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Saturday, April 19, 2014

UT Football Spring Game 2014: Our Pictures

"However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.”
Mark 5:19

Cahnman's Musings said it on Facebook:

This website knows you don't care about the miracles that show up in DKR stadium; but they're real; enjoy the pictures:

But yah, it's cool:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Trolling for Offense at Calvary

"But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless."
Titus 3:9

Well, THIS is awkward; it's not often we agree with Bud Kennedy, but he reports the relevant detail of the H-E-B ISD Good Friday kerfuffle:
Some students thought Friday would be a holiday.

Now, thanks to the icy winter, it’s a school day.


Good Friday was one of two makeup “snow days” written into the H-E-B calendar more than a year ago, district spokeswoman Judy Ramos said.

(Many schools use Good Friday and Memorial Day as makeup days instead of adding school days on Saturdays or extending the calendar into June.)

Parents were notified in a January email newsletter that Good Friday and also a half-day of school on May 30 would make up for ice days Dec. 6 and 9, Ramos said.


“I was concerned why we were having a makeup day Good Friday, and they informed me this has been going on for years,” he said.


The district needs a parent’s note or some written proof to qualify for what little money the state of Texas provides.  [Emphasis added]
In other words, the root cause is strings attached to education funding that comes from Austin.  This is certainly a teachable moment for local control and parental choice in education.  But it's no assault on the free exercise clause.

There are plenty of genuine examples of government schools suppressing the gospel; just this morning, we learned about this case out of Missouri.  But this Tarrant County case isn't one of them.  Crying wolf over small potatoes isn't helpful.

Sigmund Freud is rumored to have said "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."  Similarly, sometimes a bad decision by government school bureaucrats is just a bad decision by government school bureaucrats.  Get over yourselves....

Thursday, April 17, 2014

TPPF's Fantastic Sales Tax Proposal

"But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God."
Nehemiah 5:15

Leave it to the good folks at TPPF to come up with an economic solution to a political problem!!!

The budget debacle of the 83rd Texas Legislature was the result of poor incentives.  The arcane details of the budget process offer large political rewards for increasing spending, while the political benefit of cutting spending is minimal.  TPPF's proposal alters that incentive structure.

If enacted, TPPF's proposal would create a Sales Tax Relief Fund:
To help sustain economic growth in Texas by reducing the growth in government spending, the Legislature should create a Sales Tax Relief (STaR) Fund that could temporarily reduce the state’s sales tax rate in order to return excess revenue to Texas taxpayers. The STaR Fund will be funded in two ways:

“appropriations” by the Texas Legislature directly to the STaR Fund, and

• funds in excess of the ESF’s cap would flow directly into the STaR Fund rather than back into general revenue.

The statute creating the STaR Fund would authorize the Comptroller to lower the sales tax rate for a certain period based on the amount in the STaR Fund.

To calculate how much the Comptroller would reduce the sales tax rate to exhaust these funds over a chosen period, the Comptroller would use the previous year’s sales tax revenue.
In other words, cuts in spending would get translated into immediate and identifiable tax relief instead of getting subsumed in the rest of the budget.

The rainy day fund provision, which might not be a huge deal in 2015, will become more important in the out years.  The Texas Constitution caps the RDF at $14.4 billion, with any additional revenue going into General Revenue.  If it goes into GR, it WILL be spent, whereas a STaR fund would transfer the revenue to direct tax relief.

This is a fantastic idea; obscure budget rules make it easy to spend and difficult to cut.  The problem, unfortunately, is that the same dirtbag politicians who spend all the money are the ones who would have to enact this reform.  But, if we could ever get it enacted, it would structurally alter the Texas Budget to spend less money.

Texas Lottery Commission attempting Casino Gambling backdoor

"Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need."
Ephesians 4:28

Sigh; what part of HELL NO do you people not understand?!?
Electronic devices similar to slot machines may soon be coming to bingo halls around Texas. The proposed devices, which give bingo players "video confirmation" of wins and losses, will be discussed by the Texas Lottery Commission on April 16. The proposition has surfaced a long-fought battle in Texas, over whether or not casino-style gambling should be made legal in the state.


Despite this, many oppose the new video bingo machines because they are similar to slot machines.

The Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas opposes casino-style gambling in the state. A spokesman from the group, Rob Kohler, told the Associated Press of the proposed machines, "This changes the gaming landscape in the state."


But Tony McDonald, General Counsel for the political advocacy group Empower Texans, said expanding gambling in Texas could hurt the state more than it helps.

McDonald told Breitbart Texas, "The gambling industry sells false hope for people who don't understand probabilities. The industry is designed to dazzle people and trick them out of their money. They give the free drinks for a reason--they want you to stick around. The longer you stay, the more likely you are to lose your money."

He said it is often the poorest individuals and families in society who end up getting gamed by the system.

McDonald also pointed out that historically, the lottery has not funneled a significant amount of revenue into the state.

"There is a big problem with the revenue argument," he said. "Supporters start trumpeting statistics of money going to the state from the lottery and people think, 'We're going to bring in tons of revenue for our schools.' But in reality, the money collected from the lottery each year only funds about three days of the school year."

Many assert that state-regulated bingo, which gives proceeds to charities rather than schools, is no more effective.


McDonald warned that as gambling becomes more popular in Texas, burdensome regulations in the state will only grow in size and scope.

"The problem is, when we talk about gambling, we're not talking about getting together in a room and having a poker game," he said. "We're not talking about a free activity in the market. Gambling is one of the most regulated industries in the U.S. By legalizing gambling, you're creating another stake holder in government."

He concluded by joking, "Battleground Texas would love nothing more than a cash cow of casinos to fund liberal Democrats."
Last session, there was a surprise opportunity to eliminate the Texas Lottery.  Unfortunately, Joe Straus killed it.  But if the Texas Lottery Commission is going to create loopholes for the casino gambling lobby, we ought to take another shot at them in 2015.


Concerned Texans can contact Texas Lottery Commission chairman Gary Greif via the following means:

Phone: 512-344-5160

West, TX: (Just Under) One Year Later

"Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world."
1 Peter 5:9

West, TX -- Last month, during a trip to Dallas, we made a pit-stop in West.  While in town, we drove by the site of last year's explosion.  These are our pictures:

The still pictures are a bit out of order, but this YouTube video surveys everything:


WFAA Dallas has a new video of the explosion:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On Water, Trust, and the Texas Legislature

"Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah—all his might, and how he made a pool and a tunnel and brought water into the city—are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?"
2 Kings 20:20

This morning, we attended the Texas Public Policy Foundation's economics conference.  The event covered a number of topics, including an intriguing proposal to re-vamp the sales tax.  The topic that stands out, however, was water.

Federal Reserve Dallas president Richard Fisher gave the luncheon keynote.  He detailed Texas' stellar economic performance against the backdrop of Obama's national malaise.  Fischer identified water as Texas' biggest long-term economic challenge.

Demand for water is increasing while supply is going down.  The Texas Water Development Board estimates Texas will need to invest $231 Billion (with a B) over the next 50 years to meet demand (*).  As Fischer dryly noted: "You can't count on the Rainy Day Fund" for an investment of that magnitude.

Fischer urged the legislators in attendance to consider seriously the use of 100 year notes to finance Water infrastructure development.  He detailed how "some of our shrewdest operators" in the most recent credit cycle borrowed over a 100 year term.  When interest rates rise, wealth is redistributed from lenders to borrowers.  With interest rates near record lows, an opportunity exists to create a physical asset and pay for it with less valuable money later.  As Fisher predicted: "interest rates will rise in the next 100 years."

Going back to last year, when Governor Perry made a similar argument with us in a semi-private conversation, we've always found this argument the most persuasive.  There's a certain logic in saying that, since (due to decisions made outside Texas) the money is going to be worthless in a few years, we may as well convert it into something with intrinsic value.  The problem, unfortunately, is trust.

In 2013, the 83rd Texas Legislature had a gigantic surplus.  They blew through it, increased spending by 26%, and still had to raid the rainy day fund.  If you can't prioritize within a biannual budget, what makes us think you can successfully manage interest rate risk over the life of a 100 year note?!?

Using long-term debt to finance genuine water infrastructure development makes a certain type of financial sense.  Due to decisions made outside Texas, the money WILL be worthless in a few years.  Unfortunately, until Texas policymakers prove themselves trustworthy over smaller sums and shorter time frames, this sort of massive long term commitment remains a non-starter.


* For the record, we don't accept the $231 Billion figure, but we readily admit it will be a big number.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick foil obscure Common Core Backdoor

"Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees,
Who write misfortune,
Which they have prescribed."
Isaiah 10:1

An extraordinary story out of Houston, for which Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick deserve ample kudos:
The citizens of Texas owe a huge thanks to two Texas conservatives – Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick.

Because on March 24, 2014, Attorney General Greg Abbott released his 0pinion #GA-1047 answering Senator Dan Patrick‘s request #RQ-1152-GA filed last November:


if the liberals are going to be successful by-passing the Texas Legislature to spread federal “common core for babies” across Texas, they need an obscure taxing authority that no one will notice, led by persons willing to exceed their authority. Lucky for them, Texas has just that - The Harris County School Trustees – aka - Harris County Department of Education (HCDE.)

In 1889, the Texas Legislature assigned the operation of public schools to county school boards. Over the years, Texas moved away from county run schools to smaller independent school districts with thir own elected school boards. When Texas no longer zoned students to county schools, the Legislature repealed the laws governing county school systems.

It may sound far-fetched, but it is true. Even though all Harris County students moved to ISDs over 50 years ago, HCDE uses a loophole to continue to elect County School Trustees and collect a countywide school property tax passed way back in 1937. They disregard TEC 18.14 which dictates the distribution of county school tax funds directly to Harris County ISDs, and spend the funds as they see fit. To top it off, most people in Harris County don’t even know HCDE still exists, thus making it the perfect “obscure” taxing authority, led by persons willing to exceed their authority.

In the 1960s, with the daily operation of public schools no longer their focus, HCDE began working with LBJ to increase federal participation in our education system. Today, HCDE is so entrenched with the Feds and the liberal agenda, they are like a “Who’s-Who” of the democrat party and ideology.

President Obama’s Education Czar, Arne Duncan, visited HCDE in person. The HCDE press release called the visit "historic" with particular emphasis on "more investments in early childhood education."


But even worse…they stated that their long term plan was to use HCDE as their hub to spread this ACROSS TEXAS.

The liberals thought they could slip the tax increase through by simply saying “it is for the children.” But it didn’t work. County Judge Ed Emmett questioned the legality of their November 2013 petition, and was backed up by the 14th Court of Appeals. It did not make it onto the ballot.

When word surfaced that liberals were going to try another petition in November of 2014, Senator Dan Patrick requested a legal opinion from the Attorney General . Because Greg Abbott is a true conservative who follows the letter of the law, his opinion released March 24, stopped it in its tracks.

But this does not mean the kids of Texas are safe. It simply means that the HCDE tax rate won’t be doubled to pay for it.


Why does HCDE even want to get involved?

Besides just supporting the liberal concept of bigger government, HCDE knows it is in trouble. People are starting to question the need for county school trustees in Harris County when 252 other counties in Texas abolished their county school boards decades ago –--- especially when HCDE is using our tax dollars to help turn Texas “blue.” HCDE is banking on their liberal friends in Washington putting pressure on the Texas Legislature to keep them open. The HCDE superintendent was heard saying that the Pre-K initiative would make HCDE so big that even the Texas Legislature would not be able to touch them.

Conservative Texas Representative Debbie Riddle tried to halt HCDE’s liberal agenda last session with HB945. HCDE spent hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars on lobbyists to fight against Rep Riddle’s bill. The lobbyists lined up Alma Allen and other liberals on the House Education Committee with "Republican" Rep Dan Huberty to keep HCDE operational. And it worked. HB945 bill did not get out of committee.

But, Rep Riddle was successful in getting the House Education Committee to take a closer look at HCDE in the interim so HCDE is spending hundreds of thousands of of our county education dollars again to hire lobbyists. Rob Eissler, the ex-chair of the Texas House Education Committee and one of Straus' ex-lieutenants, who was kicked out of office by his constituants and replaced with true conservative, Steve Toth, is one of them - a "Republican" who will rake in taxpayer money helping the liberals forward their agenda.

So now, like Paul Harvey listeners, you know “the rest of the story.”

Greg Abbott’s legal opinion answering Sen Dan Patrick’s question concerning HCDE’s tax increase was much more than a simple tax question. It stopped the liberals from abusing the law and holding an illegal tax election to fund the expansion of Obama’s Pre-K Initiative in Texas.
Read the whole thing, complete with financial ties to national progressive groups, here.


It's worth noting that both Abbott's and Patrick's efforts came from the offices they currently hold, NOT their campaigns.  That they were able to score this critical victory while simultaneously running statewide campaigns reveals the diligence and multitasking abilities of both men.  Kudos to both!!!