Saturday, August 25, 2012

Stealth Election Alert: Property Tax Increases Coming

Many of our Texas School Districts get very upset when fiscal conservatives expose ISD tax rates and spending patterns.  ISD apologists are always quick to point out that "those bonds/tax rates were approved by the voters!"  Well yes, and no.  One very successful tactic employed by many of our local school districts is to hold 'stealth elections' on dates when no one is paying attention.

Next weekend, on September 1, 2012,  the Hutto Independent School District is holding a Tax Ratification Election to increase taxes by a whopping $0.13 per $100 of your property valuation.  If the district could make a good case for passing such a substantive increase, one might think they would just hold an election when voters are paying attention, say, on a real Election Day?  Turns out they did; last November voters defeated the HISD request for a $0.06 increase by 57%.  So I guess this year the ISD picked possibly the worst day of the year for voter turnout in the hopes that only tax increase supporters will show up.

But Hutto ISD is not alone; it seems that the Taylor Independent School District has chosen the second worst date in Saturday, September 8 to ask for a tax increase of...$0.13.

Now the Georgetown Independent School District has decided to ask for higher taxes too, but they won't risk all those motivated fiscal conservatives messing things up on November 6.  Georgetown residents who want a say over their tax rate will need to remember to show up for an election on Tuesday, October 9.

Rumors are swirling about other Williamson County ISD's too; apparently the Round Rock ISD Board and Administration have been using leftover bond monies and reserve funds to spend millions on pet projects they know voters are unlikely to approve.  (Like the $25 million special high school for the district's 2% dropout rate.)  RRISD is planning to approve a tax increase of 4.5 cents per $100 of property valuation next month, but there has been talk of an upcoming TRE as well.  The administration acknowledged last year that the next most urgent need for the ISD is a new middle school, and that's something they know they can hold hostage for a higher tax rate from uninformed voters.  If RRISD does ask for a TRE, my guess is that we will be presented with another 'odd' election date.

Our school districts should be controlled by residents via the democratic process.  Unfortunately, few bother to vote in ISD elections and the participation rate hovers around 6%.  Many of our ISD's apparently want even fewer voters to show up and are still striving to sneak in "voter-approved" tax increases.  

What ObamaCare Means for Grandma

 "All In Perspective" column, week of August 20.

As with every presidential election, Democrats are ardently working the ‘scare grandma’ angle this year. In Florida, they have been running commercials depicting GOP Congressman Allen West punching an elderly woman in the face, and now that Congressman Paul Ryan has joined the Romney ticket, swing states will be treated to television spots depicting a Ryan look-alike pushing a wheelchair-bound grandma off a cliff.  These completely over-the-top ads are clearly designed to distract voters from the fact that the Obama agenda has been anything but good for America’s seniors.  

For starters, although Team Obama wants seniors to think Republicans hate your grandma, it is the President’s health care legislation that takes$716 billion from Medicare to pay for new Obamacare entitlements.  Furthermore, even though Medicare is projected to reach insolvency by 2024, the new so-called Medicare payroll tax hikes won’t be used to shore up Medicare at all, but rather to offset other ObamaCare costs.  In the meantime, Obama’s plan to underpay doctors and hospitals for Medicare services will effectively force many providers to drop Medicare patients altogether. 

While proponents argue that ObamaCare helps seniors, fiscal realities and the underlying philosophy of the plan do not bode well for older Americans.  The President has admitted that government will have to limit health care spending and make some difficult decisions.   In 2009 he told Jane Sturm that her elderly mother might be better off taking painkillers rather than receiving life-saving treatment.  While many were shocked by his callousness, Obama’s statement was consistent with the approach taken by his top health care advisor Ezekiel Emmanuel.  Dr. Emmanuel has long argued that health care resources should be prioritized for individuals aged 15 to 40 years, while care for the very young and those over 50 should be “attenuated.”

Supposedly, overt health care rationing is prohibited under ObamaCare, but the new law also creates a special government panel to oversee costs.  This so-called IndependentPayment Advisory Board (IPAB) will issue “legislative proposals” to control Medicare spending, and the board has been granted extensive powers.   If Congress fails to act on an IPAB “proposal,” the law requires Health and Human Services to implement the proposal anyway.  In reality, if IPAB decides to grossly underpay for procedures for elderly Medicare patients, those services will become largely unavailable to individuals above the ‘optimum age.’  The result will be back-door rationing for Medicare-dependent seniors.

By contrast, the Ryan budget plan, described by at least one Democrat as “sensible” and “honest,” preserves current Medicare provisions for individuals 55 and older.  In addition, his proposal allows America’s future seniors to choose among plans, including the option to avoid government-run health care altogether.  This approach, of course, is a complete reversal of the Democrat plan to gradually shift the entire nation onto a ‘single-payer-system’ where government controls health care for all Americans.

While Team Obama hopes very much to gain electoral advantage by misleading on Medicare, the reality is that the Ryan’s plan is far better for both seniors and the nation as a whole.  Even so, the most important electoral issue for 2012 is still the economy.  Under Barack Obama’s leadership, there are fewer jobs, higher energy prices, and both individuals and businesses are bracing for Obama’s ‘Taxmageddon’ beginning next year.  These issues affect everyone, seniors included. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The President Stole My Birthday and Other Tragic Tales of the Obama Years

My Bi-weekly column, "All In Perspective," published in the Georgetown Advocate, Hill Country News, and Jarrell Star-Ledger.

Birthdays are a ‘big deal’ in my family.  When I was a kid, children’s birthdays were celebrated with not one, but two parties:  one for friends, one for family.  And although we never had the money for extravagant gifts, even adult birthdays included large family gatherings with lots of laughter and love.  So even though lately I’m not so enthused about that whole aging thing, I’ve always looked forward to my birthday. 

That is until the President stole my birthday.

You see, Barack Obama and I were both born on August 4.  And yes, I can produce my birth certificate. My friends on both sides of the aisle (no really, some of my best friends are Liberals,) find this extraordinarily funny, and for the last four years on my birthday the talk is all about whatever lavish Birthday Bash Obama will have this year.

Of course I’m really not so narcissistic that I can’t share my birthday; after all there’s a lot of other folks born on August 4th.  No, what’s really got me down is that while the President is charging $38,000 a person to blow out his birthday candles with the first family and George Clooney, America is in serious trouble.
For starters, while the White House is madly spinning the latest jobs report, the ‘official’ unemployment rate has risen to 8.3%.  The President claims he created 163,000 new jobs last month, but another 195,000 jobs were lost, and the labor participation rate has now fallen to an alarming 63.7%.  When we include individuals who have given up on finding a job, the unemployment rate rises to 15%.  Not much to celebrate there.

Despite the high unemployment rates and dismal GDP growth, under the President’s direction government spending continues to skyrocket and the national debt has now reached $15.9 trillion.  Congress hasn’t passed a budget since 2009, but Obama and the Democrats are doing their darndest to delay any budgetary action until after the election.  Even worse, they are trying to hide the fact that the upcoming defense cuts will cost the nation an estimated one million jobs next year.

The other hidden post-election surprises include massive tax increases on American families and businesses.  Without congressional action, on January 1, 2013, taxes will increase by $494 billion, and that’s only implementing 5 of the 18 new taxes included in Obamacare.  Over the next 10 years, Obamacare alone will impose an additional $1 trillion in new taxes.  By all estimations, ‘Taxmageddon 2013’ will devastate GDP and plunge the nation into a new recession, if not a full-blown depression.

In addition to the economic chaos Obama’s leadership has created, the President’s attitude towards our constitutional rights is disturbing at best.  In what appears to have been part of some twisted agenda regarding the 2nd Amendment, the Administration allegedly allowed thousands of guns to be sold to known drug cartels on the Mexican border.  And in a shocking betrayal of Catholics and other Christians, the President’s rules will force all Americans to financially support and promote abortion despite our religious objections.  It’s hard to celebrate when our own government is putting us in danger and trampling on our religious freedoms.

So while Obama celebrated his birthday in style, a growing number of Americans are growing tired of the ‘Celebrity-Circuit-President’ and his policies.  But it’s my birthday too, and I have a few things on my wish list.  Assuming the Ruger.380 True Texan Coyote Special is out of your price-range, what I’d really like for my birthday is a new President.  It’s really up to you, the American voters.  And guess what, Mitt Romney’s birthday is March 12. 

Just sayin’.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Dale: Jollyville Salamanders Are Blind, Policy-Makers Don't Have To Be

Cedar Park Mayor Pro Tem and Republican nominee for Texas House District 136 Tony Dale  penned the following editorial about the salamander issue in Williamson County.  I touched on this issue in my column (Lessons From Gatorland,) but salamander politics continue to plague local residents.

By Tony Dale:

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately you may have noticed articles about various salamanders that are the subject of federal and local attention. One may ask why a creature only 2-3 inches long should be in such a spotlight, and why you should care. If you own an average home in a subdivision, an empty lot you want to sell, a ranch, or 1,000 undeveloped acres you may be impacted.

The controversy started in June 2011 when the Obama Administration settled two lawsuits filed by national environmental groups. Those groups petitioned to list an astounding 779 species as endangered. To put that in context the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) currently has 603 animals listed as endangered or threatened. In the settlement the Administration agreed to list over 250 new species. Included in that number are the Jollyville Plateau and Georgetown salamanders. These salamanders appear in springs in Austin, Cedar Park, Leander, Round Rock and Georgetown.

So how does this impact everyone with a home, business or land? Simply put the likely listing will result in new land use restrictions on private property that may reduce the value of the property. It could also make some land completely undevelopable. Under federal law landowners are not compensated for the loss in value. So if for example a new retail establishment cannot be built, or its planned size is reduced, that means less sales tax revenue to cities. As a result cities will have to rely more on property taxes from single-family homes. Cedar Park leaders have worked hard to diversify the mix of sales tax and property tax to relieve the burden on homeowners. New development rules would also increase the cost building of new schools and roads at a direct expense to taxpayers. Also, less development means fewer job opportunities for Williamson County families. I believe that a strong economy leads to strong families and this federal intervention harms both.

Evidence collected by Williamson County’s scientists shows that humans and salamanders can coexist in a rapidly developing area. It is also important to note that of approximately 90 known locations for the Jollyville salamander more than 80 are already protected. Many of us involved in working on this issue have seen that the USFWS is using data that does not support their likely conclusion that the species is endangered. In 2002, the county created the Williamson County Conservation Foundation (WCCF) to provide for conservation of endangered species in Williamson County while helping to promote responsible development. The Foundation is in its second year of a five-year study, but the federal settlement has short- circuited that work.

As a former board member of the WCCF and a current member of the county
task force related to this issue I’m proud of the county’s history of protecting
habitat and developing in a responsible way. When you put people at the center
of your policies you typically get good results. However, when you fail to use valid

science or abuse our legal system, as I believe the national environmental groups
have, poor decisions are made. A glaring example of that was reported recently
regarding the golden-cheeked warbler. Texas A&M published that the population
of warblers in Texas is over 263,000 as opposed to number less than 10,000
when it was listed. This bird was central to battles between environmentalists and
developers in the 1990s. As reported in the Austin-American Statesman the “Texas
regional wildlife director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said in an interview
that the species would ‘probably not’ have been listed as endangered in 1990 had
the Fish and Wildlife Service had these figures then”.

It is time for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to slow down and let Williamson
County complete its study so they do not make the same sort of mistake they made
with the golden-cheeked warbler.

Tony Dale is the Mayor Pro Tem of the City of Cedar Park. He is a former board member of the Williamson County Conservation Foundation and currently serves as a member of the County Task Force studying endangered species issues.