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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

February 25, 2015      3:53 PM

Bearse: Is Anyone Paying Attention

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse says President Obama is dangerously downplaying the threat from ISIS.

This is what happens when you elect an elitist college professor as the leader of the free world. Here we have a terrorist organization with a vision to return the world to the 7th Century, beheading reporters, filling mass graves with infidels, and vowing to rid the earth of Christians, Jews, and Muslims who don’t conform to their fanaticism, and our president denies both their religious roots and the severity of their threat.

They have declared a caliphate over land larger in size than the United Kingdom. The severity and religious nature of their threat is recognized by the leaders across the Muslim world, and yet the president lectures America about passing judgment when so much evil was done in the name of Christ some 800 years ago.

Worse than the president’s refusal to call the enemy by its name is his inability to articulate a plan to defeat them. But thank God for Undersecretary of State, Richard Engel, who is committed to winning the war against ISIS over twitter. He declared a few days ago, “these guys are not BuzzFeed; they’re not invincible on social media.”

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By Eric Bearse

February 23, 2015      5:01 PM

Greenfield: Money, Money, Money, It Just Keeps Rolling In

Number cruncher extraordinaire Dr. Stuart Greenfield says Comptroller Hegar’s estimate might not be optimistic enough. Among other things, he notes oil production for the fiscal year will exceed one billion barrels. That hasn’t happened since 1978.

Newly elected Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s Biennial Revenue Estimate – the BRE – has been called quite optimistic by many commentators, especially given the dramatic decline in the price of crude oil. But the release of revenue collections for January indicates his estimate might not be optimistic enough.

Chart 1 shows the year-to-date (YTD) growth rate in tax collections for FY10 through FY15, and both the estimated growth rates from the Certified Revenue Estimate (1.8 percent) released in December 2013, and the current BRE (1.6 percent).  Check out the fact that YTD growth in tax collections (6.8 percent) is 325 percent greater than the estimated rate (1.6 percent).  The YTD growth rate in total state revenue (8.1 percent) is 80 percent greater than the estimated growth rate (4.6 percent).  

The latest estimate of state tax collections are projected to grow by 1.6 percent in FY15 and then increase by 2.4 percent in fiscal 2016 (FY16) and 5.6 percent in FY17. Total net revenue is expected to increase by 4.6 percent in FY15, increase by 1.7 percent in FY16 and then decrease by 1.9 percent in FY17.  

Table 1 shows state tax collections through January have increased by $1.2 billion or 6.8 percent, a rate comparable to that experienced in FY14 (6.7 percent).

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By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

February 20, 2015      3:05 PM

Smith: The Voucher Con

From the Left: Quorum Report's liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that Texans are too smart to fall for claims from voucher proponents

As a cub reporter back in the mid-1970s I covered an attempt by some West Houston, Galleria-area people to secede from the Houston Independent School District. The move, which would have carved out an affluent, all-white district, came not long after the federally mandated desegregation of Houston schools.  

Over the course of the public debate, the leader of the school secession movement pledged that the “Westheimer Independent School District” would 1) Use what had been HISD facilities; 2) retain HISD teachers; 3) follow the HISD curriculum. So, I asked him during a live public television interview show, what’s the point of creating a new school district if you are going to operate exactly like the old one? The secessionist leader, an affable attorney, paused a moment before answering, “Esprit de corps.”  

Webster’s online dictionary defines “esprit de corps” as “feelings of loyalty, enthusiasm, and devotion to a group among people who are members of the group.” In this case, “members of the group” were exclusively white, wealthy, suburban families who didn’t want to share a little esprit or anything else with those not belonging to their exclusive group.  

I thought of this when I read an excellent op-ed opposing vouchers in the Houston Chronicle by Houston attorneys Kelly Frels and David Thompson. Back in the mid-‘70s when the Westheimer school district fight took place, Frels was a brilliant young attorney representing HISD in a high-stakes legal contest. The efforts of Frels and his colleagues were successful, and the Westheimer district issue all but disappeared into history.  

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By Glenn W. Smith

February 18, 2015      1:57 PM

Bill Grusendorf: It is time for The Legislature to correct a 40 year old wrong

The head of the Texas Association of Rural Schools argues that it does not take much money to help rural schools and the issue he raises will not be resolved by the school finance case before the Texas Supreme Court

The Gilmer Aiken school finance law of 1949 awarded classroom teacher units (CTU) for each 25 pupils in average daily attendance (ADA). If for instance you only had 10 or 12 students in a class, you were extremely underfunded and this is what we call the diseconomy of scale for small/rural schools.

In 1975 then-Governor Dolph Briscoe appointed a study group within his office called the Governor's Office of Educational Research (GOER) to explore and evaluate the school finance laws passed in 1949 and make recommendations for improvement. Among the many recommendations that this group made was to recognize and fund the diseconomy of scale in small schools. 

During the 1975 legislative session, there was indeed a formula put in place to meet the challenge of teaching a class of less than 25 pupils. This recognition was a great step forward for rural Texas. However, there were those who still believed more consolidation should take place and demanded that certain small schools, labeled "small by choice," should be funded less than other small schools. This line of thought came to the fore that year during conference committee deliberations between the Senate and the House conferees.

The Governor’s staff was asked to suggest a way of defining districts that were “small by choice.” The response was to define a district as “small by choice” if it encompassed fewer than 300 square miles within the school district boundaries. This arbitrary definition has continued to underfund small school districts for over 40 years and very few districts have consolidated since that time.

To this day, the pupils and taxpayers in 471 school districts are penalized by this arbitrary decision.

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By Bill Grusendorf

February 17, 2015      3:20 PM

Bearse: What is Old is New

From the Right: Among other things, Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse argues that when it comes to property taxes, his fellow Republicans have fallen into a trap of trying to solve a local problem at the state level

The more things change, the more things stay the same. This session brings back memory of past battles. Hopefully our current leaders have read the minutes from the previous generation's meeting.

The push for school choice, to include vouchers, led by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, takes me back to 1999 when then-Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry led a similarly charged effort to pass a school choice bill that included a pilot voucher program for children in our largest urban areas.  

Senator Luna, seriously ill at the time, famously asked Lt. Gov. Perry to give him 24-hours notice so that he could travel to Austin to fight it. It came close to a vote, but never materialized. Future sessions saw vouchers bills fizzle. Then the issue seemed to go away for a few years. Now it is back with a vengeance.

I am skeptical it will pass this time, though the threshold is a couple votes lower in the Senate. Lawmakers listen to their superintendents when they call. Rural Republicans are not too keen on the whole concept. I will reserve judgment when I know more about the particulars of the bill, but I suspect the movement conservatives will get rolled by the education machinery.

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By Eric Bearse

February 16, 2015      4:04 PM

Greenfield: Expansion through Contraction: How to Benefit All Texans Through Expanding Health Coverage

In his guest column, number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield lays out a way to expand health coverage in Texas through the ACA with a “private sector free market” approach. “I’m not sure one could ask for anything more.”

A news story published in the Houston Chronicle under the headline “Medicaid expansion supporters see sliver of hope in Abbott” included this statement from John Davidson, a health care policy expert at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation:

"Rebranding Medicaid expansion as 'The Texas Solution' or 'The Texas Way' doesn't actually change the fundamentals…it is Medicaid, and that means it's an entitlement, and there's not much you can do about that."

Fortunately for all Texans there is a way, “The Pareto Way,” to provide a conservative-style “private sector free-market approach” in extending coverage to a million Texans while reducing state Medicaid outlays and hospital uncompensated care costs. That last reduction should allow local hospital districts to reduce their property tax rates. We call it “The Pareto Way” because everyone is made better off and no one is made any worse off.

There were some lawmakers during the 83rd Legislative Session, primarily Republican doctors Rep. John Zerwas and former Sen. Robert Deuell, who prepared legislation for consideration for a Texas solution for Medicaid expansion.

The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) did prepare a staff estimate of the costs to participate in the Medicaid expansion. The LBB estimated that to cover 932,000 Texans through the expansion for ten years would increase Medicaid outlays by $49.2 billion of which federal funds would cover $45.2 billion (92 percent) and the state’s obligation would be $4.0 billion. The state’s return would have been over 1000 percent, a return that even Warren Buffett would find significant.

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By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

February 13, 2015      3:23 PM

Smith: The Real Scandal in College Admissions

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues the actual scandal is that there isn’t a genuine debate over making a college education available to every kid in Texas

We’re all shocked, shocked, I say, to learn that political connections were used to get otherwise unqualified students admitted to the University of Texas at Austin. This is news?

A report released this week, commissioned by the University of Texas System and conducted by Kroll Associates, confirmed that strings were pulled to get some kids into the university. I don’t know what the report cost, but it was a waste of money. For a very modest fee I would have prepared a beautiful report with charts and graphs and bells and whistles, too. I would have confirmed that this has been a practice at the nation’s public and private universities since there were universities in the nation.

Let’s be honest. America is not a perfected meritocracy in which achievement is carefully measured and rewarded. We do not all start at the same starting line. Many people get ahead who have not earned their success. Many deserving folk fail. Few among the successful admit that a little head start and a lot of luck helped them succeed, but it’s true in many cases.

The real scandal should not be exclusively about privileged admissions at UT. The scandal is that at the very same time some are pulling those strings to get their kids into college, they are arguing publicly that success in America is, in an absolute sense, a matter of self-reliance and personal responsibility. Except when it isn’t. It’s our lack of honesty regarding how privilege begets privilege that needs public acknowledgment.

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By Glenn W. Smith

February 11, 2015      3:05 PM

Bearse: Screws on the Loose

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse says folks on the left, right and in between have been shooting themselves in the foot this week

There has been so much inanity in the political world over the course of the last week that it amounts to an embarrassment of riches for your right-of-center columnist. Let’s start with the easiest target: Brian Williams.

There is not much to say that hasn’t already been said. Twitter and Facebook mockery has now placed him with Washington crossing the Delaware, and as the SEAL who shot Bin Laden. But here is what is interesting to me: as the anchor of the NBC evening news, Mr. Williams had one of the best gigs not just in the media world, but in the entire global marketplace. He was both a celebrity and the sober voice of truth.

That is why it is a strange phenomenon that someone with such an outsized role in American public life would still feel so insecure about his own place in society that he had to make himself even more important. We are not talking about little fibs, but big ones. Not things you would forget with time, but things you would never forget – such as the moment your helicopter started taking incoming fire. When you have made it to the top, the key is to be understated, not overstated. It seems he didn’t realize how good he had it.

Then there is the moral equivocator-in-chief who leads our country. He used a national prayer breakfast to make the point that all religions are guilty of bad behavior – or at least their adherents. It’s a true point, but it rang hallow.

Because the context is a savage enemy that has taken a radical interpretation of Islam as justification for the beheading, crucifixion and rape of its enemy. To say, “hey they are bad guys, but we have some bad guys too” harkening back to the crusades for atrocities in the name of Christ was just so much pabulum that it is a reminder that we have elected a president who has a mixed opinion about the goodness and rightness of America’s influence in the world.  

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By Eric Bearse

February 6, 2015      12:29 PM

Smith: A Vaccine Against Selfishness: Maybe We Have One. It’s Called Education.

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues the controversy over vaccines could prompt the Legislature to take positive steps on vaccinations and education

It is something of an understatement to say that America and Texas are in a bit of a mess when it comes to the kinds of moral decision-making necessary to maintain a healthy democracy.

A healthy democratic social fabric requires concern for others, or at least tolerance of others. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is once supposed to have questioned whether something called “society” even existed. The individual was all, in her mind. Well, Thatcher’s Mini-Me followers this side of the Atlantic (and some situational liberals) often entertain similar narcissistic, desert island fantasies of their own.

Take, for instance, the measles vaccine crisis. There are parents on the right and the left who refuse to have their children vaccinated for a variety of mumbo jumbo reasons. This, they believe, is their right. No matter that measles, which can and does kill, is once again spreading throughout the country.  Real science, medicine and a universal vaccination program had eradicated it in the U.S.

But some are arguing that individual interests come first, even if those individual interests kill their neighbors. This is not too strong a way to put it.

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By Glenn W. Smith

February 5, 2015      1:32 PM

Coppedge: Two Guys Do it One Way, Two Guys Do it Another...Which way is best for you

East Texas sophomores trump more senior members in committee assignments

In the Texas House of Representatives, the Speaker, elected by his fellow members, holds great power.   One of the greatest  powers is the Speaker's control of the composition and leadership of the various committees that hold hearings and bring legislation up for a vote (or block legislation from ever seeing the light of day).  

While a few committee assignments are made on the basis of "seniority", the majority of them are made by and at the sole discretion of the Speaker.  And all of the CHAIR and VICE-CHAIR appointments are made by the Speaker.      

For the average citizen and voter this matters only in that it is better for you if your State Representative serves on good committees and can be effective in passing legislation that benefits you and your fellow citizen who elected that person in the first place.  Or alternatively, they are more capable of stopping legislation that is detrimental to you and your community.

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By John Coppedge

February 3, 2015      2:14 PM

Bearse: How we deal with Islam

From the right--"To any objective observer, no nation has done more to protect Muslim peoples in the last 25 years than the United States."

There are more than 1.6 billion Muslims living in the world, representing nearly a quarter of the global population, and we haven’t a clue how to deal with them.

Rep. Molly White says that despite reports, her staff did not ask Muslim visitors to pledge allegiance to the United States on Muslim Day. I will take her word for it. But there is some irony that she would express concern about Muslim loyalty to America while propping up the flag of Israel in her office that day. I am a supporter of Israel, but I don’t think I would display a foreign flag when questioning the allegiance of other Americans to our flag.

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By Eric Bearse