Tue April 7, 2015 1:49 pm By Erica Grieder

The House Business & Industry Committee is meeting as I write this, and plans to consider a number of bills calling for Texas to raise the minimum wage. While not the hottest debate of the week, or even of the day, it’s a serious issue and I’m glad the committee is taking it up. I wish the entire Lege would give the idea a chance. In my view, a higher minimum wage would be good for Texas–and although any state considering such an idea should be prudent about potential unintended consequences, Texas specifically is well-hedged against the most obvious risks.

I laid out my reasoning in 2013, and the Texas-specific considerations laid out two years ago haven’t changed. But shortly after I wrote that piece, Barack Obama, in his 2014 State of the Union, called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The issue thereby became more visible and although Congress did not heed the president’s call, a number of states did, and later that year several of them approved higher state minimum wages. (Barring a higher state wage, the federal minimum applies; this is the case in about half the states, including Texas.) So I would like to add a comment about the politics: despite appearances, this isn’t a partisan issue.

It’s true that Obama, a Democrat, championed the issue in 2014. The action since then, including in Texas, has been led by Democrats; Wendy Davis briefly raised the issue during her gubernatorial campaign last year, and the bills being heard in committee today were all filed by Democrats. Democrats have, in a sense, claimed ownership of the issue; after their sweeping losses in last year’s national elections, a number of Democrats took consolation in the fact that voters in four red states had approved referendums raising the minimum wage—this was evidence, in their view, of widespread support for the Democratic agenda.

I don’t begrudge Democrats for spinning it that way. Republicans have no one to blame but themselves, because they could and should have taken up the issue. The last president to raise the minimum wage was George W. Bush, and although he wasn’t unusually fiscally conservative, there are fiscal conservatives, like me, who have advocated for a higher minimum wage on both economic and moral grounds. Poverty is inefficient. And if someone is working full-time, they shouldn’t be poor. There are also conservatives who object to raising the minimum wage on philosophical grounds or who are leery of potentially adverse effects on employers. I think the former objection is good for college debates and Texas is well-hedged against the latter risks for reasons I described in the 2013 piece. But more importantly, having had this debate a number of times since 2013, I’ve found a lot of Republicans, even Tea Party conservatives, are receptive to the idea. As Gary Polland of Houston’s Red, White, and Blue put it, it’s not a left versus right issue; it’s a business versus labor issue. And despite the vaguely leftist connotations of “labor”, we’re not talking about teacher’s unions in this context. We’re talking about Texans, with jobs, who are apparently trying to be self-sufficient; the proposal concerns wages, not welfare. Conservatives can support that, obviously; that’s why the aforementioned minimum wage referendums were approved in four red states.

Texans, I suspect, would do the same, especially if the Lege asked them to consider a proposal that was tailored to mitigate risk (by exempting small employers, for example). So I commend Texas Democrats for raising the issue. But let’s not rule out the possibility that some Republicans might join them; they would need such support to pass any of these bills, and they might be able to find it.

Mon April 6, 2015 3:37 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

rick perry dream act texas

During a Republican presidential primary debate in 2011, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania exposed the ugly underbelly of the hard right’s opposition to the Texas policy of allowing undocumented immigrant youth to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities.

Moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Santorum what Republicans needed to do to attract Latino voters. Santorum responded: “Well, I mean, what Governor Perry’s done is he provided in-state tuition for – for illegal immigrants. Maybe that was an attempt to attract the illegal vote – I mean, the Latino voters.”

Illegal immigrants, of course, cannot legally vote. Santorum was playing to a segment of the Republican primary voters who believe Hispanics have come here illegally, are overwhelming traditional white culture with the Spanish language and Mexican flags, and, ultimately, are receiving government benefits at the expense of established taxpayers.

It was against this cultural backdrop that the Texas Senate Subcommittee on Border Security today took up legislation to eliminate the state law that was signed by Perry in 2001 that grants in-state tuition to undocumented students who have graduated from state high schools.

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Fri April 3, 2015 9:12 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

texas capitol

Texas is among the best states to work in as a political reporter because there’s unending petty corruption, political foibles and scandals that swirl like a dust devil on a hot summer day, fun to look at but changing little in the end. Even by Texas standards, this has been an impressive week.

The Dallas Morning News is calling for a special prosecutor to investigate barely in office Attorney General Ken Paxton. Finding cronyism under new Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller apparently is as easy as shooting hogs from a helicopter. The state auditor is shocked, shocked to find a lack of ethics in contracting at the Health and Human Services Commission. And finishing off the list: a Travis County grand jury was so frustrated that it was unable to indict controversial University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall that it gave him a blistering scolding instead.

The only thing missing from the mix is some sort of update on the indictment of former Governor Rick Perry for vetoing funding for the Public Integrity Unit after threating to do so if Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg did not resign due to her drunken driving arrest.

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Wed April 1, 2015 1:08 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

Over the past week, two newspapers produced stories on how the border surge has resulted in fewer tickets and fewer criminal investigations in the rest of the state by the Texas Department of Public Safety. And at least one legislator has questioned the agency’s border security statistics because DPS lumps its work in with that of other state and federal law enforcement agencies. Now DPS has a clear victory on its home front:

WESLACO, TEXAS – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) seized more than two tons of marijuana – with an estimated value of more than $24 million – after a Texas Highway Patrol trooper pulled over a tractor trailer in Starr County on Monday morning.


Wed April 1, 2015 9:28 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

spitzer abstinence texas

Dr. Stuart Spitzer, a state representative, wants Texans to abstain from sex out of wedlock, but statistics show teens in his district have their cars a-rockin’ on Saturday nights—and probably some other nights, too.

“My goal is for everyone to be abstinent until they are married,” Spitzer told the House during a state budget debate last night.

If that’s Spitzer’s goal, in his district, he’s a long way from it.

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