Monday, June 6, 2016

ALLIGATORS AND THE REPUBLICAN PARTY

In their recent state convention [See party platform, item #39], it seems the Republican Party favors elimination of protection by the federal government of endangered species.  To me a party which appears to be obsessed with claiming a strong belief in God would want to preserve much of the way the earth was designed by our Supreme Creator. Nature has a delicate balance which could be upset by elimination of various species.

A perfect example of government protection of nature’s beasts is the alligator. 

By the 1960's alligators were disappearing from Texas’ swamps and marshlands.  The only natural enemy of a gator is humans.  Though taking of alligators was unlawful in Texas, enforcement was well-nigh impossible because when caught with a valuable alligator hide, poachers and illegal hunters would simply claim the gator had been taken in another state and its hide simply brought to Texas for sale.  There was really no way to identify the source of an alligator hide or other body parts.

Because of the value of alligators whose meat could be consumed, its hide made into valuable purses, shoes and other items and its teeth taken as a source of ivory, alligators were disappearing at an alarming rate and about to be listed on the federal register as an endangered species.

Because of concern expressed by environmentalists, I, while a member of the Texas House of Representatives, introduced legislation to make it a crime to possess any part of an alligator while in Texas.  The strategy worked and in only a few years alligators had made a spectacular comeback in our Texas estuaries and marshes.

Alligators were really essential to the whole ecology of marshlands because as a part of their propagation female alligators wallow out a large hole in the marsh pushing vegetation into a large pile whereupon they would place their eggs, cover them with other vegetation and allow the decomposition of the vegetation to furnish the heat thereby hatching many new gators.  The process was extremely helpful to the other creatures inhabiting marshlands because in times of drought, alligator holes were often the only source of water for other creatures.

The strategy of the legislation worked so well that in the ‘70's while a member of the Senate, Parks and Wildlife, as well as citizens, prevailed on me to introduce a second alligator measure.  Alligators were becoming so prolific in Southeast Texas that complaints were arising by people who had their pets attacked and eaten in yards which abutted waterways or swamp lands.  Through cooperation with Texas Parks and Wildlife, a bill was devised setting strict regulations whereby alligators could be hunted pursuant to permits in limited seasons.

Because of government intervention, alligators have flourished, wetlands have benefited, hunters have a new and exciting outlet for their efforts and there is even a flourishing industry attached to the hatching, sale and use of alligator parts in our state.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

THE SHAME OF RICK PERRY


“Mr.Trump, have you no shame?”  These are the words addressed to Donald Trump by Rick Perry only a short time ago in Perry’s effort to shame Trump out of the presidential race.  It now appears Rick Perry has no shame.  It seems he is willing to put aside his so-called conservative principles in an effort to further his own self-aggrandizement and to stay in the public’s view.  Perry has placed the good of the country second to his own personal ambition by endorsing Trump while offering himself up as Trump’s vice-presidential running mate. [Update, June 8: Trump declines veep idea but still has a post in mind for Perry.]


Perry called Donald Trump a cancer on conservatism, a phony—in other words, indicating Trump was merely a huckster trying to pull the wool over the eyes of American voters.  When asked how Perry could put aside his criticisms of Trump given his past condemnation, he said that was simply political talk.  It seems to me this is a confession that Rick Perry will say whatever is necessary in a political context to curry favor with voters.  On the other hand it is pretty good evidence neither Perry nor his fellow travelers ever mean what they hold forth about pretending they are concerned only for what is good for the state and nation. 

If one believes Perry’s touting of his fervent Christian beliefs, which he claims to be long-held, one would have to question how he could support someone like Donald Trump.  Last time I checked, Christian beliefs did not include having numerous affairs out of wedlock, divorcing one’s wife twice or three times, or being so smug about your self-righteousness that you claim you never felt the need to ask God for forgiveness.  This is in addition to the obvious evidence that Trump holds very doubtful beliefs about Christianity.  Although he claims the Bible to be his favorite book, he could not correctly quote a scripture fromthe Book of Corinthians and refuses to reveal his favorite biblical scripture.  So much for Perry supporting candidates with so-called family values that he seems to espouse so greatly.

For Perry, who was Texas’ governor for fourteen years, supporting someone like Trump who babbles insults based on gender, religion, national origin or race brings into question all of the proclamations of Perry doing what was right for citizens of Texas.  Anyone with an iota of political experience could readily see the phoniness of building a wall on the Mexican border, arresting and banishing 11-million Mexicans who do not have legal papers, or doing away with the national debt in two years is simply ignoring the truth. For Perry to support someone who has told the litany of falsehoods and uttered the insulting comments as has Donald Trump can only be explained by Perry's burning ambition to stay in the public limelight and retain status that holding a high office brings.


We are only now discovering how Perry doled out millions to his buddies from gubernatorial slush funds in exchange for financial support in the elections.  We are also seeing how willing he was to let little children suffer without adequate health care by refusing the billions of dollars available to Texas from federal funds merely to burnish his conservative credentials while running for president.  Yes, Rick Perry have you no shame?

Monday, May 23, 2016

WHAT’S WRONG WITH PAY-AS-YOU-GO

If the father and mother of a normal family had the ability to earn adequate income to provide for the necessities for their family and yet refused or failed to give adequate sustenance or clothing to their children while all the while depositing portions of their income into a savings plan, such conduct would be considered child abuse.  Or, at the very least, the parents would be deemed unfit or unwise.  This is especially true if, while denying their children adequate care and stuffing money into their savings account, they refused to follow a course available to them to earn more money.  This scenario is exactly what the State of Texas has chosen to do with its so-called Rainy Day Fund.

Texas’ constitution written by our forefathers provided that Texas should never engage in debt but should pay its bills as the needs arose.  For years, until the approach of the current 21st Century, the Legislature managed to avoid imposing debt on the taxpayers of Texas and established basically a savings plan of surpluses available in the approaching ‘90's.  The Legislature had a choice at that time of either putting surplus tax money into a savings account or reducing taxes.  The Legislature chose the Rainy Day Fund over the option of saving money at the time for their constituents.

Like the family who deprived their children rather than spend from their savings account, Texas has denied millions of its children educational opportunity, health care services and many other essentials for Texas’ constituents.  It appears the Legislature has been unwise in the use of the Rainy Day Fund by simply using it to avoid having to consider raising taxes. While eagerly preserving the Rainy Day Fund, our state leaders have managed to allow debts in numerous areas to continue unabated.  One example of failure to attend to its children is the spectacular rising cost of a higher education in Texas.

For another example, no money until recently has been allocated for highways and roads even though our roads and bridges are seriously deteriorated throughout the state.  It seems the Legislature would rather search for gimmicks rather than 'ponying up' and doing what is necessary to raise adequate funds for our highways. They have the ability to attend to the needs of the state as are currently necessary. However, the current estimate of what it would take to get us out of the mess created by attempting to provide adequate highways and roads in Texas through toll ways is that it has left us $30 billion in debt.  

On the horizon there are other bad signs our state could be in further financial trouble. Our recent Attorney General and the current Attorney General seem to be hellbent on succeeding by suing the United States government. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the suits they have filed have been unsuccessful.  There are currently three or four serious lawsuits pending against the State of Texas concerning education and the neglect of children, any one of which could bring about severe financial impacts.  The question will be whether or not our leaders will simply use up the Rainy Day Fund and then attend to other needs of the State by paying as the needs arise.


Our forefathers had it right.  We should pay as we go.  And if our earnings or income is not adequate, our leaders should have the guts to stand up and say "we are going to cut services for you and your children rather than ask you to pony up a little more money to attend to these needs."  

For years politicians have been running on the promise they will pay for the wonderful things by eliminating waste and corruption.  After 32 years as a member of the legislative body, I’m here to attest there 'ain’t' that much waste and corruption to be found.  Our legislative and state leaders need to simply suck it up and admit to the public what’s needed and attend to it.  

Texans are not so stupid they can’t understand increasing the tax burden a little to provide for those things essential to future growth and a decent living for the citizens of Texas.

Monday, May 16, 2016

DEFINE CONSERVATIVE

It is clear most Texans who vote in our elections consider themselves conservative.  In the past I have written about how a Texas conservative is defined.  Frankly in too many instances it is my fervent belief that being a conservative politician in Texas means dancing to the tune of special interests—particularly the oil and gas industry, along with the insurance industry.

Recently Dallas Morning News published a provocative article about whether or not members of Texas Republican leadership are true conservatives.  In the minds of most folks a governmental conservative or conservative politician is one who does everything possible to save taxpayers money, has a tight fiscal budget, and limits government intrusions into citizens’ everyday lives.

The article questioned whether or not our leaders were true conservatives, particularly in the field of responsible money management for our state.  When Rick Perry took office our state’s bonded indebtedness was $14.8 billion.  Under the fiscal leadership of Perry and our current governor, our state’s bonded indebtedness has risen to $40.8 billion.  While the rallying cry for our Republican politicians has long been the accusation that all Democrats do is tax and spend, they seem to ignore the Republican style which could best be described as borrow and spend.

While ignoring the option of a small gradual increase in our motor fuel tax, or taking the option of pegging our motor fuel tax to the rising economies of national productivity, our leadership has deemed it good policy to simply issue more bonds and borrow more money to support unprofitable toll roads. 

Failure to keep an eye on our ever growing obligation on retirement programs in Texas, there has been a spectacular growth far above the national average in our unfunded liabilities for retirement.  Our retirement liability is growing at a rate of 13.5% per year, about twice as much as the national level, and far exceeding the economic growth of our state which is 6.5%.

Our governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general have pretty much ignored the growing debt through the borrowing they have sanctioned by simply saying that increased economic activity and population growth in Texas would more than make up for the difference and we would quickly be able to pay off our debt.  Population growth in Texas has failed by several percentage points to match the projected forecast of our leaders.  Texas’ population growth has slowed to where it is only about 3% per year.


It seems to me that perhaps we should re-define conservatism or demand that our statewide politicians who sell themselves as being conservatives do a better job of practicing what they preach.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

IDEAS ON ABORTION

It seems to me that anytime anyone comments on abortion they are bound to run into trouble with one group or another.  There are some attitudes about abortions which simply do not compute in my mind as logical reactions.

I’ve often said that hypocrisy is too often a common malady among participants in the ritual of self-government.  In my mind the same is true concerning abortion.  First of all, while I am repulsed by the thought of abortion, I’m also repulsed by the thought that government should enforce a religious belief and that men should vote and pass laws telling women how they should treat their own bodies.

I’ve also opined that the hypocrisy in the forces of anti-abortionism strikes me as somewhat hypocritical in that great concern is expressed time after time for the unborn, but generally those expressing that concern appear to have very little concern for those children already born.

Texas has a dismal record of caring for its children.  Currently, there is a minor scandal going on concerning the state’s foster care program.  There are numerous records of abandoned children being required to spend the night in the offices of state administrators because of inadequate facilities to offer better care.  There are serious questions as well about psychiatric care of children who are victims of abuse.  Apparently, there is no cohesive policy as to when and how long children should be afforded psychological therapy and very little tracing of the results thereof. 

There’s no aggressive adoption program in Texas, and our state leadership in their wisdom is doing its best to obliterate Planned Parenthood which was doing a credible job of counseling poor and unwed women about how to avoid unwanted pregnancies. 

Child Protective Services has traditionally been classically underfunded and inadequately staffed.  Numerous cases have surfaced where children left in abusive situations too long have suffered debilitating injuries and even death for lack of follow up and adequate investigation.

The national press has repeatedly reported that there are more uninsured children in Texas percentage-wise than any other state of the union, and yet our governor and past governor steadfastly refuse to accept federal funds there for the asking which could cover millions and millions of Texas children with adequate medical care.  Children who lack medical care will only cost us in terms of not only dollars but heartaches for future generations in our state.  While I understand the desire of those who, based on religious beliefs, advocate abolition of abortion, I do not understand those who claim to adhere to the majority of our religious teachings ignoring in such a callous way the needs of Texas children.




Monday, April 25, 2016

IS TEXAS MISTREATING ITS CHILDREN?

The most precious asset of the State is its children.  The primary responsibility of a state to its children is their safety, their health and their education.  Unfortunately, the State of Texas is and has been for many children woefully lacking in all three categories.

The latest public crisis has been the state’s treatment of neglected or abused children.  The primary problem in all three categories is the fact that our legislative leaders, governor and lieutenant governor continue to stubbornly believe there is some substitute for adequate funding.  Unfortunately, there is not. 

The most recent crisis in the public realm is the treatment of abused or neglected children by the agency charged with the responsibility of their care. A federal judge has found the foster children program in Texas an abomination and constitutionally lacking in addressing the needs of children.  A recent senatorial committee given the responsibility of examining the problem spent a couple of hours debating whether or not the problem was related to poor management or lack of money.  To me that almost seems to be a joke because a blind man could see that the children’s protective services in Texas has been overworked, underpaid and inadequately staffed for more than thirty years.

The recent revelation before the Senate committee was that there is a 57.7% turnover rate in the staff workers who investigate child abuse.  I assure you these staffers are not simply quitting their jobs to stay home.  They are leaving their state jobs because they are able to find better work elsewhere.  Inadequate funding and staffing of the children’s protective agency has been causing workers to have to house children on couches at their offices or at police stations for lack of adequate foster homes or other facilities to accommodate these neglected children.

Even worse, the response time because of caseloads that are too heavy for individual investigators, has caused serious injury or death to several children throughout the past few years.  This is because of lack of follow up where abuse has been indicated or suspected.  A recent example of the price we pay for not attending to needy children who are on the street or neglected was the case of the 17 year old at the University of Texas who recently murdered a co-ed.  This 17 year old fell through the cracks.  Instead of being counseled, placed in a shelter or given treatment, he was left on his own to wander the streets of Austin and find residence in an abandoned warehouse.  I doubt seriously if any amount of management changes in the agency would provide more foster homes or live-in residences for homeless children.  Not only has the State of Texas, our governor, lieutenant governor and members of the Legislature abdicated their duty as to investigating abuse of children, they have been complicit themselves in not doing what’s right for young people of Texas.

There have been three or more cases in the past thirty years in which courts have ruled that our system of funding public education does not meet the standards set by our own Constitution.  One case came perilously near having our education system ruled unconstitutional under the federal Constitution.  Our system of passing out taxpayer dollars for public education is inadequate, unfair and inefficient.  Even after the courts have ruled repeatedly confirming this, the Legislature has sought ways to avoid the problem or claim its cure without adequately “ponying up” and adequately funding our public education system. 

The failure of the Legislature to do what is right has led to spectacular growth in property taxes on homeowners and small businesses in Texas.  There are some school districts in Texas that are wonderful.  There are others that are woefully inadequate and are cheating young people out of a decent education or high school diploma.  Only a brief look at our system tells you that some districts in Texas with a minimum effort at raising taxes are able to spend $11,000-$12,000 dollars a student on their young people while others struggle paying the maximum tax rate allowed by law and producing approximately $3,000 per student.  While this continues to allow politicians running for office to boast of not having increased taxes in Texas, it is a lie, and it is shortchanging and cheating the future of many of our children—they have just pushed the responsibility down to the local level.

Lastly, Texas’ children are being cheated out of the opportunity for decent health care.  Texas has more children who are uninsured and inadequately cared for than any state in the union.  We probably do less for our children in need of health care than countries like Cuba and several other third-world countries.  

Unfortunately for our children, the situation is not going to improve until those of us who care are able to persuade enough of our fellow citizens to demand better treatment of future generations of Texans. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Global warming

As an attorney, one phrase I hear a lot of from friends and acquaintances is “I’m not a lawyer, but...”  The friend usually goes on to give me some off-the-wall legal opinion which is usually incorrect.  Recently, I’ve noticed a similar phrase coming from mostly conservative politicians.  It goes, “I’m not a scientist, but...” and then they go on to explain why they either don’t believe there is global warming caused by human activity, or they give some inane reasoning which really doesn’t make sense. 

It’s my fervent belief the reason for the self-expressed doubts about global warming and human activities is that folks like the Koch brothers are fearful it might cost them a nickel. A recent interview of Senator Rubio of Florida is the perfect example of the convoluted reasoning attempting to dodge the issue of why Republican conservatives are so bound to do nothing about global warming. Senator Rubio started off with the same phrase stating he is not a scientist; but his reasoning went on to explain that no law that could be passed could help the environment.  The environment is worldwide and why should we punish investors and plant operators in the United States while India, China and others are pumping poison into the atmosphere on an hourly basis. 

First of all, if Senator Rubio is not a scientist and knows nothing of the facts about global warming, why shouldn’t he accept the word of the vast majority of scientists throughout the world who have expressed over and over again that we are gradually lending to the ultimate destruction of our planet?  Next, Senator Rubio and other Republicans’ reasoning is that since we can’t fix global warming with laws in the United States, we should simply do nothing.  That’s about as crazy as proposing that since we can’t stop crime with laws, why don’t we just dismantle police forces.

I have learned a lot by living so long and probably I have grown up in a real laboratory concerning laws and pollution.  Senator Rubio is dead wrong.  I know from experience that laws can help save the atmosphere, particularly here in my own neighborhood.

I recall as a child while growing up in the shadow of two major refineries there were days when the odor from the refinery was so bad it could almost make you sick.  In fact I knew of young kids who would have episodes with asthma brought about by the toxic air emitted from those refineries.  I’m pleased to say that as the years have gone by, and refineries have been forced by law to do something about emissions. The odors no longer exist around Port Arthur, and I know of very few young people who have asthma attacks brought about by refinery emissions.

Another prime example of how laws can improve things is something I learned while flying to and from Austin in my airplane. Time 'was when I would fly over Houston and the city was enveloped by an orange-yellow fog emitted from a Houston steel company.  On any windless day, you could almost count on flying over or through this yellowish fog.  The EPA took over, imposed serious rules and regulations on what could be emitted into the atmosphere, and the yellowish fog disappeared.


While I agree that laws passed by the United States government or the various states of the union cannot cure worldwide pollution brought about by uncaring smog producers, the old adage comes to mind that every journey begins with one step.  It seems to me that as stewards appointed by God to care for this planet, we should be willing to at least take the first step protecting it.  We owe it to future generations and to ourselves, if we are concerned about our health and that of our children and grandchildren.  It is time for us to face up to those who would make a few more dollars’ profit at the expense of rising seas, cancer, breathing problems and an unhealthy atmosphere in which we all must live.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Worker's Comp in Texas

Probably the bitterest pill I was required to suffer as a senator in the State of Texas was the dismantling of a decent worker's comp system.  Big business, with an army of lobbyists, ran over the workmen of Texas while alleging they were fighting greedy lawyers.  Lawyers have suffered little as a result of the so-called workers’ comp reform, but the same cannot be said for working Texans.  Even though Texas is a leader in the United States in injured and killed workers, Texas persists in refusing to address the problem of medical care and other benefits for working Texans.  Texas is one of the few states that does not require workers’ compensation insurance for the workers in this state.

This is one of the reasons I marvel at blue-collar workers who work with their hands and who, in great numbers, are voting Republican.  Republicans are the biggest advocates for and handmaidens of Big Business, which wants to save money at the expense of injured workers in our state.  Hardly a week goes by that I do not have a call at my law office where someone has been a victim of misconduct at the workplace.  Unfortunately, I have to tell them it is well nigh impossible to find a lawyer who will handle a worker’s on-the-job injury claim.  The Legislature, driven by the business lobby, has pretty successfully taken lawyers out of the equation.  The reason is that a lawyer finds it very difficult to earn a fee while representing an injured worker.  Only limited situations will allow a fee to be paid for a lawyer representing an injured worker.  In almost every instance, however, where there is a contested hearing, the employer/insurance company always has legal representation of a very able and skilled nature. 

While Texas does not require employers to furnish workers’ comp insurance, defenders of this situation quickly point out there are serious consequences and incentives for employers to provide workers’ compensation.  As an example, theoretically, when an employee is injured on the job where there is no worker compensation, the employer should not or may not use fellow servant negligence, assumption of risk or contributory negligence as a defense.  Unfortunately, too many Republican-appointed or elected judges are making a mockery out of these rules as, too often, they are allowing juries to be swayed by contributory negligence rules in the guise of other activities.

A recent article in one of our major newspapers in the business section pointed out that several large companies in Texas are boasting of saving millions of dollars by doing away with worker compensation insurance.  Unhappily, these plans seldom compensate injured or disabled workers to the full extent that the injured employee can maintain the necessities for his or her family.  Worse, there is no ground swell of working class Texans to demand addressing this serious problem for the Texas workforce because very few workers, particularly young healthy ones, ever believe they will be the victim of a disabling injury on their job.  It is only when tragedy strikes that the family raises a concern, but by then it is too late.  


I would hope that a simple sense of decency and fairness would cause a vast amount of Texas voters to demand better for people who work, earn a living and produce our goods and services that lead us to a better life in this state.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Higher Ed

I usually read 2-3 papers as a daily routine.  I find it amazing what you can find in a daily newspaper.  Sometimes I’m amazed that other people have not discovered the same source of information.

Recently, two of the newspapers reported our state leadership, governor, lieutenant governor and members of the Legislature have awakened to the fact that the cost of college has dramatically risen.

When I was chairman of the Senate Education Committee, I am proud of the fact I resisted efforts to have the Legislature release restraints on college tuition.  Unfortunately, after my departure, in 2003 the Legislature decided—in their infinite wisdom—to get the Lege out of the business of setting college tuition and passed the buck to boards of regents of individual colleges. Apparently now some of the legislative leadership have regrets.  Recently, Lt. Governor Patrick wrote college boards around the state urging them to not increase tuition.  Apparently these boards didn’t get the letter, or they ignored it completely.

After turning college tuition costs over to the individual colleges, these same legislative and state leaders seem shocked by the fact college tuition in Texas has reached near the point where college is unaffordable to most middle-class Texas families.  Between 2003, when the Legislature made this mistake, and 2012 college costs increased nationally by a 55%.  In Texas, the growth in costs is 65%.  During this same period of time, while the cost to students was rapidly escalating, the state Legislature reduced their contribution to college funding by 27%.  Governor Abbott is so shocked that he now wants to have a study committee address rising costs of college.  I have news for Governor Abbott, you don’t need a committee, call me—I’ll tell you why.  It’s basic reasoning ... the Texas Legislature has cut Texans short on providing quality higher education for its citizens.

Encouraging and allowing young Texans, or Texans of any age, to better themselves with a college degree should not be considered an expense.  It’s certainly not a wasteful exercise and should be considered an investment.  As a matter of fact, if we do not invest in education, it can easily be said that we, as a state, care little about investing in our future.  As quality higher education diminishes, it will only encourage more low-paying jobs throughout our state, and we already lead the nation in that category.  It does not bode well for young high school graduates who would like to stay in this state, contribute their talents and help gin up our economy.

As the Legislature of late usually does, its leadership continues to look for gimmicks to cure the problem.  Rather than pony-up and spend what is necessary to make college affordable, they continue to waste 800 million dollars on sending state troopers to the border to chase illegal aliens whom the troopers have no authority to even arrest.  Current chairman of the Senate Education Committee Senator Seliger's only proposal, at least published, is that he intends to put pressure on the colleges to graduate college students sooner.  This seems to me to be a counterproductive solution.  The only way to graduate college students sooner is to teach them less.


If the State of Texas invested an adequate amount in developing a highly skilled and educated workforce, forward thinking companies would be more inclined to come to Texas to establish their new enterprises.  It is certainly not very encouraging to read what Representative Zerwas, House Higher Education Chairman, had to say about the solution to the problem.  He said, “I think we will have a much more serious conversation about it.” 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

RECENT MYTHS IN POLITICS

One of the primary definitions of a myth is “A widely held but false belief or idea or a misrepresentation of the truth.  A factitious or imaginary person or thing, or an exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing.”  In my opinion, the most recent and biggest myths in politics are the following:

1.  The first big myth in recent history was the one propagated by George W. Bush that there were weapons of mass destruction being gathered in Iraq.  This myth led us to spend almost a trillion dollars of tax money (off the books) and cost approximately 4,000 American lives and an untold number of physical and emotional problems for thousands of our servicemen.

2.  The second big myth that I believe to have been perpetrated in Texas concerns the Republican effort and law which was passed requiring voter identification, claiming it was solely for the purpose of preventing voter fraud.  Numerous scholarly investigations and testimonies in court have pretty well established there was little or no voter fraud in Texas, and particularly none based on mis-identification of voters.  The idea was born at an ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) gathering which was comprised of mainly conservative state legislators and sponsored by the Koch brothers.  Numerous conversations and utterances from Republican leaders after the deal was passed clearly indicate it was their hope it would adversely impact the number of minority voters going to the polls and would favor Republicans in upcoming elections.  Some Republicans still look at you with a straight face and say it was only for the purpose of stopping voter fraud ... none of which they can document.

3. The third current big fairy tale is almost amusing, as well as somewhat sickening—that our legislative leaders in Austin can look the public in the eye and say the only purpose for draconian restrictions on abortion clinics in Texas was for ensuring the health of women.  This is after the same leaders have traversed the state vowing to end abortion.  While I’ve never been keen on abortion, it strikes me as grossly hypocritical to stack so many requirements on what the court has determined to be a constitutional right by using the phoney excuse they are trying to help women.  That’s almost as ludicrous as the old saying, “I’m the tax man.  I’m here to help you.” 

4. The fourth big myth is that climate change is a "myth" — it is being propagated by captains of industry that climate change, or global warming, is a myth created by radical environmentalists.  Even worse, a Republican candidate running for election to the State Board of Education has proclaimed global warming is something made up by Karl Marx to destroy Capitalism.  While I have done some research on the theories that Karl Marx espoused, I have never found such an advocacy dealing with global warming.  Political conservatives continue to deny its existence in the face of thousands of prominent worldwide scientists who have documented the effects of the continual warming of our planet.  The real opposition is not any altruistic desire to save the planet, but is simply to save profits of large fossil fuel burning power plants and corporations which continue to spew trash (carbon dioxide) into our atmosphere destroying the ozone layer around the earth which protects us.

5. The fifth and biggest myth of our time has been around for quite a while.  It is that if we cut taxes for multimillionaires and billionaires it will somehow put money into the pockets of working men and women.  Supply-side economics has never worked.  It didn’t work for Reagan.  It didn’t work for either Bush.  It won’t work in the future.  If you believe that lowering taxes on the billionaires will add one penny to your family's income, you must believe in fairy tales.  Theories espoused by the majority of the current United States Congress simply continue to widen the gap between rich and poor in America, and eventually will erode the very fabric of our nation.  

Watch carefully for myths put forth by politicians ... and do your best to vote your own interests in the upcoming elections.

Monday, March 14, 2016

DO NOTHING POLITICIANS ARE GETTING IN YOUR POCKET

Government inaction may seem benign, but actually it is costing you, the Texas taxpayer, every day. While our state leaders boast of years of no new tax, their obstinate refusal to even discuss tax policy, or how it might be streamlined or made more efficient, is costing you money.  Even worse, it is costing our state in a gross failure to meet the challenges of a modern world and economy. 

Medical costs. The government doing nothing related to medical costs is one of the worst indicators of “do nothing” government — costing us all money.  Today, the chief cause of bankruptcy among American citizens relates to medical costs.  Studies done by AARP and other authoritative consumer watchdogs indicate the cost of medicine has more than doubled in the past seven years. 

During the recent negotiations over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) there was a huge effort on the part of the advocates of this program to allow oversight and some control on the price of pharmaceuticals.  Billy Touzin, a former congressman from Louisiana, led the fight against price controls on behalf of pharmaceutical corporations and won.  Apparently, the pharmaceuticals agreed to a significant one-time reduction in the cost of drugs to Medicare and Medicaid recipients, but extracted a commitment which was ensconced in law that pharmaceutical companies would not be subject to negotiation with the government for the price of pharmaceuticals in these assistance programs.  

So, we are saddled with the situation where pharmaceutical companies charge what they want to.  Most of their charges are not based on supply and demand, but simply on availability and the fact that some super-sick Americans need the drug.   Many conservatives argue medical supply in the United States should simply be covered by supply and demand.  Unfortunately, free enterprise markets only work when buyer and seller can meet on an even planeWhen it comes to medical care, and particularly drugs, the consumer is told “buy or die.”  There is little or no negotiation over price.  Congress would do well to stop moaning about the rising cost of Medicare and Social Security and concentrate on reigning in the gouging of Americans by the big medical supplier corporations.

Property taxes. The second area where most of us are being had through inaction is with regard to our property taxes in the state of Texas.  A recent think-tank group which studied all of the states ranks Texas as the worst state for fair property taxes second only to New York.  Another group examining Texas has reported debt in Texas has risen to the level of over $250 billion dollars.  

All of this started at a time when Texas was fairly debt free and the rallying cry for politicians in Austin was “no new taxes.”  As a result, Texas has not kept pace with a growing state — particularly related to public education.  The state continues to shirk its duty of funding our public school systems, pushing off the burden on local districts which depend almost solely on the property tax.  This hardship falls on old school districts which are losing school age population — which drives the amount of state support you can receive, and new districts which are growing so fast they cannot provide adequate facilities for their burgeoning new citizens.

The inaction by the state has resulted in several lawsuits claiming the Texas system of funding for education violates our own constitution.  At least three times in recent history judges have ruled our education system is unconstitutional — particularly in the way it is supported.  In the most recent lawsuit adventure, several hundred school districts joined together and sued the state claiming unfair and unconstitutional funding for public education.  A district judge in Austin has ruled twice the system was unconstitutional.  Rather than address the problem during the past two legislative sessions, the Legislature responded on one occasion by cutting an additional $5 billion from the education budget.  Then they ignored the lawsuit and legal claim in the second session, kicking the can down the road and delaying as long as possible having the issue addressed by an all Republican Texas Supreme Court.  

It is possible the court could conceivably  affirm the ruling of the district court, but the court has little power to raise money to go into public education.  The only method of enforcement the court has available is simply to shut down public education in Texas until the Legislature provides fair and adequate funding.

Gasoline tax. Likely, most citizens do not count the cost of sitting for hours idling their engines in overcrowded freeways.  While under the leadership of Rick Perry, the state Legislature has stubbornly refused to consider even indexing the gasoline tax to keep pace with Texas’ rapidly growing population and transportation needs. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that automobiles today get significantly more mileage and therefore buy less gasoline and furnish less and less tax money to maintain our highways.  

Texas has not addressed an increase in the gasoline tax since 1992 — even though it is lower than most other states of the union and fails woefully to provide adequate funding to maintain a first-class highway system.  Our needs are growing; unfortunately, our wherewithal in the form of tax money to meet our needs is not. A recent engineering study found that at least 1,000 bridges in Texas are substandard. Hopefully, our Legislature will turn its attention to our highway needs before we have the tragedy of some bridge collapsing with a car full of teenagers in it.

While Governor Perry continued to condemn others for wanting to tax and spend, he launched into an even worse scenario to avoid having to face the possibility of a small increase in the gasoline tax.  Governor Perry successfully proposed a bond issue to replace needed funds for our highways.  He predicted boastfully that his policies would lead to such an economic boost in Texas that no new tax would be necessary — and that we would have plenty of money to take care of these needs.  

Unfortunately, all Governor Perry’s program has left us with is a $30 billion debt, which we are struggling to pay along with the massive interest on it.

While the motto of no new taxes sounds great on the political stump, it is doing little or nothing to meet our needs for health, education, transportation, or even economic growth.