Empower Texans

Sullivan blames lawmakers for Perry’s wasteful program

Sep 24, 2011 By Paul Burka

Self-appointed fiscal watchdog Michael Quinn Sullivan blasted legislators  yesterday (9/23) for a spending program that allows the state to attract and subsidize Hollywood filmmakers who wish to make movies in Texas. I find myself in rare agreement with Mr. Sullivan on this point. When I wrote a story about cutting the budget last October, I zeroed out the Film Commission. Sullivan based his post on the Empower Texans web site on a Wall Street Journal story. Here is the lead for his article: While other states have come to their senses about subsidizing Hollywood, Texas’ lawmakers continue pumping taxpayer cash into a scheme of dubious value to Texans and our economy. The Wall Street Journal reports today that states are halting the subsidies as they find footing the bill for films isn’t as glamorous as the latte-liberals in the film industry would have us all believe. There is one problem with Sullivan's analysis. Film subsidies in Texas, while they are included in the state budget that lawmakers vote on, are not really proposed by the Legislature.

A response to Michael Quinn Sullivan

Jun 29, 2011 By Paul Burka

Michael Quinn Sullivan has a bone to pick with me. I am the subject of a blog post by Sullivan published on the Empower Texans web site yesterday under the headline, “Texas Monthly: Disclosure-Free Zone.” Sullivan objects to the fact that in an April column about higher ed reforms, I did not disclose that I have taught at UT from time to time. Here are some pertinent paragraphs: Paul Burka, the “senior executive editor” at Texas Monthly has taken to defending the higher education status quo – skyrocketing tuition and a lack of transparency. He follows the administrative bureaucracy party line by deriding reformers, disparaging them and calling motivations into question. Couldn’t be because he has a financial interest in the status quo, could it? Mr. Burka received $10,159 in compensation ($9,295 in salary) for teaching 13 students. (NOTE: the numbers are from UT’s own data, which the institution says may or may not be valid or accurate.) He hasn’t disclosed in any recent writings supporting the higher-ed establishment that he is a “visiting lecturer” for the University of Texas, teaching a three credit-hour class – ironically titled “Right And Wrong In Politics.” Mr. Sullivan has a point, though he overplays it to a ridiculous extreme, as is his custom. I should have included a parenthetical statement in that April column saying that I had taught at UT on various occasions in the past (though I was not teaching there or receiving compensation at the time that I wrote the column). But it is far-fetched to suggest that I have any permanent attachment to UT, or a financial motivation to defend the university. I am not an academic, I am a journalist. Over the past twenty years or so, I have been fortunate enough to teach courses at UT (and also at St. Edwards). During that time, I have written several editorial columns about the university. One was supportive of tuition deregulation; one was critical of a watered-down degree program I referred to as “B.A. Lite” (this one, alas, is not yet available online). I have not tried to hide the fact that I teach at UT; in 2001, for example, I wrote about volunteering to evaluate applications for admission to the Plan II honors program, as I was eligible to do as an instructor. I have also written a skeptical column about the athletic department’s efforts to find a home for the Longhorns after the breakup of the Big XII conference. In short, I choose subjects that Texas Monthly believes are important, and I try to call ‘em as I see ‘em. I leave it to readers to judge for themselves whether they believe that my reporting on UT is influenced by what Mr. Sullivan refers to as my “financial interest in the status quo,” or whether it reflects my strongly held personal belief in the importance of allowing state universities to pursue excellence free of political interference.

R.G.’s Take: No budget joy in Mudville

Apr 28, 2011 By R.G. Ratcliffe

Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden stands like Casey at the Bat, fully wanting to score. And nothing but a base hit, or a walk, perhaps, will get him to the floor. As this week ended with the scoreboard showing naught, Ogden admitted he lacked the stroke to bring his budget up for Senate debate. He described his position in baseball terms: The right foul line is the conservatives who want no additional money taken from the rainy day fund to balance the next two-year budget. The left foul line is the liberals who want to increase taxes to avoid deep cuts in public education. Neither side has the votes to prevail, Ogden said today. “I don’t have a bill between the foul lines yet, but we’re working on it.” The dilemma for senators on both sides is they hold the most power now because the vote to debate requires two thirds vote of those present, while a House-Senate conference committee report requires a simple majority to pass. But to pay for the Senate plan, 21 votes also are required to spend money from the rainy day fund. So both votes require a combination of Republican and Democratic senators. Ogden said those holding out for more spending should give up because the Senate bill is as good as it is going to get. And as bad as his proposed two-year budget would be for Texas, politically, it probably is the best that can be passed by the current Legislature. Other than a redistricting bill, there is nothing more political than the state budget. Deciding how to spend the taxpayers’ dollars may seem like a noble task of stewardship. But it is really about chasing campaign dollars and votes. And that is what derailed the Senate budget plan this week. First, look first at the inside fight of what senators called “twosies versus threesies,” Article II Medicaid versus Article III education. Senate Republicans decided to fund nursing homes and doctor’s reimbursements ahead of higher and public education. That erased the specter of nursing homes closing across Texas. It also cooled opposition from the health care industry, which pours about $7 million into legislative campaigns every cycle. But that meant less money for education, important to Democrats.