Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Governor Perry on the 2011 Special Session

This afternoon Texas Governor Rick Perry took time to speak with media and bloggers in a conference call where he discussed the accomplishments of the 82nd Legislature, and outlined what still needs to be done, especially since Democrats attempted a 2009 redux in killing legislation with delay tactics and filibuster. 

Among accomplishments, the Governor listed passing a budget that cuts spending and keeps Texas' status as a "low-tax haven," and still keeps $6 billion in the 'rainy-day-fund' for inevitable future challenges. In addition, he noted the legislature had strengthened eminent domain policy, required abortionists to show women an ultrasound, and passed an important 'Loser Pays' bill.

Regarding the issue of Health Care Compacts, Perry said he did expect those proposals, which create alternatives to Obamacare, to be taken up in the special session.

In answering a question about the redistricting legislation for the State Board of Education, the Governor stated, "I was not particularly happy with that piece of legislation." Noting that there seemed to have been some gerrymandering against some of the more Conservative members of the SBOE, he preferred to allow the legislature handle the issue. Perry did not sign, but did not veto the SBOE map.

Although he did not mention Congressional re-districting in his special session proclamation, the Governor noted that he had the prerogative to add issues to a call. He said the legislature should and will take it up. "Stay tuned" he said.

When asked about failed Texas legislation to prevent TSA 'groping-without-cause,' Perry said that some alternate proposals were being studied, but were not yet ready for official consideration. The federal government has threatened to prohibit air travel to Texas destinations if such legislation is enforced, yet another example of what seems to be a Federal war against the Lone Star State.

Perry indicated that while he is glad the Texas Constitution limited the length of the legislative session, there are still some things that must be addressed.  Conservatives are optimistic about the special session, and hope to revive several items including a ban on so-called Sanctuary Cities.  There are also indications that the June session won't be the end either; some are predicting a second special session in July.

Sounds like a politically interesting summer after all.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

PEC Candidates' Pledge

Previously I wrote about the election for the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board and the importance of restoring common-sense governance to this nation's largest electric co-op.  Two of the candidates in the Williamson County portion of the District, Alan Yore and Stephen Thomas, have released a "Pledge to PEC Members." 
Dear Fellow PEC Member,

For nearly 75 years, the Pedernales Electric Co-op has served the families, residents, and businesses of the Texas Hill Country. Our co-op has provided the power to light our homes and driven our economic development. When PEC first started, no private company was willing to build and maintain the electric lines to our area. Our co-op is an ongoing symbol of our ability to do for ourselves when others would not.

Today, you have an important opportunity to reclaim the PEC Board for the "can do" families of the Hill Country. If you honor Stephen Thomas and Alan Yore with your vote for PEC board, we pledge to uphold the highest traditions of the co-op by:

*Restoring PEC’s Reputation. We are tired of seeing PEC in the headlines, and pledge to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting such a great organization.

*Getting Back to Basics. Focus on reducing rates and delivering reliable electricity at the lowest possible cost.
*Governing, Not Micro-Managing. Board members should set the goals for the co-op, and make sure that the new CEO and great employees have the tools to meet those goals.

*Staying True to the Cooperative Model. PEC should continue to play a visible and supportive role in the communities that it serves.

If you believe it is time to once again have a co-op focused on your needs and the needs of most of the families in the Hill Country, then we would appreciate you voting today for Alan Yore and Stephen Thomas. We appreciate your consideration.
Alan Yore
Stephen Thomas
PEC members may vote via mail-in ballot or on the PEC website by June 10, or may vote in-person at the annual meeting on June 18 in Johnson City.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Financial Transparency Measure for Higher Education

From the office of Representative Bill Zedler: 


AUSTIN – The Texas House of Representatives adopted an amendment by Rep. Bill Zedler (Arlington) requiring institutions of higher education to place certain financial information online, or to place a direct link on their Internet homepage to the state's financial transparency website, Window on State Government (www.window.state.tx.us).

The Zedler Amendment was attached without opposition to Senate Bill 5 by Zaffirini, which is being sponsored in the House by Rep. Dan Branch (Dallas), Chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education. Based on discussions with university officials, there should be minimal or no cost to implement this initiative.

"There has been an intense debate, discussion, and criticism of financial practices at our state's colleges and universities. To a large extent, this criticism is likely rooted in the perceived lack of transparency. Taxpayers and students should be able to know where their money is being spent," said Zedler.

Upon final passage of Senate Bill 5 in the House, it will return to the Senate where the changes made by the House of Representatives will be considered. "I appreciate the overwhelming support for this transparency measure, and anticipate that it will be in the final bill that heads to the Governor's desk," said Zedler.

In a similar vein, Speaker Joe Straus (San Antonio) and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst established the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence, and Transparency on May 6th. Members of the joint oversight committee include: Sens. Judith Zaffirini (Laredo), John Carona (Dallas), Robert Duncan (Lubbock), Kel Seliger (Amarillo), Rodney Ellis (Houston), Kirk Watson (Austin); and Reps. Dan Branch (Dallas), Dennis Bonnen (Angleton), Joaquin Castro (San Antonio), Eric Johnson (Dallas), Lois Kolkhorst (Brenham), and Jim Pitts (Waxahachie).
Discussing the recently formed committee, Rep. Zedler said, "The legislative leadership has decided to prioritize this investigation for a reason. I hope the committee is able to dig in and exert greater accountability for the taxpayer dollars we invest in higher education."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Texas Taxpayer Savings Grants

In light of our current challenges, many policy analysts are looking at innovative ways to balance the budget without raising taxes. We have seen some great proposals this year regarding Medicare and Medicaid spending and higher education reforms, and now Texans for Voluntary Taxpayer Savings has proposed Taxpayer Savings Grants, which could possible save the state $2 billion in the next biennium.

The Taxpayer Savings Grant proposal is a voluntary program that allows parents to transfer a child from a public school to a private school, with a TS grant to help pay tuition.  For each student who voluntarily takes a grant, the state saves an average of $3,429.  Furthermore, the public school would not have expenditures for that child (think smaller classes,) but the school would keep a portion of funding. 

Currently, the average total cost per student in Texas public schools is $11,567.  The proposed grants would be calculated on maintenance and operations expenditures alone ($8,572 per student) and therefore each grant is equal to only 60% of the M&O expense, which is $5,143 per student.  The state saves the other 40% of the M&O expense, which is $3,429 per student.  Additionally, the difference between operation and total expenditures is about $3000 per student.  So even though the student is no longer attending, the difference of $3000 remains in the Texas public school system and actually results in an increase in per pupil funding. 

Not only would the Taxpayer Savings Grants save money for the State of Texas while increasing per pupil funding for public schools, the grants would allow parents to choose the school best suited to their child's needs.  I have long been a critic of the one-size-fits all paradigm that dominates our nation's approach to education.  Different children have different educational needs and it is madness to think there is only one way to educate a child.  I often hear teachers complain about a lack of parental involvement, so let's get parents involved by allowing them a voice in their own child's education.

The analysts who created this program are hoping the Texas House will be able to attach the measure to legislation before the session ends.  With savings projected for the State, the Texas public school system, and taxpayers, this seems like a win-win-win deal.  It is unfortunate that the proposal comes so late in the session and I do not predict passage, but it is an idea that deserves consideration. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Who is Exploiting Women's Health for Political Purposes? Updated

If you listened to Cecile Richards and the Planned Parenthood apologists last week, you might think that the State Legislature is planning to end funding for the Women's Health Program portion of Medicaid.  According to Cecile, et. al., poor women will die if Planned Parenthood doesn't get money from the state. 

The truth is that lawmakers are not cutting the Women's Health Program, but are trying to make sure the funds go to clinics that provide comprehensive health care.  Planned Parenthood customers only see a doctor for abortions, and then only at the procedure itself.  If a woman needs a doctor for anything other than an abortion, Planned Parenthood must refer her out to another facility.  But guess what?  If she does want an abortion, PP gets to sell one to her at a profit.  If we are serious about providing health care for poor women, we should not be sending them to clinics whose primary business is selling abortions, but to clinics that provide for all of a woman's potential health care needs. 

Sensing the tide turning against them, the pro-Planned Parenthood gang trotted out a woman who claimed Planned Parenthood saved her life with a screening test.  The test confirmed she had a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer later in life.  Of course, the other clinics funded by the Woman's Health Program also provide screenings for STD's, and if the woman needed a doctor for her complications, Planned Parenthood would not be able to provide one for her.

In light of these facts, it is apparent that if anyone is exploiting women's health issues for both political and financial gain, it is Planned Parenthood and Cecile Richards. At stake are millions of taxpayer dollars that are funneled to Planned Parenthood each year despite the fact that the organization reports a tidy profit from abortion sales.

Cecile Richards ought to be ashamed.

Update:  The Women's Health Program will expire if the Senate does not reauthorize by the upcoming deadline.   The only bill left standing to re-authorize is SB 1854 (Duell) which requires funds go to facilities that provide comprehensive health care for women.  Cecile Richards and Planned Parenthood are opposing SB 1854, and thus would rather see the Women's Health Program expire rather than lose their funds.  So much for putting women's needs above politics. 

Travis County Liberals Still Control Round Rock School Board

While I was quite pleased to see Conservative Aaron Johnson win his race for the Leander School Board, other results for Williamson County districts were disappointing. 

While Conservative David Dziadziola won the Williamson County portion of the Round Rock School District with a healthy 56% of the vote, Travis County voters gaave Liberal Diane Cox 70% and effectively shut out the Wilco voice.  Dziadziola had an uphill battle in that he did not have pre-election name recognition and faced an entrenched incumbent who successfully downplayed her party affiliation and controversial stances.  Another factor of course was higher levels of voter enthusiasm in the Austin portion of the district since they were also voting on which City Council candidate would keep Austin the weirdest. 

All things considered, Dziadziola made a very good showing, but once again, the Austin/Travis County Liberals dominated the Round Rock School Board election. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Higher Education: Another Sacred Cow?

Another sacred cow?

One positive result of our nation's economic difficulties is the renewed impetus to hold taxpayer-funded- entities accountable, and to implement reforms where applicable.  Unfortunately, when Governor Perry attempted to apply those standards to Texas Institutions of Higher Learning, we discovered a whole new herd of sacred cows.

Governor Perry has been a proponent of State Higher Education reforms for quite some time, but he renewed his push this session in light of our current economic difficulties.  In his inaugural address, Perry challenged universities to establish a $10,000 four-year degree.  Most university personnel ridiculed the proposal and claimed it was impossible.  But is it?

According to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, per-student operating costs at universities in Texas have grown dramatically; in 1991 statewide average per-student was $10,665, but by 2008 it had increased to $18,571, a 74.1% increase.  This explosion in costs is largely due to administration and faculty trends.  Administration costs have increased by 52% over the last decade, and nationally non-teaching staff now make up for 79% of personnel.  (Sound familiar?  Like our tax-payer funded public school system on steroids?)

Not only has higher ed seen an unhealthy growth in non-instructional personnel, it seems universities are not making the most of the instructional staff they have.  According to a Texas Performance Review, faculty at research universities only teach 1.9 courses each semester, and nationally nearly 22% do not teach at all.  Many of these tenured professors enjoy six-figure salaries, and while certainly a few are contributing valuable research, most are publishing obscure articles in obscure journals read only by an obscure few. 

These factors, along with a general lack of accountability, are driving up the cost of a college degree in Texas.  But instead of facing economic realities, many folks in Texas' higher education bureaucracy prefer to blame the State, blame the Governor, blame the Republicans; blame anyone rather than enact common sense reforms.  They have sought not only to demonize Governor Perry, but to 'kill' messengers who dare to suggest reforms like having professors actually teach classes; hence the outcry against University of Texas advisor Rick O'Donnell.  Such has been the hue and cry that Lt. Governor Dewhurst and TX House Speaker Joe Straus have been pressured to create a new Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency.  It appears that the committee's purpose is not to seek efficiencies and reforms for higher ed, but to police the reformers.

As with the debate over reforms for public education, we again seem to be up against educrats who insist there is not one iota of waste anywhere in the system, and threaten that any reform attempts will destroy higher education forever and ever, amen.  Never mind that Texas' higher education system is always demanding more funds from taxpayers at the same time tuition rates are skyrocketing and students are graduating with ever more debt.   Unfortunately for both taxpayers and students, Higher Ed is looking like yet another sacred cow. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Congressman John Carter's "Picnic in the Park"

Congressman John Carter, who represents all of Williamson County, is a great voice for conservative policies and values. Last week he worked to help pass the "Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act," and he has been very vocal in offering alternatives to President Obama's failed energy policies.

Carter will be in Williamson County next week, and invites his supporters to a "Picnic in the Park" on Sunday, May 15, from 1:00-3:00 pm, at the San Gabriel Park in Georgetown.   An RSVP is required by May 10.  Call 512-341-2220 or email pat@johncarterforcongress.com.  Tickets are $10 for individuals, $15 for Couples, $25 for families, and $250 for the Host Committee. 

Please consider supporting one of the most conservative voices in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Your Tax Increase is 'Just a Cup of Coffee'

Both Aaron Johnson and James Spires, candidates for the Leander School Board, attended the Williamson County Republican Women's luncheon today, and afterwards I had an interesting conversation with James Spires. 

Mr. Spires expressed disappointment that I had endorsed his opponent, so I proceeded to explain why.  I pointed out that we are known by the company we keep and that some of Spires' endorsements are quite troubling. His campaign mailer includes as his most prominent supporters two very liberal Democrats: Vic Villarreal, and Alan Kaplan. Villarreal and Kaplan were elected to the Austin Community College Board by the heavily liberal voters of Austin. Villarreal is supported by the South Austin Democrats, Tejano Democrats, Capital City Young Democrats, Progressive Citizens for ACC, and the Austin Central Labor Council.  Kaplan typically only supports very, very liberal Democrats

Secondly, despite Leander ISD's budgetary woes and $1.2 billion in debt, Spires has stated publicly that if elected he would "not change a thing" about the way LISD has operated. In my humble opinion, this is a shocking stance when the district has constructed a $117 million dollar high school, and has two brand-spanking new schools that will stand empty due to a lack of financial foresight on the part of the Board and administration.  When I pointed out these problems to Mr. Spires, he defended the actions saying there was no other alternative.  He also said that the last tax increase was "only the cost of a cup of Starbucks a month." 

Blogger, (while trying to keep head from exploding):  "You did not just say that."  

James Spires: "Yes, I did just say that."
I endorsed Aaron Johnson last month due to Johnson's qualifications and commitment to fiscal conservatism.  I also saw that with four children in the LISD schools, he would balance fiscal realities with real educational needs. 

James Spires told me he was a Republican, and he may well be, but apparently he is also a proponent of 'Happy Meal Economics,' an approach our country cannot afford to continue.  I do want to say that Mr. Spires was a very nice man and I can see why folks like him, but we must examine the important policy differences that these candidates will represent if elected.

My endorsement of Aaron Johnson stands confirmed.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Another Important Election: Pedernales Electric Cooperative

Beginning on May 4, members of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) should receive ballots for Board elections.  District 2 and District 3 include portions of Williamson County, and two very good local candidates have filed for these positions:  Alan Yore and Stephen Thomas.

Why do we care? 

Well, it's no secret that Texas is at odds with environmental extremists.  Although the State's Clean Air Program successfully reduced ozone emissions by 22% and NOX emissions by a whopping 53%, last year the EPA refused to reauthorize the program.  Al Almendariz, President Obama's EPA Czar for Texas, has been in the news for trying to ban bullets and fishing tackle, and attempting to halt oil and gas production for the sake of lizards.  What Texans may not realize, however, is that Greenies are also working through local boards like the PEC to implement an 'environmental' agenda. 

The PEC provides power to a 24-county area, including portions of Williamson County.  It is governed by a 7-member Board of Directors, who are elected by all members of the service area via mail-in ballots, through the PEC website, or in person at the annual meeting.

Unfortunately, a small group of activists have been working to manipulate PEC elections via PEC4U, an organization with close ties to lefty environmentalist groups.   PEC4U's influence has become so insidious, that State Senator Troy Fraser has called for reforms that would make the co-op more transparent and require single-member district elections.  Last week Senator Fraser publicized a letter sent by PEC4U to 5 board members, in which PEC4U reminds them to dance with 'the one what brung ya' and calls for more aggressive and costly 'green' initiatives.  (The sixth Board member, Ross Fischer, is not a PEC4U cabal candidate.) The letter also states:

"You are all directors whom we endorsed and helped get elected. We feel that our close relationship with the press, as well as with Clean Water Action and Public Citizen, played a key role in those elections. As you know, Clean Water Action used their canvassing crews to go door to door for the candidates we endorsed (they chose to endorse the same candidates but it was not a coincidence),"
Although the intent in creating such a large electrical cooperative, (the largest in the nation,) was to keep consumer costs down, PEC rates are high compared to other providers and smaller cooperatives.  PEC4U and friends want to force the co-op to adopt a 30% 'renewable energy' policy, which will only drive costs higher. 

Currently, Williamson County is not represented on the Board, and we need members who will bring a balanced view to the PEC and not owe allegiance to lefty-environmental groups

Stephen Thomas is former three-time Cedar Park City Council member and worked for the State for  25 years.  He was also a Republican candidate for the Texas House recently.  Read his press release and bio here

Alan Yore owned an architectural and engineering firm for 27 years, and is now a Leander business owner.  Read his press release here.  He is committed to getting costs and member rates under control. 

Also on the ballot will be the option to change the way the Board of Directors is elected. The three options are: (A) status quo (nominated by district, elected at-large); (B) single-member districts (elected on staggered 3-year terms); or (C) hybrid system (some directors elected by district, some at-large). Option B, single-member districts, will give members the best chance to stop any special interest monopolies from controlling the board.

If a resident of the PEC, be sure to either mail in your ballot or vote on-line by June 10.  Otherwise, attend the annual meeting on June 18 in Johnson City to cast your ballot in person for Alan Yore and Stephen Thomas.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Early Voting Begins May 2

Early Voting for the May 14, 2011 Uniform Election Day for local political subdivisions begins Monday, May 2, and continues through Tuesday, May 10. (No Sunday voting.)  I have written about the contests for the Round Rock School Board (I recommend David Dziadziola and Brian Sellers,) and the Leander School Board (Aaron Johnson is the standout,)  but there are additional races on the ballot for Austin, Georgetown, Hutto, Taylor, and other Williamson County political districts.

Early Voting Schedule:
Monday, May 2 through Saturday, May 7: 8:00 am to 6:00 pm
Monday, May 9 and Tuesday, May 10: 7:00 am to 7:00 pm

Standard Locations:
Williamson County Inner Loop Annex, 301 SE Inner Loop, Georgetown
Sun City Social Center, 2 Texas Dr., Georgetown
Georgetown ISD Administration Bldg, 603 Lakeway Dr. Georgetown
McConico Building, 301 W. Bagdad St. Round Rock
Round Rock Randalls, 2051 Gattis School Road, Round Rock
Cedar Park Public Library, 550 Discovery Blvd, Cedar Park
Taylor City Hall, 400 Porter St. Taylor

Mobile Locations are also available on a limited basis. For a list of dates, times and locations, please see the Williamson County Elections Department website.

Sample Ballots may be viewed here.