Fri May 1, 2015 8:11 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Attention, Alex Jones! Attention, Governor Greg Abbott! The federal government has placed 90,000 Army troops just north of Killeen with tanks. If those tanks start to roll, they can be in the capital city of Texas within two hours.

But, wait! There are another 90,000 U.S. military personnel in San Antonio de Bexar. Somehow, I don’t think they’re about to hand over the keys to the armory as U.S. Major General David E. Twiggs did on February 8, 1861, when Ben McCulloch showed up with the Texas militia. (You know Ben McCulloch. He’s the guy with the camp named after him near The Salt Lick barbecue.)

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Thu April 30, 2015 10:49 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Pickett apparently threw Representative Jonathan Stickland out of his committee tonight over an allegation that Stickland had falsely signed up witnesses for a bill, according to Tim Eaton of the Austin American-Statesman.

Pickett, D-El Paso, ultimately had one of the House sergeants escort a fuming Stickland, R-Bedford, from the committee room in the Capitol.

Before leaving Stickland asked Pickett what he was trying to prove and also said he hoped Pickett would apologize for his actions.

Pickett said before removing his colleague that he held Stickland responsible for organizing a scheme in which people were listed as witnesses, yet were not in Austin. Pickett made a telephone call from his seat in the committee room and allowed people present in the hearing to listen to a supposed witness say he was not at the Capitol.

Stickland’s House Bill142 to ban red light cameras was left pending.

There’s more in Eaton’s story, so be sure to access it.

We’ll endeavor to find out more tomorrow. Depending on how it was done, if Stickland did indeed falsify witness sign-ins, that potentially could be the crime of tampering with a government document.

UPDATE: The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Bud Kennedy has shared a video of the incident

Thu April 30, 2015 5:11 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

Texas ACA

Even with Texas turning its back on the health care exchanges and an expansion of Medicaid as proposed by the Affordable Care Act, about 1.7 million individual Texans have gained health insurance coverage under the controversial federal law.

A new study found the percent of uninsured Texans fell from almost 25 percent in September 2013 to 17 percent in March 2015, with almost the entire decline in uninsured occurring because individuals purchased health insurance subsidized by the federal government. But a pending U.S. Supreme Court case—King v. Burwell—could easily wipe out those gains in paying for healthcare in the state. 

The above map shows the areas of the state where the most people are who have bought insurance on their own. The map, produced by the advocacy group Community Catalyst is hosted by the Texas Center for Public Policy Priorities. People with health insurance are more likely to have a regular physician for minor illnesses and preventative care. The ACA often is referred to as Obamacare.

The new study by the Rice University Baker Institute and the Episcopal Health Foundation found most of the gains in health insurance coverage occurred after the ACA Marketplace opened in September 2013.

Texas had led the nation in the percentage of the population lacking health insurance, and its percentage of people who gained insurance on the exchange was about on par with other states that refused to expand Medicaid eligibility. But for those states that did expand eligibility, the average percentage of their uninsured population dropped from about 16 percent to 7.5 percent.

People with incomes between 139-399 percent of the federal poverty level decreased the percentage of uninsured by 44.5 percent, but the lowest income Texans cut their numbers of uninsured by just less than 20 percent. “The ACA was intended to provide coverage opportunities to the lowest income Americans through Medicaid expansion and without such, these Texans are likely to remain uninsured,” the report said. (Note: 139 percent of the federal poverty level is about $33,465 a year for a family of four.) 

Texas leaders have refused to follow ACA guidelines for Medicaid expansion, claiming it would cost the state and additional $15.6 billion over 10 years. Here is the estimate that was put out in 2013 by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Medicaid expansion

Republicans have repeatedly tried to undermine or overturn Obamacare, but the Washington Examiner reported earlier this week that congressional Republicans are now worried about blow-back in the 2016 elections if millions of Americans lose health insurance when the King v. Burwell ruling comes down from the Supreme Court in the next several weeks. The plaintiffs in the case argue that the text of Obamacare only makes federal subsidies available to people in states that set up health care exchanges for the purchase of insurance. Only 16 states set up exchanges, and Texas is not one of them. An estimated 13.4 million Americans could lose their health insurance subsidy of the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs.

The Washington Examiner reported earlier this week that congressional Republicans are looking for a “fix” to keep the subsidies going if the Supreme Court knocks them down. 


Thu April 30, 2015 9:53 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Property tax appraisals going out around Texas right now likely will give a boost to the Senate’s property tax cut proposals over the House plan for sales tax cuts. But a look at some of the appraisals show the Senate plan is too little to make a real difference to homeowners in fast growth areas. And an honest look at the state of the state’s economy finds the House plan borders on fiscal irresponsibility rather than fiscal conservatism.

The Texas economy is poised for a contraction, and, with that, comes a major decline in state government revenues. This may not be the time for tax cuts, even if this KPRC-TV map clearly shows the pain of rising appraisals, at least in Harris County. For an interactive version, click here.

KPRC Tax Map


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Wed April 29, 2015 4:56 pm By Erica Grieder

Greg Abbott’s announcement yesterday, that he would direct the Texas State Guard to monitor Operation Jade Helm this summer, has been widely derided as political pandering, stoking paranoia, wasting state resources, and making Texas look silly. Way harsh, guys. A little harsh, at least.

First things first. There is no evidence that the forthcoming military exercise known as Operation Jade Helm 15 is part of a sinister plot to impose martial law on the United States–and although I’m not a huge fan of the president, I’d like to think that if Barack Obama was colluding with the Pentagon on such a scheme they’d be more skillful about camouflaging it. So the more lurid conspiracy theories swirling around about the exercise are just that.

At the same time, let’s be fair to our friends on the fringe here. This isn’t the same as Judicial Watch making up a story about an ISIS training camp in Juarez. Jade Helm, as planned, is an interstate exercise in which Green Berets and Navy SEALs are going to practice “emerging concepts in special operations warfare” in environments selected because they offer a reasonably realistic approximation of conditions the military would anticipate encountering in hostile territory abroad. It makes sense for the military to stage such training exercises, and this isn’t the first time they’ve done so–personally, I think it’s pretty cool. But when that’s the official explanation for an operation seemingly named after a Bond girl the Army should probably expect some questions from concerned citizens.

Based on the Statesman’s account of the Bastrop County Commissioner’s meeting Monday, it sounds like the Army officer on hand, LTC Mark Lastoria, did a good job of explaining the purpose of the operation and how local residents specifically might be affected. Less clear, at least to me, is whether the community as a whole was being unduly conspiratorial, as opposed to reasonably curious. Several of the 150 attendees, according to the Statesman, had tinfoil-hat type questions about whether the Army is trying to confiscate people’s guns and so on. Others may just have been wondering whether to make note of any planned amphibious landings at Lost Pines, or trying to assess the risk of cross-fire at Buc-ees.

The latter type of concern is not deranged, especially coming from civilians who may have had little personal experience with the military or military personnel. And Abbott’s announcement is apparently in response to such concerns, rather than those being fueled by the right-wing fear machine. His letter to the commander of the Texas State Guard casts their role as mostly a matter of public relations; to paraphrase, Abbott notes that US Special Operations Command has already assured the state that there will be no risks to the safety of residents, or their rights, but he wants the Texas State Guard to keep an eye on the situation, just in case. (This is why, somewhat perversely, the letter has only agitated the most serious conspiracy theorists, who suspect that Abbott, already complicit in the plot against freedom, is trying to pull the wool further over everyone’s eyes.)

Activating the Texas State Guard in such a situation would entail some costs to the state (from current appropriations) and I wouldn’t call it the best use of state resources. Other than that, though, I don’t really see the harm. If the presence of state troops is in itself unduly menacing, the same could be said of the Navy SEALs. If national observers see the announcement as overtly contentious, I suppose that’s their prerogative, but maybe they can take comfort in the fact that Texas’s new governor thinks state government has a role to play in providing government oversight. And either way, there’s a silver lining: this simulation is off to a great start!