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March 24th, 2006:

Craddick speaks on school funding

I have to say, this does not sound like the Tom Craddick I’m used to hearing.

Speaking to an audience of business and school leaders, Craddick said he thinks the state will end up paying for 60 percent to 65 percent of the $33 billion public school system, compared with the 35 percent that the state now picks up.

“There is a mode to shift back from the local property taxes, back to the state paying the larger share,” he said.

“I think you’ll see that done.”

Craddick, who has been meeting with House members in small groups this week, said he is waiting to see the final details of a business tax plan being devised by a commission appointed by Gov. Rick Perry.

“The proof’s in the pudding, at least it generally is in the Legislature,” said Craddick, adding that the state comptroller must sign off that the tax plan will raise sufficient revenue to pay for a cut in property taxes.

[…]

On the subject of teacher pay, Craddick said he would like to see money targeted at teachers who work in at-risk schools or take hard-to-fill jobs. But he said an across-the-board raise might be considered.

I don’t have the time right now to do the research, but this talk about the state picking up 60% of school funding sounds like a shift in rhetoric to me. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. I’ll have to look at it more closely. Just color me surprised for now.

As for the subject of teacher pay, all I’ll say for now is that as long as Kent Grusendorf continues to be Craddick’s point man on school finance, I’ll have my doubts about the Speaker’s willingness to consider an across-the-board pay raise.

Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, chairman of the House Public Education Committee, sniffed politics in the pay proposals.

Grusendorf, who lost his re-election bid last month to Diane Patrick, a GOP challenger backed by teacher groups, said of the proposers: “They’re in a bidding war for the teacher vote.” He said: “Aw, let’s give them $10,000. It’s not my money anyway, what do I care?”

‘Nuff said.

Meanwhile, Rick Casey talks to Glen Rosenbaum, the point man for law firms’ opposition to the new business tax proposal by the Texas Tax Reform Commission (TTRC), and distills the reasons for their resistance.

Here are the main points he made.

  • The big firms are not against paying business taxes. They have been on record in committee testimony since 1997 as supporting some forms of taxation that would include them.

    “We are not trying to kill or scuttle the Sharp Commission proposal,” he said. “We are simply trying to get a compromise when the bill is filed in the Legislature.”

  • Rosenbaum’s coalition has offered three compromises. The simplest one is to apply the tax to compensation over $500,000 or $550,000 rather than $300,000.

    That would amount to an annual savings of $2,000 or $2,500 per partner.

  • The primary objection is that the plan amounts to an income tax on partners in law firms, accounting firms, architectural firms and other professional partnerships. The partners are the ones who have to pay, unlike corporations, where the CEO may make well over $300,000 but the tax is levied on stockholders.

    The difference is that the partners are not only workers, but owners as well.

    Others argue that it is not an income tax. I would not bet a paycheck on how the courts would decide that question.

  • Rosenbaum argues that the way the plan is structured, it would tax lawyers and other professional partnership at a higher rate than the current franchise tax. I don’t know if that’s true. He admits lawyers have escaped the franchise tax, but says it is not good policy to try to overcharge a group because it has been undercharged in the past.
  • While 1 percent seems like a pittance, the firms are concerned that the Legislature would soon be under pressure to raise the rate.

    “With the business tax, a 1 percent raise would bring in $6 billion,” he said. “A 1 percent raise in the sales tax is $2.5 or $2.6 billion. So if you need to raise a billion dollars, you raise the business tax 0.2 percent.”

This, I suspect, is the real issue.

I would not want to bet on the outcome of the lawsuit that alleges the new business tax is in part at least inherently a personal income tax, either. Steph brought that up in the comments to that earlier post, too. I hope they at least run this past AG Greg Abbott to make sure they’ve dotted their I’s and crossed their T’s.

Of course, I could point out that if Rosenbaum et al drop their opposition if the tax threshhold is raised to $550K as they suggest, then the issue of this being an income tax isn’t really a matter of principle for them but of leverage. But that would be cynical of me.

What’s it all about?

In the comments to this post about the status of the charges against Tom DeLay, Right of Texas asks:

Don’t you agree that all of this is semi-politically motivated?

My honest answer, at least right now, is no, I don’t. Travis County DA Ronnie Earle has said that this case is about “cops and robbers”. I do believe that’s how he sees it, and I believe that’s what’s driving him.

That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t overstepped his bounds. One of the points raised by Earle’s critics in the movie The Big Buy is that Earle is prosecuting based on what he believes the law should be, not on what it actually is. While I think that if that were truly the case, all of the indictments would have been flushed by now, I do think there’s some merit to that assessment. I believe Earle is an idealist, and I think he sees himself as a protector of democracy and the integrity of elections. That doesn’t alter the facts of the case, but it does suggest that perhaps he’s a bit more motivated than another DA might have been.

I think Earle is taking a big risk by indicting Tom DeLay. From all that I’ve seen so far, I think he has a pretty solid case against the TRMPAC Three of Ellis, Colyandro, and RoBold. I think the reason why they’re pursuing this to my mind bizarre theory that checks are not the same as cash is because they know they’re in trouble on the facts, so their best bet is to get the law invalidated before a jury can be empaneled. It would have been much safer for Earle to simply go after these three guys. Convicting them would have been damaging to DeLay, enough so to have an effect on the 2006 election. Admittedly, DeLay would still be Majority Leader if he were not under indictment, and having a criminal trial hanging over his head is more damaging to him than just having three more felonious friends. But still, convicting the TRMPAC Three would be a blow to him and to his work.

Convicting DeLay is a taller order. I don’t doubt that everything these guys did was completely in accord with DeLay’s philosophy. I believe that to whatever extent he was involved in the daily business of TRMPAC, he authorized whatever was presented to him. I’m just not so sure he was all that hands-on, and unless someone (like RoBold, who’s been mysteriously quiet and apparently uninvolved in all the appeal activity) testifies that he did give the go-ahead on a specific item or two, I think it could be very hard to prove that he had a direct hand in the actual criminal acts. That’s why the conspiracy charge, whose dismissal Earle is appealing, matters – it’s the easiest of the three to prove.

I believe the risk for Earle is that in the end he’s going to be judged solely on whether or not he convicts DeLay. If he does, then that speaks for itself. If not, even if the TRMPAC Three go down on all the charges against them, I think the story line will be that Earle failed to get DeLay. He’s putting a reasonably achievable result on the line for one that’s more of a reach. I’m not sure I’d do the same if I were in his shoes.

So why bother? I don’t believe he’s doing it because indicting Tom DeLay benefitted (at least temporarily) the Democratic Party, nationally or in Texas. I just don’t see that as part of the equation for him. As such, if that’s your definition of “political motivation”, I disagree. I think Earle saw what happened in the 2002 elections – by that I mean the influx of corporate money and the way it was used – as a grave wrong, and I think he saw Tom DeLay as being ultimately responsible for it. I think it’s the fact that it happened, not who it happened to, that motivates him, and I think he believes the way to prevent it from happening again to anyone is to make an example of the person who made it happen this time.

That’s my opinion. There’s a lot of dime-store psychologizing in there, much or all of which could be utter BS, but after following this case for a long time, that’s how I see it.

One last thing: If the trial timeline does drag out past November 7, and if as DeLay believes Earle does drop the charges against him once Election Day is over, then (assuming there have been no adverse court rulings against him that would change his prospects) I will be forced to conclude that everything I’m saying here is wrong, and that Earle really did only care about submarining DeLay’s re-election chances. Obviously, I don’t believe that will happen. But if it does, I’ll take all of this back and admit that I was wrong.

You sure about that endorsement?

Via Greg, I see that State Rep. Al Edwards is claiming to have the endorsement of Texas Democratic Party Chair Charles Soechting for the April 11 runoff. While it’s not unheard of for a state party chair to get involved in a primary – for excellent reasons, Soechting has endorsed Barbara Radnofsky, while on the other side of the aisle, RPT Chair Tina Benkiser endorsed Kent Grusendorf in his losing primary battle – I at least would be a little surprised to see Soechting put down a marker here, given Edwards’ fealty to House Speaker Tom Craddick. I understand that inquiries have been made about this and a response is supposed to be forthcoming; when it is, I’ll pass it along. Stay tuned.

(Just so we’re all clear, Greg is doing work for Borris Miles. Don’t think that makes any difference here, but just so you know.)

UPDATE: Turns out the endorsement is legit. I stand corrected, and as noted, a little surprised.

Ethics Commission to review gifts to Ceverha

You may recall State Rep. Lon Burnham’s pursuit of bankrupt TRMPAC treasurer Bill Ceverha and his conflicts of interest as a member of the board of the Employees Retirement System of Texas – see here for the previous entry in the story. Today, the Texas Ethics Commission has a board meeting, at which Burnham will address them regarding his concerns. Here’s the press release:

State Rep. Lon Burnam will address the Texas Ethics Commission at their board meeting scheduled for [today], March 24, 2006, at 9:00.

One of the agenda items that the Ethics Commission is set to discuss tomorrow involves the check Bob Perry gave to Employees Retirement System board member Bill Ceverha after he was appointed by Speaker Craddick. Ceverha disclosed the gift from Perry only as a “check.” Ceverha never disclosed the amount of the check, basically making a mockery of the intent of disclosure laws.

Last week was Sunshine Week, but one week is not enough to shine a light on those who attempt to degrade disclosure laws in Texas. Exempting Bill Ceverha from disclosing the amount of a check given to him by the largest Republican donor in the state sets a very dangerous precedent. Any public official would be able to receive a cash “gift” and the public would never know if it was for $1,000 or $1,000,000. Democracy relies on disclosure and open government, not secret gifts to public servants.

According to the Texas Ethics Commission web site, the Perry-Ceverha check controversy will be addressed tomorrow during “Agenda item 16; Public discussion and possible action regarding a petition for rulemaking regarding the description of a gift that is reportable under section 572.023(b)(7) of the Government Code.”

WHO: Rep. Burnam/Ethics Commission

WHAT: Ethics Commission to address Perry check to Ceverha

WHEN: Friday, March 24, 2006 — 9:00 A.M. (Rep. Burnam will likely appear before the Board between 9:30 and 10:00.)

WHERE: Room E1.010, Capitol Extension

I’ll be looking for any media coverage after his testimony.

Woodland Heights home tour this weekend

Spring is here, and that means is home tour time.

The Woodland Heights Civic Association is first out of the box with this weekend’s tour, the group’s major fundraiser. The event also will mark the neighborhood’s 99th birthday.

“We live in a wonderful, historic area that pre-dates most of the defining moments in Houston’s history,” said Brigette Larson, who is co-chairing this weekend’s event with Emily Guyre and Felicia Zbranek. “People were living in the Woodland Heights before there was a Ship Channel, before there was a Rice University, before many parts of Houston were even envisioned.”

[…]

The homes will be open for viewing from 1-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Tickets are $15 (children 12 and under will be admitted free) and are being sold throughout the neighborhood at 14 sites.

Tickets will also be sold the days of the event at the homes and at the esplanade in the 3000 block of Norhill.

Tiffany and I are signed up to sell tickets from 1 to 3:30 on Saturday, so come by and see us. The article doesn’t say, but in years past there have been Metro trolleys to take you from house to house. If it’s a nice day and you want to get a little exercise, though, I’d suggest walking. Four of the six houses are within six blocks of the Esplanade, so most of the tour is easy enough to do on foot.

You can get a preview of the houses here. If that’s not enough to satisfy your hunger for historic homes, come back next weekend for the Houston Heights home tour. Have fun!

Requesting a mail ballot for the runoff

From Glen Maxey, via Patrick Franklin:

Exciting New Tool: Requests for Mail Ballots Made Simple

Help Barbara Radnofsky or your favorite local run-off candidate in the Democratic Primary Run-Off !

Here’s a great tool that has been developed to assist in getting vote by mail applications created for seniors, the disabled or people out of their county on election day and during early voting.

If you need an application, click on this link:
http://www.goodmail.org/Ballot/

(if the link doesn’t work, cut and paste the address in your browser)

When you finish, and print out the application, it’ll have the address and/or fax number of the correct Mail Ballot Clerk for your county. SIGN THE APPLICATION and mail or fax it.

Deadline for the application to reach the clerk is April 4th. Don’t delay!

Know someone off at college? In the hospital? Out of town this month? Have a friend living in a senior care facility? Have neighbors who need an application?

Send them this link so they can get an application. http://www.goodmail.org/Ballot/

Or do them a service by printing it out for them. They just need to sign it and mail it.

If this sounds like it could be useful to you, check it out.