“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Pulling Your Lege

The Senate continues to try to grapple with the inherent contradiction that the House has handed them regarding tax deform. In a nutshell, acting on strict regressive ideology, the House passed HB3, intended to fund schools through a variety of other taxes, mainly a state sales tax, in order to lower the local property tax cap. Unfortunately, their plan doesn't even cut mustard with the Republican Comptroller, who says that the plan is at least $4 billion in the red. So, what's a Senate to do? The Fort Worth Star Telegram reports that this fight eerily resembles the one that occurred eight years ago with another Repub governor and another Repub Senate. Back then, the whole thing blew up, and nothing was done. And it could be deja vu all over again. The sales tax increase is bound to be unpopular, not to mention regressive. And almost half the school districts in the state, including AISD, do not tax at the state-mandated cap of 1.5%. Those districts won't see much of a property tax reduction. And, as the Houston Chronicle explains, the law as currently written doesn't mandate that any property tax reduction would have to be passed on by property owners to renters, so renters would be unlikely to see any benefit. So, here we have Repub Senators trying, some with a straight face, to develop a whole set of new "non-tax revenues" to close the gap their House colleagues wouldn't face up to. The rhetoric R's are using to describe each other would make a real conservative blush. Tee-hee. Ho-ho!

Meanwhile, R's are fighting with each other over campaign finance reform. The fuss is all about HB 1348, an omnibus bill covering various areas of campaign finance. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the bill would exclude expenditure of any money originating from corporate or union sources in the last 30 days before a primary election and the last 60 days before a general election for any communications that name a specific candidate or ballot initiative, regardless of the content of the communication. This is designed to end speculation about what exactly is currently legal, and close loopholes like advertising by front organizations with an undisclosed membership (can you say "swift boat"?). The bill would not change current law regarding contributions by individuals, who may contribute unlimited amounts, but whose identity must be disclosed. Thirty House Republicans, along with all 63 Democrats are united behind the bill, so it's going to pass, right? But the Statesman points out that several key Republicans, including Speaker Craddick, Governor Perry, and important committee chairs, are all at least incidentally implicated in the investigation currently ongoing in Austin by district attorney Ronnie Earle over Tom DeLay's political action committees. Corporations, of course, are loathe to give up their power, and are pressuring Repub leadership to stop 1348. So this one pits the leadership squarely against the rank and file.

An interesting sidelight of HB 1348 that isn't getting much attention is that it offers an exclusion for "bona-fide" media owned by corporations or unions. It defines an "electioneering communication" as one disseminated by a broadcast, cable, or satellite communication, a mass mailing, or a telephone bank. Clearly, a blog, unless owned by a corporation, union or political party, is not exempted, but internet communications as a whole are not included in the definition. Who knows what a court would say, but I'd interpret this to mean most blogs or email communications can continue to be used to do electioneering during the blackout period.

Another bone of contention has cropped up between state and national Republicans. Never mind that the former Texas Governor has kind of an important national position. This has to do with an inherent conflict between the education reform law signed in 1997 by then Governor George W. Bush and the more recent federal misnomer, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. State law mandates that essentially all handicapped students be given an alternate test rather than the TAKS test that most students take. According to the San Antonio Express-News, last year that amounted to about 9% of Texas students. But NCLB limits the proportion of students taking alternate exams to 1%. Therefore, Texas was recently fined by federal Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings almost $450,000 in punishment for exceeding the limit. Spellings contends that the state is trying to inflate it's test scores by excluding too many students from TAKS. Could be. Also could well be that the $1.1 billion the state receives from the federal government isn't enough to enforce all aspects of NCLB for 2.9 million students. That's less that $400 per student. Any of you teachers want to weigh in?

What it all boils down to is that Republicans simply cannot govern. Between the ideologs, the incompetents, and the corrupt, there is no will and not much capacity to do what the public needs. Hope y'all don't think that's too wishy washy.