Friday, January 09, 2015

Kansas-sippi here we come

"We have a mandate to cut property taxes."

It was a pledge Dan Patrick made over and over as he asked Texans to let him lead the state legislature as Lt. Governor. But that was before the Lone Star State's flow of surplus dollars started sliding with the tumbling price of crude.

In Austin, less than a week from the start of the legislative session, the Republican from Houston made his intentions clear - property tax relief is still coming.

"I say we have to protect the people first. The best way in a downturn to keep your economy rolling is to put more money in people's pockets," said Patrick.

"The people want us to pass a conservative budget that includes significant funding for property tax and business tax cuts and we will accomplish that," he again pledged.

Just how taxes will cut be has yet to be determined. Already on the legislative table is an increase in the "homestead' exemption as well as a rate rollback which caps the amount local Texas governments can raise levies.

The lieutenant governor's fantasies aside, you have a dirt farmer now as state comptroller, so of course it makes sense to do whatever your shriveled little heart desires and let the hell for it be paid by someone else.

We caught up with John Palmer at a meeting of the West University senior council and confirmed that retired folks on limited income are watching the issue closely. He says for himself and many others his age, saving enough for the annual property tax bill is a growing burden.

"Retired folks on limited income" who live in places like West U.  That IS the demographic of the vast majority of those who voted in 2014, after all.  (Which is to say: those who live in neighborhoods with median incomes of more than $200,000, and those who think they will someday soon, but who currently live in trailers and ramblers in the suburbs.)

"I would encourage him to dig his heels in. He said a lot and he needs to put up or explain why he can't put up and deliver on his first big major issue as an elected Lt. Governor," said Palmer. "I hope they can live up to it, but I also hope on the school issue that they somehow we don't let that fall off the table and take care of that too," he added.

State lawmakers will have to preserve billions to fund a more equal method of paying for public education. State Senator-elect Paul Bettencourt tells Fox 26 $3-4 billion will likely be available for tax relief.

Oh yeah, schools.

There are three things (Gov.-elect Greg) Abbott said could be accomplished this session: first, Abbott said Texans should “expect some form of tax relief”. Second, there should be a greater-than-expected investment in transportation beyond the recently approved Constitutional amendment to provide more highway dollars. Abbott said legislators should end diversions and dedicating sales taxes from vehicle purchases to transportation.

Third, Abbott wants to improve education. He wants parents to have more options regarding school choice and give educators more options to ensure students are prepared for college or to enter a career.

Ah, school choice vouchers.  Like 'enhanced interrogation techniques', there's a reason why everybody has been coached to use the new terminology.

...(Nobody) is half as excited as Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) telling the press about her hottest prospect for the new session, filed just yesterday: Senate Bill 276, “Relating to state savings and government efficiency achieved through a taxpayer savings grant program administered by the comptroller of public accounts.”

In a word: vouchers.

Or, as Campbell suggested today: “universal school choice,” because “voucher” suggested a golden ticket in limited supply. Her plan is unlimited.

Two years ago, it was then-Sen. Dan Patrick who delivered an enthusiastic pitch for vouchers just before the session’s start. Today, with Patrick in the lieutenant governor’s office, it was Campbell’s turn to beam about the miracles school choice will bring, to help us forget how decisively the Legislature has rejected vouchers in the past, and inject her voice with a little extra gravity as she describes our “moral obligation” to spend public money on private schools.

Her plan was simple: parents who move their kids from public to private schools get a tuition reimbursement of up to 60 percent of the state’s average payout—for classroom operations, but not facilities funding—for each public school student. Campbell and new Attorney General Ken Paxton offered the same proposal in 2013; back then, the maximum grant would be $5,000. In five years, the Legislative Budget Board estimated, the program would save the state $1.1 billion.

She spoke quickly—too fast to catch it all—as she related the miracles in store for a Texas that embraces school choice. “It will turn poor performing schools into better schools,” Campbell said. “It will equalize the playing fields. … It will improve our economy. … It decreases the number of dropouts. It improves the graduation rates.”

Many of these are familiar arguments for school choice, but then there’s so much more. At some point, standing there circled around the podium, you had to stop and wonder, where’s she getting this stuff?
The answer was in a booklet on a table beside her, a new 43-page literature review produced for the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Texas Association of Business, written by the man standing next to her: Art Laffer, namesake of the “Laffer curve”—an economic model often wielded as a cudgel against higher taxes—who hugged Campbell at the podium and called her a hero.

“There’s not one thing that isn’t improved by charters and choice,” Laffer explained.

Here's more on vouchers from a more reliable source.  You don't think these Republican snake handlers are selling their oil a little too hard, do you?  I mean for promising gold-plated unicorns at the end of the rainbow?  It's not like there isn't a huge pile of money waiting to be claimed; it's that they are too ignorant to take it.  Note that nobody is going to try to teach these pigs in the Lege to sing, either.

Passage of (Medicaid expansion) could bring in an estimated $66 billion in federal funding over 10 years, as well as about $35 billion in "secondary benefits," such as new jobs and health care savings as a result of more people gaining coverage, according to the report.

(Task force adviser Dr. Kenneth) Shine said the health-care industry, government officials and business organizations, including chambers of commerce, "are in favor of Texas trying to do something. We continue to be the state with the highest rate of uninsured."

However, the task force has no plans to lobby the Legislature to push for change, said its chairman, Steve Murdock, a Rice University sociology professor.

"We are information providers," he said. "We inform whoever will listen."

So let's review: Tax cuts, more money for roads beyond the Rainy Day diversion approved last year by voters, better private schools by diverting funds away from the public ones, and keeping the state budget balanced, all while the price of oil has dropped by almost the same percentage -- 67% -- as the number of Texans who did not vote last November.  Update: And before any of that happens, we need $6 billion more just to keep up.

Sounds like a plan!  Kansas and Mississippi ain't got nothin' on us. And some people are worried about Texas turning into California.  If it weren't so pathetic it might be funny.

Update: Meet your new revolutionaries in the Texas Senate.  Starring Dan Patrick as Che Guevara.

1 comment:

Marc said...

On budgets and education, just take a gander at Arizona. The Budget is $500 million in the hole for this fiscal year, a judgement against the legislature for underfunding eduction for years is pending, with the bill to the tune of about 1.3 Billion dollars. Not to mention FY 2016 is even deeper in the red (without the judgement), and our new (R) controlled legislature is still wanting to cut taxes, and fund initiatives to make the state more 'business friendly'. Unless there is some massive Federal bail out of the states, we're gonna see just how well this underpants gnome budgeting works.