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May 19, 2017      4:19 PM

Smith: There is a Carnival on the Edge of Town

As the 2017 regular legislative session nears its end, QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith ponders the unfortunate consequences of today’s political circus

 As the 2017 regular session of the Texas Legislature wobbles towards its end with the final shudders of a tacky carnival’s Tilt-A-Whirl ride, a few general thoughts on the changing nature of the Texas and American political circuses are in order.

First, a personal observation.

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By Glenn W. Smith

May 18, 2017      5:31 PM

Greenfield: Good News and Semi-Good News

Our resident number cruncher notes that tax revenue from oil and gas have increased at a rate substantially greater than in the BRE, but of course 75 percent of that increase will be transferred to the Rainy Day Fund (RDF) and State Highway Fund

With sine die fast approaching and passage by each chamber of their respective appropriations bills (SB 1 and HB 1) the leadership of each chamber appointed five members to the budget conference committee. 

From the Senate members, good news, three of the five appointees were women (Senators Nelson, Huffman, and Kolkhorst). 

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

May 12, 2017      4:32 PM

Smith: Ken Paxton’s Double Standard

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that Ken Paxton wants legal protections for himself that he’d deny everyone else in his argument for the constitutionality of SB4

The contrast is enlightening. Let’s compare the legal avenues open to Attorney General Ken Paxton in his criminal securities fraud cases to the police-state, judicial road-closings he argues for in his SB4, anti-sanctuary city federal petition.

Paxton faces three felony charges of violating Texas’ securities law. His high-paid lawyers (it’s great to be Attorney General!) have filed (and failed with) an unending series of motions to get rid of the judge, block a change of venue, challenge payments to special prosecutors, etc.

Lawyers in a functioning criminal justice system should pull out all the stops for their defendants, especially if their client has all the money he needs to pay them. The fact that most people don’t have Paxton’s resources to fight the good fight is one of those things we’d rather not think about as we pretend equality under the law.

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By Glenn W. Smith

May 6, 2017      4:14 PM

Greenfield: Expenditures Up, Revenue Down

Our resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D., says declining state revenue and increasing state expenditures isn’t exactly a situation any budget conference committee hopes and prays for

As noted in my last column, state General Revenue-Related (GRR) revenue through March declined by 0.2 percent. This decline contrasts with Comptroller’s estimate in the Biennial Revenue Estimate that GRR in FY17 would increase by 1.7 percent.

Total state revenue was estimated to increase by 1.3 percent in FY17 has declined by 0.9 percent through March.

With declining revenue, what has been happening when it comes to expenditures?

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

May 5, 2017      3:03 PM

Smith: A Hateful Spectacle

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith wonders whether hatred and bigotry are both means and ends for many in today’s Republican Party

It was a hateful spectacle unlike anything this writer has ever seen. U.S. House Republicans were partying their butts off, gleefully celebrating their vote to deny health care to millions of their fellow Americans.

People could die because of their vote. Babies. Elderly people. People of all ages with pre-existing conditions who could be denied coverage under the measure’s terms.

The GOP celebrants, cheeks brightened by joy, were so proud of themselves they could almost burst. They were proud that they’d voted for something they knew would cause unnecessary illnesses and deaths.

How does this happen?

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By Glenn W. Smith

May 2, 2017      4:18 PM

Rumenap: Getting out of jail free puts others at risk

In op-ed, the president of Stop Child Predators argues that if conditions are to be imposed in addition to bail, then the conditions must be meaningful

Texas legislators are debating what they call bail reform. Proponents say “risk assessment tools” will allow the substitution of algorithms for judicial judgment in releasing poor people from jail without bond. 

While concern for the poor is admirable, viewing jailed indigents accused of crimes as victims means that lawmakers are mistaken in their priorities.

Who is talking about the impact of these changes on victims of sexual assault?

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By Stacie Rumenap

May 1, 2017      1:11 PM

Wendell: The insurance industry’s blue tarp bills threaten Texas property owners

In op-ed, ED of Texas Watch argues insurers paid 10% fewer hail claims after massive storms and trends will only worsen if insurers face less accountability for cheating their customers

Your property rights are under assault at the Texas Capitol.

Insurance lobbyists and their allies at the self-styled “Texans for Lawsuit Reform” are pushing legislation that will mean insurance companies pay you as little as late as possible. HB 1774 and SB 10, better known as the Blue Tarp Bills, strengthen the hand of insurance companies in property claims disputes.

The end result is homes, businesses, schools, and churches will be blanketed in blue tarps after storms when they’re cheated out of their policy benefits.

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By Ware Wendell of Texas Watch

April 27, 2017      4:00 PM

So Much for GOP’s Sanctimonious ‘Rule of Law’ Chant:

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that the So-Called ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Bill Is Clearly Unconstitutional and the GOP Knows It.

While chanting, “Rule of Law, Rule of Law, Rule of Law,” Republicans in the Texas House voted to void U.S. Constitutional guarantees against unlawful imprisonment.

In case these lawmakers haven’t recently read the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, I present it here as a public service:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.”

Meditate on that, lawmakers.

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By Glenn Smith

April 21, 2017      2:27 PM

Smith: Donner Party or City Upon a Hill?

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that the vision of America of today’s dominant GOP leadership has more in common with the doomed Donner Party than with a “Shining City Upon a Hill.”

In 1984, then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo gave the keynote address at the Democratic Convention. Cuomo spoke of Americans’ shared vision of the nation as “a shining city upon a hill.” It’s a favorite metaphor of our politicians, from John Winthrop in the 1600s to John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan in the 20th Century.

Cuomo, however, used the reference to point out that in America, there is a part of the city that does not shine, places where the elderly huddle in unheated basements, where the young can’t afford college, where people can’t get health care. The New York governor received a lot of attention for his “Tale of Two Cities” talk.

But there’s another part of that speech that’s even more powerful. In it, Cuomo uses the great U.S. Western migration of the 1840s to paint a vivid picture of Democratic moral values and hopes for America:

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By Glenn W. Smith

April 10, 2017      4:38 PM

Greenfield: Legislators, Man Your Abacuses

QR’s Resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D., says cumulative growth in GRR is once again negative, which could be significantly bad legislators trying to finish a state budget as the House and Senate try to hash out their differences

In last month’s analysis of the state’s revenue situation, I was heartened because the rate of change in cumulative General Revenue-Related (GRR) revenue, and the rate of change in the rate of change was positive. 

Who could ask for anything more? Not me.  

However, things have changed quickly, as Figure 1 shows, the cumulative growth in GRR is once again negative. Through March 2017 GRR revenue is 0.2 percent less than the revenue through March 2016.  The Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) estimated that GRR would increase by 1.7 percent in FY17.

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

April 7, 2017      6:02 PM

Smith: Good News, Bad News

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith applauds the common sense of House budget writers, but warns that Trumpism remains loose across the land

First, the good news. There was an outbreak of common sense in the Texas House of Representatives this week. Members voted to get us through drizzly economic weather and balance the budget by using $2.5 billion of the Rainy Day Fund. The Texas Senate, an “upper chamber” in name only, had instead employed an unconstitutional accounting trick involving now-you-see-them, now-you-don’t highway funds.

House members tried once again to drive a stake through the heart of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s zombie school voucher plan. It remains to be seen whether the anti-voucher budget language will hold, but it sure signals that an overwhelming coalition of rural and urban House members prefer the word “public” to define the state’s K through 12 schools.

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By Glenn W. Smith

April 4, 2017      4:10 PM

Tassin: Senator Huffman's "Yes" Vote Saves the Voucher Bill

President of the Fort Bend ISD School Board argues against her senator’s acquiescence on SB3: “What is most troubling about this is that Senator Huffman stated she was against SB3 and admitted it is not good for the school districts she represents.”

Normally, we can look at a legislator’s vote on a bill and easily determine if they were for or against it. Simply put, constituents think a “yes” vote means the legislator supported the legislation and a “no” vote means they opposed it. But, at times our complicated political process is not that transparent. That’s what happened on Senate Bill 3 (SB3), the voucher bill.

Three Republicans voted against SB3 on the final vote – Senators Seliger, Nichols, and Huffman.

However, only one of those three Republican Senators, Joan Huffman, voted “yes” on the preceding vote to suspend the regular order of business and allow SB3 to proceed.

This was actually the critical vote that allowed SB3 to survive.

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By Kristin Tassin

April 3, 2017      4:23 PM

Simmons: Just Like the Hole in the Donut, There is no There, There

In this guest column, Rep. Ron Simmons argues “eliminating one punch voting will require all candidates to communicate their philosophies and positions clearly to the voters and not just hang on the coattails of a party brand.”

Editor’s note: QR’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith took aim on Friday at a bill by Rep. Ron Simmons that would eliminate one-punch straight ticket voting. Since we’re happy to foster discussion here in the pages of Quorum Report, here is Rep. Simmons’ rebuttal – SB

I read with amusement (but unfortunately not surprise) liberal columnist, Glenn Smith’s recent prose relating to the elimination of one punch voting.

In case you missed it, here is what Smith said in his article (paraphrased of course) – The elimination of one punch straight ticket voting will hurt Democrats because Democrat voters are either incapable or too lazy to vote down the ballot.

Shame on you Mr. Smith!

The very idea that some voters are less likely to take their voting privilege seriously or with little importance if they can’t vote the entire ballot in with “one punch” is both insulting and degrading to the very people Smith purports to champion.

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By Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton

March 31, 2017      3:35 PM

Smith: The Case of the Stolen Donuts

Do Texas GOP Leaders Really Want to Discriminate Against Minority Voters Right Now? - QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that the proposed ban on straight-ticket voting may lead to renewed federal supervision of voting laws

Republicans in the Texas Legislature are seriously considering banning “straight-ticket voting,” the one-click convenience that allows voters to choose all the candidates on the ballot from one party or another.

The bill, HB25 by state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, is in the Calendars Committee in the House. With the support of Republican House Speaker Joe Straus, it could be headed for easy approval.

Think of Simmons’ bill as an easy, one-click Republican convenience that further suppresses the votes of Texas minorities, especially those in heavily populated urban areas. It’s the Republican’s own straight-ticket vote to give them a procedural edge at election time.  

Republicans need to think this through.

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By Glenn W. Smith

March 30, 2017      12:33 PM

Villalba: Respectfully, Dan Patrick is just wrong on bathrooms

Dallas Republican argues that it is “precisely because of my conservative principles that I will NEVER accept discrimination, hatred, or bigotry”

The clock begins its inexorable tick to closing time and Republican members of the Texas Legislature such as myself are left to contemplate that which will define the session and our political legacies. Most of us will hew to the safety of orthodox convention. Others will wait until they receive the acquiescence of those who brought them to the dance to make their moves.

Me? I came to Austin to move the needle, shape the conversation and to speak the truth.

Senate Bill 6, the so-called "bathroom bill," is the most unserious attempt at galvanizing Republican primary voters in a generation.

It fails to solve a problem that doesn't even exist.

Under current Texas law, it is already illegal to: (1) trespass upon the private space of a citizen; (2) "peep" upon a citizen during a private moment; (3) assault a citizen in a sexual or non-sexual manner; or even (4) engage a person in an unreciprocated manner. The chance that our children – in schools or otherwise – are somehow at risk of nefarious trans-gender Texans assaulting them in showers or restrooms is simply non-existent.

I have tremendous respect for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. He is a personal friend, a mentor, and one of the finest public servants that I have ever worked with in the state of Texas.

But I simply cannot support this legislation, which I believe is unnecessary and meant solely to placate LGBT-hating constituencies including Tim Dunn's Empower Texans and Steve Hotze's Conservative Republicans of Texas.

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By Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas

March 27, 2017      12:52 PM

Colbert: Original intent of the Economic Stabilization Fund

Former Rep. Paul Colbert, who authored the House Appropriations committee substitute that created the the Rainy Day Fund, explains it was done to “flatten out the available revenue stream from the up and down swings of the economy so that constant levels of services could be provided.”

With this past week’s hearings in Washington on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, attention has been focused on the concept of “originalism” espoused by Judge Gorsuch and more famously, by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Simply put, originalism is the principle or belief that the interpretation of the Constitution or a statute should follow closely the original intentions of those who drafted it.

In 1987, I authored the committee substitute for HJR 2 – the constitutional amendment that created the “Rainy Day Fund”, as the Economic Stabilization Fund is more commonly known.  I then was the person who laid the joint resolution out to the House on Second Reading and explained it to the members.

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By Former Rep. Paul Colbert

March 24, 2017      4:41 PM

Greenfield: State expenditures in FY17

In the second part of his budget analysis, our resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield takes a look at expenditures and says halftime growth = -0.3 Percent

Last July when state officials realized that state revenue growth was less than expected, the state’s leadership asked agencies to reduce their budget requests for FY18-19 by 4 percent.  In January, following the release of the Biennial Revenue Estimate, the Governor imposed a hiring freeze on state agencies.  These actions would either reduce future expenditures, the former, or reduce current expenditures, the latter.

Unlike FY17 when all funds expenditures grew by 7.7 percent, see Table 1, expenditures through the first six months of FY17 have declined by 0.3 percent.  These changes in expenditures differ from the LBB all funds expenditures change for FY16 and FY17 of 2.8 percent and -2.8 percent, respectively.  For the current biennium, the LBB expects a 2.9 percent increase in expenditures (209.1 billion).  Using all funds expenditures reported by the Comptroller indicates that the increase will be 11.0 percent, with expenditures totaling $228.8 billion for this biennium.

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

March 24, 2017      4:11 PM

Smith: Abbott and Patrick – The Fratricidal Politicking of ‘The Brothers Grim’ Hurts Texas

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Dan Patrick are engaged in an escalating race to the right to protect themselves from one another. It’s bad for Texas.

It’s not unusual for tensions to increase as a legislative session enters its get-some-things-done stage. Spring training is over. Games now count and the standings matter. But something is different this year.

Despite his protests to the contrary, there’s continual Capitol chatter that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick intends to either challenge Gov. Greg Abbott for governor or bluff him out of the race in 2018. Abbott appears to take the challenge possibility seriously.

Abbott doesn’t appear all that vulnerable until one considers how hard-right voters control Republican primaries. And Patrick may be betting that President Donald Trump’s popularity with GOP primary voters is enough to neutralize Abbott’s sizable fundraising lead.

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By Glenn W. Smith

March 24, 2017      11:41 AM

Sandlin: Governor Says His Voice Is the Only One That Matters

TML argues that “if Texans feel warm and comfortable under a patchwork quilt, those who seek to do business here – and our Governor – should recognize and respect that.”

Destroying city neighborhoods one step at a time requires too much effort. So, Gov. Greg Abbott wants one sweeping state law to ban city residents from having a say in protecting the health, safety, and property values in their communities.

While the Legislature is debating dozens of bills to overturn local ordinances and voter approved referendums, Gov. Abbott said last week: “I think a broad-based law by the state of Texas that says across the board, the state is going to preempt local regulations, is a superior approach."

The Governor said this scorched earth approach was “more elegant.”  Maybe he meant more regal or more tyrannical.

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By Bennett Sandlin

March 23, 2017      4:50 PM

Greenfield: State Revenue Situation, Improving, but Not Great

As the House and Senate stake out their positions on the budget, our resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield takes a look at the improving revenue situation. Tomorrow, he’ll look at the expenditure side of the equation

State revenue receipts, unlike Gaul, can be divided into two parts, General Revenue-Related (GRR) and non-GRR.  The former is the revenue stream that our legislators can appropriate with their complete discretion, while the latter, e.g., federal funds, is dedicated to a specific government activity, e.g., Medicaid, public education.

When Comptroller  Glenn Hegar released the Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) for FY18-19 on January 9, 2017, all hands immediately turned to Table A-1 which shows the funds that the Comptroller certifies is available to the Legislator to appropriate.  Table A-1 shows $104.9 billion available for the 85th Legislature for discretionary spending.

This $104.9 billion is $5.4 billion less than the Comptroller stated in the Certification Estimate, released in October 2015, would be available for FY16-17 and $2.9 billion less than the amount for FY16-17 in the current estimate.  This reduction in available revenue was anticipated, and the Governor and Legislative Budget Board took actions, hiring freeze, to reduce state expenditures for FY17.

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield