Mon September 29, 2014 11:53 pm By Paul Burka

I thought that the lieutenant governor's debate between Leticia Van de Putte and Dan Patrick tonight was pretty amazing. Van de Putte was a traditional candidate, who advocated for the longstanding major issues that define Texas politics: schools, health care, transportation. Patrick was totally different. He is the most formidable radical politician the state has produced in my career of covering the Legislature.

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Mon September 29, 2014 11:04 am By Paul Burka

When one looks at the wheeling and dealing that went on with the Texas Enterprise Fund, my question is this: Why is it not an impeachable offense? These folks used the Enterprise Fund for their private playground. They awarded $222 million to entities that, according to the Dallas Morning News, never submitted a formal application or agreed to create a specific number of jobs (all of which is required for those seeking TEF grants). Remember, these are state tax dollars that Perry and Abbott were playing fast and loose with, and they were getting goodies from campaign contributors. Abbott, not incidentally, has received $1.4 million in contributions. Isn't he in the position of being a fiduciary with respect to the Enterprise Fund?

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Mon September 22, 2014 10:56 am By Paul Burka

Alas, I was out of the state for the Texas gubernatorial debate on Friday evening, but having watched the replay, I can't say that I missed much. As debates go, I found it relatively low-wattage. Both candidates were articulate and reasonably polite to their opponents, though I thought Davis came across as very stiff--think for a moment how energetically Ann Richards might have talked about her filibuster or the cuts to education in 2011. Davis did appear to be more on the attack than Abbott, whom she criticized for his earlier remark that the Rio Grande Valley was like a third-world country. Abbott appeared to be happy to focus on Obama whenever possible.

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Tue September 16, 2014 6:59 pm By Erica Grieder

In 2011, faced with a projected budget shortfall of about $27bn for the 2012-13 biennium, the Legislature passed a budget that amounted to about $5bn in cuts to public education--that is, $5bn less than the state would have appropriated, in theory, if not for the projected shortfall. Public schools are popular, more or less, and the political fallout would have been worse if not for the fact that the projected shortfall provided some cover. Education is Texas's single largest area of state spending. If you have to cut make serious cuts to the budget, there's almost no way for schools to escape unscathed, and that was the way most Republicans described the cuts at the time: tough, but necessary, and manageable.

Democrats, however, insisted that the cuts would be devastating, and that they weren't really necessary. On the latter point, Democrats were proven correct in 2013, when the comptroller reported an $8.8bn surplus for 2014-15. $8.8bn > $5bn; let's all hope that future generations of Texans are able to understand that piece of math as well as we are. And on August 28th, Judge Dietz's ruling on the school finance lawsuits gave them the upper hand on the first point. Republicans can argue about what the optimal level of school funding is, or might be, if greater efficiencies were realized, and attorney-general Greg Abbott has vowed to fight the ruling, but as it stands, the judge said that Texas's school funding is "inadequate", among other things. 

In other words, the chickens may be coming home to roost on this, or at least the Democrats hope they are. Over the past few weeks Wendy Davis, Leticia Van de Putte, and Mike Collier--the candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and comptroller, respectively--have been hitting their Republican opponents for having supported the school cuts. Broadly speaking, all three are criticizing the 2011 cuts. But in my assessment, Davis's case is weak, Collier's is okaaaay, and Van de Putte's is good, but in a slightly poignant way. I'll explain why, after the jump.

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Tue September 16, 2014 3:39 pm By Paul Burka

Recent actions by state government have reinforced my belief that the state rarely does anything FOR the public; it only does things TO the public. The latest example is that Texas insurance commissioner Julia Rathgeber allowed the three largest home insurance companies to impose significant rate increases. Rathgeber could have challenged the companies' rates but chose not to do so. The state's insurance watchdog,  the Office of Public Insurance Counsel, objected, but Rathgeber allowed the new rates to take effect anyway.

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