On Sunday, October 19, the two candidates for district 82, incumbent Republican Tom Craddick and Democratic challenger Bill Dingus met in a debate in Midland. The complete debate may be viewed online here. The online version has separate segments for each question that was asked and for the opening and closing statements. One peculiarity is that the debate was sponsored by AT&T, and the senior vice-president of AT&T Texas was allowed to be a member of the panel that asked questions. My report on the debate is based upon my notes of the answers to questions. It is not a verbatim transcript. Each candidate had one minute to respond to a question, and they were allowed unlimited thirty-second rebuttals. Craddick opening statement: I grew up in Midland, moved here when I was 9. I went to public schools here, and my children went to school here and graduated from high school. When I ran for speaker I made some commitments. We took a ten billion deficit and turned it into a positive, no new tax increase. We gave more than $14 billion in property tax relief, the largest property tax cut in history . We did tort reform and brought ten thousand new doctors to Texas. We have the number one business climate of any state. And I’ve done lots of things for Midland. Dingus opening statement: I want to thank KMID and everyone who is here tonight and those who are watching this debate. Thanks to Speaker Craddick for agreeing to participate. I want to thank all the voters of district 82 who have been so supportive of my candidacy. I am running because I want to provide a choice, an independent voice in Austin as opposed to one that is not. West Texas has big issues, the Trans-Texas Corridor, high utility rates, paltry funding of public education. But the biggest problem is the domination by special interest lobbyists who control too much of what is decided in Austin, and that is the change I want to bring to district 82. What is your position on the Trans-Texas Corridor? Dingus: It’s a bad idea, and we shouldn’t do it. It’s a $140 billion boondoggle. The state would have to condemn 460,000 acres of good Texas farm and ranch land. This is a good example of how lobbyists control everything we do in Austin. Craddick: The Trans-Texas Corridor was originally designed to get larger highways between the major cities. Tx-DOT took it and ran with it. The Trans-Texas Corridor is dead. There is a moratorium on it. I did not vote for the Trans-Texas Corridor. I wasn’t even on the floor when the Trans-Texas Corridor was passed. It doesn’t affect West Texas. Everybody in Austin knows it is dead. [Craddick and Dingus then engaged in a fast-paced discussion over whether Dingus supported another major highway that was to cut through West Texas from Presidio. Craddick said Dingus made the motion to support it as a Midland city councilman and named the date of the vote. Dingus said that he voted for the bypass around Midland to keep 5,000 trucks a day out of the city. He added that he and other opponents completely rewrote the proposal.] Fifty percent of the money in this race has been received from outside the district. How can local voters be suyre their voice is heard, and would you be beholden to people from outside the district? Dingus: I got a contribution from my mother, I;m beholden to her. Others I got were all from friends and relatives. They’re not going to be asking me for any favors. I got an awful lot of contributions from the district in small amounts. Craddick: We received a lot of contributions from the district, more than our opponent, and a larger amount dollarwise, and a lot of statewide contributions. A lot of these are from political action committees. Well, what is that? That’s a lot of people who live in Midland, doctors, dentists, have done that. [Craddick named people in the audience who were involved in PACs, including “my opponent’s dentist.”] Dingus: There is a difference between lobbyists and PACs. Corporate lobbyists money is huge, and that I have a problem with, and you should too. In the Legislature a lot of emphasis is placed on seniority and rank. Does having the speaker come from Midland make a difference? [I intend to keep my personal opinions about the candidates out of this report, but — this is outrageous. The debate was sponsored by AT&T. This question was asked by Leslie Ward, the AT&T vice-president and lobbyist whose company has given Craddick bucketsful of money. It is obviously a softball pitched so that Craddick can knock it out of the park. She had no business being on that panel, or asking that question.] Dingus: It does make a difference, and it should make a difference. The problem isn’t so much the rank and the seniority, it’s the behavior of the person. I think we can all agree that if we did establish term limits, we wouldn’t say one term of forty years or two terms of twenty years. That’s too long. With power comes longevity, and there’s a problem with longevity. Craddick: The speaker being from West Texas does make a difference. It’s a real positive for us out here and people across the state. And probably, in today’s world, looking at redistricting in two years, there won’t be another speaker from rural areas after me. It’s been a real positive. Look at the health care facilities tied to Texas Tech, OB-GYN, two new surgical suites, digital mammograms. And I think as far as term limits, we have term limits in this state. People can vote you out every two years, that’s our term limits. Dingus: I’m not running against Tom Craddick because he is speaker. It is because of what he has done as speaker that I am running against him. Craddick: I’m very proud of what I have done as speaker and I’d do it again. We have a surplus in the State of Texas. What should be done with that money? Craddick: We have $12 billion in the rainy day fund and another $5 to 6 billion in general revenue. As in the last session of the Legislature, we used fourteen and a half billion and gave it back to the taxpayers. Seven billion of that is off the bottom line, that people aren’t paying in additional property taxes. I’d like to see us do that again, give money back to the taxpayers, it belongs to them. We’ve got some programs we have to fund. We have to fund health care needs in this state. Dingus: I’m glad we have a surplus, but what I would suggest we spend it on is, first, teacher salaries. Our teachers are woefully underpaid. We appreciate the $2,000 raise last time, it’s a good start. The homestead exemption, I’d like to see that increased instead of pure property taxes given back. The third one I’d say would be the margins tax, the cutoff needs to be one million, not three hundred thousand, it’s taking a lot of profitable small businesses and driving them into the red. Craddick: The homestead exemption doesn’t work. There are a lot of communities, if you increase the homestead exemption, the only one who pays [property taxes] is business, and the rest of the people don’t, and it makes us uncompetitive with a lot of business activity. The margins tax we did as a replacement for the franchise tax. We were under a court order. It was actually done by a commission the governor had do it. The Legislature didn’t propose those proposals. John Sharp was the chairman of it. He’s a Democrat. Dingus: Well, the problem is that the property tax relief benefited large corporations. If the homestead exemption is not the way to protect homeowners, we have to come up with another way. What will you do to help keep small businesses stay open as local taxes go up? Craddick: We’ve done a lot in the last session of the Legislature., and, as mentioned earlier, when we did the margins tax, the margins tax was to make it a more fair tax across the board, because we had a lot of companies that were off in the Delaware Sub, because a lot of companies in this state were not paying any taxes, and a lot of the small companies were paying theirs. To make it fair we made it across the board. We have also made some mistakes in the margins tax, there’s no doubt about it. Any time you do a four, five hundred page bill, you make some mistakes. We’ll review that in the next session of the Legislature, whether you lower the rate or broaden the horizon where you go in. The other thing is, when you look at the margins tax, you also got property taxes at the same time that offset a lot of that, so I think it was a fair tax. Dingus: I appreciate your admitting it was a mistake, but one of the mistakes in the margins tax is that it is too low on gross revenues, and there are many businesses that are profitable until they pay that tax, and it drives them into the red, and I think that’s unfair and needs to change. Craddick: If you look at the franchise tax, there was a $150,000 theshold of which no one that made that didn’t have to pay the tax. In the margins tax we went up to $300,000, and it stairsteps up to a million, so there is an increment in there that he doesn’t talk about. Dingus: The important thing to remember is that we’ve got small businesses that are suffering, and we need to treat them differently than we trreat the large corporations. Craddick: First of all, it’s not large corporations versus small businesses across the board, and when we’re talking about the tax rate, it was across the board fair to everyone, so everyone paid the same, the property tax relief was businesses and individuals and small businesses too. Dingus: The bottom line is, it’s an income tax, whether they call it a margins tax or not. We need to throw the whole thing out, the way it is treating small businesses now, and revamp the thing, and at least get up to a million dollars before you pay anything at all, and I mean gross receipts. Craddick: If you’re going to throw it out, then lay something on the table what you’re going to raise. because it’s a fourteen and a half billion dollar tax bill that’s about a billion and a half short of what it’s supposed to raise, and it’s for the property tax relief of the people in this room and all across the state. It’s great to throw it out there, and say, We’re going to do away with it, but how are you going to replace it? Dingus: The bottom line is, it really is an income tax, and it needs to change, and it’s there because of the way we fund public education, and the fact is, it’s unfair to small businesses, and I’m going to say that every time I get another thirty seconds. There is a debate over whether the state should control oil drilling in the city limits or if this should be left up to city governments to decide. Where do you stand on this? Dingus: I think it needs to be standardized city to city. One of the reasons we got into a bind when I was on the city council was nobody knew exactly what the rules were. It’s a bad precedent to have cities eaten up by the oil patch because they have a different ordinance than some other city. We need to standardize these rules. It’s unfair to the oil industry to have different rules, city to city. Craddick: We agree to some extent. The cities all need to be uniform, what they are doing in spacing. If the law needs to be changed, the next session of the Legislature needs to deal with it. There has been a lot of discussion about allowing local governments to raise the gasoline and/or sales tax to pay for it. Do you favor that? Craddick: I don’t think we ought to do that. A lot of the major cities have talked about increasing their gasoline tax or their sales tax to do this. The people are already paying high prices for energy. I know that Mr. Dingus favored raising the gasoline tax, I think it was a nickel a gallon. It’s the state’s responsibility to fund transportation in this state. We’ve had some problems with Tx-DOT. The lieutenant governor and I as co-chairmen of the Audit Committee have asked for an audit. We found that they had lost a billion dollars, they don’t know where it’s going. We’ll find that when we get through the audit. They’re up for Sunset, I think we’ll see a whole new Tx-DOT in the next session of the Legislature and a new way to fund our roads. Dingus: We do need a way to fund our roads, but I don’t think we should have changing gas taxes from one city to the next. In Midland, it is a struggle as the cost of asphalt and gravel rise. That doesn’t mean you should fix it with the gas tax. Now sales tax is another thing. But I wouldn’t be in favor of gas taxes controlled by a municipality. Craddick: You can look at the sales tax. Midland has used up all but an eighth of a cent so if they use it for this they can’t use it for indigent health care or other things that might come up in the future. Why are you [Dingus] running as an independent when you are registered as a Democrat? Dingus: We use the word “independent” to convey that I intend to be independent of lobbyists’s influence. We are not making a secret that I am running as a Democrat. The point is, and Tom Craddick is not the only one who is doing this, but the great majority of our legislators are receiving very large sums of money into their campaign war chests from corporate lobbyists, and I think that’s the problem. That’s the reason we’re trying to build the Trans-Texas Corridor. That’s the reason public schools are underfunded, because they don’t have big-pocket lobbyists, and I’m just saying I’m not going to be beholden to lobbyists. I’m going to be independent from lobbyists. Craddick: I’m running as a Republican and I’m proud of it. I have always run as a Republican and I support the Republican ticket and I support our presidential candidate and our vice-presidential candidate. I’m not running as an independent. Dingus: He is running as a Republican. I can confirm that. [laughter] Do you believe that tort reform has improved health care in Texas? Dingus: I think that has improved health care in Texas because it has improved the quality of doctors coming into the states. We had doctors leaving the state and now we have doctors coming back into the state, and that’s a good thing. We have bigger problems now in the state. Insurance is one, our insurance rates are particularly high, about as high as they are in the country anywhere, and for all I know, Mr. Craddick and I agree on this. Home insurance rates in Texas are about as high as they are in the country anywhere, an. Craddick: I think tort reform, which I led the state to do, probably has made the biggest difference in the state. Number one, we got ten to eleven thousand new doctors to come into the state. Number two, we’re number one in all the new businesses we’ve created in the state. We’ve created 200,000 new jobs in the last year. If you talk to the companies that are coming in here, they say the number one thing that makes them want to come to Texas is the better business climate and tort reform. We’ve had five or six states that have come down and said, How did you do it, what did you do, how did you get your members to buy into it? Medical caps is a major thing. We had companies that wouldn’t write medical malpractice insurance. We had two writing at that time, there are thirty-two today, so that is the number one reason why our business climate is so good today. Dingus: I would like to see a future in Texas where the number one thing that brings businesses to Texas is the quality of education and businesses wanted to be here for the quality of our work force. The State of Texas takes a hit across the nation as the one with the highest number of uninsured children. Is it the right of every child to be insured by the state? [This question was asked by the AT&T lobbyist.] Craddick: I think you’re talking about the CHIPS program, and it’s not an entitlement, as is Medicaid, and I voted for the first CHIPS bill in the late nineties. I was one of the few Republicans who voted for it, because I thought we had hospital districts that were being caught with all the indigent health care, and we needed relief, and the kids children needed insurance, but the key to that bill is access. It said that parents would have access to get their children insurance. It did not say they were entitled to it and they could drop their private insurance to save dollars. If you look at CHIPS since I became speaker you see that it has increased. If you look at CHIPS and the Medicare [sic] program together, we have more people than we’ve ever had in the history of that program. It’s not something they are entitled to. Dingus: You say there is more people on CHIP now than when you became speaker but that’s because when you became speaker they farmed out the program to some company in Bermuda. We gave that company almost a billion dollars, and they added so much red tape and long wait times, a lot of kids fell off this program. Now let me tell you what CHIP is. CHIP is a program for parents who don’t make enough money, or don’t work at a good enough job, to have insurance for their children, but they make too much money to get Medicaid, and so it’s there to take care of kids. When we added the red tape in 2003 and we started the long lines to this privatization that was a debacle, we lost 200,000 children off that program. Since then, in the last legislature, they fired Accenture, which was a private company, and it has gotten better, and that’s why he can say there’s more than when he became speaker, because they lost so many that first year. Craddick: Not only are there more people on it, it is not something we guarantee, and it is not for you to quit taking insurance form your job. The key is access, access and quality. If you compare our program to other state programs across the nation, they may have more people on it, they are getting actually less care. Dingus: There are hundreds of thousands of kids that need to be on CHIP that are not, and we need to get them on there, because a healthy child makes a productive citizen, and if they don’t have insurance, what happens is that these people wait until their child is very sick, and they take them to the emergency room, and we foot the bill for that as taxpayers, and it’s a far more expensive bill that way than if we just took care of them in the first place, so let’s invest in the future of Texas and put these kids back on that CHIP program. Craddick: First of all, these kids aren’t off the CHIPS program. The kids that weren’t on that program are back on. When I became speaker, we had kids on both the Medicaid program and the CHIPS program. It’s very well stated which is which, what percentage of the poverty level should be on Medicaid and should be on CHIPS. We’ve done a good job of cleaning up those lists, taking people off both programs. CHIPS is flourishing across the state for people who have access. We do not guarantee it. Dingus: These aren’t people who are getting a gift from the government. This just allows them to purchase affordable health care for their children, and I disagree with the speaker, I don’t believe that all the children that need to be on CHIP are there yet, and we need to work hard to get them there. For every dollar Texas spends, it gets $2.64 back from the government. Those are our tax dollars that could make for some healthy kids. Craddick: We have 400,000 more kids on CHIPS than were there six years ago. A good part of our education dollars are spent on bilingual education. Is that a good way to spend money? Craddick: Fifty-nine percent of our budget is spent on education. And so we have a lot of different programs we have to do. Bilingual has helped, if you look at it at the lower level. The problem is, it was designed to help these children who didn’t speak English when they were coming into the process in the early school years, so they would be up to snuff by the time they got to school. Unfortunately, it has developed through the years, and this goes back to before I was speaker, bilingual goes through all our grades, and I think that’s a real mistake for our system. Dingus: Bilingual education is a necessity, because you can’t teach kids who don’t understand what you are saying, so one way or another you have to deal with it. One thing that might be very helpful, I know it’s helpful with the dropout rate, is early childhood education. Right now you can get early childhood education if you meet certain economic thresholds. It might be wise to take that throughout the school system. It’s not the cheapest thing in the world but it’s not the most expensive. The sooner you get to the kids, the better off you are, but another thing is it has a distinct correlation with the dropout rate. Craddick: The dropout rate is phenomenal in Texas, and what we need to do, when students get to the ninth grade level, we need tracks that go right and left, so a young student can decide what they’re going to do, and if they’re not college bound, they can do something else, maybe get technical training. Let me talk to you about the early childhood development program, if it’s structured, if it’s not a babysitting program. Dingus: I agree. There is a group encouraging eliminating property taxes to fund education and replacing them with an increased sales or consumption tax. Where do you stand on this? Dingus: I’d have to see the numbers on that. Property taxes generate a huge amount of money, our local taxpayers pay about 66% of the education costs. A sales or consumption tax might be used to pay some of that. Of course, sales taxes are extremely regressive, and that means they are particularly tough on the poor, and so you couldn’t replace property taxes completely with a sales tax. It’s tough to replace one tax with another. Craddick: I appointed an interim committee to look at alternatives to property taxes. I don’t think you can do away with them entirely, for hospital districts, counties, but I think there is a way we can do away with them for school funding. It’s the state’s responsibility to fund education. We have a lot of people who can’t pay for their property taxes and afford to stay in their houses, and it’s wrong what’s happening in this state. We’ve got to find an alternative source. Dingus: It is tough, especially on the elderly who are on a fixed income, when they’re in a house they don’t intend to leave, and the house goes up in value and their taxes go up, so I understand the reason to eliminate the property tax, but there is a problem with all other taxes. We need to fund public education. The state used to fund half the cost of public education, even when I was in high school, now it’s a third, and that’s put a lot of pressure on property taxes. Do you support the creation the congressional redistricting efforts that led to the creation of a district in the Midland-Odessa area? [This question was asked by the AT&T lobbyist.] Dingus: I certainly don’t support redistricting in between censuses. That’s a terrible precedent to have set. I think we can all agree that if the opposite party of whatever we are decided to suddenly , that would be a bothersome thing. So we shouldn’t have done that and I’m embarrassed we did. I don’t have a problem with the shape of our district, I like our district. The people in Lamesa have been extremely kind to me. The people in Martin County couldn’t have been better. I live here, we’ve got Upton and Crane County down there, and they’re just full of great people. In fact, I encourage everybody out there to run for public office, because there are some great people out there you’re not going to meet otherwise, and I’m very pleased to have done it. Craddick: Leslie, I think you’re talking about congressional district and he was talking about legislative districts. Our congressional district, before we changed it, Midland was split into three congressional districts, which was not fair to the people of Midland. It really hurt our district, and it gave us no chance to elect anyone from our area to Congress. I do support the congressional redistricting, and if you look back, we were denied the right to vote on a congressional redistricting plan by a Democratic controlled House. Dingus: Well, I did take a bit of a leisurely time talking about how great my district was, sort of worked that in, I wanted to say hello to the people in the other counties. Districts should be balanced and fair and we don’t want any gerrymandering around the state, and I hope we agree on that. Craddick: Like I say, I agree with the congressional redistricting plan, I think it benefits us in West Texas. It’s given us an opportunity to elect a congressman from our area. We’ve never had that opportunity before, and I fully support it. What can we do to ensure that there is plenty of water out here in West Texas? Dingus: Midland had a water supply that we were banking on for a long time, the T-Bar Ranch water field. We always had that as our ace in the hole. Then we found it was contaminated by a salt water leak from the oil industry. Water is very important, but we can’t let private individuals just pack it up and ship it off without proper regulatory supervision. The Nuevo Vista situation of some years ago where we were going to sell the waters from below our public university lands at a very cheap price without the proper bidding process was a scare and I hope we don’t have another one of those. Craddick: I think conservation is going to be a key, and we’ve got to look at what we’re doing statewide. As far as Midland goes, I passed a bill an amendment back in the late eighties that allowed Midland to be exempt from all statewide water regulation, that allowed us to access the water our forefathers in this county and city had bought through the years in other counties, where the other counties were trying to prohibit us from transporting it out of their counties to Midland. The PUC wants to charge everyone in the state who uses electricity to pay a surcharge for the wind energy lines coming from West Texas. Is that the right thing to do? Dingus: Certainly if these energy companies are coming under the auspices of the Public Utility Commission, it’s appropriate to do that, just as if you would have the citizens pay for a power plant that was built by a public utility. If it’s a private utility, no, I don’t think that’s right. So we need to bring these companies under the Public Utilities Commission. One of the problems is that if we’ve paid for them once, we don’t want to pay for them again. During deregulation of the electric industry a few years back, some companies formed new companies, and the new companies said, We need to pay for this plant we just got. Well, the citizens had already paid for that plant, and they’re paying for it again. As long as it’s properly regulated, I don’t have a problem with that. Craddick: The PUC just looked at a deal called “Crez” (sp?). That’s got $4.9 billion worth of new transmission lines to hook up the West Texas area into the grid. We also got three coal power plants coming on line. We deregulated electricity. It looked great at that time, the problem was that 70% of the electricity produced in this state is done through gas, and at that point gas was selling for $2.25, and it’s been up to $14, it’s back around $7 now. The problem was we had all our eggs in one basket. Now we’re spreading it out, we’re getting the wind energy into play, we’ve had three nuclear plants that have filed for permits in the state of Texas, three coal plants are getting ready to start, so we have to spread that across the board. Dingus: First, we need those transmission lines, because we’ve got a lot of people in District 82 who are looking forward to selling some wind energy. The bigger problem is that before deregulation we were paying about the same for energy as our neighboring states, now we’re paying about 25% more, so that’s been a huge failure, and we have to go back and fix that. Craddick: As I mentioned earlier, the price of gas went up, and we had all our eggs in one basket. We’re the number one wind power state in the country, we’re producing more energy by wind than anyone else. If we’re going to get the wind energy into it, we have to get it into the grid, and we’ve got to build the transmission lines. Craddick closing statement: I think you’ve seen the differences we have today, and I’m sure there are others. To me, it’s all about jobs, tax cuts, and education, and those are the three keys you have to look at. In the next session, we have to look at transportation, it’s a real problem in this state. Obviously, Tx-DOT is broken. We didn’t get into voter ID, I totally recommend that we look at voter ID again. It passed the House last session, the Senate didn’t get a chance to vote on it. I believe our forefathers did not want people to be voting in this country in this state that are not members of our country and our state. I think we’ve got to look at appraisal caps and spending caps, in order to get spending down and keep our appraisals down and individual property taxes. We’ve got to look at the legal status of people on welfare, CHIPS, and Medicaid. And I think we have to put our money in our classrooms and nowhere else as far as education goes. These are the keys. I just want to thank you all for coming, thanks for all the support you have given me over the years, and I appreciate your vote. Dingus closing statement: First, I want to thank KMID for hosting this debate. I want to thank everybody out there who is watching for tuning in tonight. Tomorrow morning, early voting begins, and you can strike a blow for change, and we can change the way this Legislature is run, and we can take it back from control of special interest lobbyists. I promise to be a good representative for you. I will never betray your vote and your trust. I will never take a single dime of lobbyists’ money, and I ask you for your vote. Thank you very much.
Politics & Policy