Wednesday, January 19, 2011


The current Texas Legislature faces one of the greatest challenges of our time.  It is required, not only to balance a budget while looking at a 27-billion dollar plus deficit; it is faced with the real challenge of picking and choosing what programs are essential to the future of Texas and its unborn children.  Admittedly, I have been somewhat critical of our Texas Legislature and statewide leadership.  I do believe one should not be critical without offering constructive suggestions; in that spirit, I offer the following.  

In balancing the budget, education, both public and higher, should remain sacred.  For many years Texas has struggled to maintain a position at least better than Mississippi and developing nations of the world.  We have maintained a passable education system because of higher tuition and local taxpayers’ willingness to sacrifice.  Any cuts in funding our colleges and universities or public education will exacerbate our state’s efforts to educate our children.  It will also dramatically hamper efforts of pulling ourselves to the top in educational excellence.  At present, we are near the bottom.

Use the rainy day fund.  We have put aside almost $10-billion which many of our conservative leaders say they want to continue to preserve.  Not spending this money to help balance our budget with “no new taxes” makes as much sense as a family with a large savings account standing by and allowing their house to be foreclosed

Do away with duplicate or unnecessary state agencies.  The Railroad Commission has long sense outlived its usefulness and should be immediately merged with the Public Utility Commission.  Not only would it save several million dollars, it would allow the people of Texas to truly understand what state agency has a serious effect on your home utility bills.  Texas is one of the few states, if not the only state, to have two supreme courts.  We have a Supreme Court and a Court of Criminal Appeals.  By giving the Texas Supreme Court jurisdiction over appellate criminal cases, we could do away with an entire court and its staff.  Millions would be saved.  There is no special reason the same judges could not judge the criminal law as well as the civil law in this state.  It is already being done by all of our Courts of Appeal throughout the state

Overhaul the criminal justice system.  Meanness and enforcement of criminal laws may sound good for politicians who want to talk tough, but it is not nearly as effective as a modern criminal justice system where we substitute oversight of minor criminals to incarceration.  We are spending almost as much tax money keeping a young person locked up as we do sending them to medical school.  States which have de-emphasized incarceration and emphasized supervision have seen dramatic decreases in their crime rate.  Even Texas, since the 1995 overhaul, has seen a significant reduction in crime.  A well-funded probation/parole system will be more productive and cost only a fraction of what it cost to keep people in cages.  Of course, we must reserve our prison beds and cells for those who are dangerous and cannot be trusted to respond to supervision or assistance in getting back on the road to good citizenship.

Preventative health should become a mantra of the Legislature instead of continuing to pay more and more for things such as kidney dialysis and blindness caused by diabetes.  Our current system seldom addresses prevention.  For example, it is well known that over 50% of the debilitating effects of diabetes can be controlled by life style changes.  But Texas offers almost no attention for screening for such diseases, counseling or assistance in altering lifestyles to avoid blindness, kidney failure or amputations.  Changing this can save billions, not only to the state, but can relieve untold suffering of Texas families.

Let the managers manage.  In productive and well-run businesses, owners generally allow great leeway for their managers to determine how many workers each task needs and what they should pay.  Currently, if a state agency needs to reduce its force, or if its workforce is reduced by natural attrition such as retirement, the worker is simply replaced without regard to whether or not additional pay could be an incentive to the remaining workers to take up the slack. In most situations it has been proven that where there is a crew doing a certain job and one leaves, for less than the cost of the departing worker, slight increases in pay to the remaining workers could accomplish the same task with fewer employees. Managers of state departments do not enjoy this luxury because of quirks in our appropriations process.

Encourage departments to be more efficient and reward them for doing so.  The same quirky provisions in our state’s appropriations process makes it impossible to reward a state institution such as Lamar University for efficiency.  For example, currently if Lamar receives an appropriation for campus maintenance, and it figures out a way to do it more efficiently and at the end of year has a sizeable surplus, it is rewarded by being allowed to watch the Legislature take the surplus and spend it elsewhere.  The state should encourage innovation, thriftiness, good will and more efficiency and allow agencies such as Lamar to keep, from year to year, what they saved.  The agencies then would not have to ask the Legislature for as much special funding.

No new taxes should include “no new taxes” for local government.  Almost every Session for the last ten has helped maintain the statewide boast of politicians that they completed the Session with “no new taxes.”  Unfortunately, too often the load has simply been shifted from the state to local school boards, county commissioners and city councils.   Our statewide politicians should quit condemning and damning that dirty federal money and make full use of every available federally funded program which would help Texas pull out of the hole.  Stop the rhetoric, take the money.

The Legislature should search, not only for waste, but for unfair tax breaks.  They are abundant in little special cubbyholes, generally for undeserving corporations which want to avoid taxes.  

The governor’s slush fund of over $300-million that he has doled out to his political supporters should be abolished.  The $300-million should go towards reducing our deficit.

I urge the voters of Southeast Texas to pay attention to what happens in Austin in the next 140 days.  It is important not only to you, but particularly to your grandchildren.


The season of giving recently past set me to thinking about where we are with our nation.  Growing up, graduating from high school and attending college in the ‘50's filled most of us with ambitious hope for the future--not only for ourselves, but for our country.  Most of us wore our patriotism like a badge of honor, expressing love for our country at every opportunity.  

The election of John Kennedy seemed to spur an even accelerated desire to serve one’s country and give back some of the blessings we had received as Americans.  Young people graduating from college during the Kennedy era, dubbed Camelot in America, showed an increased ambition to do something significant to help people throughout the world.  Thousands of young Americans volunteered for the Peace Corps, domestic and foreign, and found self-satisfaction in serving both our nation and the world.

I would suspect, without fear of correction, that a great number of young Americans graduating from college today would not list public service or service to humanity as their first thoughtful ambition.  More than likely their ambition would be directed toward working on Wall Street and making thousands of dollars and ultimately becoming part of the ultra-rich in the United States.  

Rather than considering living in the United States as a blessing to be enjoyed and reveled in, I fear too many of our young Americans believe our federal government to be an enemy to their lofty ambitions of becoming rich.  

I can’t really blame young Americans when so many of our leaders engage in a non-stop diatribe which would make the average listener believe the federal government was a foreign power poised to invade our cities and states and enslave free Americans.  Tea Party leaders and others want to shrink our nation’s government to the point it could be drowned in a bathtub.  

Incoming Republican leaders of the House want to dismantle health care reforms, undo reform regulations on banks and stock traders--as well as insurance companies--and give more tax breaks to big corporations which are daily shipping American jobs overseas.  Even the governor of Texas, in an unguarded moment, suggested secession of Texas from the Union might be a good thing.  

How can young Americans truly have respect for our nation and our system of governing with such toxic rhetoric emanating from so many sources?

Without a doubt, the greatest enemy to self-government is ignorance.  When a population reaches a point which those who can’t or won’t discern truth from fiction outnumber conscientious, studious citizens, society itself is in trouble.  Recent polls show a vast number of Americans believe:
  • that our President was born outside the United States,
  • that the recently passed health care bill does, in fact, contain a panel which can order death to a citizen, and
  • that taxes under Obama have increased when in fact they have decreased.  

None of these assertions by Clearly, ignorance is gaining a foothold at a level which is becoming alarmingly dangerous to our way of life.  

One of the favorite clichés among dedicated conservatives is that welfare is responsible for our growing deficit.  Complaints about illegal aliens sucking the lifeblood from our economy by seeking free medical care and free education in the United States are among favorite stories of Tea Party members.  

However, to the contrary, studies have shown that the United States gains more economically from our “uninvited” guests from the South than we pay out in benefits.

And, in fact, single mothers and the elderly receiving food stamps or medical care cost U.S. taxpayers far less than even the recent corporate giveaways in the so called extension of the Bush tax cuts.

And here is just one glaring example:  a provision lobbied by highly-paid lobbyists into a bill in Washington, DC to allow companies a greater break on earnings made outside the United States will cost our treasury over 6-billion dollars. There are at least 5-6 other multi-billion dollar corporate giveaways in the bill, including a tax break for those manufacturing rum in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  I dare say educating people within our borders and assuring some measure of health and dignity to our elderly benefits America far more than tax benefits to rum runners.  

My hope for the coming new year is that more Americans will pay more attention to what’s really happening and make a greater attempt to filter the false in search of the truth.