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April 24, 2015      12:56 PM

Smith: Beware the Kindergarten Communists!

From the Left: QR’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues it is past time to reject what he terms the 'fantasies and fever dreams' of the extreme Right, like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's Tea Party advisory group's fears that pre-kindergarten is a godless plot to steal our children.

I wish we could dismiss the paranoid fantasies and fever dreams of the extreme Right in Texas. But we can’t because those nightmares, however detached from reality, are driving Texas policy – from education to health care.

This week Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Tea Party advisory group came to us with warnings that an expanded pre-kindergarten proposal – generally backed by everybody but the extremists – is a godless, socialistic plot to steal our children from us. I am not exaggerating. Here is precisely what they said:

“We are experimenting at great cost to taxpayers with a program that removes our young people from homes and half-day religious preschools and mothers' day out programs to a Godless environment with only evidence showing absolutely NO LONG TERM BENEFITS beyond the 1st grade.”

Removes our young people from homes? Do they really believe expanded pre-kindergarten will empower someone to kidnap children from the homes of God-fearing Texans and lock them up with pagan teachers who have magic soul-capturing boxes designed by the Devil?

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By Glenn W. Smith

April 21, 2015      1:16 PM

Greenfield: Holding take-home pay constant for state government employment

Quorum Report’s resident number Dr. Stuart Greenfield cruncher goes in depth on how to best create a sustainable state government workforce

As we enter the critical stage of the 84thLegislature, the state faces a favorable fiscal situation.  The budget situation this session is excellent with an ending balance of $7.5 billion and a minimum in available total state revenue in excess of $220.9 billion for the FY16-17 biennium.

While additional funding for public education, transportation and Medicaid are required, another issue will be maintaining a well-qualified and professional workforce.

Since the beginning of the 21st Century, Texas has witnessed both a substantial growth in population (22.9 percent) and an above average growth in real Gross State Product (GSP) per capita (7.5 percent). The population growth rate was over twice the U.S. rate, while growth in GSP per capita was 30 percent greater than the U.S. growth. State GSP per capita continues to be greater than GSP per capita for the United States.

Growth in population and an increase in real median household income results in an increased demand for public services; citizens require new roads, improved public and higher education, those in need qualify for social services, and protecting both its citizens and environment are critical for a growing state.

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By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

April 21, 2015      12:35 PM

Bearse: Uber Alles

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative Republican columnist argues that too many issues are being couched as “local control” issues; on ridesharing, he says it should be about personal choice and free markets

In America, we believe in free markets – that is, unless you provide an efficient, technologically-savvy alternative to taxi service, and then you have to fight the taxi cab oligarchy to enter the marketplace.

Uber is now in more than 300 cities. Apparently it meets a certain demand. During South by Southwest in Austin, it provided a quarter million rides over ten short days. The local cab oligarchs – three companies operate all the cabs in Austin – have a different business model than Uber, Lyft and other rideshare companies.

Those cab companies get paid a few hundred bucks a week by a driver to operate a car. It’s up to the driver to make enough stops to pay that fee and make a living. There’s nothing wrong with this business model per se, but it’s not exactly a supply and demand model. The ability to respond to a surge of consumer demand is limited by the cap on licensed cabs – 755, to be exact, in Austin. For five years Austin has maintained this limit on cabs despite a growing population.

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By Eric Bearse

April 17, 2015      12:38 PM

Smith: What If There Was No Public Integrity Unit?

From the Left: Quorum Report's liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that killing a Public Integrity Unit altogether is far better than creating a special, privileged justice system for state officials."

Legislators are all a-flutter over the possible creation of a special criminal justice system just for them and other state officials. That is, effectively, the goal of Public Integrity Unit bills by Rep. Phil King and Sen. Joan Huffman. Texas law would treat state government officials differently from everyone else. The changes would, not incidentally, make it much harder to prosecute state officials.

Here’s a question: wouldn’t Texas be better off with no state-funded public integrity unit than with a special criminal justice system (if you can use the word justice in this context) just for politicians?

Even the Republicans seem okay with the current Travis County Public Integrity Unit’s responsibility to prosecute insurance fraud and motor vehicle tax fraud, which no other counties want to mess with. So, why don’t we just call the Travis County group the Insurance and Motor Vehicle Tax Fraud Unit and drop the “Public Integrity” part?

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By Glenn W. Smith

April 15, 2015      6:02 PM

Moorehead: The real Biblical meaning of charity

Executive Director of Texas Impact offers an alternative view of how Scripture is used in political discourse

Editor’s note: Last week, Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse made the case that Democrats often, in his opinion, misquote Scripture for their political ends. Bee Moorehead, Executive Director of Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy/Texas Impact, took exception to that and wished to respond. Her argument is offered here for your consideration – SB

The stories of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles are mainstays of our political discourse. They provide a shared language and common frame of reference for folks of widely disparate worldviews, believers and nonbelievers alike.

But Texas is not a theocracy. Happily, we live in a representative democracy where both believers and nonbelievers get to participate in the establishment of policy priorities.

For some of us, faith informs our policy positions.  And since we don’t all believe the same things, we all may not be informed in the same way. Hang around the Capitol long enough, and you’ll hear a lot of different interpretations of Scripture.

On one point, though, you will find broad agreement in the Texas Capitol and other places where the work of politics and policy happen: the Bible does not belong to, apologize for, justify, or in any other way accrue to the benefit of any one political party. As the saying goes, God is not a Republican or a Democrat.

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By Bee Moorehead

April 14, 2015      4:58 PM

Bearse: The House of Pi

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative Republican columnist Eric Bearse argues the math just doesn’t add up with the Senate’s tax cut package

This is the one-month anniversary of national p day, and yet I feel like the need for remedial legislative math remains strong.

The first challenge, whether you are for the Senate Tax Cut or the House Tax Cut, is to recognize that while billions of dollars in tax relief sounds really large, when translated to the individual or household level, the numbers are not as great as we wish them to be. We have a lot of people. Depending on the numbers you believe, a household saves somewhere between $14 and $17 a month – or half a bean burrito a day from Taco Bell, or not even a dance a month from one of the strip clubs former Rep. Jim Pitts represents.

None of this is to say it isn’t worth doing, only to emphasize that it must be done right. I am partial to the Bonnen plan – not because I do occasional work for him – but because I have gone down the property tax cut road before. I have watched a one-third cut in the school rate evaporate in a couple years because of local discretion on the part of districts to inch the rate back up, and because of soaring appraisals. The argument becomes – and I once tried this – that your rates went up $200 less than they would have had we not cut your property taxes. Yes, your bills are higher but if it weren’t for us, they would be even higher!

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By Eric Bearse

April 13, 2015      3:51 PM

Grusendorf: School Finance 901

Former House Public Education Chairman Kent Grusendorf argues there are too many questions looming for the House to make a run at fixing school finance at this time

Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock is to be commended for taking on the Herculean challenge of trying to fix the arcane allocation formulas which drive funds to Texas school districts. This formula system is very complex, confusing, outdated, and exceedingly difficult to understand, change, or improve. Transparency is sorely needed. However, as one who has been there before, I urge caution moving forward.

Several questions should be answered before proceeding on HB 1759: Is it wise to allocate another $3 billion without first knowing what the Texas Supreme Court is going to do with the current school finance lawsuit? Could those same funds potentially be used more effectively after a final decision is rendered by the court? How would passage of this bill impact current and potential future litigation?

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By Kent Grusendorf

April 10, 2015      4:26 PM

Smith: My Inner Libertarian

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that different concepts of freedom held by the Right and Left confound easy political solutions and make it easy for one side to accuse the other of tyranny.

It would be hard to blame the average over-worked Texans from getting a bit confused about exactly where the major political parties stand on the subject of individual liberty. Republicans regularly accuse Democrats of limiting personal freedom. Then those same Republicans turn around and work for laws to take away the rights of local voters.  And restrict individual voting rights. And invade our bedrooms and mandate how we have sex and whom we can marry.  

Then there’s the confounding subject of religious freedom, which is being turned into freedom to discriminate by some on the Right. And, I almost forgot. This also touches on the issue of corporate personhood. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a series of rulings that would stretch credulity even in a dystopian science fiction novel, has extended personhood to abstract corporations. Actually, because corporations can’t be imprisoned, executed, paddled or sent to time out, they are more than persons. They are super persons with more rights than flesh-and-blood U.S. citizens.

But, as Fox News viewers are told, it’s the Democrats that want to take away individual freedoms. Just look at President Obama’s executive orders, bypassing the will of Congress! (Okay. I did. Obama has fewer executive orders than any two-term president since World War II.)

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By Glenn W. Smith

April 7, 2015      3:49 PM

Bearse: Misquoting Scripture for Political Purposes

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative Republican columnist Eric Bearse says “There’s a context for every Scripture, and there’s a con man willing to ignore it to advance an agenda. Be skeptical.”

One of the Democrats’ favorite pastimes is to use Scripture to pound Republicans. The rich young ruler in the Book of Matthew was told to sell his possessions to give to the poor, to which Democrats point makes a virtue of giving to the poor. But as usual, they miss the point of what Jesus was saying: the young ruler had just said he had kept all the commandments, and asked, “what am I still lacking?”

To this Jesus responded, “if you want to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Jesus’ central point was not about giving to the poor, it was about the inward condition of the heart versus the outward appearance of righteousness. He was challenging the young ruler beyond a surface-level commitment, saying give me everything. Material stood in the man’s way. Jesus exposed that. The young ruler walked away downtrodden.

Enough of my sermon, but here is the point: beware of anyone who turns Jesus’ salvation agenda into a social agenda.

I have no doubt as to Scripture’s admonition to help the poor, the downtrodden and the afflicted. But one of the reasons for this is for the internal transformation of the soul that occurs when one gives freely of one’s blessings. I can’t think of a worse way to serve the purpose of charity – the transformation of one’s own heart – than to outsource it to government.

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By Eric Bearse

April 3, 2015      2:50 PM

Greenfield: Spending limit déjà vu

Quorum Report’s resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield argues that the reductions required under a “tighter spending limit” wouldn’t amount to all that much and there are far better ways to improve the lives of all Texans

Many years ago a professor in a graduate economics class – a class I think I passed – said the students should “analyze, don’t memorize.” Prior to that, renowned American statistician, professor, author, lecturer and consultant William Edwards Deming said “In God we trust, all others bring data.”

The Texas Senate is adhering to neither of these rules. All we hear from the upper chamber is “spending limit, spending limit, we need a more constraining spending limit!” 

SJR 2 and SB 9 are the package of legislation meant to modify the current spending limit. This legislation will allow state expenditures to increase from one biennium to the next based on the growth rate in population and inflation.

The Legislative Budge Board prepared a fiscal note for SB that said its impact “would depend on the composition of state revenue in those biennia and future appropriation decisions by the Legislature.” While the composition of state revenue will change over time, we are able to analyze the way in which state appropriations would have been impacted by looking at how this legislation would have affected past appropriations.

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By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

April 3, 2015      11:36 AM

Smith: "I reserve the right to refuse service"…to Legislators?

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith examines so-called “religious freedom” bills and suggests the proposed laws should allow businesses to refuse to serve Texas Legislators if they really do believe Biblical injunctions to care for the poor.

Question: Say I owned Austin Land and Cattle or the Four Seasons. My sincerely held religious beliefs accord with the Old and New Testament injunctions that we “shall” (notice members, it’s not “may”) take care of the Poor. So, could I refuse to serve Texas legislators if any of the so-called religious liberty bills pass because to do so would be contrary to my beliefs?

I could cite quite a few Biblical justifications for my right to refuse service to some legislators, particularly the cold-hearted extremists who have taken over the Republican Party. But let’s just take two sacred texts. Right there in Deuteronomy 15:11 it says, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” Jesus, in Matthew 19:21 said, “…sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

The guiding ethic of the Texas Legislature appears to be the exact opposite of Jesus’ command. It’s more like “Pass Laws to Make It Easier for the Wealthy Few To Acquire All the Possessions They Can By Stiffing the Poor, By Paying Unlivable Wages, By Denying the Poor Health Care and Quality Education. Hallelujah!”

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By Glenn W. Smith

April 2, 2015      4:20 PM

Bearse: Managing our Emotions

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative Republican columnist Eric Bearse says both the left and right often make the mistake of relying too heavily on emotions in their policy prescriptions

Is it the job of a legislator to represent the passions of the mob, or to temper them?

Emotion is a powerful force in the body politic. It was emotion that sent the Patriot Act flying through Congress in the aftermath of 9/11, with few speaking up at the time about expanded surveillance powers. Emotion led to the passage of Dodd-Frank, as outrage at Wall Street propelled members of Congress to pass new regulations – regulations that unfortunately codified advantages for big banks into law while sticking it to Main Street.

I would argue emotion is behind the attempted statewide ban on texting while driving – that some tragic accidents involving distracted drivers have led to cries for new laws beyond distracted driving statutes. I can personally testify to the power of emotion in passing legislation: I worked for then-Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry as he worked to pass a lower blood alcohol limit for drunk drivers on the heels of the tragic death of four teenage girls from the small town of Brock.

Human emotion is a combustible force that has propelled the greatest possible changes in society. It is also responsible for great mischief, leaving behind a trail of unintended consequences due to irrational thought.

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By Eric Bearse

March 27, 2015      4:33 PM

Smith: There Are Consequences

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that it's hard to take the promises of voucher backers seriously when they are willing to condemn these children to unnecessary sickness and death by refusing Medicaid expansion.

How is it that the GOP, the party of so-called personal responsibility, can so completely ignore the moral, economic and environmental consequences of its policies? Hidebound ideology is the answer, of course. When you believe in a righteous path, the belief sticks even as it leads you to the cliff’s edge. “That’s not a cliff. It’s the border of the Promised Land.” Right.

The GOP’s denial of consequences is so profound that South Florida is talking about seceding from Florida because Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration refuses to acknowledge global warming and rising seawaters that are already threatening Miami and environs. Scott’s administration even prohibited use of the terms “global warming” and “climate crisis” by anyone at any level in his administration.

Or take Medicaid expansion. As millions go uninsured, sicken and die unnecessarily, the GOP conveniently avoids talk of these consequences. Instead we hear a lot of ideological baloney about how everything will be peaches and cream once we eliminate government at all levels and leave the future to Tim Dunn, Michael Quinn Sullivan and the Koch Brothers, who of course only have our best interests at heart.

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March 26, 2015      4:31 PM

Strother: The San Antonio Civil War of 2015

Colin Strother, a strategist on the Jose Menendez for Senate campaign, pulls the curtain back on how they were able to pull off what many in the capitol community saw as a huge upset over Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer

Editor’s note: Quorum Report has previously reported on the analysis offered by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer about the tough race in which he was defeated by Sen. Jose Menendez. We now offer the other side of the argument for your consideration – SB

I've been on more than a few underdog campaigns.

In 2004 I engineered the defeat of then-Congressman Ciro Rodriguez in the Democratic Primary and defended the seat two years later. To say we beat the establishment is an understatement. Trial lawyers, environmentalists, labor, and party officials (including the state party chair) marshaled all of their resources against us to no avail.

The special election and runoff to replace former Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in 2015 looked the same on paper: A largely ineffective yet beloved partisan in Trey Martinez Fischer challenged by Jose Menendez, a commonsense problem solver with relationships across the aisle and an unparalleled work ethic.

The San Antonio Civil War of 2015, as I’ll call it, wasn't exactly brother against brother (although media consultant James Alderete was with Trey while his brother Eddie Alderete was with Jose), but it pitted neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend. Although I was Jose's first Chief of Staff I am also friends with Trey.

Since the 19-point win we laid on the favorite I haven't had many questions about why or how we did it. Instead, it’s mainly been met with astonishment. After all, Trey was supposed to be the roughest, toughest, rootinist, tootinist, guy West of the Brazos.

Wrong.

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By Colin Strother

March 25, 2015      4:49 PM

Greenfield: Where is All the Money Going?

Our number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield lays out the facts on how state dollars are being spent now

Now that we’ve taken a look at the increase in Texas state tax collections, I thought it would be helpful to follow up with an in-depth look at just how those funds are being allocated.

To briefly recap the tax collection numbers: The fiscal year-to-date (YTD, September - February) growth in total net state revenue is 7.2 percent, a rate substantially greater than the 4.6 percent increase forecasted in the most recent revenue estimate, published in January.  Total state expenditures have increased at a somewhat greater rate (7.8 percent).   

As shown in Table 1, two items, Public Assistance Payments (39.9 percent), and Public Education Payments (25.6 percent) accounted for almost 2/3rds of state expenditures.  However, while the increase in Public Assistance Payments (PAP) was 13.6 percent, the increase in Public Education Payments was only 3.8 percent.

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By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

March 25, 2015      4:39 PM

Enriquez and Visco: The local control debate part of a larger, 21st Century challenge

The founders of Glasshouse Policy offer an update on their first attempt at crowdsourcing a policy solution

While the 84th Texas Legislature engages in the necessary but sometimes dizzying challenge of distinguishing good local control from bad local control, Glasshouse Policy – Texas’ first crowdsourced think tank – is injecting into the discussion a report related to local control of fire codes.

And, the implications of Glasshouse Policy’s new report are broader than they first appear.

Using the power of 21st Century communication technology, 53 of the Texas House of Representatives’ 150 districts were represented during online discussions related to fire prevention. And, an equally diverse group of stakeholders participated in our in-person roundtable process, where the fire prevention ideas and policy solutions made by our online participants were translated in actionable public policy. 

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By Francisco Enriquez and Thomas Visco

March 24, 2015      4:25 PM

Bearse: Broader Thinking

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative Republican columnist Eric Bearse argues that, among other things, doing away with in-state tuition for undocumented students in Texas would be extremely short-sighted

More than half the Texas House has been elected in one of the last three election cycles. For Republicans, that means a good portion of their caucus was elected in mid-term, “wave” elections that could have swept a dead man into office as long as he had an R by his name. Those elected in 2012 benefited from a deeply unpopular president in Texas. For three straight election cycles, the national atmosphere has been ripe for Republican gains, and subsequent consolidation of those gains.

It is conventional wisdom that state offices are decided in the Republican Primary, and most house seats too. The practical effect is more than half of the Republican Majority in the Texas House has been trained to think of issues in the context of Republican primaries, with little incentive to worry about the general election.

This is problematic in two senses: 1) Republicans should not take a laissez-faire attitude about the threats posed in general elections simply because they haven’t been competitive of late; and 2) having the vast majority of elected officials decided in either primary diminishes the ability of representatives to take a statewide view on important issues.  

Some of us remember 2008. No one knew Republican Rep. Tony Goolsby was in any kind of trouble. He famously cried out in the final days, “I'm up to my ass in a damn campaign. This is the only job I've got and I'm trying to save it. Obama's got people coming from the rafters.”

By then it was too late.

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By Eric Bearse

March 19, 2015      4:53 PM

Greenfield: What You Going to Do with Billions More?

Our resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield says tax collections are adding up in a way that will equip lawmakers to fully fund state services, invest in critical infrastructure, and provide meaningful tax relief to all Texans

To use a sports analogy, we are now at half-time of both the legislative session and Fiscal Year 2015 and our team is doing quite well.

All Funds tax collections, i.e., total state tax collections, are increasing at a rate almost four times greater than in the Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE), which the Comptroller will use to certify the General Appropriations Act for the 2016-17 biennium and other appropriations bills approved by this Legislature.

When the BRE was released in January, the Comptroller projected that the state should expect over $800 million in additional tax revenue for FY15 and an additional $6.2 billion in the FY16-17 biennium. Tax collections through February have already increased by $1.4 billion and I expect tax collections in FY15 to exceed the Comptroller’s estimate by $1.1 billion. Total state revenue for FY15 should be $1.8 billion more than in the BRE.

While the cumulative growth in tax collections has declined from FY14, see Figure 1, the rate of increase (6.3 percent) in year-to-date tax collections is almost 4 times greater than the rate (1.6 percent) estimated in the BRE. If this differential continues, tax collections in FY15 will be $1.1 billion more than the current estimate shows. This should result in total tax collections of $52.8 billion for FY15.

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By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

March 17, 2015      1:43 PM

Bearse: Random Captions

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative Republican columnist Eric Bearse argues that “ideological consistency is a bit overrated because every issue has a unique context.”

Consider this a compilation of some random thoughts, starting with the safety and security of the Alamo. It last fell into foreign hands in 1836. Thanks to Senator Donna Campbell’s bill, that will never happen again. Perhaps she just doesn’t trust George P. to keep it out of foreign hands – his mother is of Mexican descent after all. Bush has severed ties with the Daughters of the Republic, meaning it is entirely possible that Australian Aborigines may take control of this Texas shrine to freedom.

Or perhaps even CINTRA, the Spaniards who sought control of our roads to create a drug highway for Mexican cartels. But Senator Campbell’s bill will prevent foreign domination of the Alamo. As long as we are passing important bills to prevent something that will never happen, I think we ought to have a bill that prevents men from ever marrying their mothers-in-law.

There are some interesting bill captions this session – a tip of the hat to former Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale for circulating his 50 favorites.

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By Eric Bearse

March 13, 2015      4:20 PM

Greenfield: Free us from the state spending cap

Our resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield lays out the kinds of cuts to state services that would be required to cap spending based on population and inflation

Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, has filed a package of legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to allow future legislatures to increase total state spending by the sum of the increase in population and increase in inflation during the previous biennium. Limiting state spending to the increase in population and inflation has been a cause célèbre of many conservative organizations. These groups argue that the current spending limit, which is calculated based on the personal incomes of Texans, gives lawmakers too much discretion.

Today, Article VIII, Section 22, the spending limit, is applied to non-dedicated tax revenue and may not exceed the growth rate in the state economy. The current spending limit, 11.68 percent was adopted by the Legislative Budget Board in December. According to the LBB, “the level of appropriations for the 2014-15 biennium from state tax revenue not dedicated by the Constitution is $84.4 billion.” For the 2016-17 biennium the amount of appropriations from non-dedicated state tax revenue is $94.3 billion, an increase of $9.9 billion. The spending limit does not affect expenditures from federal funds, which the Comptroller has estimated will be $72.9 billion for the FY16-17 biennium. Federal revenue accounts for a third of total state revenue.

The constitutional amendment filed by Hancock, SJR 2, states that “in no biennium shall the rate of growth of appropriations…exceed a rate equal to the sum of the rates of increase or decrease, during the biennium preceding the biennium for which the appropriations are made, of the state’s population; and Inflation or deflation in this state.”

While there will be a fiscal note attached to the bill, one needn’t be a rocket scientist, nerd, or even a Ph.D. economist to determine the fiscal implications and its aftermath. The Biennial Revenue Estimate provides both actual and projected growth rates in state population and inflation. The values for 2012-2017 are presented in this table.

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By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

March 13, 2015      2:23 PM

Smith: State government triumphant: Simultaneous conservative attacks on the federal and local governments

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith says “the same lawmakers railing about federal control of states want to subvert local control and grab that power for themselves – the very thing they accuse the federal government of doing to the states.”

A 2015 analysis of how efficiently American cities spend tax dollars places seven Texas cities in the top 10. That’s right. The study, by WalletHub, says seven Texas cities are among the best-run cities in the nation when the measure is return on investment in education, police and parks and recreation.

Republicans in the Texas Legislature – and Gov. Greg Abbott – apparently can’t abide such a sterling record of fiscal sanity at the local level. The state knows best, they say, and they are pushing a goodly number of bills to reduce local control.

Quite the head scratcher, isn’t it?

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By Glenn W. Smith

March 13, 2015      1:42 PM

O’Donnell: Lawmakers scaling new heights of inanity, irrelevance and incompetence

Our resident curmudgeon Edd O’Donnell says he’s allergic to most of what’s happening at the Capitol but one leader is nothing to sneeze at

Well, the Cirque du Sillee has only been in town for several weeks and already the girls and boys of ’15 are showing the potential to surpass any Texas legislative session in living memory for the quantity and quality of goofiness.

Normally, I can keep my Ineptia (a chronicle allergic reaction to stupid) under control during legislative sessions with Benadryl and copious amounts of absinthe. This year, however, my symptoms (sneezing, uncontrollable head shaking, and migraines) have intensified exponentially. My allergist says that his other Ineptia patients passing near the Capitol report extreme symptoms this year.

Let’s look at some highlights so far from the Cavalcade de Chaos with an eye toward generating some laughter – what this bunch seems best suited to produce. It is encouraging to see women taking their rightful place among the serious contenders for a spot on the list of giggle generators.

Rep. Molly White’s opening gambit of asking all Muslims visiting her office to pledge allegiance to the American flag looked like it might be unbeatable for inane nonsense. I hoped Jewish members of the House would ask all fundamentalist Christians visiting their offices to sign a pledge to support Israel even though Judaism doesn’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah. No such luck.

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By Edd O’Donnell

March 10, 2015      2:24 PM

Bearse: Moving the Goalposts

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative Republican columnist asks what the reaction from TFR and others would be if Speaker Joe Straus had proposed changing the state’s spending cap, which those groups have long considered sacrosanct

I was intrigued by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s pitch to exempt tax relief and debt payments from the spending cap. I remember back in 1999, when I worked for Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry, that I got into an academic debate with a reporter about whether property tax cuts should be counted as spending. His point was you have to appropriate the money so locals can reduce the rates as required. That is spending.

My point was that one of the attractive features of a tax cut is to prevent the money from being spent (that, and giving people enough money to buy a family meal at McDonalds, as a Democrat put it back then.) Only in Austin do they consider it spending to give people back their own dollars.

I am sympathetic to the idea that tax relief is not spending. But to say debt payments should not count as spending – when debt is an obligation incurred because past legislatures spent beyond existing revenues – leaves a sour taste in my mouth. In fact, I think it is a cynical move.

In order to avoid the bad optics of voting to bust the spending cap, senators are simply trying to move the goalposts. But why, beyond the politics of it? What would drive you to exempt debt relief from the spending cap? Hold onto your horses: So you can spend more.

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By Eric Bearse

March 6, 2015      11:02 AM

Smith: A Separate, Special Criminal Justice System for State Officials?

From the left on Huffman plan: "It would take jurisdiction away from Travis County and replace it with a four-step, pre-charges-filed special criminal justice system available only to state officials"

I can understand that many Republicans find it vexing that Austin is the state’s capitol city. Austin is, after all, a tolerant, creative town with eyes always looking toward the future and not some imagined past in which Jesus wrote the U.S. Constitution.It should be noted, by the way, that a goodly number of these Austin-haters love certain of the town’s features: great downtown bars and steakhouses with convenient valet parking paid for by lobbyists, for instance.

Much of the ire toward Austin these days is focused on the existence of the Public Integrity Unit at the Travis County District Attorneys office. GOP-dominated state government finds it irritating that prosecutors from a very Democratic county might be empowered to look into their more suspicious behavior, of which there is no lack.

Never mind that former Gov. Rick Perry already vetoed the state appropriation for the PIU. He did so back in 2013 when his attempted threats and bribes of the District Attorney failed to let him handpick a prosecutor of his own. We now know that he had plenty of reasons to seek control of the office. Among other investigations involving his regime at that time, prosecutors were investigating the Department of Public Safety’s no-bid contract with a Virginia defense contractor. The veto killed the investigation.

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By Glenn Smith

March 3, 2015      3:07 PM

Greenfield: A tax relief plan that is more efficient and effective

Armed with the numbers to back up his argument, Dr. Stuart Greenfield says the Legislature should offer real tax relief for all Texans while making the entire system less regressive

From the halls of the Governor’s Mansion to the cubicles in the Texas Capitol, just about everyone has heralded that tax relief will be bestowed on overtaxed Texans.

Governor Greg Abbott has said he would veto a budget plan that doesn’t give businesses “genuine tax relief.” Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate specifying how both property and business taxes will be reduced. Governor Abbot has said any budget must have at least $4 billion in tax relief for him not to veto.

Not to be outdone, the Senate under the leadership of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has proposed tax relief totaling $4.6 billion for the next two years. Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dennis Bonnen, has said, “We can do better” than the upper chamber. All this adds up to an established $4 billion tax cut floor. One would assume that the ceiling is the $102.8 billion in tax collections in the Comptroller’s estimate.

A recent University of Texas poll found 54 percent of the respondents were dissatisfied with their property taxes. For the sales tax and the business margins tax, 33 percent and 32 percent, respectively, were dissatisfied with those taxes. Of those dissatisfied with the property tax and the sales tax, over 90 percent indicated these taxes should be reduced.

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By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

March 3, 2015      3:00 PM

Bearse: Leadership Amiss

From the Right: With the Netanyahu speech to Congress as the backdrop, Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse argues leaders should use their political capital to take the right risks

I am watching Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak to Congress as I write. He knows how to give a serious speech. He has gravitas. With a firmness to his voice and his gaze, we see a leader who knows the stakes of nuclear negotiations with Iran. The petty politics of the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats that preceded the speech are made smaller by the seriousness of his message. It’s a view the American People need to hear, and that members of both parties in Congress should welcome as part of their oversight role of the Administration’s foreign policy.

Netanyahu’s seriousness and resolve underscore the lack of both in our leadership today. The world quickly crumbles when America refuses to lead. Not only is there no over-arching premise to the Obama foreign policy, but there is a dangerous hollowing of our military that has taken place. The trillion dollars in defense spending cuts, forced by the sequestration, have left our Army 100,000 soldiers lighter, less than half our Air Force squadrons combat-ready, and devastated the readiness of our Navy and Marine Corps too.

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By Eric Bearse

February 27, 2015      4:33 PM

Smith: Salem's Senate

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith says Lt. Gov. Patrick could potentially cement an alliance between Gov. Abbott and Speaker Straus immediately with a fight over Abbott’s picks for the UT Board of Regents

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Senate may not burn Gov. Greg Abbott’s three nominees to the University of Texas System board of regents at the stake. But after yesterday’s Senate Nominations Committee hearing, it is tempting to think that the nominees’ ankles sure must be feeling warm.

Abbott’s appointees –David Beck, Sara Martinez Tucker, and re-appointee Steve Hicks – are subject to Senate confirmation. It’s unimaginable that 1) Abbott could be so inept that he would lose such an early battle to Patrick; 2) Patrick could be so short-sighted that he would try to win it. Patrick faces two other centers of power: The governor’s office and Speaker Joe Straus’s House. Acting early to cement an Abbott-Straus alliance is not in Patrick’s interests, to say the least.

Still, if yesterday’s hearing is any evidence, Patrick does have a rather unicameral, neutered governor vision of Texas government. He’s even called for the creation of an Army of Christ to advance his personal Crusade against… well, I guess against anyone in Texas who disagrees with him. It is possible that Patrick truly believes himself anointed to lead an Army of Christ, although I think he’s more cynical panderer than a Christian warrior.  But I won’t question his faith. The route from sports bar owner to the Texas Senate might have passed near Damascus after all.

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By Glenn W. Smith