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February 15, 2018      3:48 PM

Smith: Guns & Politics, The Great American Misfire

From the Left: QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that money has stifled a meaningful conversation on guns in American life, and on other issues as well

Let’s talk about guns, beginning with a couple of stories. When I was a teenager, our home in Houston was burgled one night as we slept. My mother’s purse was taken from the dresser in my parents’ bedroom. All of us slept through the intrusion.

When a policeman came the following morning to take a report, my father decided to sell the officer his .357 pistol. I’ll never forget Dad’s words. “It was probably some neighborhood kid we know, and I might have shot him over a purse,” he said.

Second story. Some years ago, I was managing a statewide political campaign when a reporter called about a rule allowing handguns in the state Senate gallery. I made a joke, wondering why Senate officials had banned use of cell phones in the gallery while permitting guns. “They’re more scared of phones than guns?” I asked with some sarcasm.

My mistake. The state and national rifle associations were after me in moments, complaining to the press that I clearly wanted to take all the guns away from law-abiding Texans. Oh yeah? Well, the humorless gun lobby will have to wait and pry the jokes out of my cold, dead fingers. Or something like that.

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By Glenn W. Smith

February 14, 2018      4:13 PM

Coppedge: Be careful what you wish for

Longtime observer of judicial races in Texas, Dr. John Coppedge, says unintended consequences may come out of a federal lawsuit to change the way judges are elected statewide

There is a lawsuit in Federal Court in Corpus Christi challenging the way Texans elect judges for statewide judicial office.

The suit, filed under the Federal Voting Rights Act, seeks to mandate the nine Justices elected to the Texas Supreme Court and nine Judges elected to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals be elected from nine separate districts, rather than statewide, and that two Hispanic majority districts be created in the Southern and Western parts of the State.

This suit is based on flawed reasoning and is quite myopic. Taking a close look, numerous problems are apparent if one examines the issues and facts and looks ahead at what would occur should the plaintiffs prevail.

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By Dr. John Coppedge

February 13, 2018      5:22 PM

Greenfield: Super Revenue Growth Continues

Economist Dr. Stuart Greenfield argues that state revenue growth is so good that lawmakers could consider (gasp) increasing spending in certain areas like pay for corrections officers

After listening to the recent Senate Finance hearing on the state of the economy and impact of Hurricane Harvey, I thought it might be helpful to provide some additional background on how well fiscally the state continues doing. 

At the January 30 hearing, Comptroller Glenn Hegar mentioned that state revenue is increasing at a rate above the Certification Revenue Estimate (CRE), but we are only five months into the current fiscal year.  The Comptroller also mentioned that budget deferrals were needed to balance the FY18-19 budget, there is an estimated billion-dollar shortfall for Medicaid, and with anticipated funds needed to address Hurricane Harvey, it was too soon to revise the estimate. 

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

February 12, 2018      4:51 PM

Grusendorf: Winning

From the Right: Former Chairman Kent Grusendorf argues the upcoming speaker’s race may give Republicans an opportunity to stop trying to find ways to surrender at the Texas Capitol

Dan Patrick and Donald Trump have something in common.  They both play to win.

A friend recently told a story of two lobbyists working together in Austin.  One had previously served in the legislature as a Democrat; a recently retired Republican legislator joined him to lobby on an issue.  After working the session, the former Democrat was astonished and said of his new Republican lobby colleague –“He was constantly looking for a way to surrender.”

Although today Republicans have majorities in both Austin and Washington, they were in the political outhouse for so many decades, it is clear that they are unaccustomed to winning, nor have they learned how to win.  For decades, Republicans’ only chance for winning was to cut a deal in return for not getting run over.  A token victory was superior to nothing. Republican leaders learned over the decades that surrender was the closest they could come to victory on many fronts.

Times have changed. 

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By Kent Grusendorf

February 6, 2018      12:19 PM

Grusendorf: Supermajority Senate Rules Undermine Democracy

From the Right: With another potential government shutdown looming, former GOP Rep. Kent Grusendorf argues that supermajority rules “allow politicians to hide from voters and act in their own interests instead of dealing with the critical business of government.”

Do senate rules that require a supermajority vote really promote bipartisanship? Are they really traditional? It is often said that senate supermajorities are critical because of tradition and because they help guarantee bipartisan compromise – both arguments wilt upon analysis. In reality, the primary result of supermajority senate rules is the protection of incumbent senators.

In DC, the supermajority rule has not resulted in bipartisanship. Instead, it has resulted in total gridlock.

Gridlock is the opposite of bipartisan compromise.

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By Kent Grusendorf

February 2, 2018      1:10 PM

Smith: I am America, and I Have a Secret Memo Right Here in My Coat Pocket

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith on President Trump’s attack on Law Enforcement.

Pool transcript of President Donald Trump’s monologue:

I have a secret memo in my pocket that details all the disgraceful things my opponents and detractors are engaged in. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Maybe this memo will be declassified soon. I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. A lot of people – a lot of people – are saying it should be released to the public. It’s just oversight.

I mean, people should be ashamed. We’ll see what happens. A lot of people are outraged, and they should be outraged.

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By Glenn W. Smith

January 26, 2018      4:18 PM

Smith: Why?

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith asks a question of “all the good folks of Texas who hold some political opinions on the right side of the middle but on the tolerant and loving side of life”

During my years in and around the Texas Capitol – as a journalist, a staffer, a public affairs guy – I watched the tolerance grow among members of both political parties as the state adjusted to its growing diversity.

Oh, intolerance and bigotry certainly didn’t disappear, as subsequent years of injury caused by racist attitudes and policies have sadly shown. After all, the 1980s were the years of the great “welfare Cadillac” lie.

Yes, as “white flight” emptied large urban school districts of affluent white families, many on the right fought all the harder against state funding of public schools. I’m not looking back on some paradise, that’s for sure.

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By Glenn W. Smith

January 24, 2018      1:43 PM

Greenfield: Governor Abbott, Where Can I Send the Calculators?

Beyond failing to cut anyone's taxes, Economist Dr. Stuart Greenfield argues Abbott’s campaign proposal to restrict revenue growth to 2.5 percent annually would result in a decline of real local property tax revenue per student

Governor Greg Abbott recently “unveiled a plan to limit annual local governments' property tax revenue growth to 2.5 percent.” As Scott Braddock reported, “Not to be outdone by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday proposed severely restricting how much cities, counties, and school districts are allowed to raise property taxes annually.” 

Like the occupant of the country’s White House, the occupant of the Texas White House appears not to have looked at the data before making a pronouncement that will affect each and every Texan. It is quite obvious that the Governor and his staff did not look at the underlying factors that drive property tax increases.

There are three main factors, population growth, price increases, and resident demand for additional government services, which influence a local government’s need to raise tax revenues. 

Did the Governor or his staff look at the growth in any of these factors before proposing to restrict tax revenue growth to 2.5 percent per year?  According to the data I was easily able to assemble, the answer appears to be no.

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

January 22, 2018      2:37 PM

Grusendorf: School finance, the next chapter

After the Texas Supreme Court said the state’s funding of schools is legal but lousy, former Public Ed Chair Grusendorf policymakers should provide a 21st century education finance system

Tomorrow the new Texas Commission on Public School Finance will meet for the first time. To paraphrase Mark Udof when he served on one of the many prior select committees appointed to deal with this thorny issue:  School Finance is like a Russian novel, it’s long, it’s boring, it’s complex, and in the end, everyone dies.

If this newest group of policy makers hopes to have greater success than their many predecessors, they might want to consider the following:

-       First, there is a subtle yet distinct difference between what might be best for institutions and what is best for student success.  New formulas should be designed accordingly.

-       Second, there is an inverse relationship between regulation and innovation.  Therefore, public schools should be allowed greater latitude over operations and delivery of services.  Public schools should be allowed to customize, specialize, and innovate.

-       Third, teachers are the backbone of the system.  Therefore, policy makers must give more than lip service in allowing educators to function as professionals.

Over the past four decades Governors Mark White, Bill Clements, Ann Richards, George Bush, and Rick Perry have all attempted to solve the school finance quandary.  Most had input from select committees, each implemented thoughtful reforms, and through a large portion of their combined tenures, the state was under judicial review regarding systemic faults.

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By Kent Grusendorf

January 15, 2018      3:55 PM

Grusendorf: Balance of Power

A Deliberative or Autocratic Texas House? It depends on the rules

The holidays are behind us. The filing deadline for candidates has passed.  The playing field for Texas politics in 2018 has been defined.  The political decisions made this year will determine the nature of the 86th Texas Legislature.

For the next twelve months, many in Austin will be focused on one big question:  Who will be the next Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives? 

Historically that was an important question each biennium. In recent years it has become a serious question only once per decade. Consequently, Texas insiders have become unaccustomed to this uncertainty.

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By Kent Grusendorf

January 11, 2018      5:54 PM

Patt, Page: Support bipartisan fixes to the 340B Drug Discount Program

Some Texas doctors argue in favor of a first step toward fixing the drug discount program

Roughly twenty-five years ago, Congress created a program, the 340B Drug Discount Program, to help safety-net clinics and community health centers improve the health of needy communities throughout the country. Unfortunately, some bad actors are taking advantage of the program for their own benefit while communities, including here in Texas, are suffering. Indiana Representative and doctor Larry Bucshon (R-IN-08) and California Representative Scott Peters (D-CA-52) recently introduced legislation, the 340B Protecting Access to Underserved and Safety-Net Entities Act (Pause), which is a great first step to provide much needed fixes to the program.

For those who aren’t familiar with the 340B Drug Discount Program, it requires the drug manufacturers to sell their medicines to eligible organizations at steep discounts but allows heath care organizations to sell the prescriptions at full price. It started out as a well-intentioned program but some organizations are using it to drive profits instead of help patients.

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By Debra Patt and Ray Page

January 5, 2018      12:28 PM

Smith: Where’s the Money?

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that victims of Hurricane Harvey continue to suffer while state and federal officials hide the money in a game of “Button, button, who’s got the button.”

It’s like a game of “button, button, who’s got the button,” and I’m not talking about Donald Trump’s or Kim Jon Ung’s buttons, however much each wants to brag about the size of his own.

This game is about who is doing what with Hurricane Harvey relief funds while victims continue to suffer.

It seems Gov. Greg Abbott, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and other state officials are in a circle holding hands with some Republican federal officials, but who has the money? Unfortunately, the public, and victims of the hurricane, don’t seem to be in the game’s circle.

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By Glenn W. Smith

January 4, 2018      5:22 PM

Greenfield: A Great Fiscal Year or Just a Good One, you be the judge

Resident economist Dr. Stuart Greenfield says absent a recession or a serious dip in oil prices, it is possible the ending balance will be an order of magnitude greater than the current $93.8 million

As noted by Comptroller Glenn Hegar, state sales tax revenue in December increased at a double-digit rate (12.3 percent) compared to December 2016.

He also mentioned growth in other state revenue sources. The Comptroller’s announcement focused on December revenue collections, with little mention of the substantial improvement in the state’s year-to-date revenue situation.

This analysis will focus on All Funds revenue, as the number of individuals that understand the current state revenue system could fit in a phone booth. We’ll also get into General Revenue-Related (GRR) revenue as these receipts are discretionary.

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

December 19, 2017      2:57 PM

Grusendorf: Tis the Season

From the Right: Republican former Texas House Chairman Kent Grusendorf says “some of the finest people I have known in politics have been liberals” and goes on to argue demonization and criminalization of political adversaries should be avoided

Politics has become very polarized in America and to a lesser degree, in Texas. We all need to remember that our political rivals are not our enemies. The demonization and criminalization of politics is dangerous to our core democratic values and should be avoided.

Although in my opinion liberals are often misguided and naïve, they are not evil people.

In fact, some of the finest people I have known in politics have been liberals. 

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By Kent Grusendorf