Monthly Archives: October 2010

Pitching a curveball

Much as I may want to, folks, I can’t blame Gov. Perry for the Texas Rangers’ 02 stumble in the early games of the World Series. But if you want to start a rumor about a Perry hex invading the visitors’ clubhouse in San Francisco, please feel free.

Some of you series watchers may have noticed, though, that Perry has been filling part of the air time between innings of Ranger futility with what seems to be his “closer” commercial – a TV spot designed to assure voters on the eve of Election Day that Texas is in good hands as long as Rick is governor.

Perry is friendly, folksy and confident as he promises to balance the budget without raising taxes, secure the border, create new jobs and strengthen the schools.

He also is deceitful.

Balancing a budget with a revenue shortfall as high as $25 billion without raising taxes cannot be accomplished without deep budget cuts, which Perry also has promised (although not in this commercial). And, deep budget cuts will weaken, not strengthen, the public schools and a host of other public services.

The Rangers can afford one more loss. I am not sure how many more Perryera losses the public schools can afford, but not many.

This is the last day for early voting.

Trying to fasttrack vouchers

TSTA hasn’t made an endorsement in the race for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, and the commission doesn’t have much to do with education – or railroads either, for that matter. But in case anyone is wondering which of the two, largely unknown major party candidates to choose, I recommend Democratic nominee Jeff Weems, a Houston energy lawyer who could bring some needed change to a commission that is mainly held captive by the oil and gas industry it is supposed to regulate.

If you dislike the idea of state government taking tax dollars from the public schools to pay for private school vouchers, you have another reason to vote for Weems.

So, what is the connection?

David Porter, the Republican nominee for the Railroad Commission seat, has in recent years been a major player in wealthy voucher advocate James Leininger’s efforts to purchase a provoucher majority in the Texas House. Those efforts so far have been unsuccessful, and Leininger, a San Antonio businessman, has mostly stayed out of this year’s political races.

But, according to the watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice, Porter has been treasurer of Leininger’s Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee since 2006. And, that committee, funded almost wholly by Leininger, was extremely active in the 2006 Republican primary, when it spent $2 million to try to unseat several Republican House members who had dared to vote against vouchers during the 2005 session. If I remember correctly, Leininger and Porter managed to unseat only one of their targets by providing more than 90 percent of the campaign funding for a successful challenger.

Porter, incidentally, wasn’t supposed to win the Republican nomination for the RRC seat last spring because he was challenging a much better funded incumbent, Victor Carrillo, who had initially been appointed to the post by Gov. Rick Perry. But most Republican voters didn’t know Carrillo any better than they knew Porter, and faced with the choice between a Hispanic and a nonHispanic, they chose the latter.

At least, that was Carrillo’s complaint, and I think he probably was right.

Click on this link if you want to read more about Porter’s and Leininger’s provoucher spending orgy:

Your job may be on the line Nov. 2

If you haven’t voted yet, please read Bob Garrett’s Dallas Morning News article linked at the bottom of this post. It makes clearer than anything else I have read so far that thousands of school teachers and other public employees WILL lose their jobs if Gov. Rick Perry and the current legislative leadership are still in charge when the Legislature tackles the huge revenue shortfall next year.

Despite Perry’s best efforts to downplay the severity of the crisis, experts now say the shortfall could be as high as $25 billion. And with Perry flatly ruling out any tax increase, experts say a hole that huge – even after tapping into the state’s Rainy Day fund simply can’t be closed without laying off “hundreds if not thousands of state workers and public university employees.”

They also warn that state funding of the public schools also will likely be cut, along with the jobs of many teachers and other public education employees. Don’t take my word for this. Read the article by one of the Capitol press corps’ more capable and budgetsavvy reporters.

Meanwhile, university tuition is likely to be raised again, student financial aid cut and who knows what may happen to health care premiums and benefits for teachers and other public workers who don’t lose their jobs.

Perry may not be solely responsible for the crisis, but he certainly has contributed to the problem with shortsighted policies designed to win his multiple reelections rather than put Texas on a sound financial track. During his last reelection campaign four years ago, he came up with a scheme to cut school property taxes without fully paying for them. That illadvised plan has been a disaster for school district budgets and, as the Dallas News article points out, is contributing to the state’s fiscal crisis now.

Ultimately, the buck stops in the governor’s office, and Perry has been there for 10 years, distinguished mostly for political favors to wealthy contributors and redmeat overtures to conservative extremists.

Now, in the midst of a major crisis, Perry’s simpleton answer is to cut, cut, cut and the budgetary problem – which he claims is overblown – will go away. Remember how Perry has bragged that Texas is better off than most other states, especially California? Well, folks, this article points out that Texas’ anticipated budgetary gap “is now proportionately larger than the deficit that California recently closed.”

Perry, who has boycotted newspaper editorial board interviews because he doesn’t want to answer tough budgetary questions, will continue to dance around the issue, bragging about the necessity of creating jobs and a favorable economic climate. The sad truth, however, is that highpaying jobs soon will disappear from our state without a realistic budgetary policy that includes an adequate and balanced revenue stream for our public schools, statesupported universities and other critical public programs.

Perry’s governorship has become a disaster. The only way to begin recovering from this disaster is with new leadership in the governor’s office, backed by state legislators willing to put stewardship ahead of demagoguery.

TRS has not been “cleared”

Judging from a call to the office this morning, there is a misperception among some educators and retirees that Gov. Rick Perry and his appointees on the Teacher Retirement System board have been “cleared” of allegations that the pension fund has been abused to benefit some of the governor’s major political donors.

It is true that no one has been prosecuted. But the ethical propriety of Perry’s TRS appointees disregarding the advice of investment professionals to direct business to investment firms run by Perry donors hasn’t been thoroughly vetted. And, the extent of the risk to educators’ pensions is still unknown.

The allegations were raised in a memo by a TRS administratorturnedwhistleblower. That memo was provided to Democratic candidate Bill White, who publicly released it earlier this week.

TRS says it has been cleared of wrongdoing by an “independent investigation,” but that alleged “investigation” was a sham. It was conducted by Roel Campos, whose Washingtonbased private equity law firm had briefly served as TRS counsel in 2008. That relationship ended after Attorney General Greg Abbott (Rick Perry’s Republican comradeinarms, no less) raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest between TRS and some of the law firm’s investment clients.

If that conflict was enough to end Campos’ previous employment by TRS, how in the world could he be considered “independent” enough to investigate the whistleblower’s allegations?

The whistleblower has raised some serious concerns, and they must be addressed because they pose critical questions about the Perry administration’s stewardship of a multibilliondollar fund of crucial importance to teachers and retirees. It is the main or only source of retirement income for many Texas educators, most of whom don’t qualify for Social Security.

It should not be misused as a political slush fund to help Perry reward his political donors, one of his frequent pursuits as governor.

The TRS fund took a big hit during the recent financial market meltdown, and we may never know how much of that plunge could be attributed to outside economic forces or to politically induced mismanagement by Perry’s TRS appointees.

Bill White is talking a lot about the TRS these days, and educators and retired educators should pay attention to what he has to say.

Click on this link to read a discussion of the TRS issue, Perry’s cronyism and his paytoplay attitude by members of The Dallas Morning News editorial board: