Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Obama's Bridge Problem

Standing beside a 'functionally obsolete' bridge last week, President Obama insisted Congress must pass his $447 billion jobs bill so that aging bridges across the nation can be repaired and Americans can get back to work. While a few remaining Obama enthusiasts support the plan, most Americans and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are skeptical, and understandably so.

The claim we lack funds for bridge repairs is an obvious red herring. Federal law requires states to use 10% of transportation funds for 'enhancements,' including the establishment of transportation museums, scenic areas, and pedestrian education programs. The set-aside has been used to build a 'twin dragons' gateway to Chinatown in Los Angeles, a Corvette simulator in Kentucky, and a squirrel observation area in Tennessee. Entertaining as these enhancements may be, they hardly seem prudent when America's bridges are supposedly on the brink of collapse.

Of course the idea that we cannot repair our transportation infrastructure unless we raise taxes and/or sink the country further into debt is absurd. The number of federal spending programs that most Americans would consider dispensable are too numerous to list here, and the GAO recently reported that duplication in government costs taxpayers over $100 billion per annum. Surely amongst all this waste there are ample funds for bridge repair.

There is, however, a more fundamental problem with the American 'Jobs' bill: it is based on the false premise that government spending programs will create lasting jobs and strengthen the economy. While infrastructure repairs might create temporary jobs, raising taxes above sustainable levels will result in reduced economic activity, increased unemployment, and declining tax revenues over the long-term.

Proponents of higher taxes as a solution to our economic woes ignore the reality of human behavior. We acknowledge, and even hope for, potential behavior changes when advocating for 'sin taxes' like those on cigarettes and alcohol, but Leftists assume there will be no resulting change in behavior due to taxes on economic activity.

In practice, excessive taxes remove incentive and the very ability of private citizens to invest in economic activity, and they transfer capital into the hands of government bureaucrats. According to economic analysts James Sherk and Rea Hederman, each $1 increase in government spending reduces private-sector investment by as much as $.97. Historically, taxes above Laffer Curve levels have reduced economic activity and income levels, and resulted in declining tax revenues.

But the economic problems created by high taxes and excessive government spending and debt are not limited to the federal government. Texas has fared relatively well in this recession due to (relatively) conservative state fiscal policies, but analysts are sounding the alarm on local government activity. In our own community, the Leander school district's $1.2 billion in bond debt has led to one of the highest ISD property tax rates in the area and a 'negative outlook' designation from the Fitch Group. These problems are beginning to impact the local economy, which is seeing reduced growth and falling property values.

While the Left argues that deficit spending creates needed jobs, government programs are notorious for waste and inefficiency. Analysts note that recent 'stimulus' bills cost taxpayers a minimum of $228,055 for each job created or “saved.” Although government spending has increased 4.8% since 2008, national unemployment and poverty rates continue to grow at alarming rates.

If our elected leaders are serious about 'stimulating' economy, they should look at factors that inhibit business. The United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, and according to Senator Susan Collins, federal agencies are working on another 4,200 new regulations that will further handcuff American businesses. A better solution would be to reduce corporate taxes and burdensome regulation.  Add to this picture some $14.7 trillion in debt, and the outlook is dismal indeed.

It is past time to get serious about our economic problems, and we must address these issues at all levels of government. Tax, Borrow, and Spend policies are destroying this country, and raising taxes to repair bridges or construct school buildings that stand empty for years is not the answer. Yes, Mr. President, let's repair those bridges, but not in a way that further injures our ailing economy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The 'Not a Tax Increase' Tax Increase

Last week, the Round Rock City Council unanimously voted to increase the property tax rate for the second year in a row.  Prior to the vote I had expressed my concerns about raising taxes in the current economy, but was stunned when one proponent replied, "Now Holly, you know it isn't actually a tax increase, it's just adopting the effective rate." 

What he meant by "adopting the effective rate," (or sometimes "balancing at the effective rate,") is that the city is adjusting the property tax rate so that they will have the same amount of revenue as the previous year.  According to the city, overall property values are down slightly, so if the rate remains the same, they would have less tax revenue.  Therefore they are raising the rate from 41.728 to 42.321.

This is obviously a war of semantics.  Yes, if a resident's property value falls, he/she would have a lower tax bill.   But what about all of those residents whose property value increased?  Many of us saw our property values jump dramatically this year, and both the County and the Round Rock School District have reported
overall property value increases.  It would be interesting to know in which price range Round Rock home valuations dropped and why.  But the bottom line is that the city readily admits that the tax bill for the average-valued home will increase in 2012.

Although my aforementioned friend assures me that my higher Round Rock property tax bill is not really a tax increase, I find it interesting that this 'adopting the effective rate' will result in more revenue for the city and allow them to increase spending.  The FY2011 budget was $134.7 million, but the FY2012 budget is $137 million.  The city's website says the increase is for street maintenance, but are less forthcoming about the raises they are giving city employees.

Despite the condescending assurances that 'adopting the effective rate' is not a tax increase, here is what the city was required to post on its official website:


"But Holly, but Holly, it's not really a tax increase."

Right.  "These aren't the droids you're looking for."

In the course of my aforementioned discussion the 'adopt the effective rate' proponent said to me, "I know this is all very confusing." 

Seriously?  I may look like a dumb blond, but I assure you I am not the least bit confused about the increase on my tax bill, nor am I confused about the fact that the city will have more revenue than last year and will increase city spending.  They can call it what they want, but the fact is that the City of Round Rock is increasing taxes to cover an increase in spending.  They can hope that the focus will remain on federal issues, but this local taxpayer is paying attention.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Ups and Downs of School District Taxes

With the new fiscal year beginning in October, Texas' 1,265 school districts typically adopt a budget and set tax rates in September.  Here is information on a few of Williamson County's 15 school districts. 

Round Rock ISD
Despite the sky-is-falling claims made earlier this year by the superintendent, Round Rock Independent School District has fared relatively well, financially speaking. In fact, many residents were surprised to learn that RRISD had amassed nearly $200 million in reserve funds, at least $31 million more than the district's goal.  In a surprise move at last week's meeting, right-leaning board members noted that property values had risen, and proposed reducing the RRISD property tax rate from $1.38 to $1.335. The three Left-leaning members, Chadwell, Cox, and Hannah, had come under fire last month for voting to give Superintendent Jesus Chavez yet another raise (they were defeated 4-3). This time they sided with the fiscal conservatives.

Not exactly a conservative himself, Superintendent Chavez was on KLBJ radio yesterday spinning the tax rate reduction as only a true liberal can. According to Chavez, the district was only able to reduce the rate because of the federal stimulus dollars, and the reduction will only be temporary. Despite the spin, voters can be pleased that the majority of the board has taken a balanced approach to budget and tax rates.

Leander ISD
Property owners in the Leander School District were not so fortunate. The LISD Board has been struggling to cope with some very poor past decisions; they face $1.2 billion in bond debt and Fitch has not only reduced their bond rating, but now lists the LISD outlook as 'negative'. Administration had identified prudent cuts in the ISD budget earlier this year, but backed down once they realized state cuts were not as dire as scare-mongers on the Left had predicted. Despite a barrage of feedback from the community, the LISD Board voted unanimously to increase the tax rate by $.0459 cents to $1.499 per $100 of valuation. 

Residents are hoping the current board will steer a more fiscally prudent course, but have been mystified by recent decisions.  Especially troubling is the LISD plan to spend $6 million on land for yet another new school. The district already has two brand-new schools that will stand empty for the second year in a row. Furthermore, the land in question is prime commercial land near Highway 183 and Cypress Creek Road. Co-opting such land for a school will deprive the district of furture commercial tax revenue.

Hutto ISD
The HISD Board is asking voters to approve a $.06 increase on the November ballot. The current total HISD rate is $1.60.

Georgetown ISD
The total tax rate was increased from $1.29 to $1.358 for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Taylor ISD
Taylor ISD will reduce the property tax rate from $1.47 to $1.45, and carry a surplus of about $54,000. 

Williamson County and Senate District 5

Williamson County is a part of Texas Senate District 5, which has been represented by Steve Ogden since 1997.  Today, Senator Ogden announced that he will serve out his term, but will not run for re-election.

Both of Williamson County's State Representatives have been considered strong potential candidates, but this afternoon Rep Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock) released a statement saying he will be running for re-election to House District 52. 

Dr. Charles Schwertner, who won a 4-way Primary to replace former Rep Dan Gattis, announced that he will seek the GOP nomination for the Senate seat.   Schwertner has already amassed $300,000 for his Senate run. 

Senate District 5 encompasses 10 counties, and many observers are speculating about additional candidates from the Bryan/Brazos County area.   

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tony Dale Launches Campaign With Community Support

Last Tuesday evening Cedar Park City Councilman Tony Dale kicked-off his campaign for Texas House District 149.  The event at El Patron's in Cedar Park was attended by approximately 200 members of the local community.  By the time Dale addressed the group, the crowd was overflowing out into the dining area, where attendees were straining to hear the speeches from Dale and other community leaders. 

What is particularly remarkable about this event, was that the campaign effort had only been in existence for 6 days.  In fact, campaign signs were not delivered until after the event began, and many supporters had brought their own hand-made signs expressing support for Dale's candidacy.   The crowd was pretty animated and responsive to Tony Dale's rousing campaign speech, and one attendee remarked to me that he had not heard such a great "conservative speech since Ronald Reagan." 

Those in attendance included County Commissioners Cynthia Long and Lisa Birkman, both of whom spoke on Tony Dale's behalf.  Texas HD 149 includes portions of both Long and Birkman's respective County precincts, and support from these two leaders is essential.   Others present included State Representative Larry Gonzales, Williamson County Attorney Jana Duty, Cedar Park City Councilmen Matt Powell, Don Tracy, and Mitch Fuller, elected leaders from the City of Leander and Brushy Creek MUD, County Constable Robert Chody, members of both the Leander and Round Rock School Boards, and many, many others.  In fact, just about everyone previously mentioned as a potential candidate for the HD 149 seat, was on hand to help launch the campaign.

Councilman Tony Dale is well-known in the community, having resided in Williamson County for over a decade.  Prior to serving on the Cedar Park City Council, Dale had served on several local boards regarding planning & zoning and transportation, and last year was appointed by State Senator Florence Shapiro to a task force to ban 'designer' drugs K-2 and 'spice.'  In 2009 the Railroad Commission of Texas appointed Tony to the board of the Alternative Fuels Research Education Division.  He was a delegate on the VI Texas Trade Mission to Mexico sponsored by the Office of the Texas Governor in 2005.  In 2004 he was a member of the State Textbook Review Panel for the Texas Education Agency.

Along with his wife Mary and their two daughters, Dale's parents were on hand.  Like his father and grandfather, Tony Dale is a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.  (and a decorated former Army Captain.)  Mary Lopez Dale was also a former Army Captain. 

In the 2012 Republican Primary, Tony Dale will face Corbin Van Arsdale, a lobbyist who has been leasing a house in Cedar Park since last Spring and who first registered to vote in Williamson County June 30 of 2011.  Van Arsdale announced his campaign with a press release and had listed a few local supporters, but when Tony Dale announced, Williamson County Constable Rick Coffman immediately removed his name from the Van Arsdale campaign. 

Update:  Corbin Van Arsdale sent his supporters an email last Friday, September 16, saying he would withdraw.  He made the official announcment Monday, September 19.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Round Rock ISD's Fairness Doctrine

Some of those who adhere to socialism do so out of a sincere, if somewhat naive desire to make life 'fair.'  Despite the good intentions, however, socialism as practically applied rarely results in Utopia.  In the broader scheme, socialism concentrates an inordinate amount of power in the hands of bureaucrats and degrades standards of living for most citizens.  In the daily details, socialist policy often results in logical absurdity. 

Take the case of an ongoing controversy in the Round Rock Independent School District. Back in 2008, the ISD approved a plan to construct new athletic buildings on the Round Rock High School campus. The buildings were completed and opened this year, and students have been enjoying them since the school year began. With a growing student population, RRHS faculty were enthusiastic about the additional space and planned accordingly. The RRHS Booster club even raised private money to update the older facilities and improve the media room for the school's use.  However in August, RRISD Superintendent Jesus Chavez informed school administrators that they could not use the old buildings, including the media room.
Why did Superintendent Chavez prohibit use of the old buildings? Were they unsafe? No, and actually the district plans to rent them out on the weekends. Did budget cuts affect the school's ability to maintain them? No. Allegedly, what Chavez told administrators is that Round Rock High School could not use the buildings because the other High Schools in the District each have only two buildings to use and it wouldn't be fair.
I do not know what prompted the construction of the two new buildings. If the older buildings are perfectly acceptable, one might question the wisdom in constructing new buildings, however, at some point the decision was made to add two new buildings. Documents from the original master plan, make no mention of closing or demolishing the older buildings, and it seems obvious the new construction was considered by faculty to be an addition.

Now, RRHS has two buildings on campus that are closed to their usage because it wouldn't be fair to students at say, Westwood High School? This seems a rather odd policy and the implications are disturbing. Cedar Ridge High School has it's own coffee bar (yes, for the students.) Round Rock HS does not. Shouldn't we close the coffee bar?  Is the plan to make each campus identical to every other campus?

This order from the Superintendent defies logic and the implications are deeply troubling.  Should we adress injustice in our society?  Absolutely.  However, the theology of 'fairness,' often interpreted to mean 'sameness,' is unworkable and illogical.  Understandably, parents of RRHS students are very upset and have asked the School Board to address this issue.  The topic will be on the agenda for tomorrow night's board meeting, and those concerned are encouraged to attend.   

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Texas House District 149 Update: Updated Update

While a handful of Williamson County residents are already publicly endorsing candidates, I think this is a good time to point out that the filing period for the 2012 Primary Election is a few months away, and we still don't know which candidates will actually file to run. 

In the newly created Texas House District 149, former State Representative Corbin Van Arsdale, who recently moved to Williamson County, is the only candidate who has announced.  However, according to long-time residents of Western Williamson County, there are at least three strong candidates with deep roots in the community who may file to run for the new Texas House District 149 seat.  One of these in particular has been described as a 'game changer.'

Despite his 2008 Primary loss to Republican Allen Fletcher, Van Arsdale has indicated he would very much like to return to the State Legislature.   He has been meeting with many local leaders and trying to learn about the community.  Prior to purchasing his home in Cedar Park last April,  Van Arsdale resided in West Austin, and has remained involved in government issues as a lobbyist.  He seems capable enough, but residents are still learning about him, and many are waiting to see if one of their own will enter this race.

At this point, I would say any endorsements are premature.

Update:  The cat is out of the bag as they say:  Cedar Park City Councilman Tony Dale is announcing this Tuesday.  Details here. 

Update:  Corbin Van Arsdale sent an email to his supporters last Friday, September 16, and Monday, September 19, he announced he is withdrawing from the race.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Help Victims of Central Texas Wildfires

Michele Samuelson at Blue Dot Blues has been compiling a list of the various relief efforts.  Many families have lost everything this week, and our professional and volunteer firefighters need your support.  Please check Michele's list to see if you can help, and please continue to pray for all those involved. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sadly Obligatory Post on Anonymous Activism

As distasteful as it is, I find myself obligated to write about an anonymous package I received in the mail on August 27.  The packet contained negative political stories about Ted Pataki, who was considering running for the new Texas House District 149 seat, and about Governor George Pataki, who, to my knowledge, was never considering running for the Texas House District 149 seat. 

Just to clarify, the package was anonymous.  'Anonymous' in this grammatical construct means the author/sender did not identify himself or herself.  In other words, the package had no return address, no signature, and no other identifying details other than the postmark (mailed from Austin.)  No one has confessed, and I do not know who sent it.

Naturally, I have shared the above details with my fellow activists in Williamson County, and, in accordance with human nature, these folks have 1) expressed shock and disgust at such Byzantine tactics, and 2) speculated as to who would have motivation to do such a thing.  

It seems some supporters of another candidate are very upset with me for discussing the anonymous packet with others, since it has led to much speculation.  I had no intention of writing about this matter, but now I am being harassed for discussing the anonymous packet and have even received thinly veiled threats about legal action.  Therefore I am posting the facts of the matter here and stating once again that I do not know who sent the packet.   

Monday, September 5, 2011

Central Texas Fires: Updated

This post has been updated to include revised numbers for the Texas wildfire response budget. 

For those looking for information on the Central Texas fires, Lisa Birkman at the Williamson County Conservative Examiner just posted information on fire damage in Wilco, and Michele Samuelson at Blue Dot Blues has great information on the widespread impact, as well as important resources for assistance. 

If you have not already done so, consider registering your cell phone with the Capital Area Council of Governments so that you will receive phone notification if your area is threatened.  Unfortunately, the registration won't take effect immediately, but it could save your life in a future crisis. 

Finally, while some are claiming eeeevillll Republicans cut the Texas wildfire response budget, Lawrence Person has the facts at his BattleSwarm Blog.  Apparently, Governor Perry and the state legislature actually increased the allocation by about 80%,  from $109 million in 2010-11 to $196.2 million in 2012-13.

Please be safe and keep praying for those in danger. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Race and Politics

Does race continue to be a factor in politics?  I don't think anyone can deny race played a part in the 2008 Presidential Election, and many believe it was a factor in certain Primary contests in Texas.  I know several Republicans who voted for Barack Obama simply because they wanted to cast an historic vote for the 'first black president,' (and now regret it,) and on the other side of the coin, I suspect race perceptions may have played a part in Railroad Commissioner Victor Carillo's loss.

While the Republican Party has suffered from a negative perception regarding race, historically the GOP has been one of equal opportunity.  Of course Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president, and many 'first' black officeholders ran on the GOP ticket.  As a Republican, Teddy Roosevelt assisted former slave John Lynch in winning a race to become chair of the Republican National Convention in 1884.  Even in recent decades, black Republicans have been largely ignored by the media and the Democrat party's narrative. 

So, what impact will racial politics have on the 2012 election cycle?  Award-winning journalist Tara Wall will tackle this issue at an upcoming luncheon in Round Rock next week. Ms. Wall received two awards from the National Association of Black Journalists for producing documentaries on race and America.  Incidentally, she was also the last reporter to interview President George W. Bush before he left the White House.  Wall has also served as the Deputy Editorial Page Editor, columnist, and Political Analyst for the Washington Times. 

Here is the release from the Williamson County Republican Women.
(Disclosure:  I serve as the Legislative Committee Chair for the WCRW)

Political commentator Tara Wall will be speaking on 'Race and Politics' on Wednesday September 7, 2011, at the Williamson Conference Center in Round Rock, Texas.  Meet and Greet begins at 11:00 AM, Luncheon and Program at 11:30AM.  Hosted by the Williamson County Republican Women, cost is $15 per person; please rsvp online at, via email to, or by calling Donna Parker at (512) 388-8823.
Qualified media are welcome to attend. 

Tara Wall has served as the Deputy Editorial Page Editor, columnist, and Political Analyst for the Washington Times.  An award-winning journalist, she has received two awards from the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) for her documentaries on race in America.  Ms. Wall has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, ABC and Fox News, and is the founder Princess Tara Productions. 

Founded in 1977, the Williamson County Republican Women's Organization consists of Conservative-minded women and men, and works to promote an informed electorate, elect Republican candidates, and "impact Local, State, and National Politics." In addition, the club provides scholarships to young women of the county, and through an active Literacy Project, donates dictionaries to area third-graders and books to local libraries.