Monday, March 27, 2017

#TXLEGE: Senate state affairs hears taxpayer funded lobbying DISCLOSURE bill....

"And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.
John 21:25

[Note: You can see our testimony at approximately the 75 minute mark here.]

This morning, the Senate State Affairs committee heard SB 445 (Burton), which would require political subdivisions to disclose the contracts they use to hire lobbyists at the Capitol.  It would also require a public, recorded, vote of the relevant governing body before they could hire a lobbyist.  Honestly, it's astonishing they weren't already required to do so.

Taxpayer funded lobbying is a wicked and pernicious practice that should be banned entirely.  It's anti-taxpayer.  It's anti-property rights.  And it's anti-School child.  It enables a corrupt shell game that benefits all kinds of special interests at the local level.

Thus, the bill considered today doesn't go nearly far enough, but it is constitute a meaningful step in the right direction.

And sometimes, at the Capitol, you just need to accept that legislators are only comfortable going so far at any particular time; in the latter part of a session, you can't let the perfect be the enemy of the significantly better.

We listed the Bible verse above because, in many ways, the metaphor of the world not being able to contain the books that could be written sums up our feelings about the evils of this practice.  In preparing to testify, the challenge was how to sum it up in two minutes.  Thus, we'll stick with the 50,000 foot overview.

By holding this hearing, the Senate has already done more to address this issue than any legislature ever has before.  This bill is significantly better than the status quo, and if this is where you can get 19 votes, then the legislature should pass it.  But the practice needs to be banned entirely, and we will continue to advocate in that direction.

Bottom Line: Thank you to Senator Burton for raising the profile of this issue and thank you to the committee for giving this issue more attention than it's ever received in any previous session; #ONWARD....

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bonnen hears (at least) NINE (more) special interest carve out bills (23 for session)....

"Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord,
But a just weight is His delight."
Proverbs 11:1

It's that time of week when we check on the latest from Dennis Bonnen and the Texas House Ways and Means committee:
  •  HB 382        Murphy | et al.
    Relating to the exemption from ad valorem taxation of real property leased to and used by certain schools.
  • HB 589        Bohac                  
    Relating to a sales tax exemption for certain items sold during a limited period.
  •  HB 595        Workman | et al.       
    Relating to a franchise tax credit for entities that employ certain students in certain paid internship or similar programs. 
  • HB 755        Parker                 
    Relating to the use by certain tax-exempt organizations of certain payments made in connection with real property transfers to provide educational activities through certain schools.
  •  HB 1127       Raymond | et al.       
    Relating to a franchise tax credit pilot program for taxable entities that employ certain apprentices.
  • HB 1351       Wray                   
    Relating to the prohibition of local motor fuel taxes on compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas. 
  •  HB 2028       Goldman                
    Relating to the procedure for canceling a deferral or abatement of collection of ad valorem taxes on the residence homestead of an elderly person.
  •  HB 2381       Frullo                 
    Relating to the applicability of the sales and use tax to certain insurance services.
  •  HJR 52        Turner                 
    Proposing a constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation a portion of the assessed value of certain real property used to provide housing to certain individuals with disabilities.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

anti-Innovation, anti-Startup, pro-incumbent Protection Racket hires Jim Keffer....

"He who walks with wise men will be wise,
But the companion of fools will be destroyed."
Proverbs 13:20

Jim Keffer is a former Straus lieutenant who retired in the face of a primary everybody knew he'd lose after the last legislative session.  He also joined a left-wing think tank last October...on national coming out day!!!  Likewise, the Texas Association of Business is an anti-innovation, anti-startup, pro-incumbent protection racket who we're made to look foolish in the Texas Senate two weeks ago.

They're made for each other:

TAB Keffer by Cahnman on Scribd

Fun Fact I: Keffer was also the bully who got busted hurling personal insults at a colleague last session.

Fun Fact II:  Jim Keffer was the original driving force behind the Texas "Ethics" Commissions's haf decade jihad against Empower Texans; speaking of Empower Texans, they have more here.

Bottom Line: Truly, they deserve each other.

Tuition Day in Texas Senate's Higher Ed Committee!!!

"Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord."
Colossians 3:20

[Note: Our testimony can be viewed just after the 1:36 mark here; we'll try to get it up on our YouTube page in the next few days.]

Yesterday morning, the Texas Senate's higher education committee heard five bills related to reigning in university tuition increases.  The hearing was in an unusual format where all five bills were laid out then testimony was taken on all five.  Due to misreading the Senate schedule (we thought the hearing began at 9 when it began at 8), we arrived late to the hearing, but we've watched the remainder of the hearing online and did make it in time to testify FOR SB 19 (Seliger) and SB 250 (Schwertner).

Seliger's bill would impose a hard tuition freeze for four years, while Schwertner's would impose a long term cap on tuition at the rate of inflation.

For the most part, testimony was the predictable litany of 'sky will fall' nonsense in the event public universities were required to show mild discipline in containing costs; lots of hysteria about "workforce" and "economic" development.

Chancellor McRaven, however, used his testimony as an opportunity for chutzpah about the UT board being "conservative" with tuition hikes over the past half decade, considering that he came on board at the end of that time and one of his first acts as chancellor was to push a tuition hike.  McRaven cited 2011 tuition data even though he was only hired in 2015.  Also, for the record, Wallace Hall was on all of those boards 5 and 6 years ago.  Beyond that, the Chancellor spoke in cliches about "being competitive," "excellence," and "investing in student success."  The Chancellor did not refer to his military service at any time during testimony.

As it relates to Senator Seliger's bill, we testified that colleges and universities love to build expensive buildings and hire lots of bureaucrats at six figure salaries and that forcing them to take a time out on tuition hikes would begin to curtail that process. [Note: It's also worth pointing out that it could be VERY hard for the House to kill (or Abbott to veto) a full tuition it or not, suburban parents vote.]  On Schwertner's bill, we testified that if Boards of Regents are going to continue defying the legislature then the time has come to begin removing various authorities from them.

Finally, we urged the committee to take a very hard look at UTIMCO's $37 billion in assets as it debates higher ed. funding moving forward.

Bottom Line: An encouraging hearing, we'll have to see what happens moving forward.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

BYRON COOK orders citizen ARRESTED for Filming....

"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

[Update: Practical Politicking has more here.]

Amy Hedtke is a North Texas activist who frequently broadcasts political events on Facebook (using an iphone).  For those who are unaware, the Texas House's 'house rules' only allows citizens to film committee meetings "at the discretion of the chair" (even though that's illegal under state law).  Looks like Amy chose to put the 'House rules' to the legal test they've always deserved in Byron Cook's State Affairs committee hearing this afternoon:

[Note: The interaction with House staff and law enforcement begins at the 50:40 mark.]

The next video pretty much speaks for itself:

[Note: There's a full explanation of the day's events in the final minute of this one.]

Bottom Line:  Sometimes you pray for Rosa Parks, and God sends you Amy Hedtke....


DPS: (512) 463-6481.
Chairman Byron Cook: (512) 463-0730.
Governor Greg Abbott: (512) 463-2000.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Abbott's strangely timed comments on local pre-emption

See if you can spot the irony in this photo.
"But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment."
Matthew 12:36 first, this sounds really good:
CORPUS CHRISTI — As local control battles rage at the Texas Capitol, Gov. Greg Abbott is voicing support for a much more sweeping approach to the issues that have captured headlines.

"As opposed to the state having to take multiple rifle-shot approaches at overriding local regulations, I think a broad-based law by the state of Texas that says across the board, the state is going to pre-empt local regulations, is a superior approach," Abbott said Tuesday during a Q&A session hosted by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, an Austin-based think tank.

Such an approach, Abbott added, "makes it more simple, more elegant, but more importantly, provides greater advance notice to businesses and to individuals that you’re going to have the certainty to run your lives."
But then you start thinking about the current legislative session...and you realize that the bill filing deadline was 12 days ago.

Then you consider that Abbott has been governor for two and a half years, during which time this issue has kept bubbling up in various forms, and you realize that he's never actually done anything about it.

Instead, consider some of the items Abbott has declared "emergencies" ahead of local government accountability:

  • Pre-K.
  • University Faculty recruitment.
  • CPS reform.
  • Article V Convention.
  • Note: In fairness to Abbott, he's also announced some worthwhile priorities (Ethics reform and the border stuff), but it doesn't changed the fact that he's put a bunch of crap seemingly less important issues in front of a systematic approach to local government accountability.
Of course, we would never accuse Greg Abbott of cynically making an inflammatory headline generating comment less than a year out from his re-election secure in the knowledge that the average voter won't realize it's too late for him to do anything about it...he would never do that!

Bottom Line: At this point, when it comes to Governor FoxNews, actions speak SO much louder than words; if he wants to impress us, he should threaten a special session.

#TXLEGE SB 822: A TERRIBLE Bill for Austin's Housing Costs....

"Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?"
Matthew 20:15

[Author's Note: The Statesman has a good write up this morning's hearing here.]

There's a bill we've been keeping an eye on for several weeks about which we have yet to comment, but considering that it got a hearing this morning, now is a good time.

SB 822 is a weird attempt to get the legislature involved in a West Austin land dispute that's been simmering for at least a decade.  To be honest, we have no idea why the legislature chose to but in this session.  While we have no specific knowledge, considering the neighborhood involved, we suspect there's a lobbyist who's also a participant in the land dispute.

At the heart of the issue is a tract of land (sidenote: What else is new in Texas?!?) on which is currently situated the Lions Golf Course.  The golf course is operated by the city of Austin while the land is owned by the University of Texas system.  That being said, given its proximity to downtown and various other popular locations, this tract is a prime candidate for residential construction in a city that needs to build 150,000 units of new housing over the next decade.

Because it's such a prime location for housing construction, from time to time UT has looked into selling (or long term ground leasing) the property to various developers...which of course doesn't sit well with the anti-growthers at the Austin Neighborhoods Council.  This has led to the disingenuous and tiresome "Save Muny" campaign in West Austin.  With UT's lease with the city set to expire in 2019, ANC is clearly trying to pre-empt a public discussion of the property.

Which brings us to Estes' bill.  SB 822 would transfer the property from the UT system (who might eventually allow hosing (in our city that needs to build 150,000 new units)) to the state of Texas' Parks and Wildlife department.  The P&W department could be expected to keep the property as a municipally run golf course for the indefinite future.

And, of course, keeping the property as a municipally run golf course will permanently remove almost a 150 acres of prime real estate from the housing stock.

Bottom Line: For this website to come down on the same side as UT on an issue before the legislature should tell you a lot about the unusual nature of this situation, but leaving the status quo in place is the best possible outcome for everyone except a few vocal anti-growthers in West Austin.


Note I: We didn't want to dilute the arguments on the merits above with an ideological tangent, but it's also worth pointing out that no city has any business running any golf course at any time.


Note II: Where the heck are the Texas Exes on this one?!?  For as much as they loved to play the "the legislature shouldn't micromanage universities" card  during discussions of any attempts to hold Bill Powers accountable for all his misdeeds over the years, this actual attempt to micromanage the university's real estate doesn't seem to elicit a peep.  They're the one group that could probably kill this thing if they got we hope they do.