Harvest of the skinflint

State expenditures adjusted for inflation and population growth

Texans historically are misers when it comes to state spending. They applauded Governor William “Pass the Biscuits Pappy” Lee O’Daniel in 1939 when he vetoed funding to build new state hospitals and asylums for the insane and slashed the public safety budget in half, a cut so deep that Texas Rangers had to borrow bullets from the highway patrol. Little wonder that the past decade of budget and tax cuts have caused scarce consternation among the populace.

A Republican legislator once told me he opposed tax increases in times of revenue shortfalls because once the tax increase was in place it did not go away, even when the economy rebounded to restore funding for state programs. That certainly was the approach in the 2011 session as lawmakers dealt with a major shortfall, but now that times are flush again, Governor Greg Abbott has asked state agencies to cut their budgets by 10 percent while Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and the Senate are pressing for public school property tax cuts that will have to be made up from state funding.

What has been established since 2003 is a cycle of ratcheting state government down in staffing and services. Small-government conservatives are sure to welcome, but it also has set up a cycle of penny-wise, pound-foolish governing. The cost of this frugality may run into the billions of dollars.

Bob Armstrong

It is with considerable sadness that I received the news of the death of Robert Landis Armstrong, a former commissioner of the General Land Office, who was a major force in bringing about the addition of Big Bend Ranch State Park to the Texas Parks & Wildlife System. (TEXAS MONTHLY was an early champion of the  effort to make Big Bend Ranch part of the state park system.)  As my colleague R.G. Ratcliffe noted yesterday, Armstrong was a widely liked and respected Democratic legislator from Austin, who would qualify as a gentle giant. He gained local fame by having the queso dip at Matt’s El Rancho Restaurant named for him. I knew him very well, as he occupied an office not far from the space where I began my tenure in the Capitol.

Come and Take It, or Not

On Friday evening, Dan Patrick’s office sent an announcement: on March 2nd the lieutenant governor, along with Senator Charles Schwertner and “other senators”, would hold a press conference on the subject of Medicaid flexibility. The topic was an intriguing one. Texas, of course, is one of the states that has declined to expand Medicaid under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Efforts to consider the subject, in 2013, were unceremoniously squashed, and nothing has happened in the interim that would make Texas more receptive to the federal government’s preferences. Schwertner, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services committee, dismissed the idea bluntly months ago: “expanding Medicaid in its current form is a nonstarter for Texas.” Plus the date, March 2nd, was a dead giveaway.

The press conference confirmed the Senate’s position: Texas will not expand Medicaid in its current form. The idea of doing so, Schwertner added, “is simply not worth discussing.” And if the president doesn’t like that, apparently, it’s incumbent on him to be flexible. Patrick and Schwertner produced a letter to Barack Obama, signed by all 20 Senate Republicans, laying out their list of demands. They want the federal government to give Texas the latitude to implement ten reforms (“at minimum”) in the current Medicaid program, then, and only then, Texas would come back to the table—maybe.

It was an aggressive approach, considering that the Texas Senate can’t force the federal government to accept its conditions; but a defensible one.

Battleground Texas' Goal of 2020 May Be Too Late

Robert Draper’s dissection of Battleground Texas in this magazine interested me on two cutting issues. One, the Battleground leadership never thought Wendy Davis could win the governor’s race last year, and, two, their goal remains to turn Texas blue by 2020. That’s a presidential election year, and while winning that election might be important for the Democratic National Committee, it probably is too late for Texas Democrats. If winning statewide is delayed until 2020, Texas Democrats likely are looking at another decade of Republican control of the state.

Why, you ask?

Happy Independence Day! Words of Wisdom to Lawmakers from Texas' First President

Happy Texas Independence Day! On March 2, 1836, the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed at Washington-on-the-Brazos even as Santa Anna’s army laid siege to the Alamo. The convention elected David G. Burnet as interim president to oversee the young Republic until an election could be held. Seven months later, with the Mexican army defeated and a new president elected, Burnet gave his farewell address to the legislators of the First Congress of the Republic of Texas, on October 4, 1836.

California Republicans Charter Gay Rights Group as Volunteer Organization

Texas Republicans at their state convention last year refused to give the gay rights group Log Cabin Republicans even table space in the exhibitor’s hall. But California Republicans on Sunday gave the Log Cabin Republicans a charter as an official state volunteer organization. This according to the Sacramento Bee:

The California Republican Party granted charter status to a gay Republican group on Sunday, after spirited – but ultimately minimal – opposition from within the party’s conservative flank.

The recognition comes years after Log Cabin California first sought to become an officially recognized volunteer group. Supporters called the measure an overdue sign of inclusiveness.

Delegates approved the charter by a 861-293 vote, touching off an emotional celebration in which members of the club hugged their supporters at the back of the convention hall.

Perry Compares Middle East Troubles to Texas Border

In an apparent effort to restore his gravitas as a presidential candidate, former Governor Rick Perry delivered a tough foreign policy speech to conservatives this morning that compared problems in the Middle East to securing the Texas border.

Perry focused his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference less on the red meat of domestic politics and more on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Crimea and the threat of ISIS. The crowd was enthusiastic for Perry’s foreign policy rhetoric, but gave him only polite applause when he turned to national issues.

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