Saturday, June 24, 2017

Dallas Morning News Concern Trolls Ted Cruz....


"For there is no faithfulness in their mouth;
Their inward part is destruction;
Their throat is an open tomb;
They flatter with their tongue."
Psalm 5:9

We will confess to having mixed feelings about the Health Care bill currently winding its way through the United States Senate.  On the one hand, it's obviously a betrayal of any number of GOP campaign promises.  On the other hand, GOP betrayal of campaign promises is nothing new, and we think a case can be made for banking what's currently on the table then coming back and asking for more in the next round.

But either way, today's Dallas Morning News article about Ted Cruz allegedly threatening his 'new reputation as a deal maker' in the U.S. Senate is cute.

Check out the shrieking headline:
Ted Cruz's opposition to Senate health care bill will test whether he's deal maker or still just agitator
Followed by:
WASHINGTON — The agitator. The obstructionist. The bomb-thrower.

All of those depictions of Sen. Ted Cruz were ripe to be dusted off Thursday as the Texan joined three other Republican senators in jeopardizing the Senate GOP’s Obamacare replacement plan by announcing opposition to the bill just hours after it was released.

....

Much has been made in recent months about Cruz’s emergence as a team player, a truly foreign role for the one-time presidential contender who staked his outsider credentials on bucking GOP leadership with theatrics like trying to shut down the government.

His latest gambit — which stands in stark contrast to the approach of his fellow Texan, Sen. John Cornyn — puts that charm offensive to the test.
The article then goes on to detail of the "oh so important" relationships Cruz could be jeopardizing;  in paragraph 21, they finally get around to mentioning that Cruz has a very tangible path to yes.

Read the whole thing here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Stickland fires early shot across Cornyn's bow....


"The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth."
Psalm 34:16

This is wildly premature, but nevertheless awesome:


Bottom Line: A lot can change in two years, but if we get to this point in 2019 and Cornyn and Stickland both continue their current trajectories, this could be a very interesting race....

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Austin ISD just passed a budget for HOW MUCH...and they want to issue bonds for HOW MUCH?!?


"As a dog returns to his own vomit,
So a fool repeats his folly."
Proverbs 26:11

Shot (and keep in mind this is, at least, the third year in a row they've passed the biggest budget in their history):
The $1.46 billion dollar budget was approved much quicker than anticipated with the discussion only lasting about 10 minutes. The vote went 7-0-2, with two board members abstained.
Chaser:
As for the bond proposal, the board approved 40 different bond projects totaling $990 million (*)....
While we're on the subject, however, there's one point we need to re-emphasize: This is exactly what you should expect to happen when three of the trustees run unopposed.

But still....

Bottom Line: We'll see you in November....
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* - Keep in mind, that's only principal and doesn't include interest or cost overruns.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

#TXLEGE: Notes on the Mark Jones Index....


"Therefore by their fruits you will know them."
Matthew 7:20

Mark Jones is a political science professor at Rice University.  Every odd numbered year, he produces a non partisan index that ranks the members of the Texas Legislature from left to right.  Jones' index is worth investing some time into because, while the methodology is more complicated than some other groups, it's the most comprehensive analysis of individual members of the Texas Legislature.

Texas House Results:

Note: Click on the image to enlarge.

Texas Senate Results:


In no particular order, some personal observations:
  • Freedom caucus (predictably) solidify their position as the 12 most conservative House members.
  • Kel Seliger is the most liberal Republican in the Texas Senate; over half of the Republican caucus in the House is more liberal than Seliger.
  • In the House, we would give every member from Rodney Anderson up a passing grade on voting record; that's 31 members out of a 95 member Republican caucus.
  • However, even among those 31 members with passing grades on their voting record, there are three (Drew Springer, Dennis Bonnen, and Larry Phillips) who receive automatic F's based on other shady actions; so 28 members out of a 95 member House Republican caucus ultimately receive passing grades.
  • 26 Republican House members have more liberal voting records than Byron Cook; chew on that one for a second.
  • Jason Isaac moves significantly to the right from 2015 to 2017; this is consistent with a number of observations we made during the session.
  • In the other direction, Jodie Laubenberg, James White, Giovanni Capriglione, Tan Parker, and Phil King continued their multi-session leftward drift.
  • Speaking of leftward drift, Dan Flynn is now in the bottom half of House Republicans.
  • Rafael Anchia and Chris Turner both rank significantly to the left of the average Democrat in the House...are they sure those are the two guys they want to make spokespeople for their entire party?!?
  • On the Senate side, all Republicans elected in the past 7 years are significantly to the right of the person they replaced.
    • Update: We suppose that technically Paul Bettencourt is about even with the guy he replaced in SD-7.
  • Charles Perry and Larry Taylor both have voting records to the left of Bob Nichols; while people shouldn't overreact, this is a trend worth monitoring.
  • Joan Huffman as the second most liberal Senate Republican might be flying a little too close to the sun for her own good in her re-elect cycle.
Read the full report (including a detailed discussion of methodology) for the House here and the Senate here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

#TXLEGE: Scalise shooting changes Constitutional Carry calculation for #SpecialSession


"Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me."
Nehemiah 4:18

Regarding constitutional carry, one reality has guided our thinking since the end of the regular session: According to several private conversations with knowledgeable sources, we are at least four votes short in the Texas Senate.  Thus, this issue has struck us as one that just requires one more election cycle before it becomes a realistic possibility.  During a special session that already features more issues than we will have the bandwidth to cover, it has struck us as prudent to save this one for 2019.

But last week's Congressional shooting changed our thinking.

Since then, we can't escape the following conclusion: In a world where politically motivated assassination attempts are a contingency for which we must prepare, what if removing barriers to entry for lawful firearms ownership prevents (or even minimizes) one tragedy?!?

It would be hard to live with ourself if we didn't try.

We want to make one thing clear: During the special session, this author will almost certainly not have time to work this issue.  Thus, even if it does get added to the call, don't expect to hear a lot about it here.  But this issue has a corps of very committed activists and the truth is that our personal participation is not necessary.

Furthermore, from a political perspective, there's also the fact that during a special session you only need 16 votes to pass a bill in the Senate.  Thus Kel Seliger, Bob Nichols, Joan Huffman, and Craig Estes would be free to vote no.  While holding the other 16 Senate Republicans isn't necessarily a slam dunk, it does strike this website as a realistic possibility.

Bottom Line: Even if this author has personal bandwidth limitations, this issue really should get added to the call.

Unpacking the "War on Cities" Talking Point


"Do not rob the poor because he is poor,
Nor oppress the afflicted at the gate;"
Proverbs 22:22

Since Governor Abbott called the special session, we've noticed a recurring talking point.

From Mayor Adler:
“I admit to being a little dumbfounded when I heard what sounded to me like a call for a war against cities; a fight against individual liberties exposed at the ballot box,” Adler said. “Instead of looking at a future … the governor’s special call looks to the past.”
From Greg Casar:
"So many of the things listed here are attacks on Austin, not just in the traditional Austin-bashing sense, but on cities generally because we pose a threat in the long term,"
From the Texas Municipal League:
“The list of proposed topics for a special session represents an all-out assault on the ability of Texas voters to decide what’s best for their communities and their neighborhoods.
We've also heard similar rhetoric from local officials in (at least) Houston and Dallas.

This is worth considering in full, because the argument contains a kernel of truth wrapped in hysterical misdirection.  The short version is that these politicians (and their taxpayer funded lobbyists) have everything backwards.  While nobody denies the potential long term political implications of the special session agenda, that's a secondary concern compared to the fact that municpal governments across this state have been abusing their citizens can the Texas legislature has jurisdiction to reign them in.

Consider the following:

These two are worth considering on their own, because they're obvious macroeconomic storms gathering on the medium term horizon.  Left unchecked, local government debt and the property tax system will strangle the state's economy.  Does anyone (Note: Who isn't paid to say otherwise) seriously think reigning in these practices is a bad thing?!?

The abuses continue:
  • In Austin, the permitting process for residential construction is so complicated and convoluted that council created a pay to play fast lane for the big developers...which they subsequently loaded up with a new round of complicated conditions.
  • Even in allegedly conservative cities like Frisco and Plano, property tax collections have been growing faster than the ability of homeowners to pay them.
  • Also in Austin, while issues like the tree ordinance and short term rentals (note: that's going to be a germane amendment on some bill during the special) get the most attention, the anti-property rights orientation of the municipal government has become so pervasive that the code department is performing SWAT-team raids.
Again...does anyone seriously think reigning in these practices is a bad thing?!?

But you want to talk politics?!?  Fine, let's talk politics.  We've been saying since 2013 that, while punks like Battleground Texas would never turn Texas blue, the unchecked growth of government at the local level is the one thing that could swing the state over the long run.

While a certain amount of boutique progressivism has crept in over the past decade, historically the backbone of the left-wing coalition has been people who collect checks from the government (ie. bureaucrats, lobbyists, and welfare recipients).  Naturally, it follows that if there are fewer people collecting checks from the government, there will be fewer constituencies for left wing policies.  There's a reason why we compared Governor Abbott's special session agenda to Scott Walker's in Wisconsin.

Put differently: This website is primarily interested in lowering our personal cost of living, but if we can simultaneously make it easier to win elections 10 years down the line, that's certainly a bonus we'll take.

Bottom Line: It's time to reign in abusive municipal governments for the sake of reigning in abusive municipal governments; if doing so also makes it easier to win elections in a decade, so much the better.

Monday, June 19, 2017

#TXLEGE: Trib poll illustrates degree to which status quo crowd is playing with FIRE.....


"People shall be brought down,
Each man shall be humbled,
And the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled."

Isaiah 5:15

The Texas Tribune conducted a poll in early June, immediately after the regular session of the legislature ended.  Last week, they released unsurprising results related to national stories and elected officials.  But today's results related to issues should serve as a wake up call to anyone who wants to preserve the status quo:
  • EVERY ASPECT OF THE SANCTUARY CITIES BILL IS POLLING NORTH OF 50%.
    • Newsflash to Joe Straus, Mayor Adler, Rafael Anchia, the Democrats, and the Austin Lobby: THIS IS A POPULAR BILL.
    • Requiring local police to work with Immigration authorities is approved by 58% of voters and only disapproved by 33%...do you really want to take the 33% side in a statewide campaign?!?
    • Also, bear in mind that this poll was conducted at peak hysteria related to the Rinaldi/Poncho incident...which means that, even with full race card guns blazing, every aspect of this law polls at 53% or higher.
  • 77% of voters support statewide limits on property taxes.
  • 63% OF DEMOCRATS support statewide limits on property taxes.
    • NEWSFLASH MAYOR ADLER (you too Sylvester Turner).
  • While they didn't poll support/opposition to the bathroom bill (Note: That's revealing in and of itself), we find it notable that 35% OF DEMOCRATS list it as an important priority.
Furthermore, as it relates to the special session, allow us to one more observation that should be obvious: Because Greg Abbott is Greg Abbott, you know he polled every single issue on the call; that he's pushing forward with them should tell you everything you need to know about what his polling said.

Bottom Line: Woe unto politicians clinging to fantasies about where public opinion lies....

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Is Austin ISD Bullying Engineers to invent support for bond?!?


"They are deeply corrupted,
As in the days of Gibeah.
He will remember their iniquity;
He will punish their sins."
Hosea 9:9

Don Zimmerman asks some fantastic questions:



Highlights:

  • Austin ISD exaggerating problems 
  • Decision to close T.A. Brown was "a political move designed to build support for a bond campaign."
  • "I think it was political theater and I don't appreciate it."
  • "The district was putting pressure on engineers to exaggerate their interpretation of the studies."
  • Contractor issues denial.
  • Parents of students at the school agree with Zimmerman.
  • Austin ISD declines to comment.

Friday, June 16, 2017

#TXLEGE: Dickey letters set #SpecialSession expectations....


"Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct."
Hebrews 13:7

Yesterday, RPT chairman James Dickey sent the following letter to Lt. Governor Patrick:



Meanwhile, he sent the following letter to Joe Straus:



This is a savvy move for Dickey; while there are certain obvious political conclusions that can be drawn, it's more notable for the fact that it happened at all.  One would think this would constitute the basic blocking and tackling of running a political party. Unfortunately, that's not been the case before, but we suppose better late than never.

We also find it notable that the Texas Tribune has yet to report on this topic.  For an organization who usually prides itself on being the first to report breaking information, it seems...odd...that they would overlook this one.  Readers can ask them why on Twitter.

Bottom Line: It'll be interesting to see how this unfolds, but Dickey's action strikes this website as constructive preparation for the special session.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

#TXLEGE: Straus panders to socialized education bureaucrats by insulting Governor....


"He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck,
Will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
Proverbs 29:1

[Update: Empower Texans has more here.]

Joe Straus spoke to a Texas Association of School Boards meeting yesterday in San Antonio; check out what he had to say about the Governor's special session agenda:
Straus opened his remarks with a joke about an optimistic boy who surprises his psychiatrist when he gets excited by "a room full of horse manure."

"The boy said, 'With all this manure, there must be a pony in here somewhere,'" Straus said, adding in his own voice, "So I'm going to take the optimistic approach to the special session" — he was interrupted by laughs — "and keep looking for that pony."
First things first, this is an old Reagan joke.  We don't know if it was Straus or the Trib who neglected to mention that.  But either way, it's notable that Reagan was left out of the final write up..

In other words, heading into a extraordinarily high profile special session, he just compared the Governor's agenda to horse manure.  While Straus has previously undermined Abbott's priorities, outright insults represent an escalation.  We suspect the Governor will not overlook this indefinitely.

Additionally, Straus made conventional liberal arguments about how there's no problem in the socialized education system that MOAR MONEY (tm) can't fix.  Also, having the state pour additional billions into the socialized education without meaningful reforms will TOTALLY lower property taxes!  Finally, he made some choice comments about the privacy act.

Read the whole thing here.

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More from Facebook:


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

UT about to do something REALLY stupid that could torpedo their relationship with Governor....


"I will punish the world for its evil,
And the wicked for their iniquity;
I will halt the arrogance of the proud,
And will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible."
Isaiah 13:11

Buried in today's Trib story about the Texas Bullion depository, we find this nugget:
Abbott drew national attention in 2015 when he announced that the depository would allow Texas to “repatriate” $1 billion in gold bullion currently being stored in New York. He was referring to gold bullion assets held by the University of Texas Investment Management Company, which oversees the assets of both the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems.

The nonprofit currently has $861.4 million worth of gold bullion in storage at the HSBC Bank in New York City, according to Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, a spokeswoman for the UT system. But UTIMCO officials appear unlikely to move their gold holdings to the state depository. Officials there have previously said the Texas depository would have to be a member of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s COMEX platform, where gold futures contracts are traded. LaCoste-Caputo confirmed Tuesday that that condition still holds.

The new state depository will not be a member of COMEX, according to Matthew Ferris, chairman of Lone Star Tangible Assets. He pointed to geographical limitations as preventing the Texas Bullion Depository from joining.

“Ultimately, our goal is to create liquidity of COMEX levels in the state of Texas for those large institutions over time,” Ferris said.

LaCoste-Caputo also said that gold storage fees UTIMCO pays would have to be cheaper at the Texas depository than it currently pays in New York for the organization to make the switch.

[Author's Note: Emphasis added.]
Soo...they're going to openly defy the Governor over something this big?!?

Are they really that arrogant?!? [Note: Rhetorical question.]

Keep in mind: This is the Governor who has done nothing but protect them during his time in office.  This is the Governor who fast tracked getting Wallace Hall off of the Board of Regents.  And this is how they repay him?!?

And this is after they already attempted to defy him over the Houston land grab.

Bottom Line: If they move forward with this plan, the next round of regent nominations is going to be VERY interesting (*).

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* - We doubt WH would accept a re-nomination to the Board if it were offered, but nominees of a similar philosophical disposition are a realistic possibility.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

#TXLEGE: Uresti in REALLY deep doo-doo....


"knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,"
1 Timothy 1:9

Ouch:
Jimmy Galindo, the former West Texas official accused of splitting about $850,000 in bribes with state Sen. Carlos Uresti, pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in San Antonio.

Galindo, who was county judge of Reeves County from January 1995 to December 2006, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and failure to file a 2013 tax return.

Galindo, 53, struck a deal with federal prosecutors May 18, agreeing to “fully cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of any and all criminal transactions known to the defendant,” including the case against Uresti.

Uresti, the San Antonio Democrat serving Senate District 19, is accused of using his consulting company, Turning Point Strategies, and his law firm’s bank accounts to pay Galindo his share of the bribes they received from a Lubbock businessman.

....

Uresti, 53, and Farthing, 44, were indicted by a federal grand jury May 16 on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit money laundering. They have each entered not-guilty pleas.

Separately, Uresti faces 13 charges carrying more than 200 years in prison over his involvement in FourWinds Logistics, a bankrupt oil field services company for which he provided legal services and received commissions for attracting investors. Uresti also has pleaded not guilty to those charges, which include securities fraud and wire fraud.

....

Meanwhile, Uresti has asked for a continuance in both his cases, which are slated for trial next month, because Gov. Greg Abbott called a special legislative session that is scheduled to start July 18.
The continuance means this probably won't have much of an impact in the special session, but consider the following: If Uresti is convicted, there will have to be a special election to fill the remainder of his term...and it's not crazy to think that a Republican could win District 19 in a special election.

Read the whole thing here.

Monday, June 12, 2017

#TXLEGE: Sullivan issues #PASSTHEMALL Challenge....


"He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?"
Romans 8:32

Really good point:
Texans should stand alongside Abbott in petitioning legislators with a simple message: Pass Them All. Don’t get trapped into ranking the agenda items, or prioritizing them. Don’t be tempted by the cronies to bid against yourself and your fellow citizens. Tell the legislators that Abbott has given them 30 days to pass less than two dozen measures widely supported by Texans. Pass them all.
Also, we can't find the exact quote, but last week we heard the Governor say something on the subject that we'll paraphrase: With a 19 item agenda, all the chambers have to do is pass one item per day (even taking Sunday's off), and they'll still have plenty of time for both committee hearings and conference committees.

Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

#TXLEGE: Fleming makes important #SpecialSession observation...


"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But he who heeds counsel is wise."
Proverbs 12:15

We've already said our piece about how potentially game changing the upcoming special session could be, but JoAnn Fleming adds additional perspective:
If you listen to Gov. Abbott’s words (not what the media says he said), the Governor set the floor – not the ceiling – on many of these issues. When he actually issues the official proclamation for the special session, we will then know the exact wording – how narrowly or broadly – he defines the scope of each topic. Don’t forget the Governor can add issues to the special session during the special session. He can also call subsequent special sessions.
Read the whole thing here.

Friday, June 9, 2017

#TXLEGE: Socialized Education Industrial Complex continues protecting bureaucrats at the expense of teachers....


Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”
1 Corinthians 15:33

The "Texas Association of School Boards" are a member of the socialized education complex's phalanx of taxpayer funded lobbyist groups; with a number of education related items on the call for this special session, we were struck by a particularly disingenuous claim they made the other day:
During a press conference with reporters, Gov. Abbott announced through legislation he’d like to give every Texas public school teacher a $1-thousand raise. But Dax Gonzalez with the Texas Association of School Boards says without any new state funds added to that directive, schools would be essentially using existing local resources to afford that raise.

“Trying to squeeze an extra thousand dollars per employee, per teacher, out of a budget that already is 85-percent personnel salaries, you’re really asking districts to go beyond where many I think can,” Gonzalez says.
Let's parse Mr. Gonzalez's statement: You'll notice he said "personnel salaries" not 'teacher salaries.'

In other words, Mr. Gonzalez is deliberately obfuscating the difference between teachers and bureaucrats; consider the difference in the growth rates of the two groups over the past 20 years:


Bottom Line: That they're playing this dirty this early tells you everything you need to know about how threatened they feel.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

#TXLEGE: IF SUCCESSFUL, Abbott's fiscal game changers will put left on road to extinction....


"The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty,
But those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty."
Proverbs 21:5

Having had a couple days to digest Governor Abbott's special session call, we keep returning to one inescapable conclusion: This is what Scott Walker did in Wisconsin...on super-duper steroids.

The proper way to interpret Governor Abbott's proposed agenda isn't just in the context of summer 2017; it's in the context of 2019, and 2021, and 2023....

Take a look at the following 11 items, and consider what they have in common:
  • Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices.
  • Allowing parents of special needs children to use public school dollars for private schools.
  • Limiting growth of local property taxes.
    • Note: In his press conference Tuesday, Governor Abbott said "SB 2 or better."
  • Caps on state and local spending.
  • Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land.
  • Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects.
  • Speeding up local government permitting process.
  • Restrict cities' ability to annex property.
  • Preempting local restrictions on mobile devices in automobiles.
    • Note: In other words, in exchange for a fairly toothless statewide bill, he's going to nuke the local revenue collection racket.
  • Prohibiting public employers from collecting union dues.
  • Prohibiting local governments from sending tax dollars to abortion providers.
What do each of these 11 items have in common?!?  They significantly weaken the various and sundry bureaucracies that send taxpayer funded lobbyists to the Capitol.  And, as these bureaucracies are weakened, their ability to buy votes and plague future legislative sessions similarly declines.

Think about it this way: It'll be a lot easier to eliminate property taxes in 2019 or 2021 if the cities and counties have been forced to live under spending caps for 2 or 4 years.  Likewise, on the education side, "administrative flexibility" is a marvelous euphemism for taking a bite out of the socialized education industrial complex...which means it'll be a lot easier to pass a significant education reform measure in 2 or 4 years.  Finally, if these fiscal restraints come to pass, we doubt the cities will retain the basic bandwidth to fight constitutional carry in future sessions.

And that's before we consider the political impact of the union dues bill, which people don't fully comprehend.  If the union dues bill passes then over the next decade Harris County will turn solidly red, Dallas County will turn purple, and even Travis County will become a significantly lighter shade of blue.  Furthermore, given everything else on the special session agenda, we don't think Joe Straus has enough political capital left to kill this a third time.

As noted above, there's a political model: It's called Wisconsin.  There, by confronting and defunding the institutional left, Scott Walker turned a solidly blue state into a solidly (if narrowly) red state over the course of four election cycles (ie. it didn't happen overnight).  And a similar phenomenon, only supercharged, will take place in Texas if we're smart enough to take the first step during this special session.

Now, obviously, these items need to pass.  Equally obvious, given that we're talking about the Texas legislature, we expect House leadership to commit copious amounts of villany attempting to derail them.  But our gut says that House leadership's top priority will be to kill the bathroom bill, and that in order to accomplish that objective they're going to have to let a boatload of this fiscal stuff through.

And the fiscal stuff is game changing.

Bottom Line: Play the long game people....

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

#TXLEGE: A "Trust but Verify" #SpecialSession


"Therefore by their fruits you will know them."
Matthew 7:20

We're still in the process of digesting Governor Abbott's special session call, but so far two phrases come to mind: "Better late than never" and "Trust, but verify."

However we got here, there's a lot to like in this agenda.  No, everyone's pet issue was not included in the call.  But there are several items that, if successful, would be game changers.

Consider two items: local spending caps and ending mandatory union dues.  If successful, they would permanently alter the relationship between productive citizens and a predatory "public sector."    To understand the long term impact of such a transformation, look at Wisconsin.

Put differently, we think the unhinged hysteria with which our local #atxcouncil reacted speaks for itself.

Now, obviously, these items need to pass.  Equally obvious, given that we're discussing the Texas Legislature, the status quo crowd will engage in chicanery and villainy to attempt to derail them.  But Governor Abbott just took a pretty big risk, which means he's got an investment to protect.

And for Joe Straus to kill all 19 of these items strikes this website as a tall order.

Bottom Line: We're either going to come out of this special session with a bunch of policy victories or a bunch of campaign issues; while the former is vastly preferable to the latter, either one is a win.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

#TXLEGE: Abbott takes mulligan on the 85th....


"But the wheat and the spelt were not struck, for they are late crops."
Exodus 9:32

"Better late than never" comes to mind:




Some thoughts:
  • We are either in favor of, or neutral on, every item on this list; there's nothing on here we're against.
  • We've heard speculation that Abbott's plan is to get the Senate to give up its leverage on the sunset bill, then send them all home.  We don't believe that because you simply can't pull a bait and switch like that on people.  He literally said he intends "to make it count."
  • Joe Straus can't kill all of this.
  • Adding 19 items "for the House and Senate to vote on."
    • Note: That's some very precise lawyer talk
  • Parsing his talk about teacher pay raises and "administrative flexibility" it looks like he's calling to take money out of the bureaucracy and put it in the classroom.
    • "I want legislation on my desk."
    • "Texas doesn't need to spend more, we just need to spend smarter."
    • "We can do that without taxpayers spending a penny more."
  • School Finance: "We spend too much money on bureaucracy and overhead."
    • See what we said here.
  • Property Taxes: SB 2 or better.
  • State AND Local spending caps!!!
    • This would change the world.
  • Austin: "Doing everything they can to overregulate."
  • The permitting stuff (and, to a lesser degree, the rule changing stuff) would cause housing costs in Austin to plummet.
  • Involuntary Annexation: "Piracy by government."
  • We might not be crazy about the state texting while driving ban, but in exchange for nuking all the local ordinances it's a good trade.
  • If Joe Straus wants to kill the bathroom bill, he's gonna have to pass a whole smorgasbord of game changing fiscal bills.
  • Union dues bill: This is the poor man's version of banning taxpayer funded lobbying, but it's a damn good start.
  • "Legislators have six weeks to prepare for the special session."
  • "If they fail, it will not be for a lack of time, but for a lack of will."
    • Note: Only time will tell, but this sounded an awfully lot like a veiled threat to campaign against obstructionist legislators.
  • The taxpayer funded lobbyists are going to have their hands full.
  • Today was not a good day for Joe Straus.

Bottom Line: Just because an item was put on the call doesn't necessarily mean it'll pass, but with diligence and focus a whole lot of them can.

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Empower Texans has more here, the Statesman has more here, the Trib has more here.

Monday, June 5, 2017

#TXLEGE: On the issues, grading the 85th (Regular Session Edition)....


"Therefore by their fruits you will know them."
Matthew 7:20

[Note: Our assessment of the 84th can be viewed here.]

It's that time of the political cycle!  The regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature is over.  How'd they do?!?

Border Security: B -- They passed the Sanctuary cities bill and maintained border security funding in the budget; if border security is one of your top issues, you can't deny that they made tangible progress on this issue this session.

But we've publicly stated doubts about whether the approach behind the sanctuary cities bill will ultimately accomplish it's stated objective, and we've found the discussion to be very theatrical.

In other words, they notched a couple of first downs but missed other opportunities to reach the end zone.

Pro-Life: B -- The top realistically achievable pro-life priority, the dismemberment abortion ban, was successful.  In addition, we had a couple of pro-life victories in the budget.  But we'll repeat what we said two years ago: "The only reason meaningful pro-Life legislation passed this session was the dogged and indefatigable work of Texas Right to Life."

Unfortunately, for no reason besides political spite, House leadership killed efforts to eliminate abortion subsidies in the health insurance market and to prohibit involuntary due not resuscitate orders in hospitals.

Finally, while it had no realistic path to 76 votes, for Byron Cook to kill the abolition bill without a hearing speaks for itself.

Austin Bashing: C -- The Uber bill crossed the finish line.  On housing issues, they lost linkage fees.   And it's not a secret that a number of local politicians have cynically grandstanded over sanctuary cities.

But the overwhelming majority of bills to reign in the City of Austin's abusive practices died in House committees chaired by Democrats.  Pro-property rights bills related to historical zoning and short term rentals died in Carol Alvarado's Urban Affairs committee, while bills to stop micromanaging hiring practices and pre-empt tree cutting ordinances were slow walked in Rene Olivera's Business and Industry committee.  Alvarado and Olivera killed several other bills without hearings.  It's worth noting that none of Paul Workman's Austin bashing bills were successful.

Finally, an attempt to prohibit other forms of housing price controls died late in the Senate.

Religious Liberty: C -- Conscience protections for adoption service providers successfully passed and that's a pretty big deal.  In addition, efforts to reign in some of the most abusive actions we saw in  the 2014/15 Houston saga were successful.  Both of those are fairly substantial victories.

But any number of other religious liberty bills died in the House.

It wasn't terrible, but it was underwhelming.

Higher Education: D [Note: Senate C, House F] -- The good news: The Senate passed strong bills on tuition and free speech.  Unfortunately, both predictably died in the House.  Nevertheless, those Senate bills are a solid foundation from which to build in future sessions.

The bad news: In the one place where the Senate had leverage and the House was irrelevant...the Senate rubber stamped the damn regent nominees.  Thus, we expect the higher ed. status quo to continue in the short term.  In addition, the Senate caved and increased higher ed. funding in the budget.

The only reason we're giving them a passing grade is because UT had to back down on the Houston land grab.

Ethics: D [Note: Senate A, House D] -- The first bill the Senate unanimously passed was an ethics bill that would have accomplished the following objectives: "barring politicians convicted of a felony from holding office or drawing a pension, requiring lawmakers to disclose government contracts, bond counsel, and legal referral fees, enacting more effective disclosure of lobbyist wining and dining of legislators, and banning elected officials from being employed as lobbyists while in office and eliminating the “revolving door” by adding a one session cooling-off period before former lawmakers can become lobbyists."  In addition, the Senate began the process of reigning in taxpayer funded lobbying.  Over the course of this session we have become convinced that eliminating taxpayer funded lobbying is, by far, the most important ethics reform the legislature could make.

Unfortunately, the only parts of that package that survived the House were the parts about barring pensions for convicted felons and a watered down form of contract disclosure.

Finally, it's worth noting the degree to which the House has treated Greg Abbott with contempt over this topic.  For the past two sessions, the Guvnah has made ethics reform an emergency item, to only receive the crumbs from House leadership we detailed in the preceding paragraph.  That Abbott won't even fight for his own stated priorities is quite revealing.

Two Year Budget: D -- We said our piece about the budget two weeks ago but the TL,DR version is that the this budget met the bare minimum standard (kept the top line number under inflation+population growth) but went no further and funded a lot of garbage.

Tax Relief: F [Note: Senate B, House F] In one of the highest profile discussions of the session, the Senate passed a bill that would have begun the process of structurally reforming the property tax system; the Senate bill didn't go far enough, but it was a fairly significant step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, due to a combination of incompetence and mendacity from Ways and Means chairman Dennis Bonnen, that effort collapsed in the House; we detailed Dennis Bonnen's debacle in real time.

They didn't even get margins tax elimination across the finish line.

Second Amendment: F -- Constitutional carry remains undone.  Mom's Demand Action bragged about having a successful session.  Case closed.

Education: F [Note: Senate A-, House F] -- While they had to modestly water it down to get to 19 votes, the Senate passed the strongest parental educational choice bill the legislature has ever considered.

In the House, Chairman Dan Huberty thumbed his nose at the Republican party platform and killed parental choice.  The House followed up with a budget vote that further illustrated their loyalty to government bureaucrats over parents and children.  Huberty also attempted to use a shady process to pass a "school finance" bill that would have accomplished little besides pouring additional money into the same failing system.

The only silver lining is that when the school finance bill made it to the Senate, they rewrote it in a way that might point the way towards a long term compromise.

"Fit hits the Shan" Preparation: F -- For as little as was getting done this session, we thought there was a decent chance grid security could pass, but it ultimately didn't; right to use cash legislation and the Texas Sovereignty act similarly died.

Structural Fiscal Reforms: F [Note: Senate A, House F] -- For future state budgets, the Senate passed a strong spending limit bill in late March.

In addition, the Senate took a hard look at various corporate welfare programs, 'economic development' shenanigans at the local level, and ballot integrity for local bond elections; these are a strong foundation on which to build future efforts.

None of these efforts went anywhere in the House.

Transportation: Incomplete -- As far as we can tell they didn't do anything terrible (though they tried), but neither did they do anything particularly good.

Overall, we would give the Senate a B and the House an F.

Bottom Line: The good news is that most of the bad stuff died; the bad news is that most of the good stuff also died.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

#TXLEGE: Charlie Geren marries Karl Rove crony....

From Left to Right: Kelly Hancock, Geanie Morrison, Carol Alvarado, Kel Seliger, Charlie Geren, the New Mrs. Geren, Joe Straus, Drew Darby, and Four Price.

Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”
1 Corinthians 15:33

Via Carol Alvarado's (natch) twitter:



Mindy Geren (nee. Elmer) is a well known lobbyist around the Capitol.  During the past legislative session, Geren and Elmer were accused of conflicts of interest related to legislation he was carrying and her position as an AT&T lobbyist.  In fairness to the Gerens, this website thinks those specific accusations are an exaggerated nothing-burger.

That being said, when a bill to close a loophole that allows lobbyists to hide how much they're spending to wine and dine legislators dies in committee, it does strike one as notable when the bill author marries a lobbyist the day after sine die:


But our favorite Mindy Geren story, including her close connections with Karl Rove, can be viewed here.

Bottom Line: We suppose that, on a personal level, we wish the Gerens the best....

Friday, June 2, 2017

Texas Medical Association gets deeper into bed with Planned Parenthood


"And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."
John 3:19

The so-called Texas "Medical" Association is a liberal special interest group who routinely attempts horrible things in the legislature.  Of their many transgressions, the worst is that they're rabidly pro-Abortion.  On that note:
Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas has named Dr. Sealy Massingill as its new chief medical officer.

As CMO, Massingill will oversee clinical staff at health centers in Dallas, Denton, Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, Corsicana, Paris, Tyler, and surrounding communities. He will also be in charge of managing Planned Parenthood’s direct patient care site at Southwest Fort Worth health center.

Massingill currently is president-elect of the Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Section 2 Chair for District XI of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Previously, he served as president of the Texas Medical Association Foundation and president of the Tarrant County Medical Society Board of Directors.

#TXLEGE: Abbott attempting to weasel out of a special session....


"For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light."
Luke 8:17

Isn't THIS typical....
Gov. Greg Abbott's announcement on whether he will call a special session is not expected to happen before next week.

On Monday, Abbott said he would share his verdict "later this week." On Friday, his office said he would not make the announcement Friday or over the weekend.

....

Asked Wednesday morning about a special session, Abbott said he was waiting for the budget to be certified and wanted to go through more bills on his desk. Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced Thursday evening he had certified the budget.
Now, we will confess that punting this discussion into next week will allow us to resolve a few personal errands that we'd put off during the session, but this isn't about this author's personal convenience.

Abbott's move is designed to stall in the hope that grassroots attention moves elsewhere, and is thus unacceptable.

Bottom Line: It's not surprising, but it is revealing.

-----

Governor Greg Abbott: (512) 463-2000

#TXLEGE: Matt Rinaldi sets the record straight....


"No weapon formed against you shall prosper,
And every tongue which rises against you in judgment
You shall condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
And their righteousness is from Me,”
Says the Lord."
Isaiah 54:17

Matt Rinaldi went on Fox Business yesterday to give the definitive account of Monday's craziness:



Highlights:

  • SB 4 has already been signed into law.
  • Protesters were holding signs that said: "Undocumented and here to stay."
  • Protest turned into a mob after they entered the House chamber.
  • Called ICE tip line.
  • Democrats were bragging about mob disrupting House proceedings.
  • After Rinaldi attempted to leave the situation, Poncho followed him and stated that he would "get" Rinaldi on the way to his car and that Rinaldi "had to leave eventually."
    • It was at this point when Rinaldi made his comment about self-defense.
  • Abbott hasn't called him.
    • Note: Isn't THAT revealing.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Late #TXLEGE reprieve fuels new round of higher ed hubris....


"For the day of the Lord of hosts
Shall come upon everything proud and lofty,
Upon everything lifted up—
And it shall be brought low—"
Isaiah 2:12

The arrogance is palpable:
Some of Texas’ top lawmakers entered the 2017 legislative session with big plans to shake up higher education in the state. Instead, their 140 days' worth of work was most notable for what they didn’t do to public universities.

The Legislature didn’t overhaul how the universities are funded — or hit them with big cuts. It didn’t freeze tuition. It didn’t repeal the state’s controversial automatic college admissions law. It didn’t pare back a free tuition program for veterans and their kids. And it didn’t eliminate a widely used but controversial financial aid program for poor students.

In the end, the funding and oversight of higher education in Texas next year will look pretty similar to how it did last year. To university leaders who spent much of the session in a state of dread, that’s welcome news.

....

As a result, many schools ended up faring better than expected — and better than many other areas in the budget. Total general revenue sent to the universities increased by about 1 percent, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Policy Priorities. Only about 40-percent of four-year universities or system offices ended up facing reductions.

It wasn’t all good news for higher education leaders, however. Many of the schools receiving increases didn’t get enough new money to cover enrollment growth from the past two years. And schools still haven’t made up for the losses they incurred from 2011 — the last time the Legislature made big cuts.

“The budget looked a lot worse in January than it did on May 29,” Paredes said, but added, “It doesn’t look as good as it could have.

....

“Next session, some issues like addressing tuition increases might be more palpable if there actually is an increase in funding,” [House Higher Ed Chairman Lozano] said.
But, in terms of abject arrogance Greg Fenves takes the cake:
You may read in the media that UT Austin’s funding for 2018-2019 has not been cut. This is true, but some of the money in our new budget is one-time funding that will likely not continue beyond 2019. Our recurring base funding was reduced by about $27 million per year, primarily because of the formula funding process. But the Legislature generously allocated one-time funding — for this biennium only — which enables UT Austin to maintain our current base level of funds and also gives us time to reduce expenditures accordingly. I greatly appreciate their support.

In addition, Dell Medical School will receive new base funding for medical education, resident training and research. Overall, with the new medical school funding and the one-time funding, the total state appropriation to UT for the 2018-2019 biennium increased slightly. The Legislature also increased Texas Grants by 10 percent, which provides much needed financial aid for students across Texas. This vital program helps with affordability and access to UT and other public universities for students with financial need.

With the decrease in UT’s recurring base budget, the reality is that we — the leadership, faculty and staff — must allocate our resources more efficiently. Over the coming months, we will develop strategies to improve our operations and refine priorities. The one-time funding for this upcoming biennium will allow us to undertake a thoughtful process for implementing budget reductions. With that said, one of my highest priorities is to recognize the excellence of our faculty members and staff members, and that includes competitive salaries. This commitment will continue to inform our budgetary decisions.
In other words, after paying lip service to concerns about cost explosion, Greg Fenves lays the foundation for another tuition increase while openly telling the world that his top budget priority is pay raises for bureaucrats.

That being said, while UT is unsurprisingly the worst actor, all of the Universities are guilty of hubris.

Bottom Line: Nothing is going to change (for now).  But the financial trajectory remains as unsustainable as it's always been.  The longer the status quo continues, the more devastating the eventual reckoning is going to be.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

#TXLEGE: How Straus defines "productive legislative session"....


"Perversity is in his heart,
He devises evil continually,
He sows discord."
Proverbs 6:14

In his own words, on his website:
The issues prioritized this year by the Texas House include:

Child Protection: Leading up to the start of the legislative session, a number of high-profile tragedies had exposed critical problems at Child Protective Services, which was plagued by high turnover among employees entrusted to protect children from abuse. Annual caseworker turnover hovered around 33 percent. In order to bring stability to the CPS workforce, the Legislature passed a pair of funding bills adding more than 1,400 new caseworkers. The Legislature also made a number of other reforms to CPS and foster care, such as providing additional support for relatives who take in children who’ve been removed from their homes and increasing foster care provider rates.

Mental Health: Speaker Straus has made mental health a top priority since 2015, when he created the House Select Committee on Mental Health. This year, the Legislature approved a number of reforms recommended by that committee and directed key resources toward renovating state mental health facilities, reducing waiting lists for services and establishing matching grants to support community initiatives. The Legislature also provided resources for a new jail-diversion grant program and approved the Sandra Bland Act, which will improve treatment for mental health conditions and substance abuse in county jails. “This was a banner year for improving mental health care in Texas,” Speaker Straus said.

Education: The Legislature reformed the A-F school rating system to ensure that schools are evaluated more fairly and accurately. The Legislature also approved “David’s Law” in order to reduce cyberbullying. The House led the way in addressing a sizable shortfall in TRS-Care, the health care program for retired teachers, so that former educators will not face huge increases in their premiums and deductibles. The House also kept the state’s colleges and universities strong despite a sizable budget shortfall, and the Legislature passed two key bills to combat sexual assault on college campuses.

Cybersecurity: The House made cybersecurity a top priority. House Bill 8 will improve the protection of Texans’ private data in the hands of state agencies, while House Bill 9 gives prosecutors tools to fight cybercrimes. The state budget for the next two years provides more than $100 million in funding to address critical cybersecurity and IT needs across state agencies.

Fiscal Discipline: The Legislature closed a budget shortfall and approved a budget that will keep state spending flat over the next two years, despite continued growth in the Texas population. The budget does not require higher taxes and it will leave about $11 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund by the end of the upcoming budget cycle.
Here's the thing: With the (partial) exception of the CPS stuff, which probably had to get done this session, nothing on this list was a priority (Note: At least in the way it was presented in the House).

As to these specific issues, here what we had to say about the House's school finance scheme and their alleged "fiscal responsibility" at the time; while we weren't able to cover it, we've also heard credible alarms raised about the 'mental health' stuff.

Bottom Line: Some of these efforts might have been worthwhile, but at best they're a...strange...collection of issues over which to define success.

#TXLEGE: anti-Second Amendment Fembots call Governor FoxNews' bluff....


"For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light."
Luke 8:17

Remember, last Friday, when we pointed out that Governor FoxNews' theatrics at a bill-signing ceremony were a publicity stunt designed to deflect from the legislature's failure to pass constitutional carry this past session?!?

LOL, guess who's making the same point:



We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

Even better: They're not expressing "concern" with the silly little fee reduction bill that was the subject of the Guvnah's melodramatic bill signing; in other words, that bill does so little that they're not even pretending to fight it.

Speaks for itself.

Bottom Line: Moms Demand Action celebrating a successful legislative session is an action that supersedes the words of any politician, no matter how theatrically the politician in question may present those words....

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

#TXLEGE: Fallon Video confirms Rinaldi's account of #SB4 protesters bragging about illegal status...


"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
John 8:32

UPDATE (6/3/2017): See here at the 4:30 mark....


Since yesterday's mayhem, Democrats have attempted to dispute Matt Rinaldi's assertion that the anti-rule of law protesters were openly bragging about their illegal status.  As we mentioned in our post about the incident yesterday, fellow state rep Pat Fallon had uploaded video of the events but there were formatting issues with this website.  We've resolved those and present Fallon's videos (the second one is the worst):

Video #1:



Video #2:



[Note: This is the one where they're openly chanting about being in the country illegally.]

Video #3:



Finally, allow us to add a few personal observations from yesterday.  We didn't take any pictures or video as we observed these events because we didn't think they'd later be in dispute.  But, from memory:
  • We were not on the Capitol grounds as most of the craziness occurred; we were at a separate event three blocks away and arrived about 45 minutes later.
  • As we were milling through the crowd at their rally (Confession: we wanted to see if there was food), we heard multiple speakers on the South steps of the Capitol bragging about how they were busing in people from "Florida," "New Mexico," and "New York" along with other locations we don't recall.
  • Looking North from the back of the Capitol parking garage, we saw buses lined up Trinity st as far as the eye could see.
  • It's also worth mentioning that a lot of them were wearing red "Fight for 15" (ie. $15 minimum wage) shirts.
That being said, it's worth pointing out that protests where people openly brag about illegal status happen all the time in Austin.  Here's an example from April 2014; here's an example from November 2016.  We've previously thought about doing the same thing as Rinaldi, but decided against kicking that particular hornet's nest; in the future, now that the nest's been kicked....

Bottom Line: The videos (especially the second) speak for themselves....