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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

March 23, 2016      4:45 PM

Smith: Ted-Enders: Fatalist GOP Elites turn to Ted Cruz to stop Trump

From the Left: QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues GOP establishment bosses are like Donald Rumsfeld’s 2003 “dead-enders,” Iraqis whose cause was lost.

Back in 2003 then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld coined a famous name for Iraqis who didn’t know they’d been beaten: “dead-enders.” A similar phenomenon seems to be going on right here at home among Republican elites who are holding their noses and endorsing Sen. Ted Cruz in hopes of derailing Donald Trump.

Call them “Ted-Enders.”

Jeb! Bush, Lindsey Graham, Mitt Romney and other establishment types are endorsing the malefic Cruz, who campaigns openly as an authoritarian theocrat and who is detested by these same endorsers and virtually the rest of his party’s leadership. By the way, they don’t dislike him for his theocratic authoritarianism; it’s his miserable personality that puts them off.

Cruz, though, has one thing going for him: he’s not Donald Trump, the GOP frontrunner who is scaring the bejeebers out of party officials. They see Trump as the embodiment of a kind of catastrophic climate crisis for the Republican Party. Well, they would see him that way if they believed in the climate crisis. Anyway, they think he forever dooms their party.

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By Glenn W. Smith

March 17, 2016      4:56 PM

Smith: Welcome to the Wile E. Coyote GOP

From the Left: QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that today’s GOP should drop its elephant icon for self-defeating Wile E. Coyote of Roadrunner cartoon fame

The Republican establishment is simultaneously trying to steal the presidential nomination from Donald Trump while it attempts to deny a president’s constitutional authority to appoint U.S. Supreme Court judges – the kind of anti-social action that helped create Trump in the first place.

Apparently, self-awareness is not a contemporary conservative value.

Why is it anti-social of the GOP to refuse to meet with, hold hearings with or vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland? The Republicans are violating an unwritten rule that is of critical importance to the health of democracy: the agreement to peaceably defer to a winning party or candidate. By denying the wishes of a majority of American voters and the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency, the GOP is ripping apart the social-political fabric.

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By Glenn W. Smith

March 13, 2016      4:17 PM

Greenfield: Money keeps on rolling in but where has it gone?

Our resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield notes the greater than expected decline in state tax collections and says “one should expect that the ending balance for the state will be markedly less than the $4.1 billion estimated ending certification balance for FY17.”

A year ago, after the Comptroller had released the 2016-2017 Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE), I wrote a piece, Money, Money, Money where I concluded that the Comptroller’s estimate for FY15 underestimated expected collections. The Comptroller’s estimate for FY15 was spot-on, I was spot-off. 

This year my analysis will just report the facts, which I hope will allow readers to draw an informed, appropriate conclusion.

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.

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

March 11, 2016      3:59 PM

Smith: This Year, It May Be True that the Long-term Future of America is at Stake

From the Left: QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that with as many as four U.S. Supreme Court vacancies to be filled by the next president, everything from the future of the Civil Rights Act, solutions to global warming, income inequality, the health of the global economy and America’s social fabric may hang in the balance.

It’s a very human habit to consider one’s own time and place the very center of human civilization. Nothing is as important as everything is now, most generations think. It’s a kind of shared generational cultural narcissism, and it’s nothing new.

But 2016 just might be an election year that is more important than many other recent elections. The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the possibility that three other justices – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy – will retire during the term of the next president mean the Supreme Court will be radically altered. To the Left or to the Right, we do not yet know.

Republican U.S. Senators seem to get it. That’s why they are tossing the Constitution out the window and refusing to advise and consent on any nominee President Obama might name to replace Scalia. The blockade is widely unpopular among all kinds of voters. It’s just another sign that popular democracy is already threatened by power-mad types who believe their wills are and should be superior to the rest of us. History will condemn them, of course, unless the move helps them take such power that history itself becomes their plaything.

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By Glenn W. Smith

March 10, 2016      4:50 PM

Coppedge: Takeaways from the judicial races

Longtime observer of judicial politics in Texas offers his thoughts on the way those races played out

John Coppedge, a longtime observer of judicial politics in Texas, has given some thought to the way those races played out this year and wanted to share his takeaways with the Quorum Report audience. They are as follows:

ON THE REPUBLICAN SIDE:

#1.  Incumbency is powerful -  In the six statewide judicial races, all four of the incumbents running in contested races won.

#2.  In the "ORPHAN COURT" (Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) the only thing that matters is a good ballot name. To hell with silly things like "qualifications" and "experience" and "newspaper endorsements" and "bar polls".  Sid Harle was unquestionably the best qualified person to ever run  for this court and he finished fourth (out of four) in the Republican Primary.  This result is the poster child for judicial selection reform.  Shame on Texas Republican voters.  Do your homework or don't vote!!

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March 7, 2016      4:39 PM

John Patrick: Attack on Unions Is an Attack on Democracy

In op-ed, the president of the Texas AFL-CIO argues that encouraging growth of labor unions, instead of decimating them, is one way to bring a measure of economic stability to our nation.

The Texas Association of Business (TAB) doesn’t like labor unions, as made plain in President Bill Hammond’s column (“Employees should be given protections, choices over unions,” March 2).

It is ever thus. Unions have been under attack by business moguls in the U.S. since their inception, for no other reason than that they deliver higher pay and benefits so working people can sustain a family.

Unlike Hammond and TAB, the debate on unions has moved on. Americans know income inequality is worse than ever, paralleling the decline in union membership that Hammond celebrates. The ability of working people to speak up together for a better deal on the job is more essential than ever to restore the middle class.

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By John Patrick, President of the Texas AFL-CIO

March 7, 2016      12:00 PM

O’Donnell: New scientific discoveries offer insights into 2016 presidential campaigns

QR’s resident curmudgeon Edd O’Donnell offers a rundown of the trap doors various White House aspirants have fallen into

Finally, after a century of intense, high-dollar research in genetics and astrophysics, science is now providing useful clues about why the 2016 presidential campaigns in both parties seem like throwback episodes from Twilight Zone.

Revelations that modern humans and Neanderthals started interbreeding long before previously thought provide a clearer idea of why Donald Trump and Ted Cruz find the club mightier than the brain. Apparently the population is rife with Neanderthal genetic material providing these two with large constituencies bent on clubbing themselves into irrelevance and even further estrangement in 21st century America.

Trump is the rich white guys’ Al Sharpton while Cruz channels 1950s alcoholic commie hunter Senator Joseph McCarthy in rhetoric, style and even looks. Nominating either of these two as standard-bearer almost surely kills any GOP chance to take the White House in a general election wherein the majority of voters are not rich white guys.

Cruz and Marco Rubio won’t cut it with Mexican American voters. To understand why they lose, take a look at the numbers in Obama’s re-election landslide.

Unlikely, but this could come down to a brokered GOP convention that might make Rubio the only viable, if not winning, candidate. A movement to Dump Trump and Lose Cruz would leave the GOP (in poker parlance) “limping in.” Looks like another case of the GOP snatching defeat from the jaws of victory even against a Democrat candidate (either one) with loads of baggage and no way to get to the middle. More will be revealed.

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By Edd O'Donnell