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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Thu May 7, 2015 2:41 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which has been slow to give state legislators accurate information on its role in border security, apparently has been swift to complain to lawmakers that newspaper reports are inaccurate. The Austin American-Statesman is reporting that DPS officials have written letters to legislators blasting investigative pieces by the Statesman, The Dallas Morning News and the El Paso Times.

It’s an unusually aggressive response to media scrutiny from a state agency, according to several legislative aides consulted by the Statesman, who said they weren’t aware of similar strategies by other departments. It also is another example of DPS director Steven McCraw’s sensitivity to what he views as less-than-flattering portrayals of the agency.

Deputy Director of Homeland Security Robert Bodisch was aggressive in pushing back against questions from the El Paso newspaper: “Respectfully, your questions read more like an opinion piece than a news story, with unsubstantiated innuendo, that in essence rehashes inaccurate information about a contract that expired more than four years ago. Also, the manner in which you are questioning the director’s integrity is rash and without merit.”

Perhaps if McCraw and Bodisch had engaged in more forthcoming behavior with legislators they would not have been subjected to tough questioning by the news media.

Wed May 6, 2015 2:50 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

greg abbott

Although Governor Greg Abbott has suffered national embarrassment over his pandering to conspiracy theorists over the military exercise Jade Helm, Abbott is poised to have a very successful first legislative session as governor. The only potential pitfall is the impasse over taxes between Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and the House, a conflict that could force the budget into special session this summer.

House members are rattling the chains of the ghost of session future by noting that if there is a special session this summer, Comptroller Glenn Hegar will have to issue a new revenue estimate and it might be lower than the estimate lawmakers currently are using to write the final budget. In other words, there might be less money available for spending or tax cuts if the session lapses into the summer.

I ran into Hegar earlier today, and he told me the revenue estimate remains “on track.” He noted there were $2.3 billion in sales tax collections in April, up 1.1 percent from April 2014. Hegar said that’s not an exciting increase but is about what his office was expecting when he made the current revenue estimate in January. Things could change if the oil industry shuts down completely, he said, but “the numbers are still right on track.”

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