Thu December 11, 2014 1:41 pm By Erica Grieder

This morning we released the cover of our January issue, which features our Bum Steer of the YearThe issue itself, which will be hitting newsstands and mailboxes in the next few days, includes a number of additional dishonorees—a real herd of clowns. 

Have a look and let us know what you think of our pick. Already, several readers have written in with the rebuttal that we should have used the cover to call out the millions of Texans who didn’t vote. 

Wed December 10, 2014 4:53 pm By Paul Burka

Greg Abbott is off to a great start as governor. He is doing exactly what a governor ought to do. He has started by addressing the major needs of the state, roads foremost among them, but also education. He has assembled a formidable staff of experienced hands who know their way around the Capitol. I’m optimistic that he will not be awash in ideology.

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Mon December 8, 2014 2:29 pm By Erica Grieder

In 2003, Texas passed a law deregulating tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities. By 2004, average tuition rates had started to climb; by 2013, they had roughly doubled. That being the case, the subject has been controversial for years, with Republicans and Democrats, including some who voted for the bill in the first place. And tuition deregulation is worth considering in light of the recent debate over in-state tuition for unauthorized immigrants. If next year’s Lege repeals a law that passed with nearly unanimous support in 2001, the spiraling costs of college are surely an important piece of context.  

Kudos, then, to Charles Schwertner, the Republican state senator from Georgetown, whose op-ed against tuition deregulation, at TribTalk, is completely commendable:   

At the time, supporters of the move argued that deregulation would drive students to consider which university offered the best educational value for their dollar and force schools to compete on the basis of quality and affordability. While the underlying concept of deregulation makes sense in more traditional free markets, proponents of the law in Texas failed to take a key factor into account: the explosion of readily accessible student loan debt.

In Schwertner’s analysis, rising tuition costs aren’t the only ill effect of tuition deregulation; also salient are rising debt burdens among student borrowers. The latter trend is salient, and deserves attention, because student debt is so often a burden for the borrower. And, as Schwertner argues, easy access to student loans helps explain why deregulation is a dangerous approach to higher education. In a traditional free market system, consumer decisions are driven by a number of factors, including prices. Heavily promoted (and sometimes subsidized) education loans distort those signals, especially when the borrowers are 18 year olds raised to believe that a college education is crucial to their success. 

The op-ed avoids some of the more contentious arguments that have been marshalled against tuition deregulation. Conservatives have also argued that the market ethos doesn’t work well when applied to college tuition because, as Tony McDonald argued in 2009, university regents are still government bureaucrats, not accountable to consumers or voters. A different spin on that argument is that higher education, in Texas, is oligopolistic; the state’s top public universities could hike tuition to $50,000 a year and still fill their freshman classes twice. Further, by triggering a rise in tuition costs, the 2003 deregulation has arguably forestalled equity improvements; a new study finds that more Hispanic first-time college students would have enrolled between 2003 and 2007 if not for the swelling prices. And then there are the questions of what the university administrators are actually doing with the money: UT Austin may be twice as expensive as it was ten years ago, but is it twice as good? 

All of these points are valid. But Schwertner’s approach is the best I’ve seen to the subject lately–it’s grounded in the key evidence and builds to a couple of conclusions that conservatives and liberals alike can agree on, and should take seriously: 

Texas simply cannot maintain a strong economy without also maintaining a strong workforce, and we cannot maintain a strong workforce without affordable access to higher education. Attending one of our world-class public universities shouldn’t be a luxury afforded only to the wealthy or those willing to mortgage their futures by assuming massive student loan debt.

Wed November 26, 2014 2:12 pm By Erica Grieder

The news that Barack Obama would take executive action on immigration made a big impression in Texas, a state that includes about 1200 miles of America’s southern border, about 2 million of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country, and a number of Republican leaders who have taken accused Mr Obama of playing politics on the issue even before last week’s announcement. Greg Abbott, the attorney-general and governor-elect, denounced the president’s action as unconstitutional, and said that he would sue; Ted Cruz called on Republicans in Congress (who will control both chambers come January) to respond by declining to confirm most presidential appointments and by limiting appropriations. 

We’ve yet to see how this will all play out, both politically and in practice, in part because the details of what the president plans to do haven’t been fully laid out. In the meantime, I’m agnostic about the question of whether the president’s actions are legal, but skeptical of his normative rationale for acting alone. I laid out the reasons why at some length here, and would encourage readers who come directly to BurkaBlog to check out my argument and the comments thread, which has some good discussion. 

On a related note: this year’s exit polls revealed that the Republicans running for statewide office in Texas won more than 40% of the Hispanic vote–44% for Abbott, 46% for Dan Patrick, 49% for John Cornyn. This was an eye-catching result for national observers–in 2012 Obama carried Hispanic voters by a roughly 50-point margin–but it’s not totally out of keeping with Texas precedent. Karl Rove recently said that in Texas, Republicans average about 40% of the Hispanic vote; PolitiFact looked into the comment and rated it True. To me, the results suggest that at a moment when both parties are increasingly interested in Hispanic voters, a quickly growing share of the state and national electorate, they may also be misinterpreting what Hispanic voters care about. I explained what I think is going on here, over at National Review

Fri November 21, 2014 2:18 pm By Erica Grieder

Lots of news since I last checked in, from Texas and DC. We’ll have more posts next week, but in the interim, feel free to discuss the following, or anything else of interest, amongst yourselves.

1) On Tuesday Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, and Joe Straus announced a deal to extend funding to the border surge that began this summer. Brian Rosenthal has a summary of the deal at the Express-News: $86.1 million in funding will be redirected from various state accounts to support an expanded law enforcement presence (DPS rather than National Guard) until early summer.

Of particular note, I thought, were the comments offered by Perry and Dewhurst. “Texas has proven beyond any doubt that this border can be secured,” said Perry, in his statement announcing the extension. Dewhurst concurred: “In the absence of sufficient action from the federal government, the state of Texas has proven it is possible to secure the border, reduce crime, and combat the impacts of illegal immigration.” In other words, both Perry and Dewhurst are saying that as a result of the expanded operations and additional resources provided by the surge, the border is secure, at least in Texas. This is striking because of the longstanding conservative argument that immigration reform should wait until the border is secure–a valid goal, but a nebulous one, since there had previously been little agreement about the threshhold for “secure.” 

2) Separately–very separately–on Thursday Barack Obama announced executive orders which will protect some five million unauthorized immigrants from deportation, at least for the next few years, and allow many of them to work legally in the interim. The move was a response to what the president characterized as Republican intransigence; he is reportedly frustrated after having asked Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform since 2013, after his 2012 re-election campaign. 

Polls suggest that a majority of Americans are sympathetic to Obama’s policy goals, but skeptical of his approach here: just 38% approve of his decision to skip the legislative process. Republican leaders, of course, are more than skeptical, and the fact that national progressives are casually dismissing critics as crypto-racists does not bode well for expanded comity in Washington. 

3) Meanwhile, to the extent that Obama’s motive here is political–to win Hispanic voters to the Democratic party–I’m skeptical that it will work as intended for a number of reasons, including that in Texas, election results suggest that Hispanic voters do not necessarily respond to Hispanic-themed issues in the way that the national parties might predict–I’ll take a closer look at this next week. 

4) Meanwhile, Ken Paxton returned a pen