Monday, October 12, 2015

Patrick's THIRD set of STRONG Interim Charges

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

Today, Lt. Governor Patrick issued his third set of interim charges, highlights:
  • School Choice: Study school choice programs enacted in states across the nation, examining education savings account and tax credit scholarship programs in particular. Examine the implementation process used in other states and what impact these programs have had on student academics and state and local district budgets. Make recommendations on which choice plan could best serve Texas students.
  • Charter School Approval, Expansion, Revocation: Study the approval, expansion, and revocation of public charter schools in Texas, including the implementation of SB 2 (83R) and other legislation. In particular, examine the issues surrounding the disposition of state property when charters are revoked, non-renewed, or cease to operate. Make recommendations regarding policies to ensure an efficient and effective transfer and disposal of state property that preserves state interest while ensuring that certain investment capital and the bond market supporting charter construction remains robust. In addition, make recommendations if needed to clarify policies regarding expansion of existing high-quality charter schools in Texas. Additionally, examine facility funding for charter schools in other states and make recommendations on facility funding assistance for charter schools in Texas.
  • County School Systems: Examine the structure and performance of the two remaining county-based school systems, Harris County Department of Education and Dallas County Schools. In particular, study the efficiency of these entities and determine whether those services are duplicative with education service centers or could be absorbed by education service centers.
    • Author's Note: We don't know anything about the Dallas group, but the Harris County Dept of Education is particularly LOATHSOME group of people.
  • Tuition Deregulation and Student Debt: Examine and make recommendations regarding tuition and student debt at public institutions of higher education in Texas. Specifically, study how Texas compares to peer states, variance between institutions, how accountability measures can be used to impact tuition, and increases in tuition since 2003.
    • Author's Note: Out of all of Patrick's interim charges THIS ONE is our favorite!!!
  • Annexation: Identify areas of concern in regards to statutory extraterritorial jurisdiction expansion and the processes used by municipalities for annexation, specifically reviewing whether existing statute strikes the appropriate balance between safeguarding private property rights and encouraging orderly growth and economic development. Make recommendations for legislative action, if necessary.
  • Local Ordinance Integrity: Examine the processes used by home rule municipalities to adopt ordinances, rules, and regulations, including those initiated by petition and voter referendum. Determine if additional statutory safeguards are necessary to ensure that ballot language accurately describes proposed initiatives. Identify ways to improve transparency and make recommendations, if needed, to ensure that local propositions and the means by which they are put forth to voters, conform with existing state law.
  • Debt Transparency in the Voting Booth: Examine ways to improve government accountability in elections regarding the issuance of public debt. Include a review of the information that is currently provided to individuals in the voting booth and provide statutory recommendations, if necessary, to improve transparency.
Bottom Line: This is the most effective use of the Lt. Governor's interim charge authority we've ever seen.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Patrick's Second Set of STRONG Interim Charges

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

Lt. Governor Patrick issued a second set of interim charges yesterday, some highlights:
  • Civil Asset Forfeiture: Conduct a study of civil asset forfeiture laws in Texas and compare them to similar laws in other states. Determine best practices to protect public safety and the private property rights of citizens. Examine the reporting requirements and recommend legislative changes if needed to ensure transparency.
  • Sanctuary Cities: Study the various sanctuary city policies statewide, the number and types of crimes committed by previously arrested illegal immigrants within the jurisdiction of a "sanctuary policy," and possible solutions to discourage governmental entities from putting in place policies that conflict with immigration laws. Make recommendations to improve community safety.
  • Interstate Compact: Conduct a cost-benefit analysis of a potential interstate compact on border security, and consider the constitutional and legal questions that underpin the proposal. Consider which other states might be party to an interstate compact on border security. Make recommendations for policies that Texas should adopt pursuant to an interstate compact, if it were authorized by the Legislature and approved by Congress.
Bottom Line: Again, there's A LOT for conservatives to like.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Gerald Daugherty's ASTONISHINGLY large pro-Courthouse Donation

"For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,"
Hebrews 10:26

The pro-Courthouse bond committee's 30-day campaign finance report is very revealing.

Gerald Daugherty is the only Republican on the Travis County Commissioner's Court (Page 9):

By Comparison, Daugherty's fellow Commissioner's Court member, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt (Page 10):

It's worth noting that the other three members of the Travis County Commissioner's Court (Ron Davis, Margaret Gomez, and Brigid Shea), to their credit, haven't given the pro-Courthouse committee a dime.  Eckhardt's donation appears to be a token effort.  In other words, Daugherty has donated literally TWENTY TIMES what the other four commissioners have donated COMBINED.

Next, let's compare Daugherty's donation to other well known figures around Travis County.

Former Austin City Council District 10 candidate (and Planned Parenthood Board Member) Mandy Dealy (Page 9):

University of Texas Regent David Beck (yes, THAT David Beck) (Page 5):

Disgraced Former University of Texas President Bill Powers (Page 16):

The total for those other four donations is $475.

Bottom Line: For Gerald Daugherty to have given more money to the pro-Courthouse committee than Sarah Eckhardt, Mandy Dealy, David Beck, and Bill Powers COMBINED is incredibly disappointing...but it's also something we needed to know.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Patrick releases first round of Interim Charges

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

[Update: It gets better, apparently there's also a charge about ending crony "economic development" incentives as well.]

Earlier today, Lt. Gov. Patrick released his first round of interim charges; if you're a conservative there's a lot on this list to like:
  • Religious Liberty: Examine measures to affirm 1st Amendment religious liberty protections in Texas, along with the relationship between local ordinances and state and federal law. Make recommendations to ensure that the government does not force individuals, organizations or businesses to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.
  • Union Dues: Examine the practice of using public funds and employees for the payment processing of union dues. Make recommendations on whether Texas should end this practice.
    • [Author's Note: If you know the history on this issue, this is a STINGING rebuke of Joe Straus and Byron Cook.]
  • Eminent Domain: Gather and review data on the compensation provided to private property owners for property purchased or taken by entities with eminent domain authority. Examine the variance, if any, between the offers and the fair market values of properties taken through eminent domain. Make recommendations to ensure property owners are fairly compensated.
    • [Author's Note: This is crucial if you ever want to get rid of toll-roads.]
  • Ethics: Review current ethics laws governing public officials and employees and recommend changes necessary to inspire the public’s confidence in a transparent and ethically principled government. Review public officials’ reporting requirements to the Texas Ethics Commission. Examine the categorization of ethics reporting violations and make recommendations to encourage accurate reporting and timely correction to inadvertent clerical errors.
  • State Water Plan: Study and make recommendations on improving the process of developing and executing the State Water Plan.
    • [Author's Note: This a polite way of saying that the Senate wants to monitor closely the Water Slush Fund Straus pushed through two sessions ago.]
Read the whole thing here.

Bottom Line: Issuing interim charges over three hot button issues that Straus killed last session tells you everything you need to know about where Patrick is leading the Texas Senate.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bill Powers' new employer supports Courthouse Bond

"For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,"
2 Timothy 3:2

Following his departure last June, disgraced former UT President Bill Powers was hired by the Dallas-based law firm Jackson-Walker L.L.P:
Former University of Texas President William Powers, Jr. Joins Jackson Walker

(AUSTIN) – Jackson Walker L.L.P. is pleased to announce that former University of Texas at Austin president William Powers, Jr. will join the firm's Austin office as of counsel. A widely published legal scholar, nationally renowned academic leader, respected corporate governance authority, and sought-after consultant to domestic and foreign governments, Mr. Powers brings a wealth of experience to his new role with the firm.
 And, of course, they have questionable contracts with the University:
The agenda book for this week’s two-day meeting of the University of Texas System Board of Regents ran 479 pages. Regent Wallace L. Hall Jr. seems to have reviewed every page in advance.

Among the items that caught his eye were six contracts for legal services, summarized deep in the “consent agenda,” with Jackson Walker LLP, a law firm that recently hired UT-Austin’s former president, Bill Powers, now a law professor.

Hall asked Wednesday whether the contracts involved the UT System, as indicated in the agenda book, or the Austin campus. Daniel Sharphorn, the system’s general counsel, explained that although the contracts are with the system, the work is to be performed for the campus.

It would have been more transparent if the agenda items had made that clear, Hall said. And he questioned the appropriateness of contracting with a firm that employs a former president.
Which makes this item from page 5 of the pro-Travis County Courthouse Bond committee's July 15 campaign finance report very interesting:

Bottom Line: The obscene cost and the lack of accessibility are the primary reasons to make Travis County develop a better alternative, but if we can spite Bill Powers in the process, so much the better.

Travis County Courthouse proposal would create "dead zone" after 5pm

"There is desirable treasure,
And oil in the dwelling of the wise,
But a foolish man squanders it."
Proverbs 21:20

This courthouse campaign has been a fascinating process.  While the cost of this bond was what originally caught our attention, we completely agree with the concerns others have expressed regarding parking and access for residents of the east side.  We just learned about another objection to the current proposal we hadn't considered.

According to Austin towers, a local real estate blog, the current proposal would create a "dead zone" in the evening:
During a community forum hosted by AURA in July, Judge Shepperd talked about keeping the space “alive after five.” Keep Austin Wonky indicated that Judge Shepperd said it is a priority.

Hat tip to Judge Shepperd for this comment. Can we now get some specifics?

We need only look to the federal courthouse on any given night. The thing is a mausoleum after the last gavel of the day slams.

At the time, the federal courthouse made sense. It erased a community embarrassment. But a dead building in Austin is not acceptable. Downtown Austin distinguishes our collective piece of dirt from every other post-WW2 American piece of dirt.

I’m pleased by Judge Shepperd’s comments; however, the community deserves more than a Judge voicing his opinion at a community event. The proposal from the Commissioners Court needs to include specific promises, and details on how those promises will be upheld, regarding how it will keep the courthouse “alive after five.”


It would be a shame if the courthouse is approved, only to box in Republic Square Park on another side with another nine-to-five security apparatus and five-to-nine mausoleum.

Lets encourage Judge Eckhardt and Judge Shepperd to start detailing how they will keep this space alive after five, and woven into the community fabric. The vast majority of Central Texans will never step foot into this proposed public building, and for them the missing details – how this proposal really fits with its surroundings – are the most important details of the entire Courthouse proposal.
Bottom Line: It takes a truly AWFUL proposal to create this many reasonable objections...congratulations Travis County!!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Abbott conspicuously silent on U.T. tuition hike

"You are of purer eyes than to behold evil,
And cannot look on wickedness.
Why do You look on those who deal treacherously,
And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours
A person more righteous than he?"
Habakkuk 1:13

Not surprising; we weren't planning to comment on this, but since the Statesman noticed (Reprinted in Full):
Gov. Greg Abbott’s silence on prospect of UT tuition increases could be telling

When Rick Perry was governor, he weighed in publicly twice when the UT System Board of Regents was about to increase tuition and mandatory fees — and in both cases the regents backed off. Some might say that is an appropriate role for the state’s chief executive. Others might call it meddling, as state law puts governing boards of public universities in charge of tuition.

Thus far, Perry’s successor, Greg Abbott, has remained silent, at least publicly, regarding the UT board’s plan to give favorable consideration to 2 percent increases in each of the next two academic years for the system’s 14 campuses. The campuses will also have an opportunity to seek even higher increases if they can show the proceeds would help boost graduation rates and address other high priorities. The regents are expected to take up the matter in February.

In contrast, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — a Republican, like the current and former governors — issued a statement Thursday, a day before the regents met, urging them to hold the line on tuition.

I asked Abbott’s press office for the governor’s view on the UT board’s plan and received no comment. Which actually might say a lot. Abbott’s silence on the matter could suggest that he’s trusting his appointees to the board, as well as those named by his predecessor, to do their jobs as they see fit, even if it entails a tuition increase. Stay tuned.
Yet somehow he finds time to comment on the Cowboys defense.

Also, it's worth noting that all three of Abbott's regents (David Beck, Steve Hicks, and Sarah Tucker) voted for the tuition hike.

Bottom Line: The contrast with Dan Patrick speaks for itself.