead narrows however to only 4 percent (well within the survey’s margin of error) if we restrict the analysis to only those who indicated that they are extremely likely to cast a ballot this fall.”

The University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs poll results can be read in full here.

September 21, 2016      5:10 PM

HD 107 is possibly the swingiest of House swing seats in an ever-changing Dallas County

Republican Kenneth Sheets, now facing Victoria Neave, has taken on formidable opponents previously and won

DALLAS – The Texas House race with perhaps the most potential to keep Democrats and Republicans on edge on election night is the contest for HD 107 in Dallas County. The swingiest of swing seats is represented now by three-term Republican Rep. Kenneth Sheets of Mesquite. The district includes parts of Dallas, Garland and Mesquite.

Like neighboring Rep. Cindy Burkett – the Sunnyvale Republican facing Rowlett Democrat Rhetta Andrews Bowers – Sheets’ district is rapidly changing ethnically.

On paper, the changes look as if they would benefit Democrats. Yet urban Republicans like Sheets have managed to hold on.

By James Russell

September 21, 2016      5:06 PM

In Texas Energy Report: Tom Smitty Smith's sometimes bumpy but mostly Happy Trails

How state consumer champion cleaned Texas air while cutting energy bills

Tom “Smitty” Smith’s 30-year career of watching out for Texans’ pocketbooks ultimately helped clean the air they breathe, too. And, that was no accident.

The director of the Texas arm of Public Citizen, founded by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, announced Tuesday that he’s about to hang up his spurs and hand the reins to a yet-to-be-named successor. With luck, the man whose adopted “Happy Trails” as his trademark sign-off, will make his exit form the hallways of the Texas Capitol in the early months of 2017.

Were he not retiring, he would have turned his attention to the oil-and-gas regulating Texas Railroad Commission’s upcoming Sunset Advisory Commission review, Smith said in an interview with Texas Energy Report. But his main frustration as he departs is not having been able to stop the corrosive effect of special interest money on the Texas Legislature.

“One of the things I regret most, that’s left undone, is not really getting a handle on the influence of corporate money, business money, on Texas politics,” he said. “In the 30 years I’ve been doing this, we’ve had wave after wave of business groups get organized and link their donations to legislators, to specific votes they want to have on legislation, that takes away citizen rights – whether it be tort reform or homebuilder protection acts or where we are right now, which is taking away communities’ rights to protect themselves from the oil companies,” he continued.

The full interview is in the Texas Energy Report.

By Polly Ross Hughes

September 21, 2016      5:04 PM

Schuster: Water In Israel: Quenching Our Thirst For Peace and Providing Lessons for Texas

In this op-ed, Hillel Schuster writes that cooperation across governments and the private sector creates a scenario in which politics and profits can combine to become a powerful engine of change

Editor’s note: Hillel Schuster, who lives in Israel, is participating in the Israel Public Diplomacy Forum’s visit to Texas this month. For more information on that, click here – SB

The Old Testament is chock-full of references to water and its life and death impact on the economy and inhabitants of the land of Israel/Canaan. Abraham sojourns from Israel to Egypt during a time of famine (due to lack of rain). Isaac is reported to have dug many wells to survive here; and the Jewish people’s ultimate enslavement to Pharaoh in Egypt begins with Jacob bringing his extended family south, to Egypt during a 7-year period of famine (again, due to a lack of rain) in Israel.

The most basic economic reward and punishment recorded in the Bible relates to having the rains fall in their time. In fact, peace in Israel is specifically described as a time when the land can be productive due to an abundance of water. (See Leviticus 26:3-4)

In short, with respect to Israel: When there is water, there is peace and when there is no water, there is economic turmoil and upheaval.

Guess what? Thanks to a combination of economic foresight, technology and steady rate of infrastructure investments, there is water in Israel and lots of it. What’s more, soon some of the investments made by Israel will be replicated in Jordan and Egypt and there are even water projects planned to be jointly executed between Jordan and Israel.

Yes, you read that right, JOINTLY EXECUTED…Perhaps peace is coming; and the actors will not be the politicians, but rather, a bunch of nerdy engineers and investment bankers. Let me explain.

The full column by Hillel Schuster can be found in the R&D Department.

By Hillel Schuster

September 21, 2016      11:42 AM

Texas voter registration hits new record

There are now roughly 14,853,000 registered voters up from 14,238,000 during the primary, SOS office said. Potentially on track to surpass 15 million this cycle.

September 20, 2016      6:13 PM

Patrick: School choice is the civil right of every family

The Lite Guv lays out his vision for what some Capitol observers are calling “Leininger 2.0” – some Republicans call out Abbott, arguing the governor would have to get on board to put vouchers over the top in the Texas House

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that when Rep. Mike Schofield spoke, he only referenced one event at the Katy ISD in which many educational topics were discussed – SB

HOUSTON – The ability to choose the right school for a child – regardless of income – is the civil right of every parent, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told a school choice summit in Houston this morning.

Patrick told the audience at the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute’s School Choice Summit he would leave the model for school choice – tax-credit scholarships or education savings accounts – to his Senate Public Education chair Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood. But Patrick was unequivocal that school choice was imperative for Texas.

“The argument is over, ‘Do we have school choice, equally and fairly, to every parent?’” Patrick asked. “That’s the choice. That’s the debate. And I say it’s the civil right of every parent to have that choice. Just because they can’t write the check, we take it away from them?”

Lawmakers talked choice, but they also spent a significant amount of time on other issues including school finance.

Rep. Mike Scholfield, R-Katy, said he appeared at a panel recently at the Katy ISD where a broad range of topics were covered including standards and the difficulties of being a large and fast growth district. "If you don't know what the target is, you can't hit it. We get so caught up in school finance that sometimes I think we lose sight of what the purpose is," Schofield said. "[We have to] step back and realize it is about educating the kids."

By Kimberly Reeves

September 20, 2016      4:51 PM

Lawmakers tackle looming $1.3 billion shortfall in Medicaid

“It’s not a trivial amount of money that Texas has been handed to deliver through Medicaid…It covers half the babies born in Texas and two-thirds of the nursing home residents…But it still gets blamed for our problems”

The $1.3 billion shortfall in Medicaid funding going into the next budget cycle can’t all be attributed to what Republicans typically call “out-of-control growth.”

Executive Commissioner Charles Smith and his staff reviewed cost-containment measures with the Senate Finance Committee. Each session, for last least the last three sessions, the Health and Human Services Commission has been asked to provide some targeted cost-containment measures. According to HHSC’s presentation, first came $2 billion in cuts, then $438 million in cuts and, most recently, $378 million.

HHSC is still $240 million short of the cuts requested by Rider 50 in last session’s budget.

By Kimberly Reeves

September 20, 2016      4:36 PM

Prosecutors decline to prosecute Sid Miller

Commissioner Miller is pleased; Progress Texas responds: “I guess a ‘Jesus Shot’ doubles as a 'Get Out of Jail Free Shot.'

Here’s the update from Brian Rosenthal of the Houston Chronicle.

September 20, 2016      4:31 PM

Pauken: Skills Training Is a Logical Component of a Trump Economic Policy

Former Texas GOP Chairman Tom Pauken argues that if Trump wants his economic proposals to work, his administration would need to emphasize skills training in a way the candidate hasn’t so far

GOP candidate Donald Trump has made bringing jobs home to America and rebuilding our U.S. manufacturing sector key themes in his campaign for the presidency. He has discussed many ways to accomplish those goals including leveling the playing field with our trading competitors, opposing bad trade deals that result in American jobs being shipped overseas, and reforming a business tax system which rewards companies for locating headquarters and factories overseas.

If Trump wins the presidency and puts policies in place to rebuild our U.S. manufacturing sector, one vital element necessary to make that happen is a renewed emphasis on the importance of a skilled workforce.

The complete column by former RPT Chairman Tom Pauken can be found in the R&D Department.

By Tom Pauken

September 20, 2016      4:26 PM

Former State Rep. Dick Burnett passed away

Former state representative, San Angelo Police Chief and FBI agent assigned to the John F. Kennedy assassination investigation was 94.

The story via the San Angelo Standard-Times.

September 20, 2016      11:26 AM

Straus picks Reps. Davis, Howard, Larson, Springer and Walle for Rainy Day Fund Panel

“They will help ensure that we meet the state’s needs within a disciplined budget that keeps an appropriate amount of money in reserves,” Straus said.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Tuesday made his appointments to the Select Committee to Determine a Sufficient Balance of the Economic Stabilization Fund.

He chose Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, to the Co-Chair. Representatives Donna Howard, D-Austin, Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, Drew Springer, R-Muenster, and Armando Walle, D-Houston, will all serve on the committee.

September 20, 2016      11:19 AM

Judge orders Texas to receive preclearance of voter ID educational materials

"ORDERED that all materials related to the education of voters, poll workers, and election officials that have not yet been published shall reflect the language of the Court’s prior Order."

The judge’s order from today can be found here via Election Law Blog.

September 20, 2016      10:54 AM

Tom Smitty Smith is retiring from Public Citizen

"Smitty has become a valued friend and counselor, and I will dearly miss seeing his signature wide-brimmed hat at the Capitol.”

The full announcement is here.

September 19, 2016      5:06 PM

Tri-Agency summit focuses on high school workforce diplomas

“For Texas to be the undisputed center for innovation and intellectual capital in this decade and beyond, we need to accelerate learning to the speed of business and technology”

Texas will only continue to be a dynamic, innovative state if it matches the skills of students with the needs of employers in an ever-changing economy, Gov. Greg Abbott told a ballroom full of employers and educators at a conference Monday in Austin.

Abbott, speaking at the Texas Education & Workforce Summit, said companies that were some of the biggest in the country 20 years ago – Eastman Kodak, Woolworth and Sears – are now no longer players in the economic marketplace. The key to success is the ability to anticipate where the state needs to go in the coming decades, Abbott said.

“For Texas to be the undisputed center for innovation and intellectual capital in this decade and beyond, we need to accelerate learning to the speed of business and technology,” said Governor Abbott. “In order to remain competitive and ensure Texans are creating and filling the jobs of tomorrow, we need to do more. Understanding the changing needs of job creators today is paramount in continuing to expand opportunity in Texas.”

By Kimberly Reeves

September 19, 2016      5:04 PM

Press Releases: Endorsements, appointments, student voters, terror attacks, and more

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September 19, 2016      4:04 PM

SAEN: Ethics Commission unsure if AG will defend agency in future lawsuits

ICYMI: Paxton's refusal to represent the state agency could cost hundreds of thousands of additional tax dollars

Here’s the scoop from San Antonio Express-News reporter David Saleh Rauf.

September 19, 2016      4:00 PM

O'Donnell: An inside look at how the Lege ends up considering hundreds of inane bills

QR’s resident curmudgeon Edd O’Donnell gives a preview of exactly how some fights will play out during the next legislative session

Over the years, numerous people have asked me why the Texas Legislature wastes so much of its 140 days every two years considering hundreds of bills that do not affect public health, safety or well-being. Money, ego and ideology are the three prime sources of most of the pointless bills the Lege considers with money being the leading culprit. Here’s a fictional case of how it works:

Weldon Junkin, ambitious bean counter at the Ham Hock grocery chain notices that each of their 27 stores has come up missing three or more grocery carts each fiscal quarter and calculates that at $367 a copy the cart losses are running into many thousands of dollars annually. Weldon does a three-year spreadsheet and presents it to the equally ambitious CFO who brings it up at an executive board meeting.

The HH CEO latches on to this as an important industry-wide problem he can use in his upcoming speech to his trade association, Texas United Grocers (TUG). Following the speech, the CEO of HH starts lobbying TUG to get a bill introduced into the Lege’s next session that would make taking a grocery cart a serious crime.

The full column by Edd O’Donnell is in the R&D Department.

By Edd O'Donnell

September 19, 2016      9:42 AM

Former Cruz and Paxton staffer Chip Roy joins TPPF as head of 10th Amendment Center

“We are thrilled to have Mr. Roy join the Texas Public Policy Foundation after so many years as a distinguished ally and fast friend,” said Brooke Rollins, President and CEO.