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August 11, 2017      12:46 PM

Smith: Democracy and Trees

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that for Texas’ GOP leaders, trees are like democratic rights. If they are in the way of their power, cut them down.

Maybe it’s time to remind Texas legislators of the fate of Easter Islanders. Some say their world collapsed because they blindly destroyed all the trees. A new theory has it that rats stowed away in immigrants’ canoes, multiplied rapidly in a land without predators, and ate all the trees.

Either way points to a rather significant leadership deficit.

These islanders were smart enough to engineer and leave behind giant carved heads, heads more swollen even than Texas’ current right-wing leadership.  But they couldn’t see the trees for the forest.

Or something.

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By Glenn W. Smith

August 9, 2017      2:44 PM

Greenfield: The revenue picture in the dog days of summer

Our resident number cruncher says there should be around $600 million in the ending certification balance for August 31, more than sufficient to address both health insurance for retired teachers and support for disabled children

While Comptroller Glenn Hegar did announce the improvement in state revenue for July 2017, there was no public comment on how this related to the revenue that is available to the Texas Legislature. 

Lawmakers in the special session have considered some issues, e.g., health insurance for retired teachers, a pay raise for active teachers, and most importantly, support for disabled children, that requires funding. 

While Article III, Section 49a doesn’t say “It shall be the duty of Stuart Greenfield to provide under oath to provide the Legislature a report on the fiscal condition of the state,” nowhere in the Constitution does it prohibit me from offering my view of the state’s fiscal condition.

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

August 4, 2017      3:59 PM

Smith: Whatever Happened to Deliberative Democracy?

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that democracy withers while our ideologies dominate our identities

Back in the 1990s, it seemed like a noble cause. “Deliberative Democracy” it was called, and it just might save us, argued its champions, folks like Robert Luskin at the University of Texas and Stanford’s James Fishkin.

Over time, of course, Americans have shown little inclination to actually deliberate. Berate or eviscerate, maybe. But deliberate?

 That’s like something the Trump White House’s Stephen Miller would attack as “cosmopolitan,” a word often used by 20th Century tyrants to scapegoat targeted others.

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By Glenn W. Smith

July 21, 2017      2:36 PM

Smith: Political Dollars and Dangling Participles

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that the enormous sums donors give state Republican officeholders raise especially disturbing questions in a one-party state like Texas.

Wealthy Texans are contributing extraordinary sums of money to Texas Republican officials these days. The sums are so large it’s a wonder that a candidate hasn’t surfaced with the message, “Elect me and I’ll grant your wishes for half the price.” Government favors at a discount.

It has a certain appeal.

Looking at Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s recent campaign finance report, former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane gave Patrick $150,000 in June. Highway contractor James Pitcock matched McLane with another $150,000 to Patrick. Apparently not to be outdone, H. Ross Perot gave Patrick $150,000 on June 28 and another $75,000 on June 30.

It’s almost like pitiful little $50,000 contributors will have a hard time getting beneficiaries of their largess to return their phone calls these days.

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By Glenn W. Smith

July 17, 2017      1:24 PM

Greenfield: Good News and Not So Good Revenue News

Our resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield breaks down the revenue picture as legislators settle in for the next 30 days in Austin

As legislators gear up with anxious anticipation for the special session starting tomorrow, they can cap their Valium/Xanax containers. 

On July 5, Comptroller Hegar released a press release indicating substantial growth in sales tax revenue for June. Also noted was a 31.5 percent increase in monthly severance tax collections,  The substantial increases in both these taxes resulted in the growth rate (3.1 percent) in General Revenue-Related (GRR) receipts now exceeding (see Figure 1) the BRE estimated growth rate (1.7 percent) in FY17 GRR revenue.  This 1.4 percentage point increase in GRR is the good news for our legislators.

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

July 14, 2017      3:18 PM

Smith: Peeking in Putin’s Bathroom Window, or Will Greg Abbott Get Serious About Election Integrity?

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that the shrugging acceptance by Greg Abbott and other Republicans of Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election betrays their real voter suppression intentions.

Gov. Greg Abbott sure is quiet about the fact that Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s spies and hackers successfully intervened in the 2016 presidential election, without a doubt the great election fraud scandal in U.S. history.

He’s not the only one. Donald Trump’s Republican allies in Texas are mum on the subject. Meanwhile, Abbot & Co. continue their efforts to try to turn minor instances of extraordinarily rare vote crimes into calamitous emergencies that require ever tighter restrictions on voting.

 How do we take Abbott seriously when he is willing to overlook actual election tampering (by a foreign enemy!) on a scale no American election has ever suffered?

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By Glenn W. Smith

June 30, 2017      5:34 PM

Smith: Who Will Tell the Umpires?

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that too few politicians and pundits recognize the political emergency Americans face

Where do we find ourselves as we head toward July 4, 2017, the 241st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence? We may be in a place that should make us wonder whether we’ll make it to 250 with anything left of the spirit that informed the birth of our democracy and the institutions that have nurtured it ever since.

I said “should make us wonder” because at the moment many refuse to see the dangers. In Donald Trump’s America – and Trump’s America is far from being Trump’s doing alone – the rules are…well, let’s explore that with an analogy.

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By Glenn W. Smith

June 29, 2017      5:01 PM

Pauken: An absence of leadership in Austin

Former RPT Chairman Pauken compares Gov. Abbott to Ronald Reagan, “who as Governor of California and President of the United States ran for both offices to actually get things done.”

As the Texas Legislature wound down its regular session, one has to wonder what has been accomplished. Public School Finance still remains a mess. The Robin Hood school finance scheme that has been with us since the days of Gov. Ann Richards lives on.

The appraisal districts are still raising residential property taxes to values out of proportion to what sellers could net on the sale of their property. Property tax reform of any sort remained stranded in a dispute between the House and the Senate. Dan Patrick’s bathroom law faces a similar situation.

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By Tom Pauken

June 23, 2017      5:51 PM

Smith: Branding, Political Tribes, Health Care and Holidays from Thinking

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that GOP health care plans make it plain that it’s time to break out of tribal political thinking and begin thinking for ourselves.

In marketing, the purpose of branding is to short-circuit consumer thinking or at least grant thinking a holiday. Forget the substantive benefits or dangers of what you’re buying. Let “brand loyalty” do your thinking for you.

It’s like the old advice that if you always park your car in the same place in the garage you won’t have to bother your brain to remember where your car is. Branding is like that.

“Tribes” is a good word for a group of people loyal to one brand over another. There’s a Coca-Cola Tribe and a Pepsi Tribe, for instance. While each tribe might try to destabilize or raid the other, tribal loyalty is sticky. There’s apparent security in a tribe. And, as noted, tribal membership comes with reduced taxes on the brain.

Generally, the consequences are few if brand loyalty involves laundry detergent. The consequences are dire if brand loyalty short-circuit’s thinking on matters of life or death.

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By Glenn W. Smith