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May 26, 2016      1:56 PM

Smith: Texas Agencies’ “Hush Money” Settlements May Not Bind Employees to Silence

From the Left: QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that state employees forced to sign hush money settlements can’t be bound by agreements that are illegal for the state of Texas to enter into.

Texas state agency leaders, including Attorney General Ken Paxton and Land Commissioner George P Bush, you’d better watch out. All those potential whistle blowers you paid for their guaranteed silence? Under the law, they are probably free to reveal whatever secrets you are trying to hide.

If a party to a contract is legally prohibited from entering into such a contract, other parties cannot be bound by the terms. In case you didn’t know, it’s likely illegal for the state to use taxpayer money to pay hush money to employees.

In recent weeks, investigations by the Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle have uncovered a widening scandal at multiple state agencies.

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By Glenn W. Smith

May 17, 2016      5:40 PM

Greenfield: The Texas GOP should send President Obama a Christmas Card

QR’s resident number cruncher says because of the greater than expected decline in state tax collections, we should expect that the ending balance for the state will be markedly less than the $4.1 billion estimated ending certification balance for FY17

We are now 8 months into FY16 and total tax collections have decreased by an amount ($1.9 billion) almost equal to the estimated decline ($2.0 billion) in the Certified Revenue Estimate (CRE) released in October 2015.  Counter to the CRE, total state revenue is increasing at a rate (5.2 percent) substantially greater than the 1.2 percent decline in the CRE.  This result is due to the increase in non-tax revenue ($5.4 billion) being 10 times the estimate in the CRE.

Figure 1 shows that the decline in YTD growth in tax collections (-6.0 percent) is 57.9 percent greater than the estimated rate (-3.8 percent). The YTD growth rate in total state non-tax revenue (14.7 percent), is almost 15 times greater than the Comptroller’s estimated non-tax growth rate of 1.0 percent.  This has resulted in total state revenue increasing by 5.2 percent compared to the 1.8 percent decline in the CRE.

Table 1 shows state tax collections through April, eight months through FY16, have decreased by $1.6 billion or 6.0 percent, a rate of decline last experienced in FY10 when tax collections declined by 6.5 percent. What accounts for this substantial decrease in state tax collections? As shown in Table 1, the growth rate in every tax, except the motor fuels, franchise, insurance, and cigarette taxes, is increasing at a rate less than forecasted in the CRE. 

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

May 12, 2016      4:41 PM

Smith: The Icky Bathroom Obsessions of the Right

From the Left: QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues the Right’s scapegoating of “others” is enough to make us sick at our stomach, if only we could find a bathroom where it was safe to be sick.

The icky bathroom obsessions of Lt. Dan Patrick, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans make me wonder whether we need segregated public restrooms after all: one set for Republicans, another set for Democrats.

 As Bill Maher often says, “I kid, I kid.” But on a serious note, the GOP’s new “wedgy” issue does raise an alarming question: who in hell is going to do the up close and personal inspections of public restroom users to make certain they are in the proper public facility?

We may not have to worry much longer about public school restrooms, though, because right-wing Texas seems to be on the road to eliminate public schooling altogether. Today, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Texas’ unconstitutional public education system was constitutional after all, furthering the right-wing goal of erasing the “public” from education in favor of unaccountable corporate control.

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By Glenn W. Smith

May 5, 2016      2:14 PM

Smith: We are Going to Need a Bigger Wall

From the Left: QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that we could protect ourselves by building a wall around Donald Trump, but now it has to be big enough to include Trump’s newest supporters – former Gov. Rick Perry, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Maybe the best way for the nation to deal with Donald Trump would be to build a “great, great wall” – not the one he wants to erect along the U.S.-Mexico border, but a wall around him. Maybe it’d make America great again, and we might even get Mexico (and a host of other countries) to help pay for it given Trump’s belligerent ignorance on foreign policy.

Now by “wall” I don’t mean an Edgar Allan Poe “Cask of Amontillado” style seal-him-up-behind-behind-a-brick-barrier kind of thing. I mean a humane wall around a nice room with free color TV. We might include a “magic fingers” machine in the double bed to provide relaxing, vibrating massages for 10 cents a minute. Like I said, humane.

Had we moved quickly enough with the wall around Trump it could have saved Lt. Dan Patrick some staggeringly embarrassing public humiliation. Patrick, you see, was Sen. Ted Cruz’s most notable supporter. Patrick photo bombed Cruz campaign events all around the country.  The two were inseparable.

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By Glenn W. Smith

May 4, 2016      3:50 PM

O’Donnell: How Republicans manufactured their 2016 Trumpenstein candidate

Our resident curmudgeon offers a history lesson on how the Republican Party nationally got into this fix

The GOP short bus of presidential campaigning trundles toward the Donner Pass of Cleveland with no able driver and the “check engine” and “operator error” lights flashing hopelessly.

Establishment Republicans, True Believers and party apparatchiks across the nation rend their garments, and lament aloud that their 2016 fate seems hitched to a bouffant-sporting, bilious, blowhard whose credentials for the White House are unreality television, perpetual self-promotion and a knack for inciting the ugly elements in the American psyche.

The answer is simple.

Donald Trump is a full-on product of the GOP’s repeated failure to present candidates to an electorate that wants someone to get them excited. Forty years ago they had their greatest success. Crafting popular movie star, television pitchman and California governor Ronald Reagan into the right candidate was brilliant. Reagan’s election, the first triumph by electronic marketing, used his star presence to belittle and vanquish all rivals.

The GOP was in the presidential candidate manufacturing business. But sequels don’t always make a franchise.

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By Edd O'Donnell

May 4, 2016      3:41 PM

David Dunn: Texas celebrates National Charter School Week

In op-ed, Charter Schools Association ED says “let’s continue the good work by going further and providing the necessary funding to meet the demand for seats in the classroom.”

During May 1-7, we celebrate National Charter Schools Week, which is designated to raise awareness of public charter schools and the benefit they provide to students and communities.  How appropriate that Texas also commemorates the 20-year anniversary of operating public charter schools in the Lone Star State.

In 1995, the Texas Legislature authorized the establishment of public charter schools and 20 public charter schools began operating in fall 1996. There has been tremendous success and growth in the number of charter holders, campuses, and students in the last 20 years in Texas. 

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By David Dunn

April 21, 2016      9:00 AM

Smith: It’s Not Infrastructure; It’s Our Life Support System

From the Left: QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that roads, bridges, water systems etc. are more than infrastructure – they are life support systems we must maintain.

It’s no mystery to popular culture’s storytellers: life requires life support systems. When life support systems don’t exist, they must be built. When they fail, they must be fixed. Robinson Crusoe knew it. Chuck Noland, the Tom Hanks character in Cast Away knew it. Astronauts Mark Watney, Matt Damon’s character in The Martian, and Dr. Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock in Gravity, knew it.

Judging by our lack of attention to our life support systems, we are a bit slower on the uptake. You may know these systems by the dull, unromantic and uninspiring term “infrastructure.” There’s nothing about the term that signals its significance to life.

It’s easy for selfish politicians to refuse to spend money on something called infrastructure. We know that must be true because politicians in Texas and around the nation have refused to do just that.

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By Glenn W. Smith

April 13, 2016      4:44 PM

Smith: No More Hi Ho Hi Ho From Texas Republican Officials

From the Left: QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that Texas officials are anti-government zealots who have lost their zest for actual governing.

When it’s “off to work we go” for Texas Republican state officials there’s very little “hi ho hi ho” being sung these days.

It’s one thing for anti-government, right wing ideologues to rail against government. It’s another thing to willfully ruin it through corruption, ineptitude, inefficiency and carelessness. The zealots have lost their zest for actual governing.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton faces criminal charges and federal SEC accusations of securities fraud. The Texas Rangers are investigating Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller for using taxpayer money to fly to Oklahoma to receive a snake-oil salesman’s cure-all-pain-forever “Jesus Shot” and to fly to Mississippi to ride, pain-free we assume, in a rodeo.

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By Glenn W. Smith

April 12, 2016      4:38 PM

Greenfield: What would be required

Given declines in tax collections, QR’s resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield says he expects GRR in FY16 will be $1.4 billion less than in the estimate

After declining for five consecutive months, Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently announced sales tax collections had increased by 2.1 percent year over year in March 2016. This was also the highest monthly increase in sales tax experienced this year. 

Total tax collections had their first monthly increase (3.2 percent). Year-to-date (YTD) growth for both sales tax and for total tax collections – see Figure 1 – continues to be negative.

The Certified Revenue Estimate (CRE) released in October 2015 estimated that total tax collections would decrease by 3.8 percent in FY16 and increase by 4.9 percent in FY17. This translates to a decrease of 0.8 percent in total tax collections for the FY16-17 biennium. Sales tax collections were projected to increase by 1.2 percent in FY16 and 4.8 percent in FY17.

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

March 31, 2016      5:18 PM

Greenfield: Half time expenditures, FY16, what are agencies doing?

Quorum Report’s resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield says it appears that the first six months of Fiscal Year 16 have seen the worst of all possible fiscal worlds for Texas

Through February, 2016 all funds state expenditures have increased by 9.9 percent. As shown in Figure 1, this rate is the second highest rate this century, being only 0.1 percentage points less than the 10.0 percent increase in FY08. This rate of increase is almost twice the annual compound rate (5.1 percent) of growth experienced this century.

It should also be noted that this increase, 9.9 percent, is almost 250 percent greater than the increase (2.9 percent) in biennial appropriations between FY14-15 and FY16-17. The 84th Legislature increased all funds appropriations by $5.8 billion. Through February, expenditures have increased by $5.4 billion, 93.1 percent of the increase in biennial appropriations.

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

March 31, 2016      1:00 PM

Smith: When the Last Car Drives Over the Hill

From the Left: QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues for a massive commitment to public transportation.

Given our nightmarish traffic it may be hard to believe that the Age of the Automobile is over. Okay, there will always be cars, like there will always be an England. Still, there won’t be the century-long Empire of Cars we’ve enjoyed or suffered through, depending upon one’s perspective.

In 2017 we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the very first use of the term “traffic jam.” That’s according to online etymological dictionaries, which unfortunately don’t go on to identify or celebrate the road-raging author of the expression.

We should all agree that a 100-year traffic jam is just about enough.

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By Glenn W. Smith