Big-money interests and their legislative allies are meeting privately in Austin this week to decide your future

The Texas Legislature is not in session now, but far-reaching legislation affecting future funding of public schools, teacher pay, environmental quality and a host of other issues, including your health insurance, may be vetted and drafted in downtown Austin this week.

This won’t happen at the state Capitol. Your future will be discussed instead in private meeting rooms several blocks away at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, and you aren’t invited to be there. Disregarding your best interests in your absence will be a very select group of well-monied participants intent of transferring more of your hard-earned income to their corporate profits.

The occasion is the annual summer meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), one of the most influential anti-consumer, anti-public education, anti-environment groups that most people have never heard of. It is a partnership of private, corporate representatives and elected officials from around the country who write and then work to influence legislative enactment of so-called “model bills” to increase the profits of the corporations that helped create the legislation.

The public interest be damned, and that includes the quality of your neighborhood schools, your health care, your paycheck or retirement or anything else important to the quality of life for you and your family.

ALEC and its member corporations often pay the travel expenses of like-minded legislators who are invited to attend its meetings and participate in drafting the model legislation. These lawmakers, nearly all Republicans, then return to their home states and try to pass laws through their respective legislatures, usually without acknowledging that ALEC had anything to do with the legislation.

ALEC, unfortunately, has found a lot of cooperation from the leadership that has dominated Texas’ state government in recent years. At least 58 Texas legislators have ties to the group, according to research by the Common Cause Education Fund and the Center for Media and Democracy. Gov. Greg Abbott has spoken at ALEC conferences, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and former Gov. Rick Perry are ALEC alumni.

Through its Texas member and contributor, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, ALEC has been an active supporter of efforts to divert Texas tax dollars to private school vouchers. Thanks to TSTA and other public school advocates, those efforts so far have failed. But groups like ALEC will continue to lobby for school privatization in various forms as long as there is a profit to be made from taxpayers.

ALEC was instrumental in the enactment in Texas and many other states of laws requiring voters to have photo IDs in order to cast ballots, part of a voter intimidation effort targeting Americans of color.

ALEC also has been behind efforts to weaken the Affordable Care Act, which gives millions of Americans access to health care, including people with pre-existing medical conditions. And it has supported legislation to weaken air and water quality in order to increase profits for the energy industry.

ALEC is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) charity, which allows ALEC’s corporate members and funders to deduct their contributions to ALEC on their corporate tax returns. The deductions amount to a taxpayer-funded subsidy for ALEC’s lobbying, even though ALEC insists it is not a lobbying group. It spends a lot of time and money influencing state legislators, though, just not for the benefit of most of those lawmakers’ constituents.

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You can’t effectively attack racism without reining in its most prominent promoter

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush belongs to one of America’s most established political families. He is the grandson of one U.S. president, the nephew of another and the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, but because his mother was born in Mexico, he has felt the sting of racism.

Now, following the El Paso shootings, which targeted Hispanics, Bush has written an oped in The Atlantic denouncing white-nationalist terrorism as a “real threat to our country.” As a conservative Republican, Bush wrote, he wanted to “charge my party to take this challenge seriously.”

He also made some good points about “leading by example” against domestic terrorism and speaking honestly about the threat.

“Conservatives must defend all Americans from all threats,” he wrote. “There are no second-class Americans. All of us help make this country great.”

Very true. But Bush didn’t go far enough. He failed to confront the leader of his party, the president of the United States, whose immigrant-bashing rhetoric, attacks on minority members of Congress and racially tinged remarks have encouraged white supremacists to emerge from the shadows and act on their hatred.

Elected Republican officials in Texas refuse to criticize President Trump, at least in public, regardless of how low the man stoops. Trump isn’t responsible for white supremacism, but he keeps feeding the flames of bigotry, racism and divisiveness.

You may recall that George P. Bush endorsed Trump for president, even after Trump had ridiculed the land commissioner’s father, a Trump opponent in the 2016 race for the Republican nomination.

“From Team Bush, it’s a bitter pill to swallow,” the commissioner admitted at the time. “But…you get back up and you help the man that won, and you make sure that we stop Hillary Clinton.”

That was politics. But the war against racism and white supremacy is about more than the next election.

Trump must stop promoting hatred, and Bush and his Republican colleagues – beginning with John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick — need to find the courage to set partisan politics aside and demand that Trump stop his dangerous game.

If they don’t and Trump persists, George P. Bush and people who look like him won’t be welcome in the Republican Party much longer, and our country will become a very dangerous place for everybody.

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Attacks on a state income tax are popular but short-sighted, especially for education

Hostility toward a state income tax has always been deep in Texas, which is why Texas voters in 1993 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution forbidding the Legislature from ever enacting a tax on personal income without the approval of Texas voters in a statewide election.

So far, we haven’t come close to having such an election.

Most school teachers and other school employees probably dislike the idea of a state income tax as much as anyone else. And I am not proposing one, at least not now, even though an income tax could reduce most teachers’ share of the state and local tax load, while forcing wealthy and super-wealthy Texans to pay more.

The average Texas teacher pays anywhere from 7 to 9 percent of his or her annual income in state and local taxes, based on household income-level calculations by the state comptroller’s office and the Center for Public Policy Priorities. Many school bus drivers and cafeteria workers pay 17 percent or more, while the average Texas millionaire pays 4 percent or less. That’s because the sales and property taxes that are the foundation of the Texas tax structure are more regressive than an income tax would be.

Moreover, an income tax could provide a significant increase in funding for public education while reducing school property taxes, and, sooner rather than later, the Legislature is going to have to find more state funding for public schools or force cuts in programs. This year’s additional funding was just a down payment on what needs to come as enrollment continues to grow.

The 1993 amendment, championed by the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, dedicates two-thirds of the revenue from any future income tax to reducing school property taxes and the remaining one-third to education.

Now, the current state leadership and legislative majority want to repeal the 1993 amendment. To that end, they have placed Proposition 4 on the November constitutional amendments ballot. It is unnecessary and one of the more short-sighted measures to emerge from the recent legislative session.

At present, only a legislative majority would be required to submit the income-tax issue to voters if the need for a new revenue source were to arise. Proposition 4, if adopted, would wipe out the 1993 amendment and its provisions for property tax relief and additional education funding. It also would make it much more difficult for future Legislatures to enact a personal income tax for any reason – education, transportation, health care or whatever future public need may arise.

Under Proposition 4, two-thirds of the House and the Senate would have to approve an income tax before the question could be submitted to voters. That means, even in a budgetary crisis, a minority of monied or ideological interests could exert enough political pressure on a minority of lawmakers to deprive voters of the opportunity to weigh in on a potential solution – and a fairer tax structure.

Current state leaders think it is good politics to bury the idea of a state income tax, and many voters will applaud them now. But eventually, if Proposition 4 passes, their successors will be cursing their short-sightedness. So will many educators and parents of school children.

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Playing politics with school desegregation decision is playing politics with racism

In Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 struck a strong blow against racism by ruling that racial segregation of schools was unconstitutional. Although, 65 years later, many schools in Texas and elsewhere are still segregated because of economic and racial disparities among communities, the landmark ruling nevertheless has long been considered the established law of the land and a goal that we must continue to work to achieve.

But in Trumpworld, where racism is winked at and encouraged by the Tweeter-in-Chief and education is an afterthought, even something as fundamental as equal opportunity in public schools is being questioned.

For months now, many of President Trump’s nominees to federal judgeships, including several from Texas, have refused in Senate confirmation hearings to declare without reservation that the Brown v. Board of Education case was correctly decided.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights believes an affirmation of the correctness of the Brown decision should be a requirement for Senate confirmation of any judicial nominee.

“The refusal by some nominees to say that the decision was correctly decided sends a dangerous signal to all Americans – especially African Americans – that Brown could someday be overturned and that our nation could return to the disgraceful days of racial segregation,” the conference’s president and CEO, Vanita Gupta, has told senators in a letter.

“Affirming Brown is an essential principle of racial equality that must be endorsed by all who seek a lifetime appointment on our federal courts. Regrettably, it is not, and that should be disqualifying,” she said.

Ada Brown, an African American on the Texas 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas who has been nominated by Trump to be a federal district judge, acknowledged that she has benefited from the Brown ruling.

“Because of Brown v. Board of Education, I went to an excellent integrated school where my father went to a very poor segregated school,” she said at a Senate hearing.

But she is among the Trump judicial nominees who have refused to comment on the correctness of the desegregation decision because, they claim, a judicial canon prevents them from commenting on court decisions.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who has been asking nominees to answer the Brown question, said the judicial canon they cite was “completely inapplicable” to established decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh answered similar questions about the Brown decision at their confirmation hearings. Both said it was correctly decided.

Fearful their confirmations were in danger, some nominees have begun to break their silence in favor of offering support for Brown, but the civil rights group lists 23 nominees around the country who are still refusing to answer the question.

Does this mean they are segregationists? Probably not. But for whatever reason, they are playing politics with an issue at the heart of the American sense of fairness and equality. And when judicial nominees refuse to declare the importance and correctness of the Supreme Court’s Brown ruling, they are encouraging racists who want to tear it up.

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