Month: <span>July 2017</span>

Unlock the Rainy Day Fund for educators, retirees


If teachers are going to get a pay raise and education retirees are going to get any meaningful relief from health care costs, Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick and the Senate majority are going to have to quit hoarding $10 billion of public funds – money that belongs to teachers, retirees, parents and other taxpayers.

This is the crux of the education funding issue before the special legislative session. Abbott, Patrick and their Senate allies refuse to spend the state’s $10 billion Rainy Day savings account for what it was intended – to meet an emergency public need. Education funding, including teacher pay and a retiree health care system that is in danger of crumbling and bankrupting retirees, is clearly an emergency.

Speaker Joe Straus and many House members, as they were during the regular legislative session, are ready to use a small portion of that fund – no more than 10 to 20 percent – to boost teacher pay, ease retiree health care costs and perhaps begin improving the school finance system.

Abbott and Patrick claim to support a teacher pay raise but refuse to spend any state funds, including the Rainy Day Fund, to pay for it. The Senate has approved a Patrick bill that supposedly would provide temporary health care relief to retirees and award bonuses (maybe) to some teachers. But instead of providing more funding, the bill would allegedly cover its costs by delaying payments to a woefully under-funded health care system for low-income Texans. At the Capitol, this is called an “accounting trick.” You also could call it a form of financial hocus-pocus.

Sen. Jane Nelson, the sponsor of the Patrick Senate bill, said using the Rainy Day Fund was not a permanent solution to education funding. She refused to admit that the Rainy Day Fund is a sound, legitimate source of emergency funding, certainly better than hers and Patrick’s now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t approach. Lawmakers need to use a small part of the Rainy Day Fund now and come back in the next regular session to enact a more-permanent plan for adequate, equitable school funding.

Abbott and Patrick persist in trying to mislead the public by claiming that the Rainy Day Fund is supposed to be reserved for the most catastrophic of physical disasters, such as hurricanes. Rep. John Zerwas, the Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, has called that interpretation “totally false.”

In truth, the fund, created in the 1980s in the wake of a serious budgetary emergency, was intended to help the state through future budgetary emergencies, such as what we are experiencing now. Previous Legislatures have periodically withdrawn from the fund for an assortment of emergency needs, and the fund repeatedly has been replenished with oil and natural gas production taxes and some general tax revenue.

The state comptroller has predicted the fund will grow to more than $11 billion by the end of fiscal 2019 if left untouched. Citing financial experts, Zerwas said the state can afford a partial withdrawal of several billion dollars without endangering the state’s credit rating.

By locking up the fund, Abbott and Patrick are representing the selfish interests of wealthy ideologues who want to shrink state government, including public schools, and privatize much of private education. If they succeed, today’s emergency could very well become a catastrophe tomorrow.





Taking teachers for granted with a fake pay “raise”


The fake teacher “pay raise” bill that the full Senate will vote on this week, perhaps today, is a product of an alternate universe, where trickery trumps reality and inhabitants believe they can take teachers’ votes for granted.

After all, Gov. Abbott, Lt.Gov. Patrick and the Senate majority – the lead inhabitants of this alternate universe — have been ignoring the needs of educators for years, and they are still in Austin.

Maybe that sense of hubris is what promoted Sen. Jane Nelson, the sponsor of the fake pay raise bill, to criticize House members for wanting to dip into the $10 BILLION Rainy Day Fund to pay for a real pay raise for educators. She called that a “false promise” and short-term solution.

So, how do Nelson and Dan Patrick propose “paying” for a pay “raise” for teachers and reducing health care costs for retirees?

First, they would put off a teacher pay raise until 2019 and then try to force local property taxpayers – who already pay for most education funding – to come up with the money. Then, they would use an accounting trick to delay payment to an under-funded health care system to allegedly give retired educators some limited, temporary relief.

The false promise, folks, is coming from the Senate leadership, and apparently the governor approves of the trickery because he hasn’t proposed an additional dime in state funding for teacher pay or education either.

The Rainy Day Fund – it’s the taxpayer’s money, not Dan Patrick’s or Greg Abbott’s – is $10 billion and growing. That is more than enough to raise teacher pay, improve health care for retirees and have lots of money left in the treasury.

It’s a real solution, not a sleight of hand designed to fool people on the eve of an election year.



Education, not ideology, drives business


Even when Texas was leading the nation in job creation while Rick Perry was governor, the political hype about the so-called “Texas miracle” was overblown, particularly since Texas also led the nation in the percentage of residents without health insurance and poverty was high. Living in Texas was anything but a miraculous experience for millions of people, but with low regulations and low taxes, many businesses loved to set up shop and expand here.

Millions of Texans still remain uninsured, partly because Perry and Gov. Greg Abbott both refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. And under Abbott, even the bloom has faded from the “Texas miracle” rose. Texas has dropped to 39th among the states in job growth, the gross state product has flattend out and its unemployment rate is higher than the national average for the first time in a long time, as Richard Parker writes in an oped, linked below, for The Dallas Morning News.

California, meanwhile, a state that Abbott often ridicules as too “liberal” and “anti-business,” has lower unemployment.

Parker blames much of the problem on the fact that Abbott and others who have taken over the Texas Republican Party are more interested in promoting “dogma” than economic development. (I would call it right-wing ideology.) This is why Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick forced a more-than-willing Abbott to call the Legislature into the current special session to pass a bill to regulate bathroom use by transgender individuals. Abbott and Patrick also will try to override the wishes of local voters by forcing more micro-management on cities, where, Parker notes, real economic growth is created.

Much of the business community strongly opposes the bathroom bill because it is a piece of discriminatory trash that will drive businesses, multimillion-dollar sports events and other economic development opportunities away from Texas.

Regulatory and tax policy help determine where businesses move and expand. But, as Parker points out, so do other factors, including availability of capital, quality of life, public infrastructure and, of course, education. State support of public schools has deteriorated under both Perry and Abbott to the point that Texas spends $2,500 less per student than the national average and $6,300 less than the national average in teacher pay.

As an afterthought to the bathroom bill and other ideological priorities, Abbott has added school finance and teacher pay to the special session’s agenda. But it remains to be seen how committed he is to either issue, since so far he hasn’t proposed any additional state funding.

Parker suggests that Abbott and his fellow ideologues aren’t talking “about economic growth because they don’t know anything about it – except maybe how to stand in its way.”

That is a pretty good description, at least, of their stance toward public schools.

Abbott, Patrick trying to hide their true, anti-education colors


As I hope most of you have figured out by now, neither Gov. Greg Abbott nor Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has any intention of raising teacher pay or retiree benefits during the special legislative session because neither is proposing any increase in education funding. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Abbott and Patrick have three education-related goals this session, which may prove to be one of the meanest gatherings of the Texas Legislature in recent memory. All three are bad news, and none has anything to do with teacher pay.

First, they want to ridicule and bully transgender students and educators with the discriminatory, divisive and unnecessary bathroom bill. Second, they want to peddle the voucher scam again. And, finally, they will try once more to weaken the political influence of teachers over education policy with a dues deduction bill to thwart the right of educators to spend their modest paychecks – their own money — the way they see fit.

The governor and the lieutenant governor concocted their eleventh-hour “pay raise” schemes for a reason. They are trying to cover their bankrupt public education records on the eve of reelection campaigns in which both will be trying again to fool parents and educators into thinking they actually give a rat’s tail about public schools or the people who work in them.

There are genuine teacher pay raise proposals on the horizon, proposals that actually would use state funds to boost teacher pay. Some legislators believe the state should tap into the Rainy Day Fund to pay for it.

The Rainy Day money is there, more than $10 billion, according to the state comptroller. That’s enough to cover a teacher pay raise, health care improvements and other critical public needs that Abbott and Patrick have persisted in ignoring.

The Rainy Day Fund is a state savings account that was intended to meet emergencies, and school finance, including teacher pay, is a growing emergency. But Abbott and Patrick want to keep your tax money bottled up to use as ideological bragging rights with voters who want to shrink government and privatize education.

Speaker Joe Straus recognizes the importance of increasing public education funding. Straus also opposes the bathroom bill and already is under attack from the Abbott and Patrick camps.

Getting a teacher pay raise or any additional education funding out of this special session will be difficult. If it happens, the push will come from Straus and the House, not from Abbott and Patrick.