Shapleigh: "In my view you miss the point."
Mon November 24, 2008 1:02 pm

I am going to publish below an e-mail and corresponding op-ed that I received from Senator Eliot Shapleigh. It requires no explanation.

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This is Shapleigh's letter to me:

I’ve read your recent pieces on major issues, including tuition. In my view you miss the point. After fifteen years of what the world now recognizes as the “Bush brand”, Texas is now firmly in “Grover’s Tub”. Your reporting misses the point because your world view can’t see over the Tub’s edge.

For years now, Grover Norquist has been the ideological father of the Bush-Perry-Craddick school of governance. His ideology—‘shrink government so small that we can then drown it in a bathtub’—has run Texas since Bush was first elected Governor.

Now, in agency after agency, tax cuts for the wealthy, incompetent leadership and irresponsible governance have created enormous challenges that will take Texans years to correct.

The question you pose about tuition de-regulation is in fact far deeper. Take the whole package—the Grover package—that is the issue. Tax cuts over kids, crony contracts over competence, polluters over regulators, predatory lenders over consumer protections—ask the question about that package, then measure where we are in every agency—not just at UT with tuition deregulation.

My response: I think everyone understands that Texas is a low-tax, low-services state. I don't think it is fair or accurate to ascribe this state of affairs to the last 14 years. Democrats governed Texas much as Republicans are now doing. They didn't pay much attention to environmental issues. They didn't rein in lenders; in fact, they lifted restrictions on usury. The special interests almost always get their way. That was true when the Democrats were in charge and it is true when the Republicans are in charge. At least the lobby had to fight for what they could get when the Democrats ran the state. Now the leadership just lavishes them with goodies. The one thing Democrats did do differently than Republicans was raise taxes when the going got tough. They raised the gasoline tax and the sales tax and the franchise tax, and the world did not come to an end, and the economy did just fine.

I know that it suits Senator Shapleigh's purpose to lump Bush in with Perry and Craddick, but the truth is that Bush went along with Democratic spending priorities when he was governor. I don't recall that he ever vetoed a line item. Perry accurately, though unkindly, described him as a big spender.

Texas government is the way that it is because this is a conservative state, and there is little movement for change. The Republicans are in trouble because they have overreached in areas like tuition deregulation. Senator Shapleigh writes as if he hasn't followed the election returns. The Republicans have paid dearly for their ideological zeal in the Perry/Craddick/Dewhurst years. Their brand is tarnished and they are losing ground in Texas.

I admire Eliot Shapleigh, and I think it is important that he reminds us of the shortcomings of state government. But it didn't start with Perry/Craddick/Dewhurst, and state leaders through the years haven't needed a Grover Norquist to discipline them into keeping this a low-tax, low-service state.

[Back to Shapleigh] Herein below is our recent OP ED piece on Texas Higher education. You should run it in your column.

In our view, the real question is what price has Texas paid for fifteen years of Bush—Perry—Craddick?

More importantly, what are Texans willing to do to change it?

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Let’s analyze core issues in higher ed. Take two plain vanilla Midwest America universities, each with 29,000+ students—call them Texas Tech and University of Iowa. Now, let’s look at state general revenue support over a decade. The difference between Iowa and Tech is $1.84B—that is billion--with a “B”. Basically, that’s why we have tuition deregulation.

Here’s some history—in 2003, Craddick killed the inheritance tax, then he gave unelected regents (most of whom are millionaires and direct beneficiaries of Craddick’s tax cuts) the right to tax students. Dollar for dollar, revenue from a tax paid only by millionaires was replaced with tuition hikes paid by students—all outside the control of lawmakers so Craddick’s supporters could go back to districts and run again on ‘no new tax’ pledges.

At UTEP tuition, fees, books and parking have risen 73% since 2003. Craddick and Company refuse to consider real revenue sources because long ago—they took Grover’s pledge and now refuse to engage in real governance.

In agency after agency, Texans now face the same issue presented by tuition deregulation—not enough money to take care of basic needs and not enough courage and leadership to fund those needs in an effective way.

Let’s do a quick tour: TXDOT is $86b in the hole. Craddick’s school finance plan has districts on the verge of Chapter 11. TCEQ is run by Baker Botts. At CPS, ½ the investigators quit every six months due to America’s lowest child investigator pay and highest investigator case loads; agency directors pay $4m fines to the feds rather than fund basic levels of investigators for kids.

At HHS, more Texans sit on some waiting lists than actually get served. Hawkins has paid a billion for the basic software program to [implement--added by pb] HB 2292, and it still doesn’t work. Perry’s mansion burned down because cameras quit working and DPS cut staff.

We are last in dropouts, first in air pollution; 48th in average SAT’s and 45th in home ownership. We are last in Texans who have health insurance. Seven Texas MSA’s rank among America’s top ten in volume of subprime second mortgages.

Here, on the streets of El Paso, vendors hawk payday loans on street corners that carry 1100% per annum interest rates. More than one in three in my hometown no longer have any health insurance.

In thirty years or so, Texas will be home to 50m Texans. Hispanics will long [have been] the majority. With current leadership and current values, ask your readers this question--are we even close to preparing for the next generation?

Are we even close to taking care of Texas today?

Is a tiny band from the far right now discredited everywhere but Austin, that has long valued tax cuts for the wealthy over good schools for kids responsible enough to continue governing Texas?

That’s the question in Craddick’s race—and every race for the next few years.

Senator Eliot Shapleigh

"Don't Mess with Texas' Universities"

"It's mighty reckless to mess with Texas." Many of us remember Johnny Dee & The Rocket 88's singing those now-famous lyrics when the "Don't Mess with Texas" campaign launched in 1986.

The message was clear—don't trash the Lone Star State. But today, over twenty years later, we know more than a few dared and some, sadly, succeeded.

These polluters didn't trash us with garbage on the road. They did it through a subtler, more complete way—through winner-take-all, scorched-earth politics. For over twenty years, these individuals promised honest, hard-working Texans one thing for a vote, and then gave us another.

What they gave us is failed government. As they lined their pockets with tax breaks and lucrative government contracts, they decimated state funding—and with irresponsible under-funding foster children would die; under-supervised youth prisoners would be sexually abused; the mentally handicapped would be neglected; property taxes would skyrocket; college tuition would hit an historical high; and the governor's mansion would burn down.

In 1960 Barry Goldwater said: “I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient….my aim is not to pass laws but to repeal them.” His line was repeated next by Ronald Reagan, then most recently by Grover Norquist, whose vision is even more vivid than all the rest: "Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub."

Well, Norquist ought to be proud of himself. He did it. We're drowning.

In agency after agency, irresponsible under-funding, repeated firing of career public servants, and consistent appointing of incompetent leadership have left entire departments fundamentally unprepared to govern and succeed against the challenges of a 21st century Texas.

So, let’s talk higher education. With an expected population of 50 million by 2040, the future of our state will be defined by the education of our people.

Across the political spectrum nearly every thoughtful elected leader will say to his public that in a 21st century knowledge-based economy Texans must compete and that education is the key to competition, jobs and prosperity.

So, how do Goldwater’s successors compete in higher education in Texas today?

One measure is the number of universities that have achieved Tier One status . While the term "Tier One" is not specifically defined, a total of $100 million in annual research expenditures is often cited as the benchmark. Based on a report from the Center for Measuring University Performance, the largest U.S. state, California, has eight Tier One public universities that serve undergraduate students. Texas, the second largest state, has only two: UT-Austin and Texas A&M.

How did this happen? In 2003, Tom Craddick and others decided that the best way to address a state budget deficit and deliver an enormous tax break to the wealthiest Texans would be twofold: the elimination of Texas' inheritance tax and higher education tuition deregulation.

Back then, millionaires paid the Texas inheritance tax, which is a "pick up" tax on the federal inheritance tax. Thus, instead of having a distinctly separate inheritance tax, Texas piggy-backs on the federal version, and the tax due to Texas is equal to the federal credit allowed for state inheritance taxes paid. This system takes advantage of the federal credit to reallocate part of the total tax from the federal government to the state. Under this system, in 2002, Texas millionaires delivered over $334 million to the Texas treasury.

At the federal level, however, George Bush led a successful effort to phase out the inheritance tax, which left a big hole in the Texas budget. Other states chose to protect themselves from the immediate and large revenue loss by choosing not to conform to the federal change by decoupling the state inheritance tax from the federal version.

Decoupling from federal inheritance taxes would have protected Texas against the loss of a steady and sizable revenue stream since, unlike other tax revenue streams, the inheritance tax and other estate taxes are fairly consistent and not subject to the ups and downs of the economy.

As Texas is heavily reliant on the varying revenue generated by the regressive sales tax, it is particularly important to protect the revenue streams that are consistent and progressive. Despite these advantages, repeated efforts to decouple the inheritance tax have been buried by Republican leadership.

With over $300 million suddenly moved from Texas' coffers to the pockets of the wealthy, Craddick and Perry had to do something to balance the budget. Enter tuition deregulation. Under this new idea, tuition would be deregulated, set by individual institution's Board of Regents, and float to the level that the market might bear.

What has been the result of tuition deregulation? Skyrocketing prices to Texas' students and their families. From fall 2003 to fall 2007, total academic charges at UT-Dallas have gone up 66 percent; at UT-San Antonio, 63 percent. Meanwhile, prices continue to rise. In March 2008, the UT Board of Regents approved tuition and fee rates for the next two years, once again increasing the cost of higher education. As a result, fall 2009's total academic charges at UT-El Paso will be over 73 percent higher than fall 2003.

At the same time that tuition has soared, state funding for higher education has decreased and grant programs have failed to keep pace with the state's needs. At UT System institutions, inflation-adjusted state appropriations per fulltime equivalent student have decreased, on average, 17 percent from 2001 to 2006. The declining state appropriations has impacted higher education on a statewide level.

Take UT-Austin, often considered a crown jewel of higher education in Texas. Within a 12-member national comparison group, UT-Austin ranks ninth in per student funding from tuition and state general revenue. Simply put, other states are better at supporting their universities. The University of Minnesota, for example, has $6,000 more per student than UT-Austin; the University of North Carolina, $6,500 more; and UCLA, $7,500 more.

Let’s compare two Midwest universities—both striving to compete in a knowledge-based world. In nearly every state, universities are the keys to jobs—research today unlocks the potential of tomorrow. Take a look at the University of Iowa, with just over 30,000 students. In 2008, Iowa lawmakers appropriated $348 million in state money to support and run the University. Now let’s take Texas Tech University in Lubbock, nearly the same size with 28,000 students. Tech received $164 million in fiscal year 2008. Over the course of ten years, at that level of support, Tech would get $1.84 billion less than Iowa.

How do we expect Tech to compete?

Funding for financial aid programs have also failed to keep up with the enormous growth in tuition. The TEXAS Grant program has served as a successful financial aid tool for Texas students in financial need. However, due to inadequate funding, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board estimates that over 90,000 eligible students will not be served by the program in 2009. To make matters worse, the Coordinating Board just voted to recommend changes to the TEXAS Grant program that will disproportionately and negatively impact the very students that the state has long sought to push toward higher education: low income, minority, and first generation college students—as well as students with disabilities.

What do we do? Right now, Texans face a choice. Do we want another decade of leaders whose goal is to destroy our state’s government? After all, our government is us—it is people doing through government that which we can not do alone.

Or do we want responsible leaders who will make the hard choices to take Texas into the 21st Century?

We can't afford to let anyone mess with Texas again. Here in Texas, our children, our future and our state deserve better.

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