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Ed Sills

It’s about the people who don’t have ID

We’ve had plenty of blue-sky stories telling us that the voter ID law has been no big deal. A few provisional ballots and some number of affidavits, sure, but everyone who’s wanted to vote has been able to vote, right? Sure, as long as they had one of the accepted forms of ID. But what about the people who don’t have them?

Gracie Sills is one such person. Here’s her story.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The “secondary identification” category is something the vast majority of Texans are virtually certain not to have two of.

As fortune would have it, my daughter Graciela Sills was born in Austin, Texas on Nov. 5, 1995. She thus became a 2013 voting baby, qualified by virtue of turning 18 on the very day of the first statewide election under the controversial Texas “voter ID” law.

Guided by a well-meaning Dad who participates in Texas politics as part of his living, my daughter’s first adult experience at a polling place was to get rejected.

It’s an off-year election, but Gracie was excited about getting her voice heard on constitutional amendments, local housing bonds and a special election in Texas House District 50. She also wanted to vote early for an arcane reason – to take advantage of a rare chance to start exercising the franchise legally at age 17.

In Texas, you can’t register to vote until you are within 60 days of your 18th birthday, so the window for registering in Gracie’s circumstances was as short as it gets. My boss, Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller, personally and with much delight handed Gracie the voter registration card that she used to mail in the application. The Secretary of State’s web site showed Gracie registered by early October, and a voter registration card arrived well ahead of early voting.

Like a growing number in her generation, Gracie decided to put off getting a driver license. Her reasoning: It takes a lot less road time to get the license after one turns 18. My suspicion: The idea of spending 30 or 40 hours being drilled on the fine points of three-point turns and parallel parks by her parents didn’t appeal to her. While the actuaries may have to take my daughter into account when setting auto insurance rates in the future, the relevant fact is that Gracie lacks the most common form of identification needed to vote.

We went to vote early as a family on Saturday, however, bringing Gracie’s passport instead, which we knew was a legitimate form of ID under the Texas “voter ID” law. To our horror, we discovered that unlike adult passports that last a decade, passports that are obtained by children when they are less than 16 are good only for five years. Gracie’s had expired in July.

My daughter didn’t have a valid photo ID for voting purposes. No driver license. No personal ID card from the Department of Public Safety. No U.S. citizenship certificate. No passport. No concealed handgun license. No military identification. The photo ID card from school was useless.

Gracie did eventually get one of the free DPS voter ID cards. Lots of Americans her age are deferring getting their drivers license. Driving is expensive, and in case you haven’t noticed the economy has been especially rough on the millennial set. Plus, a lot of them are more environmentally conscious than the rest of of us are, and would rather walk, bike, or take public transit. Why should anyone have to drive in order to vote? If the Lege had allowed student IDs to be used for voter ID, it would solve the problem for a lot of folks like Gracie. But they didn’t.

Older folks also have problems with voter ID, for the same reason – not having a drivers license. One such person is former Speaker Jim Wright.

Former House Speaker Jim Wright was denied a voter ID card Saturday at a Texas Department of Public Safety office.

“Nobody was ugly to us, but they insisted that they wouldn’t give me an ID,” Wright said.

The legendary Texas political figure says that he has worked things out with DPS and that he will get a state-issued personal identification card in time for him to vote Tuesday in the state and local elections.

But after the difficulty he had this weekend getting a proper ID card, Wright, 90, expressed concern that such problems could deter others from voting and stifle turnout. After spending much of his life fighting to make it easier to vote, the Democratic Party icon said he is troubled by what he’s seeing happen under the state’s new voter ID law.

“I earnestly hope these unduly stringent requirements on voters won’t dramatically reduce the number of people who vote,” Wright told the Star-Telegram. “I think they will reduce the number to some extent.”

Wright and his assistant, Norma Ritchson, went to the DPS office on Woodway Drive to get a State of Texas Election Identification Certificate. Wright said he realized earlier in the week that the photo identifications he had — a Texas driver’s license that expired in 2010 and a TCU faculty ID — do not satisfy requirements of the voter ID law, enacted in 2011 by the Legislature. DPS officials concurred.

But Wright and Ritchson will return to the office Monday with a certified copy of Wright’s birth certificate, which the DPS employees assured them would be good enough for the Texas personal identification card, designed specifically for people who do not drive.

Older folks often give up or don’t renew their drivers licenses when it becomes too difficult or expensive for them to drive. Unlike someone Gracie’s age, they do have the option of voting by mail, which doesn’t require ID. But a lot of these folks have been voting for fifty, sixty, seventy years, and voting to them means going to the ballot box and casting a vote in person, like they have always done. Why shouldn’t they be able to do this?

Now, both of these stories have happy endings. Gracie Sills and Jim Wright were able to get the IDs they needed in time to vote. Good thing they decided to vote early – if they’d started out today, like many people will, they would have had to cast a provisional ballot, then go through the bother of trekking to their election administrator’s office to make their votes count. They’re also both politically connected people – Gracie is the daughter of AFL-CIO Communications Director Ed Sills – who knew their rights and didn’t get discouraged along the way. How many people who are used to just showing up and voting won’t be so well placed? Maybe it won’t be that many today, but I bet it will be a lot more next year if this law is allowed to stand. All in the name of preventing something that basically never happens. Well, that’s the stated reason, anyway. We know what the real reason is. I feel confident saying that objective will be met.

The Chamber of Commerce tax cut

I mentioned before that a secondary reason for Governor Perry to veto HB770 and its Wayne Christian Beach House provision was an amendment slipped in by State Sen. Mike Jackson to give a property tax exemption to local chambers of commerce. Ed Sills of the Texas AFL-CIO went off on a righteous rant about this in his email newsletter the other day, and I wanted to reproduce it here. With his permission, it’s beneath the fold, so click on to read it.

(more…)

Oh by the way, the unemployment trust fund is going broke

Floor Pass has the bad news.

The Texas Workforce Commission released its latest projection for the unemployment insurance trust fund balance, and the news is even worse than last month’s.

TWC estimates the fund’s balance will have plummeted to just $19 million by October 1 – that’s $840 million below the trust fund’s legal minimum balance of $858. Last month, the TWC projected an $813 million deficit.

[…]

This is the third consecutive month where TWC has projected the fund to be worse off than the previous month’s estimate. High numbers of layoffs have meant the fund is paying out much more in benefits than usual. To put it in perspective, in the last week of March 2008 TWC paid 95,000 claims to the tune of $27 million in benefits. In the last week of March 2009, the fund paid 250,000 claims and $74 million in benefits – that’s about a 275 percent increase in benefits payouts from the previous year.

TWC’s 2009 Trust Fund Projections

January projection: $447 million below the floor
February projection: $750 million below the floor
March projection: $813 million below the floor
April projection: $840 million below the floor

At this rate, unemployed Texans will have to start paying the state instead of vice versa. Tell me again why some people think we shouldn’t take the federal stimulus money for unemployment insurance? And seriously, Arthur Laffer? For real? I can’t think of a better argument for taking the stimulus money than the fact that Laffer and Talmadge Heflin say we shouldn’t do it. Take it away, Ed:

Ed Sills, spokesman for the state AFL-CIO, urged the state to take the federal unemployment benefits money so it can soften next year’s employer tax increase and help more jobless Texans.

Noting that Laffer in 2006 predicted there wouldn’t be a recession, Sills said, “Citing Laffer for advice on how to run the Texas economy is like relying on candy manufacturers to set dental policy.”

Yeah. EoW has more.

When you look up “short-sighted” in the dictionary, this will be cited as an example

That’s our Governor, for whom the expression “penny-wise and pound-foolish” is a way of life.

Nearly a year ago, Gov. Rick Perry trumpeted $90 million in savings to businesses by temporarily suspending some of the burden of paying unemployment insurance taxes — money meant to replenish the unemployment compensation trust fund.

The suspended tax was reinstated this month, but officials said it won’t be enough to bridge the gap between the $414 million the state expects to be in the fund Oct. 1 and the $861 million it’s supposed to have.

By law, the fund must keep an amount equal to 1 percent of all taxable wages in Texas.

Now the Texas Workforce Commission must decide whether to raise the tax, issue bonds to meet the shortfall or see if the state could use an interest-free federal loan, said commission Chairman Tom Pauken, a Perry appointee who took office after the tax was suspended by the commission last year.

Pauken said jobless claims will be paid, and that last year’s suspension of the tax didn’t cause the problem.

“We will have the money to pay for the claims,” Pauken said Wednesday. “Here would be my concern: You don’t want to raise taxes substantially on employers at a time when it’s really tough to keep the doors open and keep people employed.

“So we want to try to — if taxes have to go up — make it as modest as possible to fund the system and look at other alternatives first,” he said.

[…]

The replenishment tax is just one part of the unemployment insurance tax. Last March, Perry directed the state to “bring that (replenishment) tax to a screeching halt for this year” when the fund stood at $1.6 billion.

By the end of 2008, the trust fund balance had fallen to $1.3 billion, Pauken said.

So we’d have still had a deficit, but it would have been $300 million less had it not been for Perry’s profligacy, the consequences of which no one could have possibly foreseen last year, when the economy was still peachy. Yeah, that’s the ticket.