Fri March 13, 2015 4:06 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

As I listened to the pitchfork brigade testify this week in a House committee on limiting federal power, I found myself in agreement with the Texas Eagle Forum and members of the John Birch Society on one issue – forcing Congress to call a Constitutional Convention is a dangerous idea that could destroy one of the best national charters ever written.

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Thu March 12, 2015 6:23 pm By Erica Grieder

It’s probably clear enough at this point that I’m against the Senate’s proposals to exempt tax relief and debt service from being counted against the spending cap for a number of reasons. I see no good purpose for them. Although lessening property taxes and paying down debt are honorable goals, neither seems critical enough to warrant overriding the spending cap, especially this year. In calling for more spending, the Senate is not being frivolous: Texas has one of the lowest spending rates per capita in the country, and has maintained fiscal discipline even as the budget has come under pressure for a variety of reasons (the soaring costs of Medicaid, the growth in school enrollment). However, the Lege has some breathing room this session; the spending cap allows for $107 billion in general revenue-related spending, compared to about $97 billion last time around. That would leave $4 or $5 billion on the table, but it’s worth resisting the temptation to splurge. The Lege will probably need to top up school finance next year, and a surplus might be a lifesaver when the next regular session rolls around, in 2017: the Texas economy’s rate of growth is slowing.

If these proposals somehow made it into the Constitution, I think we’d be effectively undermining the spending cap itself. I know some people think that’s overly pessimistic; among Michael Quinn Sullivan’s many grievances with me is that (in his view), the proposals are about “redefining” the cap, not busting it. Sorry, no. The proposals are attempting to redefine spending, not the cap, and I think it would be naïve to look at this as an abstract intellectual exercise, or one that wouldn’t set a risky precedent. If the 84th Lege can “redefine” certain types of spending, future Legislatures can “redefine” others. And I don’t see why they wouldn’t try, if Texas’s self-professed “conservative” leaders set such a precedent this year–especially if they concurrently make the spending cap more restrictive, thereby making these gimmicks more tempting. That’s why, although I doubt this was the intention, I think the Senate’s leaders are putting Texas’s spending cap at risk.

But there’s a more serious problem with these proposals. They undermine Texas’s fiscal integrity. And that is, to me, one of our greatest virtues. Sometimes I think it’s the only one worth being called a virtue. By “fiscal integrity,” I mean something that encompasses fiscal discipline and fiscal responsibility but goes even farther and matters more than discipline or responsibility on their own.

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Thu March 12, 2015 9:08 am By By R.G. Ratcliffe

There seem to be so many terrorists under Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw’s bed, it’s a wonder he can sleep at night. He pulls out their spectral shapes when he wants something. Then, in the light of day, he denies they are there. McCraw’s terror whispering is like a personal mood ring version of the old Homeland Security color codes.

The McCraw terror whisper first entered my ear in 2006 when I listened to him speak at a Republican state convention in San Antonio.

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Wed March 11, 2015 1:50 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

The conservative Tax Foundation’s newest report says Texans last year hit their Tax Freedom Day on April 13, placing the state ahead of 31 others. But the report also indicates Texans may be complaining too much about their taxes.

In terms of their overall state and local tax burden, Texans ranked 47th among the states, and on tax burden per capita, Texas ranked 42nd.

At the same time, two of the state’s key taxes were bad news. Texas ranked 12th for combined state and local sales tax rates. On property taxes, the state ranks 6th on the property tax as a percentage of the value of a homeowner’s property, and ranked 14th on property tax collections per capita.

To read the full report, click here.

Wed March 11, 2015 12:15 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

An interesting piece is out there this week on the Brownsville federal judge who blocked President Obama’s executive order on immigration brought to my mind, again, that the debate on immigration and border security too often is about sound bites rather than people.

The article I’m referring to was about Judge Andrew S. Hanen, who was in a Baylor law school study group with conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Justice Priscilla Owen and liberal Houston trial lawyer John Eddie Williams. While President Obama has portrayed the case as one of judge shopping by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott to find a right-wingnut jurist, this piece in the not-so-conservative New York Times leaves you with a completely different picture of Judge Hanen.

Mr. Williams said he differed with Judge Hanen on immigration, supporting Mr. Obama “100 percent.” But he said, “I would disagree with anyone who would say Andy Hanen has any prejudice. His decisions will always be based on sound legal grounds.”

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