Mon May 11, 2015 9:37 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Are you middle class?

Middle Class in Texas

A little over two years ago, as Barack Obama took the oath of office for the second time, he alluded to the American Dream—the idea that this is a land of opportunity where anyone can rise economically to home ownership and economic security. “We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.”

As the nation continues to recover slowly from the recession of 2008, politicians today apparently are engaging in the rhetoric of diminished expectations. The New York Times today is reporting that politicians of both major parties are shunning the term “middle class” as they struggle to find ways to appeal to voters. The phrases ranged from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “everyday Americans” to Ted Cruz’s ”hard working men and women across America.” 

The once ubiquitous term “middle class” has gone conspicuously missing from the 2016 campaign trail, as candidates and their strategists grasp for new terms for an unsettled economic era. The phrase, long synonymous with the American dream, now evokes anxiety, an uncertain future and a lifestyle that is increasingly out of reach.

The move away from “middle class” is the rhetorical result of a critical shift: After three decades of income gains favoring the highest earners and job growth being concentrated at the bottom of the pay scale, the middle has for millions of families become a precarious place to be.

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Sun May 10, 2015 10:40 pm By Erica Grieder

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to take a moment to address America’s ongoing “War on Women”, and several related skirmishes in the Texas Lege this year. The origins of the conflict are of course debatable. Perhaps it began in the Garden of Eden, when Eve engineered the Fall of Man. The phrase itself was coined in 1989, by the feminist writer Andrea Dworkin, who described rape, domestic violence, and even pornography as strategies in a systematic effort to suppress and destroy women. In the context of contemporary American politics, if we’re looking for the catalytic cause of the conflict—the Battle of Gonzales, the abduction of Helen, the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand—I’d point to 1973’s Roe v Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision which recognized that women can sometimes exercise their rights even contra the preferences of men who may have an opinion about it.

Whatever the cause, the conflict continues. The short-term outlook, obviously, is ominous. With Hillary Clinton the early frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, if not the inevitable nominee, we can expect “women” to be a major theme of the 2016 election cycle. And today, with mothers out in full force all over Austin, it occurred to me anew that the long-term outlook is no less grim. The state is bound to have a disproportionate fascination with women because women are the linchpin of the family, which is the building block of society, which is America’s bulwark against an incipient, Northern European-type welfare state. Fathers are important; without mothers our whole system falls apart. That’s a generalization, of course, which overlooks the existence of single fathers, and the contributions of extended family and friend networks, etc. But a look at your Facebook feed today should confirm what research has repeatedly found. Women provide more childcare than men do, on average, and more elder care. They do a disproportionate share of housework, even when they also work outside the home. They are more likely to be single parents, and so on. Many government services, in fact, are efforts to supplement the role that mothers so often play in the lives of their children. Last week, the Texas Senate passed the House’s bill expanding pre-K, which Greg Abbott had deemed an emergency item—a worthwhile priority, because studies have shown that high-quality pre-K has almost as much impact on a child’s education outcomes as having a mother who graduated from college.  

These loving, strong, selfless mothers, God bless them, provide a semi-legitimate reason for government to take such a solicitous interest in the lives of all women.

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Fri May 8, 2015 4:38 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

When you go to work on Monday, March 14, 2016, feeling like you have been deprived of sleep because of the annual leap forward to Daylight Savings Time, think back to today and thank the Texas House for your groggy state of mind. By a vote of 56 ayes to 79 nays, the House defeated legislation by Representative Dan Flynn to do away with the annual back and forth on time.

Some of the naysayers were worried about children going to school in the dark in winter, while others were worried that Sunday beer sales would not start in time for professional football kickoffs. Some just seemed confused. But then, does anybody know what time it really is?

“The only one who knows if it is sun up or sun down is the rooster,” Flynn told the House.


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Fri May 8, 2015 11:57 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Comptroller Glenn Hegar may have given the House a new weapon in the fight over tax cuts by reminding the state leadership that there are obligations that, if not adequately addressed, might harm Texas’ bond rating. One of those items is the rapid growth of state debt service, which has increased by 54 percent over the past decade and now requires $5 billion in expenditures. Some in the House leadership have told me they would like to forego tax cuts in favor of spending the money on reducing the state debt load.

Hegar’s May 4 letter was neutral on the House sales tax cut proposal and the Senate’s property tax cut. But he warned Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Speaker Joe Straus that final budget negotiations should not just focus on cutting taxes.

As Comptroller, I want to emphasize that in addition to tax cuts, it is also important to consider the longterm challenges affecting the state’s balance sheet and credit ratings. Although these issues are long-term in nature and extend beyond the upcoming two year budget horizon, they must be addressed to ensure the state’s continued good financial health and condition. Bear in mind that the state currently enjoys the highest credit ratings from the major rating agencies, which translates into lower borrowing rates for state issued obligations and less costs to taxpayers.

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Fri May 8, 2015 7:39 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

The choice of lapel pins says much about the men wearing them. Representative David Simpson wears on his blazer a fingerprint-smudged pin depicting a simple blue Lone Star in the middle with the words Texas and Liberty below. By contrast, earlier this session, Representative Jonathan Stickland came to debate in the House with his suit decorated by a pin depicting an AR-15 assault rifle.

Both men describe themselves as “constitutional conservatives” dedicated to constitutional principles and individual freedom. They are Republican libertarians with a small “L”: less government intrusion results in greater individual liberty. They also were among the 19 members who voted against Joe Straus as speaker. But then the similarities start to fade. One is a simple statement, while the other is the roar of cannon fire.

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