The letter says it in simple terms. "With the state in excellent fiscal shape, we encourage the Legislature to wisely deploy our healthy surplus and ensure that Texans have the infrastructure and skills for our economy to continue to thrive. Once that is assured, we encourage the Legislature to give consideration to tax relief."
Yes, if that tax relief occurs, these associations expect a better deal than the one proposed that, they say, favors small businesses. This plan, they contend, would leave just 55,000 of the state's 1 million registered businesses subject to the tax.
But those conflicts aside that pit small and bigger businesses against one another, the letter makes clear that tax cuts shouldn't be considered unless those items on which all businesses depend to keep the doors open are first considered. And in this, businesses, homeowners, consumers and every other Texan can find common ground because these are the things on which all of Texas depends.
If schools continue to be underfunded, the fallout will be in lack of skilled labor, disappearing jobs and then decreased state tax revenues.
Roads continuing to be congested and badly maintained? Goods then have difficulty getting from manufacturers and distributors to all the businesses that sell to consumers. Those businesses that can then flee. Others stay away.
No water? No growth and declining business fortunes.
The list of state needs is long enough to warrant more attention to them than on tax cuts.
The letter was signed by the Texas Association of Business, Texas Association of Manufacturers, Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, Association of Electric Companies of Texas, Texas Chemical Council, Texas Oil and Gas Association, and Texas Association of Realtors.
Legislators' response to the letter was, essentially, that tax cuts are what was promised at election time and what will be delivered. But they weren't elected on any single issue, and any reading of the election in such terms — particularly with such low voter turnout — says more about ideological bent than good listening skills.
To imagine that Texans don't want better schools, roads and more sufficient water is a failure, not just of imagination, but of vision. We applaud the business associations for making this clear. In this regard, their self-interest is the rest of ours as well.
The Dallas Morning News. March 28, 2015.
Anti-Shariah fear lingers in the Texas Capitol
The state Capitol is stripped of its majesty when fear stalks the lawmaking process.
The Internet is alive with alarm over the prospect of Islam's Shariah code creeping into American courts and undermining constitutional principles. The idea conjures endless scary images — beheadings, stonings, subjugated women, lopped-off hands.
It was no surprise, then, that Texans from across the state packed a hearing room in Austin last week. Some had driven hours and waited hours more for their three minutes to testify for a couple of bills that they hoped would keep foreign legal codes at bay.
One of the authors, Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, spoke in generalities about how the public is on edge. "A lot of things are happening across our nation," Flynn told committee members hearing his HB 670. The bill would reinforce the state's civil code to prevent constitutional incursions. Flynn said passage would reassure Texans who worry about foreign laws getting "a foot in the door."
Just whose foot Flynn was talking about, he never did say. Could he cite problems so far in Texas courts? Flynn had none, but he worried about activist judges. Is Shariah a particular threat? Flynn wouldn't go there.
Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, is carrying a similar bill, one restricted to the family code. His HB 562 would protect marriages and parent-child relationships from loss of constitutional rights to foreign laws. Has that happened to date in Texas? Leach had no example, but he said lawmakers would be wise to act before one pops up. "Let's do it now and prevent that problem," he said
Leach has so many co-authors — 45, all Republicans — you'd think he was giving away Dallas Cowboys tickets for the privilege to sign on to his bill. The GOP certainly sees the chance to score political points by sticking up for the Constitution, even though some legal experts say the Constitution doesn't need the armor from new state law to stand supreme. That hasn't stopped nine other states — by Leach's count — to pass similar laws, all styled as American Law for American Courts legislation.
Leach stresses that his bill aims to furnish guidance to Texas judges and singles out no foreign code as particularly worrisome.
Still, there's fear in the air on the part of a group that indeed feels singled out. Recall the haranguing that Muslims endured outside the Texas Capitol in February. They were interrupted and heckled at their own Texas Muslim Capitol Day activities. That same day Muslims felt taunted by a Facebook post by Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, one of Leach's co-authors.
Some Muslims returned to the Capitol last week for hearings on the Flynn and Leach bills. Representatives of other faiths joined them in opposing the legislation as unneeded and divisive, but it was the Muslims who felt in the crosshairs. One of them interpreted the meaning of Shariah as benign and following the "guidance of God." The hearing gallery responded with groans and hisses.
It was an ugly moment. It revealed how fear is at the heart of the support for these bills, and that's a Texas-sized shame.
Have your say: Contact state Reps. Jeff Leach and Dan Flynn and urge them to withdraw their bills. Leach's number is 512-463-0544. Flynn's number is 512-463-0880.
Contact your legislator to register your opposition to HB 562 and HB 670. To find who represents you and how to contact them, go to www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us and type in your address.
Email forms are available at members' legislative websites, at www.house.state.tx.us.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times. March 26, 2015.
For God's sake, don't accept this as government
Carrying a gun on a state college campus is a God-given right, according to state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury. Democrats who were unsuccessful in opposing his campus carry bill discovered that he was serious.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, asked Birdwell to clarify whether campus carry being a God-given right was "the premise of your legislation" — not wanting to put words in his mouth.
Birdwell's response relied not on Scripture but on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
"The Declaration says we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights and that to protect these rights, governments are instituted among men to preserve them." (He said "men" but so did the Declaration.)
In school we learned that the Declaration was a declaration and the Constitution was a constitution. The Declaration was the philosophical statement and the Constitution was actual governance. Our teachers would take points off if we mistook one for the other. But if Birdwell's response to Whitmire holds up, our teachers were wrong.
"Article VII of the U.S. Constitution brings forward the Declaration as original law; therefore, 'creator' and 'God' are the same to me. The right to self-preservation and the right to defend one's life is God-given because of the language in our Declaration and Article VII of the U.S. Constitution."
This is an amazing statement because it effectively binds what we learned in school that the Founding Fathers put asunder on purpose — namely, government and religion. Just like that, Birdwell made the case for unseparating church and state, in direct conflict with the Founders' intent.
Following his logic, the Senate wasn't granting a right. It was merely ceasing to overstep God's authority — on strict party lines, of course. Democrats didn't accept that God wants college students to carry guns to class.
State universities, at risk of sounding secular, have warned that campus carry will cost them double their current security expense. Birdwell suspects this to be the same kind of forked-tongued nonsense Satan whispered to Jesus when He spent 40 days in the desert creating Lent. But even if true, Birdwell said, it wouldn't matter.
"A fundamental right granted by the Creator is not subordinate to the financial costs or speculation ... of our universities," he told the Senate.
When the Creator of all things was busy creating everything, why did He in His perfect omnipotence leave out fiscal responsibility?
Birdwell's invocation of God is the kind of thing that the news media pounces on, but only for its news-of-the-weird comedic value. It should be hounded as an outrage. Instead it's merely ridiculed lightly in hopes that someone will notice. And when no one does, the problem only grows worse.
Campus carry was going to sail through the Senate anyway. That's a reality we can accept even if we disagree with it. What we can't accept — what Birdwell's Senate colleagues and the voters of his district shouldn't accept — is governing via a blessed trinity of God, the Declaration and the Constitution.
That's scary and shouldn't just be laughed off.
Others may be of the view that Birdwell only spoke a truth that needed to be spoken and that governing will suffer as long as others refuse to acknowledge it.
Either way, we end up with the government we deserve. The Texas Senate made campus carry a bigger priority than education, transportation and water supply. That's the government we have now. We don't believe it to be as God intended.
El Paso Times. March 30, 2015.
Texas border paranoia has consequences
Public policy is about setting informed priorities when it comes to using available resources. But when politics trumps policy, decisions often are made without fully understanding the consequences.
Such is the case with the state of Texas' much-touted "border surge." The El Paso Times reported that the focus on border security has been accompanied by a steep decrease in traffic enforcement by the Texas Department of Public Safety and an increase in traffic accidents across Texas.
As Republicans rushed to get to the right of each other on border and immigration issues last year, Gov. Rick Perry and other state leaders authorized flooding the South Texas border region with National Guard soldiers and state troopers moved from elsewhere in Texas.
The surge, called Operation Strong Safety, came in response to the mass migration of children and families from Central America to South Texas last spring. The migrants were in most cases immediately surrendering to federal immigration officials.
The Central American crisis came on the heels of a Republican primary in which candidates routinely — and inaccurately — portrayed the border region as a lawless war zone facing foreign invasion.
Texas GOP officials accused the Obama administration of failing to secure the border, even though all indicators are that the border security is improving.
So Perry and other state leaders ordered the surge in June 2014. Of course, Perry's planning to run for president again, four years after he was quickly routed in the Republican primaries in part because he was viewed as soft on immigration.
It's never been clear what the soldiers and troopers are doing in South Texas. State officials have not provided any real data on the impact of troopers and soldiers on the border. Texans have no idea how the expensive investment of their tax dollars is impacting illegal immigration or drug trafficking.
But we do know, through an El Paso Times analysis of state data, that the number of traffic tickets and warnings issued by DPS troopers in 2014 was 22 percent lower than in 2012.
In the state's 31 border counties, those numbers increased by 5 percent in that period, while the rest of the state saw a 27 percent decrease.
In 2014, Hidalgo and Starr counties in South Texas accounted for 6 percent of all DPS traffic citations and 10 percent of all warnings, even though those two counties account for only 2 percent of the state's vehicle traffic and 3 percent of the population.
As DPS reduced traffic enforcement efforts statewide between 2012 and 2014, the number of traffic accidents in Texas grew by 14 percent. The increase was heavily concentrated in populous urban and suburban areas that saw large declines in DPS traffic enforcement.
As Texas leaders hyped the border threat and shifted state troopers southward, there was no discussion of the trade-offs.
We now know that one trade-off was a steep drop in traffic enforcement and, possibly, road safety.
Those kinds of trade-offs need to be debated before major policy decisions, not discovered afterward.
Waco Tribune-Herald. March 29, 2015.
Abbott, Patrick and state of Texas seek to strip local control while public snoozes
In her 2000 book "The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy and What to do About It," conservative columnist Amity Shlaes wrote that the one tax that leaves many of us the least crazy is the local tax. Reason: Those who pay it can at least see its benefits in street work, law enforcement, schools, clean water and fire protection.
Better yet, if we don't like how our tax dollars are spent or how much we're paying, we can easily track down and corner our city council representative, school trustee or county commissioner and demand an explanation. They live among us — near enough we can make our satisfaction or displeasure known. Good luck trying to get such satisfaction from your state senator or U.S. congressman.
That's why residents in the Waco area who cherish democracy in action and like the idea of access to the government most directly responsible for us and most accountable to us should be most vigilant about the war Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and way too many state legislators have declared on home-rule cities, school districts and counties. They wage this through a smattering of power-grab bills — and with astonishingly little pushback.
Chief irony: Many of the politicians who loudly resisted federal intrusion in state affairs and who preached local control have now done a Jekyll-and-Hyde turnaround and seek to neuter local control in a host of ways. The goal by elected state officials seems to be consolidating all power in their hands, not ours.
In bill after bill this legislative session, state leaders seek to limit grassroots initiatives and referendums at the ballot box; restrain local beautification and environmental efforts to protect everything from trees to lakes; dictate whether cities can set policy on everything from wind-blown plastic shopping bags to texting while driving to fracking bans in city limits.
And, yes, they seek to bind local governments' abilities to fund their operations by both tightly limiting tax revenue increases from one fiscal cycle to the next and retarding property tax appraisals to a degree they no longer accurately reflect fair-market value — a neat twist that mocks all free-market principles. That may appeal to those people who want to throw tea into the harbor but not those of us who believe in old-fashioned, local-control Republicanism.
Given that some state leaders such as Lt. Gov. Patrick seek to loosen state spending caps through bookkeeping chicanery to allow state spending that doesn't count as state spending, he and his tea party compatriots (at least, those backing this sleight-of-hand budgeting boondoggle) have a lot of gall trying to undermine local governments and recklessly manipulate local funding mechanisms.
Some of the state's war on us undermines even basic concepts such as civil rights and frontline democracy. Because Denton residents last fall voted to ban fracking in city limits, prompting lawsuits by state officials, one bill in the Legislature would demand ballot measures stemming from grassroots efforts be sized up and approved first by the state attorney general's lawyers. Aren't such questions ultimately the province of our courts?
Consider the city of Waco's 2013 passing of ordinances — after years of public discussion about huge city pound euthanasia rates and stray animals — requiring that most local pets be microchipped and neutered. City leaders say that's one big reason why in recent months the city animal shelter has amazingly reached "no-kill status" — something many of us feared we'd never reach.
Now imagine state leaders who have had trouble even stamping out puppy-mill atrocities getting involved. Many reasons exist for defending local control — and the hypocrisy of those who can't walk all their talk on local control and quietly seek to neuter constituents every bit as much as we do our dogs and cats is but one.