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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

June 16, 2017      5:00 PM

Smith: Last Days of the First Amendment

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that vicious attacks on the free press and an upside-down view of the separation of church and state put the First Amendment at risk.

Gov. Greg Abbott turned the First Amendment on its head when he signed a bill that legalizes religious discrimination by child welfare providers. The law’s expansive language applies in an almost unlimited number of circumstances. Under the law, if you have a “sincerely held religious belief” against people wearing sandals, you can toss them from your restaurant and send them to the bootmaker.

The law clearly panders to certain extremist sects that believe “religious freedom” means they are free to discriminate against those who do not follow their doctrines. It’s as though they believe Jesus said, “Hey, if you got a stone in hand, throw it! Aim for the head.”

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By Glenn W. Smith

June 8, 2017      5:23 PM

O’Donnell: Session mirrors a cinematic masterpiece

Heading into the special session, Senior Curmudgeon Edd O’Donnell says it’s time to take a look at what time and money consuming issues have had the Legislature in thrall

Philosophers claim art imitates life but only rarely does life imitate art. The 85th Texas Legislature has done that trick. The 2017 session’s deliberations, proposals and accomplishments are mirroring one of the 20th century’s most important films dealing with political and social themes of then and now. It is listed as number six on one of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 movies of all times.

It is a western comedy.

It is called Blazing Saddles.

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By Edd O'Donnell

May 26, 2017      3:04 PM

Smith: The Road to Barbarism; Fists First Instead of First Amendment

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that democracy and our social fabric are endangered by the willful cruelty of the American Right. And it may be even worse in Texas.

It’s meant as criticism of the Right here in Texas and around the country, but I’m no longer sure the culprits care. Some on the Right have set us on a road to barbarism, and if the forced march is not stopped it will be hell to pay.

What else do we think of a place where victims of sex traffickers are abandoned by a Legislature that cuts funds to help them? Meanwhile, hard-working mothers are forcibly detained while dropping their kids off at school, imprisoned, and then tossed across the border?

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By Glenn W. Smith

May 25, 2017      6:12 PM

Greenfield: Two Thirds Through FY17 and Expenditures Still Declining

Our resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield says so far this FY, Texas has experienced the “best” of all possible fiscal worlds, tax collections increasing at a rate on estimate, while expenditures are declining

Through May 2017 all funds state expenditures have decreased by 1.9 percent.  As shown in Figure 1, this rate is markedly less than the 7.7 percent increase in FY16.  This rate of decline would be the greatest decrease in state expenditures this century.

Even with the 1.9 percent decrease in all funds expenditures for FY17, total all funds expenditures for FY16-17 should total $227.3 billion, a 10.3 percent increase from FY14-15.  The LBB has projected that House all funds appropriations are $216.3, while Senate appropriations are $213.7 billion for FY18-19.  Assume the conferees split the difference and CSSB 1 appropriates $215.0 billion for FY18-19.  A $215.0 billion appropriations would result in a $12.1 billion (5.3 percent) reduction in expenditures from FY16-17.

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield