Monday, January 31, 2011

Did Round Rock ISD Overcharge Taxpayers by $31 Million?

While RRISD Superintendent Jesus Chavez was drumming up hysteria over teacher layoffs should the state dare to cut the education budget, he revealed something rather surprising: his ISD has a Rainy Day Fund of nearly $200 million, $35 million of which is immediately available. (Since the original interview on KVUE, Dr. Chavez has revised the 'immediately available' figure down to $31 million.) The 'fluidity' of all these numbers prompted me to do some investigating into these mysterious funds.

According to documents available on the RRISD website, the 'Rainy Day Fund' (unreserved balance fund,) is set up to cover the cost of operating the district for 2 full months, (about $57.9 million), and to cover any possible delays in revenue collection (another $117.6 million!). According to what ISD claims it needs to hold, this totals $169.5 million.*  Since there is actually $198,000,798 in the RDF, $31.5 million more in than what they think they need for a 'rainy day,' that is what Superintendent Chavez considers 'available.'

While it does seem wise to have some reserve funds, the ISD formula leading to $169 million seems overly generous. Between 2003 and 2007, the reserve fund grew from $68.6 million to $115 million, but seems to have made a huge jump since then. Even if the district can justify amassing such an astronomical amount, one would assume the fund was established to be spent at some point. Furthermore, if we accept the premise that the district needs to sit on $169 million, why are they collecting $31.5 million more than 'needed'? Since the Round Rock ISD property tax rate, at $1.38, is significantly higher than the state average of $1.22, perhaps we the taxpayers are being drastically over-charged.

In investigating the RRISD finances, I found some other disturbing trends. The current bond debt stands at $739,213,931, (including an increase of over $53 million dollars between June 2009 and June 2010). Interest on district bond debts is $44 million for 2011, but will climb to a whopping $108 million in 2016. (In the meantime, the ISD has another $91.3 million in a debt service fund reserve.) Perhaps part of the justification for such hefty reserves is that, like many other government entities, the ISD has a looming debt crisis of its own.
I suspect that much of the scaremongering by our school districts is an attempt to direct attention toward the state budget and away from any scrutiny of district spending and borrowing. Ironically, these districts are demanding use of the State's Rainy Day Fund, but seem completely unwilling to make any cuts or tap into their own, sometimes extensive, backup funds. It is disingenuous (and frankly disgusting) for these districts to use children and teachers as 'hostages' when there are other ways to manage the economic recession. Parents and taxpayers should not be deceived, but should demand an accurate picture of the ISD finances.

*RRISD Annual Financial Report, pg. 69

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

RRISD Needs a Coming to Jesus Moment

While Texas remains on top as the strongest economy nationwide, the state is feeling the effects of the recession. The Comptroller's forecast indicates tax revenue will drop significantly in the next biennium, and most Republican state lawmakers are planning budget cuts rather than tax increases, saying there are "no sacred cows."

Well, the cattle are lowing. Some of the loudest howls of protest are coming from the public education sector, our own Round Rock ISD superintendent Jesus Chavez among them. Chavez is claiming that the cuts to the district may total as much as $73 million, and the only thing they can possibly do is lay off teachers.


Okay, first of all, no-one is really sure where Jesus Chavez is getting this $73 million figure; even if the 'starting point' budget proposal unveiled last week became the final budget, (it won't) the cut to RRISD would be approximately $46 million. Now, to be sure, that is a lot of money. However, in a KVUE interview last night, Jesus said RRISD has its own rainy day fund of $200 million.


So, Jesus Chavez claims that if the State cuts his budget he'll have to lay off teachers, but he has $200 MILLION in a RAINY DAY FUND? I don't know what kind of new math they're teaching in Round Rock Schools, but it looks to me like $200 MILLION is about $154 MILLION MORE THAN $46 MILLION.

It is very troubling that the ISD and Dr. Chavez are demanding use of the State's Rainy Day Fund, and claiming that cuts will force them to lay-off teachers, (because, apparently, there is not one ounce of waste anywhere else in the ISD budget).  Furthermore, Dr. Chavez and Board of Trustee Member Diane Cox, (running for re-election in 2011) are among those lobbying the legislature for the right to raise property taxes without voter approval.  All the while, they are sitting on $200 million. 

This leads us to ask, what kind of game are these folks playing?  Isn't it time that they stop using scare tactics and started taking the economic recession seriously?  How about the district does what most American families are having to do, cut any and all waste out of the budget at every level.  And for goodness' sake, tap into that rainy day fund.  It's raining.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Uncommon Sense

While my plans to attend the annual pro-life rally Saturday were thwarted by a hopelessly sprained ankle, my temporary immobility was much cheered when I picked up a copy of Uncommon Sense: A Common Citizen's Guide to Rebuilding America. A friend had been nagging me to read the book for several weeks, but my list of 'MUST READ BOOKS' had become so overwhelming that I decided the list should be ignored in favor of randomness. That day, however, all of the other 'MUST READ' books were upstairs, while I, my ankle, and Uncommon Sense remained down.

Although fascinated by politics, I confess that most current events/political affairs books bore me. Whether left-wing or right, they tend to be redundant and simplistic, and written as one long, horrific SHOUT at the reader. I expected this book to more or less another angry Tea Party rant. Now don't get me wrong, I am a believer in the Tea Party movement and have spoken at Tea Party events. It's just that the books are so very dreadful. However, I found Uncommon Sense to be delightfully, er, uncommon.

While author Stephen D. Palmer does reflect Tea Party values such as limited government, he rejects the idea that our current crisis is of a purely political nature, requiring purely political solutions. Rather, he peels back the layers of modern American culture to get to the core causes of an over-reaching yet ineffective government and decaying society. In so doing, Palmer reveals that the problem isn't those guys in Washington, it's us: We the People.

According to Palmer, We the People have become Those Who Have Forgotten. Through a neglect of the classics and truly liberal education, we have forgotten who we are and how we got here. Even among those newly enamored of our Constitution, few have actually read it, and even less have studied it. Palmer states that education should not be merely job or technical training about what or when to think, but “it is grappling with the core issues of our existence...which teaches you how to think.” Like his mentor Oliver DeMille (A Thomas Jefferson Education,) one of the solutions Palmer advocates is a liberal education with an emphasis on reading the classics, so that we can draw from “history, literature, poetry, economics and political science to find innovative solutions to new problems.”

A reworking of education is only one aspect of Palmer's solution. At the core, he is advocating that change begins with each one of us on an individual basis. We are merely noisy hypocrites if we complain about the federal budget deficit and national debt, but incur massive credit card debt in support of conspicuous consumption within our home economies. The blame for our problems falls on those of us who complain about taxes while accepting government benefits, complain about immorality amongst our leaders while viewing pornography in private, and complain about illegal immigration while violating the rule of law ourselves on a daily basis. Most of all, we can blame “the millions of common citizens who aren't educated enough to elect virtuous, courageous, and wise leaders. “

In an especially compelling chapter, Palmer argues that there are three areas into which you can put your 'faith:' government, corporations, or God. I have long thought that those who are willing to surrender liberty and capital to government are worshiping at the altar of a false god; one that can never live up to their expectations. Palmer confirms the fallibility of government, (and in a delightful metaphor compares it to a snake,) but also warns against trusting the 'corporate Daddy' as an equally dangerous venture, especially when our economic system is not truly equal, but one that favors select businesses over all others. If our faith is placed in the one and only reliable entity, we can order our government and business in a way that allows us the freedom to live out the role of good citizens.

In the twenty-one essays that comprise Uncommon Sense, Stephen Palmer presents a highly thoughtful perspective on the current state of affairs, and touches on topics ranging from abortion to economics. He employs frequent use of analogy to make his point, and although his analysis is inherently cerebral he effectively translates difficult concepts into easily understandable terms for the layperson. Not content to merely complain about the status quo, Palmer urges us to educate ourselves and, with our faith appropriately placed in God, engage in our community. But in the final chapter/essay, he leaves us with this warning: “Debating political philosophy is far less important than cherishing and serving all people as children of God.” Ultimately, the solution lies neither in government nor debate about government, but in our voluntarily living the role of proper citizens. Uncommon, but good sense.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Breaking News: Judge Dismisses Wilco Attorney's Lawsuit

Just in: Apparently Bell County Judge Rick Morris has dismissed Williamson County Attorney Jana Duty's lawsuit demanding removal of County Judge Dan Gattis. Austin American-Statesman story here.

Republicans Get Serious

Among the Texas Public Policy Foundation's legislative agenda items for this year is a call to "Eliminate programs and agencies that are outside the Constitutional vision of limited government." The TPPF statement is reflective of the mood of American voters who are demanding cuts to government spending and reduction of the national debt. Happily, it seems elected Republicans are heeding the call and taking action accordingly, and some of the programs they want to cut aren't just outside of the Constitutional vision, they're just plain crazy.

At the Federal level, House Republicans are now taking up the Spending Reduction Act of 2011, which calls for $2.5 trillion in spending cuts over ten years. In addition to holding non-security spending to 2008 levels in 2011 and to 2006 levels thereafter, the proposal includes over 100 other cuts, many to programs that fall outside the role of limited government.

Take a look at some of the cuts: Cutting PBS (government television) would save $445 million annually, and elimination of the Amtrak subsidies would save a whopping $1.565 billion annually. Other proposals include the elimination of "duplicative education programs" for a savings of $1.3 billion annually, and, get this, requiring collection of unpaid taxes by federal employees for a savings of $1 billion. (Self, don't us non-gubmit folks go to jail for tax evasion?) 

No doubt the Liberal-Progressives will scream that these cuts will eliminate jobs, (yesterday State Rep. Donna Howard was already wailing about that on the state level), but these are government jobs that contribute little to the economy and often end up as employment entitlements that long outlive their original purpose. 

Texas lawmakers are also taking a scalpel to spending, and state Republicans from the top down are promising to balance the budget without raising taxes.  The first draft, released this week, starts off with $31.1 billion in cuts, and while the first draft is never fully adopted, it is a very good starting point for limiting government.

Now the question is, will local government entities do the same?  Most of our federal and state lawmakers have gotten the message that voters want government to do what every American family has to do: cut spending in the face of decreased revenue.  Local governments, county, city, MUDs and school districts should stop trying to squeeze more money out of the taxpayers, and start looking for their own ways to cut the budget.  Voters are better informed than ever before, and you better believe they are watching. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dr. King and His Enemies

As the nation pauses to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should also mourn the success of one of the most powerful enemies of black Americans.  King taught that our nation was built on the "promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and to a great extent he helped attain those goals for all minorities.  However, our still predominantly pro-abortion culture continues to exact a heavy price on black America. 

The nation's most ardent and profitable purveyor of abortion, Planned Parenthood, continues to assault the black population.  It was founded by eugenicist Margaret Sanger, who considered blacks "unfit" members of society.  Sanger and early managers of Planned Parenthood specifically targeted blacks in their birth control and abortion efforts, with the goal being that "minority groups who constantly outbreed the majority will no longer persist in doing so..."  Former president of Planned Parenthood Alan Guttmacher  worked to encourage outside groups to speak out as a means of 'mainstreaming' birth control and abortion, especially amongst the African-American community.

Sanger's vision is alive and well today.  Sadly, the overwhelming majority of abortions are perpetrated on black babies.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, (the research arm of Planned Parenthood, and yes, named after the above-mentioned eugenicist,) while blacks make up about 12% of the population, they account for about 1/3 of all abortions.  In fact, since the full legalization of abortion in 1973, it is estimated that approximately 30 % of the black population has been eliminated via abortion.

The abortion legacy, however, is not the whole story of Sanger's assault on minorities.  Sanger was not only a proponent of abortion and birth control, but was hostile to traditional sexual morality and marriage.  She advocated libertine sexual attitudes, which not only increases the demand for abortions, but also breaks down the family unit.  As many notable black Americans have pointed out, one of the root causes of poverty and violence in their culture, is the absence of a father and stable family unit in African-American homes. 

Dr. King's niece Dr. Alveda King has been working to remind America that her uncle was a social Conservative who opposed abortion and favored abstinence before marriage.  In recognition of the terrible consequences of abortion on black Americans, Alveda has written extensively and traveled the nation urging blacks to rethink their tolerance of the assault on their people via abortion. 

Ironically, our celebration of Dr. King, falls only days before the 38th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade  decision, which opened the gates for America to develop the most liberal abortion laws in the world. 

This Saturday, January 22, thousands of Texans will gather in Austin to march and rally in protest of the slaughter of some 3,700 babies each day.  Participants will meet at the southeast corner of 17th Street and Congress at 1 pm, and march to the capitol for the Rally For Life at 2 pm.  Following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s example, we will gather to peacefully demonstrate and work to end a terrible injustice.  All are welcome. 

I think Dr. King would approve.  

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Good News: More Elections Coming

Now that the noise from the partisan elections has died down, we are gearing up for a whole new set of campaigns this Spring.  There will be numerous municipal and school board elections in May, and candidates are already in preparation. Late last year Craig Morgan announced his candidacy for Round Rock City Council Place 5 (Councilman Rufus Honeycutt is not seeking re-election,) and today Cedar Park Councilman Tony Dale announced his re-election bid.

Although these races are 'technically non-partisan,' both Morgan and Dale are known Republicans. Morgan has volunteered in GOP campaigns for years, and has served on the city's Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Dale was appointed to the Cedar Park Council in 2009, was unopposed in his special election in 2010, and now must run for a full term in 2011. During his tenure, Dale has tackled city issues with a commitment to balancing the budget and keeping taxes low while still providing core services.

Less encouraging for area residents was the announcement that Diane Cox would seek a third term on the Round Rock ISD School Board. A staunch Democrat, Cox was a die-hard supporter of former Representative Diana Maldonado, and appeared in her television commercial in 2010. Allegedly, Maldonado will serve as Cox's campaign manager.

The filing period for these races begins February 1, and ends on March 1, so we do not yet know who the candidates will be. However, rumors are swirling about the RRISD race, since many parents and residents have expressed deep dissatisfaction with Diane Cox and her approach to the Board. I predict there will be a strong challenger and Cox could very well be unseated this year. If so, hopefully she will not follow her purported campaign manager's example in giving one of the most classless concession speeches of 2010.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Texas Legislative Session Begins: Updated

Today marks the first day of the 82nd Texas Legislative Session, and in all likelihood, Joe Straus will be re-elected Speaker. By a show of hands, he received 70 of 100 votes at yesterday's GOP House Caucus. No further vote was taken. Warren Chisum has bowed out and endorsed Ken Paxton, but for all intents and purposes, this race is over.

While a Straus re-election is disappointing, it certainly is not surprising, and I just cannot share the feelings of 'doom and gloom' expressed by some of my compatriots. This campaign has pushed Republicans to debate important issues, and has allowed the grassroots to send the message that we are informed and we have high expectations for this session. I think that while Straus may not personally agree with most Conservatives on certain issues, he realizes that he will have to permit a more conservative agenda in this session.

The pomp and circumstance of the swearings-in will take place today, and then the Texas House will have 140 days to complete the business the voters hired them to do. We need to acknowledge Straus' victory and take comfort in the fact that the other two Texas GOP leaders, Governor Rick Perry and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, are pretty conservative and will lead the charge for our issues.

Update:  Apparently Warren Chisum is not endorsing Paxton after all.  He released a statement today indicating support for Straus. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Gonzales Supporting Warren Chisum for Texas House Speaker

House District 52 Representative-elect Larry Gonzales has announced his support for Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa for Texas House Speaker. (see the text of his statement below.) Republican House members will caucus today to try to come to an agreement on a Speaker, and hopefully either Chisum or Paxton will come out on top. If not, we will have another two years with Moderate Republican Joe Straus at the helm.

As of this morning, it still appears that Straus has enough votes to retain the Speaker's gavel; and many of his supporters continue to denigrate the challengers. They are actually suggesting that Straus opponents have spread 'lies' about Straus and have violated Reagan's 11th Commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican."

As usual, the so-called Reagan's Eleventh is taken out of context to try to shut down the discussion. Reagan did not actually formulate the commandment (California GOP Chair Gaylord Parkinson did,) and Reagan quoted it to stave off attacks on Conservatives from liberal Republicans. Now however, it is typically used to try to stop the Conservatives, Tea Partiers and Libertarians from daring to question incumbent moderate Republicans. Reagan of course did not always apply the Eleventh, and was more than happy to debate policy differences with fellow Republicans.

Despite some inappropriate rhetoric on both sides, I assert that this discussion has been a good thing. We are not mindless party robots, but citizens who care very much about the future of our state and country. We need to engage in discussions about what it means to be Republican and what it means to be Conservative. If re-elected Joe Straus will have heard loud and clear that the grassroots are informed and watching to see if these guys are serious about the issues important to the people.

Thank you for contacting me about the race for Texas’ Speaker of the House. It has been about 9 weeks since Election Day and many, many events have transpired in that time.

As you know, my colleagues and I are scheduled to meet in a House Caucus tomorrow afternoon to discuss the Speaker’s race. I voted for a caucus because I wanted to hear every candidate for Speaker of the House to give me their best sell as to why they should be the one to lead us into the 2011 Legislative Session. I have made it known that I am also OK with that vote being public.

That said, there are a lot of questions surrounding tomorrow’s caucus procedures. It is unprecedented and the rules governing the caucus vote for Speaker do not exist. I agree there may be legal problems as we proceed in caucus; however, I want to caucus – even if a vote is non-biding - because I think as Republicans we should have this very important conversation.

Once in caucus, I intend to vote for my good friend and mentor, and EASILY the most proven, qualified, experienced, and conservative member running for Speaker, Rep. Warren Chisum from Pampa, Texas.

Warren is a true, proven conservative. He has been our champion of conservative ideals and principles in the Texas House since 1989. There is nobody with a better voting record of conservatism than Warren. He is proven on the very important issues of life, family, and issues fiscally and socially conservative.

Warren is experienced. In his 21 years, he has been trusted to serve as Chairman of multiple House committees, leading a strong, solidly conservative agenda. He has ALREADY done what so many others say they WILL do.

Warren is a leader. When the House gets in a bind, or an important piece of legislation is in a precarious position, we conservatives look to Warren for help and guidance. His leadership is so important to us on the House floor – and has been for over two decades.

Warren is respected. No matter who you ask, people will tell you they respect Warren Chisum. His passion and enthusiasm and commitment to the issues he (we) feels are important are admirable. Members may disagree with Warren, but they all respect him. He’s honest, trustworthy, and treats people with the upmost respect, and in return, they treat him the very same way.

There is not a doubt in my mind that Rep. Warren Chisum is the best person to lead us into the 2011 Legislative Session. He is someone we can rally behind and we can feel confident our conservative agenda will have his full attention.

For those who have asked about Rep. Ken Paxton, I offer you this – I know Ken, and he’s a nice guy who votes correctly, I’ll proudly give him that, but that’s all he brings to the table.

Again, thank you for the email. I look forward to serving you in the Texas Legislature.