Thursday, February 28, 2019

#TXLEGE: Senate State Affairs VOTES OUT session's most underrated bill

"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

[Note: The hearing can be viewed here; our testimony is exactly at the two hour mark.]

Earlier this morning, we testified in favor SB 15: Relating to the regulation by a municipality or county of certain employment benefits and policies.  This is the broad based employment law preemption bill.  We had originally intended to write about the hearing.  But, apparently, they've already voted it out:
AUSTIN– Today, the Senate Committee on State Affairs voted 5-1 to pass Senate Bill 15, the Consistent Employment Regulations Act, on to the full Senate.

“With the passage of this bill out of committee, Texans are one step closer to a freer, more competitive economy that will benefit everyone," said Think Local Liberty's Shelby Sterling. "Texas lawmakers are right to move swiftly on this important piece of legislation.”
So, yeah.  There you have it.  The bill's moving faster than we anticipated.

As for our testimony: We discussed how, from a macro perspective, the state of Texas tends to do well.  The biggest (and, honestly, the only real) threat to the state's economy comes from the unrestricted growth of government at the local level.  We tend to hear a lot about this in terms of (property) taxes and spending, but this employment law stuff is a different side of the same coin.  These sorts of ordinances are like weeds, eventually they will strangle Texas' economic dynamism.

Another point: The opposition, led by Greg Casar, repeatedly claimed the City of Austin's so-called 'stakeholder processes' while passing these ordinances was "open" and "inclusive."  Poppycock.  Anyone who dissented during that process remembers the bullying and the intimidation.  You can learn about what happened to an iconic restaurateur (and civil rights legend) here.  You can learn about Council members' Ellen Troxclair's and Ora Houston's experience here.

Bottom Line: The Senate state affairs committee just took a MAJOR step to ensure Texas' long-term prosperity and they deserve A LOT of kudos!!!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

#TXLEGE: Taxpayers OVERWHELMINGLY Dominate hearing to Abolish Taxpayer Funded Lobbying

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

[Note: The hearing can be viewed here; our testimony is 4ish hours in.]

About an hour ago, we testified in the House state affairs committee in favor of HB 281:  Relating to the use by a political subdivision of public money for lobbying activities.

The biggest takeaway is that nobody has the guts to come out and defend this wretched practice.  Dozens of speakers showed up in support.  Only two people opposed.

Supporters discussed abuses they've witnessed in their communities.  Most detailed their irritation at seeing local governments fund positions they oppose.  It was very practical, and very tangible.

That's great.  It's completely true.  But what was even more interesting was to watch some of the Democrats wrestle with it from a different angle.  Democrat reps. Richard Pena Raymond and Joe Deshotel both seemed to understand how taxpayer funded lobbying is compelled speech, regardless of whether the speech in question is "anti-taxpayer" or "pro-taxpayer."

During our testimony, we wanted to build on the points Raymond and Deshotel had made.  Taxpayer funded lobbying taxes all citizens to fund political speech expressing one point of view.  No matter the content of that political speech, that process is wrong.  As an example, we pointed out that Chairman Phelan and Deshotel (ie. an R and a D) both represent Jefferson county.  If Jefferson county were to hire a lobbyist, the position that lobbyist took would disenfranchise one or the other.  Either way is wrong.  The same principle applies statewide.

Raymond discussed something else interesting: Local governments, and the state of Texas, lobbying the federal government.  Specifically, Raymond proposed expanding the bill to cover hiring lobbyists in D.C. as well as Austin.  Personally, we think that's a great idea as long as it doesn't make passing the bill unnecessarily complicated.

Bottom Line: There's a long way to go between here and the Governor's desk, but today's hearing went great...

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

#TXLEGE: Senate likely to pass meaningful local debt transparency

"The rich rules over the poor,
And the borrower is servant to the lender."
Proverbs 22:7

[Note: The committee hearing can be viewed here; our testimony is somewhere between the half hour and forty five minute mark.]

Earlier this afternoon, we testified in favor of SB 462 in front of the Senate Property tax committee: Relating to ballot propositions authorizing certain political subdivisions to issue debt obligations.

SB 462 would require local governments to disclose, on the ballot, the size of the tax increases required to pay back proposed bond packages.  It does a number of other worthwhile things.  But the major part is the disclosure of the size of the tax increase.

We've been on this issue for a long time.  This was one of the original issues that interested us in state level activism four sessions ago.  It was also on this issue where we learned the truth about how the Capitol all too frequently works.  The only thing that's changed in that time is the amount owed.

We also testified that, for down ballot campaigns in high turnout elections, information on the ballot is key.  Like it or not, 30% of voters in those type of situations are clueless.  Debt transparency, on the ballot, is the last line of defense for voter education.

We would like to correct one error: During our testimony, we stated that local government debt had grown by $50 billion during the time we've been following this issue.  It's actually $32 Billion.  We regret the error.  That being said, we got the direction right.

During the hearing, Chuy Hinojosa announced that we was supporting Campbell's bill.  With Hinojosa's support, that likely means this bill has the votes to pass.  The only opposition came from taxpayer funded lobbyists.

Bottom Line: This needs to get done this session....

Monday, February 25, 2019

Why TF is John Cornyn quoting Mussolini?!?

"If a ruler pays attention to lies,
All his servants become wicked."
Proverbs 29:12

Ummm, so this happened:


In fairness to Cornyn, he later offered a lame rationalization:

Horse manure.  Cornyn never offered any of that context.  At best, the quote was embarrassingly reckless.  Otherwise, it was a Freudian slip from the guy who supported the 2008 TARP bailout.

Bottom Line: If John Cornyn's longstanding comfort with collusion between big business and big government didn't already make you nervous, yesterday's news didn't help....

Saturday, February 23, 2019

#TXLEGE: (at least) 5 Good Bills Getting Hearings Next Week

"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Luke 12:34

Tuesday; Senate Property Tax:
  • SB 462         Campbell                
    Relating to ballot propositions authorizing certain political subdivisions to issue debt obligations.
Wednesday; House Homeland Security:
  • HB 238         Krause                  
    Relating to the enforcement of certain federal laws regulating firearms, firearm accessories, and firearm ammunition within the State of Texas.
Wednesday; House Ways and Means:
  • HB 2                         Burrows
    Relating to ad valorem taxation.
  • HB 705         Geren                
    Relating to the substitution of a county sales and use tax for all or a portion of property taxes imposed by the county; authorizing the imposition of a tax.

Wednesday; House State Affairs:
  • HB 281         Middleton               
    Relating to the use by a political subdivision of public money for lobbying activities.
    [Note: They're not on this website's priority issues, but several other bills on the State Affairs docket also look good.]
Bottom Line: Just because a bill gets a committee hearing does not mean that bill will make it to the Governor's desk, but it's virtually impossible for that to happen without one.

Friday, February 22, 2019

#TXLEGE: Israel outing herself over dishonest elections

"Wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished,
But he who gathers by labor will increase."
Proverbs 13:11

Last week's Bad Bill of the Week segment from Jonathan Stickland raises interesting local questions:

Repealing voter

Obviously, Celia Israel has never been a champion of election integrity.  But to abolish basic safeguards is new.  Quite the escalation.

Here's the thing: Celia Israel's district isn't necessarily a gimme for Democrats.  Yes, it leans that way (fairly strongly).  Yes, next year's national environment likely means lousy down ballot conditions in Travis County.

That being said, Voter ID laws are popular.  Even among Democrats.  If an incumbent elected official gets on the wrong side of this issue, the national environment will not bail them out indefinitely.

Bottom Line: This could be a foot in the door, if anyone in Northeast Travis County is smart enough to kick it open....

Thursday, February 21, 2019

#TXLEGE: Some VERY GOOD NEWS (and some concerns) from Taylor

"Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it."
Proverbs 22:6

Due to a late breaking personal issue, we were not able to attend Larry Taylor's Trib appearance this morning, but we did watch it online:

The top-line takeaway is that Taylor unequivocally endorsed cutting property taxes as part of an school finance package.  Period.  End of story.  Specifically, Taylor promised Texans "significant property tax savings."

We thank Chairman Taylor for making this promise, but we expect him to follow through.

Taylor also had some very good things to say about the difference between paying teachers and shoveling money into bureaucracy.  We should (within reason) support the former but oppose the latter.  Taylor also explained the relationship between the Senate's base-pay proposal and the soon to be forthcoming merit pay plan.  It's along the lines of what we suspected last month.

Unfortunately...there was also pre-K.  Specifically, Taylor said he wants to "fully fund" "full day" pre-K.  In fairness to Taylor, he hid behind euphemisms like "high quality" and promised to restrict the program to "low income" students.  Nothing good can come from this proposal.

Bottom Line: All things considered, it was probably about a 70% positive performance.  If you're getting a merit pay system AND a big property tax cut, across the board teacher pay raises are a good tradeBut yikes on pre-K....

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

#TXLEGE: "Rollback" rates, Inflation, and Historical Accident

"Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days."
James 5:3

From TPPF:
AUSTIN— Today, the Texas Public Policy Foundation published the policy brief, The Rollback Rate: Legislative Intent & Inflation.

“Local government budgets shouldn’t grow faster than the taxpayer’s ability to keep up with them,” said Mikael Garcia, director of Public Affairs at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “That’s why the rollback rate was created in the first place—to be a ‘moderating influence’ on big property tax hikes. Lowering the rate closer to inflation follows legislative intent and guarantees that budgets won’t grow faster than do taxpayers’ wallets.”

Identical bills have been filed in the Texas House and Senate that seek to achieve meaningful property tax reform. A major component of both introduced bills— Senate Bill 2 (Bettencourt et. al) and House Bill 2 (Burrows)—is a lowering of the rollback tax rate from 8 percent to 2.5 percent. This downward adjustment is highly significant as the rollback rate was established in 1979 at 5 percent, increased in 1981 to 8 percent, and has not been modified since that time.

“It’s time to modernize the rollback rate from 8 percent to 2.5 percent,” said James Quintero, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Think Local Liberty project. “Updating this important safeguard will better protect taxpayers from local largesse and keep the Texas economy the envy of the nation.”

Key Points:
  • In 1979, state lawmakers created a rollback tax rate to help moderate tax levy growth. The rate was set at 5 percent. 
  • In 1981, state lawmakers raised the rollback rate from 5 percent to 8 percent on the grounds that inflation was high. It was high, but it also soon fell. 
  • Over the last 25 years, inflation has never risen above 4 percent. Over the last 12 months, inflation increased less than 2 percent. Yet the rollback rate remains at 8 percent.
Bottom Line: Even setting aside the other godawful consequences of how Texas levies property taxes, a system designed to reflect the economy of the 1970's is simply obsolete.


Full paper:

TPPF Rollback Rate by on Scribd

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

#TXLEGE: Freedom Caucus unveils priorities (while Swanson has hearing on debt transparency bill)

"Because of the transgression of a land, many are its princes;
But by a man of understanding and knowledge
Right will be prolonged."
Proverbs 28:2

The Texas Freedom Caucus unveiled its priorities for the current legislative session:

  • Same top priority as everyone else -- Property taxes/school finance.
  • Austin ISD + Plano ISD will pay $900 million into Robin Hood just by themselves.
  • Merit pay for teachers.
  • "Our hearts are broken by the actions of the New York legislature." re: Abortion.
    • Several related priorities.
  • Pass Constitutional Carry/oppose "Red Flag" laws.
  • Uniform Election Dates.
  • Paper trail for ballot results.
  • Religious liberty.
  • Border stuff.
  • Expand career and trade schools.
  • Ban taxpayer funded lobbying.
It's a solid list.  It's basically the RPT priorities, plus some others added by the grassroots.  That being said, as someone who served on the committee, this author can assure readers that most of these items would have been RPT priorities had the committee not been limited to five.

However, the biggest story was who was not there.  Valoree Swanson had to miss the press conference...because she was laying out a bill in committee.  If you're looking for a sign things are moving in a better direction at the Capitol, the fact that Valoree Swanson is laying out a bill in February is a pretty good one.

Swanson's bill was a simple debt transparency bill that would restrict the number of items school districts can put on a bond proposition:
HB 134             Swanson                 
Relating to the form of ballot propositions in an election seeking authorization for the issuance of school district bonds supported by property taxes.
Putting it mildly, that bill does not get a hearing last session (especially in February).

Bottom Line: The process will continue, but today was a good day....

Monday, February 18, 2019

#TXLEGE: Patrick forces Houston Chronicle to FULLY RETRACT a story

"A fool despises his father’s instruction,
But he who receives correction is prudent."
Proverbs 15:5


Bottom Line: It take a special level of recklessness to not even accurately report the number of years the man has lived in the house....

Saturday, February 16, 2019

#TXLEGE: Interesting (potentially positive) school finance indicators

"Train up a child in the way he should go,'
And when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6

It's difficult to know how much to read into them, but three noteworthy developments this week.
  1. Dan Huberty quoted on Twitter:

    To which we will add: We ran into Chairman Huberty a few hours after this tweet was posted. Since we didn't ask about putting the conversation on the record, we'll keep the details private. Suffice to say, it was consistent with the sentiment expressed above.

    Compared to last session, coming from Dan Huberty, this is huge.

    Too soon to tell whether this is flattery or genuine.  Even in a worst case scenario, however, for Dan Huberty to flatter our concerns illustrates a changed dynamic.  We'll know in June.
  2. TPPF releases public education plan:
    TPPF Unveils Six Point Public Education Plan
    AUSTIN— Today, Senior Education Policy Advisor Kara Belew testified before members of the House Committee on Public Education on the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s public education plan, Right on Education: Texas’ Agenda to Restore Money to the Classroom and Eliminate the Main School Property Tax.

    “The key components of the TPPF public education agenda are ensuring school boards set student outcomes goals, provide merit pay for teachers, and focus on improving civics education,” said Belew. “TPPF looks forward to working with state leaders this session on innovative ideas that will improve student outcomes while lowering the property tax bills of families across Texas.” 

    The six components of the public education agenda are:
    1. Direct school boards, principals, and teachers to establish goals and monitor the progress of their schools’ and students’ reading and math outcomes
    2. Direct school boards to adopt merit pay programs for Texas’ most effective principals and teachers and support their curriculum success in the classroom
    3. Empower parents to ensure their children have a civics education focused on the founding principles of America
    4. Eliminate the maintenance and operations (M&O) school property tax in order to significantly reduce each family’s property tax burden
    5. Stop taxpayer-funded lobbying
    6. Give parents the opportunity to trigger school district efficiency audits to improve the use of taxpayer money
  3. Senate to explore superintendent salaries:
    At a time when most of the clamor regarding education in the Texas Capitol is about “more money,” one lawmaker is filing legislation to encourage existing education dollars to be spent more wisely; specifically, when it comes to compensating our schools’ top administrators.

    Republican State Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels recently filed a package of bills aimed at reining in out of control contracts for superintendents of Texas’ public schools. Senate Bills 721, 722, and 723 would cap the salaries and severance packages afforded to superintendents, as well as make most of the details surrounding their employment publicly and easily available.


    Senate Bill 721 would cap the salaries of superintendents at 150 percent of the governor’s salary. Currently the Governor of Texas makes $150,000 annually, which would subsequently cap superintendents’ salaries at no more than $225,000 per year.

    According to the Texas Education Agency’s Superintendents’ salary tool, 135 School Districts across the state were compensating their superintendent’s north of the proposed cap during the 2017-2018 school year. Many salaries soar past the proposal level, with several approaching nearly double that amount.

    Senate Bill 722 caps the dollar amount an administrator can be paid on their way out the door, and Senate Bill 723 would make information like salary, bonuses, benefits, and reimbursements available for taxpayers to see on the district’s website.
    This is a sea change from last session, when even the Senate (while doing other things we like) wouldn't touch this issue.

    Speaking in Capitol euphemisms, perhaps it's time to "begin the conversation."
Bottom Line: This issue remains in flux.  Potential outcomes could range anywhere from the very negative to the modestly positive.  But this week's developments strengthen the case for the latter.

Friday, February 15, 2019

#TXLEGE: We need the Broadest Based Employment law preemption bill possible

"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

Some good news:

SB 15 is the long awaited "big pre-emption" bill.  It would prevent local governments from interfering in the private employer/employee relationship in any way, shape, or form.  Key paragraph:
municipality or county may not adopt or enforce an ordinance,
order, rule, regulation, or policy requiring any terms of
employment that exceed or conflict with federal or state law
relating to any form of employment leave, hiring practices,
employment benefits, scheduling practices, or other terms of
This approach is correct. While Austin's so-called "sick leave" entitlement was the catalyst, local governments micromanaging employment relations can take many forms.  If permitted to fester, these local policies would strangle the state's economy. Thus, the state is wise to knock them all out.

Broad-based preemption also stands on more stable philosophical ground.  Instead of complaining about a policy or two we don't like (after the fact), we're stating authority rests with the state.  Period.  End of story.

Bottom Line: Local governments have no business decreeing employment relations. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

#TXLEGE: Organization that ignored grotesque sexism during last campaign suddenly concerned about "Republican women"

"Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come."
Proverbs 31:25

Texas Tribune this morning:
For female Republicans looking to become freshmen in the Texas Legislature, last year was the year of the woman — or, if you want to include both of them, women.

Candy Noble and Angela Paxton were the only freshman female Republicans elected to the Texas House and Senate, respectively, amid a surge of women running for office.

Noble and Paxton exemplify what’s widely viewed as a dearth of female GOP lawmakers in the Legislature. In the Senate, the number of Republican women serving is at an all-time high, but they make up less than a third of the chamber’s GOP-held seats. Across the rotunda, the gender gap is far more visible: Of the 83 Republicans serving, six are women. Democratic women, by comparison, hold 27 of the party’s seats.

As recently as 2012, 19 Republican women served in the House.
To be sure, this topic warrants discussion.  Conservatives have been arguing (correctly) for years about inherent biological differences between men and women.   Thus, it is only logical that we should respect those inherent differences in political communication.  Republicans should take heed.

However, coming from the Trib, one cannot help but think back to the last Republican primary:

That would be incumbent state representative Ernest 'Dirty Ernie' Bailes.  During the last campaign, Bailes called his young, female, opponent a "prostitute" because she worked with a pro-life organization that wasn't aligned with the former speaker.  It was grotesquely sexist.

Here's the thing: The Texas Tribune, literallydidn't cover it.

If the Texas Tribune is honestly curious about why there aren't more Republican women in the legislature, they might want to start there.

Consider what we said at the time:

#TXLEGE: Bailes calling Cook a "prostitute" SHOULD be litmus test for Toxic Capitol Culture....


Since the Daily Beast reports about the culture of chronic sexual abuse at the Texas Capitol came out, we're heard a lot of talk about part of the solution is for more women to run for office. To be honest, this website agrees with a lot of that talk. So what happens when a young woman runs for the Texas legislature against a male incumbent with a lousy record?!?

Emily Kebodeaux Cook is a well known activist who has worked with Texas Right to Life the past several legislative sessions. She's currently running against liberal Republican Ernest Bailes for a house seat north of Houston. This is a textbook case of a young woman running against the corrupt status quo.


Ironically, we've believed for some time that this race was a good test for those who believe "we need more women in politics." As stated above, this is a textbook case of a young woman running against a male-dominated status quo. But, in this case, the male in question happens to be a reliable vote to preserve said status quo who enjoys support from Democrats.

Then the male in question calls the female in question a "prostitute."


Bottom Line: This race was always going to be an interesting test of the philosophical consistency of those who believe 'more women in politics' is (at least part of) the solution to recent scandals. And that was before the pro-status quo male incumbent called his conservative female challenger a "prostitute." Won't it be interesting to see the reaction (or lack thereof) in this case....
As we suspected would happen, "lack thereof" was an accurate prediction.

Now, a year later, the Texas Tribune wonders why there aren't more Republican women in the legislature.


Ironically enough, we wrote the above words before we saw what we saw at the last RPT convention.


In fairness to the Trib, they did interview Cook for the article:
That’s not to say women aren’t trying. During last year’s primaries, Emily Kebodeaux Cook, a first-time political candidate, was one of many Republican women who challenged male incumbents or ran for open seats at the Legislature.

In Cook’s case, she ran against incumbent Rep. Ernest Bailes of Shepherd, who won the primary with 59 percent of the vote, compared with Cook’s 41 percent. Cook said she ran because she disagreed with Bailes' voting record during the past legislative session. She added, however, that “the Republican Party will be stronger overall when it’s not just one side of the aisle that has elected officials who look like our daughters.”

But campaigning as a Republican woman comes with its own set of hurdles. Cook said when voters brought up her gender as she and her team went canvassing, those questions often came from other women — rather than men — which she found “astonishing.”

“While a man might ask me where I stood on policy matters,” Cook said, “the first question from another woman would be, ‘How can you balance raising a young family with serving in elected office?’”
That's fine.  It certainly is interesting that female voters are more likely to ask female candidates about work/life balance.  But come on.


Bottom Line: If you ignore a malicious creep calling a young woman a "prostitute," you're not in a position to decry the afore mentioned creeps re-election.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

#TXLEGE: Bonnen discusses "Angry Mobs" in Politics (and their limitations)

"for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God."
James 1:20

Speaker Bonnen was the guest of honor at today's Texas Young Republican capitol lobby day.  We only caught the event's tail end.  We suspect we heard the most interesting part.

In response to a question about how to be an effective advocate, Speaker Bonnen said: "I've never seen an angry mob be successful."

To which we say:

One of the lessons we've learned over the years is on both the value, and limitations, of anger.  Anger can be a potent motivating force.  The government is stealing from us and we should be angry about it.  Up to a point.  Unfortunately, far too many people (Of all political persuasions) go waaaaay past that point.  When that happens, there are negative returns.  No bueno.

It's basic biochemistry.  Anger leads to the release of a stress hormone called cortisol.  In small doses, cortisol helps manage danger.  In large doses, cortisol will literally kill you.

Bottom Line: Over the long run, those who manage their emotions go a lot further....

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

#TXLEGE: Hinojosa telegraphs how SB 2 is likely to pass

"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

Not surprising that the property tax bill is out of committee, but an interesting nugget in how it got there:
(All four Republicans on the panel voted for the bill; Democrat Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa was present but didn't vote.)
[Note: Emphasis added.]
In other words, Chuy didn't vote no.

We suspect that, when this bill comes up on the floor, one Democrat will be "excused for important business in the district."  Senate rules require AYE votes from three-fifths of Senators present and voting to consider a bill.   With 31 Senators, that means 19 votes.  But, with 30 Senators, it means 18.

Furthermore, we suspect that, whichever Senator happens to be absent that day will be lavishly bribed with taxpayer dollars pass a lot of "local bills."

Here's the thing: Democrats would, obviously, prefer this bill not pass.  But they know the Republicans have the votes to pass it in a special session (or at least they should).  Moreover, Democrats remember from 2017 that, when Greg Abbott calls a special session, he has a history of loading up the call with conservative items.  If they're smart, Democrats should want nothing to do with a special session.  Especially now that they no longer have Joe Straus to bail them out.  Thus, property tax reform gets done during the regular session.  If that requires a Senator falling on his sword, so be it.

Bottom Line:  We strongly suspect that, whenever SB 2 is debated on the floor, there will only be 30 Senators "present and voting" that day.

Monday, February 11, 2019

#TXLEGE: What to pass NOW to set up Bigger Victories Later

"So teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom."
Psalm 90:12

[Note: It should go without saying, but obviously defending innocent human life from being slaughtered in Abortion mills is always the TOP priority.  Nevertheless, from a political perspective, that issue is covered.  While this list concerns liberty and the pursuit of happiness, let it be stated up front that life comes first.]

Anyone who has known this author for awhile knows that, over the past few sessions, we've come to see a certain set of practices as 'gatekeeper issues' that block a host of pro-citizen reforms. For those to move forward, we must remove the gatekeepers.  The following is a concrete plan to accomplish that objective.
  1. Automatic Property Tax Rollback Elections/School Finance "Relie-fficency" -- As we explained at last week's Senate hearing, automatic rollback scare the daylights out of spendthrift local governments.  That's because seeking regular permission from voters would alter the long-term trajectory of the property tax system.  It's the same principle as compound interest.

    We would be in a much stronger position today if reforms along the lines of HB 2/SB 2 had passed a decade ago.  That they didn't is...unfortunate, at best.  But if we want to be in a stronger position a decade from now, we need to (belatedly) start the process of 'trajectory-altering.'

    On school finance, we made-up the word "relie-fficency" to convey a somewhat complicated point: A more efficient school finance system is the easiest practical way to provide tangible property tax relief.

    Another point: If your long-term objectives involve abolishing property taxes and/or Robin Hood, it begins with a more efficient school finance system this session.
  2. Abolish Taxpayer Funded Lobbying -- Political speech is good.  We encourage it.  That being said, compelling citizens to subsidize one form of political speech is abhorrent.

    Taxpayer funded lobbying inverts the first amendment.  The first amendment exists to protect citizens from the government.  It's a one way street.  It doesn't work in the other direction.

    On a practical level, taxpayer funded lobbyists are the primary obstacle to any number of pro-citizen improvements.
  3. Abolish Taxpayer Subsides for Public Sector Unions -- Compelling citizens to subsidize the collection of dues for partisan political organizations disempowers the afore mentioned citizens.
  4. Statewide Pre-emption of Labor Law -- Local governments have no business micromanaging relationships between employers and employees [Note: The Feds don't either, but that's a topic for another day].  This is an ominous trend that, left unchecked, threatens to strangle entrepreneurial dynamism.  While Austin's 'sick leave' entitlement is the most obvious tangible example, the principle runs broader and deeper.
  5. Honest Elections -- None of the above matters if votes aren't counted accurately.
Bottom Line: Eliminate the gatekeepers and everything else will, over time, fall into place....

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Judicial "merit selection": An idea so AWFUL, Nathan Hecht deserves a primary....

"For their rock is not like our Rock,
Even our enemies themselves being judges."
Deuteronomy 32:31

YIKES, from Wednesday:
In the wake of a midterm election that swept some 20 Republican appellate judges out of office, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht called on the Texas Legislature to reform a system he called “among the very worst methods of judicial selection.”

“When partisan politics is the driving force and the political climate is as harsh as ours has become, judicial elections make judges more political, and judicial independence is the casualty,” Hecht told both chambers of the Legislature on Wednesday morning in his biennial address, a wide-ranging speech that touched on judicial salaries, technology and bail reform. “Make no mistake: A judicial selection system that continues to sow the political wind will reap the whirlwind.”

In recent history, partisan judicial elections have played well for Texas’ majority party; the state’s two high courts, in which justices run statewide, comprise all Republicans, as they have for two decades. But last year, as turnout surged in urban areas and voters leaned heavily toward the straight-ticket voting option, Democratic judges were swept onto the bench on the coattails of candidates like Beto O’Rourke. All told, Hecht said, in the last election, Texas’ district and appellate courts “lost seven centuries of judicial experience at a single stroke.”

“Qualifications did not drive their election,” Hecht said. “Partisan politics did.”
No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

So-called "merit selection" takes the selection of Judges away from voters and puts it into the hands of bureaucrats.

We hope we don't have to explain why that's a terrible idea.

Several years ago, local activist Mark Pulliam wrote an essay detailing the pitfalls of so-called "merit selection."  It's too long to quote in full.  You really should read the whole thing.  The following stands out:
In reality, though, merit selection is usually controlled by the organized bar. Lawyers as a group are not representative of the general population, and lawyers active in the state bar (or the ABA) tend to be particularly partisan and ideological. (The policy positions adopted by the House of Delegates of the ABA, for example, are indistinguishable from those of the ACLU, and are far left-of-center of mainstream public opinion.) Merit-selection panels, such as the Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE) Commission in California, tend to become captured by special-interest groups (such as plaintiffs’ lawyers,...liberal political activists, etc.), who use the evaluation function to black-ball judicial candidates who don’t share their views—such as conservative lawyers or proponents of civil-justice reform.
In Texas, the practical impact of such a change would likely be a Judiciary that's significantly friendlier to trial lawyers and Planned Parenthood.

Again, we hope we don't have to explain why that's a terrible idea.


With the substantive question addressed, lets consider another aspect: The arrogance of the idea that judges shouldn't have to campaign for office.

Perhaps we're old fashioned, but we think judges should have to interact with the citizens that will have to live under their rulings.

Like it or not, for many judges, the only time they interact with regular citizens is during campaign season.


Nevertheless, the current system remains in place for 2020.

And Nathan Hecht is up this cycle.

This sort of proposal should NOT be allowed to stand.


Once again, however, the silence of Texans for so-called "Lawsuit Reform" is deafening.  Hecht's speech was Wednesday.  It's now Saturday.  That Texans for so-called "Lawsuit Reform" has yet to blow a gasket tells you everything you need to know about that operation.


Voters suck...but unelected bureaucrats suck more.


Interesting fact about Nathan Hecht we only learned in preparing this blog post: He's  been on SCOTX for over 30 years.

He's also almost 70.

Besides this "merit selection" nonsense, dude might want to consider retiring on those grounds alone.


Bottom Line:  Taking power out of the hands of voters, and putting it into the hands of bureaucrats, rarely works out well in the end.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Lizzie Pannill Fletcher needs to vote on this so-called "Green New Deal"

"who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen."
Romans 1:25

Last fall, the Democrats picked up a congressional seat in Houston:

That's important to remember as you read the following detail about the so-called "Green New Deal" we noticed this morning:
Ban affordable energy. GND calls for the elimination of all fossil fuel energy production, the lifeblood of American industry and life, which includes not only all oil but also natural gas — one of the cheapest sources of American energy, and one of the reasons the United States has been able to lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction.
Sooo...the Democrats' federal-level majority hinges on a district in West Houston...and their hot new idea is to ban Oil and Gas?!?

Do they realize what people in West Houston do for a living?!?

Texas is leading a global energy REVOLUTION.  It's still in its early stages, but if allowed to unfold, it will put various global bad guys [eg. Putin and the Saudis] out of business.  Making matters better, this global energy offers the opportunity for a lot of people in Houston to get rich.

All we need is for the politicians and the bureaucrats to stay out of the way.

Given this backgroud, it's imperative that Congresswoman Fletcher vote on the afore mentioned proposal.

Bottom Line: Given the industry in which many of them work, we suspect there aren't too many voters in West Houston who support banning fossil fuels....

Thursday, February 7, 2019

#TXLEGE: Watson hijacks Sec'y of State confirmation hearing (to lay foundation for future litigation)

"Do not remove the ancient landmark,
Nor enter the fields of the fatherless;"
Proverbs 23:10

[Note: You can view the committee hearing here; this author's testimony is at the 3:55:30 mark.]

We attended this morning's confirmation hearing for the Secretary of State.  One conclusion is obvious: The Democrats are dead set against this nomination.  And there's litigation coming.

Kirk Watson lead the attack.

Watson subjected Secretary of State Whitley to a barrage of hair-splittingly petty questions about his office's recent efforts to ensure the integrity of Texas' voter rolls.  Whether it was data point "x," data point "y," or data point "z," Watson was on a mission to extract a 'confession' he could exploit for political purposes.  While Watson's strategy is politically obnoxious, it might be very effective legally (especially with a friendly judge).

Every question Watson asked created a new legal "i" to be dotted, or a legal "t" to be crossed.

As for our personal testimony: We discussed how, even if one were to interpret the Secretary of State's numbers in the most unfriendly way possible, there are still enough questionable registrations to matter.  Elections in Travis County are routinely decided by fewer than 5000 votes.  We also noted, tongue somewhat in cheek, that we agreed with Senator Watson's assessment that Texas had serious issues with minority voting rights during the century of Democrat control.

That being said, this nomination's in trouble.  The Texas constitution requires a two thirds vote to confirm gubernatorial appointees.  That means 21 votes.  There are only 19 Republicans.  That means, even if you hold Seliger, you still need two Democrats.  Unfortunately, we think its a lot easier to find 12 votes "against" than it is to find 21 votes "for."  We hope there's a backup plan.

Bottom Line: There's a lot more to come on this issue, but the opening fireworks were nevertheless revealing.... 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

#TXLEGE: SB 2 -- Tangible (though incomplete) step in the right direction

"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

[Note: The committee hearing can be viewed here; we'll update the time mark when we're called to testify.]

We're currently sitting in the overflow room for the Senate's hearing on the property tax bill.  There's a big line in front of us to testify.  Unlike the corrupt politicians, government bureaucrats, and taxpayer funded lobbyists, we're here on our own time and dime.  Thus, we have to leave at 6.

We'll discuss our thoughts here and hopefully get to say them to the committee as well.

Senate Bill 2 is a tangible step in the right direction.  It's not everything we'd like to see.  But it's undeniably, and meaningfully, superior to the status quo.

Automatic rollback elections clearly frighten corrupt politicians, government bureaucrats, and taxpayer funded lobbyists.  That's why they oppose automatic rollback elections with such vehemence.  Automatic rollback elections are a new accountability tool for citizens and taxpayers.  Thus, automatic rollback elections should get done.

From a local perspective, Senate Bill 2 would curtail the most abusive practices of the city of Austin.  While the city of Austin imposes myriad challenges, step one is to put those clowns on a tax diet.  A tax diet would force the city of Austin to set priorities in its budget.  If Mayor Adler is against it, it's probably a good bill.

Mayor Adler

That being said, the legislature needs to understand that automatic rollback elections don't lower anybody's tax bill.  Yes, future bad behavior will be curtailed.  Yes, that's good.  But if the legislature doesn't provide net relief, especially during a session where they're shoveling BILLIONS to the educrats, woe unto them with the voters.

Bottom Line: The corrupt politicians, government bureaucrats, and taxpayer funded lobbyists lobbyists hate this bill.  So it must be doing something right.  But this is the beginning of the conversation, not the end.  For it's own sake, we hope the legislature understands this reality.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

#TXLEGE: Abbott delivers Lukewarm Pile of "Meh"....

"So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth."
Revelation 3:16

The Good: He made property taxes an emergency item.  He also endorsed restoring the Longhorn/A&M football game.  Otherwise, he didn't propose anything inherently bad.

The Mediocre: Everything else.

Governor Abbott delivered his so-called "state of the State" address to the legislature this morning.  With innovative banality, Abbott's address combined the soaring rhetoric of an airline pilot hogging the intercom with the policy clarity of pea soup.  Authentically, genuinely, insipid.

On property taxes and school finance, he said the right things.  He made both emergency items.  So we'll see what happens.

As for his other initiatives: None of them are bad, but neither do they have us turning cartwheels.  School safety, mental health, and disaster preparation/response are constitutionally justifiable.  So have at it.  Just know these items will have to be watched very closely.  While they might accomplish some good, each is vulnerable to being hijacked.  If that happens, any of these could become a nightmare.  That being said, ineffective boondoggles are the likeliest outcome of all three (but at least the Governor's campaign contributors will get paid).

On the other hand, the Longhorn/A&M does seem to be on its way who are we to complain?!?

Bottom Line: At least he didn't hawk pre-K....

Monday, February 4, 2019

Georgetown's Wind Energy DEBACLE encapsulates EVERYTHING Wrong with WillCo GOP....

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

Isn't that just lovely:
The City of Georgetown made a costly blunder, and residents are now paying for it.

City officials lost millions of taxpayer dollars after a failed gamble on green energy, and now Georgetown residents will pay higher electricity bills to help make up the losses.

The story began in 2012 when Mayor Dale Ross and city officials began transitioning the city’s entire power supply to solely renewable energy: they signed long-term contracts with wind and solar companies for set amounts of energy at a fixed-rate price, betting that the costs would be lower than if they used other energy sources.

The move to 100 percent renewables sparked national praise for the mayor, even earning him a spot in Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Sequel” environmental movie. Gore called Georgetown a “trailblazer” when he visited the town in 2016.

The mayor said the decision was based on dollars and cents, one that would save the people of Georgetown money.

“This is a long-term pocketbook issue,” Ross said in August. “It’s a win for economics and a win for the environment.”

But now, just seven years later, the mayor and city officials are scrambling to renegotiate the contracts. They bought far too much energy at a far too expensive price.
Which, naturally, led to this sort of national press coverage for the allegedly "Republican" mayor:

Back in 2012, this website wasn't focused on local/regional issues.  But we remember this discussion very clearly.  And we remember opponents raising two objections:
  • Wind is an unreliable, inefficient, source of energy...thus these contracts would inevitably beget higher electric rates for consumers.
  • This sort of collusion between big business and big government would grease the skids for Williamson county turning blue.
Here we are, seven years later, and both of those predictions have come to pass.


Bonus question: Who among Mayor Dale Ross's cronies got wind energy contracts?!?

Follow up: Among Mayor Dale Ross's cronies that got wind energy contracts, how many were Travis County Democrats?!?

Follow up II: Among Mayor Dale Ross's Travis County Democrat cronies that got wind energy contracts, to what extent did Obama-era "clean energy" subsidies grease the skids?!?


Bottom Line: Higher costs for consumers.  Bigger government for citizens.  But at least the Mayor's cronies got paid....

Friday, February 1, 2019

#TXLEGE: Texans for so-called "Lawsuit Reform" Needs to be SHAMED into supporting First Amendment

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,"
1 Timothy 4:1

Some wretched bills filed by Democrats have attracted national attention.  Under the guise of "nondiscrimination," the bills in question would eviscerate the first amendment.  If such bills were to pass, it would make the Colorado cake baker case look like child's play.

That being said, we noticed something else when we read the bills.

HB 244 (Farrar):

HB 254 (Bernal):

HB 188 (Bernal)

HB 517 (Israel):

HB 850 (Johnson):

SB 151 (Rodriguez):

In 47 separate places, across 6 bills, Democrats want to enable lawsuits or major regulatory actions (which will inevitably beget lawsuits) based on "perceptions."

Not actions.


This sort of language is a sea change; the unintended consequences have not been thought through.

Which begs the question: Where, pray tell, is Texans for "Lawsuit Reform" in all this?!?

Besides the obvious first amendment/religious liberty nightmare, these bills are the biggest trial lawyer boondoggle in a generation.  It does not take a genius to see how, if "perception" becomes a valid legal standard, ambulance chasers will bloom.  That's before the "perception" standard is expanded by future legislatures or Democrat judges.

Yet the state's largest so-called "tort reform" group is silent.

It's madness.  Madness that's indefensible from a group that claims to oppose trial lawyer boondoggles.  Indefensible madness that Texans for so-called "Lawsuit Reform" should be forced to either defend or disavow.

Bottom Line: You would think that a so-called "tort reform" organization would oppose trial lawyer boondoggles.  For some reason, that's not the case.  How very, very odd.