Friday, November 22, 2013

Big oil tax breaks, toll roads ...smell just like taxes

The biggest lie told by Austin politicians is that Texas has a policy of no new tax.  As I recall, the no new tax mantra began with the governorship of Dolph Briscoe of Uvalde, Texas.  This was in the early 70's, and it appears to have taken hold as the mantra of every new Texas politician.  Unfortunately, it is the big lie propagated on voting citizens of this state and has been for many years. 

The United States Supreme Court recently held that Congress has the right to tax and thereby held, as a matter of law, that the Affordable Care Act was justified based on Congress’ constitutional right to levy taxes.  This certainly squares with my opinion that anytime the government extracts money from its citizens it is, in fact, a tax.  To alter the old saying that a rose by any other name smells as sweet, I would say that a tax by any other name smells as bad. 

A simple examination of actions by the Legislature to keep the state’s coffers filled with money would reveal the truth of my allegation that the popular motto of no new taxes is a big lie.  Any inquiry into the truth of this statement needs to begin with an examination of property taxes--taxes on your home and your business.  During the time Texas’ government went through the trauma of adopting, for the first time, a sales tax, Texas property owner's taxes went from near the bottom of all 50 states to the top 10.  Additionally, considering the cost of living in your own home, Texans consider as a hidden tax homeowners’ insurance.  A recent study demonstrated that Texas is among the top 2 or 3 states in the nation in the cost of homeowners’ insurance.

Although our gasoline tax has not increased, Texans should be mindful of a new tax in the form of costs to drive on roads built with our tax dollars.  Governor Perry proceeded to form a partnership between Omega Building Corporation in San Antonio and a Spanish-owned company granting them exclusive rights to much of our highway right-of-way.  The amount of tolls Texans have to pay to drive on roads that we built is now partly in the hands of a foreign country.

Laws cooked up by special interest lobbyists and imposed on Texans are another form of tax burden borne by Texans.  To begin with, for years there has been a give-a-way of $25 million in tax breaks to big oil.  At a time when many homeowners are struggling to pay their school and city taxes, big oil companies which operate out of Texas benefit from the largesse of Texas’ taxpayers while enjoying the highest profits in history.

College tuition at one time was regulated and set by the Legislature and in the early 50's one could go a full year of college paying only $50 a semester in tuition fees.  In the early 1970s, the state still paid approximately 85% of the cost of higher education. However, while maintaining their poker face denial, legislators then and now have contended they favored and implemented no new taxes, but they relinquished the setting of college tuition to individual boards of regents.  Thereafter, tuition has increased a hundred-fold--today, for example, the estimated undergraduate flat-rate tuition and fees for 2013-14 for a Texas resident attending UTAustin is approximately $5,000 a semester.

Daily activities have borne the burden of taxes in the form of assessments or fees.  Deregulation of electrical utilities, for example, has generally caused  a huge increase in the cost of your electric bill.  Hunting and fishing licenses, and access to state parks, have more than doubled in the past 40 years; and the Legislature has imposed a surcharge on traffic fines which has hit a substantial number of Texas’ drivers.

There are other hidden costs which land on us Texans because of our stingy social policy.  The lack of adequate protection for industrial workers has resulted in Texas leading the nation in workers killed in industrial endeavors in this state.  Health care is another area of a hidden tax imposed by the fact that, because Texas is avoiding its responsibility to help with health care, we have more uninsured Texans than any other state.  This has resulted in exorbitant costs passed on to us by hospitals which have to absorb costs of uninsured and indigent people who seek and receive treatment at the emergency rooms throughout this state.  The inordinately high number of teenage pregnancies and the fact that Texas leads the nation in minimum wage workers also contribute hidden costs picked up by us, the taxpayers, in the form of prison costs, welfare costs, aid to dependent children and school dropouts.

I will say once again–while no new taxes may be a great political motto for those seeking public office–someone needs to address whether new taxes would be better than some of the unfair old taxes.  It is past time that we Texans and our Texas’ government take an in-depth look at a rational plan for raising revenue to meet Texas' needs.  Failure to do so will continue the non-fiscal policy of this state, lurching from crisis to crisis.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

How to end welfare

Just a few months ago, my wife and I had occasion to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.  And, recently, I had read a book which chronicled the history of the slave trade emerging from France to Africa to the West Indies.  Both experiences left me wondering how it was that any human being could act so inhumanely to a fellow human being.  The whole thought process leaves me wondering how good people, who speak so passionately about the brutality of abortion, tolerate little children being left without adequate nourishment or health care.  Or, how can decent people, who are concerned with human suffering of their fellow citizens, rise up in arms against efforts to raise the minimum wage to give some relief to hardworking people who work 40-50 hours a week and still cannot provide enough to meet their families daily needs. 

I hear rants and watch long discourses on conservative television expressing concern about Americas headlong plunge into socialism by embracing programs like food stamps, school lunches and aid to dependent children, and by attempting to extend the status quo of health care to all Americans.  The thought then occurs to me that even if half of American people acted in accord with their own religious beliefs, whether Christian, Jew or Islamic, there would be no need for government programs to alleviate the suffering of our fellow human beings in this nation.

At least one root of our problem lies with our leaders, such as our current governor of Texas. He talks a good game, but doesnt walk the talk.  I recall our governor launching his aborted attempt to run for president with a big prayer vigil in a football stadium in Houston.  Mr. Perry proceeded to wear his Christianity on his sleeve like a badge of honor, but his conduct belies his true commitment to such laudable values.  Only a short time back it was revealed that, even though Governor Perry has increased his net worth --on a governors salary, yet-- by a couple of million, the last records of his charitable concern revealed he had donated only $200 to his church.  And some of that was in the form of secondhand clothing which he and his wife donated!  His and other similar right-wing phonies who attempt to use religion as a political stepping stone remind me of the sage observation that what you do speaks so much louder than what you say.  

It seems to me the best way to eliminate costly social programs so detested by right wingers is for us all to adhere to our religious beliefs by showing concern for our fellow man. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tom, say it ain't so...

Prior to reading the morning news about our district attorney resigning before his term is up, I had been informed by local political wonks that there’s been a plot afoot originating at the Jefferson County Courthouse.  The story goes like this: Judge Bob Wortham, who intends to seek the office of district attorney, apparently will be opposed by the current assistant district attorney as a Republican.  Once a judge announces for another office in which he is opposed, he is required to resign, leaving his seat vacant.  Supposedly, the plan is for Tom Maness, current district attorney, to resign early leaving the district attorney’s seat vacant.  Rick Perry would then appoint Tom Rugg to the vacant judgeship currently held by Judge Wortham and appoint an assistant district attorney of the Republicans’ choice to be acting district attorney, thereby giving two Republicans a head start on the next general election.

Tom Maness, you’ve been an honorable person and established good credentials as such in your long tenure in office in Jefferson County.  You accepted and ran, after having been honored by Democrats, to be the Democratic nominee for at least two offices in this county.  You should not, at this point, dishonor the folks who trusted you in the capacity as their nominee with such a cheap trick as to hand over the selection of two important offices in Jefferson County to Rick Perry.  Rick Perry should not select our local offices–the people of Jefferson County should.  Such a cheap trick is beneath you, and you should not be a party to such a scheme.

Tom, do you seriously think you would have been re-elected a few years ago had you announced to the people that you intended to run for a while as a Democrat, but at the first opportunity you would be a party to a scheme to relinquish your office and deny the people of Jefferson County a say in who takes you place–turning it over to Rick “Good Hair” Perry?  Do you really think the people of Jefferson County would have bought that scenario when you ran before?  You took the place of a former district attorney who had something less than a sterling reputation as an honorable man.  To your credit you restored a lot of dignity to the office of district attorney; and you willingly accepted the mantle as a Democrat, running unopposed in the Democratic Primary.  Maybe I’m old fashioned but, deep down, I believe once a person accepts a party label, he or she owes some obligation and respect to that honor bestowed.  It is an honor to be selected by either party as a nominee of that party in a general election, but in my opinion with that honor goes a reciprocal obligation to not betray that honor by treating it as though it were nothing.

If the people of Jefferson County have decided to follow the lead of Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and right-wing crazies who would like to rob citizens of their right to trial by jury, so be it; but let the voters of this County have the choice, not Rick Perry.  So, once again I say, say it ain’t so, Tom.  Don’t be a party to such a cheap trick.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Right Wing-nuts Don't Trust People

I have always held a theory that when people in public office get too comfortable in office and continue to talk they sometimes, to their detriment, tell the truth about how they feel about things.  Recently, at a Republican debate between contestants for the lieutenant governorship, two of the candidates let the cat out of the bag providing further evidence that right-wing conservatives do not trust the people.  Dan Patrick, a right-wing radio host, is among four candidates running for lieutenant governor.  The debate centered mostly around who could prove that he was the most conservative candidate in the race. 

To offer convincing proof, both Dan Patrick and current Lt. Governor David Dewhurst allowed as how they would prefer to repeal the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  For those of you who do not carry a Constitution around in your vest pocket, the 17th Amendment granted the right of citizens to directly elect their United States senator from their various states.  Both Patrick and Dewhurst proclaimed it would be much preferable to allow a state legislature to select the U.S. Senators from Texas, taking that right away from everyday, ordinary citizens.

This sort of attitude among those who consider themselves elite leaders of the people is nothing new.  In the many squabbles over forming our United States government, there were several who advocated that no one should be able to participate in the selection of our leaders unless they possessed a certain level of wealth.  At the very least, it was proposed, those doing the selecting should have been property owners.  It doesn’t surprise me, therefore, for a ultra-conservative state senator and the Republican lieutenant governor to now advocate that a body they are now a member of should be entrusted with the election of our United States senator rather than the people.  This is not the only evidence that some members of our Texas Legislature do not trust the people.

One needs to look no further than to the great efforts of our state legislature--led by our governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general--to in effect close the door to access to jury trials.  The whole theory of tort reform, which has been embraced wholeheartedly by the conservative wing of the Republican Party, is based on lack of trust of jurors.  One only needs to think about this for about thirty seconds to see what a screwy system this has created.  Believing as they do in "tort reform" and statutory limits on what can be recovered by an injured party in our court system simply says that Republicans think 150 politicians in the House and 31 in the Texas Senate have a better handle on how to bring justice to a litigant rather than 12 citizens seated in a jury box who hear the evidence.  Republican courts, including our state supreme court, are in lock-step with that thought.  A recent survey of the appeal of jury verdicts reaching the Texas Supreme Court demonstrated that of approximately 23 jury verdicts appealed to the Supreme Court, 19 of them had been reversed in favor of the insurance carriers.

Turning the selection of our United States senator over to the Legislature is not the only thing this right-wing state government we now endure has done to lessen the effect of ordinary citizens having a say in government.  Voter identification is another example of the right-wing’s mistrust of ordinary, hard-working citizens making a selection at the ballot box.  Voter identification has been based on the premise there is a great deal of voter fraud which must be stamped out in Texas.  Fewer than a half dozen cases of voter fraud involving voter misrepresentation on identity have been located--out of about ten million votes cast.

Another clear indication of the right wing’s Fascist like attitude of having us governed by the wealthy elite is the constant attack on the people’s choice for president of the United States.  What happened to the good old days when, once an election was decided, there was a spirit of patriotism and pride in America which dictated we all pull together behind our leader in an attempt to make him the most powerful leader in the world.  Contrary to that longstanding tradition, the current right-wing opposition to President Obama has declared as their number one goal to make him fail as a president.  Obviously, they didn’t believe the rest of us had sense enough to make a decent selection of our president. And now they want to deprive us of the right to select our United States senator!