The Mark Jones/Rice University LIb-Con Study.

June 7, 2019

UPDATE2: I added another worksheet of ‘special interest’ rating of the Texas House member. Only Texans for FIscal Responsibility has released their latest; the history for the others is included. Also added a page to graph given representatives.  .

UPDATE: I pretty much completed my analysis on the RIce/Jones Lib-Con numbers here. Will use this to include the ‘interest group ratings on a separate worksheet when they all become available.
Mark Jones has been doing this analysis of the Texas Legislature since 2011 and- while not perfect- I consider it to be the most objective assessment of voting patterns I’ve found.  It uses every recorded vote that there are at least 5 votes (in the house) that differs from the majority and segregates the votes into liberal-conservative blocks. It does NOT take into account the value of any one bill vs. another, weighing them equally (a downside). Still, I find the correlation as a good starting point and, a reference to other groups’ rankings.

The best use of Jones’ data is to do comparisons in terms  ranking within the given house of the legislature- and compare the changes in positioning over multiple sessions.  And, for the House, that’s what I’ve done here on the worksheets after the first one that contains the raw data for the last 4 sessions.  Any one of the following worksheets can be copied and populated from other representatives to produce appropriate graphs.

Jeramy D Kitchen has also done great work here and has included the newly released Fiscal responsibility Index. Also, The Texans for Fiscal Responsibility Index has been released here; as expected- considering the spending binge that went on in Austin, the grades are way down.

Here is an example of the type of graph that visually speaks volumes These four folks are all fairly conservative people who were appointed as Chairs of substantial committees for the first time. So, why the drop in the percentage ranking in the GOP caucus?  One can only assume they tend to follow ‘leadership’ more out of loyalty- and leadership was directing them to LESS conservative voting trends.

When I’m done with the Senate side, I will add it as a separate worksheet set here.


86th Texas Legislative Session Assessment & News

May 28, 2019

A long read but be patient for news at the end. So, How was the 86th Texas Legislative Session?

Well, if you talk to legislators themselves, it was the best ever. That is based on how they FEEL more than anything else. There was far more ‘cooperation’ than before; everybody was nicer to each other throughout the session. The fights were minimalistic from the outside. So everything is great, right?

Not exactly. We don’t send these folks down there to be a large tax-funded social club; we send them down there to get things done. So let’s move away from feelings and get on to facts and accomplishments. Did they ACCOMPLISH more?

I would say yes. But not as much due to ‘Kumbaya’ as they would like to believe; a far larger share of the credit goes to the ridiculously strong Texas economy generating record-shattering amount of tax collections. Kumbaya would not have held up if they hadn’t been able to throw pallets of cash at every problem; real or perceived. It’s easy to accomplish things with a tsunami of cash.

But did they accomplish the RIGHT things? In many areas, no: Indeed, they accomplished many DEMOCRAT goals and it is notable that the Democrats are every bit as happy about this session as the Republicans. In what ways did the Democrats win over what SHOULD have been the Republican’s principles?

The legislature- by nearly unanimous consent in one of the worst displays of groupthink I have ever seen- supported the contention that the answer to the problem of ‘troubled kids’ (including those that shoot up schools) is to be found in the mental health field when the REAL issue lies in an utter lack of training in or exposure to moral conduct. They utterly ignored the fact that many of those ‘troubled kids’ who shoot up schools were ALREADY in the hands of the mental health professionals- and most were on psychotropic medications. There was no serious discussion during the steamrollering of SB10/SB11 on the issue of an increasing dependency on pharmacology for controlling mood and behavior, rather than self-discipline. It also masks the issue that many kids ‘act out’ in school because they are bored out of their minds from not being challenged enough by a dumbed-down curriculum. Expectation drives achievement to a far greater degree than the current educational philosophy is willing to admit; they are too focus on ‘societal pressures’. And nearly every GOP legislator utterly ignored these issues, too much in fear of the ‘education’ lobby to do otherwise. (You will note throughout this I put ‘education’ in parenthesis because SO much of what they do is NOT related to actual education. The attitude is that they are in total charge of care for children- and parents are to only be in a supporting role to their control of that caregiving; transportation, health, diet, and principles all supplied by the school.)

That fear of the ‘education’ lobby extended to the budgeting and education finance pieces, where huge increases in funding were shoveled out and accountability for its use totally ignored. By the third week of session, it was quite clear that the entire legislature- nearly the entire ‘Freedom Caucus’ included- was hell bent on spending every last dime they could lay their hands on in a time of massive tax revenue increase to pacify the ‘education’ lobby because of their heavy political activism in the last general. (Not that it will SAVE many of those GOP members; the Democrats ALWAYS promise more- and will have most of the education lobby out working against the GOP in November, 2020).

However, lucky for those GOP members, the Texas economy – and the grassroots STRONGLY demanding property tax relief- proved to be enough to get SOMETHING out of it. So, in the end- in something that has to be classified as a substantial achievement- they came up with a last-minute deal to use about half of the nearly $10 billion in unanticipated revenue to buy down property taxes. But make no mistake: the biggest hero here is A Texas economy that allowed them the take care of $7 billion in costs associated with the unprecedented Harvey disaster, find $6.3 billion more to throw at ‘education’ AND put together a $5 billion property tax relief package.

But that does not remove the fact that some heroes in the legislature had to fight the ‘spend it all’ crowd that planned on ruling the roost entirely. Most of those heroes were on the Senate side: Bettencourt as the main leader. Chairman Burrows on the House side had a good heart and intent, but he was a bit overwhelmed in the backrooms by older and ‘wiser’ heads as it was his first time chairing ANYTHING. Other key Senators who chipped in were Creighton and Hancock ; even Larry Taylor was unusually resistant to the ‘spend-it-all’ crowd, And Bob Hall & Angela Paxton gave some important assists. But in the last days during conference committee- where the final deal ended up better than expected- someone had to have beat Huberty and his HB3 committee picks into submission and I’m not 100% sure who that was. I believe it was Abbott, likely with an assist from Bonnen. And that was key.

And that brings me to a discussion of the new Speaker, Dennis Bonnen. How did he do? Well, first off, let me say he was better than Straus, mainly through clarity & focus and allowing the membership to drive the House more. Was that mostly a benefit to conservative policy & principle? No, it was not. But frankly, one has to give credit for a level of honesty: if he’s opposed to you, Straus would smile at you and hav a minion put a knife in your back. Bonnen snarls at you and plants the knife in your chest himself. Bonnen was about as clear in messaging from the beginning of the session on. Picking Sefronia Thompson as Chair of Public Health was CLEARLY announcing Bonnen had no intention of having big fights to advance the Pro-Life issues this session. The same with selecting Poncho Naveraz as Chair of Homeland Security & Public Safety in terms of major Second Amendment fights. At the same time, he stacked the committees to stop the Democrats from advancing major social issues as well. Burrows as Ways & Means Chair meant no massive increases of business taxes. Klick on Elctions assured not ‘same-day’ or electronic registration or massive expansion of mail-in ballot utilization; all open to MAJOR fraud.

And then there was the Big 3 debacle of- in the midst of this MASSIVE state revenue increase- come up with the bright idea supporting an overall sales tax INCREASE for a property tax buydown. And to do so by having voters VOTE on a tax INCREASE (for whatever reason) and tying GOP political fortunes to that vote. All I can say is W – T – F??? This was concrete proof that Abbott, Patrick and Bonnen were spending NO time consulting with people outside the Austin bubble; anyone else would have told them this was political suicide. Political suicide stopped by 3 courageous Senators (Bettencourt, Hall and Paxton) who went up against the Big 3 steamroller with ‘no-confidence’ PNV (present, not voting) votes in committee to bring it to a halt and force the sales tax piece to be considered separately. When returned to the House floor separately, 60 Democrats signed in opposition (sales tax work out to be on the regressive side and the monetary shift, as analyzed by the LBB, showed the swap would benefit mostly the upper 20%). And Bonnen & Huberty couldn’t- with all the flogging they could muster- couldn’t get enough of the GOP members to commit electoral seppuku and vote FOR the sales tax increase. Bluntly, Bettencourt, Hall & Paxton likely saved what change the GOP has of retaining the Texas House in 2020; and they were punished for it by Patrick (Bettencourt was not the SB2 conference chairman & Paxton wasn’t even on the committee. Hall paid the price at the bill level).

What else was an utter failure this session? Essentially EVERYTHING that were conservative priorities; they got a VERY weak version addressing the elimination of School M&O off property taxes (8%, then 13% rate reduction in the next 2 years) , and a really weak religious liberty bill (the ‘Chick-Fil-A’ bill- SB 1978- that only prevents discrimination by basic religious affiliation and donations made). They DID eliminate deals with cities funding Planned Parenthood in SB22 (not the people to put in charge of sex education, since they have a large financial interest in sex ‘going wrong’, letting them make money on ‘correcting’ it.)

Voter integrity effort of any significance- failed. The Election committee was a waste. Eminent domain reform- died. All efforts to rein in tax-funded lobbying- failed. They never heard Middleton’s bill and that took Hall’s weaker bill, essentially tortured it by watering it down with a firehose and, when they were done playing with it, killed it on the House floor. (At least we have a record vote of which GOP members backed tax-funded lobbying. In the DFW area, Tan Parker, Lynn Stuckey and Angie Chen Button did. Straus would never of even allowed that vote.)

And the biggest disappointment was the so-called ‘Freedom Caucus’. Their utter retreat from all issues controversial (except for Jonathan Stickland, who grew so disgusted, he left the Caucus) was embarrassing to see. They did it for ‘a seat at the table’ and what did it accomplish? Absolutely NOTHING. Not one of them authored & passed a significant bill (unless you count protecting lemonade stands) and none were even included in any significant conference committees. Matt Krause even authored HB1951, which would have gotten TxDOT BACK in the tollway business; UGH! They got a seat at the table, then were told to shut up & sit quietly. And all pretty much did, except for Stickland and Cain(a little bit). What an embarrassing waste; I’m sure the backroom boys had a good laugh about gelding the Freedom Caucus.

So, the SB2-HB3 combination was a pretty good result (though could have FAR better if they didn’t spend so much in HB1) and save the session. But the rest of the session; pretty much a waste of time. Trust me, they are all coming home and will sing the praises of this session, because of ‘kumbaya’. But Kumbaya got us essentially NO improvement in overall result and cost us dearly in some priority areas.

And, if you’ve gotten this far, then let’s address MY activities there in Austin (far less important). I felt I actually made SOME difference; some of the numbers that ended up in SB2-HB3 (like 3.5% Voter Approval Rate, 10% minimum school tax relief, and 3 years on ‘banking’ excess rate) were being heavily shopped by me in the various offices as the ‘minimally acceptable’ reform/relief combination for weeks before the deal. Also, I got a number of unsolicited ‘attaboys’ in the hallways (even from some lobbyists) for essentially bringing some common sense to some of the discussion that so often lack it (the sales tax thing definitely needed it, but didn’t get it.) And I often found catching a member on the way to chambers for the day for 30 seconds paid off more than formal meetings and was please I was SOUGHT OUT in the hallways a number of times (The last time by Sen. Hall on SB29). Gratifying. Lastly, my ‘Not a Damn Lobbyist’ shirts made me highly recognizable and appreciated in many places; it perfectly expressed what MANY people think. They also got so under the skin of the Professional Political Class that they paid to make ‘Damn Lobbyist’ buttons in response. That was the only fun part of the whole deal; the rest was a soul-crushing grind with only glimmers of satisfaction. SO outnumber by people paid to block common sense from happening. It didn’t help my actual job grew to be more arduous through this period, as did my son’s need for assistance.

And lastly- for those who think my words are worth reading to the end- I am announcing that I am formally retiring from 57 years of volunteer political campaigning. There simply are no longer enough conservative ideals being practiced by 95% of GOP officials to put my effort freely into them staying in office. And the system is corrupting them faster than we can replace them in the primaries. I no longer am scared enough of the Democrats, because the GOP- in their desperation to retain power- are accepting WAY too much big government policy of the Democrats as their own approach. If the Democrats take over and start down the socialism route, just maybe the GOP will rediscover actual Constitutional governance; but I doubt it. It’s be later generations that will have to straighten out this mess. I may still work to drop some common sense in a few places, but my days as slave labor for new folks to be corrupted are gone. That includes my famous ‘yellow sheets’ at primary time; WAY too much volunteer work involved.

I actually tried to retire from all of this in 2014, but Van Taylor talked me out of it- both of my knees were flesh and bone back then (but we had a VERY successful year). However, there are no Van Taylors nor Matt Rinaldi’s left in the state legislature, so I won’t be talked out of it again. Online commentary will be my ONLY effort.

In the campaign world, I’m done and checking out. Exiting stage right (because the entire stage is moving too far left for me.).


The Line to be Drawn on Property Tax Reform and Relief

May 2, 2019

Three sessions we’ve been fighting for state help on the property tax relief; worked pretty much full-time this session on it. And we feel not much closer to anything substantial.  But we’ve listened and watched, even come up with the 3.5% compromise number months ago that things are currently focused on.  So, even though this looks like it could go to a special session. we thought we’d lay out one last, ‘line in the sand, no farther’ set of parameters for a MINIMALLY acceptable solution:


A New Awardee! (A Democrat!)

May 2, 2019

The most amusing amendments that were submitted on House SB2? Two from Democrat Roland Gutierrez: The first, a single number change in current law; changing the current appraisal cap for taxation on homes from 10% to 5%; would need a Constitutional amendment but there was an outstanding bill for that. Bonnen was left to declare probably the most ludicrous Point of Order on the single number change as being ‘Not germane’ – with ALL the other changes in the bill on the appraisal process.Gutierrez pulled the next one that would have put a 10% appraisal growth cap on commercial property because Bonnen was ready to apply the same outlandishness to that one. .
Sounds like a great idea, right? Of course it is- and not ONE Democrat and half the GOP members would NOT have supported a bill with those. the future impact on ALL local entities would have been MASSIVE. Would love to see the long-range fiscal note it would have produced.
By doing this, Rep. Gutierrez more or less proved how unserious the GOP is about REALLY controlling tax growth for local entities. He schooled the entire GOP with this little piece of kabuki Theater.
Sometimes you have to give kudos to the opposition for a clever stunt; this is one of those times

Legislative ‘Awards’

April 29, 2019

This session of the Texas Legislature has- so far- been full of disappointments. So much so, some ‘awards’ have already been earned. SO here they are.  Hopefully, we’ll be pleasantly shocked by how it all will end and these will become meaningless.

First, the good one:

Then one of- disappointment:

And the last- well, it is what it is.

 


Tuesday, April 16th; We need YOU in Austin!

April 13, 2019

All of the GOP leadership plans for a careful ballet of massive spending increases coupled with VERY temporary property tax relief crumbled on Thursday and things are in disarray. The Texas House was working on the supposition (maybe a promise made by some people in the back room) that, despite the many extra billions given to education, they would be completely exempt from any lowering of the 8% rollback rate. Currently, there exists a ‘rollback rate’ (8%) at which voter can PETITION to have an election to overturn. HB2 has LOWER rates (2.5%) and have a REQUIREMENT for an election item on the November ballot to get voter approval. They talked their way into removing the school portion from the HB2  ‘voter approved rate’ bill (along with Hospital and special districts). then they reneged on adding any kind of cap into HB3, the education spending bill.

This apparently ticked off Gov. Abbott into saying he will NOT sign any bill without a school cap (and he doubled down with the legislators in private, calling for a 2.5% HARD cap on the local education piece; one that could NOT be overruled by a voter approval.) HB2 was pulled off the floor in the House, where the authors are scrambling now fto come up with all sorts of amendments and gain support for them, while Lt. Gov. is saying if he doesn’t have a deal to get the far stronger SB2 voter approved rate bill a vote on the floor, he’ll invoke a ‘nuclear option that will require only a simple majority to call for a vote on the floor rather than the 3/5th.

On top of this, the leadership is now trying to push HJR3, an increase in overall sales tax of one cent, supposedly to go all to buying down property taxes (though there has been an amendment floated to throw 25% of it at teacher pay). This AFTER both houses already have signed off on spending the vast majority of the largest increase of revenue the State of Texas has ever seen on education (and, in the House, 1% on a SMALL property tax relief package),  PLUS spending $1 billion from the Rainy Day reserve for ongoing expenses. On top of this, the idea requires a 2/3rds vote. Since the Democrats have already come out in opposition, ‘buying the 17 Democrat votes they need in the House and 2 in the Senate would come at a VERY steep price in tax money and government growth. Yeah, a great idea for the voters to vote on this GOP-supported tax increase (swap) in November 2019, something voters are likely to recall as the 2020 election season starts up. The Texas GOP is saying 14+% growth in spending was not enough; they need more to keep their number 1 promise; property tax relief (by taking it for the OTHER pocket). Other approaches of swaps and relief are being discounted at this point; they would impinge on what can only be called ‘fiscal Christmas time for Education’.

A strong and LARGE presence of insistent (but still somewhat respectful) overburdened property taxpayers to demand PERMANENT and SIGNIFICANT property tax relief with no shell games could not come at a better time. PLEASE, take this one day off in your busy life to make a true difference. Rally starts at noon, so time to drive in from all over the state. You can time departure either just before Austin rusd hour (3:30 pm) or hopefully- for more time helping roam the halls and advocating in the offices of the senators & representatives- right after rush hour (about 6:30pm).


HB3 as Property Tax Relief & Robin Hood Solution? HA!

April 5, 2019

Texas GOP House members think they can get away with compressing the very limited tax relief and Robin Hood reduction into 2020 only (election year), then let it continue to climb again to nearly what it was by the time the NEXT legislative session meets. All with 16% more overall spending in those 2 years. Frankly, we have to let them know we will call them out on this VERY temporary fix and spending spree
There is still time for more permanent solutions to be PASSED (not set up to fail in ways they’ll try to blame the Democrats for). Demand it; insist on it.