Friday, February 25, 2005

Dems to unveil their education proposal Wednesday

The word on the street is that the Republicans' committee substitute for HB 2 will come out Monday night. The Democrats will wait 24 hours "to let the media digest it" then unveil their plan, which will include broader tax relief and more money for schools. No one expects that the Democratic plan will pass, it's just something that Democrats will use to attack HB 2, which Dem's say is more about property tax relief than improving schools.

I wish I could divulge details on the Dem. plan now, but, godforbid Republicans read this blog, I don't want to give Republicans the weekend to consider the Democratic proposal. It's a good one that Republicans could potentially steal from and call it their own - and I support it - but I'll wait until the morning after the Republicans discuss the committee substitute.

More on the more tax revenue

As I alluded to on Wednesday, Republicans are looking for ways to increase tax revenue without new taxes. Columnist Ken Rodriguez with the San Antonio Express-News had a really good column today further explaining this conundrum: there will be no new taxes, but there will be new user fees at places like strip clubs and tattoo and body-piercing parlors. Instead of the dreaded $1 cigarette tax, there will be a $1 cigarette user fee.

My favorite is the "Realtor Transaction Fee." It's supposed to offset reduced property taxes. Rodriguez puts it nicely:

I'm not exactly sure what a Realtor Transaction Fee is, but if it means paying an extra two grand when I buy a house so I can get a $200 reduction on my property taxes, I'm all for it.

Yes sir, if Gov. Rick Perry wants my vote in 2006, he can raise fees all he wants, as long as he doesn't raise taxes.

What in the tarnation is going on here?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A look into the gambling squabble

Is Democrat Sylvester Turner simply covering for conservatives who are scared of their constituents? Is gambling a sound fiscal policy for the state? Would the state be preying on the weak? All of these questions have been posed over the past few weeks and there's more to come as this session heats up.

Freshman Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) said it best: "This item is the one on which we [Dem's] have the most leverage because a lot of Republicans want this bill – but they don't want to have to vote for it." To clarify, this is the only issue that Democrats have leverage on this session. Maybe tuition re-regulation, if they're lucky.

To start, it's always interesting to see when Republicans don't blindly support job creation and more streams of revenue -- which is of course the main reasons why some legislators are touting expanded gambling across the state. There's mounting GOP opposition to slot machines and Vegas-style gambling in Texas, based solely on moral grounds. An intern for Charlie Howard (R-Sugar Land) wrote an op-ed for today's Daily Texan that read like an appeal to progressives to extend opposition across the aisle to combat the bi-partisan support behind this. Like I said - it's a squabble.

On Tuesday, church goers appealed to lawmakers to stop Turner's bill, HB 897, from going any further, reports the Brownsville Herald. They claimed that expanded gambling would "prey on the poorest, least educated and minority Texans." They, with other opponents of this measure, cited figures recently published by the Texas Lottery Commission that in 2003,

People earning <$20,000 a year spent $75.50 a month on lottery games;
Those who earned between $20,000-$30,000 yearly spent $106 per month;
Those who earned between $76,000-$100,000 a year spent <$29 a month on the lottery.

Then there's the correlation that slot machines (well in 21st Century terms, "Video Lottery Terminals" or "VLTs") are the "crack cocaine" of gambling since they're addictive and prey off the poor.

Not only are many conservatives against this bill, so are liberal Democrats. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) is one of the staunchest opponents of expanded gambling. The Austin Chronicle reports that gambling opponents are "more motivated by the state's own statistics that show direct links between high lottery sales and low-income neighborhoods, yet another way of taxing the poor. [Former Lottery Commission consultant Jim] Kohler has compiled a 'Top 10' lottery sales list by House district, and No. 1 just happens to be Coleman's 147th."

However, gambling proponents look to the $1 billion a year supposedly dropped each year by Texans who gamble in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. The word on the street is that citizens of those states are actively lobbying the Texas Legislature to defeat this measure, citing the potential loss of funds since Texans would prefer to stay close to home to gamble.

And one final push is coming from Mike Toomey, Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff until five months ago, "directing virtually every aspect of state government." (reports the DMN) He's now a highly paid lobbyist who's primarily fighting for expanded gambling in Texas. "This [legislation] gives them a billion dollars for schools and to lower property taxes," Toomey told a group of horse owners, breeders, and trainers a few months back, the AusChron reported.

It's true that gambling would make money that could go to education. In the first year, proponents claim, the state could gain $1.2 billion - with VLTs installed at race tracks and Indian reservations and the Astrodome being an around-the-clock gambling center. However, Howard's unpaid intern points out, "In 1986, the racing industry persuaded the Legislature to approve pari-mutuel betting on horse and dog races. Twenty years later, the promised contribution to the state budget has yet to appear."

State Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) says, Public education "really is the Number 1 priority in my district. How we come up with the money seems to be important, but less important." Those words ring true for top GOP leadership: although David Dewhurst will likely oppose this measure, neither Rick Perry nor Tom Craddick will oppose this measure. But will deciding on this type of funding for public education be a wedge issue in a session where everyone's pushing bi-partisanship to solve...public education?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Republicans: No New Taxes but more Tax Revenue!

Two years ago, every single U.S. state underwent a budget deficit, whether large or small, and Texas was no exception. California's was $40 billion, so luckily Texas's was a mere $9.9 billion...

The slogan was "No New Taxes," and the Lege erased the budget deficit by hacking away at state services. Now it's a different tune. Sort of. Now it's trying increase current taxes (20 cent gasoline tax, $1 cigarette tax, etc.) but still no new taxes. The San Antonio Express-News has an article on how lawmakers expect to make it through the session:

Some lawmakers were skeptical that enough money can be found in savings and fees.

"It's very difficult," said Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, an Appropriations member, noting lawmakers must look at the effect of cuts or spending shifts.

"We're going to have to do it by raising additional revenue," she concluded. "It goes back to, 'Which tax do you like best?'"

Among those proposals included in the article are:

  • levying a "nursing home quality assurance fee" of 6 percent of gross receipts, which would bring in $452.5 million;
  • increasing the number of prison inmates eligible for medically recommended intensive supervision, or parole of offenders who are no longer considered a threat, which would save $1.2 million;
  • eliminating a "teaching experience supplement" for higher education, which would save $70.5 million.

  • "I'm going to say that some of those [proposals] will be proposed to the full Legislature," [Appropriations Chair Jim] Pitts said. "All of them, or most of them, I wouldn't say that."

    This ought to be fun.

    Tuesday, February 22, 2005

    Delisi wants reps to perform marriages

    OK, I don't understand this one. It's not a necessarily a good or bad bill, it's just plain silly. Dianne White Delisi wants state representatives to be granted the some power that "priests, ministers, rabbis" and others currently have: to be able to marry a couple. I simply don't understand why.

    How about this: go to this website and get ordained. Save yourself the trouble of trying to pass a legislation that could leave people as dumbfounded as I am trying to understand why she'd file this legislation.

    Well I at least enjoy these posts by the

    Going Nuclear in West Texas

    by Forrest Wilder, Austin-based freelance writer

    Waste Control Specialists successfully fought two years ago for a federal radioactive waste dump site in Andrews County. They're now facing a stiff fight from Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock), whose district borders Andrews County, despite the millions of dollars in campaign contributions to various Republican and Democratic legislators - a small price to pay for the projected $100 billion in profits - that it took to pass the legislation last biennium.

    The state may look to impose a 5 percent fee to allocate more money for education, but once that happens, the dump site will never go away, explains Colin Leyden, legislative director for Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth). That move would bring with it long-term health consequences for the region that thought it was getting a quick-fix to their financial problems.