My name is Carine Martinez, and I am the director for the Secure & Sovereign Texas campaign at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute based in Austin, Texas. Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of SJR 35 today. This subject is of particular importance to me as an immigrant, and a naturalized citizen of the United States.
House Bill 1605 Testimony
My name is Erin Davis Valdez, and I’m an education policy director at Texas Public Policy Foundation. I’m here to support HB 1605 both from the perspective of its value as good education policy and also from my perspective as a former educator and administrator.
Texas Budget: Paying more, getting less?
The House’s proposed budget for the 2024-25 biennium, House Bill 1, is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Committee of Appropriations on Thursday. As we move forward in the budget process, it is important to consider these two key questions:
Are we spending too much or too little?
To answer this question, we need a benchmark to compare the spending growth. Thankfully, the law already provides certain legal limits based on economic indicators.
Let’s start with General Revenue funds (GR), composed mostly of all the taxes levied by the state of Texas. Comparing appropriations from GR between 2022-23 and the budgeted for 2024-25 in HB1, we get a 9.2% increase for a total of $130 billion. The Texas Constitution limits spending growth to the estimated growth of the Texas economy. According to the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), the expected growth for the next biennium is 12.33%.
Last session, an additional cap was included based on the Foundation’s Conservative Texas Budget (CTB), but more on that later.
The statutory limit caps GR funds and General Revenue dedicated (GR-D) funds to the growth of population times inflation, which LBB also estimated at 12.33%. Considering both GR and GR-D funds, the growth is 8.7% reaching $136.4 billion.
So far, so good. However, the last component of State Funds, which is consolidated under “other funds,” is not subjected to any legal limit. Unsurprisingly, other funds increased by 43.5%, leaving the total growth of State Funds at 17.3%, higher than the non-legally binding limit of 12.33%.
Like other funds, federal funds do not have a legal limit. However, federal funds present a decrease of 5% compared to the last biennium, reaching $93.7 billion. Summing up all appropriations from all the funds (state and federal), we get $289 billion, with a 9% growth.
In order to assess whether spending growth from all funds is excessive for Texans, the Foundation developed the CTB. The CTB is a fiscal rule that limits spending growth based on population growth plus inflation. The rationale behind the CTB is that any increase in spending should be only justified if there are more people to be served with public services (measured by population growth) and if the cost of such services has increased (measured by inflation). By following the CTB, spending per capita adjusted for inflation remains constant over time. The CTB for 2024-25 is 16% for All Funds excluding property tax relief and disaster relief funds.
Overall, spending limits are doing their job for now, but keep in mind that the record-high inflation has provided more room for additional spending.
Are we spending wisely?
Now that we know how much we are spending, it is important to see if we are getting the best bang for our buck. Sadly, the answer is no. The Lone Star State remains behind the middle pack on the quality and performance of public services provided to its citizens. According to the U.S. News Best State ranking, Texas occupies the 31st position in public service performance. Similarly, WalletHub ranks Texas in the 36th position on the overall quality of government services. However, states like Florida and New Hampshire have demonstrated that a low-tax environment and high-quality public services are compatible and not mutually exclusive.
One way to improve the performance and reduce wasteful spending is to follow the Foundation’s recommendation to conduct private efficiency audits to every state agency. For instance, thanks to House Bill 1516 last session, Public Consulting Group (PCG) conducted an efficiency audit on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and released the results in 2022. The efficiency audit reported a duplication of services from the Alternatives to Abortion (A2A) program representing a potential saving of $41 million annually. This implies a saving per user of A2A ($322), which exceeds the amount received by the average TANF recipient in 2022 ($301). Despite this finding, HB1 would allocate an additional $120 million in the next biennium for a duplicative service that other programs can absorb, according to PCG.
In conclusion, even though HB1 complies with all the limits discussed before, would you pay extra for mediocre service? Not in the private sector. Should we hold the public sector to the same standard? I think so.
Senate Bill 2424: Testimony Before the Texas Senate Border Security Committee
Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of Senate Bill 2424, which would create a state misdemeanor or, depending on the context, a felony for those who illegally enter Texas via an international border. My name is Joshua Treviño, and I am the Chief of Intelligence and Research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan research institution in Austin, Texas. In my role, much of my work focuses on the violence in Mexico, and the reclamation of Texas’s sovereignty under the Constitution.
Why bring back a crony tax break program in Texas?
Calling business welfare, or crony capitalism, an economic development tool does not change what is happening in such transactions, nor does it make it better policy.
In the 87th Session of the Texas Legislature, in 2021, a wonderful thing happened: Chapter 313 of the Texas Tax Code was allowed to expire without lawmakers renewing it. The program allowed local school boards, which by the way always claim to be broke, to hand huge, long term school property tax breaks to businesses.
I don’t want to rehash all the problems the program but clearly it wasn’t a good thing program given that the respected free market Texas Public Policy Foundation was joined by leftwing groups in opposition to the renewal of the it.
In the 88th Legislature, House Speaker Dade Phelan and Calendars Committee Chairman Dustin Burrows of Lubbock are leading the way to replace Chapter 313 with House Bill 5 by Rep. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi, which claims to create a “temporary and limited competitive economic incentive” to attract big projects related to critical infrastructure, manufacturing as well as “national and state security and critical domestic supply chain support” industries, according to reporting by the Texas Tribune.
It is no surprise that businesses that are given an advantage over their competitors by politicians in the form of tax breaks want the program, or something similar, re-established. It’s also no surprise that many politicians want such restored because taking our money and handing it over to others buys them power, favors, and campaign donations.
The question I have is why do self-styled conservatives and free market advocates think it a good idea support this form of crony capitalism?
Wikipedia entries are not always trustworthy but the definition found there of crony capitalism is correct: “Crony capitalism, sometimes called cronyism, is an economic system in which businesses thrive not as a result of free enterprise, but rather as a return on money amassed through collusion between a business class and the political class.”
How is it good policy to give big school tax breaks to some companies, while others are forced to carry an even heavier tax burden in the same jurisdictions to make up for the lost revenue to local school districts? That seems a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. And worse, it punishes proven, existing taxpayers and their businesses to benefit speculative new entrants to their local markets.
Texas already has a very large fund for big business investment in the state, so why do local school districts need also make these deals?
“Texas has other mechanisms to grant publicly funded incentives to corporations as a means of attracting private-sector investment. But the ability to reduce school property taxes under Chapter 313 has been considered particularly critical in luring capital-intensive projects, such as factories, because of Texas’ relatively high property tax burden,” wrote Bob Sechler in the Austin American-Statesman about the issue in December of last year.
If it is true that high property taxes at local school districts make the business climate bad for attracting investment, then that is the problem: high local taxes, not a lack of tax breaks.
Why pervert the market by allowing school boards to get out of having to live with the economic playing field they have created? Those boards have set the high property tax rates that we are told spoil local investment so, let them do without the investment. The loss is a direct consequence of the policies those boards adopt.
Aside from shifting tax burdens onto other citizens and business in these jurisdictions, all we are doing with these tax break programs is removing a big incentive for local school boards to rein in spending and property taxes so that an attractive business climate is maintained.
We don’t need another Chapter 313, even if it is better than the old program by excluding the windmill and solar energy projects.
We do need legislators willing to address a fix to the real problem of investment hindering high property taxes. It’s time to phase out school district maintenance and operation taxes over a decade, as TPPF’s plan can do. That’s a real fix that lets businesses locate where market forces dictate, instead of where they can find politicians ready to give them a special deal.
No, Biden’s Approval Of Willow Project Isn’t A Change Of Heart On American Energy
A change in tone is not a change in tactics — and President Joe Biden’s recent approval of the Willow project, which will allow ConocoPhillips to drill for oil and gas on lands in Alaska leased from the federal government, isn’t a deviation from his openly declared goal. During his campaign, Biden said, “I guarantee you we’re going to end fossil fuels.” And even as the administration announced that Willow would move forward, it’s continuing to prevent or limit drilling in 16 million acres of Alaskan land.
Let’s start with the $8 billion Willow project. Though President Biden acknowledged during his State of the Union address that “we’re going to need oil for a decade, and beyond that,” his commitment to a Net Zero future is unabated. As the New York Times pointed out, “The distance between Mr. Biden’s campaign pledge and his blessing on that plan, known as the Willow project, is explained by a global energy crisis, intense pressure from Alaska lawmakers (including the state’s lone Democratic House member), a looming election year and a complicated legal landscape that government lawyers said left few choices for Mr. Biden.”
We should also add that gas prices remain painfully high, with the national average at $3.47 a gallon for unleaded gas, with many Californians paying more than $5 per gallon.
No, the approval of Willow wasn’t a concession to the reality of our need for fossil fuels in virtually every aspect of our lives. Instead, it was an acknowledgement of just how bad the federal government’s case against the Willow project was. ConocoPhillips acquired the leases in 1999 and began the permitting process in 2018. The company points out that the project has been in the works “through five presidential administrations,” and has “undergone multiple years of rigorous regulatory review and environmental analysis.”
And as the NYT explained, the administration’s attorneys knew that “refusing a permit would trigger a lawsuit that could cost the government as much as $5 billion.”
Next, approving the Willow project allows President Biden to pretend he’s addressing rising energy costs. In reality, that development will take years, and will likely be bogged down in litigation by environmental groups.
While the Biden administration pats itself on the back for Willow, it has also announced that it will ban drilling in 3 million acres in the Beaufort Sea, and limit drilling on 13 million more acres in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
The thing is, President Biden is right — we will continue to need fossil fuels far, far into the future. And if we can’t extract American petroleum, using our cleaner and more environmentally responsible methods, then we’ll simply have to buy oil and gas on the world markets—from nations that aren’t as responsible or accountable. We’ll be forced to buy from countries such as Iran and Venezuela, thereby funding the terrorists and the terrorist regimes that wish us ill.
Already, the administration is appeasing the dictators who lead those nations, in hopes of increasing our oil supplies. A prisoner swap with Iran appears to be in the works (which would include un-freezing some Iranian assets), and the Biden administration last year “scaled down” sanctions on Venezuela in order to buy that nation’s crude oil.
If President Biden is serious about restoring American energy independence, he would stop attacking the oil and gas industry with anti-energy regulations, such as the methane rule, that continue to keep prices high without any meaningful benefit to the global environment.
A change of tone isn’t enough — it’s time for the Biden administration to have a change of heart on American energy independence.
Short-Term Occupational Programs: Are There Benefits, and Should We Be Funding Access to Them?
Despite increasing intrigue over the last decade, short-term postsecondary programs remain ineligible for the Pell Grant. Do the benefits outweigh the cost?
– Pell Grants are one of the primary methods the federal government uses to encourage postsecondary enrollment.
– However, programs lasting less than 15 weeks are not eligible for Pell Grants.
– These programs cost less than half of what a traditional associate degree costs.
– Some short-term programs provide substantial returns, though some do not.
– Pairing expanded Pell eligibility to programs less than 15 weeks with strong accountability measures would allow more working-class people to upskill while minimizing the waste of taxpayer dollars.
Designating Mexican Cartels as Terrorist Organizations
This paper outlines the reasons and available mechanisms to treat Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations.
– The U.S. should designate Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.
– The Mexican cartels meet the legal definition of terrorism according to the Immigration and Nationality Act.
– Whether it is prudent or desirable for the U.S. to designate the Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations is not merely a legal question: It is primarily a political question and must be addressed at that level.
– U.S. law defines both terrorism and terrorist activity, thereby providing a standard that policymakers can use in determining whether to designate an organization as a terrorist organization.
– Fears that an FTO designation for Mexican cartels would result in a flood of asylum claimants and admittees will likely be unrealized.
Just say no to tax-funded drug consumption sites
A new bill in Colorado, HB 1202, would allow communities to set up “safe injection sites” in hopes of curbing the state’s overdose crisis. Its sponsors argue that people can’t kick their habit if they are dead.
Colorado, for once, isn’t charting the course to the drugging of people — it’s simply following the misguided lead of the federal government.
In 2019, the Department of Justice sued Safehouse, a Philadelphia nonprofit group, to prevent its launch of a “safe injection site,” more accurately described as a supervised drug consumption site. The DOJ successfully argued such sites were illegal under federal law.
Under the Biden administration, however, the DOJ entered settlement talks with Safehouse and recently asked the court for “ a couple more weeks to reach amicable resolution ,” ignoring North America’s recent and problematic history with such sites.
San Francisco launched the nation’s first supervised drug consumption site in 2021. New York City followed with two more sites.
San Francisco’s site, the Linkage Center, was sold to the community as a taxpayer-funded way to link illegal drug abusers to treatment services. Dealers quickly realized the benefits of relocating to just outside the lucrative marketplace. Chaos and crime ensued, which left locals questioning city officials as to whether the promise of the site was being realized. The results were slow-walked but unsurprising: 0.003% of site customers accessed drug treatment services. Within one year of operation, the failed experiment was shut down.
New York City’s two taxpayer-funded drug sites generated a similar outcry from locals. Not only did city officials choose to plop these sites into Harlem, a community already struggling with significant social ills, but the Harlem-based sites quickly became open-air drug markets in which dealers flourish. Harlem’s children now navigate sidewalks riddled with used syringes. Officials happily address neighbors’ concerns with overdose reversal stats, but data on the number of customers accessing treatment services are “unavailable.”
These experiments, completely ignored by Biden’s DOJ, were modeled after North America’s first supervised drug consumption site opened in 2003 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver officials excitedly share that 6,000 overdoses have been reversed since the site launched. But they are conspicuously reluctant to admit that fewer than 2% of site visitors access drug treatment of any kind, that Vancouver’s illicit drug toxicity deaths have risen by 840% since the site opened, and that heroin possession and trafficking incidents have increased by nearly 170% from 2004 to 2018.
The lesson from Vancouver is that overdose reversal is misleading as a sole metric of success. It distinctly omits the harm experienced by a site’s surrounding community while ostensibly condoning prolonged harm to the addict.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies addiction as a medical condition — a brain disease that needs treatment, not enabling. “Revived” drug abusers often continue to abuse illegal substances, making them subject to toxic brain injury, according to the Brain Injury Association. Repeat abuse destroys frontal lobe tissue, the source of motor function and judgment, and can lead to repeat overdose that is likely to result in further brain injury, including hypoxia or brain anoxia, in which the body forgets how to breathe.
With our nation’s drug crisis at an all-time high, the nation can ill-afford public policy ventures that reject human transformation and second chances. People struggling with addiction, as well as the families and communities crushed under its weight, deserve a “free” way, not a highway to hell. Texas will be leading the nation in constructing such freeways through SB 1388 and HB 4667 — legislation to ban supervised drug consumption sites.
DEI ideas have gotten twisted
In some cases, they promote the opposite: homogeneity, inequality, and exclusion
I must tip my hat to some of my friends on the left side of the political spectrum. They are some of the best wordsmiths in our society. Not only have they coined the awful word “woke” into one of the most used words in our vocabulary, they have come up with phrases such as defund the police (the central role of a municipal government is provide security); whiteness (a term of racial division); and ESG or environmental, social governance (judging a company based on social issues versus shareholder value).
The list goes on. But the one that worries me most is the misuse of the terms diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Before you punch your computer screen or rip up your newspaper into tiny bits, hear me out. There are important ways that society can and should elevate people who have not had opportunities in this country. But the way DEI is applied in too many places risks deepening division rather than correcting historical wrongs.
Look at the recent news from Texas Tech University. A Wall Street Journal report about human resources practices in Tech’s biology department showed officials took it upon themselves to require job candidates to submit to ideological judgment based on DEI principles. Responses about DEI matters were heavily weighted in hiring decisions regardless of credentials or abilities.
This isn’t the way to make sure we are providing the best education. After the Journal exposed what was happening, the policy of asking about ideology under the guise of DEI changed. But we should be asking how this happened in the first place. Why were candidates judged on their use of the words “equality” vs. “equity” or their willingness to make land acknowledgment statements or which pronouns they used to make general references to faculty members?
Part of the answer surely lies in the way DEI is practiced vs. how it should be practiced, if the words diversity, equity and inclusion were applied according to their true meaning.
At first blush, like so many phrases embraced in the lexicon of the left, diversity, equity and inclusion are in themselves mild and virtuous. They represent something that Americans would embrace.
Diversity in its simplest form means “being composed of differing elements.” Organizations are stronger when there is a mixture of opinions, backgrounds, experiences and personalities joined together in a common goal. However, the meaning and application of diversity promoted under bad DEI practices has little to do with different points of view or experience. It instead embraces the idea of distinct and rival groups pitted against one another in a power struggle. This is unhealthy for a pluralistic society.
The basic definition of equity, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means freedom from bias or favoritism. But the left’s use is an Orwellian opposite of this meaning. What is promoted as equity is actually the denial of opportunities to some and the elevation of others based on the expectation of righting a historical or societal wrong. No one can deny the inequality and abuse that ancestors of many of our citizens experienced either because of their skin color, nationality or sex. It was wrong then, and it is wrong today. The Declaration of Independence declares human equality, and while the actions of many of our Founding Fathers conflicted with this principle, it was true then and is true today. We are created equal and should be treated equally as it relates to opportunity.
However, a central tenet of the practice of DEI in many places now imposes inequality as a response to inequality and abuse in the past. In his foundational book “How to Be an Antiracist” on the equity movement, Ibram X. Kendi wrote that “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination.” That idea guides bad DEI practice. To undermine the principles of equality in the name of equity is to undermine the very foundation of our democracy. Those principles were abused and ignored through too much of our history. Returning to that point is no answer for the future.
Finally, let’s look at inclusion. The proper use of inclusion and diversity are similar. While diversity means being composed of different ideas, inclusion means to take in or comprise as part of a group. This word is being reshaped in an insidious way. As happened at Tech, too many promoters of DEI want to only include those who agree with them.
We deserve a society where we can civilly debate public policy, and where we should not shy away from voicing our political beliefs (or declining to echo the beliefs of others) for fear we won’t get a job that has nothing to do with politics. That is at the root of genuine inclusion.
There is an important place for genuine DEI in our country. Let me tell you about a company I work with. The company’s board fully supports diversity in its true meaning. They want and value a workforce of varied opinions, backgrounds, experiences and skill sets. To accomplish this, they need to make sure their job candidate pool includes a wide range of applicants.
To reach a place of genuine diversity and offer equality, they must work hard to ensure they recognize and remove any unconscious bias.
And of course, the board seeks inclusion. They believe a healthy culture grows from a workforce of diverse opinions, backgrounds and skill sets.
Gov. Greg Abbott has faced a lot of criticism for his order that state agencies not participate in DEI hiring. He did the right thing, because the way DEI has been applied appears to have created ideological tests for employment. That’s un-American.
But there is a way to bring DEI into the workforce that promotes American principles of diversity of thought and experiences, that offers people a chance at employment and promotion and that includes people with different voices and skills who deserve a shot at opportunity and advancement.
Human Trafficking: Local Solutions for a Global Problem
Texas is a hub for human trafficking, but Austin City Councilwoman Mackenzie Kelly hopes to make her city a place where those being trafficked can find help.
According to the Texas Attorney General’s Office, Texas ranks No. 2 in the nation for the number of human trafficking cases. The AG reports that “3,559 substantive contacts were made in Texas in 2020, resulting in 987 human trafficking case reports.”
Kelly says she learned the extent of human trafficking when she went to a homeless encampment as part of a ride-along with the Austin police.
“I met a woman who was in distress. I spoke with the sergeant about her situation, and he let me know that she was being sex trafficked in the camp,” Kelly explains. “At that point, it broke my heart because it occurred to me that she couldn’t be the only person experiencing homelessness in this type of situation. Our city needs to do more to help these people get lifted out of their situation.”
The resolution Kelly authored and spearheaded will provide resources to companies that contract with the city that will enable them to get training on identifying the victims of sex trafficking, particularly among the city’s homeless population.
This measure includes, but is not limited to:
Providing educational materials describing indicators of human exploitation and trafficking to be displayed by non-profits or vendors that enter contracts with the City related to homelessness or housing.
Providing appropriate resources to ensure vendors who enter into contracts with the City have the skills to safely report suspicious activity to the proper authorities, including those from agencies such as the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Working with the Austin Chamber of Commerce to encourage local business participation.
Supporting victims of human trafficking through referrals to available support services.
Displaying educational materials describing indicators of human exploitation and trafficking in permanent supportive housing, bridge shelters, or overnight shelters owned or operated in the city, and all city buildings.
In addition, the resolution encourages the Texas Legislature and the Austin community to support enabling legislation to end human trafficking.
“I hope this resolution brings awareness to the issue of human trafficking,” Kelly told Austin Journal. “My intention is to also ensure that social service providers within the city have the skills needed to recognize signs of human trafficking and enable the victims of human trafficking to get the support they need to recover.”
Biden’s Rejection of the D.C. Crime Bill Looks Like Politics, Not Principle
Any doubts around President Joe Biden’s running for reelection were dispelled by his reversal on D.C.’s new crime bill, a political punch that blindsided Washington D.C. and House Democrats. In an attempt to stem anger at this betrayal, Biden described his decision in policy terms—he simply couldn’t stand by and let D.C. enact lower penalties for violent crime. But we need only look at Biden’s own criminal justice record to see that the policies in this bill aren’t his problem. It’s the politics, plain and simple.
Although this drama only recently burst into the national news, D.C. policymakers have spent years trying to figure out how to update a criminal code that’s largely the same as it was a century ago. The resulting bill is enormous, though most of the focus has landed squarely on reductions to penalties for certain violent crime, including carjacking and murder. The bill sailed through the D.C. city council, which then overrode a veto by Mayor Muriel Bowser in a 12-1 vote.
In any other place in America, that would be the end of it. In Washington, D.C., however, Congress gets the final say, with the authority to reverse any new legislation passed by D.C. city leaders. The GOP-led House did exactly that with the D.C. crime bill, even garnering 31 Democratic votes along the way. Shortly thereafter, President Biden put an end to any speculation about its future by signaling that he, too, would support the reversal.
While Biden’s team tried to convince the public he was taking a principled stand to keep Americans in the capital safe, his own previous statements show otherwise.
Take, for example, his specific claim that he doesn’t support “lowering penalties for carjacking.”
The bill alters carjacking penalties in two big ways. First, it eliminates the existing mandatory minimum sentences attached to it. Second, it lowers the maximum possible penalties for carjacking from 21 to 18 years in prison, and for armed carjacking from 40 to 24 years.
Clearly, President Biden’s problem cannot be the elimination of the mandatory minimum since his campaign stated unequivocally that “Biden supports an end to mandatory minimums.” So, the issue must be those maximum sentences. Yet, if 18 years for carjacking or 24 years for armed carjacking were such problems for the president, where is the president’s outrage over his beloved home state of Delaware, for example, which has eight-year and 25-year maximums, respectively?
Perhaps his concerns relate less to the actual sentences and more to the general idea of lowering them. However, President Biden stated during his campaign that he supports cutting the incarcerated population by over 50%. Given that about 2/3 of prisoners are in for violent offenses, where exactly does he think that reduction is coming from? He’s not made it clear where he plans to focus these cuts to accomplish this goal.
The truth is that President Biden watches the news and has plenty of aides who can tell him which way the wind is blowing on crime. Americans still want to improve the criminal justice system—one poll in October 2022 found that 8 in 10 Americans support criminal justice reform. But Americans have also seen violent crime rise in many places over the last few years and want real action to address it. A bill that eliminates the possibility of a life sentence for premeditated murder misses this moment entirely.
While many have used the D.C. crime bill to attack all efforts to reform the criminal justice system, it’s folly to believe that doggedly upholding the status quo or mindlessly raising sentences will do much more to combat violent crime. Sentences, whether higher or lower, tend to only affect crime at the margins. Instead, the key is to focus on prevention and deterrence efforts that can actually alter the odds of or opportunity for criminal behavior. Measures that improve clearance rates, for example, target the small group of people driving violent crime in most places, or simply speed up the delivery of consequences for criminal behavior.
Chances are that President Biden will trot out his D.C. crime bill stance in his ensuing campaign for reelection as proof of his commitment to end violent crime. However, Americans should review the reality behind his statements and scrutinize his record in its entirety. It’s a purely political act divorced from the reforms in the bill and unrelated to the kinds of policies that can actually help bring down violent crime.
Supplying Water for the Future of Texas
Texas needs to update its water policies to ensure secure and dependable water supplies that will support a prosperous economy.
– Texas as a whole has plentiful water resources, but regional supply challenges must be addressed. Crafting sound water policy is complicated by ownership and insufficient infrastructure.
– Existing policies, particularly surface water restrictions, act to restrict statewide water development and distribution.
– Hill Country aquifer challenges reflect much of the statewide water issues.
– Promising options exist to develop additional water resources that will meet Texas’ water needs.
– Market-based solutions would benefit Texas’ needs for water and protect property rights.
House Bill 4: Testimony Before the Texas House Business & Industry Committee
David Dunmoyer is the Campaign Director for Better Tech for Tomorrow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Data privacy reform is the single most important technology issue for Better Tech for Tomorrow, as it will establish guardrails to promote responsible innovation while protecting personal data and recognizing it as property of the individual.
No Executive Accountability for Fentanyl Crisis
Rebecca Kiessling testified before Congress to talk about the risk of fentanyl poisoning and why it is of the upmost importance to her. Fentanyl killed her two young sons, Caleb and Kyler. And she is just one of millions of parents experiencing this tragedy.
When confronted about it, the president did what he does best—mumble, lie, and redirect.
After a chuckle, President Biden stated, “that fentanyl they took came during the last administration.” I was unaware that when someone dies due to narcotics, that you can then detect exactly when that drug came into the U.S. But if the president is correct and we can detect this, he should certainly point all of his fingers in his direction.
More fentanyl has crossed into the United States from Mexico than ever before, and it is coming from at and in between ports of entry. This week, DEA in Los Angeles busted three Mexican nationals with one million fentanyl pills. Michigan State Police intercepted about three million fentanyl-laced pills, the largest fentanyl seizure yet in the state, with a street value estimated at $9 million.
Fentanyl has rapidly become the number one cause of overdose deaths in the U.S., and the leading cause of death among adults ages 18-45.
There are many factors at play when it comes to fentanyl. China is the largest manufacturer of the drug, and Mexican cartels have become the leading producer of fentanyl-laced opioids. So why is President Biden largely to blame?
As the chief executive of our nation, he has failed to take any real action to secure America’s borders from criminal transnational organizations. In fact, he instead has taken action to make it the least secure border we’ve ever had. While doing so, his administration has been sure to redirect any blame for their border crisis onto previous administrations and their opposing party.
The fiscal year 2024 budget released by the Biden administration tells you all you need to know about the president’s priorities. While climate change is mentioned 42 times, fentanyl is mentioned only two. One of those two mentions is in the summary. Biden is investing more than $23 billion for “climate change resilience,” but he is only allocating $40 million to combat fentanyl trafficking.
President Biden’s budget signals his satisfaction with the current state of our border and its impact on every household in America. According to President Biden, record numbers of illegal crossings and over 70,000 Americans dying of fentanyl poisoning in 2021 are not priorities. Instead he will focus on raising taxes to pay for green new deal projects and imposing radical gender policies across America.
Without measures in place to secure the border, large numbers of got-aways will continue to spill into our country, and with them more drugs, more criminals, and more American deaths. Congressional Republicans and Democrats need to come together to act on border security so that we can then focus on a safe, humane and effective immigration system that will embrace legal pathways to citizenship for those who enter the U.S. legally and at the same time aggressively counter human smuggling and drug trafficking.
At this moment, the brutality of what is happening daily in border communities is on full display and fentanyl deaths show the impact of an unsecure border on the entire country. Our national leaders must act. Secure the border, stop the drugs, and keep Americans safe.
If State Monuments Reveal What We’re Made Of, Don’t Mess With Texas
Our nation’s monuments reflect the people who made it their home, the struggles they endured, and the values that made it possible.
Every civilization erects monuments to the things its members wish to celebrate. It does us well to occasionally stop and reflect on the nature of these monuments and what they depict; they can reveal a great deal about the communities in which we immerse ourselves.
Texas is a different sort of place — while it’s now a state, it was once a nation for almost 10 years. A few other states also gave nationhood a go.
Vermont had a rather cantankerous past. It got its start as a group of rebellious New York counties with a reputation for tarring and feathering New York tax collectors. It operated as a republic for 14 years through 1791 though no nation recognized it. As the Revolutionary War started to turn against America, the state started to negotiate to rejoin the British empire as part of the Province of Quebec during the Haldimand Affair — but the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781 put an end to that.
The Republic of West Florida in present-day southwest Mississippi was a nation for just over two months until it was annexed by the U.S. in 1810. Hawaii had a republic for a few years after its monarchy was overthrown in 1893 with the help of some U.S. Marines.
And California was a republic for all of 25 days until it was handed over to a U.S. military governor for safekeeping amid the Mexican-American War in 1846.
My family moved from California to Texas in late 2011. Prior to that, I was a California state assemblyman for six years and was also in the California Army National Guard, retiring from reserve service as a lieutenant colonel in 2007.
Now as part of my work for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, I frequently visit the Texas Capitol and its grounds, only two blocks away from the office. Recently, coming back from testifying before a committee, I noticed that Texas’ monuments had a decidedly martial air — with rifles, swords, pistols, and even several cannons.
But it wasn’t until the bright last day of February when returning from a meeting with legislative staff and noticing an anti-Second Amendment rally on the steps of the Texas State Capitol that I got to thinking seriously about armed statues.
Recalling the state park around the California Capitol, I mused that if the statuary animated and it came to a scrape, the Texas Capitol’s monumental denizens would easily overpower California’s. So, as any history buff would do, I decided to test my memory and look up the statues around and in the capitols of America’s two most-populous states.
Sure enough, of 12 life-size monuments depicting people, things, or animals on California’s Capitol grounds, four were armed. Of 26 life-size depictions on the Texas state grounds, fully 19 were armed or were actual weapons — giving Texas almost a 5-to-1 advantage in this department.
States reflect the people who made them their home, the past and present, the conflicts fought within them, the geography, and other factors. Most American states are larger in size and population than many European nations.
In Texas’ case, many of its first American settlers came from Tennessee, and many of those Tennesseans traced their roots to the Scots-Irish settlers from the Ulster area in Northern Ireland. They were a feisty lot.
Texas fought 12 battles in its war for independence from Mexico. It won the first six, lost five in a row, including at the Alamo, and then won the last battle at San Jacinto. Texas then operated as an independent republic for almost a decade.
California’s struggle for independence from Mexico lasted all of 10 days and, after much scheming and maneuvering, resulted in the sole battle of Bear Flag Revolt at the Battle of Olómpali in which 20 militiamen of the California Republic defeated a force of 50 Mexican infantry backed up by 20 irregulars in what is now Marin County. The California republic lasted less than a month.
So, how would a battle to take California’s Capitol go?
Approaching from the west, the first signs of resistance would be offered by the California Peace Officers’ Memorial, with four officers equipped with handguns just across the street from the Capitol steps.
The advance up the steps would be uncontested, and as the living statues broke into the rotunda, where once a statue of Christopher Columbus accepting his commission from Queen Isabella might have given pause — Columbus had a fine sword — alas, the statue, donated in 1883, was removed in 2020 in the wake of the violence surrounding the death of George Floyd in police custody.
Outside the governor’s office, a large bronze grizzly bear might take a bite out of the attack — it was donated in 2009 by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Moving through the Capitol into the 40 acres of the California State Capitol Park, Texas statues would encounter the greatest resistance. “El Soldado” of the California Mexican-American Veterans Memorial has a rifle, the soldiers in the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial can muster two rifles and a grenade, and the “Hiker” in the Spanish American War Memorial is also armed with a rifle. The battleship USS California has representation, but alas, it is only the ship’s bell rather than its dozen 14-inch guns.
After that quick rout, the attackers can accept California’s surrender in the World Peace Rose Garden at the end of the California State Capitol Park.
In contrast, an assault on the Texas Capitol would exact a terrible toll on any attacker, whether they be marble, granite, bronze, or iron.
Approaching the Capitol from the south, up Congress Avenue, the first sign of trouble comes from a lady with a cannon. Angelina Eberly was an Austin innkeeper who uncovered Sam Houston’s secret plot to remove the state archives from Austin to safekeeping in Washington-on-the-Brazos. Realizing that the loss of the archives would be bad for business, Eberly fired the cannon to rouse Austinites to the Texas Archive War. The archives were retrieved without further incident.
Moving past Eberly and her six-pounder, a tremendous cannonade ensues — from real cannons! The Texas Capitol grounds feature two 12-pounder brass cannons dating to 1864, a wrought iron 12-pounder cannon, and two 24-pounder howitzers dating from the Texas Revolution.
Then the small arms fire starts. No fewer than six monuments: Heroes of the Alamo, Terry’s Texas Rangers, Texas African American History, Tejano, Confederate Soldiers, and Hood’s Texas Brigade wield no less than 12 rifles, two pistols, a sword, a saber, a bayonet, and a large knife. Two more monuments, the Spanish American War and Gold Star Mothers, provide flanking fire from the west with two rifles. Meanwhile, the Goddess of Liberty coordinates the fight from atop the Capitol dome armed with a massive sword.
Whatever’s left of the attacker, once inside the Capitol, now faces an angry Sam Houston, armed with a sword, and Stephen F. Austin, carrying a rifle.
Breaking through to the north side of the Capitol, an entire Vietnam-era fire team could engage with a sniper rifle, two M-16s, an M79 grenade launcher, a light antitank weapon, three grenades, and bayonets.
And if the fusillade from the Vietnam Veterans Monument wasn’t enough, the 9-11 era Price of Liberty Memorial would offer a parting shot.
The monuments surrounding the Texas Capitol serve as a reminder that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
Or, put simply: Don’t mess with Texas.
Now is the Time to Empower East Texas Parents
When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visits Tyler Thursday evening, he’ll bring a clear and simple message: Texas parents have the right to direct the upbringing—and education—of their children. There’s much, much more to the governor’s plan—and for the future of Texas education.
Yet despite the vast body of evidence demonstrating that parent empowerment improves education for everyone, opponents of Gov. Abbott’s plan claim it will “destroy” public schools.
We’ll address that in a moment. For now, we’ll point out how popular parent empowerment is with Texas families. Strong majorities—even of Democrats—support allowing education funding to follow the child. Among Democrats, 53% of those polled by UT Tyler say they support allowing “parents to use state funding to send their children to private schools.”
For the record, that’s not “state funding.” That’s money from the pockets of Texas taxpayers—let’s not forget that, including Texas parents.
But parent empowerment’s strongest supporters are the families many of whom are likely to be trapped in underperforming schools—many are low-income and many are minority parents. Fully 65% of Latinos polled and 57% of Black respondents support parent empowerment in Texas. Denying these families the ability to ensure their child gets the best education possible is abandoning thousands of Texas children to an educational experience that is failing them.
The issue here is freedom. All parents, regardless of their financial ability, should have the freedom to select the best school for their child—not just the parents with the financial means to move to a great public school district or afford to write a tuition check. All families, regardless of income, should have the power to pick the school that fits them, instead of the government assigning them a school based on their address.
But it’s not just choice. Empowering parents means all parents, including those in public schools, can count on transparency, high-quality options (because the vast majority of students will remain in their traditional public schools), and on being treated with respect as the ultimate decision maker in their child’s life.
That means no more jailing parents for speaking up at school board meetings. No more secretly “transitioning” young children, behind their parents’ backs. No more restraining special needs kids. And no more revisionist history that tells blatant lies to our children about Texas or America.
Will the Texas education system be destroyed? Fortunately, ESAs are nothing new. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have passed some form of school choice. Florida was one of the first to adopt ESAs. From 2003 to 2019, NAEP outcomes show that Florida’s elementary school reading proficiency for low-income students increased from No. 33 in the United States to No. 1.
Nor will public schools be “defunded.” According to a 2021 study, “In the five states with the most robust educational choice policies, inflation-adjusted funding per pupil increased between 1.2 percent (Arizona) to 12.7 percent (Ohio) since 2002, which is not long after four of the five states enacted their first educational choice policy.”
Gov. Abbott also pledges to pay for ESAs out of the general fund rather than the education budget. We’ll be able to tell at a glance that he’s kept his word and not cut public education funding, including increasing teacher pay.
Texas Republican voters were asked in March if they support parent empowerment—and 87.8% said they do. Here in Smith County, that number was 89%.
The time is now. We can ensure that all Texas parents have the power to decide what’s best for their children. And Gov. Abbott is leading the way.
A Good Time to ‘Pause’ DEI at UT
The University of Texas Board of Regents just made a very good decision to “pause any new DEI policies on our campuses.” Tech Tech, the University of Houston and Texas A&M also say they are working to end DEI on their campuses. In making the announcement, University of Texas Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife also said he has asked for a report on current DEI policies across all campuses.
DEI, the acronym for the so-called diversity, equity and inclusion policies, has become a driving force on many Texas campuses, including UT, through a vast administrative network that controls hiring and promotions. It also employs aggressive strategies that infuse DEI into curriculum.
DEI’s advocates relentlessly insist that their goal is minority recruitment or fair treatment, but that is just the cover story. As the National Association Scholars noted in a report on UT earlier this year, “a large bureaucracy devoted to advancing the vague goals of DEI” is evident throughout the university.
Eltife clearly states the difference, noting that UT welcomes “welcomes, celebrates and strives for diversity on our campuses in our student and faculty population…”
But he notes DEI has become something else:
“I also think it’s fair to say that in recent times, certain DEI efforts have strayed from the original intent to now imposing requirements and actions that, rightfully so, has raised the concerns of our policymakers about those efforts on campuses across our entire state.”
To understand the difference between ensuring that Texas college campuses are comprised of students and staff that reflect the broad diversity of our state and the pernicious goals DEI, it is important to examine exactly what the DEI ideology is and how it operates in the academic space.
DEI is rooted in critical race theory (CRT) and the new gender ideologies. Over the last couple decades, DEI has morphed both theories beyond being just left-wing ideas into structured operating systems.
The template for the fall schedule at UT’s McCombs School of Business demonstrates the result. It includes a content warning section that some of the business courses may be offensive or result in curriculum induced trauma. It is not clear exactly what kind of “trauma” could result from Econ 101, but thanks to DEI, UT is standing by and prepared.
The McCombs Business School template also includes a ridiculous “land acknowledgement” to be read before every class and event. It goes like this:
“We acknowledge that we are meeting on the Idigenous [sic] lands of Turtle Island, the ancestral name for what is now North America.” They must also affirm: “I would like to acknowledge that Alabama-Coushatta, Caddo, Carrizo/Comecrudo, Coahuiltecan, Comanche, Kickapoo, Lipan Apache, Tonkawa, Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo and all the American and Indigenous Peoples who have been or have become a part of these lands and territories of Texas.”
Besides being a guilt inducing virtue signal, suggesting that we are somehow on stolen land, this statement is, like the 1619 Project, simply bad history. .Among other things, this fails to note the fact that the Spanish were actually in Texas before several of these tribes so perhaps Carlos III de Bourbon, His Most Catholic Majesty should also be on this list.
Most professors don’t complain about these things because they are required to provide a “diversity statement” before they can even be considered for a job at UT. The statement must include proof of adherence to the ideology of DEI. Candidates are excluded if they use words like merit, color-blind or even equality.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pointed out recently that this is against the law. His office reminded universities and state agencies that hiring cannot be based on factors other than merit. Civil rights laws protect everyone from being discriminated against because of their race, ethnicity or, in the case of DEI, because of what they believe.
Eltife and the Board of Regents should carefully read the DEI reports he gets back from faculty and staff at UT. They must separate genuine efforts to increase minority recruitment from the ideological agenda of maintaining the DEI infrastructure in campus climate and curriculum. They should also ask other groups to send them reports—traditional faculty and students who want an atmosphere of open inquiry and learning who are often shut out by UT’s DEI regime.
The regents also need to hear what they have to say.
Mississippi must address the root causes of crime
Much like our New Year’s resolutions, aspirations to improve Mississippi’s criminal justice system are carried over from year to year with recommendations that often fall short in their implementation. Since 2014, when the Mississippi legislature established the Corrections and Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force, many annual recommendations have not manifested into results that achieve greater public safety.
The Task Force is responsible for the oversight of H.B. 585, passed in 2014 to address Mississippi’s rising prison population and “to implement research-driven criminal justice policies to produce a greater public safety return on corrections spending.” Appropriately, the membership of the Task Force represents the broad spectrum of our criminal justice system, including a district judge, parole board director, MDOC Commissioner, a representative from the Attorney General’s office, the state public defender, a member of Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, police and sheriff’s representatives, the formerly incarcerated, the Prosecutors Association, and members selected by the Speaker of the House.
Last year, I observed several Task Force meetings, which were lively and productive. However, it has been profoundly disappointing to see several seats left vacant because key stakeholders failed to designate a representative for 2022. The Chiefs of Police, Prosecutors Association, and the Mississippi Association of Supervisors were not at the table last year, making it difficult for the Task Force to fulfill its mandate, especially when those absent have control over who enters the Mississippi prison system.
Since its inception, the Task Force and its mission have expanded to include oversight of additional criminal justice reforms, and in the new year, they released a 2022 Final Report. In 2022, Mississippi’s prison population grew by 2,192 individuals, and while the report notes that numerous recommendations from the Task Force’s inception were eventually passed into law, not all have been fully implemented to help address the demands of this rise in our prison population.
One recommendation is a need for case plans for those who will eventually be eligible for parole. Without a sustainable plan, it becomes very difficult for the parole board to make an informed decision on whether to release someone back into the community. With more than 95% of incarcerated individuals eventually released, creating a plan at the beginning of a person’s sentence allows the prison system to address the root causes and rehabilitate the criminal behavior.
Over the years, the Task Force has recommended changes to how Mississippi responds to probation and parole, as many revocations are technical violations and not new criminal convictions. Nearly half of all prison admissions in Mississippi are a result of probation and parole revocations which exacerbates the rise in prison population.
As a former parole and probation office for more than a decade, I can tell you that the road to successful reentry starts the moment an individual enters the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) and should seamlessly continue through the end of their parole or probation. While there are some individuals on supervision that refuse to follow the conditions of release, and those individuals must be held to account, for minor violations, it is much more productive to offer and make use of Mississippi’s Technical Violation Centers.
These specialized units, similar in concept to specialty courts, help address the underlying issues of crime, like substance abuse, over a reduced period of incarceration. The use of these centers helps to free limited bed space in MDOC prisons where more than half of the prison’s non-violent offenders are incarcerated on drug related offenses. These centers make room at MDOC for those who pose the greatest risk to public safety.
Like the Task Force’s recommendations for reforming probation and parole, the 2022 report confirms many past recommendations have only been partially implemented, and there are many findings in the report that, like a broken resolution, require more than promises. It’s time to implement what the legislature has passed and follow the recommendations of the Task Force. Mississippi must address the root causes of crime while reducing our prison population, addressing recidivism, and keeping our communities safe.
Parent Empowerment and Homeschooling in Texas
Education savings accounts (ESAs) will increase homeschool freedom.
Families who choose to use them will have broader access to education providers and services. ESAs also acknowledge that parents, not preassigned state schools, should be the ones deciding how children are educated and how Texas education dollars are spent.
A statewide survey conducted by the Texas Home School Coalition found that over 70% of Texas homeschool families support ESAs.
Read more about how parent empowerment will enhance homeschool freedom in our one-pager.
Red States Are Taking the Lead to Protect Teens from Big Tech
Toney and Brandy Roberts, the parents of Englyn Roberts, thought they had done everything right when they gave their teenage daughter a smartphone. They told her not to download social-media apps like Instagram and TikTok. They required her to share her password and checked her phone regularly for apps or other questionable content.
But Englyn was able to outsmart them, accessing Instagram and TikTok without their knowledge. And in the midst of some boy troubles, her use of social media helped lead her down a very dark path. A friend shared an Instagram video on suicide, Englyn’s father Toney told 60 Minutes. “And that video was a lady on Instagram pretending to hang herself, and that’s ultimately what our child did. You ask yourself, how did she come up with this idea? And then when I did the research, there it was. She saw it on Instagram.”
“If that video [hadn’t been] sent to her, because she copied it, she wouldn’t have had a way of knowing how to do that certain way of hanging yourself,” her mom, Brandy, said. In the wake of this tragedy, Meta, Instagram’s parent company, said they are making every effort to protect children from harmful content on the social-media site. But a CBS News producer impersonating a 13-year-old was able to get on Instagram easily and access content promoting self-harm and anorexia.
Englyn’s death is but one dramatic example of the toll social media are exacting on America’s teens. A mounting body of evidence indicates social media are a big factor in skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression among adolescents, especially teenage girls, with these rates surging since 2010, when smartphones became widely available. Depression more than doubled in this same period, from 12 percent in 2010 to 26 percent today, for teen girls. Teen suicide among girls has risen to a 40-year high and, just this week, the CDC released a new report indicating that almost three in five teenage girls felt persistent sadness in 2021 — the highest rates of sadness recorded in a decade.
So, what’s the answer? We must treat Big Tech the way we dealt with Big Tobacco at the end of the last century — as an industry whose access to a vulnerable population, our teens, must be curtailed. Unfortunately, Congress has failed to find common ground to pass a new version of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act that would make it easier for parents to protect teens from the harms of Big Tech.
Because Congress has not passed new legislation to address this mounting mental-health challenge, red states such as Utah, Texas, and now Florida are moving to step in. The moment is right. Just as with Big Tobacco in the 1970s, growing numbers of American parents can see the truth: Social-media use is harmful, especially to minors. And they are looking for lawmakers to act. In fact, a new YouGov poll sponsored by the Institute for Family Studies found that more than 80 percent of parents would support laws requiring Big Tech companies to get parental permission before allowing teens like Englyn access to social media. What’s noteworthy about this poll is not only that parental support for action on Big Tech crossed partisan lines but also that no family-policy idea garnered as much support in this poll of American parents as a proposal to have the government take action to give parents more power over their children’s access to social media.
Public sentiment like this is driving governors and lawmakers in Utah, Texas, and now Florida to act. States place age limitations on numerous activities such as smoking, drinking alcohol, driving, gambling, and entering an enforceable contract. In Utah, Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, proposed a teens-and-tech agenda in January that included age verification and parental controls, a ban on algorithms targeting children, and a publicly funded education campaign to alert parents and teens to the dangers posed by social media. His agenda was shaped in part by a report, Protecting Teens from Big Tech: Five Policy Ideas for States, that one of us (Wilcox) co-authored.
Pointing to the government’s experience with Big Tobacco, Governor Cox said, “We’re hoping to have that same awakening with other policy-makers. Government is not going to solve all of our problems . . . but it can help us as parents, as individuals, as families to take collective action. If your kid came home at 13 with a cigarette right now . . . you’d probably freak out, right? We’re doing the same thing” with social media. The legislature in Utah just passed two bills targeting social media in response to Cox’s leadership on the tech issue.
Legislators in Texas are also advancing new legislation designed to protect kids from Big Tech. For instance, a groundbreaking bill just filed in Texas would prohibit social-media companies from granting access to minors. This would define a social-media platform as an age-limited product harmful to minors — just like tobacco. In this session, Texas lawmakers have also introduced bills to limit algorithmic targeting of minors; curb the use of social media to engage in prostitution and human trafficking; require age verification for pornographic websites; and place default filters on electronic devices.
Of course, just like Big Tobacco, Big Tech has its defenders. Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook and CEO of Meta) says social media can be “generally positive” for young people’s mental health. Tell that to the parents who are suing the social-media giants for suicides and deaths related to the use of platforms like TikTok and Instagram, including Englyn Roberts’s parents, not to mention the parents who have expressed overwhelming support for new government action on the tech issue.
But because Congress has failed to pass new legislation to rein in Big Tech and give more power to parents to protect their kids from the industry’s worst excesses, it has fallen to states, primarily red ones, to step in and look for ways to give greater power to parents to protect their children. Just last month, Governor Ron DeSantis jumped into the fray with a promise to introduce a legislative agenda this month that would protect “minors from online harms.” He has not spelled out his agenda in detail, but he’s sure to add his own signature policies to advance what has been up until now a largely red-state effort to tame Big Tech. Given the stakes for the country’s kids, especially teenage girls like Englyn Roberts, this growing wave of red-state reform on teens and tech cannot come quickly enough.
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TYLER—Victor Zillmer keeps the prices on his fresh berries, vegetables and jams as low as he can—but lately, he’s having to raise those prices more and more. It’s all due to two closely related costs: diesel fuel and fertilizer. On this warm June morning, he’s driven into Tyler from nearby Lindale with a truck full…
Burg’s Corner – “We’re just thankful to have a crop”
As a Georgia peach, with “Peachtree” in my childhood home address, I have been skeptical about Texas’s peaches. So, when we pulled up to Burg’s Corner, the retail site of Jimmy Duecker Orchards, a store right off Highway 290 East, I was planning on disappointment. Founded in 1948, the store was the hub of the…
Why I Left My Pennsylvania Home for the Lone Star State
I was very excited to move to Philadelphia in 2018. I went to school at Penn State, where I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. Many of my friends from college lived in the area, so Pennsylvania always felt like a home away from home. When the first wave of the pandemic hit the…
Is Your Refrigerator Running? Would it make it in Africa?
Summer comes quickly in Texas, with the high approaching 100 degrees in Austin over the weekend. We walk outside, grab the mail, and walk inside to turn the thermostat down a little cooler to combat the warmth of Texas summer. We reach in the freezer for ice to fill our glasses and the refrigerator for…
Conservatives Who Promise To Stop Leftist Racism Win Texas School Board Seats
Conservative candidates won a bunch of closely watched school board elections in Texas on Saturday. One of the higher-profile losses was suffered by Jim Rice, a member of the Fort Bend Independent School District (ISD) since 2010. He is also the immediate past president of the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) where he has served on…
Liberty and License: The Difference is Education
LEWISVILLE—It took a moment, and you could almost hear the synapses buzzing throughout the Founders Classical Academy classroom. Finally, one student, Sam, raised her hand. History teacher (and assistant headmaster) Alex Misko had challenged his class to compare and contrast the American Revolution and the French Revolution. One resulted in the greatest, most prosperous and…
Adapt or Die: The King Ranch Legacy
KINGSVILLE—The story of Texas is a story of adaption and resilience. The only alternative, really, is death. Nowhere is that more clear than here on the iconic King Ranch, with its 825,000 acres of inhospitality, patches of impassible scrub, and a dry vastness that calls for every ounce of Texas grit and ingenuity to overcome….
The Moral Problems with Student Loan Forgiveness
Part 4: Moral Problems With Student Loan Forgiveness Student loan forgiveness also suffers from a variety of moral problems. Forgiveness Pursued for the Explicit Purpose of Benefiting Certain Sexes or Races Is Wrong Many advocates for student loan forgiveness are explicit that a main motivation for them is the argument that forgiveness would disproportionately benefit…
The Economic Problems with Student Loan Forgiveness
Part 3: Economic Problems With Student Loan Forgiveness Student loan forgiveness also suffers from several economic problems. Forgiveness Is Expensive and Has a High Opportunity Cost The first economic problem with student loan forgiveness is that it is expensive, using vast sums of money that could be used for more pressing needs. Current and former…
Losing Hope—and Finding Care
HARLINGEN—When Andrea Barrera had her baby, both she and her husband were very young—and very scared. She had her first appointment with the pediatrician, but it felt far too rushed. “I was confused, about everything, and I needed guidance,” she said. “I had questions. I didn’t get answers.” The pediatrician was covered by Medicaid, but…
The Science of Learning: Classical Education Beyond the Great Books
What does a modern chemistry class have to do with classical education? Founders Classical Academy teacher Myles Dempsey doesn’t even pause for a moment: “Everything.” Students have just filed out from lab class, where they performed experiments with salt solutions. Mr. Dempsey is preparing for his next class. “Don’t you see?” he asks. “We’re in…
Looking Closer at Arlington ISD’s Superintendent Contract
Public school superintendents are some of the highest paid public employees in Texas, with some raking in more than $400,000 annually, excluding benefits. Among those at the top end of the pay scale is Arlington ISD’s superintendent who, thanks to a recent contract renewal, saw his annual salary grow from $334,318 in the 2020-21 school…
A Big Family and Big Advantages to Parental Empowerment
Mary Schommer grew up in a family of six kids, and, between all of them, they’ve attended private schools, charter schools, and traditional public schools. While she was in elementary school, Mary’s two eldest brothers attended a private all-boys Catholic school while Mary and her other siblings attended the one charter school in Irving. Mary…
Texas Republican Ballot Proposition Shows Overwhelming Support for School Choice
What is school choice? School choice is about a fundamental right for parents to have access to the educational environment that serves their children best. Families should have a wide range of high-quality schools or educational options to choose from – be it traditional public schools, public charter schools, private schools, homeschool, or virtual learning….
Eastern Europe’s Cultural Cradle is Under Attack
I think of myself as a Ukrainian American—completely one and fully the other. I was born and lived for 13 years of my life in Lugansk, Ukraine. My family is from there and I had a great childhood in that nation. Then we moved to Tyler, Texas. And I grew up to be a very patriotic American…
You Can’t Blame Ukraine Crisis for Rising Inflation, Gas Prices
The media is quick to explain away the runaway inflation that is squeezing American families and darkening the prospects of Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. “The U.S. economy has been hit with increased gas prices, inflation, and supply-chain issues due to the Ukraine crisis,” CBS News tweeted on Tuesday. Its article went on to…
The City of Austin Wants to Teach Your Kids About Sex
What’s the purpose of city government? Most people would probably say that cities exist to police the roads, to fill the potholes, and to put out house fires. But at least some Austin bureaucrats also believe that it’s the city’s role to also teach your kids about sex. Over the weekend, the Austin Public Library…
Taxed Out of House and Home: City of El Paso & El Paso County
Earlier this month, the Texas Public Policy Foundation published a new report looking at the heavy burden of property taxes in Texas’ major urban areas. In the report, the authors compare the growth of property tax levies with population and inflation increases in the top 10 most populous cities, counties, and school districts. The facts…
Taxed Out of House and Home: Houston and Harris County
Recently, the Texas Public Policy Foundation published a new report looking at property taxes in Texas’ major urban centers. In the report, the authors, Anthony Jones and James Quintero, compared property tax levy growth with population and inflation increases over a five-year period for select communities. The facts and figures are aimed at helping taxpayers…
Perspective From 9th & Congress
TPPF is proud to introduce 9th & Congress, a newsletter from our new Distinguished Senior Fellow, Sherry Sylvester. Sherry has spent decades working at the nexus of public policy and politics. She began as a decidedly left-leaning Democrat on the East Coast, but years of working closely with the left-wing pushed her to the right. After two decades…
When Public Education Isn’t the Best Fit
Outside of school, my childhood was filled with wonder and delight. In school, not so much. I have fond memories of camping trips, Girl Scout projects, soccer games, pretending to be fairies in the backyard, biking with my cousins, and many other ordinary experiences that come with early 2000s suburban life. But so many hours…
Learning More About Austin ISD’s Position Purge
Late last month, Axios ran a piece titled: “Teacher crisis grips Austin schools.” As the article’s title would suggest, the Virginia-based media outlet keyed in on a perceived teacher shortage in Austin ISD (while never once mentioning the huge student enrollment decline in process, with the district shrinking from 83,270 students in 2016-17 to 75,075…
Taxed Out of House and Home: Austin and Travis County
Last week, the Texas Public Policy Foundation published a new report looking at property taxes in Texas’ major urban centers. In the report, the authors, Anthony Jones and James Quintero, compare property tax levy growth vs. population and inflation increases over five years in select communities. The facts and figures are aimed at helping taxpayers…
Austin’s Land Grab Adding to Affordability Woes
The city of Austin owns a lot of land. In fact, according to a 2019 CBS Austin report, the city “has bought more than 28,000 acres of raw land over the last 20 years.” The fact that it owns so much property—especially in the midst of a raging affordability crisis—raises some serious concerns about purpose…
Approve a Sustainable Michigan Budget: Spending limits on government can boost economic growth and opportunities
While Michigan employs 205,200 fewer people than in February 2020, a 4.6% decrease, the state government’s budget continues to grow. To keep the government from spending more and further crowding out the productive private sector, the Mackinac Center has created the Sustainable Michigan Budget. This plan would set a maximum limit on what lawmakers can…
2023 Responsible Alaska Budget
Introduction Alaska’s economy and Alaskans’ livelihoods were hit particularly hard by the government shutdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and Alaskans are struggling to recover. But businesses are now open, employment is slowly improving, and oil prices are up, which has resulted in the state’s Department of Revenue substantially increasing its revenue forecast by $2.2…
Top 10 Priorities
The Liberty Action Agenda is a set of critical reforms that must be made to promote and defend liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise in Texas. To ensure the flourishing of Texans during the next quarter-century, we must work now toward these bold policy proposals that embody the Texas ideal. Put parents in control of their child’s education. Parents should be the ultimate…
Trends in State Funding and Tuition Revenue for Public Higher Education: 1980-2020
This study examines trends in state funding and tuition revenue in higher education over the past four decades and updates our past research on the subject using the latest data.
From 1980 to 2020, inflation-adjusted state funding has increased by $16 to $52 per student per year. These increases indicate that “state disinvestment” is a myth.
State funding has completely recovered from the cuts made during the Great Recession.
From 1980 to 2020, inflation-adjusted tuition revenue increased by $127 to $143 per student per year.
Inflation-adjusted total educational/instructional revenue increased substantially over time, and 2020 set a record high of $15,276 per student.
Changes in state funding do not explain changes in tuition.
Conservative Texas Budget Helps Keep Texas Texan
Every dollar the government spends comes from taxpayers. The late economist Milton Friedman said, “The burden of government is not measured by how much it taxes, but by how much it spends.”
Taxes should only fund limited government at the least economic harm, which Texas does well by depending mostly on sales taxes—though local property taxes also impose a hefty toll.
Therefore, to keep state taxes lower than otherwise so Texans can reach their full potential, sound fiscal policy must begin with spending restraint, which the Foundation’s Conservative Texas Budget has helped achieve.
But that fiscal restraint in Texas was limited from at least 2004 to 2015. The average growth of the six two-year budgets then was 12% compared with just 7.3% in population growth plus inflation, which measures the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for government. This excessive spending compounded over time, resulting in even higher taxes and less prosperity than otherwise.
A clear break in the state’s budget happened in 2015. The average biennial growth of the four budgets since then for 2016 to 2023 has been 4.8% (less than half of the prior six) compared with population growth plus inflation of 6.2%. And the 87th Legislature finally passed a stronger spending limit in SB 1336 sponsored by Sen. Kelly Hancock and Rep. Greg Bonnen.
Texas is now leading. How?
One answer is new leadership. After the 2014 election of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Republican-led Texas Legislature had a mandate for fiscal conservatism. Consider how in 2015 the state passed a budget for 2016-17 below population growth plus inflation along with a historic $4 billion in tax relief. That fiscal restraint continued over much of the next three budgets providing opportunities for $5 billion in property tax relief in 2019 with a 7-cent compression to the school district maintenance and operations property tax rate.
Another answer is that even before the 2014 election, the Foundation had created the Conservative Texas Budget (CTB) as a clear and achievable standard for lawmakers.
The CTB sets a maximum threshold on the total budget based on population growth plus inflation over the last two fiscal years before the regular session. We release it early to provide a limit for state agencies to have available for their legislative appropriation requests and then for legislators to use during the appropriations process. Then there’s keeping it on the minds of legislators and taxpayers through testimonies, commentaries, and more, so that Texans can keep more of their money.
The real reason for Texas’s fiscal success is the internal and external institutional pressures around the Texas Capitol and across the state. That’s why Texas is leading in sound fiscal policy.
The latest 2022-23 CTB set a maximum threshold of $246.8 billion on the state’s budget based on a 5% increase in population growth plus inflation. Surprisingly, because even though they had more revenue to appropriate, both chambers’ introduced budget versions were below the CTB, with the House’s version being exactly $246.8 billion.
Ultimately, the state budget passed by the Legislature and after Gov. Abbott’s vetoes was $4.8 billion below the CTB at $242 billion (a 3% increase above 2020-21 appropriations for an apples-to-apples comparison), excluding the $6.1 billion.
In this total budget, education ($93.5 billion) and health care ($86.7 billion) consume 73%. Compared with 2020-21 appropriations, the combined net increase in these two large areas of the budget were essentially flat. But in general, these are rising at a rapid rate and need structural changes. There was also $1 billion toward SB 321, the result of an effort that made the Employees Retirement System a cash-balance plan for new employees, which is a good step toward a defined-contribution system.
Because the regular session was “incomplete,” Gov. Abbott called a special session. Then Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced that with faster economic growth and tax collections, there is now an expected $7.85 billion surplus for the 2022-23 biennium, with $12 billion expected in the rainy day fund.
This means that whenever the Democrats return to work, the Legislature will likely appropriate some of that surplus. To help lower property tax bills now, which is what Texans want, at least $5 billion should go to property tax relief along with charting a path to eliminating nearly half of the property tax burden. These appropriations, excluding property tax relief, will raise the budget closer to the CTB but will likely remain below it.
If that’s the case, the average growth over the last four budgets would be about 1-percentage point below population growth plus inflation. This extraordinary feat along with the stronger spending limit in Texas will help uphold fiscal responsibility to make up for earlier excesses. Still, there’s room to improve, as less spending can result in less taxing—so we can keep Texas Texan.
Biden’s criminal justice inaction is nothing but malarkey
“Elderly inmate sent home during COVID is back in prison after going to computer class.” That’s probably not the kind of headline that liberals expected to see after heralding President Joe Biden’s win last November as a victory for justice and decency. Yet, it stands to be just the first of many similar sad stories of criminal injustice coming out of the Biden administration’s handling of the Bureau of Prisons’s home confinement program.
Thankfully, a judge freed this particular woman. Unfortunately, there are roughly 4,400 individuals transferred last year to home confinement who still face the prospect of a similarly abrupt return to prison. Deemed “low risk” and released as part of BOP’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this group has spent the past year reintegrating back into communities. Their shot at freedom might suddenly come to an end. A January 2021 Department of Justice memorandum made clear that anyone not sufficiently near the end of his or her sentence will return to prison within 30 days of whenever Biden declares an end to the pandemic emergency, regardless of his or her success in the community.
Despite staring at possibly the single quickest expansion of the federal prison population in decades, Biden, who ran on a promise to cut the prison population, has so far displayed no urgency in addressing the issue.
This inaction is not for a lack of options. Biden could rescind the legal memorandum suggesting that BOP must reincarcerate these individuals. If he does not wish to interfere with that legal analysis, he could instead use his clemency powers, something he has claimed he wants to leverage in the name of justice.
Neither action requires him to secure buy-in, approval, or even participation from any outside authority, and there are no Republicans to blame or congressional politics to get in the way.
Even advocacy groups and politicians on the Left have questioned and criticized Biden’s refusal to address this issue. When it comes to commonsense criminal justice policy, this is a no-brainer.
The group at risk of returning to prison has proven stunningly successful in home confinement. Over a year into the program, only 185 of the 4,400 people released have been returned to prison for a violation, potentially no worse than the poor woman attending class, and only five returned because they committed a new crime. This kind of sky-high success rate is rare in the criminal justice system. Jeopardizing that outcome with a mass return to prison is both indecent and unjust.
Behind these numbers are real people, people with families. Not only does Biden’s inaction risk damaging public safety outcomes by disrupting their rehabilitation, it will also create thousands of more holes in our communities, which are still working to repair the damage wrought by the pandemic. Recently reunited family and friends will be once again torn apart, while employers and schools will lose valued employees and students, and to what end?
For its part, the prison system is not equipped to handle a population surge of this magnitude. Already, officials are sounding the alarm about low staff numbers that force them to draft facilities’ nurses, cooks, and other workers into serving as temporary prison guards, creating safety risks for staff and incarcerated individuals alike. Furthermore, incarcerating all of these people will waste millions of taxpayer dollars, given that imprisonment is nearly triple the cost of home confinement.
The Biden administration is aware of the DOJ’s policies and the consequences of their implementation. Members of Congress from both parties and outside organizations representing a spectrum of interests have pleaded with the White House to correct this problem to no avail.
During his campaign, candidate Biden endured intense criticism for his drafting of the 1994 crime bill. Now, Biden has a genuine opportunity to quiet many of his critics by addressing this issue. Not only will it allow these 4,400 individuals to continue to reintegrate into their homes and communities successfully, but it will send a strong message that criminal justice issues remain one of the few areas in which both sides of the political aisle can still work together. If not, liberals will surely be left wondering why their leader would so dramatically surrender the obvious moral high ground.
Stopping this travesty is the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, and the politically savvy thing to do.
The Looming Debt Limit Fight Ahead
The current two-year suspension of the federal government’s debt limit is set to expire on July 31, 2021. U.S. Treasury officials will likely be able to push this deadline back to Sept. 30, when fiscal year 2021 funding runs out, using accounting gimmicks or “extraordinary measures.” Without suspending or raising the debt limit by then, the federal government will no longer be able to issue debt and will be forced to default on financial obligations leading to a rapid rise in interest rates and subsequent economic fallout.
Previous Congresses used the debt limit as a leverage point to extract spending cuts or reforms, the most recent successful example being the Budget Control Act of 2011. The logic is simple. If the federal government needs to issue more debt, the current level of government spending is too high and must be brought under control.
Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute once observed:
“Since 1985, virtually every major deficit reduction law has been attached to a debt limit increase. The 1985 and 1987 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit caps were attached to debt limit bills. So were the 1990, 1993, and 1997 budget deals that contributed to the 1998-2001 balanced budgets. The 1996 Line-Item Veto Act (later invalidated by the Supreme Court) and 2010 Pay-As-You-Go law were each placed on debt limit bills. Most importantly, the 2011 Budget Control Act—and its $2.1 trillion spending cut—was attached to a debt limit bill.”
Prominent Republican figures in both the House and Senate are opposed to raising the debt limit.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently told Punchbowl News he doesn’t expect “a single Republican in this environment that we’re in now” to vote to raise the debt limit. Other prominent Republican leaders, such as Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Sen. Lindsey Graham and Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Banks, have already demanded significant spending reforms or cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit.
If they stick to their position, the House and Senate Democratic majorities will be forced to use budget reconciliation to raise the debt limit on their own, unless of course an agreement to cut spending is reached.
This outcome has three major benefits.
First, reconciliation requires Congress to raise the debt limit by a specific amount instead of simply suspending it to a future date. This is potentially troubling for Members of Congress because it will shine a bright light on just how much debt they are willing to put on future generations of Americans. If they want to pass a $5.5 trillion “human infrastructure” plan, they will be responsible for the debt associated with it.
Second, raising the debt limit via reconciliation will link the current debt and inflation crisis directly with President Joe Biden’s tax and spending plans, adding a significant and lasting burden to his legacy.
Third, reconciliation can only be used two additional times before the 2022 election. Whoever is tied to the negative economic impact of adding so much to the bloated debt burden on future generations will likely see prospects of more policy victories similarly crushed.
The current U.S. national debt is nearing $30 trillion and will have far-reaching negative economic consequences for future generations of Americans. Congress has a fiduciary obligation to address the issue now. Lawmakers should not raise the debt limit without significant spending reforms or cuts.
Interpreting Inflation Incorrectly, Imprecisely, Incoherently
CNBC recently published an article whose original title demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding about inflation. The wording was so misinformed that it prompted intense criticism and CNBC changed the article’s title.
It originally read “The upside to inflation: rising wages” and was changed to “It’s not certain rising wages will be enough to outpace inflation.” Ironically, after posting a critique of the CNBC headline, Fox Business posted its own article with an equally misinformed headline: “Inflation inflicting near-term pain, but promises long-term gain for seniors.”
These headlines misconstrue the fundamental mechanism that causes inflation.
As Milton Friedman frequently said, inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. Inflation occurs when the amount of money in an economy grows faster than the growth of goods and services in that economy. The ultimate power to create fiat money lies with America’s central bank—the Federal Reserve (the Fed).
The Fed is aided by two other entities: Congress and the Treasury.
Congress is spending money at a breakneck pace, and the Treasury must write those checks. When there is not enough money from tax receipts, the Treasury borrows the rest by selling bonds at an auction. When the public buys those bonds, the money is merely changing hands. But when the Fed buys those bonds, the money comes from somewhere else—nowhere.
Put simply, the Fed has the authority to create money out of nothing for the purpose of buying government debt.
When new money is created, it diminishes the value of the existing money because there is now more of it. The Fed has purchased so many bonds in recent months that it has doubled its total debt holdings. The result is much more money in the economy.
When additional money is trying to purchase the same amount of goods and services, prices rise.
Whether most people realize it or not, every segment of the economy fundamentally functions like an auction house and prices are constantly being bid up or down. If everyone shouting out their bids has more money to spend, then bids naturally go higher.
People often interpret the initial effects of inflation as being beneficial. Consumers have more money to spend, and producers have higher sales. But as consumers compete over limited goods and services and as producers compete over limited inputs, the bidding wars begin. All in all, prices rise, and no one is better off.
But there is one more thing to consider: inflation is fundamentally a tax.
It is a transfer of wealth from anyone on a fixed income, or any creditor, or anyone with a dollar in their pocket or a savings account, to the government. That brings the conversation back to the recent news articles. It is simply incorrect to say that employees benefit from inflation through higher wages.
That is like saying a person benefits from an accident which totals his or her vehicle because the insurance company pays the claim. The person still must go through the hassles of finding a new vehicle, dealing with any long-term injuries from the accident, and paying the deductible. The person is not better off after the accident—the insurance coverage can only diminish the harm. Similarly, higher wages can only lessen the real cost of inflation, but employees are still worse off compared to before the inflationary wave.
Likewise, people on Social Security and other programs with cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) are not better off because of inflation, neither in the short term or the long term.
In the short term, those people are stuck paying today’s higher prices out of an income that was determined using last year’s lower prices. Even after their incomes have risen, they still cannot purchase more goods and services than before the inflation. Worse yet, the real value of their savings has diminished, being subtly taxed away.
The headlines espousing the virtues of inflation are plain wrong. A more accurate headline would be: “A Tax by Any Other Name: How Inflation is Robbing You Blind.”
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Capitalism
Many Americans have historically associated “socialism” with things like the Red Scare, Nazism, the Cold War, and McCarthyism. Today, that fear has largely faded—particularly among young people—and has instead become a love affair.
A recent Axios/Movement poll found that 51% of 18 to 34 year-olds view socialism positively, though the share is only 41% for all Americans. That poll also found that 49% of young adults viewed capitalism favorably—a decrease from 58% in 2019. However, across all Americans there is 57% support for capitalism with just 36% having a negative view of it, which is a slight decrease from the 61% to 36% split in 2019.
Many reasons explain these trends, but the fact that capitalism has lifted more than one billion people worldwide out of poverty is irrefutable.
Despite this reality, the alarming rise in support for socialism, particularly among young adults, begs the question: Do proponents of “socialism” really understand it, and will it ever invade America?
In short, institutions matter and we should understand them, because when we do, we have a better appreciation for capitalism and will reject socialism, even as socialism metastasizes throughout many sectors of our economy.
Socialism is an economic system in which government owns the means of production. Socialism is an extractive economic institution with redistribution of resources—not with market prices but rather by elite politicians who supposedly understand the collective desires of society.
Capitalism, on the other hand, derives its success from an inclusive economic institution with private ownership of the means of production in a free enterprise system. This institutional framework has strong private property rights allowing for a well-functioning price system in markets that allow efficient allocation of resources to those who desire things most with a profit-loss calculation to increase prosperity.
Many supporters of socialism believe society would be best served by a big government that oversees things like health care, food, employment, and transportation, with college and housing at no charge. Socialism’s enthusiasts also claim government-run societies would decrease income inequality and give workers a greater voice.
However, socialists fail to recognize the truth that nothing is free.
More precisely, scarcity means there are always costs, whether realized or unrealized. Free college and universal health care could be fantastic services if they were truly free, but the government doesn’t have its own money—it must extract resources from Peter to give to Paul, and “free” provisions like these have poor outcomes.
Moreover, the ideas of “tax the rich” and “give to the poor” are fallacies that don’t support lower poverty or less income inequality, as they reduce opportunities for success in the productive private sector while contributing to greater dependency on costly government redistribution. This intervention stifles consumer power, eliminates competition, and oftentimes contributes to greater poverty and income inequality.
History shows us that socialism has never worked and will never work well.
Cuba—a socialist country located only 90 miles south of Florida—first embraced socialism over 60 years ago under Fidel Castro. Cubans yielded enormous liberties to Castro’s government in exchange for promises of a better life. As Cuba now grapples with shortages of COVID-19 vaccinations, food, and other critical supplies, even President Biden recently denounced Cuba and its economic system as a failure.
Despite the growing disdain for capitalism in the United States, data from the Economic Freedom of the World report confirms that capitalist, free-market policies lead to the greatest prosperity.
Greater economic freedom under capitalism provides for a more robust economy and a well-functioning price system that yields higher life expectancies, higher incomes, greater per-capita GDP, and less poverty. And capitalism is also morally superior to socialism as it empowers people to make decisions that meet their needs rather than being told what to do through subjective determinations from elite politicians. Furthermore, socialism requires the immoral violation of personal property rights and individual freedoms.
Government is not intended to dictate the lives of each individual, nor it is it supposed to control a society’s factors of production.
As former President Trump said, “America will never be a socialist county.” Socialism did not make America great, nor will it provide for a more perfect union. While we’ve moved further toward socialism in many sectors of our economy, which explains their poor outcomes, Americans should appreciate the many benefits of capitalism so that we can right the course toward more human flourishing.
Foster Children Need Help and Homes Now
Tonight, an estimated 13 children will sleep on the floor of CPS offices throughout Texas. “Every day was uncertain,” one child who experienced it routinely told the Texas Tribune. “You don’t know where you’re going to lay your head — where you’re going to get your next plate of food.” The child described the experience as comparable to jail.
Last month, 415 children spent at least two consecutive nights without placement. The Texas Legislature needs to target the real problem, which is not funding, but burdensome regulations and licensing demanded by the Department of Protective and Family Services.
Significant foster care reform was achieved in the 87th Regular Session, but there is still much work to be done. The governor rightly put foster care reform on his call for special session, but due to the walkout by Democratic House members, no work can be done for these children.
The current problem does not stem from lack of funding, but from a DFPS overreaction to the current lawsuit against the state’s foster care system. U.S. District Judge Janice Jack’s order for foster care reform was well intentioned but has resulted in regulation which is driving away care providers in significant numbers. This year, the state lost at least 1,000 beds for children, most of which are group facilities.
This unnecessary and heavy-handed regulation is driving away providers and actively harming—not helping—Texas children.
This problem, though complicated, must be addressed immediately. In the short term, Texas needs to rely on the resources given through legislation passed in the regular session. State-wide implementation of HB 567, HB 2926, and HB 3041, which focus on preserving and reuniting families, would help deal with the housing shortage immediately. Though some provisions of these bills do not go into effect until Sept. 1, the department should begin working toward their rapid implementation.
The department should also expedite home approvals and give case-specific licensing waivers to provide safe homes more efficiently for children in need.
In the long term, the DFPS needs to update its funding rate to more accurately reflect the real cost of taking care of Texas foster children. The blended rate being used in community-based care regions has proven to be effective in incentivizing placement in the least restrictive settings, and full statewide implementation of community-based care will greatly aid in addressing funding problems.
The department should also update its licensing standards to stop unnecessarily penalizing agencies for minor licensing violations. This heightened monitoring is an overreaction to the lawsuit against the Texas foster care system, which is causing a burden on care providers. This burden directly causes many of these providers to cease operation—exacerbating the current housing shortage.
The recent Democratic walkout has halted any progression of legislation that would benefit Texas foster children. These elected representatives need to come back to Texas and work together with other lawmakers to help and protect one of the most vulnerable populations in our state.
No child should have to spend the night in a government office while the people elected to protect them are sleeping in cushy hotel rooms in D.C. As Judge Jack has noted, children “often age out of care more damaged than when they entered.”
Texan leaders need to come together and use our current resources to fight unnecessarily burdensome regulation, which would allow for more children to more easily find a safe home.
Setting The Media Straight: No, the Texas Senate Didn’t Ban Teaching that the KKK is ‘Morally Wrong’
In recent days, hair-on-fire reports like this one from the Huffington Post claim that the Texas Senate “has passed a bill to eliminate a requirement that public schools teach that the Ku Klux Klan and its white supremacist campaign of terror are ‘morally wrong.’”
The reports are misleading at best; even Texas news outlets that should know better are piling on.
But National Review Editor Rich Lowry took to Twitter on Tuesday to debunk the claim. Here’s how he broke it down:
This story, widely amplified on Twitter, saying that Texas is eliminating a requirement to teach about the KKK is completely dishonest.
What happened is that Democrats added a bunch of concepts and documents that schoolkids should know in the anti-CRT [critical race theory] bill that passed the House a few weeks ago.
The list was incredibly detailed and extensive, when it’s the role of the state board of education, not the legislature, to get into the weeds of the specifics of the curriculum. Besides, many of the items are already covered in the curriculum.
It was widely expected that the Senate would pare down the House bill, and that’s what it did, including cutting a provision citing the KKK.
This emphatically does not mean that Texas is banning teaching about the KKK—anyone saying otherwise is misinformed or lying.
The bill does not subtract anything from the current curriculum, and says so explicitly:
“(e) Nothing in this section may be construed as limiting the teaching of or instruction in the essential knowledge and skills adopted under this subchapter.”
Texas House Democrats’ COVID-Spreading Publicity Stunt Is Backfiring
Holdout Texas Democrats remain in Washington, D.C., denying the state House of Representatives the two-thirds quorum needed to conduct business, with their walkout over election integrity legislation now entering its second week.
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called a special session starting July 8 to consider legislation left undone when House Democrats walked out in the closing hours of the regular session in late May. Texas special sessions last 30 days. Only five days later, they were gone, flying out on a couple of private jets stocked with beer — sans masks, as required by the FAA.
In addition to amendments to Texas’s Election Code in an omnibus bill, the governor asked lawmakers to try again on a crucial bail reform bill aimed at reducing the likelihood of well-heeled but high-risk defendants making bail, only to kill or injure others shortly after release.
Outnumbered by Republicans in Austin 83 to 67, the Texas House Democratic Caucus decided to head to D.C. to publicize its opposition to election integrity bills, fundraise, and drum up support for federal legislation that would nationalize election law by imposing California law as a template on the nation — banning meaningful voter ID, expanding mail balloting while eliminating fraud safeguards, prohibiting proactive voter list maintenance, and mandating same-day voter registration with no checks for eligibility to vote.
But the Democrats’ trip hasn’t turned out as planned.
Soon after meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris and numerous White House staffers and members of the U.S. House and Senate, three Democrats were diagnosed with COVID-19, then another two, and now a total of six. An aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a White House official tested positive soon after meeting with the Texas Democrats.
And the attention Democrats were hoping for soon turned sour, with Texas’s major newspapers, none of whom are friends of Republicans and have had little good to say about their election integrity bills, have nevertheless weighed in against the walkout. By two-to-one, Texas voters disapprove of the quorum-busting as well. Even national Republicans have piled on, with this tweet from Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s press secretary being emblematic.
Closer to home, Travis County GOP Chairman Matt Mackowiak said the quorum-breakers had “…engaged in performance theater for weeks claiming Gov. Abbott was putting lives at risk by reopening the state economy and waiving the statewide mask mandate, then they flew to DC on a private jet stocked with Miller Lite without masks, in violation of FAA rules, and now this farce turned into a super spreader event.”
But there are signs the Democratic solidarity is breaking down. With chairmanships, seniority, and even district boundaries on the line in a redistricting year, powerful Democrats are wavering while those seeking to move up sense an opportunity. A week ago, 80 House members were on the floor. As of Tuesday, 90, including several Democrats, were present. It’s a classic “prisoner’s dilemma” situation. If another 10 Democrats show up, the Texas House will have a quorum and can resume consideration of bills, leaving the other 50 holdouts with nothing for their efforts — except for perhaps being redrawn out of their districts by the Legislative Redistricting Board later this year.
When the Democrats do return, they will be asked to vote on bills that would bring mail-in balloting up to the standard for in-person voting by asking for ID in the form of writing a driver’s license number, or state ID number, or the last four of the Social Security number inside of a privacy flap in the ballot return envelope. The bill would also prohibit local elections officials from sending out unsolicited mail-in ballot applications, ban last-minute changes to election procedures, and clarify that properly appointed poll watchers must be able to see and hear election workers’ activities.
Asking for ID for mail-in ballots — one of the measures most vociferously opposed by Democrats — is supported by 81 percent of Texas voters, with voters from all demographic groups and both major parties approving of the safeguards.
Such widespread support for additional protections for mail-in ballots is likely informed by an understanding of their inherent vulnerability to fraud, with Abbott reminding Texans that “Voter fraud takes place ‘in abundance’ with absentee balloting in Texas,” in a Tuesday tweet quoting an Obama-appointed federal judge in a 2014 case. Abbott vowed to call as many special sessions as needed to pass the election integrity legislation.
On Tuesday evening, Texas Democrats even lost the New York Times, in a piece with a headline partially reading, “…the group is now confined to a Washington hotel, holding virtual meetings and making little headway in its persuasion campaign.”
If Democrats start to break ranks, as is widely rumored to be happening, Abbott may not need to call additional special sessions.
A Return to Normalcy
History repeats itself, and at milestone intervals.
It was 100 years ago that President Warren Harding called for a return to normalcy. His vice president and successor, Calvin Coolidge, prickled at this loose expansion of the English language, but agreed with the sentiment.
After a series of traumatic events for the nation, including the Spanish flu pandemic, Harding knew that the nation needed to return to normal, starting with the government. In 1921, he called for a series of reforms which sound like they were written for 2021—cut government spending, cut taxes, and stop inflation.
Government spending is now, as it was then, out of control.
Federal spending increased by 89% during the pandemic and its share of America’s private sector output has skyrocketed to 45%, the highest since World War II before the latest shutdown recession. Despite tax receipts being at a nominal all-time high, the federal government is running record-breaking $3 trillion deficits with little help in sight.
Governments at all levels in the U.S. are now taking 34% of our private economy. This means that every year we work from Jan. 1 to May 4 just to pay our taxes. Meanwhile, inflation is also getting out of control. It is not only high, but accelerating.
At the current rate, prices will double in less than 14 years. And yet wages are moving in the other direction. While the general price level in June rose 5.4% from one year prior, average hourly earnings in the private sector adjusted for inflation fell 1.7%, hurting families’ purchasing power.
Harding faced similar problems in 1921—government spending had ballooned because of World War I, taxes were punitively high, and the Federal Reserve (Fed) had caused rampant inflation. And yet, the Harding administration turned it around quickly. In the summer of 1921, exactly 100 years ago, Harding spoke using words that sound like they were written for today:
“There is not a menace in the world today like that of growing public indebtedness and mounting public expenditures,” he said. “There has seemingly grown up an impression that the public treasuries are inexhaustible things, and with it a conviction that no efficiency and no economy are ever to be thought of in public expense. We want to reverse things.”
A good first step in reversing things would be to control the growth in government spending with passage of the Foundation’s Responsible American Budget.
This fiscal rule limits spending growth to a maximum rate of population growth plus inflation to keep federal expenditures below the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for them. This needed restraint would help curtail spending. Further cuts can then be made, targeting handouts that disincentivize work and welfare that traps people in poverty.
To provide tax relief at the federal level, Washington should cut marginal tax rates.
After Harding and Coolidge cut tax rates, tax revenue increased. The same phenomenon occurred when JFK, Reagan, Bush, and Trump cut tax rates, too. States should also move to cut taxes—and several states have already done so. Texas, with an abnormally high local property tax burden, should enact reforms to drastically reduce property taxes that are quite literally forcing Texans out of their homes.
To stop inflation, the Fed just needs to do what it did a century ago: It must stop furiously expanding the money supply.
Like it did in WWI, the Fed is currently acting as the financing arm of the radical growth in federal spending by purchasing a large share of government bonds—that should stop. The Fed also needs to return to its mission of price stability via a monetary rule, and nothing else. This means an end to targeting full employment and to engaging in social engineering, and a start to a monetary rule.
The effect of Harding’s and Coolidge’s reforms in the 1920s was a booming decade so prosperous that it resulted in the Roaring Twenties. The government ran a surplus and retired debt for every year of the decade. In the 1930s, the bad policies of the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations and associated Fed policy caused and prolonged the Great Depression.
If the nation implements similar reforms as those from a century ago, instead of the Biden administration’s proposals, then America can repeat her previous success. Reining in misdirected fiscal and monetary policy will bring a return to normalcy, so that we can let people prosper again.
Excessive Property Taxes Rob Texans of Real Ownership of their Homes
It happens on the first Tuesday of every month. Bidders gather at the west entrance steps of the Smith County Courthouse, looking for bargains. At 10 a.m., the sales commence—properties are auctioned off to pay the taxes owed on them. Some are vacant lots and some are homes. All were seized from their owners over delinquent property taxes.
This happens throughout Texas, and it’s big business. What it shows is that with property taxes hanging over them, every property owner in Texas is really just a renter. If they fall behind on taxes, they can lose what they worked so hard for.
But Texas lawmakers now have an opportunity to ease the burden on property owners—our plan would cut property taxes nearly in half over time, by eliminating school district maintenance and operations (M&O) taxes. We get there by holding down spending growth and using surplus taxpayer dollars at the state level to buy down those school district M&O property taxes over time.
Under this buydown approach, every tax dollar not spent by the state will produce a property tax cut for Texans. Following our plan would let the Texas Legislature keep its pledge to taxpayers by actually lowering property tax bills—something missing in most other plans.
School district M&O property tax is estimated to collect about $56 billion in 2020-21, making up nearly half of the hefty property tax burden Texans face. Putting this money back into the pockets of Texas families is the right thing to do.
In the regular session of the 87th Legislature, lawmakers passed another Conservative Texas Budget and put most of our formula into law. This stronger spending limit restricts growth of much of the state’s budget to the rate of population-times-inflation (6.38% biennially since 2012), a formula that helps ensure the budget doesn’t grow faster than the average Texan’s ability to pay for it.
Yet because state revenues have grown at a higher rate (9.02% biennially since 2012), we’re looking at a steady surplus in the state’s coffers. That surplus can be used to eliminate school district M&O property taxes over time. How? By increasing the state’s share of educating spending, gradually replacing the M&O property tax burden.
School districts will have to do their part; they’ll need to lower their tax rates each year to match increased state funding, as well as keep their spending in check (they’re already limited to growth of no more than 2.5% per year without the okay of taxpayers).
If these revenue and spending growth rates hold, Texas could eliminate school district M&O property taxes in 20 years. What would that mean to Texas families? Their property tax burden would be cut from today’s high of about 2.3% of their home’s value to about 1.3%.
This buydown process could be started now by using most or all the Texas Comptroller’s expected $7.85 billion in surplus for the 2022-23 biennium and by passing a bill such as HB 122 during a special session, as soon as Democrats who left Austin return. To lower Texans’ property tax bills soon, at least $5 billion of the surplus should go to buy down school district M&O property taxes.
Lower-income families would benefit most from our plan, because a higher percentage of their incomes go to pay property taxes (that’s true even if they’re renters). Property taxes are beyond our control, unlike sales taxes. We can control what we buy, but our tax rates and taxable property values are set by others.
Our “Lower Taxes, Better Texas” plan would let Texans keep more of their own hard-earned money—and in many cases, their homes. The American dream of home ownership shouldn’t end on the courthouse steps.
Lower Taxes, Better Texas
The way we assess and impose property taxes is not just unsustainable, it is unethical. Under the status quo, Texans are forced to rent their homes from the government and are denied the opportunity to ever truly own their property. This cuts against Texans who value property rights and limited government, and it begs for meaningful reform. Most Texans want action now, too. In fact, more than 70% of Texans say property taxes are a “major burden for them and their family” and crave change.
The hunger for a new direction goes beyond property rights. Local property taxes have been growing faster than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for them, which places an undue burden on Texans and stifles the growth of the economy. Elevated and rising property taxes limit Texans’ opportunities to save, invest, and leave a legacy for future generations. They also pose an obstacle to prospective homebuyers on the front end and threaten to tax existing homeowners out of their properties on the back end. These problems are, of course, rooted in excessive local government spending, which continues to skyrocket largely uninhibited, keeping Texans from reaching their full potential.
It is time for bold action.
• Local property taxes in Texas have been growing faster than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for them, which places an undue burden on Texans and stifles the state’s economy.
• Elevated and rising property taxes limit Texans’ opportunities to save, invest, and leave a legacy for future generations. They also too often stop Texans from purchasing a house or even force many out of their home.
• Based on the inefficiency, cost, and inequities of Texas’s property tax system, we recommend a bold approach to substantially reduce and remove nearly half of this burden.
• Following the recommendations outlined here, Texas can unleash greater economic prosperity
Lower Taxes, Better Texas: Eliminating Property Taxes in Texas Through Buydown Over Time
Texans are fed up with paying exorbitantly high property taxes. By following this buydown plan,* Texas can cut property taxes nearly in half within about 20 years by eliminating school maintenance and operations (M&O) property taxes, also known as the “Robin Hood” tax. This can be achieved by restraining state and local spending growth and using state surplus taxpayer dollars to buy down school M&O property taxes over time.
Under this buydown approach, every dollar not spent by the state will produce a property tax cut for Texans. Following the plan below would let the Texas Legislature keep their promise to taxpayers by lowering property tax bills—something missing in most other plans. If these assumptions hold over time, the buydown would eliminate the school district M&O property taxes during the 2040-41 biennium, which would bring the average property tax burden down to about 1.3% of a property’s value from today’s roughly 2.3%.
■ School district M&O property taxes are estimated to collect about $56 billion in 2020-21, making up nearly half of the hefty property tax burden Texans face.
■ Historical state general revenue-related (GRR) funds growth has averaged 9.02% biennially since 2012. Future state GRR spending increases will be limited biennially to the state’s new spending limit of population growth times inflation with an average of 6.38% since 2012. The resulting GRR surplus of 2.64% will be used to buy down school district M&O property taxes each biennium until they are eliminated.
■ The state will increase education funding to gradually replace the M&O portion of each local school district’s property taxes. School districts will set their tax rate each year to reduce property tax revenue by the amount of the state’s replacement funding and grow the revenue by, at most, 2.5% each period. Changes in city, county, and special purpose district property tax revenues should be limited to less than 3.5%, and preferably 0%, to further restrain spending growth. Any vote to exceed the new voter-approval tax rate must obtain supermajority consent.
■ If these GRR revenue and spending growth rates hold, Texas can eliminate school district M&O property taxes in 20 years. Growth variations will shorten or lengthen this buydown. Ensuring the fastest elimination will mean increased home ownership, a more efficient tax system in Texas as it moves toward sales taxes, and more economic growth supporting prosperity.
Lower Taxes, Better Texas: The Bold Agenda to Reduce Property Taxes, Protect Taxpayers, and Grow the Economy
The way we levy and raise property taxes is not just unsustainable, it is unethical. Texans are being forced out of their own homes by insatiable local governments looking to squeeze every dime out of taxpayers. Texans literally can’t afford for the Legislature to wait years to address the issue or make small changes to the system. More than 70% of Texans say property taxes are a “major burden for them and their family” and want relief now. It’s time for bold action.
Lower Taxes, Better Texas* is a two-pronged approach that immediately cuts property taxes nearly in half and redesigns our system to protect taxpayers, provide a fairer tax system, and grow our economy. The plan not only gives taxpayers immediate relief, but it also makes structural changes to our system that prevent year-to-year spikes in tax bills, allow for a more equitable and transparent form of taxation, and rein in irresponsible local government officials.
Lower TaxesThe first prong is to cut property taxes nearly in half. The state can do this easily by eliminating school district maintenance and operations (M&O) property taxes and use state surplus funds above the state’s new spending limit to provide state tax cuts.
Better TexasThe second prong is to modify our tax system so Texas can raise what it needs to fully fund priorities, increase transparency and fairness, and improve taxpayer protections that guarantee reckless local governments cannot continue to game the system.There are two modifications:
■ Broaden the sales tax base of 51.3% to equalize the tax treatment of certain goods and services, such as legal and financial consulting, and lower the total state and local sales tax rate to 8.21%, which includes a 7.13% state rate and a reduced revenue-neutral local rate cap of 1.08% because of the broader base.
■ Impose a total revenue (sales taxes + property taxes + other local revenue) limitation on local governments similar to the state’s new spending limit, which can only be exceeded by voter approval to raise property taxes on existing property, and require local surplus funds to provide local tax cuts.
■ Texas families will see a dramatic tax burden decrease, especially lower-income earners.
■ More money in Texans’ pockets will improve our economy.
■ Local governments cannot game the system to punish taxpayers and push tax revenue to unsustainable levels every year.
Markets, not mandates, lower drug prices
As prescription drug prices continue to skyrocket, Walmart’s new program shows that markets—not government mandates—are key to keeping live-saving drugs like insulin affordable.
The nation’s largest retailer is providing a 75% discount from the list price of a 10mL vial of NovoLog, and for the five-pen box of NovoLog FlexPen, Walmart is offering an 85% discount from the list price.
How is this possible? Instead of giving the manufacturer’s deep discounts to insurers and their Pharmacy Benefits Managers (PBMs), Walmart is passing along the discount to its customers. In other words, patients—not insurance companies—get the benefit.
“Sales discounts and sales rebates are predominantly issued in the U.S.,” Novo Nordisk’s annual report says. “As such, rebates amount to 74% of gross sales in the US (71% in 2019 and 68% in 2018). Provisions for sales rebates includes U.S. Managed Care, Medicare, Medicaid and other minor U.S. rebate types, as well as rebates in a number of European countries and Canada.”
What this means is that Walmart is getting roughly the same discount that insurers, their PBMs, as well as Medicaid and Medicare receive. Could Walmart charge more? Sure—but Walmart’s business model is providing inexpensive goods with minimal markup, combined with unimaginable economies of scale.
These deep discounts are nothing new. Patients merely haven’t seen them before. That’s because the insurers have kept them for themselves. But this hidden factor has been driving up prices of drugs like insulin, as a Senate Finance Committee report found in January.
“Based on internal memoranda and correspondence collected for this investigation, the practice of offering rebates in the insulin therapeutic class appears to be contributing to both increasing insulin WAC prices and limited uptake of lower-priced products,” the report explains. “Drug manufacturers—typically on an annual, but sometimes more frequent, basis—submit bids to PBMs which reflect a variety of different rebate offers that manufacturers are willing to pay depending on where the drug is placed on a health plan’s formulary.”
That report, titled “Insulin: Examining the Factors Driving the Rising Cost of a Century Old Drug,” found that “the opaque business practices of pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) impact patients, Medicare Part D, and private health plans.” (Though the authors of the report later supported some fixes we don’t agree with, their evaluation of the current structure is spot on.)
Diabetes is the costliest chronic disease in the U.S., with an estimated price tag of $327 billion annually. Insulin costs make up about 20% percent of direct medical costs.
Texas has taken action; House Bill 18, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June establishes a prescription drug savings program for 3 million uninsured Texans. But that’s not a prescription for the real ailment here—PBMs distorting the market for the benefit of insurers.
Neither are government mandates—price controls. Price controls cannot address the problem at hand—scarcity. Price controls are merely another way for government to distort a market.
As a report from the Federal Trade Commission notes, “Drug manufacturers pay large ‘rebates’ to PBMs to ensure they get prominent placement on the formulary. Manufacturers may offer larger rebates – sometimes up to 50 percent of a drug’s list price – conditioned on giving their product preferred status over a competing one, or for achieving a market share requirement. This creates a ‘wall’ around their lucrative products in ways that can squelch out competitors… This raises the question of whether PBMs are incentivized to select higher list price drugs instead of lower list price drugs for their formularies in order to collect a higher rebate.”
The broken American health care system is often said to be a failure of the free market; the truth is that our health care markets are anything but free and transparent.
Based on what we know, we should ask if the current system is meant to benefit patients, or if it is really built to sustain the status quo for insurers and middlemen. PBMs are a middleman, and thus serve a purpose. But is it the right one, in this case?
Walmart is also a middleman, and it’s just doing what Walmart does—buying in bulk and passing the savings on to the consumer. Perhaps the middlemen in the current model (which is terribly opaque and not serving American patients) should be disempowered. Perhaps the patient should be the recipient of all such discounts. Perhaps the patient should be in charge.
Electricity isn’t on the special session agenda — and that’s a good thing
Amid the hubbub of the Texas House Democrats’ flight to Washington, D.C. to avoid voting on election protection reforms during the special session, many Texans are wondering why electric reliability didn’t make the special session agenda. After all, isn’t this a critical issue, especially as summer continues to heat up?
But Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent letter urging the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to act on grid reliability, rather than calling for more legislation, is the correct move — and based on a Senate hearing Tuesday with all three PUC commissioners, it is kickstarting the reform Texans desperately need.
Over the last decade, Texas has gained 4 million new residents and 35% GDP growth — but instead of adding more reliable gas, nuclear, and coal generation, we have far less than before. Meanwhile, the combination of Texas’s market structure and federal and state subsidies has caused wind and solar generation capacity to triple — yet we have done nothing to ensure that generation can be counted on to come through when Texans need it. As we learned during the February blackouts, our state cannot continue growing, and our economy cannot continue to flourish, without reliable electricity.
A strong statewide reliability standard, for all generators, is the only way to ensure a prosperous future for our Texas grid. In Gov. Abbott’s words, we must “allocate reliability costs to generation resources that cannot guarantee their own availability, such as wind or solar power.” If generators are not required to bear some of those reliability costs, Texas ratepayers will bear them by either subsidizing backup generation or enduring more blackouts.
If this past session showed us anything, it’s that real grid reform faces an uphill battle. Thanks to well-funded lobbyists and attractive (but false) messaging about the value of “green” energy, most of the blackout conversations in the Capitol revolved around the failures of thermal generators and the natural gas supply system, not around the more fundamental market problems. But just like tossing more money at schools doesn’t necessarily help children learn better, simply throwing money at weatherization and backup generation won’t give us more reliable power. To do that, we must enact substantive market reforms.
For too long, market-distorting policies at the state and federal level have compounded to create a no-lose situation for wind and solar generators. A substantial portion of their capital costs are covered by subsidies and special financing arrangements, they receive massive property tax breaks, and they have no fuel costs. Furthermore, the federal production tax credit pays wind generators to produce electricity whether the grid needs it or not, leading to extended periods of negative prices.
Try competing against that. Our thermal generators can’t, and that’s one of the main reasons these reliable power plants are shutting down.
Gov. Abbott’s letter seems to be the clarion call we need to push through real reform. At the Senate hearing following the letter’s publication, conversations revolved refreshingly around improving baseload generation and solving renewable energy’s reliability problem.
“We need to pay for performance…not just what these producers say they can produce,” Commissioner Will McAdams said. That might seem like common sense — of course the electric market should be based on the actual amount of electricity — but it’s a radical shift for Texas. And it’s a shift the people of Texas deserve.
We’ve written before that Senate Bill 3, the omnibus blackout response bill that passed in the regular session, was just a start. It took decades for the electric market to get in this shape, and it’s going to take time to correct it. Gov. Abbott has taken the appropriate next step of clarifying how the PUC should implement the broad mandates in SB 3, and those reforms should be seen through.
There’s certainly more that can and should be done — such as eliminating the wasteful subsidies that boost variable generation while cutting off more reliable thermal generation at the knees — but Texans deserve a careful, measured approach to the future of our grid. Given the politically fraught nature of this special session, more legislative debate isn’t a prudent step at this juncture.
The path ahead is long, and, as PUC Chairman Peter Lake noted, no market has gone where Texas is trying to go. However, if the PUC is successful, Texans will not see their electricity bills spike as Californians have, and they will no longer have to wonder if the wind is blowing or the sun is shining when they need power.
Texas’ fleeing Dem lawmakers – here’s why they’ll be back soon
Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives just flew maskless in a private jet with a case of beer to Washington, D.C.
Normally, this would just be a fundraising trip to see powerful special interests in the nation’s capital. But this flight out of Austin had a different purpose – a quorum-busting walkout to prevent a vote on an election integrity bill designed to safeguard elections in the Lone Star State, It was the second such walkout; Democrats deployed the same tactic in May at the end of Texas’ regular biennial session.
The main point triggering the walkout? Requiring voters who vote by mail to write down one of three government-issued ID numbers – a driver’s license, state ID or last four of the Social Security number – inside a privacy flap on their ballot return envelope to ensure that the vote cast in their name is actually from them.
Today, only a signature match is required, as determined by a county signature verification committee that always has a two-to-one partisan balance and thus is subject to the whims of political subjectivity.
Every state legislature has rules for a quorum – typically enshrined in the state constitution. Of the 50 states, 45 only require half the chamber to be present to constitute a quorum. Four more, including Texas, require two-thirds of the legislature to be present, and Massachusetts is alone in allowing quorum with only two-fifths of the Senate and three-eighths of the House.
Quorum rules are designed to prevent abuse by a majority of lawmakers who, without such protections, could convene a snap session and debate and pass legislation without input from the minority.
But in this case, the requirements for a quorum are being exploited for a different purpose – to prevent consideration of legislation by shutting down a duly called special session of the Texas Legislature. Lawmakers have abandoned their posts and walked off their jobs. For any of the rest of us, that would constitute a fire-able offense. But these lawmakers – and their fans in the major media – see themselves as heroes in the cause of voting rights.
But are Texas Democrats heroes – or are they fighting for a bad cause?
Democrats, both nationally and in Texas, want to radically remake our election laws, erasing state voter ID laws, making it impossible to verify citizenship for voter eligibility, degrading the quality of voter lists, and dramatically expanding mail-in voting with minimal safeguards against fraudulent ballots.
Part of the reason Texas Democrats fled to D.C. was to promote their party’s counter to election integrity laws being passed in states such as Georgia and Florida, with Texas on the verge of passing similar legislation.
California is the template for this effort. There, the entire election system runs on an honor system, with no official ID required to register or vote, and with 87% of the ballots cast by mail. At the federal level, the plan to California-ize the nation’s elections is known as H.R.1 and S.1. H.R.1, the deceptively named, For the People Act, passed the U.S. House on March 3. It stalled in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans hold a 50-50 balance.
The problem with imposing California election standards (meaning no standards) on the nation is that people don’t like it. In Texas, 89% of voters – including majorities of Black, Hispanic and Democrat voters – support presenting an official ID to vote; 81% support requiring some form of ID to vote by mail; 89% support audits of voter lists to ensure dead voters, people who have moved out of state or non-citizens aren’t registered; and 83% support protections to ensure poll watchers can’t be prevented from doing their jobs.
Most importantly, by a two to one margin, Texans reject the Democrats’ flight out of state. Texans want their elected lawmakers to work, not walk.
Democrats say that there is no election fraud in Texas. But the Texas Attorney General’s Office has convicted 140 people for election fraud since 2005, with 44 open election fraud cases pending. More than half of the convictions involved mail-in ballot fraud. And, for about 10 of the 16 years in question, those prosecutions were obtained with only one part-time prosecutor. Today, the AG’s office has three prosecutors working to ensure free and fair elections in a state of some 30 million people.
So, will Texas Democrats continue their walkout indefinitely? Likely not. That’s because 2021 is a redistricting year and, in Texas, when the Legislature fails to draw new legislative lines during their first general session, the Legislative Redistricting Board takes over.
This five-member body is composed of the lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, attorney general, comptroller and commissioner of the general land office – Republicans all. Their decisions on where to draw the lines can potentially end the careers of dozens of lawmakers, who, in Texas, aren’t term limited.
The pending work of the Legislative Redistricting Board may serve as a powerful inducement to return to the work of legislating, especially for Democratic lawmakers with seniority. Even more so as Gov. Greg Abbott is likely to add additional charges to the special session call such as consideration of $5 billion in property tax buy-downs.
American Health Care Needs Competition
It’s refreshing to hear President Joe Biden call for more competition in health care. “Too often,” the President noted recently, “the government has actually made it harder for new companies to break in and compete.” Let’s see if his actions match his words.
For too long, people have mistakenly believed that the American health care system is a free market—indeed, some have blamed its many woes as the fault of capitalism itself.
But the American health care system is anything but a free market. Crony capitalism—characterized by policies that empower and enrich a few organizations—has increased the barriers for companies seeking to enter various segments of the industry. President Biden acknowledged this point by saying, “Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism; it’s exploitation. Without healthy competition, big players can change and charge whatever they want and treat you however they want. And for too many Americans, that means accepting a bad deal for things that … you can’t go without.”
This is an interesting take from President Biden, though, because his beloved Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, contributed to an increased rate of consolidation that further reduced competition.
According to research from the New England Journal of Medicine, “The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has unleashed a merger frenzy, with hospitals scrambling to shore up their market positions.” These mergers have created regional monopolies that have also led to those hospitals and corporate organizations funded by private equity to employ those physicians, further driving up the cost of care while negatively impacting the quality of care being delivered.
Consolidation among the insurers has been as aggressive as the hospital industry, if not more so. According to data, “345 insurers offered coverage on the exchanges in 2013. By 2019, that had fallen to 202.” According to a 2021 Statista survey, more than half of direct premiums written were represented by only seven health insurance companies. This concentration of market share is exactly what President Biden is talking about when he talks about a lack of competition.
The presenting challenge is how the President and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will execute this order, when the very policies they promulgate have promoted this exploitative environment. Not only have we seen incredible merger and acquisition activity, we also have seen policies that have hindered other competitive models such as Direct Primary Care (DPC) and cost sharing coverage models. Rather than an objective view of correcting course, the Administration has doubled down by continuing to enrich and empower special interests by subsidizing and funding insurers and hospitals rather than giving patients relief from their burdensome policies.
An example of this from recent months is when the Biden administration announced that it had invested $100 million in a new ad campaign to raise awareness for the 2021 emergency special enrollment period (SEP). The $100 million in marketing funds is being spent on ads for television, radio and 30 second YouTube videos like this (production cost unknown). This is the only time a SEP has received federal advertisement funding. These dollars represent advertising for private industry that is further subsidized by the federal government for each enrollment.
President Biden correctly ended his remarks by saying, “I believe the experiment failed. We have to get back to an economy that grows from the bottom up and the middle out.” Let’s hope his administration truly will focus on restoring competition, without looking through the lens of political ideology.
Facial Recognition Technology: Examining Its Use by Law Enforcement
Brett L. Tolman is the founder of the Tolman Group and the executive director for Right on Crime.
If one considers this technology as creating the ability to find a needle in a haystack, it seems entirely reasonable to demand the police to first know which needle they are looking for, rather than search every haystack in the off chance it contains a needle. Absent an emergency or other exceptional circumstance, some manner of reasonable suspicion should likely be a prerequisite to a facial recognition search. Likewise, we should be exceedingly cautious about the deployment of real-time facial recognition, which has more disturbing Fourth Amendment implications. Finally, we need transparency on when, how, and why every law enforcement agency is using facial recognition and which databases they are drawing from, and we should have particular reticence when it comes to the collection of images from unwitting, law-abiding individuals.
Testimony before the United States House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary
Fighting Critical Race Theory in our Schools
“BREAKING: The nation’s largest teachers union has approved a plan to promote critical race theory in all 50 states and 14,000 local school districts. The argument that ‘critical race theory isn’t in K-12 schools’ is officially dead” – Christopher Rufo.
Critical race theory has been implicitly taught in schools for years. However, now the National Education Association has explicitly stated its pro-CRT agenda for schools; its teachers will promote, publicize, and teach CRT to students. Thus, it is paramount that parents know how to identify CRT, articulate its problems, and fight it by being empowered to make their own decisions for their children.
CRT is evasive—there is a large umbrella of terms and phrases associated with it, making identification sometimes difficult without being in the classroom with your child.
See TPPF’s previous article describing the most prominent terms that hint at CRT’s presence in your child’s school. Further, see the nine “divisive concepts” banned by the majority (15 of the 21) of the bills that ban CRT. These concepts encapsulate what critical race theorists believe, and can aid you in finding CRT language in lessons, worksheets, and school websites.
The short-term solution to combat this ideology is to advocate for transparency. Get involved in your school board, and ultimately take legal action if necessary. For example, in both an Illinois and a Virginia school district, people are fighting back against the blatantly unconstitutional grounds of CRT.
In the Illinois case, the plaintiff is a teacher speaking out against the discrimination in her district’s teacher training and classroom instruction. Parents can identify the CRT teaching she speaks against by reading their children’s take-home material and advocating for transparency of curricula to keep schools accountable.
For example, if teachers are required to teach a lesson including the exercise of lining students up based on race and privilege and ask guilting questions, then that lesson should be online for parents to view beforehand.
The Loudon County School Board case in Virginia shows the influence that five parents are having because they started asking questions. By reading the school district’s equity plans on the district website, a parent was able to email an administrator his concerns over discrimination. Then, when the school sent a letter home to parents describing the covert implementation of CRT through “Student Equity Ambassadors,” the parents had a case against the school.
Now, in that district, parents are attending school board meetings, protesting and speaking up for what they want for their children. The lesson here is that parents have power—and can use it.
The long-term solution to fighting CRT begins with parents fighting for the right to choose the best education for their children. Every student deserves equal opportunity, no matter what school attendance zone they live in.
Parents can fight for “backpack funding”—a system in which a child’s public school funding follows him or her to the school of their parents’ choice.
Parents can also advocate for more charter schools, because charter schools are required to be more transparent with curriculum, making CRT teaching more difficult. Moreover, as “The Lottery,” a 2010 documentary film shows, all parents should have the right and ability to choose the right education for their children.
Teachers unions—like the NEA—ultimately should not get to decide what is taught in the classroom.
Parents should be made aware of every decision affecting their children, including those occurring inside the classroom. Learning how CRT disguises itself and advocating for transparency is the first step in fighting against the indoctrination of our children. Fighting the long-term battle begins with ensuring that parents have the power to choose the best education for their children.
Heroes and Villains: How the Left Lies About Election Reforms
A CNN “analysis” by Stephen Collinson is perfectly scripted as a modern melodrama—with brave and determined Democrats fighting rascally Republicans over voting rights.
“They’re trying to save democracy by walking out on it,” he writes of Texas House Democrats, who fled the state to prevent a vote on election reforms.
He adds, “In effect, the fleeing Texas House Democrats are denying Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott a quorum in a special session he called partly to pass a new measure that critics say severely curtails access to voting, especially for Democratic and Black voters.”
Strangely enough, the CNN analysis failed to analyze the bill itself. Let’s be clear—nothing in Senate Bill 1 curtails access to voting in any way, shape or form. In fact, the bill would improve access, protect voters’ rights, add transparency and accountability in the voting process, and deter fraud.
The bill reins in rogue counties like Harris (where Houston is located) that sought to change the rules for voting with an election under way in 2020. It would implement consistent, uniform, and transparent voting procedures for all Texas counties. That’s it’s duty; the U.S. Constitution says that state legislatures determine the time, place and manner for voting—not counties and not cities.
The most substantive change to Texas voting would be the bill’s addition of voter ID measures for mail-in ballots—something that’s very popular with Texans. Nearly 90% of Texans say voters should have to show identification to vote. More than 80% believe in-person and mail-in ballots should have the same protections. Roughly the same number say mail-in ballots should include the voter’s driver’s license number or the last four digits of their social security number. And 89% of Texans say we should audit our voter lists regularly to ensure they only include eligible voters.
Democrats are citing two other provisions to support their claim that Republicans are aiming for voter suppression. Harris County allowed drive-through voting in 2020, as well as 24-hour voting. But neither of those were legal in the first place. Curbside voting for the disabled—at a secure polling place—is legal, however. And SB 1 retains it. If Democrats wish to add drive-through voting and 24-hour polling places, perhaps they should come home and submit bills to that effect.
It’s not about making it harder to vote. Americans already believe that voting is easy or very easy (94%), and more than 80% broadly support measures improving election security. Texans believe that these measures won’t make it harder to vote, just harder to cheat.
Yet Texans disapprove of the Democratic walkout. A full 54% of Texans oppose using procedural tactics, like denying quorum, to avoid voting. Just 27% support it. Ironically, many of the Democrats that fled Texas to kill legislation also support ending the filibuster in the U.S. Senate.
If those Democrats don’t come home and get back to work, other important bills will fail, as well—such as bail reform, property tax reduction and paychecks for retired teachers.
The fact is that too many Americans—and not just Republicans—have lost confidence in our election systems.
“For this republic to survive—for representative government to mean anything—all of its citizens must have complete confidence that their vote counts and that their voices matter,” U.S. Congressman Chip Roy wrote recently. “Our country simply cannot allow the kind of disaster we have seen these last few months to ever happen again.”
What’s not helpful in this effort is an “analysis” like CNN’s—which paints a misleading picture of important election reforms. Those in the media must stop relying on “critics say,” and start reading the bills themselves. They might just learn that common-sense election reforms will strengthen our nation, not bring it to “the edge of meltdown,” as CNN so dramatically put it.
Big Tech: Recommendations
Big Tech is on everyone’s screen and in everyone’s mind, including emerging issues related to privacy, viewpoint discrimination, and possible abuse of market power. We must be vigilant to ensure that government policy does not privilege some over others. The Foundation has researched and explored whether there is justification for government action to deal with Big Tech issues, either by modifying existing law to curtail the power of these firms or other options. Following this examination, we present policy recommendations for Texas and the federal level.
Patient-Centered Reform of the 340B Drug Pricing Program
Patient-centered reform of the 340B Drug Pricing Program is needed if the program is to realize the original intent of helping safety-net organizations provide needed services to vulnerable patients.
The 340B Drug Pricing Program began with a laudable goal—helping certain safety-net organizations stretch scarce resources to provide needed services to vulnerable patients.
What was initially intended as a support program narrowly focused on certain hospitals and providers has grown to include a sizeable portion of U.S. pharmacies, including major pharmacy chains.
Unclear legislative parameters, informal regulations, a lack of transparency, and inadequate oversight and enforcement authority have cast doubt on whether the program is functioning as originally intended.
The program’s good intentions will not be fully realized without meaningful reform that adequately addresses the program’s current shortcomings.
SB 5: Limiting Overreach of Social Media Platforms
Senate Bill 5 exists as a reaction to the overreach and excess of social-media firms that have taken it upon themselves to police the public square and stifle ideas and beliefs they disagree with—ideas held by broad swaths of the American public. They do so from a standpoint of exceptional power within our civic space, undergirded by a special favor granted to them, and to no other form of media, by federal legislation: exemption from liability for user-generated content. Unfortunately, what we see time and again is these firms’ unfitness to competently or consistently exercise that power. Individual citizens with unorthodox opinions are deplatformed, and then orthodoxy shifts. Democratically elected representatives are shut down, while dictatorial regimes communicate without hindrance.
Don’t ‘Forget The Alamo.’ Do Fight The Book’s Revisionist, Fake History To The Last Man
The culture wars are alive and well, deep in the heart of Texas. The latest battle, which flared up last week, involves the recently published and controversial book, “Forget the Alamo.” The book received fanfare from the expected left-of-center outlets, but the state history museum’s preservation board canceled a promotional event due to what board member and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called its “fact-free rewriting of TX history.”
Lost in the back-and-forth about the event is the fact that the book is atrocious history. Perhaps its most lasting contribution is showing just how far the revisionists of Texan and American stories will go — and just how politicized they have made the study of history.
I say that neither as a jingoist nor as a layman. As a historian with a doctorate in American history from the University of Texas, I know the subject of the book well; I have taught U.S. and Texas history to thousands of students.
I am also a kindred spirit with anyone who wants to incorporate into our national and state histories people who have been overlooked. During my academic career, my scholarship focused on enslaved peoples, the slave trade, and the cultural evolution of Africans in America.
In fact, all of my academic publications focused on African American history and culture, bringing enslaved people’s lives to center stage through innovative approaches in analyzing historical records. Suffice it to say, I have a keen interest in historical studies that carefully — and with great balance — provide us with new perspectives.
‘Forget The Alamo’ Is a Historical Scarecrow
Unfortunately, that’s not what Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford do in “Forget the Alamo.” Far more of an anti-Texas polemic than serious history, the book is an utter disappointment.
The key reason is the presence of dozens of “straw man” arguments. The primary example reduces anyone who supports the popular understanding of what occurred at the Alamo to a white supremacist. Consequently, anyone with the gall to question their work (like Patrick did publicly last week) is an “Alamo-head” or “Bible-thumper” who clings to what the authors call the “Heroic Anglo Narrative.” Burrough et al. leave no room for someone to reject both the extremes of the early 20th century Texas jingoists and their own, even more baseless analysis.
In that light, perhaps the authors’ recently canceled book event, loftily entitled “The Craft of Writing,” should be rescheduled with a new title: “The Craft of Writing Straw-Men.” Apparently their kind of work passes muster now as serious historical inquiry, provided the straw men involve, in the authors’ words, “older, conservative whites who vote in the Republican primary.”
What’s worse is the authors’ extreme lack of balance. This is ironic, as they decry imbalance in the early histories of Texas. The authors use an extremely thin set of historical records to launch a full-scale, ideological assault on the Alamo—and, by extension, Texas.
This assault (along with their other professional work) reveals a strong desire to re-make modern Texas into their own ideological fantasyland. But doing so requires tearing down whatever historical foundations of Texas exist — just as the 1619 Project aims to do for the whole country.
Historical Errors and Generalizations
The result is a series of glaring historical errors, each of which could have been mitigated if the authors started with the historical evidence rather than imposing onto the evidence their desired conclusion.
First, the authors overstate the importance of slavery to previous generations of Texans. Yes, slavery was a part of Texan history, and crucially so in eastern and southeastern Texas. But that has been acknowledged among historians for many decades.
The authors, however, must emphasize this non-controversy so they can erect their straw-man: anyone who sustains the history of the Alamo must, therefore, be a defender of slavery and a “white supremacist.” This is as preposterous as concluding that every single Texan, including the heroic defenders of the Alamo, were there to defend slavery.
But the fallacy of presentism lives loudly in “Forget the Alamo.” The authors would have us believe we can’t accept both as true: that slavery was evil, and that Texas, like America, was founded on noble ideals. (To say nothing, by the way, of those very ideals being the foundation for all the social progress since the 1800s.)
Conversely, the authors would have us believe Mexico is a paragon of civic virtue. In their portrayal, Mexico was far advanced in moral thinking about slavery, while every white Texan (and Southerner) defended slavery on moral grounds. While it is true that some Mexicans were fighting for abolition, the historical record is far more complicated than the simple conclusion offered.
Likewise, a few Southern agrarians used morality to defend slavery, but the prevailing notion in Texas and beyond was that slavery would eventually die off on the weight of its own inefficiency, perhaps hastened some by abolitionists. What interesting stories those are to recount! What heroic figures we find in Texas, and throughout America, when we teach students those stories. But anything positive about Texas has no room in “Forget the Alamo.”
I could go on about the authors consistently portraying Mexican historical figures in the most positive light and Texan figures in the most negative. I could also write at length about the simplistic, even insulting portrayal of all Spanish-speaking Texans as a monolith. In the authors’ minds, apparently every Tejano for centuries has been a proto-Chicano activist, ignoring the millions of Texas Hispanics who love, helped build, and now sustain the Texas ethos.
Racializing Texas History
The result of these shortcomings is one massive flaw in the book: every event in Texas’ past, and every episode in the present, is portrayed as a battle between oppressed people of color and whites. Of course, almost every white person (save for the enlightened elite intellectuals of the modern era who are working to “correct the record”) is painted as evil. Not to be a member of the enlightened group is to adhere automatically to the Heroic Anglo Narrative.
At best, this is simplistic. It creates a false dichotomy between the overwrought legend in some movies and in some early accounts of the Alamo, and this equally overwrought, postmodern portrayal of history as the marginalized versus the oppressed. At worst, this is intentional, revealing the authors’ desire to redefine Texas by undercutting one of its iconic moments.
In that light, “Forget the Alamo” is eminently forgettable. But to ignore the larger context in which this book was conceived, published, and promoted — the massive push to define all of history, and all of us, by the color of our skin — is to be mistaken.
Like our heroic Texan forebears (of all ethnic backgrounds) who fought against the oppression of the Mexican government, we must fight the intellectual tyranny of those, like these authors, who undermine the noble aims of Texas and America.
As California Exports Blackouts To Nearby States, Will Texas Avoid The Same Fate?
California’s electric grid operator declared a “Flex Alert” Friday morning, showing all that mandated solar and wind power can’t reliably keep the lights on in California. California’s politically driven renewable energy mandates are likely to cause more blackouts this summer outside of California after a remarkable ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that allows California to hijack electricity that Arizona already contracted to receive.
California is America’s largest importer of electricity. The Golden State also mandates an increasingly large share of renewable energy on its electric grid with a goal of 60 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045, while banning the renewal of coal-fired power contracts to provide electricity to California from out of state.
This would be fine if the consequences of these mandates were limited to those who voted for them. But they’re not. Because California’s grid is part of the Western Interconnection, its laws and regulations on electricity affect eight Western states and parts of four more, including El Paso, Texas.
How California’s Mess Is Affecting Other States
Fearful of blackouts this summer that might affect the Sept. 14 recall election targeting Gov. Gavin Newsom, California’s grid operators are buying up power around the West. This prompted Arizona officials to warn that California’s actions may lead to blackouts in Arizona, with Arizona Corporation Commission Chairwoman Lea Márquez Peterson blasting the late June FERC decision to prioritize electric utilities in California over those of other Western states.
“Our electric utilities did the right thing and planned ahead, securing pre-negotiated contracts with utilities in the Pacific Northwest to ensure that critical hydropower would be available to Arizonans when it would be needed the most, which would be delivered across transmission line through the state of California,” Márquez Peterson noted in a statement.
Tucson Electric Power and Arizona Public Service, two Arizona utilities, specifically warned that California was “exporting its reliability issues which are the result of dynamics within (California) to the rest of the West.” I raised this issue in 2017 and 2019, but regulatory agencies and elected officials too often wait until after a crisis to act. As a result, California’s aggressive environmental goals have become a crisis in the Western U.S.
A compelling political battle may arise in the West this summer. The question will be whether Western governors will passively stand by and allow their electric generators to save California from afternoon and early evening blackouts at the cost of their own constituents losing power. Given the antipathy towards California in neighboring states, it’s not hard to understand how California paying a premium for power and driving up prices while threatening blackouts won’t go over well for governors seen as doing little to stop it.
How California Energy Began to Break Down
So, how did California and its neighbors arrive at this point? Because California’s electricity goals measure net use of electricity by source, it allows California politicians to virtuously claim they are “greener” than they really are.
They do this by generating a surplus of subsidized solar power during mild days. This surplus electricity is priced to sell, as there is often more supply than demand in California. As a result, California frequently exports cheap electricity to other states in the middle of the day. This has depressed the value of baseload power generation, discouraging needed new investment and causing the premature retirement of gas and coal powerplants.
Even so, California’s grid is increasingly unstable, resulting in a frequent need to import electricity in the late afternoon. This happens almost daily when solar power ramps down with the sun and people return home from work and school, causing a shortfall in electricity for two to three-and-one-half-hours—something called the “duck curve” for the shape of the electric demand graph. During hot evenings, California relies on natural gas, coal, and nuclear power from surrounding states when their own renewables fall short.
Will Texas Turn Itself Into California?
California’s wild hourly swings in mandated renewable power generation have wrecked the economics of generating reliable electricity in other Western states.
This phenomenon parallels the struggles Texas is increasingly contending with in its own grid (known by the acronym ERCOT for Energy Reliability Council of Texas). In Texas’s case, it wasn’t due to ambitious renewable mandates set by politicians and regulators but generous federal subsidies for wind and solar that allow them to make money even when they pay Texas’s largely free-market grid to take their power, as happens with one-third of Texas power contracts during the year.
The huge financial advantage federal subsidies provide to wind and solar has distorted Texas’s largely deregulated electricity market, discouraging investment in new gas-fired power plants and resulting in the early retirement of thermal plants. Since 2016, Texas added a net capacity of 13,000 megawatts of wind and solar—although it usually produces a fraction of that at largely random times—while losing a net of 4,000 megawatts of more reliable coal and gas-powered generators.
This erosion of reliability was at the heart of Texas’s deep-winter blackouts. Fortunately, for Texans, the legislature passed a bill during its recently concluded 2021 session that, if used correctly by the Texas Public Utilities Commission, would begin to address the weaknesses in Texas’s grid caused by the growing share of unreliable wind and solar. On July 6, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the commission to take four significant steps:
Incentivize investment in “reliable sources of power, like natural gas, coal, and nuclear power.”
Allocate reliability costs to generation resources that cannot guarantee their own availability, such as wind or solar power.
Better schedule generator maintenance (significant amounts of power were down for maintenance during the winter storm).
And accelerate the construction of new powerlines connecting reliable power to customers.
While Abbott’s new policies will help Texans avoid future blackouts, there is little chance concrete action will happen before summer’s end, leaving Texas vulnerable to at least one more summer of tight electricity supplies during hot days when the wind isn’t blowing over West Texas’s wind turbines.
Don’t Subject Right States to Left Governance
Given the havoc California is visiting on its neighbors in the West, it’s interesting that there were multiple calls for Texas to join one of the national grids after the winter storm, with The New York Times headline mocking,
As Arizona, Nevada, and other Western states are finding out, interconnectivity with California generates numerous problems. In addition, the roughly 85 percent of Texas served by its own grid—El Paso connects to the west and parts of the Panhandle and East Texas connect to the Eastern Interconnection—remains largely free from federal electricity oversight because Texas electricity doesn’t engage in interstate commerce. Most Texans see that as a powerful benefit.
It’s instructive to examine the electric prices to consumers that result from each state’s energy policies and mix of generation. Through April of this year, California’s average electricity prices clocked in at 18.52 cents per Kilowatt-hour (kWh), the highest in the contiguous U.S. outside of New England, increasing by almost 12 percent year over year.
This is about double the average of the other states in the Western grid, meaning California can pay top dollar to drain other states’ power supplies, leaving them to bake on hot summer days while Californians remain cool. In Texas, the average price of electricity through April was 10.34 cents per kWh, 56 percent of the average in California—and that’s including a massive spike in prices due to Winter Storm Uri in February.
In the wake of Texas moving to limit the danger of blackouts from an overreliance on unreliable renewables versus California pressing ahead with its 100 percent renewable mandates, it will be fascinating to see which model delivers the affordable, reliable power that’s a prerequisite to modern civilization.
The True Enemy at the Border
Alma Barragan was a 61-year-old mayoral candidate in the small central Mexican town of Moroleon. On May 25, twelve days before the June 6 election, she stood at a campaign event, microphone in hand, speaking of a time in the idyllic past when the people of Moroleon could safely walk its streets. She urged an end to the corruption endemic to every level of Mexican politics. A moment later, an assassin’s bullet took her life.
Barragan became the 35th political candidate to be killed in Mexico’s most bloody election cycle on record. Nearly 100 political operatives were murdered. Dozens of other candidates dropped out of races due to threats of violence. In total, the risk-analysis firm Etellekt recorded 782 acts of aggression against candidates and politicians in the nine months leading up to the elections.
Moroleon sits in the state of Guanajuato, adjacent to Michoacan. According to a 2020 report by Mexico-based Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice, among world cities with populations exceeding 300,000, seven of the 10 with the highest homicide rates were in Mexico. Three of the 10 were in either Michoacan or Guanajuato.
Why Guanajuato and Michoacan? And why the other ranked Mexican cities — Tijuana, Ensenada, Juarez, and Obregon?
The pre-election scourge in Mexico, like the rapid disintegration of its security apparatus generally, can be understood in the context of the plaza system that has long defined its organized-crime landscape. The complex Mexican transnational criminal organizations that today traffic in everything from deadly opioids to advanced weaponry and Central American migrants arose from an earlier generation of farmers in the mountainous Golden Triangle region. The farmers had found a customer base for marijuana and opium in the United States and, in coordination with associates in towns, or plazas, along transportation routes, developed reliable methods for crossing illegal drugs into the United States.
The success of these Mexican drug traffickers attracted the attention of their counterparts to the south. In the 1980s, the first generation of South American cocaine producers had a distribution problem. The demand for their cocaine was skyrocketing throughout the United States, but the Drug Enforcement Administration’s counter-drug efforts were disrupting Caribbean-based cocaine supply lines.
To solve their distribution problem, Colombian cocaine traffickers negotiated with Mexican drug transporters for the use of their routes in moving cocaine to the U.S. Mexican drug traffickers realized that coordination among their geographically dispersed transportation organizations — the cartelization of drug trafficking — would shift market power from the Colombians to the Mexicans. The Colombians controlled the production of the commodity, but the Mexicans controlled its distribution channels. Well before there was Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, there was the first generation of Mexican drug lords. They transported and distributed anything and everything profitable, and illegal drugs have long held the largest profit margins.
The state of Guanajuato sits along one of those transportation routes. Mexico’s two largest criminal organizations, the Sinaloa Federation and the New Generation Cartel of Jalisco, commonly known as CJNG, are at war with each other for control of Guanajuato. High-ranking operatives of the Central American gang MS-13 have likewise settled in the state, strategically positioning themselves to coordinate human-smuggling operations across Mexico. Guanajuato is controlled entirely by organized crime, and it is not the only such state in Mexico. Estimates of the percentage of Mexican territory controlled by criminal organizations range from 20 percent to 80 percent.
Such is the prism through which the U.S. immigration crisis of 2021 should be viewed. The cartelized Mexican transportation organizations of the 1980s became known as the “Mexican trampoline,” bouncing the multi-billion-dollar cocaine industry from South America to the United States. With the recent waves of northbound Central American migrants, the same organizations have become the Mexican bridge. As with cocaine, Mexico’s vast, complex transnational criminal organizations are not involved in the supply of migrants headed north, just in transporting them. Instead, smaller, less-organized human-trafficking and -smuggling organizations and gangs such as MS-13 and 18th Street are largely responsible for organizing caravans and motivating migration.
But the Mexican organizations controlling plazas along the trafficking routes have again asserted their control over distribution lines, while their product is tragically dehumanized and treated as chattel. An estimated 80 percent of women and girls who come from the Northern Triangle, escaping rampant crime and extreme poverty in the hope for a new life in America, are raped along the way.
The United States should resist categorization of Central American migrants as its adversaries. Migrants today collectively are no more an existential threat to the United States than our nation’s European forebears were in previous centuries.
The U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence apparatus should instead increase vigilance in detecting and combating transnational gangs, criminal organizations, and terrorist groups intending to use the fog of an immigration crisis to inflict harm on American citizens. Such organizations are the true enemies at the border, as are hostile foreign states that use criminal organizations to threaten the lives and livelihoods of American citizens. China, for example, under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, has been an almost exclusive supplier to Mexican criminal organizations of pseudoephedrine (the primary ingredient in methamphetamine synthesis) and fentanyl over the last 20 years. A decade ago, Mexican criminal organizations began using fentanyl rather than opium as the base opiate in heroin production. Since then, fentanyl has been at the center of America’s opioid crisis, transported across the southern border in the form of everything from heroin to counterfeit oxycodone pills.
U.S. immigration policy is focused, from the left, on the “root causes” of immigration from the Northern Triangle, and from the right, on Biden-administration policies that encourage would-be migrants to make the dangerous journey north. Both approaches, while carrying some merit, miss a more significant existential threat. The Mexican government is the most corrupt in the Western Hemisphere, and its criminal organizations provide hostile foreign states such as China the ready access to the United States that the same organizations provided the Colombian drug cartels.
Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, after the assassinations of dozens of political candidates such as Alma Barragan, declared “peace and tranquility” throughout his country on the eve of the June 6 elections. The people of Mexico responded to that lie by depriving his party of its supermajority in Mexico’s legislative lower house.
It is time for the United States to take a similar step. The U.S. diplomatic approach to Mexico over the last 30 years, through administrations affiliated with both parties, has been largely transactional and has overlooked Mexico’s systemic corruption, lack of transparency, and perpetual, and perhaps intentional, ineffectiveness in policing its borders to the north and south.
The best thing that the U.S. government can do for citizens of both countries is to expect from the Mexican government what it expects from any other government seeking a bilateral relationship. It is time for the U.S. to demand that Mexico regain control of its own territory from criminal organizations, cut the supply lines of fentanyl and pseudoephedrine from China, and engage in the same bilateral cooperation with U.S. law enforcement that would be expected of any other ally.
If Mexico does not, then it is time to end the charade that Mexico is an ally.
Election Integrity Case Studies & Policy
Distrust of elections is currently widespread and bipartisan. Election integrity and confidence in elections are key issues facing the state of Texas. This has gotten the attention of state leadership. Prior to the 87th Legislature, Gov. Abbott declared it one of his priorities, to which both Lt. Gov. Patrick and Speaker Phelan agreed. Much good was accomplished during the 2021 legislative session, but due to the failure of Senate Bill 7 and Senate Bill 155, two key election integrity bills, among others, much work remains to be done. The purpose of this paper is to document the still-lingering vulnerabilities in the Texas Election Code and describe the legislative fixes that were proposed during the 2021 regular session that should be passed during the July 2021 special session. Our focus will primarily be on the bills in Table 1. We urge the Legislature to pursue the policies that were introduced in each of these previous pieces of legislation.
• Election security should not be controversial, and election security and integrity measures are not suppressive or racist.
• Election integrity problems predated 2020. Evidence suggests our system is not secure enough to protect every vote.
• Election integrity measures are popular and are supported by over 80% of voters. Additionally, 60% of Americans said they lacked confidence in elections in 2019.
• Election turnout has increased even among minority voters according to U.S. Census data, and 94% of voters say it is “very” or “somewhat” easy to vote.
Texas tackling Biden’s border crisis to save lives
Numbers matter. Illegal immigration into the U.S.—particularly across the Texas border—is at levels we haven’t seen for two decades.
But the heartbreaking video that emerged earlier this month of human smugglers abandoning a 5-year-old child at the border sums up the crisis better than any statistic can. As the child screams for help, one of the people who brought him this far—for a hefty fee—simply walks away.
The crisis at the border is a humanitarian one. Even as Vice President Kamala Harris continues to laugh off the crisis, far more children languish in detention centers than were ever “caged” by the Trump administration. Families remain separated, women and children continue to be trafficked into prostitution, and deadly drugs continue to flow into our country.
That’s why it’s entirely appropriate for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to step up, just as the Biden administration stands down. Abbott has pledged a $250 million down payment on the border wall in the Lone Star State.
But a wall takes time and Texans need action now. Human smuggling is so lucrative for the cartels they will risk anything and anyone to keep the money flowing. If the Biden Administration won’t engage, Texas should begin detaining and returning illegals back to their point of entry. Much like President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, it should have a deterring effect. It could discourage many from initiating the dangerous journey in the first place, thereby saving countless lives.
This could be done by DPS troopers and local law enforcement with the assistance of Texas state military assets. Charging those who enter the U.S. illegally with aggravated trespassing—as Gov. Abbott has announced—would also protect Texans and migrants alike.
Texans bear the brunt of President Biden’s negligence. During a recent trip to the border town of Del Rio, Texas, a delegation which included colleagues at the Texas Public Policy Foundation heard the story of a young woman who answered a knock at her door one morning. It was a migrant who had just crossed into the United States; he asked for water. Upon ascertaining she was home along with just some small children, he came back later and broke into the home through the back door.
Property crimes are on the rise in Val Verde County. So are high-speed chases, which are dangerous for everyone involved—even children just playing in their yards and on their streets. The Cotulla school district sent a letter home to parents warning them to “be watchful of children playing outside” because of an increase in chases and “bailouts.”
One Texas county official says the border crisis constitutes a kind of invasion.
“Kinney County law enforcement is overwhelmed with human smuggling and high-speed pursuits occurring along our highways and throughout our residential streets,” says Kinney County Attorney Brent Smith. “Our homes are broken into in the middle of the night. Residents can no longer walk outside after dark because it is no longer safe. Words cannot adequately describe the conditions on the ground that have resulted in the deaths of our citizens and tremendous amounts of property damage.”
We must stop the criminal actions at our border. Any deterrence on illegal immigration—a border wall, detention and return, criminal prosecution, the real threat of failure to cross—will save lives. And that’s what our focus must be: preserving life, liberty, and the Rule of Law.
No, The West Coast Heat Wave Has Nothing To Do With Climate Change
Was last week’s record heatwave in the Pacific Northwest caused by a climate-altering buildup of human greenhouse gases? The once-august Scientific American claimed it was, declaring, “Unprecedented Heat Wave in Pacific Northwest Driven by Climate Change.” Other outlets like the Washington Post echoed this narrative.
It’s helpful to remember climate change commentators live by two rules: First, everything is linked to climate change. Second, when in doubt, see rule number one. This simple, two-rule test shows up in any of the activist corporate media’s coverage of climate “related” events. It’s what makes them both boring and predictable.
Yet what happened in the Pacific Northwest the week before Independence Day was caused by the weather, not the climate. Simply put, a high-pressure dome built up over southern British Columbia. This caused strong downslope winds from the north.
Those winds curved right, flowing up and over the Cascade Range. As the winds picked up speed going downhill towards Seattle, Portland, and other cities closer to the coast, the air rapidly compressed and heated up. Gases do that when they get compressed. It’s simple physics (as compared to the almost infinitely complex physics of climate change).
Proponents of climate concern suggest the Earth has warmed about two degrees Fahrenheit over the past century. But only in the fantasy land of complex and unproven attribution models would this change be directly responsible for the recent heatwave.
The spate of broken high-temperature records is likewise completely unsurprising. Accurate and regular temperature records for Seattle only began in February 1870. It wasn’t until 1894 that the U.S. Weather Bureau finally had its statewide network in place in Washington.
With 151 years of data for Seattle, then, any given day represents 0.7 percent of the record for that particular date, meaning that every day there’s a one-in-151 chance of setting a new record high or low for that date, and every year will see a 0.7 percent likelihood of setting new record highs or lows.
According to the University of Washington, the hottest temperature recorded in the state was 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Wahluke reached this temperature on July 24, 1928, and the ironically named Ice Harbor Dam tied the record on August 5, 1961.
The university lists other extreme weather events and their dates, including lowest temperatures in 1968, record rainfall in 1986, record snowfall in 1994, maximum snow depth in 1956, etc. These weather extremes don’t suggest a pattern, although perhaps another 200 years of record gathering might provide a degree of statistical certainty.
I was born in Seattle in 1962. As a child, I vividly recall watching industrial developments with melancholy, as old farmhouses were bulldozed to make way for subdivisions. But development has another effect more reliably concrete than the wistful memories of a child: the urban heat island effect.
Thermometers that were once in the countryside surrounded by fields of grass eventually ended up in the city. The asphalt, concrete, and nearby air conditioning units render their daily readings absolutely useless for the purposes of comparison. This urban heat island effect results in temperatures as much as seven degrees Fahrenheit higher than in rural areas, according to the Environmental Protection Agency — more than three times the presumed average increase in temperatures over the past century.
Watch for activist media to attribute two more weather-related phenomena on the West Coast to manmade climate change: the upcoming wildfire season in California and the current drought. However, both fires and droughts were prevalent in the area long before the Industrial Revolution.
California’s early photographic record would shock current Californians. A book titled “Fire in Sierra Nevada Forests: A Photographic Interpretation of Ecological Change Since 1849,” published in 2001, shows a California landscape alien to modern residents, with old tintypes revealing lone stands of pines and oaks and broad fields of grass. This land was shaped by constant burning by the Native Americans who knew little food grew under a dense forest canopy.
Now, billions of board feet of timber grow in California every year, with a small fraction harvested (loggers also cleaned out the underbrush). Since California has a Mediterranean climate, with some 80 percent of its precipitation falling over a five-month period even in the wettest years, it’s dry by the end of summer, priming the forests and coastal chaparral for fire season.
The bottom line of wildfires is cruelly simple: What grows must be harvested or it will eventually burn, either under intentional, controlled circumstances or unintentionally.
As for drought on the Pacific coast, long-term climate patterns have routinely produced 10-to-20-year droughts over the past millennium, with two known megadroughts lasting 240 years (beginning in 850 A.D.) and 180 years (only 50 years after the previous one ended).
Unfortunately for average Californians, the state’s elected class long ago foreswore the construction of new reservoirs and aqueducts, amplifying the negative consequences of drought. This has incentivized politicians to shift blame to human-driven climate change, to absolve themselves of negligence.
As Ockham’s Razor says, the simplest answer is usually the right one. And the simplest explanation for the latest West Coast heat wave is not climate change.
Lawmakers Should Build Upon ETJ Success
During the 87th Legislature’s regular session, state lawmakers considered multiple bills on extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) reform. While some of the more ambitious proposals—like House Bill 2573 and Senate Bill 1992—did not survive the process, one good piece of legislation—Senate Bill 1168—was indeed signed into law last month by the Gov. Greg Abbott. The bill represents a solid step forward.
Effective immediately, communities that have either been disannexed or whose voters have rejected a municipal annexation attempt in an election are no longer subject to fees and fines imposed by the sponsoring city. This is an important first step that will protect residents against regulation without representation and promote democratic ideals.
After all, no free person should be subject to rules and regulations imposed unilaterally by a set of governors they didn’t elect, especially when those persons have made it clear that they want no such thing.
But there’s still more work to be done.
ETJ residents benefitting from the new law are still subject to a range of other municipal rules and regulations, like being forced to observe tree preservation ordinances, signage requirements, and fireworks restrictions. What’s more, residents in communities unaffected by the bill are, of course, still subject to every type of fine, fee, rule, and regulation. In both instances, cities still have too much authority over those who have no voice in the process.
To remedy this situation, the Legislature should build upon the progress made this session and rein in ETJ authority even more—perhaps even abolish the concept altogether.
One option is to expand the prohibition on fines and fees in Senate Bill 1168 to include all types of municipal regulations. This would prevent cities from imposing any kind of rule on people that have made it clear, through a disannexation or a failed election attempt, that they want nothing to do with the city. That would give residents in these areas their freedom back.
The Legislature could also extend the new law’s prohibitions on fee and fines to every part within the ETJ. Hence, this proposal would ban all types of municipal fines and fees everywhere in the ETJ, thus creating one standard for every resident.
Of course, the best reform that lawmakers could implement would be to abolish ETJs entirely. In light of the involuntary annexation reforms of 2017 and 2019, cities need not wield this type of authority over residents who are outside its corporate boundaries.
Plus, it’s un-Texan that cities are denying ETJ residents their opportunity to participate in the political process while also subjecting them to rules and regulations. This system is inconsistent with the republican form of government recognized in the Texas Constitution. Texans deserve local governments that work for their interests, and abolishing ETJs is a step in that direction.
These are just a few ways that the Legislature can improve upon the current system. There are many more of course, but the goal of any future legislation ought to be reining in city authority while protecting the property rights of those voting with their feet.
At the next available opportunity, state lawmakers should do their best to get this done.
Improving Government for the People: SB 1168
Senate Bill 1168 bars cities from imposing fees and fines on ETJ residents once an area has disannexed or rejected an annexation attempt at the ballot box.
Prior law permitted cities to impose fees and fines on ETJ residents even if an area had disannexed or voters had rejected an annexation attempt at the ballot box.
The state’s former policy enabled a type of regulation without representation.
A new state law aims to protect rural residents and promote democratic ideals by prohibiting certain city overreach in the ETJ.
Special Session Should Include Taxpayer-Funded Lobby Ban
Earlier this week, the Texas Freedom Caucus sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking that eight conservative priorities be added to the next special session’s agenda. Among the items urged was a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying, which is perhaps the single most important item mentioned.
Local governments spend big to hire lobbyists whose only job is to push for higher taxes, more spending, and bigger government at the statehouse. These hired guns regularly work against conservative legislation and advocate for progressive causes.
In other words, governments are using our money against us.
As an example, taxpayer-funded lobbyists fought tooth-and-nail 2019’s signature property tax reform which let Texans vote on big tax hikes. Of the 30 people who spoke in opposition to the bill in committee, “all were either lobbyists—many of whom were paid to be there with taxpayer funds—or government employees.” Most of those who testified in favor of it were private people there on their own dime.
That’s not an isolated incident either. For instance, the city of Houston’s top intergovernmental relations chief has, for years, advocated against good government legislation, including bills to make government more transparent, to end forced annexation, and to ease local regulations that spike housing costs.
Taxpayer-funded lobbying costs Texans in another, too, and even more directly. Transparency USA estimates that local governments spent “nearly $75 million” this session to hire lobbyists. That’s tens of millions not available for police, potholes, and tax relief. It also likely doesn’t include the money spent on in-house lobby teams, like the Houston example above, or membership dues paid to third-party groups that employ lobbyists, like the Texas Municipal League, the Texas Association of Counties, and the Texas Association of School Boards.
There are plenty of reasons for the Legislature to act, but perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to ban the practice is that virtually every Texan wants it stopped.
According to a February 2021 poll of 800-plus registered voters, conducted by WPA Intelligence, 86% of Texans oppose taxpayer-funded lobbying. The results mirror the findings from a similar survey conducted in 2019. They also match the Texas Republican primary election results in 2020 which showed a supermajority supporting the following ballot proposition: “Texas should ban the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying, which allows your tax dollars to be spent on lobbyists who work against the taxpayer.” (YES – 94.29%, NO – 5.71%)
It’s easy to see that taxpayer-funded lobbying is unpopular, costly, and a violation of public trust. But it’s also incompatible with our form of government.
Let’s remember that U.S. governance is founded on the consent of the governed, not the will of the government. This much is made clear in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which affirms the right of the people to petition their governors for a redress of grievances. Governments are not given this right. And it’s this distinction that should be remembered and reinforced against the intrusions of Texas local governments.
Texans stand to gain much from a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying. But before that can become a reality, it must be put on the agenda for this month’s special session and only the governor has the power to do that. He would be wise to do so, as it’s the key to so many other conservative victories.
‘Where Liberty Dwells, There is my Country’
Since the 1950s, a replica of the Liberty Bell has been outside Louisiana’s State Capitol to serve as a reminder to cherish the freedom we share as Americans. It also serves as a reminder of the awesome responsibility entrusted to our elected representatives to protect these rights and freedoms for all Louisianans.
This includes the rights and protections guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which are at the crux of the current debate around non-unanimous juries in Louisiana. Sadly, this is a debate left unresolved in the 2021 Legislative Session.
Before the recent Supreme Court decisions concerning non-unanimous jury verdicts, Louisiana and Oregon were the only two states that did not require a unanimous jury verdict. The legal battle over Louisiana’s and Oregon’s lower standard for trial verdicts has played out in the courts beginning in the 1970s with Apodaca v Oregon.
In its recent decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court clearly ruled that Louisiana’s recognition of non-unanimous jury verdict convictions was unconstitutional. In May, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Ramos v. Louisiana that it would not choose the remedy for Louisiana’s unconstitutional practice where it concerned those who have already been convicted by a non-unanimous jury. Instead, it put the onus on the democratically elected lawmakers of Louisiana, the same lawmakers who walk by that Liberty Bell each working day, to determine the remedy for those individuals. The lawmakers have yet to do so.
Introduced this session, HB 346 would have applied the Ramos decision retroactively, allowing a pathway for the estimated 1,500 individuals affected to seek post-conviction relief, or to choose to become parole eligible. Unfortunately, the bill failed to make it out of the House Judiciary Committee.
A resolution for those convicted by non-unanimous jury verdicts is critical to the constitutional rights of those individuals. It’s incumbent upon the Louisiana Legislature to act.
As recent as last week, the 14th Judicial District in Calcasieu Parish ruled that the Ramos decision applies to final convictions. In the 14th JDC case, an individual sentenced to 30 years for manslaughter had his conviction vacated due to being the result of a non-unanimous jury decision. While this decision only addresses one of the estimated 1,500 cases in Louisiana, the state court, in its decision, has moved in the direction towards a remedy that HB 346 sought.
In 2019, researchers in the Public Policy Research Lab at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication conducted a survey of Louisiana’s 2017 Justice Reinvestment Initiative reforms. Seventy percent of those surveyed approved of the reforms. However, despite the popularity of the reforms, only 32 percent of Louisiana residents believe that the criminal justice system is fair.
If Louisiana is going command a criminal justice system that is cost effective, rehabilitative, fair, and just, it must first earn the trust Louisianans. It must address the mistakes of the past or risk undermining trust in the criminal justice system as a whole.
In April 2020, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch summed up this issue very clearly: “Every judge must learn to live with the fact he or she will make some mistakes…But it is something else entirely to perpetuate something we all know to be wrong only because we fear the consequences of being right.”
This is the Louisiana Legislature’s problem to fix. The solution must address concerns surrounding those who have been convicted by a non-unanimous jury, while balancing public safety and the rights of victims. As we near the Fourth of July, a celebration of our Nation’s independence, what better time to highlight the effort that remains to ensure the God-given rights and freedoms of all our citizens are protected.
Texas Improves Health Care, Without Expanding Medicaid
As late as mid-April, Texas seemed poised to expand Medicaid—an Affordable Care Act bait-and-switch that other Republican-led states have fallen for in recent months.
The online news site The Texan even reported, “Nine Texas House Republicans have signed onto House Bill (HB) 3871, authored by Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton), that would expand the federal welfare program.”
Yet by the end of the legislative session, just a few weeks later, the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s As I told a reporter in May, “The new reality is that Medicaid expansion isn’t just dead for now, it should be dead-dead. There’s no longer any rational justification for expanding Medicaid to help the uninsured.”
There’s no justification for expanding Medicaid because the Texas Legislature enacted other measures that will go much further in ensuring that Texans can get the health coverage—and more importantly, the care—that they need.
How this was achieved is something of a master class in taking back the narrative.
It began by flipping the script. The focus was shifted from payouts (from the federal government) to patients. For too long, Medicaid has been the go-to prescription for a nagging diagnosis—too many uninsured Americans. But a closer look at just who is uninsured in Texas—and why—shows that Medicaid expansion isn’t the answer.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 57% of the uninsured in 2018 were eligible for financial assistance through Medicaid or marketplace subsidies. In Texas, 662,000 could have signed up for Medicaid (or another public insurance, such as Medicare). And some 2.17 million Texans qualify for some level of subsidy. But they chose not to participate.
A plurality (45%) say the cost of premiums is too high—something the ACA promised to address, but failed. Long waiting lists, reduced access to doctors, the lack of prescription coverage, and high out-of-pocket costs are all deterrents to enrollment in these programs. For that matter, millions of Americans who do have employer-based health insurance face these same problems.
The truth is that Medicaid expansion would only help those in the “coverage gap”—those who don’t quality for Medicaid now, but would qualify under its expansion. In Texas, that gap includes just 771,000 Texans. Remember that number.
Next, we looked to the states that had taken the bait, and found disappointing outcomes.
New York, one of the first to Medicaid expansion, has seen Medicaid enrollment explode in the last decade and faced a $15 billion budget shortfall, which could have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid—had not the federal government stepped in to cover the shortfall with COVID-19 relief funds.
In California, Medicaid enrollment was up 278% over official projections, with the actual cost hitting nearly $44 billion instead of a projected $11.6 billion over a two-and-a-half year period. One out of every three people in California are now on Medicaid. The Assembly now wants to expand Medicaid coverage to undocumented immigrants age 50 and up.
And what did states have to show for this gamble? The health of their populations did not show improvement. In Oregon, researchers found that spending $545 billion in Medicaid expansion showed “no significant improvement in measured health outcomes.”
What’s more, current Medicaid recipients—the states’ neediest citizens, children and the disabled—would be crowded out by the sudden influx of a million or more new patients. A 2016 survey by the Texas Medical Association shows that less than half of Texas doctors would accept new Medicaid patients, due to low reimbursement rates and increased paperwork.
Under the weight of this evidence—which I took to every conference, luncheon and workshop I could get to—the conversation shifted. “What’s best for Texas” became “what’s best for Texans.” And that’s where Texas Democrats—and their key GOP converts on Medicaid expansion—made their mistake. They fell back on the argument that by refusing to expand it, Texas is “leaving money on the table.” We’re back to payouts, not patients—not a winning position.
That allowed Republican leadership to come back with the “Healthy Families, Healthy Texas” slate of reforms, which—they convincingly argued—would help far more Texans than simply expanding an ineffective federal program.
In just one example, the Legislature passed a bill allowing the Farm Bureau and potentially Texas Mutual to offer cheaper, more targeted plans than the ACA allows. The Farm Bureau alone already serves 750,000, and can serve as many as 1.5 million Texans—eclipsing that 771,000 “coverage gap” (mentioned above). Along with other bills, such as the expansion of telemedicine and hospital price transparency, Texas policy makers could convincingly say they did more for the health of Texans than mere Medicaid expansion could ever do.
As I told the Texas Tribune, there’s no logical reason now to expand Medicaid. And that logic isn’t confined to the Lone Star State. We can improve the delivery of health services to all Americans, and we here in Texas have shown the way.
How will you know if critical race theory is taught in your child’s school?
The definition of critical race theory is a mystery, according to many educators—but they sure know what isn’t critical race theory: whatever they’re teaching.
“School boards, superintendents, even principals and teachers are already facing questions about critical race theory, and there are significant disagreements even among experts about its precise definition as well as how its tenets should inform K-12 policy and practice,” reports Education Week, which is to education what the Wall Street Journal is to Wall Street.
Here’s how the head of public education in Washington state deflects the question and intentionally misleads: “We talk about the Civil Rights Movement. We talk about the causes of the Civil War, we talk about the experiences of Black Americans, of white Americans. It’s comprehensive history, but it’s not critical race theory.”
The question, of course, isn’t what topics are discussed (every history curriculum covers the Civil Rights Movement and the Civil War). No, it’s how those things are being taught. That’s what’s important—especially to parents.
Our friends at the newly established Citizens for Renewing America have developed a useful guide to critical race theory—what it is, how to spot it and—most importantly—how to counter it.
“Everything that makes up American Society is racist,” according to critical race theorists, the CRA guide explains. “This includes Christianity, free markets, traditional marriage, rule of law, traditional family structures, and a representative form of government.”
I am a lifelong educator, and as I have pointed out before, critical race theory is state-sponsored racism and race-based discrimination. Its leading proponents admit this—gleefully.
“The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity,” writes Ibram X. Kendi in his book, “How to be an Anti-Racist.” “If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist.”
How can parents determine if the corrosive error of critical race theory has seeped into their children’s schools? As Ronald Reagan once said about the threat of Marxism (which heavily influenced critical race theory), “There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.”
Here are five steps—simple, but not easy—for parents to start with.
PARTICIPATE in your local school board.
LEARN about the topic: We suggest starting here and here.
INQUIRE about you child’s curriculum—and ask to see materials being used.
SUPPORT putting parents back in charge of where their children go to school.
LISTEN for critical race theory buzzwords.
Here are just a few of those buzzwords:
Equity—This has replaced “equality.” Instead of ensuring that every American has an equal opportunity to succeed, equity demands equality of outcomes.
Implicit/unconscious/internalized bias—This is the relentless search to find racism in every aspect of American life. If it’s not immediately evident, look harder.
Social Justice/Restorative Justice—This is the belief that society must be torn down and remade in order to fully root out racism.
Systemic racism—According to critical race theory, racism is the original sin of America, and it persists everywhere to this day. Every institution is designed, they say, “to maintain the dominance of white people in society.”
Microaggressions—These are “subtle insults (verbal, nonverbal and/or visual) directed toward people of color, often automatically or unconsciously.”
Antiracism—This is critical race theory’s nom de guerre, the practical outworking of its central ideas.
White privilege—According to this doctrine, white people derive immense benefits from their race. According to one theorist (and Wisconsin politician), “America needs to be honest about how race has driven every decision from education to homeownership, and everything in between.”
White fragility—This makes critical race theory non-falsifiable. Any objection to any tenet of critical race theory is said to be white fragility.
Colonialism—That villain Jean-Jacques Rousseau would recognize this as his “noble savage” concept—it’s the notion that most human societies lived some kind of idyllic existence until explorers from the West arrived. As one scholar puts it, “colonialism, as a project of bringing the backward races into the universal History, bridged Enlightenment with modern constructions of race.” In other words, colonialism was the seedbed of race—and racism. Critical race theorists demand that we decolonize—reject all that the West brought with it, including Enlightenment ideals.
Identity—Everything is about what you are, not who you are.
Ally/Allyship—According to Harvard University, an ally is “Someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege (based on gender, class, race, sexual identity, etc.) and work in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice.” Critical race theorists demand nothing less of the rest of us.
Social construct—Race is made-up; it’s a fiction used by oppressors to control the oppressed. Oh, and also race is real and immutable. It’s the one thing you can’t change about yourself, and it’s all that matters (see identity).
Educators may claim again and again that they’re not teaching critical race theory, but by their deeds will you know them. These buzzwords indicate that destructive critical race theory concepts are indeed making their way into our children’s understanding of themselves and the world around them.
Besides, if educators truly aren’t teaching critical race theory in the classroom, why do they object so loudly when lawmakers attempt to ban it?
Corporate Collusion: Liability Risks for the ESG Agenda to Charge Higher Fees and Rig the Market
As politically motivated investing booms, activist organizations and others are engaging in coordinated, collusive campaigns to defund and constrain political targets like oil companies while directing more money to environmental and activist causes.
Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategies and divestment campaigns could violate antitrust laws. Federal law prohibits companies from colluding on group boycotts or conspiring to restrain trade, even to advance political or social goals.
ESG retirement plans could violate ERISA and public pension laws that require managers to invest solely for the purpose of maximizing financial returns for pensioners and beneficiaries.
ESG divestment campaigns that pressure lenders to breach existing or prospective contracts with targeted companies could constitute tortious interference with contracts.
Federal and state legislators and regulators should strengthen fiduciary requirements and forbid discrimination against politically targeted businesses.
States should divest their assets from companies that collude to commit antitrust violations or deny financing or services to businesses operating in their jurisdictions.
House Democrats Attempt to Defund Law Enforcement at the Southern Border during Trump Visit
As the crisis at the southern border rages on, House Democrats this week proposed a new appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that would severely cut funding to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), while rescinding over $2 billion in border wall funding from last year. Ironically, the bill is receiving a markup today, even as former President Donald Trump, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and members of Congress visit the US-Mexico border to address the border crisis.
The state of Texas has been struggling this year with the unprecedented surge in migrant crossings along its southern border. In the month of May alone, CBP encountered 180,034 persons at the southwest border, which is the highest monthly total in over 20 years. The surge in illegal immigration has overwhelmed the Texas border causing Gov. Abbott in May to declare a border disaster in 34 Texas counties, vow to build border wall in Texas, and request help from other states as there are not enough border patrol agents to process the number of migrants coming in.
Republican governors such as Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Iowa’s Kim Reynolds, South Carolina’s Henry McMaster, Georgia’s Brian Kemp, among others, responded and sent law enforcement officers and national guard troops to the southwest border.
Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., President Joe Biden has utterly failed in his constitutional duty to faithfully execute U.S. immigration laws and has intentionally created the crisis upon taking office by ending nearly every measure put in place by the Trump administration to secure the border. It took Vice President Kamala Harris, the person President Biden put in charge of addressing the border crisis, more than three months to visit the border, but even then she avoided what Sen. Ted Cruz called “the locus of the crisis” by going to El Paso. And now, a week after the vice president’s visit, House Democrats put forward a bill that shamelessly cuts funding for the brave men and women of CPB and ICE.
Their bill gives CPB $14.1 billion in net discretionary appropriations, which is significantly less than their 2021 budget and about a half-billion dollars less than what the original draft of the homeland security appropriations bill promised. ICE received $1.55 million less than their 2021 budget and the bill does not indicate any funding for additional Border Patrol agents. Contrastingly, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services would be given a $346.7 million increase to help process immigrants more quickly and thus allow the Biden administration to avoid the optics of an overwhelmed border without enacting any of the necessary policy changes to stop the root causes of illegal immigration.
It would appear the call to defund the police from Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and other left-wing groups has expanded to include all law enforcement agencies—including those at our southwest border. At a time when there is an unprecedented influx of migrants coming to the United States illegally, the men and women in law enforcement need true leadership from Washington, D.C. —not Democrat politicians who kowtow to the wishes of the far left.
ESG Investing Likely Breaks Laws
AUSTIN—Today, the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Life:Powered project and Boyden Gray Associates have released a new White Paper showing that Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) divestment strategies may violate the law.
As investing based on social values becomes more popular, progressive organizations and others are engaging in coordinated campaigns to defund and constrain industries deemed politically incorrect while directing more money to politically favored environmental and social causes.
Activists and lenders who steer money away from politically disfavored industries—such as fossil fuel exploration and production—may be colluding on group boycotts of energy producers in violation of antitrust laws.
Normally, banks and investment managers compete with each other, explains C. Boyden Gray of Boyden Gray Associates.
“That competition ensures that worthwhile projects can access capital and use it to bring products to as many consumers as possible through affordable prices,” he says. “But these ostensible competitor lenders have started moving in parallel to cut off liquidity and capital for America’s energy sector. For example many have announced promises to stop loaning money for Arctic oil drilling and coal mining.
“The FTC has maintained that such invitations to boycott, on their own—even if the invitations go unheeded—can violate federal antitrust law. As the FTC and the DOJ reiterated last year in a joint statement, ‘[e]ven absent a collusive agreement,’ antitrust enforcers may ‘pursue a civil enforcement action against companies and individuals that invite others to collude.’ If made with an intent to invite or signal competitors to join a group boycott, these announcements could violate the law.”
American investors and pensioners—anyone who has a 401(k) retirement account — are hurt by this.
“There’s a growing trend in the financial community, driven by boisterous public shaming campaigns, towards environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing — meaning giving more funds to companies who talk the right talk on issues like climate change, instead of to companies that offer the highest return on investment,” says TPPF’s Jason Isaac. “The ESG movement wrongly bullies corporations into ignoring their duty to provide profitability for shareholders, in order to appease a vocal minority of progressive activists. And some major firms, like BlackRock, are capitulating.”
Federal and state antitrust litigators as well as private parties could pursue legal avenues to prevent collusion against politically targeted businesses, the paper finds. States should also follow the examples of Texas, which now requires divestment from companies that engage in such collusion and Georgia, which has forbidden banks from denying financial services to firearms firms solely because they conduct business in that industry.
Protectionism Harms the Safety and Efficiency of Texas Waterways
Connecting the busiest port in the United States to the Gulf of Mexico, the Houston Ship Channel is one of the country’s most important waterways. It’s also home to a bizarre maneuver known as the “Texas Chicken.” To perform the Texas Chicken, ships traversing this vital commercial artery sail almost directly at each other and then make a starboard turn to avoid a collision before resuming their previous path.
Unlike its automotive counterpart, the Texas Chicken isn’t the result of ship captains wishing to engage in a nonsensical test of their courage but rather the channel being too narrow to accommodate two‐way traffic at safer distances. “Even with the incredible skill this maneuver requires,” says the Port of Houston, “there is no question that a wider channel is a safer channel.” The National Transportation Safety Board, meanwhile, describes the challenges involved in navigating the narrow waterway as “significant.”
That Houston lacks the wider and safer ship channel it sorely needs in large part due to outdated U.S. maritime protectionism. Namely, the Foreign Dredge Act of 1906 and the 1920 Jones Act.
In many countries, dredging needs are addressed through a competitive bidding process open to firms from around the world. Not so in the United States. Instead, the Foreign Dredge Act and Jones Act mean dredging projects are restricted to domestic vessels that are severely limited in both numbers and capacity.
In terms of hopper dredges—the type of vessel generally preferred for dredging coastal harbors—there are only 16 in the entire country. In comparison, a single international dredging firm, Belgium‐based Jan de Nul, owns 30. Jan de Nul’s dredges aren’t just more numerous but larger as well. Ten of their hopper dredges have larger capacities for storing dredged material than the biggest such dredge in the U.S. fleet, making them more efficient to operate.
And that’s just one foreign firm.
It should come as no surprise that the U.S. dredging fleet’s small size has led to limited competition for the projects bid out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). In fact, according to data from the USACE, two‐thirds (67 percent) of the 701 dredging contracts awarded from 2014 to 2018 featured only one or two bidders.
The inevitable result of limited dredging options is high costs and unnecessarily lengthy timelines for the completion of urgently needed projects. And the Texas Chicken.
But the Texas Chicken isn’t the only burden imposed as a result of protectionist dredging policy. Compounding matters, the Port of Houston has been forced to limit the entry of large containerships to a mere one per week. That’s because the ships are too long, and the channel too narrow, to allow for two‐way traffic. Such are the compromises that must be made to ensure the flow of goods when faced with waterways that are inadequately dredged.
Small wonder the USACE has declared that the Houston Shipping Channel is “currently suffering inefficiencies due to the high vessel transit count and congestion within the current channel configuration.” Such inefficiencies mean constrained economic growth and job opportunities.
Insufficiently dredging is also a key culprit behind another phenomenon particular to the energy industry. The largest and most economic vessels used for crude oil transportation are tankers called—rather unimaginatively—Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs). The insufficient depth of shipping channels, however, means these ships cannot directly access Texas ports.
So instead, VLCCs must sit offshore where they are met by smaller tankers that transport the oil to them. Known as reverse lightering, the process is estimated to take two‐to‐three days longer than direct loading and, depending on freight rates, can tack on over $1 million to shipping costs.
Politicians on both sides of the political aisle are currently chomping at the bit to spend vast sums of taxpayer dollars to improve the state of the country’s infrastructure. But before spending a dime they should first reconsider their disastrous support of outdated protectionist maritime laws that have so badly failed the country’s ports and waterways.
North Carolina is leading by example with conservative budgeting
At $6 trillion, President Joe Biden’s first budget calls for an unprecedented level of federal spending. Republican members of Congress who criticize the president’s plan are understandably reminded by Democrats that the GOP did not do much to resist—and even contributed to—excessive government spending during President Donald Trump’s time in office. During those four years, rampant spending led to nearly $8 trillion in more federal debt, though this included pandemic-related funding approved with bipartisan support. Still, this represents a 40% jump in mortgaging the future of ourselves, our kids, and our grandkids. It’s time for responsible budgeting at every level of government.
Republicans in Washington don’t have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to criticizing the profligacy of congressional Democrats and the Biden administration. But Republicans in many state capitals across the country, however, do. That’s because Republican governors and lawmakers in several states are getting government spending under control by passing conservative budgets which remain below population growth plus inflation. North Carolina is among the most prominent examples of this phenomenon—but is not the only one.
Since Republicans took control of the North Carolina General Assembly for the first time in a century a decade ago, they have kept growth in state spending on a conservative budget trajectory that keeps government growth within the average taxpayer’s ability to fund it. Since 2013, North Carolina state spending has grown by an average of 2.24% annually, which is below the population growth plus inflation rate of 2.58%.
By keeping the rise in state spending below a conservative budget limit for so many years, North Carolina lawmakers have been able to return billions of dollars to taxpayers over the past decade while realizing repeated budget surpluses. The income tax rate reduction approved nearly a decade ago continues to pay dividends for taxpayers and it may soon be improved upon. North Carolina lawmakers — led by Republican Senators Paul Newton, Bill Rabon, and Warren Daniel — proposed new legislation in April, which was approved with bipartisan support in the North Carolina Senate on June 9, that would enact the next round of income tax rate reduction.
“We have large cash reserves and we have yet another budget surplus for the sixth and seventh years,” Senator Paul Newton, Finance Committee Co-Chairman, said at a May 25 press conference. “The Republican philosophy, when government takes too much money from the people, is to give it back in the form of tax relief. In our view, it’s never, never the government’s money, it’s the people’s money. So we are proposing yet another tax cut because we believe people spend their money better than government does.”
By continuing to pass conservative budgets, North Carolina lawmakers have made the Tar Heel State one where lawmakers are leading by example, demonstrating for federal lawmakers that government spending restraint is both achievable and politically advantageous. Other states where lawmakers are also passing conservative budgets include Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Montana, and Iowa.
In neighboring Tennessee, lawmakers needed to make sure their new budget, enacted earlier this spring, stayed below $42.8 billion so as to pass a conservative budget. The new state budget signed into law by Governor Bill Lee (R) spends a total of $42.6 billion. By only increasing the state budget by 2.08% year over year, Tennessee lawmakers, like their counterparts in North Carolina and other states, have made sure that state spending does not exceed the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for it, thereby mitigating the threat of future tax increases or budget adjustments.
Tennessee isn’t the only no-income-tax state where lawmakers are doing of good job of keeping government spending in check. Texas is also leading by example. Not only have Texas lawmakers once again approved a new conservative budget, they used the 2021 session to approve legislation, Senate Bill 1336, that will strengthen the state’s spending cap, ensuring fiscal responsibility for years to come. Likewise, a constitutional amendment introduced by North Carolina legislators in April, referred to as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, if enacted, would implement a similar state spending limit in North Carolina.
North Carolina lawmakers are now working to enact a new conservative budget that provides further tax relief. Those who want to continue the sustainable budgeting of recent years received good news in early June as legislative leaders from both chambers of the General Assembly announced a consensus spending figure that, if the new budget does not exceed it, would have state spending continue to grow slower than the combined rate of population growth plus inflation. More recently, the North Carolina Senate unveiled its version of the budget, which, in addition to spending less than the figure agreed to with the House in early June, cuts the personal income tax rate from 5.25% to 3.99% while phasing out the corporate income tax by 2028. That budget was approved with a bipartisan, veto-proof majority in the North Carolina Senate on June 24.
“We are pleased to see that the fiscal restraint the General Assembly has shown over the last ten years will continue,” said Brian Balfour, senior vice president of research at the John Locke Foundation, a Raleigh-based think tank. “It’s a strategy we would like to see added to the state constitution in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.”
Based on federal spending trends and the new proposals coming out of Congress, it may seem like no one in Washington is interested in reining in the growth of government spending and ballooning federal debt. Yet lawmakers in states across the country, including North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, the world’s ninth-largest economy, are showing that government spending can be brought under control. There needs to be more lawmakers willing to do so.
North Carolinians are fortunate to have leadership in the General Assembly with such courage and will, who are showing the nation what conservative budgeting looks like. In doing so, they are benefitting North Carolina taxpayers while providing a model for lawmakers in other states and in Washington to emulate.
Patrick Gleason is vice president of Americans for Tax Reform, a taxpayer advocacy organization founded in 1985 at the request of President Ronald Reagan, and is a senior fellow at the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a Nashville-based think tank. Vance Ginn, Ph.D., is chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation based in Austin, Texas, and he is the former chief economist of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget during the Trump administration
Race Profiteers in San Marcos CISD
Famed civil rights icon Booker T. Washington once observed that “…there is a certain class of race-problem solvers who don’t want the patient to get well, because as long as the disease holds out they have not only an easy means of making a living, but also an easy medium through which to make themselves prominent before the public.”
Unfortunately for society, Washington’s diagnosis proved correct—and remains true even now.
Today, race profiteers zealously stir unrest and inflame tensions. Their goal is not public reconciliation but personal gain. And they are busy, even in Texas.
Late last year, San Marcos CISD (SMCISD), a mid-sized school district south of Austin, decided to undergo a third-party equity audit to survey attendance, discipline, and the racial climate in some of its schools. To conduct the audit, the district plopped down more than $50,000 to hire the Tracey A. Benson Consulting firm—a tricky business as we’ll see.
The Benson firm last week provided the SMCISD board with some of its early findings.
In its presentation, the firm’s equity auditors warned that “there are incidents of racism occurring in the school district and they’re not being reported.” As evidence, they pointed to a questionnaire, admittedly hobbled by “low response rates,” that found, in part, some students had heard other students “use a racial put-downs [sic] or name.”
To get at the problem, or at least the perception of one, it was recommended that trustees adopt a series of reforms, including one to: “Enroll every school leader as well as designated district leaders in the Anti-Racist Leadership Institute™ to increase their racial literacy, confidence, and ability to successfully navigate and combat racism in San Marcos CISD.” Such an endeavor would be no small commitment either, requiring participants to complete “a 40-hour anti-racist master class in addition to 12 weeks of ongoing coaching…”
But while the auditors made their sales pitch well, they left out one key detail.
Not mentioned in the materials is the fact that the Tracey A. Benson Consulting firm runs the Anti-Racist Leadership Institute. In other words, the group hired to investigate racism found it rampant and recommended itself as the solution. All at taxpayer expense, of course.
The obvious grift is troubling in at least a few ways. First, it diverts money away from the classroom under the guise of fighting racism. Second, it proposes to burden taxpayers with another expense at a time when San Marcos residents—the majority of whom are minorities themselves—are struggling to make ends meet. Third, and perhaps worst of all, it gives the district cover to continue in its mediocrity.
See, SMCISD, a district whose student population is mostly Hispanic, has consistently underperformed expectations, despite it spending more than $10,000 per student. In fact, its most recent A – F accountability ranking rates it as a middling district struggling to shine in areas like STAAR performance, academic growth, graduation rate, and more.
The Benson firm’s self-seeking report gives trustees an out. An excuse to ignore the district’s failings. After all, it’s not SMCISD’s fault that students are performing poorly, it’s a consequence of widespread racism, they’ll say. And that type of thinking helps no one—except the consultants
If trustees really want to help San Marcos students succeed, then they should start by rejecting the Benson firm’s blatant money-grab and let it be known that race profiteers are not welcome. Nor is their divisive agenda. Then the district should redouble its efforts to teaching the basics. Reading, writing, and math.
This class of race-problem solver deserves to be exposed at every turn. They bring nothing but trouble to everything they touch. And they only do so for personal gain.
Louisiana’s Legislative Session 2021: Progress Made in Criminal Justice Reform
Public safety and support of victims are Right on Crime’s top priorities in advocating for reforms to the criminal justice system. The 2021 legislative session saw the Pelican State continue to move in the right direction with common-sense, practical criminal justice reforms. In this limited fiscal session, Right on Crime tracked over 70 criminal justice related bills and was encouraged with the positive direction the Legislature has chosen in tackling the tough criminal justice issues facing Louisiana. Numerous bills were passed that will improve policies around victims’ rights, pre-trial reform, fees and fines, and strengthening reentry.
It is fitting that the first bill to cross the finish line this session was HR17 by Rep. Stephanie Hilferty proclaiming National Crime Victims’ Week in Louisiana. Additionally, Right on Crime was appointed as a member of the Survivor Informed Task Force in SCR45 by Sen. Patrick McMath. These policies support the conservative principle that victims must be prioritized by the justice system.
Another priority in criminal justice reform is the protection of the rights guaranteed to all citizens in the U.S. Constitution and the Louisiana Constitution. Our criminal justice system is based on a presumption of innocence, which is oftentimes forgotten by many. To support this tenet, HB46 by Rep. Edward James passed to reduce the timeframe for a prosecutor to file criminal charges from 45 days to 30 days for misdemeanors. Unfortunately, the felony timeframe portion of the bill was removed by an amendment at the behest of the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association. Further, HB106 by Rep. Barbara Carpenter was passed to mandate that defendants be advised of the collateral consequences of a felony conviction at the time of guilty or nolo contendere pleas.
In the area of fines and fees, court costs and fees were eliminated in juvenile proceedings in HB216 and HB248 lowered probation and parole supervision fees to $1.00 for individuals on inactive supervision.
Individuals who have taken personal responsibility and paid their debt to society still face a lifetime of collateral consequences tied to their past actions. The legislature passed SR100 by Sen. Franklin Foil directing the Law Institute to study and recommend reforms addressing collateral consequences found in Louisiana law that function as an unnecessary barriers to professional and occupational licensing for justice-involved individuals. HB232 by Rep. Joseph Marino removes the restriction that an expungement may occur only once during a five-year period for misdemeanor offenses. Thus removing barriers to employment and housing. Lastly, the legislature passed HB678 by Rep. Royce Duplessis to create the Louisiana Work Opportunity Tax Credit, modeled after the Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit.
These reforms highlight just a few of this session’s successes in moving Louisiana in the right direction. However, more work remains. Preparations for the 2022 Legislative Session have already begun to address issues such as a clean slate, split-jury retroactivity, and solitary confinement reforms.
The Script is Written: Opponents of Election Reform Have Their Talking Points Ready
The script is written. For the next month or so, liberals will shout from the rooftops that any election reform bill put forth by conservatives in the upcoming special session is “the new Jim Crow.” They’ll say the majority is out to disenfranchise Blacks and other minorities, that “white rage” is behind the efforts.
Then, the party that is pushing so hard to abolish the filibuster will resort to an illegitimate tool to get its way; legislators in the minority are already planning their walkout to break quorum, robbing the majority party of its ability to get things done.
And the media will largely echo their rhetoric, without asking any questions. It did so in the regular session; the Houston Chronicle demonstrated this when it dismissed all election reforms as racism.
“For ruling conservatives in this state — first white Democrats, now white Republicans — ‘voter fraud’ is the trusty password that unlocks an arsenal of underhanded, often unconstitutional, tricks to retain political power and keep it out of the hands of those deemed undeserving of a voice and unqualified for a role in governing,” its editorial board wrote. “Namely, Black and brown folks.”
The truth is that voter fraud exists; whether or not it is “widespread” doesn’t matter one bit. Every illegal vote robs the voice of a legitimate Texas voter.
Polls show that Texas voters strongly support voter ID, even for mail-in ballots. Nearly 90% of Texans say voters should have to show identification to vote. More than 80% believe in-person and mail-in ballots should have the same protections. Roughly the same number say mail-in ballots should include the voter’s drivers license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. And 89% of Texans say we should audit our voter lists regularly to ensure they only include eligible voters.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that requiring voter ID is not overly burdensome; in 2008, Justice John Paul Stevens added, there’s “no question about the legitimacy or importance of the state’s interest in counting only the votes of eligible voters.”
Presumably, any new law offered by Republicans in the special session will do two things. First, it will rein in the making-it-up-as-we-go abuses of Harris County during the pandemic, when established voting rules were thrown out the window. And second, it will add voter ID requirements for mail-in ballots.
The case for the first part of that is clear. The U.S. Constitution says that state legislatures—not county elections officials—establish the “time, place and manner” of elections. It’s that simple. Only the Legislature can allow 24-hour polling places, drive-through voting and unsecured “drop boxes” for mail-in ballots. If Democrats want those things, they can offer legislation, and try to convince their Republican counterparts that Texans want these.
The case for voter ID for mail-in ballots is also very clear. Other states already require it, and it’s a way to cut down on illegal ballot harvesting and voter fraud.
As for the planned walkout, liberals have a point—our system of government is designed to prevent what our Founders called “the tyranny of the majority.” Thomas Jefferson warned, “an elective despotism was not the government we fought for.”
And that’s why the U.S. Senate has the filibuster in place; it’s a way to ensure that the majority party doesn’t steamroll the minority party.
Yet liberals—who now claim that minority rights are about to be steamrolled by the Texas Legislature—are working overtime to end the filibuster. They’re now decrying a “tyranny of the minority,” and demand that everyone submit to the majority opinion—or else.
Even as they demand the death of the filibuster in Washington, Texas liberals will employ a very different tactic—simply walking out—to impede the majority on election reform. The difference here is important; we have tools in place to ensure that rights aren’t trampled by overzealous majorities. But walking out of the Capitol because you’re about to lose on an issue isn’t one of them. As President Obama famously said, “elections have consequences.”
The script that liberals will follow over the next few weeks has been carefully crafted to mislead Texas on these two points. They’ll contend that election reform is racist voter suppression, and that walking out is a legitimate tool for getting their way. Texans know better.
Tragedy and Heroism and the Armed Citizen
While the Arvada, Colorado Police Department continues its investigation into the tragedy that left three people dead, there is preliminary information that a lone gunman (who left a note threatening Arvada police officers) ambushed a police officer and fatally wounded him. A bystander engaged the gunman with gunfire and killed the gunman. This Good Samaritan was then killed by responding police officers. There will certainly be more information to come from the investigation and some of the facts might change, but this is enough to discuss in the abstract.
There is an old analogy among police officers that divides society into three categories: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. The sheep are most of society, kind and gentle and averse to violence. The wolves are the criminals among us and will prey savagely on the sheep. The sheepdogs are the guardians of the flock. While the sheep are somewhat suspicious of the sheepdog because of his ability to embrace violence like the wolf, they will all hide behind the sheepdog when the wolves come and he turns to face them down. The thin blue line is based on this same concept, that a thin blue line stands between order and chaos.
I first heard the story of the sheepdog at a conference where Col. Dave Grossman gave a presentation. It was inspiring, and it tapped into the common core values of police officers everywhere as servants, protectors, and guardians. The story is a bit longer, and masterfully told by Grossman, but there is another line where he says that the sheepdog “yearns for righteous battle with the wolf, but would never turn his teeth on the flock.” This week we got a devastating reminder that not all of the sheepdogs wear a badge.
The decision to carry a weapon, concealed or openly, is a very personal one and individual reasons are boundless. Most trainers, if they are teaching from a pure safety standpoint, would tell a person who chooses to carry a firearm that is should be used for personal protection only as a last resort, when there is no other way to save themselves or their families, and to avoid confrontations if at all possible. It is good advice most of the time, from a safety perspective.
But freedom isn’t always safe. The land of the free is the home of the brave because it takes courage to be free. Sometimes safety takes a back seat to doing the right thing. Police officers sign up for that risk when they swear an oath, but there are those among us that rise to the occasion in a specific moment and do the right thing for their fellow citizens at great risk—and sometimes at horrible cost to themselves.
I cannot imagine the loss that Good Samaritan John Hurley’s family feels right now, but I hope it is of some small comfort that they know he died a hero, likely confirming everything they thought about him in life. I also cannot imagine the anguish of the Arvada Police Department right now. They lost one of their own, a brother dedicated to helping society, and then possibly killed the man who tried to help him and others—by accident.
My own law enforcement career was in Illinois, where the lawful carry of a concealed firearm wasn’t allowed until 2013. In fact, Illinois was the very last state in country to permit it. I always wondered why it took so long, and as a police officer in a very pro-law enforcement community, I recognized the value of citizens who would likely help me if I ever really needed it. That those citizens could be armed would have certainly raised the value of their assistance to me. But more importantly than that (I already had a bunch of brothers and sisters sworn to help, after all) was the hope that if something on the scale of an active shooter happened in our mall or movie theaters, maybe there would be a John Hurley among them who would protect them until we could arrive.
The deaths of Arvada Police Officer Gordon Beesley and John Hurley are devastating and tragic, but each can be looked to as a model for a free and civil society. Both knew their actions would bring great personal risk, one by choice of profession and the other by a choice made in the moment. Yet they performed those actions anyway. We should all pray that the tragic manner of both of their deaths will not deter others from following either of their heroic paths in life.
Comments on “Technical Support Document: Social Cost of Carbon, Methane, and Nitrous Oxide Interim Estimates Under Executive Order 13990″
Dear Deputy Administrator Mancini:
The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), through its Life:Powered initiative, submits this comment in response to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) notice of availability and request for comments on “Technical Support Document: Social Cost of Carbon, Methane, and Nitrous Oxide Interim Estimates.” TPPF is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute dedicated to promoting and defending liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise. Life:Powered is TPPF’s energy policy initiative that seeks to raise America’s energy IQ and end energy poverty around the world.
Pro-Human Investing Means Supporting Fossil Fuels
Corporate virtue-signaling is the new black. In this era of hyper-connectedness and social media shaming campaigns, global mega-companies no longer battle over who can offer the best products for the best price. Instead, they fight to see who can sound the greenest.
The trend is fueled by environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing, which pressures corporations into adopting politically correct stances on issues from climate change to gender equality — on pain of total divestment if companies don’t toe the line.
But a new ESG report from an oil and gas pioneer is turning the anti-fossil fuel financing movement on its head. What if, instead of apologizing for needing fossil fuels, we instead celebrated the role of affordable, reliable energy in ending poverty around the world?
After all, if banks and investment firms want to prioritize investments that provide the most benefit to society, they can surely do no better than oil, gas, coal, and nuclear.
Nothing improves human lives like access to affordable, reliable energy. Without it, even the most mundane tasks involve physically demanding labor. Things like washing clothes and cooking meals require serious elbow grease without modern appliances and safe cooking fuels (and most household labor primarily falls on women, severely limiting the potential of half of society). Electricity offers the gift of time—freedom and comfort to pursue higher goals than just getting through the day alive.
That’s no hyperbole. Perhaps the biggest benefit of electricity to humanity is the gift of modern medicine. Life expectancy globally has more than doubled since the Industrial Revolution. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, where less than half the population has access to electricity (and “access” is defined to include even the smallest window of functioning power), one in every 13 children dies before reaching the age of 5. Those lucky enough to survive childhood face the threat of communicable diseases that are either unheard of or almost totally benign in the developed world. The common cold and bouts of diarrhea are grave danger in impoverished countries. It’s no wonder life expectancy in these countries lags so far behind the global average.
Although incredible progress has been made, it’s clear there is much more work to be done to end poverty and promote human flourishing around the world. Misguided pressure campaigns to vilify fossil fuels could stop or even reverse that progress — but will have no effect on climate change whatsoever.
If the Green New Deal were enacted today, global average temperatures by 2100 would be less than two-tenths of a degree lower. The same goes for the Paris Agreement, even in the unlikely scenario every participating country met its emissions pledges until the end of the century. If global action wouldn’t move the needle on climate change, divestment campaigns by even the largest and most vociferous banks and investment firms certainly wouldn’t either. Ironically, the ESG movement would come with significant collateral damage to the environment it claims to defend. Denying financing to American energy producers means their costs will be higher — and so will ours, placing an even greater strain on impoverished Americans who already struggle to afford their home energy bills. Worse, we’ll be forced to get more of our energy from overseas. This not only weakens our economy and national security, it also puts power directly into the hands of irresponsible foreign conglomerates with lax environmental standards. Divesting from fossil fuels would result in more pollution, not less.
ESG in its current form would be better described as energy discrimination than environmental protection — and Liberty Oilfield Services’ “Bettering Human Lives” ESG report creates a new opportunity for energy. Instead of apologizing for their own existence, fossil fuel producers should celebrate their positive impact on the world by providing affordable, reliable energy that improves our lives every day and is helping to end poverty around the world.
This commentary originally appeared in The Epoch Times on June 14, 2021
Vance Ginn: Budget Limits Pair Perfectly with Budget Cuts
Peanut butter and jelly. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Budget limits and budget cuts. Some things just pair perfectly together.
Here at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, I’m sometimes asked why my focus lately has been on budget limits—as seen in our Conservative Texas Budget (the model for which has been adopted by other states) and our Responsible American Budget. Both of these set hard maximum limits for what can be considered as conservative, “no government growth” budgets.
A state or national budget should grow less than the simple formula of population growth plus inflation. Beyond that, budget writers truly are increasing the size and scope of government, which crowds out the average American’s opportunities to prosper.
But why am I not talking more about budget cuts, I’ve been asked. I am! If I had my way, the federal budget would be about a quarter of its size. The actual budget proposal I worked on during my year at the White House (for FY 2021) proposed a record of $4.6 trillion in less national debt over a decade, made most of the Trump tax cuts permanent, and would have balanced the budget over time.
The truth is that budget limits and budget cuts aren’t mutually exclusive—they’re a perfect pairing. Budget limits tell budget writers, “This much, and no further.” Budget cuts are an opportunity for those writers to demonstrate real fiscal conservatism by reducing the size and scope of government.
And over time, budget limits will cut the budget as a share of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), because the GDP tends to grow faster than population-plus-inflation.
At the national level, the U.S. budget picture would be much improved if the federal government had spent no more than population-plus-inflation since 2000. Instead of increasing our national debt by $16.2 trillion in that time, we would instead have seen a surplus of $2.6 trillion.
Budget cuts—which could have been achieved by, say, sticking with the welfare reforms enacted in 1996—would make that picture even brighter.
Here’s what we know: Irresponsible government spending damages the productive private sector through redistribution of resources, higher taxes, higher price inflation, and higher interest rates, reducing Americans’ real incomes, job opportunities, and prosperity.
Budget limits and budget cuts are both ways to attack government spending—from different directions. Both are useful; both are needed. Supporting budget limits doesn’t mean supporting more spending; limits and cuts can be embraced at the same time and for the same purpose—to allow more Americans the freedom to prosper.
The President’s Plan to Reduce Crime is a Pretext for Gun Control
As crime rates skyrocket throughout our country’s major cities, President Joe Biden has introduced a plan to combat crime, or “gun violence” as his administration and those on the left like to call it. Set aside that the White House is the wrong place to look for a solution to local crime problems and the fact that the president’s prescriptions for policing have been energetic but wrong, let’s address why this new plan is just more of the same political posturing we always see from the left.
Defund the police, the rallying cry of the far left for over a year now, is incredibly unpopular among Americans. President Biden’s call for more police on the streets is an obvious snub to the “defunding” crowd, but polling shows they don’t really matter that much, so it was a politically safe play for him. But will it fix anything? No, it won’t.
The first issue is that recruiting new officers and retaining current ones is becoming increasingly difficult for police departments everywhere. The anti-police environment the left has created makes bringing new people into the profession very difficult and is driving experienced officers out of it. The best and brightest among us are not going to be drawn to a profession that has been deemed systemically racist. The prosecution of police officers in the court of public opinion has created the perception of much greater criminal liability for officers doing their jobs. And the promise to take away civil liability protections will leave very little reason for someone to take the inherent risks of being a cop. So good luck putting more cops on the streets, Mr. President.
But deeper than that , we must look at what has been done to policing by those on President Biden’s side of the aisle. Crime rates are not climbing because of a lack of police, but because of a lack of proactive policing by the officers we already have. When New York Police Department disbanded its 600 officer anti-crime plainclothes unit and the Portland Police did the same with their gun crimes unit, they didn’t get rid of those officers, they just put them into other positions. Yet the violent crimes in those cities exploded. It wasn’t because there were fewer officers, it was because those teams of officers were the tip of the spear in proactive crimefighting. Having them do less or none of that has consequences.
It is not only the specialized units being disbanded that creates the problem. It is the perception of every police officer that the media and their own governmental officials, let alone the weaponized DOJ, are just waiting for them to make the next mistake. They are fearful of starring in the next viral video that results in a mob outside their families’ home, or gets them indicted, or gets them sued with increased civil liability exposure that costs them their life’s savings. Why would any police officer take any more risk than necessary in pursuing criminals?
When the police revert to a reactive form of policing only, where they simply respond to reported crimes, criminals are free to do what they do. Proactive policing puts pressure on the criminal element in our society and prevents criminal activity rather than simply responding to it. But that takes officers willing to take the initiative upon themselves, and they have been completely disincentivized to do that.
While the president’s “just shoot ‘em in the legs” foray into policing reform was comical to many, it did point out a fact that is often missed in the rush to rightfully deride him for the comment. Yes, shooting someone in the legs is a bad idea for a lot of reasons (and is very likely to still kill the suspect, just more slowlyand more painfully). It won’t necessarily stop them from doing what they doing.
And therein lies the problem—most people do not understand the issue the way cops all do, and the president’s words can seem to make sense.
That part is not necessarily a bad thing. The general public doesn’t want the police to kill anyone unless they have to, and they don’t understand the dangers a person with a knife poses or why a police officer can’t just shoot someone in the hand or leg. Their humanity and empathy are admirable qualities, and we should never lose these values as a society. But we also must better educate the public on the realities of crime, violence, and policing so that they can more realistically evaluate an officer’s actions, and reserve judgement until the evidence is clear.
What’s the solution? We must end the anti-police rhetoric and policies, and instead let our officers know they are supported. We must encourage them to get back to the task at hand—preventing crime. That will bring about proactive policing and the reduction in crime that the president’s proposals cannot. Soon, it will even result in more cops on the street as the job regains the place of honor and respect it once held. There’s no better way to attract new recruits.
But to be clear, the president’s comprehensive strategy is really not about crime. It is the opening salvo of the left’s gun control agenda. Law-and-order is always popular with the general public, and the left sees the weakness that their activist prosecutors, calls for cashless bail, and encouragement of looting and rioting expose them to at the polls. What they can do is undermine the Second Amendment through a broad gun control agenda. This is why the president’s proposed fix for crime reframes it as “gun violence” instead of crime.
It should be clear to everyone that guns do not commit crimes, criminals do. But framing the tidal wave of violent crime as “gun violence” (especially as an epidemic of the same) gives the left an opening for them to act. So called “ghost guns” and pistols with stabilizing braces are rarely used in crimes, but they are part of the left’s anti-gun agenda, so they’re now part of the president’s plan. It is easier to scare the public about the existence of a gun that has no serial number than it is to explain why leftwing prosecutors release criminals without concern to risk or refuse to prosecute them at all.
While the resources focused on illegal firearms trafficking are worthwhile, the already burdensome FFL rules (there is a whole section on “rogue gun dealers”) could soon become even more so. Let’s just hope that the administration itself can keep from firearm trafficking itself, as it did the last time Biden was in office.
From refusing to secure our border and declining to prosecute criminals, to encouraging riots and looting, the left has courted the criminal element and now owns it. If there were a positive note to be found regarding the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, it would be that the left finally found a riotous mob it could condemn (and has it ever). Those on the left have demonized our police officers and weakened their ability—and motivation—to proactively police our communities, leaving gangs and other criminals undeterred. President Biden’s public safety plan is simply a gateway to the left’s gun control agenda, and nothing more.
Patients First Episode 2: The Uninsured
“Patients First: The Uninsured” highlights new solutions to provide affordable healthcare for millions of uninsured Texans. It addresses a common misconception that the majority of people without insurance lie in the so-called ‘coverage gap.’ Research shows in Texas those is the gap make up a small percentage of the uninsured. Instead, the vast majority of the uninsured are those who have access to low- or no-cost insurance but choose not to take it.
Several solutions to addressing the problems of the uninsured passed with bipartisan support during the most recent Texas legislative session.
The new options for the uninsured represent a significantly better solution than expanding a poorly-performing program like Medicaid, which already does not serve current recipients well and would result in crowding out low-income women and children and the disabled from access.
Why the Left Could Push For a National Police Force
A predictable pattern has emerged when it comes to radically progressive ideas and their eventual acceptance in policy. The most fringe elements begin talking about an idea that no one would normally take seriously, and then some of the more mainstream groups or individuals begin discussing it tentatively in public, and finally the media and high-profile politicians run with it. The tempo is variable, but the gameplan is consistent.
Eventually, what was a ridiculous and radical idea is seen as a new truth. There is growing concern that we may be in the beginning of that cycle with the idea of a national police force. If so, the momentum needs to be stopped early, before it reaches critical mass.
Just over a year ago, no one would have considered defunding the police a serious proposal. Yet here we are, watching the far left leaders of major cities defund their police departments in the midst of skyrocketing crime rates. It was a bad idea when it was first proposed and it is a worse idea now, but it has become a mainstream philosophy among the left. Some politicians have recognized the political toxicity of defunding, but seem hesitant to alienate an invigorated base by running away from it.
Now we are beginning to hear the whispers of a need for national police force. The anti-police rhetoric we have been hearing from politicians in major cities for a year has shifted to cries for help, not from the police that work for them, but from the feds. Before we know it, it will be difficult to remember a time when we weren’t discussing the importance of a national police force.
The mayor of Chicago’s demand for federal aid to fix the “gun problem” in her city is in stark contrast to her criticism of federal police a year ago, the only difference being who was president at the time. Her current message is that local police can’t fix this anymore. Mayor Lightfoot has the second largest police department in the United States at her disposal to combat rising crime rates. If Chicago PD can’t fix this, then who can? If we ignore for a moment her open hostility for the men and women in blue who work for her, we can see that her call for federal help is meant to delegitimize her own police department, and all local police forces by association. It is the open hypocrisy of the left that they are OK with a police state as long as they are the ones wearing the badges.
The left is no stranger to federal takeovers of local police departments; the civil rights division of the Department of Justice uses consent decrees like a bludgeon against police agencies. The Obama DOJ used them extensively, the Trump DOJ rarely, and the Biden DOJ seems to be gearing up to use them again. Placing a local police department under the bureaucratic oversite of Washington has been going on for a long time, and there is no doubt that the left will point to this practice in proclaiming the idea of nationalizing all police departments as not so radical. But it is.
A nationalized police force would take on the political characteristics of the administration in office. The administration’s priorities would become the local policing priorities, whether they were in Juneau or Chicago. National political winds would shift enforcement practices, completely unbound from local priorities.
Even worse, the police would now represent the political party in charge in Washington—in our own back yards (literally). How exactly would rural Texans feel about their Biden police? Probably about the same as Los Angeles would feel about their Trump police. We already have enough difficulty with community relations throughout the nation without assuring that roughly half the country would hate their police based only on the fact that they now represent an opposing political party (and its priorities).
A likely reason for the left to press for a national police force is its aim for gun control. Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed HB 2622 into law making Texas a Second Amendment sanctuary state by prohibiting state and local law enforcement from enforcing certain federal gun laws not already found in state law. Other states could follow suit, and many local governments already have. In practical terms, this could neuter attempts at federal gun confiscation or enforcement of a new federal assault weapons ban. It is not by chance that fringe left mayors have been decrying the rising violent crime in their cities, largely brought on by the demonization of their police, as a “gun problem” and demanding federal assistance in dealing with it.
The left still has designs on gutting the Second Amendment, and they are increasingly realizing that local law enforcement might not be willing to do their bidding in that arena. But a national police force certainly would.
Policing is best accomplished as a uniquely local endeavor. The police are a part of the communities they serve, and centralizing them in Washington would change that for the worse. A national police force is rife with potential problems, making the relationship between the police and the community solely dependent on the roller coaster of political power. We should stop this idea before it ever starts.
Federal Judge Halts Relief Funding Program Based on Race
Texas Public Policy Foundation attorneys, along with America First Legal, struck a blow against government-sanctioned discrimination. A Biden administration program that “prioritized” COVID-19 relief funds based upon the race of the owner—and would have run out long before everyone could be considered—has been halted by a federal judge.
“The SBA’s website says that it will ‘only process and fund priority group applications’ during the first 21 days of the program, which began on May 3, 2021, and it will only process and fund those applications if the applicant ‘has self-certified that it meets the eligibility requirements for a small business owned by
women, veterans, or socially and economically disadvantaged individuals,’” a TPPF filing explains.
But that leaves out small businesses such as the Lost Cajun restaurant in Keller—based solely on the race of the owners.
“On May 18, 2021, the Small Business Administration issued a press release announcing that it has already received 303,000 applications for relief, representing over $69 billion in requested funds,” TPPF attorneys say. “This raises the prospect that the entire $28.6 billion that Congress appropriated will be depleted before applications submitted by non-priority applicants are even eligible to be considered. Indeed, it makes it more than likely that the appropriated funds will be depleted.”
It’s patently unconstitutional to offer or to deny assistance to a business based on the race of the owner, notes TPPF General Counsel Robert Henneke.
“As the Supreme Court ruled in 1976, ‘The central purpose of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is the prevention of official conduct discriminating on the basis of race,” Henneke says. “This is nothing more than a naked discriminatory preference that turns a disaster relief program into a politicized spoils system.”
Yet it’s in keeping with the Biden administration’s continued fascination with Critical Race Theory. As leading CRT proponent Ibram X. Kendi says, “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
This approach is unacceptable—and unconstitutional.
“Equal rights under law is the cornerstone of American constitutional jurisprudence: the principle that all citizens, regardless of status, wealth, race, color, religion, or creed, have the same rights and are entitled to the same standard of justice,” Henneke contends. “As a nation, we are devoted to the task of satisfying these sacred ideals and providing equal rights to citizens of all races, as the Constitution requires.”
TPPF Applauds Governor Abbott’s Support for Reentry Reform
The Texas Public Policy Foundation applauds Governor Abbott for signing House Bill 569 into law. Inspired by a south Dallas urban farm and market, the “Bonton Farms Act” will help reduce in–court costs and fines that often follow the formerly incarcerated—removing a significant barrier to successful reentry for former inmates.
Often, individuals are released from confinement and discover they have accumulated thousands of dollars’ worth of fines and fees while incarcerated due to previous misdemeanors that occurred prior to their incarceration. HB 569 will help alleviate this costly burden by allowing an individual’s time served to act as a credit for resolving any low-level fines and fees that may exist.
“This legislation is a great example of ways we can empower individuals reentering their communities to achieve the independence and self-sufficiency they desire,” said Nikki Pressley, Texas State Director for Right on Crime. “Following an overwhelming amount of bipartisan support during the legislative session, Governor Abbott’s stamp of approval reenforces that Texas is eager to support reentry models that have proven to be successful.”
HB 569 was filed by conservative Representative Scott Sanford and was included in Speaker Dade Phelan’s “Smarter Justice, Safer Texas” bill package. The Bonton Farms Act will take effect September 1, 2021.
Providers are shirking health care price transparency — Biden mustn’t let them
In a recent letter to Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, the leadership of the Committee on Energy & Commerce came together in a bipartisan effort to encourage HHS to step up its enforcement and accountability of the law that requires hospitals to list their negotiated prices in a transparent manner.
According to one organization, compliance has been extremely low, with many of the hospitals opting to pay the monetary penalty of $300 per day or $109,500 annually to avoid transparency. For most facilities, this penalty could be considered a rounding error and worth it to continue the practice of keeping prices hidden and secretive.
Even though HHS committed during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing on February 23, 2020 that the agency will “do robust enforcement to make sure price transparency is there for all Americans,” the Biden administration is proposing to repeal a requirement for hospitals to post their privately negotiated Medicare Advantage rates in their Medicare cost reports. Medicare Advantage plans have grown at a rapid rate over the years and represents nearly 40% or over 24 million of Medicare beneficiaries, making this a significant payer category for hospitals nationwide.
CMS has stated that it will get rid of the requirement because it could impose an “unnecessary burden on hospitals.” This laughable claim by the American Hospital Association was made in its legal brief in the Appellate Court in a case it lost soon thereafter. Its claim of financial burden was especially ironic, as the cost to implement rivaled the monetary penalty hospitals currently choose to pay to keep their prices hidden.
According to a brief by the Kaiser Family Foundation, prices vary by region and across the country, but new information has revealed that there is incredible price variation even within the same hospital, depending on the insurer. This variance and opacity of pricing was what the Trump administration was seeking to end by implementing a rule to shed light on the negotiated rates. Then-candidate Joe Biden also upheld this priority, as his health care task force pledged, “We will work to increase price transparency in the health care system across all payers.” Biden’s pick for Secretary of HHS has also stood behind the order during his confirmation hearing, boldly stating that “the American people are entitled to know what they’re buying.”
Needless to say, health care price transparency is far from being a partisan issue. Most Americans want hospitals to show their prices. According to a recent Harvard-Harris poll, nearly 90% are in favor of an initiative by the government to mandate disclosure of negotiated prices by hospitals, insurers, and other medical professionals.
Patients of all political stripes are using their respective voices to show support for the transparency rule. In an ad that aired during the 2021 Academy Awards, a commercial starring Susan Sarandon and patient activists brought the point home by saying, “Patients deserve to know the prices of the procedures that they need ahead of time. They need to have the power to make good choices. The ability to be an informed consumer around some of the most unpleasant situations people encounter in their lives, as they have health problems, is extremely important. It’s enough stress to be in need of health care; we don’t need to add to that stress with hidden costs.”
The opacity of pricing in health care has prevented free-market forces from working in health care for nearly 60 years, over which time we’ve seen an exponential growth in spending as a percentage of our gross domestic product.
This is exactly why CMS must stay the course and improve upon the order by bringing about more transparency, not less. Health care price transparency won’t fix all of our problems with this incredibly complex industry, but it’s a good start.
School choice can be a unifying issue
If there is one thing the New York mayoral race has taught us it is that parental choice in education can be a unifying issue. Maybe the hysteria induced by COVID-19 should be credited for this revelation, but all across America, parents are reevaluating how and what their children are being taught—and seeking better solutions.
This past week, Randi Weingarten, the powerful president of the American Teachers’ Federation, threw shade at several Democratic New York City mayoral candidates over their (varying) support for New York charter schools, an issue traditionally supported by Republican leaders.
“I’m incredibly disappointed to see Kathryn Garcia go this route with charters,” she tweeted. “She’s embraced the unacceptable policy of lifting the charter cap in NYC. Now.. Two minutes be4 early voting starts. Wondering why?”
The three leading candidates in the Democratic primary—Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, entrepreneur and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and former city sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia—all endorse charter schools to a varying degree.
Such strong Democratic support for more choice in education has become a thorn in the side of America’s largest teachers union, which has opposed parental choice in education for decades. But as parents are now realizing, a one-size fits all education program fails to fit all. The innovative ways in which children are being taught in charter schools (which remain public schools) is proving successful—and popular with parents.
According to 2019 figures, 63% of New York charter school students grades 3 through 8 passed the New York State math exam, compared to just 46% of those students in traditional public schools. And 57% of charter school students passed the English Language Arts proficiency test, compared to 47% of traditional public school students.
Considering charter schools are accountable to their results and often offer longer, more strenuous school days, it is imperative that parents—especially lower income and disadvantaged families—have the opportunity to provide a quality public education for their children.
But the issue is not just about charter schools. It’s about a child’s access to, and a parent’s choice of, the best education possible.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) tackled the issue of school choice directly when he sponsored an amendment that aimed to allow low-income families to bring Title I funds to the schools of their choice.
“So when we look at this through the eyes of a poor kid or if we look at this through the eyes of a single mother who is struggling simply to make ends meet,” Scott said on the Senate floor, “it seems very clear to me that providing more educational options is the right path forward for us to make sure every child everywhere experiences their full potential.”
The solution is more choice, not less. Opportunity thrives when limitations on choice are unshackled from calculating bureaucracy.
It has become a cliché political position in Washington to talk about fixing the disparity in educational opportunities—without actually doing anything about it.
The truth is, a child’s zip code should never define their opportunity, and it’s powerful elites like Weingarten who are standing in the way to expanding opportunity and educational choice for all.
Insulin for the Uninsured—Texas Helps when Washington Won’t
Insulin truly is a miracle drug—extending countless lives and expanding the quality of life for millions of Americans. Yet its skyrocketing price, largely the result of pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) practices, is putting it out of reach of far too many patients, including children.
According to the Endocrine Society (a global research group), “Novolog, a commonly used insulin, has been available since 2001. While this product has been unchanged, its price increased by 353% over a 15-year period between 2001 and 2016 and it continues to rise.”
Diabetes is the costliest chronic disease in the U.S., with an estimated price tag of $327 billion annually. Insulin costs make up about 20% percent of direct medical costs.
In the same way, EpiPens save lives—millions of times each year. These, too, have seek skyrocketing prices in recent years, and were included in the Trump administration’s program that made them more affordable.
Why, then, is the Biden administration ending a Trump administration program that provided discounts on insulin to low-income and uninsured patients? You’ll have to ask them, but one diabetes advocacy group immediately launch an ad campaign calling for “less talk, more action” on insulin pricing.
Texas isn’t waiting, however.
House Bill 18, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday, establishes a prescription drug savings program for 3 million uninsured Texans. We know that medication compliance is a big factor in determining outcomes; the program will give the uninsured access to deeply discounted prescriptions. This includes insulin and EpiPens.
The Biden administration has yet to say what it will do to assist those who can’t afford their medications. Texas, on the other hand, has stepped up with real assistance.
Inflation: Subtle, Silent, Sophisticated Taxation
Price inflation in May 2021 was up 5% over May of 2020. At this pace, the general level of prices will double in less than 15 years. The last time inflation was running this high was in 2008, when gasoline first breached $4 a gallon. And inflation expectations for the next year have reached a record high.
But what did we expect when the government created trillions of dollars and forced people to stay home from work? The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has exploded by 100% to more than $8 trillion since last year; it was the perfect recipe for inflation with more money supplied than goods and services available to buy.
There have been red flags for months, with businesses announcing that they are raising prices.
Proctor & Gamble manufactures hundreds of products across dozens of brands from diapers to detergents. General Mills makes various foodstuffs from cereals to soups and pastries to pizzas. Hormel also sells various food products. Whirlpool manufactures appliances. Texas’s own Kimberly-Clark makes tissues and paper towels, among other products. Tempur Sealy sells bedding.
Americans use or consume products from these businesses every day, and those companies are all raising their prices, which hurts consumers’ purchasing power. Grocery stores and restaurants across the country have been raising prices as well.
But why these sudden price increases? Businesses are facing higher costs. Commodity prices are climbing quickly, as are wages due to labor shortages.
The contention that current inflation numbers are skewed because of “base-effects” from the early months of the pandemic is incomplete. The consumer price index (CPI) in May 2020 (the lowest point of pandemic-era prices) was just 1% below the CPI’s then-record high in February 2020, which has been eclipsed since August 2020. So, the base-effects argument does not explain a 5% annual increase.
Inflation is a tax, pure and simple, but not an explicit tax. Instead, it robs you of your purchasing power subtly and silently so that most people are none the wiser. It is not accomplished expressly through legislation, but through the sophisticated maneuvers of the Fed, giving inflation an air of mystery.
In reality, there is nothing mysterious about inflation. When the Fed creates money faster than the economy grows, then prices will tend to rise. That is why there is also no end in sight to this inflationary wave. The Fed continues to target historically low interest rates by creating money every month at an annual pace of more than $1.4 trillion, far faster than the economy is growing. The result is real wealth being taken from you—taxation without representation.
Nevertheless, it is surprisingly easy to stop inflation.
Ending inflation only requires the Fed to cease flooding the economy with money. If the Fed slows its money creation, though, then Congress cannot use inflation to finance the nation’s deficits, which seems to be Congress’s favorite way to spend.
Conversely, if Congress were to achieve a balanced budget through sound fiscal policy, then the Fed could return to its original mission of price stability, and not worry about backstopping massive federal deficits with newly created money.
This could be more quickly be achieved by implementing the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Responsible American Budget, which sets a total budget limit at no more than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for it as measured by population growth plus inflation. While this would not completely solve the problem of inflation, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and this will point the country in the right direction.
We must not let the best be the enemy of the good; something must be done sooner rather than later to stop the current runaway spending in Congress.
For example: Senators in Congress have recently reached a tentative bipartisan “infrastructure” deal to spend another $579 billion without raising taxes—or more accurately, without explicitly raising taxes. The spending will be financed with bonds purchased by the Fed, which means through the implicit tax of inflation. That $579 billion will still be collected, but not through so obvious a mechanism as the IRS.
No, inflation is too subtle, silent, and sophisticated for that.
E-Verify: An Essential Part of a Sensible Immigration System
The hope of employment is one of the main reasons unauthorized migrants continue to enter the United States. In Texas, undocumented workers make up 8.5% of the state’s total labor force.
In addition to violating the law, employers who knowingly hire unauthorized migrants often take advantage of them by paying extremely low wages, refusing to pay, or even threatening to report them to ICE. Employers also typically use cheap labor provided by the undocumented workers to avoid adhering to labor laws that must be observed when employing American citizens and lawful residents.
Texas and other states have the ability to uphold the rule of law in this area, but they must exercise the political willpower to do so. They can do this by requiring employers throughout the state to use E-Verify. This online system is run by the federal government and verifies whether new hires are legally allowed to work in the United States “by electronically matching information provided by employees on the Form I-9…against records available to the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.”
Unauthorized migrants often pay substantial amounts of money for counterfeit documents to try and falsely prove their eligibility to work in America. E-Verify helps to detect these counterfeit documents so employers can be sure they are hiring people who are legally able to work in the United States.
Former House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, who is also a member of TPPF’s Border Security Coalition, is a long-time champion of expanding the use of E-Verify across Texas. When he was in office, Smith sponsored the Legal Workforce Act, which sought to expand E-Verify nationwide.
As Congressman Smith sees it, the top three benefits of E-Verify are its ease of use, its popularity among Americans and its ability to weaken the “magnet of job availability.” Smith notes an employer can, “check someone’s availability to work in the United States in about 30 seconds on an iPhone.” Smith also notes E-Verify’s popularity with Americans, pointing to polls that show it is supported by about three-quarters of the American people. This level of approval is rather unique, as Americans are very divided on many other immigration-related measures. Finally, Smith says that implementing E-Verify would reduce the incentive for illegal migrants to come to the United States because if “they are less likely to get jobs, they are less likely to enter the country illegally.”
Up until this year, Texas has only mandated the use of E-Verify when hiring state employees. Other states, like Florida, also require private sector employees to use the system. However, during the most recent Texas legislative session, SB 776 was unanimously approved by both chambers. Expected to be signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, this bill requires “sexually oriented businesses” such as strip clubs and massage parlors to use E-Verify in their hiring processes. State legislators fortunately came to a consensus on this front because this is an industry where unauthorized migrants are especially susceptible to becoming victims of sex trafficking.
Another E-Verify bill that unfortunately did not pass this last session was HB 1336. This bill would have made it mandatory for “state contractors and political subdivisions” throughout the state to use E-Verify. Though the bill should have easily passed, it is likely that special interest groups that do not really want to reduce the illegal jobs magnet through the expansion of E-Verify successfully lobbied against the measure. As Congressman Smith points out, “Special interest groups are exercising an influence beyond their numbers here. As I’ve said, it’s popular with the American people, but you do have special interest groups that really don’t want to reduce illegal immigration for their own reasons.”
While further expansion of E-Verify may face some opposition, evidence shows it is a system that works, with only a 1% error rate. This proves the program serves its purpose in deterring the employment of unauthorized migrants. E-Verify is effective in upholding the rule of law and should serve as an essential component of a sound national immigration system. It both prevents employers from taking advantage of the unauthorized workers and safeguards the jobs of American citizens and lawful residents. As Smith puts it, “Those who oppose E-Verify are putting themselves on the wrong side of American workers.”
Texas is standing up to Wall Street’s anti-energy agenda
Wall Street has never been too keen on Texas. The bustling streets of progressive Manhattan are a stark contrast to the wide-open plains and freedom-founded principles of the Lone Star State. But until now, coastal elites’ disdain for Texas has been mostly limited to peering down their noses at our state.
But today, Wall Street firms are colluding on a coordinated attack against Texas and our way of life. Wealthy investment managers like BlackRock and Bank of the West are denying capital to energy companies, wielding their money and power like a wrecking ball with one goal — destroying the oil and gas industry.
But energy is the driving force of our lives and livelihoods — so I’ve made it a priority to fight back.
Senate Bill 13 sends a strong message to big business: If you boycott Texas energy, Texas will boycott you.
Under this new law, the state of Texas will no longer do business with companies that actively boycott or divest from fossil fuels. The reason is simple: Texas wouldn’t be Texas without energy. Our economy, prosperity, and quality of life would be at risk without the fuels made right here in our state.
In 2017, I championed similar legislation regarding Israel. Thanks to Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Legislature’s decisive action, the state of Texas no longer contracts with companies that boycott Israel. We’re proud to stand firmly with one of our greatest allies — and to show the same support to the energy workers who power our state and our entire nation.
Energy makes our lives possible. It’s not just about jobs and the economy, although those things are important. Energy represents nearly a third of Texas’ GDP and funds more than 10 percent of the state’s budget. Last year alone, oil and gas contributed nearly $14 billion to our schools, roads, and Rainy Day Fund. In pre-COVID times, that number was even higher.
More importantly, nothing we do is possible without Texas’ rich natural gas and petroleum reserves. We rely on fossil fuels to get through our day, from the gas we put in our cars and the electricity keeping our businesses running to the plastics used in a myriad of medical products, including the masks and gloves keeping our health care heroes safe.
The burgeoning energy discrimination movement is denying capital to our responsible, hard-working energy businesses, which means the energy we need will be less affordable and less secure — and everything we do will be more expensive. It’s a recipe for worsening poverty in a time our economy, though stronger than the rest of the country’s, is already struggling to return to normalcy.
And when investment managers choose political pet causes over their fiduciary duty, our retirees will suffer for it even more. The Texans who will one day depend on their investments and pensions for retirement — including our teachers, first responders, and state employees — deserve to know their money is being treated with care, not manipulated for political purposes.
BlackRock and its compatriots in the investing world will claim that divesting from fossil fuels is necessary to prevent a climate catastrophe. But these claims don’t stack up for several reasons. First, the data models used to justify big-government climate policies are suspect at best. Second, these same models project that even eliminating fossil fuels entirely would have next to no impact on global temperatures.
A realistic and pragmatic view of climate science recognizes that the climate is changing, but those changes are likely to be mild and manageable — even more so as technological advancements make us more resilient.
The tangible benefits of affordable, reliable energy to Texas — lower poverty, improved economic opportunity, better heath, stronger national security, and even a cleaner environment — far outweigh the risks of slightly warmer temperatures decades from now. To continue to reap those benefits, this critical legislation sends a strong signal to both Washington and Wall Street.
Texas is proud to lead the fight.
Declining Rates: ACA Marketplace Special Enrollment Period Will Fail to Hit its Mark
While President Trump cut the 2021 Obamacare open enrollment period in half, President Biden has hastily doubled up and overlapped successive enrollment periods, despite stagnating ACA Marketplace enrollment rates.
Every year, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) establishes an open enrollment period (OEP) for eligible individuals to select a qualified health plan (QHP) via both federal and state-based marketplace options. Enrollment dates typically span from November to mid-December, but consumers may sometimes qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) depending on certain life events.
Qualifications for SEP enrollment normally include termination of health coverage due to job loss, moving, getting married, or having a baby. Yet because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden Administration signed an executive order which included an SEP that was set to run from February 15, 2021, and end May 15, 2021, for all Americans regardless of the unique life events that would otherwise apply.
Obamacare is always a contentious health care topic across the aisle because of disagreements over the act’s fiscal efficiency and general effectiveness at covering the uninsured. The point made by conservative lawmakers that coverage does not equal care is no novel criticism of the ACA.
The negative attention garnered by this SEP, however, comes from its suspiciously long enrollment period with nothing outstanding to show for it. In mid-March, when SEP enrollment rates were reported at less than a quarter million, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that the enrollment period would extend into mid-August. Enrollment began to crawl from 528,000 in March, to 940,000 in April and now sits at 1.24 million as of May. For reference, SEP rates in 2015 clocked in at 1.2 million, without CMS banking on the hysteria of a public health crisis and unemployment. So, where are the droves of aspiring enrollees who are still suffering in the aftermath of the pandemic?
Figure 1. Enrollees by Total, OEP, & SEP from 2014-2021
Figure 1 illustrates open and special enrollment periods as well as the cumulative enrollment volume per year from the ACA’s inception through the present. OEP data for each year includes enrollment rates collected through the official deadline usually around late December or January. SEP data represents all enrollment periods for that year outside of the regular OEP.
The SEP in 2020 was designed as a response to the pandemic, but, relative to the preceding years, the overall change in total enrollment volume does not reflect the drastic public health and financial impacts of that year. Nor does this year. Contrary to the self-congratulatory pro-ACA headlines, the OEP and SEP enrollment rates of 2021 are relatively unremarkable. The 2021 SEP is not over, but its unexceptional enrollment rate thus far has seriously undermined the necessity for an extension into August.
Figure 2. ESI Coverage Among Individuals Under 65
Additionally, apprehension over job loss and, therefore, loss of employer sponsored insurance was naturally higher in 2020 when the effects of the pandemic were in full swing. This likely explains the significant increase in SEP enrollment from 2019 to 2020, but the same conclusion cannot be drawn for 2021. At its peak in April 2020, unemployment hovered around 14.8 percent, and although over 3 million adults lost their ESI coverage, the majority of workers in the industries that were hit hardest financially by the pandemic did not have job-based coverage to begin with. The dip downward, a projection for 2021, can be explained by employer’s reluctance to compete with the subsidies offered by the marketplace—not as a function of a damaged economy or limited job prospects. This year, unemployment is down to 6.0 percent and steadily declining. Fear of losing health insurance because of the pandemic has largely dissipated.
Figure 3. New vs Returning ACA Enrollees During Annual OEP
The number of new annual enrollees as well as re-enrollees provide insight on the relative strength of marketplace maintenance. The number of new ACA Marketplace enrollees is evidently on the decline. Further, observing the change in reenrollment from year to year, the less-than-a-million increase in returning enrollees between 2020 and 2021 during a pandemic is also nothing to write home about, considering the number of people made eligible to sign up. The change returning individuals in years prior to the public health crisis are disappointingly modest at best.
Figure 3 uses federal navigator funding (FNF) to assess how the government financially prioritizes outreach and education to increase enrollment rates. In other words, implementing this metric highlights the relationship between federal assistance funding and enrollment rates. The decrease in navigator funding during the Trump administration bears little impact, if any, on overall enrollment rates. FNF does not even factor in this year’s deluxe emergency advertising initiative.
The Biden Administration announced that it has invested $100 million in a new ad campaign to raise awareness for the 2021 emergency SEP. The $100 million in marketing funds is being spent on ads for television, radio and 30 second YouTube videos like this (production cost unknown). This is the only time a SEP has received federal advertisement funding. Previous OEPs have certainly had their fair share of government-sponsored marketing (ranging from 10 to 100 million dollars per enrollment period) but those campaigns ran ads during the time of year that primarily targeted OEP enrollees. The dollar amount of FNF spent on reaching SEP enrollees is represented by the product of total FNF spent in a given year and the proportion of SEP enrollees who signed up in that year. Between 2014 and 2020, the cost of each unique SEP enrollee based on FNF fluctuated between $2.68 to $12.74 per person. This eye-catching range is immediately dwarfed by the $83.2 cost per enrollee of this emergency SEP when we factor in the supplementary SEP ad campaign that is running from February through August. The only way to justify this roughly ten-fold increase in total spending would be if approximately 12 million, not just 1.2 million, new individuals signed up for ACA Marketplace coverage during this emergency SEP—an unlikely outcome. The Biden Administration’s SEP outreach budget relative to its participating audience is glaringly disproportionate.
Furthermore, if the apparent scramble for enrollees is not already evident, the administration has also increased navigator funding to $80 million for 2022 enrollment. The investment in the program, designed to help consumers choose a plan, represents an eight-fold increase in funding relative to the Trump administration, which had slashed investment to $10 million annually. Despite Trump’s funding cuts to ACA marketing and outreach programs between 2017 and 2020, trying to prove that federal outreach funding helps enrollment rates is an uphill battle.
It would be a mistake to assume that the same degree of fear and uncertainty among enrollees are at play in this year’s SEP. Extending the enrollment period into August and spending a combined $110 million into marketing and outreach midway through demonstrates both a frenzied approach and a lack of confidence on the part of CMS in attempting to enroll as many people as possible.
CMS boasts that four in five consumers currently enrolled in a QHP would only pay a $10 per month premium and, after advance payments of the premium tax credits, an average of three in five Americans will pay no premium at all. These enticing subsidy plans make it hard to understand why 15 million Americans are eligible for marketplace enrollment but choose not to enroll. CMS has every imaginable resource at its disposal— advertising, navigators, and time. Extending the already generous enrollment period for the 15 million eligible but uninsured individuals is an irrational solution to boost ACA Marketplace enrollment.
Juneteenth—A Pivotal Point in the History of Texas and America
In Texas, African-Americans have long celebrated Juneteenth as a pivotal point in our history. It commemorates the day, June 19, 1865, when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger read aloud Executive Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas. He gave notice to Texas that all slaves were free—declaring “an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves…”
A contemporary newspaper account says the newly freed slaves held an impromptu parade. “Notwithstanding the storm some eight hundred or a thousand men, women and children took part in the demonstration. The procession was orderly and creditable to those participating in it,” the newspaper reported.
This is the story of Juneteenth—though this year, a very different narrative is being pushed. For many proponents of Critical Race Theory, the only story is that slavery existed. The New York Times’ 1619 Project aims to retell the story of our nation with slavery as the pivot point—the “true founding” of the United States of America.
In fact, this narrative is so pervasive that a majority of college students in one study believed that slavery was a uniquely American institution—not a universal fact that existed throughout all of recorded history.
“Most of my students could not tell me anything meaningful about slavery outside of America,” Professor Duke Pesta reported. “They are convinced that slavery was an American problem that more or less ended with the Civil War, and they are very fuzzy about the history of slavery prior to the Colonial era. Their entire education about slavery was confined to America.”
But the facts are very different.
“In fact, slavery was a mundane fact in most human civilizations, neither questioned nor much thought about,” writes Kay S. Hymowitz in City Journal. “It appeared in the earliest settlements of Sumer, Babylonia, China, and Egypt, and it continues in many parts of the world to this day.”
America was unique in that it fought a bloody Civil War to end slavery.
“Other parts of the world remained wedded to slavery well into the twentieth century: slavery was legal in Ethiopia until 1942, in Saudi Arabia until 1963, and Mauritania until 1980,” Hymowitz adds.
Juneteenth didn’t mark the end to thes struggle of African-Americans in the United States. Texas and Galveston itself would be under oppressive Jim Crow laws for another century.
Yet Juneteenth is truly worth celebrating. As the late state Rep. Al Edwards said when the Texas Legislature made it an official holiday in 1980, “I feel that for a state which not too long ago celebrated Jefferson Davis’ birthday, now to celebrated the end of slavery, means that many have now seen the light of someone’s candle. This is a holiday not just for Black Texans but for all Texans.”
Critical Race theorists and the 1619 Project say that slavery is central to the story of America. Juneteenth shows there’s much, much more to the story.
Policy Wins: Texas Lawmakers Open Doors to Opportunity for Texans
Soon, every Texan will have more opportunity to pursue their dreams, to learn new skills, and to thrive. The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Opportunity Project supported and tracked important legislation that improved workforce development, removed governmental barriers, and reformed safety net programs—all of which will make Texas a more prosperous state.
The 87th Texas Legislature recently ended sine die with several key victories for Texans—even as the ultimate grade is “incomplete,” with a looming special session to finalize missed opportunities. Among other things, lawmakers made strides toward helping those on the verge of falling through the cracks of society or those already in them. We at the Foundation call these efforts the Opportunity Project, whereby Texans are helping our fellow Texans with a hand up instead of a hand-out.
First, legislators successfully implemented programs to assist Texans with strengthening their chances to gain training, experience, and education that provide them with valuable tools for their careers. These tools help keep them from falling through the cracks by empowering them with skills and knowledge that offer them more opportunities to flourish.
For Texas to live up to its reputation as a business-friendly state, as well as to protect its liberties and prosperity in the long term, employers need to be able to develop the talents of Texans within their communities quickly and effectively. Texas workers in the hard-hit service sector could benefit
from learning new skills to fill specialized roles in IT, manufacturing, construction, and health care. Thanks to Texas Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s and state Rep. John Raney’s HB 4361, more (and more diverse) skills training programs can be launched at community colleges and public universities. The bill allows for more participation by the private sector—the employers who know what they need in the workforce, and are willing to help make it happen.
Another bill, SB 1615 expands Goodwill Adult Charters and creates a new subchapter, thanks to Sen. Bettencourt and Rep. Gary VanDeaver. Specifically, this bill provides adult students with an opportunity to earn a high school diploma and an industry certification simultaneously.
Sen. Angela Paxton’s and Rep. Harold Dutton’s SB 346 enables charter schools to apply for Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) grant program funding. This bill would simply enable charter schools to have access to the same resources as other public schools, for the benefit of their students and for our state’s economic competitiveness.
Representatives Jim Murphy and Tom Oliverson along with Senators Bettencourt and Chuy Hinojosa championed HB 3767 which establishes the Tri-Agency Workforce Commission on a permanent basis. This bill includes data-sharing provisions to improve transparency and accountability.
Next, legislators accomplished the removal of certain government barriers.
Sen. Nathan Johnson and Rep. James White accomplished passing SB 181 that helps in the criminal justice reform space by re-instating a driver’s license to Texans exiting the criminal justice system conditioned on certain criteria. This is a good measure to help get these individuals back to work.
Rep. Scott Sanford and Sen. Royce West propelled HB 569, also known as the Bonton Farms bill, through the legislature to the Governor’s desk. The bill requires a credit per day of confinement toward outstanding fines or costs in a misdemeanor case after the commission of the misdemeanor. This legislation helps reduce in–court costs and fines so that individuals reentering society have better opportunities for self-sufficiency.
Rep. Brad Buckley’s HB 139 provides license reciprocity for military members, veterans, and their spouses so they will not be forced to go through a new licensing process for an occupation when they move to Texas from another state.
Finally, Texas legislators made multiple safety net reforms.
The supplemental nutrition assistance program’s (SNAP) certification process received much needed reform thanks to Sen. Charles Perry and Rep. Armondo Walle. Their efforts culminated in SB 224, which streamlines SNAP’s certification process by reducing the amount of paperwork required for applicants 60 year or older and the disabled.
Moreover, Rep. Tan Parker’s and Sen. Drew Springer’s HB 1516 was another successful safety net reform effort that requires routine third-party efficiency audits of the temporary assistance to needy families program (TANF). It requires that these audits determine whether scarce taxpayer dollars for TANF are being used for their intended purpose or for unrelated budget designations.
SB 1138 requires a study of the of eligibility requirements, results, and resources for the purpose of streamlining most safety net programs, thanks to Sen. Bryan Hughes and Rep. Candy Noble. It also requires that the study assess the cost of the programs and bureaucracy to taxpayers compared to the benefits recipients and taxpayers receive.
There is a need to improve Texas’s inclusive institutional framework for increased job creation and more involvement by civil society that supports the dignity of work, permanent self-sufficiency, and paths to prosperity. The Foundation will continue this effort through the Opportunity Project.
Newsom’s plans to eliminate family homelessness, spend Calif. surplus are depressingly clueless
California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently concluded a five-day road show in which he illustrated, for his pandemic-weary constituents, how he plans to distribute an unprecedented $75 billion state budget surplus, plus an additional $27 billion in federal stimulus funds.
Flanked by legislative leaders in Oakland, Newsom presented a $12 billon package he said would house an additional 46,000 homeless individuals in renovated hotels and “eliminate family homelessness within five years.”
I read Newsom’s plan with interest, informed by 13 years of building and running northern California’s largest and most effective program for homeless women and children, Saint John’s Program for Real Change.
While more housing for the homeless is needed, Newsom’s plan falls depressingly short of what is needed to address the state’s homelessness crisis. Policy change is required.
In 2016, California deployed a one-size-fits-all approach to homelessness—Housing First– that treats all homeless with the same broad brush. A single male with severe mental illness receives the same ‘treatment plan’ as does a single mother with children. The therapeutic regimen for both is a housing unit, period, the end.
What’s more, the housing proposed strictly prohibits the requirement of sobriety, the connection of services to housing to help the homeless address the underlying causes of their homelessness… including engagement in work training programs.
Under Housing First’s rule, California has experienced a 37% increase in homelessness. At the Federal level, where it was rolled out in 2013 as a one-size-fits-all approach, the country experienced over a 16% increase, despite a 200% increase in funding and a relatively robust economy.
No amount of money will fix this crisis, nor will it fix the governor’s track record on homelessness thus far.
Despite his mayoral promise to end homelessness, Newsom’s “Care not Cash” program resulted in a $1.5 billion price tag and no reduction in the number of homeless San Franciscans.
Newly-released 2020 HUD data tells a similar story, citing a 7% increase in homelessness under Governor Newsom’s leadership despite doubling spending over the year prior.
Undeterred by those two strikes, the governor devoted his 2020 State of the State to homelessness saying, “In the past two years, $1.5 billion has been allocated to help local governments solve homelessness. […] But the problem has gotten worse.”
Despite the explosion of homelessness across the state, the topic was painstakingly absent from his 2021 address… except to tout his “mixed result at best” Project Roomkey program to house the homeless during the pandemic.
One month later, in February 2021, the State Auditor released her report on the governor’s approach to homelessness saying, “The State’s uncoordinated approach to addressing homelessness has hampered the effectiveness of its efforts.” (This is on top of a 2019 equally blistering audit in which she stated that California inadequately identifies and serves youth experiencing homelessness.)
Strike three? Not in this case…
The governor’s plan to end family homelessness in five years is even more inadequate… though symptomatic of the state’s pattern of “solving” problems by ignoring their underlying causes.
At Saint John’s, approximately 78% of the women we serve struggle with addiction; approximately 70% with domestic violence and mental illness; approximately 60% with criminal histories; and approximately 50% are without a high school diploma. Their typical ACES score is between 4-9, indicating significant levels of trauma. The governor’s plan supposes that $3.5 billion in housing units and rental subsidies will end their homelessness.
In 13 years of working with single-mother-led families— more than 70% of the homeless family population—there are thousands of women who will join me in attesting that a housing unit or a subsidy, in and of themselves, would not have supported them to overcome the challenges that led to their homelessness… the challenges that would have prevented them from living full lives today.
A $12 billion investment to address homelessness is a once in a century opportunity for the Golden State. The magnitude of this surplus won’t be seen again in a generation, maybe ever. Instead of continuing to address it in an approach that has failed the state and the nation, this opportunity should propel an overhaul of California’s policy approach to homelessness.
Otherwise, we will have the same experience the residents of San Francisco had in the latter part of the 2000’s, billions out the door, press conferences and accolades galore but many more homeless on the streets.
Change is Coming: The U.S. Will Soon Realize We Need The Police
The wildly unpopular “defund the police” movement has been damaging for cities around the country. In some areas actual cuts to police budgets have been noticeable, in others there have been policy changes based on the defunding philosophy. Much of the damage cannot be traced to either of these actions directly; instead, it is the result of the anti-police environment the defunding movement has created that has and will continue to harm our people and our cities.
In some circles, the original thrust behind the defunding movement was either to punish the police or abolish the police (or both). It was a ridiculous concept from the onset, punishing 800,000 officers for the actions of one officer in Minneapolis, who was already charged and later convicted of murder for those actions. The irony of a group claiming to be collectively mistreated demanding that another group be collectively punished went unnoticed by the mainstream media, but not by the police officers taking the brunt of this outrage.
Proactive policing—the most successful kind—is initiated by an individual officer. While on patrol, he or she looks for criminal activity, seeking to prevent crime where possible and catch criminals where it is not. They also respond to calls for service, but the actual pressure on gangs and other criminals comes from the proactive patrolling of police officers—not just in responses to crimes that have already occurred. These proactive patrols and stops place our officers in direct confrontation with criminals.
Because most of proactive policing is discretionary, how much proactive patrol should we really expect from our police officers when they know that any incident, justified or not, might be the next viral video that burns down cities across the country? How much stress are those same officers under when they have to wonder if any of the other 800,000 officers in this country might have an incident that causes riots in their own city?
Defunding the police did not necessarily result in less proactive policing by itself. Policy decisions in New York City and Portland to disband the most proactive policing units, the tip of the spear when it comes to law enforcement pressure on criminal elements, were more directly responsible for those changes than defunding. But the combination swirled into a general anti-police environment. Politicians have demonized the police, sometimes in departments that work for them directly. This caustic environment will make proactive discretionary patrols less common, meaning less policing pressure on criminals, and this will allow crime rates to continue to rise for the foreseeable future.
It will also make it harder to recruit and keep police officers. Early retirements and officers moving to other departments or leaving the profession completely are resulting in police departments across the country being dangerously understaffed. Proponents of defunding could not have orchestrated a better way to destroy policing than by making it so unappealing that almost no one will do it anymore, and the ones that do won’t do it enthusiastically.
While defunding won’t immediately destroy policing the way the anti-police movement can, it will ensure that policing remains broken. Defunding cuts money from things like training, the best and surest mechanism to improve policing. Less training will mean more mistakes, which will make for more spectacular viral videos to energize the anti-police crowd.
While it may sound like I am predicting the death spiral and ultimate downfall of policing, I am not. The end of policing would literally be the end of civil society, and we are not there yet. I am optimistic that the pendulum will swing the other way. The anti-police crowd and the politicians who threw in with them will face a reckoning in future elections as voters and citizens see defunding and anti-police sentiments for the dangerous ideologies that they are.
Those victimized by crime in this era, who exponentially outnumber those who are victimized by police misconduct, will play an important role in the paradigm shift that is coming as we look to make our communities safe.
My Story: El Paso is Overwhelmed
What do you think of when you hear about El Paso, Texas? I was born and raised there, so when I think of El Paso, I think of home. I think of the early mornings when my family and I would cross the border to go to church with my abuelitos at La Primera Bautista in Juarez.
I think of places like El Super, a well known and loved supermarket that has an array of Latin American groceries along with a full-scale eatery where you can get all your Latin food favorites from tacos de asada to agua fresca.
I think of Chicos Tacos, the beloved local restaurant famous for their “tacos” (they are really flautas, if we are getting technical) drenched in spicy tomato broth and covered in a cheese so fake you can almost taste the plastic (it is still delicious, I promise). I could go on for days about the culturally rich city I grew up in and will always love.
But people who have not grown up in El Paso have a very different perspective of my city. I remember when I moved to Virginia Beach to get my bachelor’s degree. The first time I was asked about where I was from, I responded proudly, “El Paso, Texas.” At first, the person’s response caught me off guard, “Oh, so basically Mexico,” they said. Although that response was surprising, it became commonplace throughout my time away from home.
I realized through comments like saying El Paso is essentially a part of Mexico, that to people watching from far away, it is easy to make assumptions about it. Granted, this response came from a bunch of ignorant undergrads that were probably studying either theology or theater and had no actual comprehension of national security. But this pattern of ignorance goes far beyond the bounds of my small alma mater.
People make assumptions and draw conclusions all day about what happens on the border, but until they experience it firsthand, they have no clue about what really goes on there. This is exactly what is happening right now, unfortunately, at some of the highest levels of leadership in Washington. Some of the country’s top elected officials are debating whether the border crisis is to be called a “crisis” while local police, Border Patrol, and the U.S. Army base in El Paso are being forced to deal with the influx of migrants trying to take advantage of the current administration’s suddenly lax approach to border security.
Unfortunately, El Paso area law enforcement, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), cannot always count on having local leadership on their side when it comes to acting in the best interest of their departments or the citizens they are supposed to serve. Instead of addressing the detrimental effects that the border crisis has on El Paso locals, Mayor Oscar Leeser encourages local citizens to be welcoming to people entering the country illegally.
Similarly, El Paso Congresswoman Veronica Escobar has belittled the crisis by falsely comparing it to the surge of unaccompanied minors that took place in the Rio Grande Valley in 2014. She insisted that the border crisis in El Paso is nonexistent and instead focused on denouncing the length of time that unaccompanied minors are being kept in detention centers in the city. Ironically, Escobar deplores the length of minors’ stay in detention facilities without even addressing the reason they must be kept there.
In El Paso, it is also striking to note the extent to which the military has been forced to get involved, with massive migrant facilities being built in Fort Bliss. Currently, the Fort Bliss migrant facility for children houses 5,000 unaccompanied minors and has no plans of closing any time soon.
Advocacy groups are calling for the release of the children being held at these facilities, but what happens once they are released? Not only are law enforcement agencies being overwhelmed with the influx of continued border crossings by migrants lacking authorization, but they also must worry about the ones already in their custody. When it comes to releasing migrant children, the authorities better be extra careful. Otherwise, these minors could easily fall victim to the modern slavery that is human trafficking.
So, what happens next? Vice President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala to encourage citizens to stay in their own country. She assured them, along with Guatemalan politicians, that the United States would work alongside them and other Latin American countries to bring hope back to their homelands. But what does hope mean and more importantly, how much is hope going to cost the American taxpayer?
Further, what are Texas cities and towns all along the border, like El Paso and Del Rio, supposed to do in the meantime while this hope is being sent? Are they to continue to shovel out valuable time and resources that are meant for Americans until the surge calms down, if it ever does? And how long is the surge supposed to last before local and federal legislatures decide to stop dragging their feet and address an abused and misaligned immigration system that should have been overhauled a long time ago? These are all serious questions, and I am sad to say we have been met with very few answers.
The Pay Is Generous, the Work Nonexistent
The latest Labor Department statistics show an all-time record 9.3 million unfilled jobs, even though more than nine million Americans remain unemployed. Alarm bells should be ringing in Washington.
Twenty-five Republican governors have wisely suspended the $300-a-week supplemental unemployment benefits starting this month. But 25 mostly blue-state governors will let the bonus run into September, even with jobs plentiful in nearly every state. Why?
The Biden team and Democrats in Congress were warned repeatedly that the March “stimulus” bill would shrink employment by five million to six million because of the rewards for not working. Three months later the evidence is clear: The stimulus bill stimulated unemployment, not employment.
More than a million jobs are waiting to be filled in the construction and manufacturing sectors, but these industries have gained almost no new employees over the past two months. These are high-paying blue-collar jobs.
When one of us warned on these pages in December of the negative effects of the $300 bonus, critics said the piece exaggerated the financial incentives for not working. Bank of America Global Research issued a highly quoted study finding that unemployment insurance cash benefits typically pay only about $32,000 a year. The California Employment Development estimated benefits of about $31,200 and argued that unemployed workers weren’t staying on the couch.
These analysts are making the same mistake they made after the last recession, except now on a larger scale. Looking only at unemployment-insurance cash, they understate the work vs. welfare trade-off. Washington provides unemployed workers with an array of other subsidies.
A family with two unemployed parents can double up on unemployment benefits, meaning $600 in weekly bonus payments, on top of normal benefits that average about $375 a week for each parent. Add in virtually free health insurance from ObamaCare expansions and free premiums for those who stay on their former employer’s plan, food stamps and $3,000-a-child payments. On top of all that, recipients of government benefits don’t have to pay payroll taxes. People with jobs do.
Here are the results from our new study for the Committee to Unleash Prosperity:
In 21 states and the District of Columbia, households can receive the wage equivalent of $25 an hour in benefits with no one working.
In 19 states, benefits are the equivalent of $100,000 a year in salary for a family of four with two unemployed parents.
In all but two of the blue states, the $300 supplemental unemployment insurance benefit plus other welfare can pay more than the wage equivalent of a $15 minimum wage.
In the blue states that haven’t suspended the $300 bonus, the average annual unemployment insurance benefit for a family of four with two parents out of work is more than $72,000. Median household income in the U.S. is about $68,000.
To get Americans back to work Congress and President Biden should immediately rescind the $300-a-week supplemental benefit. With the economy getting back to normal, work requirements for all other aid programs should be reinstated. This would restore fairness in the unemployment-insurance system and significantly contribute to the long-term economic health of people who have now been absent from the workforce for as long as 15 months.
Mr. Antoni is an economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Mr. Mulligan is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, who served as chief economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Mr. Antoni is a visiting fellow and Mr. Mulligan a senior fellow at the Committee to Unleash Prosperity.
Veritas June 2021
This issue of Veritas, the quarterly publication of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, features a behind-the-scenes look at the Forging Texas video series, an interview with Right on Immigration’s Ken Oliver, and information on the Liberty Leadership Council, TPPF’s group engaging young conservatives.
‘Certificates of Second Chance’ Create Opportunities to Reduce Arizona’s Recidivism Rate
“In this economy I can’t fill the jobs I have.”
“I would hire someone with a criminal record, but I can’t because my insurance rates will go up if I do.”
These are some of the comments I have heard from employers during Arizona’s economic boom. With thousands of people released from state prison each year, and economic opportunities abounding, it is the perfect time to get ex-offenders working while also helping to dramatically reduce the recidivism rate.
The two main reasons for recidivism are lack of job opportunities and lack of housing options. Arizona has work opportunities and employers willing to hire. Arizona also boasts an ever-increasing number of housing developments with landlords racing to lease. Ex-offenders who secure jobs are more likely to be able to afford and qualify for housing. Likewise, ex-offenders who obtain housing are more less likely to reoffend. So why haven’t we been able to get Arizona’s ex-offender population into jobs? Because, depending on the industry, many employers that are willing to hire them do not because they face exorbitant liability insurance if they do.
A.R.S. § 13-905 allows for a person who has completed a jail or prison sentence and paid all associated fines and restitution to apply to the court to have their conviction set aside and vacated. When they do apply for a set-aside and get the order vacating their conviction, what does it really do for them? As the set-aside law was written, not much. The court order says that the conviction has been “set aside,” but it does not actually expunge it, erase it from a person’s record, or allow a person to say they have not been convicted. But this legislative session—we’ve achieved a fix. Arizona State Rep. Bret Roberts had an idea to make a set-aside mean something while also addressing Arizona’s recidivism problem.
With the passage of HB 2067, Rep. Roberts modified the set-aside statute so that when a court order sets aside a conviction, a person will also get a certificate of second chance. This certificate serves as evidence of completion of a person’s sentence and other associated obligations stemming from a conviction.
As it relates to employers, HB 2067 releases employers from liability “for negligently hiring or contracting for employment with the person if the theory of liability is premised solely on the existence of a person’s prior felony conviction.” The same applies to landlords—i.e., apartment complexes or rental homes. If a person receives this certificate, the theory is that a potential and willing employer (or landlord) can then show it to their liability insurance company and the company will not then raise the insured’s liability rate for hiring or renting to the person. The objective is to create an incentive for employers to hire ex-offenders and to make it easier for those with criminal records to find jobs and housing. By achieving these benchmarks, the hope is to decimate the main hurdles that ex-offenders face upon reentry into society and ultimately reduce individual and statewide recidivism.
Another critical function of this reform is the release a certificate holders “from all barriers and disabilities in obtaining an occupational license issued under Title 32 that resulted from the conviction if the person is otherwise qualified.” Thanks to this reform, now an ex-offender cannot be denied a license if he has a felony conviction and is otherwise qualified for the license, i.e., a barber who is qualified by the cosmetology board but who has an unrelated past felony conviction cannot be denied a barber’s license simply for the fact of having that felony.
HB 2067 creates a great opportunity to address the two main contributing factors in Arizona’s recidivism problem: jobs and housing. It was passed this session—the governor signed it into law on April 1, 2021. “Second Chances” is a meaningful step forward in filling jobs and homes for a population that needs both, strengthening the economy and workforce, and hopefully removing the barriers that cause folks to reoffend in Arizona.
The 2020-2021 legislative session was yet another session that saw many criminal justice reforms promoted. However, HB 2067 may be the sleeper idea that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of ex-offenders and the future of our communities.
Price Transparency Will Lower Health Care Costs
Rising health care costs continue to be a major frustration for Americans. Nearly 60% of the country wants Congress to make lowering health prices the top priority. There are differing opinions about a solution: Some want bigger subsidies and more government spending, while others say the key is removing mandates and regulations to open the market. But almost every American agrees that one easy way to lower costs is for hospitals to disclose their prices before patients are treated.
The benefits are obvious. If patients know the prices, they can shop for non-emergency services like they do for cars, computers and clothes. Health providers will adjust costs to stay competitive and prices will become stable, affordable and consistent.
But some don’t like this arrangement. Namely, the hospitals. They want to hide prices so they can charge whatever they want, add fees for things you didn’t know were included or charge you a completely different price than other patients for the same service.
A GAO report from several years ago found that maternity care in Boston could range from around $6500 to more than $21,000. And a recent project from the health care startup Turquoise Health shows that a diagnostic colonoscopy in Texas averages $2,527 but can range from $148 to $15,789 — a startling 100x multiplication.
That’s why the Trump administration finalized a rule nearly two years ago that requires hospitals to provide clear, accessible pricing information and post five types of standard charges for items and services, including charges negotiated with insurance companies, in two formats online. Shifting power to patients forces hospitals and insurers out into the open where patients have the information they need to make the best decision for their family and finances.
The American Hospital Association immediately fought back and filed a legal challenge. Fortunately for patients, the AHA lost in court, the rule was upheld, and it went into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
In the five months since it became law, the response from hospitals has been varied. Some have adhered completely and some partially. Some have not posted any charge information online, choosing instead to pay the paltry fine for non-compliance because the profits from hiding prices are too great.
The Biden administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has started sending letters to hospitals that are not in compliance, but the agency has also proposed removing price transparency provisions in a separate payment rule creating concern about the future status of the Hospital Price Transparency Rule. This uncertainty is where state legislatures can play a major role.
In Texas, lawmakers proposed a bill that codifies the CMS Hospital Price Transparency Rule into state law. As stated by the Texas Senate Research Center, “State codification of the rule will ensure that price transparency and consumer empowerment will continue in Texas even if the rule is repealed or changed at the federal level.”
Interestingly, the bill passed both chambers of the Texas legislature unanimously, underscoring the tremendous bipartisan support for hospital price transparency.
Unlike the federal rule, the Texas reform comes with real teeth. In addition to a steeper fine, hospitals could potentially lose their licenses if they do not comply.
We hope this sends a strong signal to the Biden administration to keep the rule in place, enforce it and even consider making it stronger. When an issue unites far-left Hollywood activists like actress Susan Sarandon with former senior Trump administration officials and conservative think tanks, CMS shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss.
But in the case that the administration waffles, other states should follow the Texas example of shifting the dynamic in health care with policy that empowers patients with more information and control over health care decisions. It will inevitably bring down costs and improve services as providers will have to be upfront and consistent with what they charge.
Texans and Americans across the country should be confident that their leaders will put them first by codifying hospital price transparency and can do so in a remarkably bipartisan manner.
Brooke L. Rollins is president and CEO of the America First Policy Institute. Kevin Roberts is CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
A Call to Save Employment Freedom
It’s been more than a week since the Texas Legislature adjourned, and yet the 87th session is likely still not over. Some representatives in the Texas House all but assured a special session this summer when they walked out off the House floor. The walkout also ensured that numerous good pieces of legislation failed to become law.
Among the rubble was Senate Bill 14, a bill that would have prohibited cities and counties from implementing employment mandates and stricter regulations on private businesses. This has been and continues to be a growing issue throughout the state. Over the last few years, local governments, like Austin and San Antonio, have attempted to implement strict regulations, including mandated paid sick leave, hiring and scheduling practices, and fair chance hiring. But these mandates hurt more than they help.
Requiring private businesses to take on the regulatory hurdles and increased costs of such mandates will hurt businesses, employees, and consumers. Employers will be forced to shift costs, due to a lack of increased output. Workers will lose out on potential job opportunities, other benefits, and higher wages. And consumers will inevitably see increased prices for goods and services—and fewer options.
These one-size-fits-all mandates not only hurt the very people they try to help, but they also take away the freedom of an employer and worker to negotiate terms of employment. Prohibiting cities from enforcing these burdensome regulations is a step toward protecting Texans from local government overreach. That is what Senate Bill 14 would have accomplished.
Instead, the failure to pass this legislation was a blow to Texans and the Texas economy.
But luckily for legislators, there’s time to fix this mistake.
It’s probable that there will be a special session called by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, in which legislators will have a chance to take another shot at legislation left in the wake of the walkout. While there has not been an official announcement of when it will happen or what will be included, there is plenty of reason to include SB 14 in any special session call.
Texans deserve this employment protection. Texas businesses deserve protection from overreaching local governments that want to impose such burdensome regulations. Texans and Texas businesses are still recovering from the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns. Thousands of businesses closed permanently and many others have struggled to stay afloat. The closing of businesses has not only hurt the economy, it has also caused much suffering among Texans, who did everything they could to open in the first place.
Senate Bill 14 brought the business community together in hopes that these patchwork regulations could be ended. Businesses already have a full plate of regulations to deal with, and differences in employment mandates from city to city ought not be another one.
For the sake of every Texan and the Texas economy, Gov. Abbott should add employment freedom to the list of items legislators can act on during the upcoming special session.
HB 3979 Frees Texas Students from State-Sponsored Racism
Texas’ “Partisanship Out of Civics Act” (HB 3979) is landmark civil rights legislation that protects Texas students from partisan indoctrination and state-funded racism, such as “Critical Race Theory” and so-called “Culturally Responsive Teaching.” Put simply, the bill reaffirms Texas’ dedication to the 1964 Civil Rights Act by prohibiting racist doctrines in public K-12 teaching.
Read the Full Policy Perspective
In Telling the Story of the Alamo, Remember the Facts
Everything that’s wrong with revisionist history is summed up in the lead paragraph of Time magazine’s new piece, “We’ve Been Telling the Alamo Story Wrong for Nearly 200 Years. Now It’s Time to Correct the Record.”
Authors Brian Burrough and Jason Stanford begin with a hypothetical: America opens up Alaska for colonization, and Canadians move in. They refuse to pay American taxes and follow American laws. When confronted, they shoot American soldiers then openly revolt.
“As an American, how would you feel?” the authors ask. “Now you can imagine how Mexican President Jose Lopez de Santa Anna would have felt in 1835, because that’s pretty much the story of the revolution that paved the way for Texas to become its own nation and then an American state.”
Revisionist history discards the evidence and context that make up our historical knowledge; instead, it views everything through the lens of modern (and postmodern) beliefs and biases. And most of all, it swaps facts for feelings—How did Santa Anna feel? How would you feel?
These authors, along with Chris Tomlinson, have a new book out called (naturally), “Forget the Alamo.” Like the New York Times’s debunked 1619 Project, the book is an effort to diminish the great figures of history and place slavery at the center of every story. According to them, “at its roots, the Texas Revolt was about money, how Texans made it, and why the Mexican government objected.” They claim Texas revolted because Santa Anna threatened to free their slaves—slaves they needed to work their vast cotton plantations.
But this radical reinterpretation of history doesn’t jibe with the facts. Author James Donovan shot down this claim nearly a decade ago.
“At the outbreak of the revolution in the fall of 1835, the plantation system was in the early stages of development,” Donovan wrote in 2012. “There were only 2,000 to 3,000 slaves in Texas, and the issue was not a major factor in the rebellion. (On the eve of the Civil War 15 years later, this repellent institution would comprise 183,000 bondsmen in Texas alone, and 3.5 million in the seceding states.)”
These facts don’t deter the authors of “Forget the Alamo.” They’re satisfied with nothing less than the de-canonization of the founders of Texas.
“The battle, in fact, should never have been fought,” they write. “[William Barrett] Travis ignored multiple warnings of Santa Anna’s approach and was simply trapped in the Alamo when the Mexican army arrived.”
The Alamo’s defenders, they claim, “pretty much died for nothing.”
This viewpoint leaves President Jose Lopez de Santa Anna as the one in the right; “This was a government defending its rightful territory,” Tomlinson contends. Yet history tells us that Santa Anna’s misrule of Mexico caused widespread unrest. In 1834, he rejected the constitution of Mexico and declared himself dictator.
“Uprisings occurred in at least half of the Mexican states, and armed resistance broke out in a few,” Donovan wrote. “Santa Anna repressed them all, some of them brutally, then raised a 6,000-man army and marched north. Texas was next.”
Santa Anna’s brutality at the Alamo was the result of his wounded pride—nothing more. William Travis, he would later write, had been “insulting.”
And, of course, he ordered the massacre of more than 400 prisoners of war at Goliad.
Yet this is what revisionist history does—makes heroes of the villains and villains of the heroes. Real historians know that no figure from the past, not one as saintly as Abraham Lincoln nor as despicable as Benedict Arnold, can be portrayed as either fully hero or villain. Human beings are complicated, and so too must their historical reckoning be. The shameful institution of slavery did exist in Texas, and no teacher of history should shy away from that.
At the same time, Texas is the extension of America’s founding, based on the principles of ordered liberty, self-government, and equality.
It was only a matter of time before the revisionists came for Texas and for the Alamo (indeed, they’ve made forays before). Foreseeing this, we at the Texas Public Policy Foundation have begun work on a film series, “Forging Texas,” a compelling look at the lives, causes and passion for freedom that drove Texas and the Texans to independence—and then to greatness.
Two episodes have been completed so far, covering the early days of the conflict (“Season of Revolution”) and Goliad (“Season of Defeat”); more are in the works. Our goal is to tell the story of Texas—without the revisionism that seeks to subvert the facts and substitute a woke narrative.
Why go to the effort? Because the story of the Texas Revolution is just as relevant in 2021 as it was in 1836. Time magazine, in urging us to “Forget the Alamo,” knows it, too.
Numbers Do Not Lie: Unemployment Bonuses Stimulate Unemployment
America’s labor market has significant structural problems. Despite about 9 million people being unemployed, there are about that many job openings and employers cannot seem to find willing workers.
There were 9.3 million unfilled job openings on April 30, 1 million beyond the previous record in March. More than a third of the 1 million monthly increase is in the food services industry. There are “help wanted” signs everywhere at restaurants, bars, and hotels. Despite offering signing bonuses and other incentives, these businesses simply cannot compete with the federal government’s generous unemployment insurance (UI) bonuses and other handouts.
These destructive policies have increased unemployment by millions and created what’s been called the great American labor shortage.
Those consequences, while unintended, were not unforeseen.
Casey Mulligan, Steve Moore, and I forecasted these effects a year ago and released a study in March 2021. But we were not alone; many other economists sounded the alarm loudly and often.
It went unheeded—until recently. Half of the states, including Texas, have announced an end to the UI bonuses; but the numbers do not lie, and the damage is already done.
A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted our research. We found in all 25 states that are continuing the UI bonus, a family of four can currently receive the annual equivalent of more than $82,000 in income—while not working. In 19 states and D.C., the amount is more than $100,000. In Massachusetts, it is over $147,000. If the two children in the family are under 6, then the amount is even higher.
This is not a partisan issue. Even far-left economist Paul Krugman, an ardent supporter of UI benefits, admitted that the federal UI bonuses could be having an impact. Jason Furman, an economist who served in the Obama administration, also concluded the UI bonuses are promoting unemployment.
These incentives extend far beyond just UI benefits, though.
There are health care subsidies, food stamps, rental assistance programs, and other forms of governmental assistance available. In fairness, you cannot simply add the value of all these programs together since many will be mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, what was intended to be a robust social safety net has transformed into a hydra of convoluted welfare schemes that incentivizes people to remain unemployed and on public assistance.
Rental assistance is just one example of a program that offers surprisingly large payments. In Madison County, Mississippi—the state with the lowest income—a family can receive over $12,000 a year for rent. They can receive almost $21,000 a year in Norfolk County, Massachusetts. In Loudoun County, Virginia, they can receive over $24,000 a year—just in rental assistance.
What is the fix for such a fundamentally broken labor market? It is surprisingly simple—we only need to remove those things which are hindering it. If you remove the wrench from the works, so to speak, the clockwork will return to normalcy, and in short order. The perverse incentives should be removed immediately so that the labor market can function properly.
When people are not paid to stay home, they lose the incentive to stay home. Income will again be tied to working, as it has been for nearly all human history.
These handouts are sabotaging the economic recovery and our financial future. The longer they continue, the further America drifts toward the falls, and at some point, the ship of state will be unable to turn around.
While the current situation of millions unemployed may seem grim, remember that things also appeared bleak in the late 1970s. Look how quickly they turned around after removing the perverse incentives created by government overreach then.
To read more about our research, click here.
Part 2: The Border Crisis is Real: Here are the Stories
On the high north bank of the Rio Grande River, an uninhabited home overlooks the river. Our small group — members of the Border Security Coalition who traveled to Val Verde County to see the border crisis for ourselves — stood on a pleasant green landing near the property, but we weren’t allowed to enter. Located anywhere else, this house would be a hot commodity.
But not here. The river at this site is broad and calm enough that it’s a popular crossing spot for migrants. The migrants render the property unsafe. At best, they knock on the door and request food and water, and at worst they rob the place. It’s more the latter than the former. We were allowed to see it from beyond the property line, but we weren’t allowed to enter. The Texas Rangers were present. A coyote — human trafficker — on the other side of the river has been managing the crossings. He’s effective and good at his task. The Rangers were working on shutting him down — no need to divulge how here — and we couldn’t be present for that.
Val Verde County Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez cited the Migrant Protection Protocols (the “remain-in-Mexico” policy) imposed by the Trump administration as a rare example of D.C.-driven immigration success, tremendously helpful in keeping illegal crossings down. We told him that the Biden administration had revoked the policy just 24 hours before. No one had told the sheriff. No one in the vast federal apparatus bothered to communicate major policy changes to the local law enforcement men and women on the front line.
Our visit to the border last week was a fact-finding trip. The facts and the faces filled out the statistics we have all been hearing—that illegal immigration is surging to levels not seen in more than a decade. It’s taking a toll on this remote South Texas county.
We visited a spot where migrants emerge into the interior of a nice residential neighborhood in Del Rio. There’s an arroyo leading from the river into the development. Migrants follow it, and come out of the cane and grasses into what is otherwise a pleasant place for families and kids. Some days back, a babysitter answered a knock on the front door. It was a man who had just crossed the river, asking for water. She gave it to him, and he left. Then, having established that only a young woman and children were present, he broke in through the back door. This kind of thing happens, and you get used to stories like it. But you shouldn’t. Getting used to it is the wrong reaction.
We also spoke with a woman who was a native of Mexico City. She emigrated — legally — to the United States decades ago, spent a career in Austin, and then came to Del Rio to retire. Del Rio is familiar to her; it reminds her of where she grew up, but it’s also in Texas, which she loves. Because of the steady flow of migrants coming through her modest property, she now owns eight large dogs. That’s how I met her. As I walked by her fence line, three of her dogs — two German shepherds, and one mix — came charging toward me with ill intent. She called them off, and we talked. She’s appalled at what’s happening. Her neighbors are moving away because of it. It’s a family with four daughters aged 14 and under. One day, while the kids were playing in the yard, they spotted a group of men, just out of the river, waiting — and watching their girls. They aren’t going to wait for policy to get right. They’re leaving.
Val Verde County has seen about 94,000 illegal-crossing apprehensions in this calendar year. Some math is illustrative here. Assume the same rate for the year, and you’ve got maybe 188,000 apprehensions for this year. The rule of thumb, we were told over and over, is that only about 20% of crossers are caught. If that is true — and you have to remember these are estimates only — it would mean just over three-quarters of a million illegal migrants will have gotten away and into the American interior by the end of this year. That’s just via Val Verde County, Texas. Imagine those numbers. Imagine what they do in the long run.
On the second day of the trip, a very nice woman at a ranch cooked us breakfast. Her business is taking care of several area ranch houses in Val Verde County. She loves it, loves the wide-open spaces, loves the people who come to this forgotten corner of Texas. For years she has lived in her own little property in an out-of-the-way spot near Comstock. Comstock is so small it makes Del Rio look like New York City, which is exactly why some folks like to be there. But she can’t be there anymore. Her home — her life’s work — has been trashed repeatedly by migrants who break and enter. They aren’t the virtuous poor looking for bread and water. They break in, she tells us, they steal things, they urinate on the floors, and they empty out the refrigerator and freezer. They don’t take all that food. They dump what they don’t want in the living room and out front to spoil. This has happened a couple of times, and she complained — as she ought — to law enforcement. Eventually, she was visited by the Border Patrol, and was told, she said, “We can’t protect you. You should move.”
Who are the migrants? If you’re my generation or older, you probably think they’re mostly Mexicans looking for work. That used to be true, but not now. The migrants now are rarely Mexican. We visited a migrant waystation and saw it for ourselves: Haitians and Argentinians, or so they said, awaiting passage inland. The migrants today are South Americans, Caribbean islanders, and Africans. Places like Venezuela, Haiti, and the African nations along the Gulf of Guinea and the western Sahel send people into the small Texas communities of Val Verde County. These are stupefying multi-year voyages, involving some sort of Atlantic passage, a crossing of the treacherous Darién Gap, navigation up the Central American isthmus, and passage through the hellish landscape of Mexican crime and murder.
Some migrants are well-funded, which might deserve further inquiry, and some of them scrape by on wits and desperation. To get robbed and raped along the way is common coin. Nearly every child subjected to the passage will be brutalized. There is nothing laudable about it, and the people who facilitate and profit from it deserve extirpation from society. Back in the days of widespread oceanic piracy, admiralty law developed a term for the pirates and their abettors: “hostis humani generis,” the “enemy of mankind,” justifying their eradication from the seas by any power or person. Modern traffickers of men, women, and children are indisputably hostis humani generis — they meet every criterion for being an enemy of mankind, and they deserve a consequent fate.
Kamala Harris flying to Guatemala City and dispensing millions to corrupt elites isn’t going to be any more effective at buying peace and order than it was when we spent 20 years trying the same thing in Afghanistan. Del Rio is the leading indicator. Eventually you get the same thing in San Antonio, and then in St. Louis, and then you’re looking at it in Appleton, Wisconsin — at which point there’s no fallback.
Who will defend these Del Rio residents we met and shared meals with? The federal government has stood down. Will Texas step up? Can they defend themselves? Should they shoot, in defense of their property, of their families, of their community? Sheriff Martinez shuts down the latter talk as best he can. He tells people they don’t want to pull the trigger on someone who just wants a glass of water. He’s completely right about that. Good people care about that, and these are good people. The men and women of Val Verde County, from law enforcement to the citizenry, over and over again expressed real compassion for the migrants — and that goodness of heart is why this situation has not been infinitely worse so far.
But so far is just so far. A handful of people shared with me that the other reason they don’t shoot is their certainty that the same government that won’t protect now them will, on the other hand, aggressively prosecute and jail them if they protect themselves. They believe the Border Patrol and law enforcement personnel of their community are on their side. But they believe the larger apparatus of the federal government is on the side of migrants and traffickers. The perception isn’t irrational. By their fruits, et cetera.
This situation in particular, where a government’s legitimacy ebbs though its own fecklessness, cannot last.
Val Verde is just one county, in just one state. But it’s a bellwether. We can ask the federal government to do its job — for nearly the first time in my lifetime — but we know how that will probably turn out. We can also ask Texas to step up — and there, the possibilities are rich. Out of options, driven from their homes, unsafe in their streets, the people of Del Rio — and the people of your own communities — deserve it.
Yes, Texas Moved Health Care Forward
You know what they say about assumptions. And two specific assumptions in the Texas media’s chorus of condemnations of the Legislature for not expanding Medicaid stand out as both ill-informed and short-sighted—the assumption that expanding Medicaid would result in better health and fiscal outcomes, and that coverage equals care.
Both assumptions are made in a recent Austin American-Statesman editorial: “It is disgraceful that GOP leaders opposed to Medicaid expansion would rather deny those Texans coverage, and shun billions of dollars in federal aid, just to prop up our current system that parcels out health care to the poor as inefficiently and expensively as possible, at emergency rooms that can’t turn anyone away for inability to pay.”
Like so much of what’s wrong with the American health care system, the Statesman is reasonably close in its diagnosis—our current system is broken—but its prescription is about as helpful as a medieval barber recommending a good bloodletting.
The truth is that Medicaid is a deeply flawed system that fails to live up to its promises. It’s also true that Texas lawmakers did move health care forward in Texas—just not in the way the media wished.
Rather than expanding a poorly performing program, the Legislature focused in a bipartisan manner by improving Medicaid, by making prescriptions more affordable for the uninsured, by driving down the cost of services, and providing new options for the uninsured rather than the one-size-fits-all Medicaid.
Two bills improved Medicaid: House Bill 290 and House Bill 133. HB 290 strengthens the states’ Medicaid program for vulnerable children by streamlining the eligibility process and ensuring continuous coverage for up to a year past eligibility. HB 133 addresses maternal health and mortality by expanding Medicaid eligibility to new mothers for up to six months after their child’s birth.
House Bill 18 established a prescription drug savings program for uninsured Texans. Senate Bill 1137 strengthens hospital price transparency, a fundamental step toward making health care more affordable for all of us.
House Bills 3924 and 3752 allow certain member organizations—like The Farm Bureau and Texas Mutual—to create customized health benefit programs for individuals and families. These programs are an alternative to Obamacare, which has resulted in skyrocketing insurance premiums and high deductibles.
Together, these new laws help Texas families get what they need—care, not simply coverage. The fact is that adding 1.4 million people to the Medicaid rolls in Texas would swamp the system. A 2016 survey by the Texas Medical Association suggested that less than half of Texas doctors would be willing to accept new Medicaid patients, primarily because of low reimbursement rates and the bureaucratic burden that comes along with it. Expansion could greatly exacerbate this problem—and crowd out the state’s neediest families.
Texas families aren’t worried about scoring political points; they’re worried about the cost of health care. Fortunately, the Legislature listened to Texans, rather than the media’s incessant calls for Medicaid expansion. The result will be a healthier, more prosperous state.
Is Mass Illegal Migration an Invasion?
We think of an invasion as an armed assault on a nation. In our history classes, we were taught about instances like the Nazi invasions of neighboring European countries, the ancient Roman Empire’s onslaught of surrounding nations, or maybe North Korea’s attempt to impose on her southern counterpart.
But recently, several notable Republicans and conservatives have referred to the current record-breaking surge in illegal immigration as an “invasion.” On Fox News, Tucker Carlson has questioned, “Will anyone in power do anything to protect America this time…or will leaders sit passively back as the invasion continues?” Regarding the potential negative impact of unchecked illegal migration, Rush Limbaugh once stated, “The objective is to dilute and eventually eliminate or erase what is known as the distinct or unique American culture…This is why people call this an invasion.” Even some Border Patrol agents share this sentiment. Art Del Cueto, a Tucson Border Patrol agent, stated, “This is not migrants coming into the country, this is nothing short of an invasion.” Though mass illegal migration is different than the typical instances we associate with the word “invasion”, quotes like these point to how the phenomenon is tied to deep concern for the very integrity, stability and cohesiveness of the country.
Since President Biden took office in late January, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apprehensions have skyrocketed. Perhaps the most astonishing development is the record number of unaccompanied minors who are entering the country. In March, almost 19,000 minors crossed the U.S. border. In 2019 and 2020, there were 977,509 and 458,088 encounters at the border, respectively. However, in 2021, there are already 749,613 encounters at the border, and that is only counting the data from January to April.
Since April, CBP has continued to be overwhelmed. On June 4, Austin Skero, Del Rio Sector Border Patrol Chief, sounded the alarm that “in just the last seven days, our agents have encountered over 5,800 migrants from 29 different countries…During this same time, 63 smuggling attempts were caught on our highways.” Since October 2020, more than 119,000 undocumented immigrants from 70 different countries have been seized at the Del Rio Border Sector alone.
Migrants are also coming from more distant countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Haiti. This fiscal year, more than 32,000 Ecuadorians were stopped at only five border sectors and 13,000 Brazilians were apprehended at the Yuma, Arizona sector. For comparison, in 2018, there were less than 40,000 migrants who were not from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador.
This spike dovetails with the implementation of the Biden administration’s immigration policies, which are far more lenient than those of the Trump administration. On his website, President Biden stated that he would “end the Trump Administration’s draconian policies, grounded in fear and racism…”. He also acted immediately to end Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program and pumped new life into the DACA program. After hearing this, “the smugglers and traffickers got the message loud and clear and cranked up their business” noted the Heritage Foundation. This theory is supported by the evidence of increased CBP encounters in 2021.
Another growing concern related to the unprecedented number of illegal migrants entering the country has to do with the process of assimilation or integration into American society. Unlike legal immigrants, undocumented immigrants are not required to learn about the American government and culture. Legal immigrants must be educated on the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and American culture before they can become citizens. They are encouraged to remember their home country, but ultimately to be loyal to the United States. Most importantly, they are taught about what being an American means and how to be an active, participating member of society while assimilating into the country’s civic culture.
Illegal immigration short circuits this process. Illegal migrants can remain oriented around the culture of their home country. In Tucker Carlson’s words, “This [illegal immigration] is really destroying one culture and replacing it with a new foreign culture.” That is exactly what an invasion is: an attempt to subvert a country’s established order and culture. And that is exactly what mass, unchecked illegal immigration threatens to do.
So, the question remains: what can we do? Article I, Section 10, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution, states, “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress…engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.” [emphasis added]
If the current border crisis is ultimately categorized and defined as an invasion, the states do have the constitutional authority and ability to fight against it. Will they?
Biden’s border crisis – Texas may have to defend itself. Here’s why
The world wants to come to America and many in America – at least in the Biden administration and the Chamber of Commerce – want the world to come.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on the Texas-Mexico border, where the surge of would-be immigrants has completely overwhelmed the Border Patrol and local law enforcement. If current trends continue, more than 3 million people may stream into the U.S. by year-end, threatening Americans with lost jobs and crime.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott plans to visit the border city of Del Rio on Thursday to discuss the border crisis and to announce new measures to safeguard Texans after issuing a disaster declaration on June 1. With the Biden administration abdicating its responsibility to protect the border, it may be up to Texas to step up and protect its own people and property.
I just finished a three-day fact-finding trip as part of a team sponsored by the Border Security Coalition. We heard from elected officials, law enforcement, active and retired Border Patrol officers, and local citizens in Val Verde County, population 50,000, situated 160 miles west of San Antonio at about the midpoint on the Texas-Mexico border between El Paso and the Gulf of Mexico.
Officials and locals say that Val Verde used to be a quiet part of the U.S.-Mexico border. Now Border Patrol intelligence analysts estimate that the Mexican crime cartels are banking $25 million per week from human trafficking alone in the Val Verde region. About a year ago, the cartels generated about $11 million per week. Given the collapse of border enforcement, prices to guide people illegally crossing the border have likely gone down due to the reduced risk to the cartels’ coyotes.
Local experts on the border situation say that the surge in crossings happened immediately upon President Biden’s taking office. Would-be immigrants told Border Patrol agents that Biden said he would be nice and let them in – they are merely taking the president at his word.
Many of the people crossing into the Texas town of Del Rio appear to have access to money. They claim to be doctors, engineers and other professionals from Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba and nations in Africa and the Middle East. But Venezuela, one of the world’s most corrupt countries, will issue a passport to anyone in only two days – for cash.
volunteer at a Del Rio interfaith nonprofit that works closely with U.S. immigration authorities said that in a typical week last year, they processed about 20 immigrants per week, showing them how to purchase bus or plane tickets to move them away from the border and into the interior. In the week ending June 5, they expected to exceed 2,000 people, a hundred-fold increase.
In past years, Border Patrol agents would try to photograph, fingerprint and occasionally take a DNA sample to verify people claiming to be family units. Border Patrol would then issue a “Notice to Appear” to the migrant, ordering them to appear before an immigration judge at a certain date. In 2017, 43% of aliens with a court date failed to appear.
But because the Biden administration had no plan to replace the Trump administration’s policies, the tide of aliens has overwhelmed the entire immigration system. Now aliens who present themselves at places other than official border crossings are issued a “Notice to Report” by immigration officials and quickly moved away from the border, frequently with a lower level of ID checks.
A “Notice to Report” asks illegal aliens to report to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office when they get to their destination in the interior. These notices to report have never been used before and, according to former immigration officials, may themselves be illegal, having no basis in U.S. law.
But, issuing a “Notice to Report” takes less time than issuing a “Notice to Appear” and moving aliens away from the border and into the interior as swiftly as possible is crucial to prevent large crowds of immigrants at the border in the unlikely event the major media was to report on the Biden Border Surge. Dilution and dispersal are the key to hiding the massive numbers of people crossing into America.
While family units, unaccompanied minors – many of whom are young adults who claim to be 17 – overrun the more populated portions of the border, and willingly present themselves to the Border Patrol, other, more ominous people have been crossing into the sparsely populated areas of Texas. These, law enforcement officials say, are the bad guys, the “got-aways.” Sex offenders. Murders. Terrorists. They wear camouflage and carry rucksacks. If they are intercepted by Border Patrol agents or law enforcement, they will often fight to avoid apprehension.
Prior to the border surge, Val Verde County had a very low crime rate. Now residents are under siege. They have been confronted in their homes and on their streets by illegal immigrants seeking food and shelter. Homes have been ransacked, cash and jewelry stolen.
And now Biden is expected to soon lift the Title 42 pandemic immigration restrictions imposed by President Trump. With Title 42 gone, the surge will further intensify.
Biden is restraining U.S. Border Patrol and immigration officers from doing their jobs. It may be up to Texas to secure its own border.
Texas Gov. Abbott has options to meet the challenge, from arresting migrants for trespassing and holding them in temporary facilities, to invoking a state of emergency allowing him to control vehicles and buildings in specific areas, “control of the movement of persons,” and establish curfews.
Either way, Gov. Abbott will likely be sued by the Biden administration and their allies on the left – but the governor will be on firm legal ground in defending his citizens from harm.
In This Remote Texas County, Illegal Immigration Threatens a Way of Life
Val Verde County is like a lot of South Texas counties: sparsely populated, rugged, dry, and vast. If you’ve never been there, well, I’m not sure there’s much reason to go. It’s not for everyone, but it’s for me.
I happen to think places like this are the best places in the world: places where you can feel the thick heat seep into your skin in the hour before dawn; places where existence must be earned; places that were fought for and over by Rangers, Indians, and Mexicans alike; places settled by desperate men, avaricious speculators, and hopeful families casting their lots at the ends of the world; places where the midday sun is an anvil, and the rock beneath your feet a furnace; places where Christmas Day is warm and sunny, and there’s nothing better mid-afternoon than some tortillas — made with manteca of course, flipped by seared bare fingers on the stovetop — and salted Falfurrias butter, enjoyed with a Coke and crushed ice.
It’s also ground zero for the border crisis. Illegal immigration threatens lives and the way of life here.
At the heart of Val Verde County is the town of Del Rio. It isn’t a metropolis, maybe 50,000 souls or so, but it has enough, and it has enough history to engage the visitor — and to keep some people there for a lifetime.
At the immigration townhall we participated in on Friday evening, I said to general agreement that there’s a way of life in South Texas. Well, Del Rio is a pretty good example of that way of life. There’s a city center of sorts, surrounded by vast and rugged countryside, canyon-strewn and rocky, bordered on the southern side by the Rio Grande. Families will go into the same line of work here: you’ll find whole clans that ranch, or own property, or work in law enforcement of various types. Children who leave — for school, for work — will often enough return, especially when they have children of their own, and realize they want the same growing-up for them they had for themselves. Land holdings will often enough turn out to be generations old.
We stayed on a ranch that, I learned at breakfast on the last day, was acquired well over a century past by the current owner’s direct ancestor. That ancestor got the property and was shortly thereafter shot dead, in broad daylight, in Del Rio, by a county judge. The judge went on trial for murder — and was acquitted.
But the property was passed down. That’s South Texas for you. Like I said, a way of life.
That way of life is under threat. I’m no stranger to the border, nor to South Texas: I know the Rio Grande Valley pretty well, and Laredo better. I’ve crossed the border on the Los Ebanos ferry, lending a hand as we drew upon the rope stretching from bank to bank. I’ve spent time in San Ygnacio. I’ve sat on the bluff at Roma — my grandfather’s hometown — and listened to gunfire in Ciudad Aleman on the other side. I’ve even visited the old La Lomita chapel in the Anzalduas park, down in Hidalgo Count — and run into a man, soaking wet and with aquatic vegetation stuck to his shirt, fresh out of swimming the river. He was fortunate: there’s a diversion dam nearby, a spot apt to drown swimmers. He was also unfortunate: after passing me by and exchanging startled greetings, he was met by a swarm of Border Patrol officers. The Rio Grande Valley is thickly populated on both sides, and therefore strongly patrolled.
That’s why Val Verde County, and the vast Texas lands of the old despoblado — a realm the Spanish considered too harsh to settle — are now seeing an extraordinary influx of migrants. What we learned across 36 hours in the county — talking with the sheriff, talking with Border Patrol officers and Border Patrol veterans, and most of all talking to the men and women who have made their lives in this part of Texas — was shocking, even to me. Illegal immigration has come and gone for years here. But now it’s different. Now it’s existential. And now it demands something more than aid packages to Central America, disbursed by a peripatetic vice president of the United States.
There’s a headline in today’s New York Times: “U.S. Aid to Central America Hasn’t Slowed Migration. Can Kamala Harris?” It seems like a setup for a swift application of Betteridge’s law of headlines, which states that any headline phrased as a question can be answered with “No.”
Still, the Vice President’s assumption of the migration/Mexico/Central American policy portfolio — driving her first official foreign trips in just a few days — isn’t doomed to failure just because an industry in-joke on headline writing is determinative. It’s doomed to failure because American policymaking is trapped in premises wholly inadequate to the times and circumstances.
I’ll have more on our trip tomorrow, when I’ll tell the stories of others — not just me.
For now, I’ll leave you with this: This isn’t just about South Texas, although I love South Texas and I ask your forgiveness for my partiality toward it, and toward Texas at large. This is about America. This is about a nation — a good country, to be sure — that is surrendering its sovereignty and failing its imperative to protect the lives and liberties of its own citizens.
Who is going to act? The federal government won’t — will Texas?
Iowa is an example of responsible budgeting
Sound fiscal policy must begin with spending restraint. Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Republican-led Iowa Legislature continued to follow pro-growth fiscal conservatism during the most recently concluded session.
The Legislature passed an $8.1 billion FY 2022 state budget, which provided an estimated $1 billion in tax relief to taxpayers instead of growing government. This brings the budget well under the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for it, as measured by the Tax Education Foundation’s Conservative Iowa Budget, which sets a maximum threshold based on population growth plus inflation.
This budget is $290.7 million more than the FY 2021 budget. The $8.1 billion budget is over $4 million more than what Reynolds initially proposed. Nevertheless, Iowa’s fiscal house is in good standing.
The budget spends 97.66% of projected revenues for FY 2022, leaving a projected $385.8 million surplus. There is plenty of money available for a rainy day, including a combined $817.9 million in the Cash Reserve Fund and the Economic Emergency Fund and $316.4 million in the Taxpayer Relief Fund.
Reynolds and conservatives are criticized by many progressives and liberals who argue that areas of the state budget are underfunded, especially public education and health care (DHS), which includes Medicaid. However, this does not mean that spending has declined.
From 2013 to 2020, Iowa’s budget has grown 1.6 times faster than population growth plus inflation. Last year’s budget (FY 2021), which passed during the pandemic, was considered a “status quo” budget, with spending only slightly higher than the previous year. This is hardly austerity-style budgeting and only in government can slowing the growth of spending be considered a “cut.”
Public education (pre-k-12, community colleges and higher education) and health care consume 79.9% of the budget. In FY 1995, both were just 47.2% of total spending, so their share of spending is up nearly 70% since then. State aid to schools continues to be the largest appropriation at $3.4 billion, and added with funding to other payments to public education, is 54% of the budget. The health care budget is more than $2 billion.
The growing cost of both public education and health care should concern policymakers. The rapid increase in spending on these programs is on autopilot and is crowding out other budget priorities along with the private sector through higher taxes. Structural reforms to these programs are needed.
Spending restraint is the cornerstone for sound fiscal policy, and thereby helps keep taxes in check. A priority for the governor was making Iowa’s tax code and economy more competitive, while the Legislature provided much needed tax relief.
In part, this tax reform repealed the state’s stringent income tax triggers, which will allow the top rate to fall to 6.5% in 2023. This will provide greater tax certainty and create an opportunity for future tax rate reductions. Also, Iowa’s obsolete inheritance tax will be phased-out over a five-year period. The county mental health property tax levy will be phased out, as well.
As a result of prudent spending, the Iowa Legislature can consider further tax reform during the next legislative session. Tax reform in Iowa is far from complete and both individual and corporate tax rates need to be lowered and ultimately eliminated.
If policymakers want to seriously reduce tax rates, allowing for more money to stay with families, and make the tax code more competitive with other states, spending must be prioritized and limited.
Spending discipline is vital, and the Iowa Code limits spending to 99% of projected revenues. Strengthening the spending limitation by placing it in the state Constitution and limiting spending to population growth plus inflation, as outlined in the Conservative Iowa Budget, would better match the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for it every session.
The actions by Gov. Reynolds and the Iowa Legislature offer a clear contrast to President Joe Biden (and Democrats in Washington), who in his first 100 days in office has passed or proposed $6 trillion in new spending.
Fortunately, Iowa provides an example of responsible budgeting to federal policymakers and state legislators to provide more opportunity for people to flourish.
Economic Development and the 87th Legislature: Goodbye Closed-Door Dealmaking and Hello Transparency
The regular session of the 87th Texas Legislature has ended, and time has come to take stock of the changes that will follow. In terms of economic development, the Legislature ended one program, created a new one, and passed bills that will increase transparency.
The biggest transformation relates to the Texas Economic Development Act, better known as Chapter 313. The Legislature did not pass any bill that would have renewed it beyond its current sunset date of December 31, 2022. Chapter 313 allows school districts to enter into tax abatement agreements with select businesses, allowing these businesses to pay less in taxes than they would without such an agreement while negotiating additional, side payments for the school districts that are not reintegrated into the public school finance system.
While supporters claimed the program was essential to bringing capital-intensive businesses to Texas, many flaws in the program were found over the years, including doubts about the number of businesses that actually needed the incentives to come or the fact that school districts were allowed to waive the requirement that a business create a minimum number of jobs, one of the main goals of the program.
Arguments in support proved unpersuasive as one bill that would have expanded the program and renewed it for 10 years died on the House floor. A second one that would have simply renewed the program for two years did pass the House but was not brought up on the Senate floor. Absent any plan to put the renewal of the program as an item of a special session, Chapter 313 will expire next year.
In a different area of economic development, the Legislature created a new program aimed at helping music venues in Texas: the Texas music incubator rebate program. The new program will give “rebates” from a newly created account made up of monies from the sales tax and the mixed beverage gross receipts tax to qualifying music venues and promoters. The program will start in September 2022.
Another important change concerns transparency. Two bills the Legislature passed will bring added transparency to local economic development.
One bill requires the creation of a database of local economic development program agreements (under Chapters 380 & 381 of the Local Government Code), and another requires counties to report rates of and revenues raised from any county hotel occupancy tax (HOT). The centralization of this information is important because without it, disclosure and its quality can vary greatly. Having access in one location to more detailed information allows for a quick and easy way to know how many of these agreements exist and how much is raised in HOT, where these are mostly used, and for which purposes. When researchers, taxpayers, and lawmakers can more easily access this information, they can more properly analyze the effects—benefits and costs—of these programs.
Transparency is a way for government to be accountable to the people it represents. And in that area, a lot of work remains. Access to information on economic development negotiations is still restricted in Texas. Under the Texas Open Meetings Act (Government Code Section 551.087) and the Texas Public Information Act (Government Code Section 552.131), economic development negotiations are excluded from the open government statutes, resulting in taxpayers being effectively shut out of what government units negotiate and offer select businesses with taxpayer money only to be too often presented with a done deal.
Some studies estimate that the annual amount of state and local spending on targeted economic development subsidies has reached $95 billion, increasing enormously the past 30 years. This creates a race to incentives that generates a vicious circle of government offering increasingly more and businesses asking for ever bigger incentives, to the detriment of taxpayers and non-subsidized businesses.
As long as these programs exist, they should be completely transparent and submitted to regular audits and cost-benefit analyses. And like Chapter 313, they should be terminated if they are proven to benefit only a few at the expense of others.
Policy Wins: Lawmakers Cut Taxes, Reduced Regulations
Texans will benefit from the policy wins achieved in the 87th Texas Legislature. Among other things, lawmakers:
Passed a Conservative Texas Budget
Strengthened spending limits
Maintained property tax relief
Improved taxpayer protections
Reduced regulatory barriers
The Texas budget, SB 1, came in below the Conservative Texas Budget—in fact, it is about $5 billion below the ceiling the Texas Public Policy Foundation set after excluding the $6.1 billion to maintain the property tax relief from last session. Great credit is due for Senator Jane Nelson and Representative Greg Bonnen because Texans simply cannot afford to pay for out-of-control spending.
Fortunately, measures to address future spending were addressed, too. SB 1336 by Senator Kelly Hancock was sent to the Governor’s desk. This makes much of the Conservative Texas Budget statute by limiting lawmakers from increasing the budget by more than population growth and inflation.
Following the 2019 Session, many local governments sought to bypass the 3.5% limit on property tax growth by taking on more debt in the form of certificates of obligation. This debt would then be passed on to taxpayers. HB 1869 by Representative Dustin Burrows clarifies the definition of debt and reduces this practice for taxing entities.
Local governments also sought to use the “disaster” loophole in 2020 to raise property taxes by 8%. Senator Paul Bettencourt filed SB 1427 which clarifies the types of disasters that can be used to bypass the 3.5% property tax rate limit—COVID-19 was NOT one of the disasters.
Additional bills that expanded on property tax reforms from the 2019 Session were SB 1438 and SB 1449 by Senator Paul Bettencourt. The first would clarify tax rate adjustments and the second would raise the income threshold from personal property from $500 to $2,500 which cuts taxes for small businesses.
On the regulatory side, there were several wins like HB 1560 by Representative Craig Goldman which cuts back on occupational licenses and cuts regulations. HB 139 by Representative Brad Buckley provides license reciprocity for military members, veterans, and their spouses so they will not be forced to go through a new licensing process for an occupation when they move to Texas from another state. Finally, there was SB 424 by Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa which reduces regulatory penalties against small businesses for first time violations.
May 2021 Jobs Report
The month of May produced another disappointing jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 559,000 which was 91,000 below expectations. The unemployment rate fell by 0.3% to 5.8%; economists expected 5.9% for May.
The number of unemployed fell by 496,000 to 9.3 million and the number of permanent job losers in May was 1.9 million higher than Feb. 2020.
The Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) was little changed at 61.6%, 1.7% lower than Feb. 2020. The employment-population ratio was 58.0%, 3.1% lower than Feb. 2020. Persons employed part time for economic reasons was unchanged at 5.3 million, 873,000 higher than Feb. 2020. Persons not in the labor force who want a job but were not actively looking was unchanged at 6.6 million, 1.6 million more than Feb. 2020. These figures did not improve anywhere near expectations. Since the LFPR increased only 0.1%, the unemployment rate declined 0.1% more than expected despite total employment missing expectations.
Nonfarm payroll is still down 7.6 million or 5.0% over the last 15 months from pre-pandemic levels in Feb. 2020.
Private sector jobs increased 492,000 with service sector jobs accounting for 99.4% (489,000) of all private jobs added.
Leisure and hospitality increased 292,000 with almost two-thirds in food services and drinking places; leisure and hospitality still down 2.5 million, or 15.0% from Feb. 2020.
Manufacturing increased 23,000 after being down 38,000 in April, a two-month net loss of 15,000. Employment in manufacturing is down 509,000 from Feb. 2020.
Transportation and warehousing added 23,000, down 100,000 from Feb. 2020.
Construction fell 20,000 and is 225,000 lower than Feb. 2020.
Government grew 67,000, which was 12.0% of the total nonfarm increase.
Oil and gas extraction was little changed, falling 1,200.
Earnings, Revisions, Miscellaneous:
Average hourly earnings rose 15 cents to $30.33, (2.0% Y-o-Y increase) following an increase of 21 cents in April; average workweek was 34.9 hours for third month in a row.
March was revised up 15,000 while April was revised up 12,000, nowhere near expectations. This confirms that April’s substantial disappointment was not merely a fluke but demonstrated the structural problems government has created in the labor market.
Prime-Age (25-54) Employment increased only 220,000 and the unemployment rate fell 0.3%.
New entrants to the job market who were unemployed fell 100,000.
All six measures of unemployment fell by roughly the same amount, between 0.2% and 0.4%.
The 10-year Treasury yield fell 1.2 basis points immediately following the report, indicating investors do not see the report as inflationary.
May’s job report was a disappointment. Unemployment “bonuses” are keeping people out of the work force and slowing the recovery. While the labor market is improving, the rate of improvement has slowed considerably.
The 25 states with unemployment bonuses should end the program as Texas has announced.
Reduce regulatory barriers and employment taxes to facilitate hiring.
‘Safe’ injection sites won’t solve California’s homeless and drug abuse crises
In San Francisco in 2020, the number of opioid overdose deaths, 697, was more than twice as high as the city’s COVID-19 deaths, 257. Yet California lawmakers, so quick to lock down the economy, issue stay-at-home orders and mandate masks, are taking a very different approach to the opioid epidemic – giving people with drug addictions a so-called safe place to inject their drugs.
Advocates say the Golden State’s efforts to reduce the harms of drug abuse will set a model for other states to emulate. Based on our collective experience – one of us was addicted to drugs and lived on San Francisco’s streets, the other has worked with homeless women and children for more than a decade – we believe that this proposal will not lessen the substance abuse epidemic that California cities face, nor will it help homeless individuals.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes addiction as chronic, complex brain disorder. It is a disease, and we have seen firsthand that we must treat it like one, just as we treat COVID-19. Addiction should not be treated as a lifestyle.
Injection sites won’t help
Yet the California Senate passed legislation in April permitting three jurisdictions – the city and county of San Francisco, the county of Los Angeles and the city of Oakland – to create safe injection sites until 2027. The bill creates a set of standards that sites would have to meet, including the presence of trained medical staff, sterile supplies and access to naloxone and related overdose reversal medications.
Then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation in 2018, but his successor, Gavin Newsom, has described himself as “very, very open” to the idea, suggesting it could get enacted into law this year.
The bill’s flaws start with its title, which christens the injection sites as part of an “overdose prevention program.”
But equally troubling is the question of who will come? When I, Thomas, was struggling with homelessness and a heroin addiction in my hometown of San Francisco as recently as 2018, I know I wouldn’t have. Why? Because there are no consequences for using on the street, out in the open, even in front of a cop. Once, I blew smoke from my crack pipe into the face of a police officer standing near me on Hyde Street. He didn’t even arrest me; he simply made me step on my pipe.
What’s more, I would have been forced to leave my belongings unattended while attending the safe injection site. That’s unthinkable to anyone living on the streets.
The other of us, Michele, has spent 13 years on the front lines with homeless women and children. Drug addiction plagued the majority of families I worked with. Full access to a safe injection site is an invitation to ignore the issue that nudged our clients to homelessness in the first place. Without exception, the thousands of women we served during my tenure will tell you that they needed support in overcoming their addiction, not support in feeding it.
Who would be served by safe injection sites? The street drug dealers who want easy access to the highly motivated customer base will benefit immensely through this legislation. Dealers congregate near the safe injection site in Vancouver, the controversial program after which San Francisco’s is modeled.
Substance abuse and homelessness
Taking a “harm reduction” approach to drugs is already failing in California. One of Los Angeles’ major harm reduction centers saw fewer than 1% of its program participants voluntarily enter into a free drug rehabilitation program in 2019, indicating the safe injection sites would help little when it comes to converting drug users into rehabilitated ones.
Furthermore, we find it appalling that the legislation is targeting three cities that are grappling with increases in some violent crime and homelessness, inflaming an already tense situation confronting residents and business owners. Already, nearly 5,000 homeless people live in the half square mile of Los Angeles’ Skid Row, which is also the epicenter of the city’s addiction crisis.
AMLO, The Cartels, And The Curious Case Of RCQ
“Imagine the suspicion, the jokes, the memes.”
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, “AMLO,” presides over a country ravaged by cartel violence and spiking homicide rates, decimated economically by the COVID-19 pandemic, and well behind the curve in immunization rates. Yet on a Monday morning in early May, his concerns about Mexico’s global reputation were focused elsewhere.
“Something similar happened when Mr. Caro Quintero was released. They accused us from abroad, accused the government of complicity. No foreign government should accuse the Mexican government, and we shouldn’t give them a pretext to do that.” AMLO was referring to the pending release of Sinaloa drug trafficker Hector Palma, comparing Palma’s plight to that of another infamous Mexican trafficker, Rafael Caro Quintero.
The comparison itself invites suspicion.
Palma was once a rising star in Mexico’s first cocaine trafficking organization, the Guadalajara Cartel. He started as a sicario for Felix Gallardo, a cartel leader, and later formed an alliance with Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman in the late 1980s. In a Netflix-worthy turn, the rival Arellano-Felix brothers murdered his wife and young children, and he responded in kind with his own killing spree. He was arrested in 1995, joining fellow Sinaloa Federation leader Guzman at Mexico’s Puente Grande prison.
Both Guzman and Palma had indictments pending in the Southern District of California. While Guzman conveniently managed to escape from Puente Grande in 2001 shortly after Mexico authorized extraditions to the United States, Palma remained and was extradited in 2007 to San Diego. After serving nine years in U.S. custody, he was released in 2016 and re-arrested on organized crime charges upon re-entering Mexico. Palma remained in Mexican custody on those charges until May 1, when a judge ordered his release.
Rafael Caro Quintero, “RCQ” in U.S. law enforcement circles, was not just a part of the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1980s; he, Gallardo, and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo were its triumvirate leaders. When a young DEA agent named Enrique Camarena led the discovery and destruction of a 2,500-acre marijuana plantation in 1984, a total loss to RCQ of around $160 million, RCQ arranged the kidnaping, three-day torture, and eventual murder of Camarena. A month after the murder, as a DEA-assisted Mexican federal police unit closed in on RCQ at a local airport, a Mexican police comandante took a $300,000 bribe to allow RCQ to leave on a private jet to Costa Rica, a country without an extradition treaty with the United States. Costa Rica later returned RCQ to Mexico, putting the Sinaloan drug lord safely outside the grasps of the U.S. justice system.
Mexico did convict RCQ of Camarena’s murder in 1985. He faced a possible 199 years in prison, but Mexican law only allowed sentences up to 40 years. RCQ was 28 years into that sentence in the pre-dawn hours of August 9, 2013, when he was inexplicably allowed to walk out of Puente Grande. A Jalisco state judge had quietly ordered the release. The Mexican federal government claimed not to have prior knowledge of the judge’s order. Mexico’s attorney general said that the judge had “completely ignored” prevailing Mexican law in releasing RCQ, and the conviction was subsequently reinstated. The U.S. government, with an extradition request pending, learned of the release with the rest of the world in media coverage. By that time, RCQ had disappeared into the rugged Sinaloan mountains of his youth.
In the eight years since, RCQ has re-established his role within the Sinaloa Federation as one of Mexico’s most prolific drug traffickers. He is also DEA’s most wanted fugitive, with a $20 million reward offered for the man who has yet to face the U.S. criminal justice system for the brutal torture and murder of one of its agents.
AMLO, for his part, has in recent months defended RCQ’s 2013 release, claiming that it was “justified” because no verdict had been handed down against RCQ. Yet there had been a guilty verdict, followed by a state judge improperly overturning the verdict 28 years later, and an appellate court reinstating the verdict after RCQ’s release. AMLO is himself no stranger to releasing high-level drug traffickers, as the world saw in the 2019 release of Ovidio Guzman and the 2021 absolution of former Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos.
All of which is contrasted with the plight of Hector Palma. He has faced the U.S. justice system twice, serving seven years after a 1978 drug trafficking arrest in Arizona, then later his 2007 extradition to California, conviction, and eight-year sentence. He presumably has no more criminal charges pending in the U.S. While his rearrest in 2016 in Mexico may have been warranted, the May 1 release order should have resolved those charges. If he had been released, he would be free for the first time in 26 years. Instead, days after AMLO’s public concerns about jokes and memes, a series of judicial mechanisms resulted in Palma being held an additional 40 days, until June 15, to give the Mexican government a chance to find some other crime that he might have committed.
Mexico’s efforts to keep Palma in custody may well be motivated by a genuine, if clumsily executed, desire to hold him accountable for past crimes. The Mexican judicial system is still in the formative years of a shift to a Western-style adversarial process, and, according to Mexico’s national statistics agency, only 0.3 percent of crimes result in the filing of criminal charges.
The more curious cases are those of RCQ, Ovidio Guzman, and General Cienfuegos, where the Mexican government allows Sinaloa-based organized crime leaders to operate freely within its borders. It is as if the Mexican political establishment is motivated by something other than the well-being of its citizens, or even the global “suspicion, jokes, and memes” that so concern the Mexican president.
The Tax Man Cometh – Again, and Again, and Again
President Joe Biden released his plan for massive tax and spending increases. It is a budget only in the loosest sense of the word. If you drafted a household budget using the same methodology and ideas as this latest federal proposal, you would soon be heading to bankruptcy court.
While it is difficult to determine the worst part of the president’s budget, the tax increases are a strong contender. He wants to increase the top marginal income tax rate, including the Obamacare surcharge, to 43.4 percent. When you include state and local taxes, many areas of the country would have top rates over 50 percent. New York City would be approaching 60 percent. What incentive do Americans have to work more when the government is going to take 60 cents on the next dollar they earn?
The president’s 10-year plan also raises the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, an increase of a third over current rates. That makes it disadvantageous to start or keep a business in the U.S., thereby encouraging corporate inversion. It also ignores the fact that corporations do not pay taxes—employees, investors, and customers pay those taxes indirectly.
Even more egregious is the proposal to effectively double the top capital gains tax rate, which currently stands at 20 percent, or 24.6 percent including average state and local tax rates. Biden wants to hike the top rate to 43.4 percent, retroactive to April. Once you include state and local capital gains taxes, the combined average rate would be 48 percent. Even worse, at least one member of Congress is seeking to make the tax increases retroactive to January 1, 2021. Savers have no way to plan their investments when governments change the rules of the game after a play is over.
To elucidate the lunacy of these rates, let us briefly look at a few practical examples.
Suppose you invest $100 during your career, and that investment earns you a 5% nominal annual rate of return. After 30 years, the investment will have grown about 332%—such is the power of compound interest. Do not get too excited, however, since inflation averaged 2.5% a year and now your real rate of growth on that investment is only about 110 percent—such is the power of the hidden tax of inflation.
Alas, the tax man cometh, but Biden is not looking at your real 110% return on investment; he is looking at your nominal 332% return. With a 43.4 percent tax rate, you owe $144, but once you factor in the average state and local tax rates, you owe $159, leaving you with just $173. On the bright side, that is still a nominal return of 173%.
But what is your real rate of return? Once you account for the lost purchasing power from inflation, your real return after three decades is a measly $63. That means your real after-tax annual rate of return was a paltry 0.16%, courtesy of President Biden.
Let us go down the rabbit hole just one step further, for the sake of the millions of retirees in this country and their millions of children. When you are retired, you usually shift your savings out of growth-oriented investments towards ones that have lower returns, but are considered safer, since your primary concern is not losing your savings at an age when you can hardly replace them. Assuming a rate of return equal to inflation, we will say 2%, your savings are growing in nominal terms, but not in terms of purchasing power. In other words, you’re actually gaining nothing.
Alas, the tax man cometh yet again, and the government is still not satiated. The $100 you had when you retired has grown to $122 after a decade. When you are done paying 48% in taxes, you are left with about $111. Remember, though, that these apparent gains were strictly inflationary. Do not dismiss this scenario as fantasy—inflation is currently sailing high above the return on AAA-rated securities, and it is a multiple of the 10-year Treasury note yield. After taxes, you are left with less value than when you started your retirement a decade ago. Your real rate of return is negative.
Alas, the tax man cometh one last time. As you draw your final breath, some government accountant is fiddling with his abacus, calculating your unrealized capital gains. You read that right—he wants to tax your savings, even if you have not sold your investments yet. Currently, when you die and pass investments on to your children, those savings receive a “step-up” in their basis, which, for tax purposes, just means the cost of those investments is redefined as the value at the time of your death. Thus, your children do not owe tax on gains from your lifetime. Biden wants that to change.
It is hard to overestimate the damage that this will do to intergenerational savings, the capital stock in the country, and long-term real wage growth. Once again, assets that were held by an individual for a long period of time, like a house, will have seen large nominal gains because of inflation, but maybe only modest real gains, or maybe none at all. When your heirs cannot afford the massive taxes, they will have to sell off what you left them just to pay the tax bill.
What incentive will you have to save, invest, and pass a little wealth on to your children or grandchildren? Very little, unless you are wealthy enough to afford an army of tax lawyers and accountants who will shield your income and savings from the IRS.
For the rest of us, however, there will be no safe harbor from this storm. The tax man cometh, unrelenting, unwavering, and undaunted.
CRISIS: Murders of Police Officers on the Rise
Memorial Day was a time to pay tribute to the memory of the soldiers we’ve lost at war, and this year it seems appropriate to also mention the fallen Police Officers who’ve died in the last year on the frontlines of, let’s face it, a “War” that is now on American soil. There is no doubt we are in the midst of a war for the hearts and minds of Americans, and for the soul of America.
BY THE NUMBERS: Already, nearly as many frontline Police Officers have been murdered in the line of duty in just the first 5 months of 2021, than were murdered in the entire year of 2020.
That’s largely due to the ANTI-POLICE RHETORIC FOMENTED by Democrat leaders, from blue city Mayors like Bill DeBlasio, all the way up to the White House and Joe Biden.
In addition, more than TWICE as many frontline Police officers died from other causes, including accidents, strokes and heart attacks on the job due to the stress they are under in America’s cities, AND from COVID-19 deaths from contracting covid on-the-job. (Remember, it was our brave Police Officers who stayed on the front lines in the early days of the Coronavirus crisis. It cost them their lives. Yet no ticker tape parade for them, as was promised.)
This is ON TOP OF the more than 58,000 Officers who are attacked on the job each year — shot, stabbed, beaten, and dragged, while trying to do their jobs to keep all communities safe. That number will likely be even higher in 2021.
Democrats have said it themselves, there is a WAR ON COPS, we ought to take them at their word & believe them when they tell us this is War.
Lastly, the anti-police rhetoric of the top Democrats in America (Maxine Waters, Joe Biden) actually DOESN’T even represent the views of most of what they call their “black and brown” Constituents: A Gallup Poll states that 61% of Black Americans actually want Police in their communities, not to abandon them, and nearly 1/3 of Black Americans say they’d actually like MORE Police in their communities, not LESS.
Sadly, police are caught in the middle in this war — as we remember those who have fallen in foreign wars, we ought to say a prayer for those lost on the frontlines here in America as well.
How to Turn President Biden’s Irresponsible Budget into a Responsible American Budget
President Biden finally released his FY22 budget proposal on a Friday afternoon before a long Memorial Day weekend. This was good timing for the White House because it helps hide how irresponsible his budget is for America. But Americans know better, and his budget should be rejected and replaced with one that follows a responsible, pro-growth path forward.
During my year as the chief economist of the White House’s OMB during the Trump administration, I helped determine the economic assumptions and other key decisions in the President’s last FY21 budget. We advocated for a path toward more free market capitalism-supporting robust economic assumptions.
This policy forecast included faster economic growth resulting from making almost all of the Trump tax cuts permanent, further deregulations, and fiscal restraint of nearly $5 trillion in savings over a decade to balance the budget and to support opportunities for Americans. The path built on what was already working—an agenda that helped America reach a record low poverty rate and a record high in real median household income in 2019.
As someone who has worked at a think tank in Austin, Texas for years, I’ve seen the gains made by the Texas Model—no personal income tax and relatively lower government spending, taxing, and regulations, which contributes to more economic freedom, lower cost-of-living, and greater human flourishing compared to most states. Alternatively, California has taken a different approach—with now the second-highest personal income tax rate, stricter regulations, and substantially more spending that crowds out economic activity and destroys prosperity.
Given our system of federalism that was designed to produce a laboratory of competition among states, we can clearly see that the Texas Model works well over time, compared to states like California.
The Trump administration learned from the more fiscally responsible states, and used the Texas approach when it came to criminal justice reform, deregulation, lower taxes and proposed spending restraint, which resulted in substantial, tangible economic gains. Unfortunately, the Biden administration is following the folly of the big-government California model—which demonstrably doesn’t work.
There are at least three ways that President Biden’s first budget is irresponsible. First, Biden’s $6 trillion budget sends us down the road toward socialism.
The increase in the budget from the pre-pandemic baseline FY20 budget of $4.81 trillion shows that Biden’s budget is 25% higher. If Biden’s budget was limited to the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for it, as measured by population growth plus inflation of 1.37% in the Foundation’s Responsible American Budget, then taxpayers would foot the bill for a maximum of $4.88 trillion. The president’s budget is $1 trillion, or 23%, more than this metric, meaning that his budget proposal takes ownership of more means of production throughout economy and livelihoods (which is the definition of socialism).
The excess spending continues over time as the budget expands by $69 trillion over a decade, increasing the national debt by 50% or by $14.5 trillion, and results in the debt owed by each American rising by 50%, to about $120,000. The American Jobs Plan would add $529 billion and the American Families Plan adds $270 billion. These expansions of government are really anti-jobs, anti-families, and anti-American, as this is a road without a good destination.
Second, the Biden budget makes flawed economic assumptions.
As someone who helped determine the economic assumptions in President Trump’s final budget, I understand how there are many variables underlying the president’s budget. It’s not an exact science, but it’s important to do your due diligence.
An unlikely economic assumption in Biden’s budget is that real gross domestic product keeps increasing over time, despite the substantial tax hikes of more than $3 trillion. Additionally, the administration is acknowledging its proposals are more about socially engineering society to its preferred outcomes rather than achieving more economic prosperity. Economic growth in his budget is just 3.2% in 2022 and just 2% in 2023 after rampant government spending, with less growth thereafter. These growth rates are substantially less than the post-WWII average of 3% and lower than the three pre-pandemic Trump years. In short, the economic assumptions are weak even given a Keynesian view that government spending drives more growth, which I don’t share.
And even those growth rates are optimistic as higher taxes slow growth, just as substantially higher debt from the excessive spending does. Higher debt means either interest rates will have to rise as more debt is issued or the Federal Reserve will have to continue monetizing it and bring about inflation, which also contributes to higher interest rates.
Currently, inflation is about 4% (at an annualized rate), and will likely stay that high. It could even increase with the large increases in the money supply and the continued purchases by the Fed of $120 billion in Treasury securities monthly. Again, Biden’s budget fails again as it assumes inflation is only 1.8% in 2021 and plateaus at 2.3% starting in 2025, which is unlikely given the situation.
Meanwhile, the 10-year Treasury note rate is about 1.6%, but the proposed budget has it at only 1.2% for this year and rising to only 2.8% by 2031. With $14.5 trillion added to the debt (including net interest rising from $345 billion to $883 billion in 2031) and the probable higher inflation that will need to be subdued with less money creation and resulting higher interest rates, we could see much higher interest rates than what his budget assumes. This would result in even less economic growth than what’s in Biden’s budget, thereby increasing the number on welfare programs, which will itself drive up government spending. This will also influence other budget items.
Assuming lower interest rates in the Trump budget made more sense, given we were putting the budget on a path toward balancing over time. But the Biden budget maintains deficits of more than $1.3 trillion every year, with the deficit-to-GDP ratio only going down to 4.2% in 2029, which is well above the historical rate of 3%.
This brings us to the third way that Biden’s budget is irresponsible: It mortgages ours and our kids’ and grandkids’ futures.
Irresponsible government spending causing massive deficits along with rising net interest over time will cost us more and reduce opportunities for good-paying jobs, affordable credit, and a lower cost-of-living. It will also raise interest rates, resulting in lower real incomes and fewer job opportunities.
Fortunately, we know that the pre-pandemic policy approach taken by President Trump supported record levels of human flourishing. Congress should have done a better job of reining in government spending, and the administration could have touted spending restraint more. But even then, the growth in spending wasn’t at the level proposed by Biden. If Congress had controlled its spending, then the deficit, interest rates, inflation, and trade deficits would likely have been lower. Those goals are still worth pursuing.
That’s why TPPF created the Responsible American Budget, which is supported by many policymakers, economists, and thought leaders. It sets a maximum threshold for the federal budget every year based on the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for it (based on population growth plus inflation). This is supported by research on fiscal rules that have worked well in other countries and states, including Texas, Montana, Iowa, and Alaska.
By rejecting President Biden’s irresponsible budget proposal and instead incorporating the RAB in the budget process, Congress could enact a budget that meets the needs of the country without excessively burdening American families. The budget is already far too big; its size and scope are well above what our Founding Fathers imagined, which is why fat should be cut and the budget growth should be limited to the RAB, which will leave more money with families and allow entrepreneurs to build on the success of free-market capitalism.
Join us in ending the days of fiscal insanity in D.C. and replacing it with fiscal responsibility.
Yes, Critical Race Theory is Taught in Texas Schools
“The loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.”
Gov. Greg Abbott is likely to sign the bill that will effectively ban the teaching of critical race theory in Texas, but its implementation will be key. In the months that CRT has been debated in Texas, it has been dismissed as merely another way of looking at things (much as Antifa has been dismissed as a set of ideas).
State Rep. Mary Gonzáles even said CRT “helped her to understand society in a way that allows her to be loving, compassionate and a unifier,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. What’s more, many claim that CRT isn’t even taught in Texas schools.
That’s not true. As a high school debate coach, I’ve watched critical race theory crush the souls of students for years. When it began to creep into the honored and honorable academic pursuit of policy (CX) debate, it lowered standards, created division and sundered relationships.
Let me explain how. Policy debate pits two two-person teams against each other. The Affirmative team (Aff) presents a plan that falls within this year’s topic; the Negative team (Neg) argues against that plan. This requires immense research and study; if the year’s topic is, say, the oceans, teams must be prepared to argue against plans ranging from the Law of the Seas Treaty to plastics to overfishing.
But some years ago, a new tactic emerged. Why argue that the Aff plan is terrible, when you can simply argue that the United States is terrible? Or worse, that the Aff team is terrible?
This kind of argument is called a kritik—debate jargon for employing critical theory (including, and especially, critical race theory) to undermine not the plan you’re supposed to be refuting, but the very legitimacy of liberal society, Western history and even debate itself.
Writing in an article called “The Corrosion of High School Debate—And How It Mirrors American Politics,” one former debater recalled how “Some debaters even began refusing to debate the resolutions altogether, formulating elaborate theoretical and critical arguments that were, at best, tenuously linked to the topic they had been given.”
The language of critical race theory is new to most Americans, but debaters have been parsing these words and phrases for years. “Equity” is in; fairness is out. Black bodies, colonialism, “words are violence,” ontological death—these concepts are tossed around in classrooms and tournaments throughout Texas.
Here’s what I saw first-hand. One of my teams, two Senior girls, went into a round as the Affirmative team. I don’t recall the topic that year (a decade ago), but I do remember them emerging from the round in tears. They lost—and were told they lost—because the Negative team argued they should lose. As two white, privileged students from a private school, Neg claimed, the Affirmative team embodied everything wrong with America.
I thought there had to be some mistake. But when I saw the ballot a couple of hours later, it was true. The judge wrote that in the interest of social justice, he handed the win to the Negative team—even though Neg offered not a single argument against the Aff plan.
In another round, one of my teams was a little confused when a member of the opposing team got up and left just as the round started. The judge didn’t object, so my guys went on as usual—making their speeches, organizing their thoughts and crafting their arguments. In the penultimate speech (Second Negative Rebuttal), the absent Neg team member returned, holding a can full of coins. He argued that Neg should win because instead of wasting time in the round, he was out collecting money for a climate change charity—real-world action should trump ineffectual speech, he said (mind you, at a speech tournament). Neg won that round.
What does one kritik-dependent team do when it comes up against another kritik-dependent team? I’ve watched those rounds devolved into a morass of intersectionality. “You may be female, but I’m Hispanic.” You may be Hispanic, but I have a learning disability.” “Your school spends more per-student than mine.”
How can debaters respond to critical race theory and similar arguments? They can’t; CRT is non-falsifiable, and to take any position against it is to display “white fragility”—an argument I’ve seen used against non-white students.
President John F. Kennedy was a proud high school debater, when that meant something. “A good debater must not only study material in support of his own case, but he must also, of course, thoroughly analyze the expected arguments of his opponent,” he once said. “The give and take of debating, the testing of ideas, is essential to democracy.”
JFK wouldn’t recognize high school policy debate today, just as MLK wouldn’t recognize the new segregation CRT advocates call for today as related in any way to the civil rights movement he led.
Critical race theory makes a mockery of that pursuit. CRT isn’t a “way of talking about race,” it’s a way to shut down discussion completely. Texas lawmakers showed foresight and courage in passing House Bill 3979. We must now show vigilance in its implementation. Critical race theory is anathema to the quality education that Texas students deserve.
Roy Maynard is senior writer for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, editor of The Cannon Online, and was a high school debate coach for 20 years.
New Poll Finds All Those People Moving To Texas Aren’t Going To Be Voting For Democrats
It is no secret that pro-growth policies — low taxes and a light regulatory burden — have propelled population growth in Texas and Florida while the opposite has occurred in California, Illinois, and New York. Elected officials’ response to COVID-19 likely accelerated this trend in 2020, with Florida and Texas netting more than half of the nation’s 1.15 million population increase from mid-2019 to mid-2020.
Each state has its own migration patterns, and these shift constantly in response to conditions and economic opportunities. The advent of reliable and affordable air conditioning, for example, opened the South to migrants from the North who sought to escape harsh winters. This is especially seen in the constant flow of retirees from New York and surrounding states to Florida and from the northern Midwest to Arizona. Also, states such as California and New York that have consistently lost population to other states have often more than made up for the loss through international immigration.
When population growth in a state occurs through people moving, it generates fear from natives and established residents that the newcomers will bring their voting habits with them, turning their thriving new red state homes into the failed blue states they abandoned. It’s a popular narrative. In Texas’s case, polling says it’s wrong.
But you can’t blame the old-timers for being concerned. It’s not just high-profile movers like Elon Musk and Joe Rogan. They’re joined by about three-quarters of a million people a year.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between mid-2015 to mid-2019, 3.8 million people moved to Texas. Of these, 2.7 million moved in from other states and 1.1 million moved to Texas from Puerto Rico or foreign nations — 13 percent of Texas’s population of 29 million people in only half a decade. Indeed, about 40 percent of Texans weren’t born in Texas, a testament to America’s continued, though slowing, mobility.
On the other side of the ledger, almost 2.3 million Texans moved out of state in the same period. This resulted in a net inbound domestic migration of 461,000. Of note, compared to the 1.1 million immigrants from overseas, net domestic migration represented only 30 percent of the overall population gain Texas gained from migration. At the gross level, 71 percent of the new movers to Texas over the past five years are from domestic migration.
It has long been a fear of conservative-minded Texans — and a hope of left-wing urban Texans — that new arrivals would tip the Lone Star State’s political balance. This has fueled polling on the question.
In 2013, the Texas Tribune and UT Austin conducted a poll surveying the political orientation of California expats. The California arrivals were 57 percent conservative compared to 27 percent liberal. “OK,” one might expect Texans to respond skeptically, “But what about the others?”
In a 2018 exit poll in the hard-fought U.S. Senate race between Sen. Ted Cruz (who had moved to Texas) and then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke (a Texas native), natives preferred O’Rourke by plus-3 points whereas movers favored Cruz by plus 15. Cruz won the race by 2.6 percent, meaning that if it were up to people who were Texans by birth, Cruz would have lost reelection.
So, who are these new Texans? Over the past five years, 29 percent of the 3.8 million new arrivals are from overseas, although few, other than about 15,000 annually from Puerto Rico or other U.S. island territories, are eligible to vote immediately. Some 14 percent of the new arrivals come from the South Atlantic Seaboard region stretching from Washington, D.C. to Florida, with 13 percent hailing from the Pacific region, of which almost 10 percent are former Californians — the largest single state contingent.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation has conducted two polls of registered voters to test attitudes between natives and non-natives. Its January 2020 poll of 800 registered voters found native Texans supported President Trump over Hillary Clinton by a 7-point margin compared to transplants, who supported Trump by a 12-point margin.
From February to May 2021, TPPF partnered with polling firm WPA Intelligence, asking 3,228 Texas voters if they were born in Texas or moved here and, if they moved to Texas, from where did they move? TPPF polled 1,284 (40 percent) people who moved to Texas and 1,944 (60 percent) who were born in Texas. This ratio reflects the composition of Texas voters who are natives versus non-natives.
TPPF’s polling found there was no statistical difference in voter preferences for either former President Trump or President Joe Biden in the 2020 election among natives versus non-natives. In both samples, support for the two candidates was balanced, with neither seeing an advantage. In the 2020 election, Trump received 52 percent of the vote while Biden received 46 percent, so TPPF’s polling sample slightly overrepresented Biden supporters while underrepresenting Trump supporters.
When looking at where the movers to Texas came from, patterns emerge. Movers from other states were about 1 percent more likely to have voted for Trump than were natives, while movers from overseas favored Biden by 9 percent over natives.
Among domestic migrants to Texas, Trump was most heavily favored by arrivals from the Mountain West, where Trump enjoyed a plus 13-point margin over the support of native Texans followed by the four-state region of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee with a plus-8 advantage. Counterintuitively — at least among Texans with an opinion — the area with the third-highest support for Trump among movers was California, where movers were 5 percent more likely to have supported Trump than were natives.
The region that sent the greatest share of Biden supporters was the South Atlantic Seaboard region, where movers favored Biden over Trump by 9 points more than did natives — the same margin as Biden was favored among voters who were born in another country.
While naturalized Texans preferred Biden in 2020 compared to domestic movers, they were almost as conservative (42 percent to 44 percent), less liberal (14 percent to 18 percent), and far more moderate (45 percent to 37 percent), signaling that overseas immigrants to Texas are up for grabs politically and are likely taking a dim view of the modern left’s full-embrace of all things woke.
There are two takeaways from this data for Texas. First, because America is unlikely to adopt internal passports (vaccine passports aside), people are free to move about the nation. Thus, the only way Texas could make itself an unattractive place to move would be to adopt California’s model of high taxes and heavy regulations.
Second, moving takes a lot of effort and is usually the consequence of big personal decisions. People moving to Texas have their own reasons for doing so shaped by their own attitudes and, as a result, don’t necessarily reflect the prevailing cultural and political mores of the place they left behind. Ultimately, the battle for the political future of Texas has just begun.
Responding to the Texas blackouts: SB 3 is just the first step on a long road toward reform
With the tragic events of Winter Storm Uri fading into history and the expected success of the main electric grid reform legislation, SB 3, later this week, it is a good time to take stock of what we have learned from the event and what changes we can expect for the Texas electricity market in the coming years.
Late last month, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released more conclusive data about the causes of the power plant outages during the storm. During the peak of the storm on February 15 and 16, the gas, coal, and nuclear generation fleets were producing 30 GW less than their maximum capacity.
Of that 30 GW, about 25% (7.5 GW) was due to long-term maintenance, 25% (7.5 GW) weather-related problems with gas power plants, 20% (6 GW) shortages of natural gas, 15% (4.5 GW) other equipment outages, and 15% (4.5 GW) various issues with coal and nuclear plants.
The media narrative surrounding the event has focused on the 12 GW of power plant outages related to the weather and the 6 GW caused by gas shortages. Following that narrative, the vast majority of SB 3 is focused on weatherization, gas supply, and coordination of our energy systems. These steps are all necessary, but they are all geared toward rare winter storms, not toward the summers, when demand will reach or exceed the levels seen during Uri every year from here on out.
The public debate around SB 3 almost completely overlooked the real systemic problem these blackouts brought to light: Even if all the weather-related problems had not occurred, the ERCOT grid would have still been short of electricity, at one point up to 10 GW short, for more than 24 hours during the storm. Even with average summertime levels of power plant outages, a comparably low instead of the 14 GW going into Uri, outages still would have been likely Monday night into Tuesday morning.
The bottom line is that Texas’ electricity demand is growing, but the supply of reliable thermal generation is not growing. ERCOT’s planning documents are showing an increasing reliance on wind and solar to meet peak demand growth over the next few years. We are replacing resources that consistently produce nearly all of their capacity with resources that vary up to 40 percent and not doing anything about this increasing unreliability. This situation is not sustainable.
SB 3 does contain some provisions that will give the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) latitude to start addressing this problem. Sections 13 and 17 require the commission to consider establishing more clear reliability standards and adjusting prices to incentivize more dispatchable generation. While these sections leave far too much to the discretion of the PUC, they do offer a clear directive for market reform, the only parts of SB 3 that do so.
Wind and solar advocates consistently claim that demand response and energy storage can manage the variability of those resources and that we do not need dispatchable generation. This is a fantasy borne of statistical models and academic studies, not real-world experience. Even most assessments in the academic literature have some disclaimer to the effect of “Batteries and demand flexibility do not substitute for firm resources.”
Demand response is an excellent tool on the margins, as industrial facilities can turn off quickly to adjust to sudden drops in electric supply, and residential and commercial consumers can adjust their thermostats to some degree. But there is an upper limit to the ability of consumers to shoulder the burden of unreliable electricity supply. Most consumers are not willing to turn off their air conditioning in 100-degree heat to match 20 or 30 percent swings in wind and solar output.
Energy storage can also help in small ways, shifting a small amount of energy from midday or late-night wind to morning or early evening when demand is highest. However, it is not the saving grace that it is often claimed to be. The scale needed for batteries to compete with baseload power plants is breathtaking and not something that can be solved by technology alone.
For Texas to rely on 100% wind and solar, the state would need at least a day worth of energy storage for the entire grid, and Winter Storm Uri would have required 3 to 4 days of storage. Just to reach a day of storage capacity would require building a battery the size of a small power plant (100 MW/400 MWh) every day between now and 2035, at a cost of roughly $100 billion per year. Building 10 to 20 of those systems annually, the expected rate over the next few years, won’t get Texas anywhere close.
The Texas Legislature and the PUC need to understand these physical realities and start dealing with them now. SB 3 is a start, but it is far from sufficient. The PUC needs to take strong action to manage the variability of wind and solar and to make those resources improve their reliability, rather than continuing to place the cost of that unreliability on consumers and putting the Texas grid at risk of more blackouts in the future.
Biden’s ‘Illusions Of Economic Magic’ Fail The Forgotten American
In a very different time — yet in similar economic straits — then-presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of the “forgotten man,” the American left behind by seismic trends and sweeping changes beyond his control.
“These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power,” FDR told Americans on April 7, 1932 in a radio address. He went on to call for policies “that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”
Those once-forgotten Americans are forgotten again today in President Joe Biden’s effort to “build back better.” Biden, as FDR might say, has turned to “the illusions of economic magic, ” expecting that “a huge expenditure of public funds … will completely solve the unemployment problem.”
Such illusions of economic magic hold that providing out-of-work Americans with excessive unemployment benefits won’t hold them back from finding jobs, that new “green” jobs in his climate plans will be created quickly and efficiently and in the exact regions they’re needed and that providing cash benefits for families will help get the economy back on track.
Through no fault of their own, millions of Americans have had their lives uprooted by government-imposed lockdowns and now sit perilously close to being sucked into a broken welfare system that does more to keep people in than help people out.
A team of economists at the Georgia Center for Opportunity have for the first time published a study that demonstrates how people receiving government assistance from multiple programs —such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, free school lunches and Medicaid — face a difficult benefits cliff if they were to find work. The study calculates “benefit cliffs” for families in 888 counties across eight states. For example, a working single mom with two children in Memphis, Tennessee, would astoundingly lose more than $8,000 in combined earnings and benefits if her pay were bumped up less than $2 to a $15 hourly wage.
Efforts to fix these government programs must be results-driven, transparent and fully accountable to the people they are supposed to serve. We can’t fall into the “shovel-ready jobs” trap of the Obama administration’s economic policies.
We must find more effective ways to retrain American workers for the future—with the active participation of the private sector and community organizations. We must also again measure the success of welfare programs by how many people are successfully transitioned into the workforce, rather than by how many remain on the programs.
We must also remember that people respond to incentives. Right now, with the economy reopened and businesses desperately searching for workers, the $300-per-week Unemployment Insurance “COVID-19 bonus” is a bigger drag on our economy than the pandemic itself. Some states are already choosing to end the bonus, and some are even experimenting with “signing bonuses” to get people back to work. All states should follow suit.
It’s with these goals in mind that our three policy institutions — the Pelican Institute in Louisiana, the Georgia Center for Opportunity, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation — have launched a joint Opportunity Project to create and compel institutional change to reduce poverty, and better provide people the support they need to define their own path to flourish.
This includes policy reforms that integrate and streamline workforce services, establish uniform work requirements, eliminate welfare cliffs, update how governments collect and use data, track the most useful metrics and remove post-incarceration barriers to jobs and housing.
We agree with president Biden that to provide the opportunity for dignity and prosperity to everyone is a big, complicated job worth undertaking. But we believe that empowering people to chart their own paths to flourishing through state and local institutional support is the answer, not cradle-to-college federal government programs.
FDR’s appeal to remember the forgotten man was successful because Americans have always been willing to attack poverty. We are, after all, a people whose greatness is rooted in our goodness. It’s past time, in this post-pandemic moment, to attack it with purpose — and results.
Kevin Roberts is the chief executive officer of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Daniel Erspamer is the chief executive officer of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. Randy Hicks president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Center for Opportunity.
ESG Materiality Mandates are Out of Scope for the SEC
Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria “are a set of standards for a company’s operations that socially conscious investors use to screen potential investments.” On Feb. 24, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s acting chairwoman, Allison Herren Lee expressed her support for mandating certain ESG standards “to ensure that (investors) have access to material information.”
The SEC was established in 1934 under the Securities Exchange Act to strengthen the federal government’s ability to ensure public companies report accurate and reliable information to investors. The United States’ Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) was established by the SEC to set accounting standards for public companies.
The SEC’s substantial power has led some to fear it will overregulate and hurt the financial markets through favoring certain industries based on political preferences. This fear will become a reality should the SEC pronounce subjective ESG information as being material to investors.
FASB’s foundational documents, known as Concept Statements, which guide the board in establishing financial reporting standards (i.e. Generally Accepted Accounting Standards (GAAP) asserts that there is an extremely limited basis (if any) for an authoritative body to impose materiality rules or standards as “materiality is entity specific…materiality judgments can properly be made only by those that understand the reporting entity’s pertinent facts and circumstances.” In other words, materiality must be determined by the companies themselves and their external auditors.
ESG is being weaponized by coastal elites to redefine the purpose of business and politicize more aspects of our lives. The consequence? Prices of goods and services will rise, affecting low income and historically disadvantaged groups, and companies will be less competitive in the global marketplace.
One argument being made in favor of ESG mandates is that because of the magnitude of the threat of climate change, ESG is material to investors and therefore within the scope of the SEC’s authority. This scaremongering has been going on for decades and climate scientists, while mostly united on the reality of climate change, disagree about the magnitude of its consequences.
Forward looking statements two years out, let alone 30 years, are impossible to support. Further, slight differences in variables affect the outputs of financial models significantly. Unless the SEC plans to force companies to adopt certain models, which there is no precedent for and the organization ill-equipped to do, they have no business deeming the current administration’s political priorities as material.
Proponents of ESG-based funds argue that ESG is material to investors as it increases profits by pointing out that equity funds that meet certain ESG criteria have outperformed non-ESG equity funds by 4.3% the first half of 2020. If this continues to prove true, then collective mandates are unnecessary as companies would implement ESG on their own in pursuit of profit.
Further advocates, such as Mrs. Lee say that investors are demanding ESG standards to justify more costly requirements. However, the investors already have a powerful tool, the proxy, to force corporations to report certain ESG measures. As the Heritage Foundation’s Senior Fellow in Economics David Burton, points out, “shareholders can but rarely do, vote to instruct management to pursue various social goals even if it reduces profits.”
Private solutions have already been developed to provide guidance on standards around ESG for those companies who find ESG metrics to be material to the future of their organization, such as the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board. ESG metrics should remain optional to ensure the market remains efficient and minimize over-disclosure.
ESG is being used as a power play by radicals to reshape America in their image and they want to use government to implement their agenda by force. In an attempt to achieve, in some cases, admirable goals, Democrats will destroy value and cede US hegemony to our rivals who do not share our values nor our goals for addressing issues like global warming and equality.
Therefore, the U.S. should not only not implement ESG mandates, but should work with our allies abroad to prevent similar requirements on global companies.
Crisis: Cities Can’t Keep or Recruit Police Officers
The movement to defund the police is succeeding in ways that its advocates could not have envisioned initially. Defunding has always really been about abolition, despite the unpopularity of that concept. And while defunding has not always resulted in laying off or firing police officers, the toxic environment it has created has made it hard to hire and keep good men and women in uniform.
Seattle Police Department lost 20% of its officers over the last year and a half, a staggering number. Combine these losses, seen around the country to a somewhat lesser degree, with a shortage of good applicants to replace the officers, along with rising crime rates, and we have a recipe for disaster.
Do we really need to ask why this is happening, why good men and women are retiring early, finding other jobs, or just outright quitting the profession? The reasons seem obvious, and indeed they are obvious to anyone who has ever worn a badge. But maybe they need to be clearly stated.
Policing is dangerous and is becoming increasingly more so. There are jobs where employees are more frequently killed, but none where the cause of death is murder. No other job, outside the military, exposes the employee to unlawful interpersonal human aggression as part of the working conditions. Yet this danger is not a reason why police officers would leave or why recruits would not apply. That part of policing is understood by everyone called to the profession; it is baked into their considerations and does not deter most of them from taking their oath. If it isn’t the danger that deters good people from this profession, then what could it be?
Imagine you apply for a job and are invited to an interview where you meet the head of the company and the greeting goes something like this: “We are happy you applied for this position that we really wish didn’t exist, and we will replace you with someone unqualified to do your job from another part of the company if we are able to, but welcome—for now. Keep in mind, we have lots of rules that we have made but following some of them will get you fired. If you make a mistake, or if you do the right thing but it is politically unpopular, we will publicly shame you, fire you, and charge you criminally before we even complete an investigation into the matter. Still want the job, racist?”
How many of us would stick around for that interview? The toxic environment swirling around the “defund the police” movement is the real reason that recruiting and retention is suffering. The political officials the police work for in many cities are often antagonistic, sometimes outright hostile, to their police departments. The media is giddy about fostering the perfect climate for more riots, willingly providing false narratives about police shootings to further their political agenda. Police officers are willing to risk their physical safety, even their own lives, in the protection of their communities. But they are much less willing to risk their families’ security or their own imprisonment to do so.
When Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot claimed it was “a badge of honor” to receive a vote of no confidence from her police department, what kind of message did that send? The condescension in her figurative “badge” is appalling. The real badges are earned through sweat and tears and pinned to the chests of officers after they swear an oath. They are found on the chests of officers on her personal protective detail, and the ones sent to guard her home during the worst of the rioting, and the ones who risk their lives to safeguard her city every day. Her “badge” is no more real than the emperor’s new clothes, and equally revealing.
It is politicians who make laws for the police to enforce, but it is the police who take the blame when enforcing their unpopular or inexplicable laws go horribly wrong. The police are pawns in a political game, and are sometimes sacrificed for political expediency after being tried in the court of public opinion.
This is what needs to change in order to keep the police we have and attract the best and brightest among us into the profession. We must recognize the historic nobility of the badge, its place in our civil society, and tamp down the unreasonable anti-police rhetoric at every level. Only this will change the environment we find ourselves in and allow police officers to do their part in reducing the crime rates that are skyrocketing across the country. There is other work to be done, but we need to start here.
Deficits Were Always Bad—The Responsible American Budget Addresses Excessive Spending
The very popular narrative is that Republicans only care about budget deficits and the spiraling national debt when Democrats are in charge. Writing in the Washington Post’s “The Fix” column, J.M. Rieger says that “Republican mea culpas on the national debt follow years of demands for spending cuts to reduce the debt.”
But I was there in the Trump White House, in the Office of Management and Budget. The truth is that the President’s FY 2021 federal budget proposed a record of $4.6 trillion in less national debt over a decade, made most of the Trump tax cuts permanent, and would have balanced the budget over time.
In my work since then at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, we have helped other states move toward our model of a Conservative Texas Budget, and now—working with the Republican Study Committee and many others—we’re doing the same for the gargantuan federal budget. The proposed path to bring fiscal sanity back to Washington, D.C. is the Responsible American Budget.
Here’s what we know: Irresponsible government spending damages the productive private sector through redistribution of resources, higher taxes, higher price inflation, and higher interest rates, reducing Americans’ real incomes, job opportunities, and prosperity.
At the state level, Texas has addressed this with the Conservative Texas Budget. Its main premise is that government shouldn’t grow any faster than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for it. To provide a bright line marking the limit, we use a proven, simple formula: population growth plus inflation.
This simple formula provides a view of the budget from the taxpayers’ perspective, which is essential given the government has no money but rather collects taxes from us to fund limited roles given to the federal government.
By combining the fact that Texas has an increase of about 1,000 new Texans per day and Texans’ wages are correlated with price inflation, more people and higher wages can support more government provisions, as necessary. This doesn’t mean that government must grow by this simple formula but rather this is the maximum growth each year to avoid further burdening Texans.
As Milton Friedman noted, “the true burden of government is not how much it taxes, but by how much it spends.” Any growth in government spending that exceeds our simple formula represents the kind of growth that means a heavier burden on taxpayers.
That kind of expansion is bad for working families, who pay a larger portion of their income in state and local taxes. In Texas, we have successfully kept the state’s budget below the CTB limits, on average, for the last three legislative sessions, and look to do so again during the current session.
While there have been several attempts to reduce the excessive growth of federal spending in the U.S., these attempts have had limited success, if any, as indicated by the $28 trillion—and quickly rising—national debt and its $350 billion—and skyrocketing—interest payments.
And despite the attempts by the Trump administration to rein in excessive government spending, Congress wasn’t interested and ran up massive spending that led to annual deficits. And then any movement toward reducing it was negated by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing fiscal profligacy. It led to appropriations outside of the normal federal budget process of at least $6 trillion over a decade during the Trump and Biden administrations. While some of these appropriations may have been necessary, it clearly made the fiscal path substantially worse.
In addition, the Biden administration has proposed the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan that would increase spending by more than $4 trillion over a decade, bringing this administration’s passed or proposed spending to $6 trillion in just the first 100 days.
Clearly, it’s time for fiscal sanity.
Based on the fiscal problems facing the U.S., the federal government needs an annual budget benchmark. We offer such a benchmark in the form of the Responsible American Budget (RAB). The RAB provides a maximum threshold to freeze real (inflation-adjusted) per capita spending, which is simply a limit based on population growth plus inflation.
What would this look like? According to our calculations, a RAB for fiscal year 2022 would be no higher than $4.88 trillion, representing a 1.37% increase over FY 2021, excluding the extraordinary pandemic-related expenditures to not inappropriately inflate the baseline budget to allow for excessive spending later.
The costly effects of these fiscal and subsequent monetary policy excesses challenge Americans’ opportunities to improve their communities’ as well as their future by owning a business, having the dignity of work, saving for a rainy day, and donating to institutions throughout civil society.
The RAB’s spending restraint and its fiscal benefits would allow for a more inclusive institutional framework that supports more freedom for people to choose their destiny and more opportunities to flourish.
The Responsible American Budget: Bringing Fiscal Sanity to the Federal Budget
Vance Ginn, PhD, is the chief economist at the Foundation. Ginn works to unlock poverty through relational, inclusive changes in institutions that expand opportunities to let people prosper. He is a prolific writer and a leading free market economist.
Irresponsible government spending damages the productive private sector through redistribution of resources, higher taxes, higher price inflation, and higher interest rates, reducing Americans’ real incomes, job opportunities, and prosperity. While there have been multiple attempts to reduce the excessive growth of federal spending in the U.S., these attempts have had limited success, if any, as noted by the $28 trillion—and quickly rising—national debt and its $350 billion—and skyrocketing—interest payments. There is debate about whether deficits matter, and these days many from across the political spectrum suggest that they do not; they are partially correct. The part of fiscal policy that matters to our daily lives is government spending, which is the fundamental source of higher taxes, more regulations, higher debt, and more crowding out of the productive private sector. Given these challenges, the time is now to address excessive government spending, and we need to promote sound fiscal rules that make the budget tangible for Americans to understand and to hold elected officials accountable for excessive spending.
HB 1032: Paid Apprenticeships for High School Students
Richard A. Johnson, Ed.D., is the director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Booker T. Washington Initiative, which examines the effects of public policy on African-American communities.
As Texas recovers from the COVID-19 economic and health consequences, it is imperative that all students have access to career and technical education that will prepare them for high-wage, high-demand occupations that exist now and that are emerging.
HB 1032 addresses the need for students of all economic backgrounds to have access to paid internships, apprenticeships, and other work-based learning experiences.
Testimony in Support of HB 1032 Submitted to the Texas Senate Education Committee
Texas Bill To Ban Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying Faces Fierce Fight
A few years back, Gallup polled Americans on which social entities they thought had too much power. Lobbyists came out on top with 71 percent, beating big business, banks, the federal government, and even labor unions.
Gallup has also over the years asked Americans which professions they trust most. Nurses and military officers usually come out on top. At the bottom of the public’s list for having the lowest levels of honesty and ethical standards are: members of Congress (11 percent), car salespeople (10 percent), and lobbyists (8 percent).
Despite the public seeing lobbyists as unethical swamp dwellers with too much power, they still wield considerable influence in the halls of Congress and the 50 state legislatures. Texas, unfortunately, is no exception.
Let The People Vote
In response to overwhelming voter anger with rapidly increasing local property taxes in Texas, lawmakers proposed giving the public the right to vote to approve or deny the hikes if they exceeded a certain amount. The property tax revenue trigger bill that eventually passed was Senate Bill 2 by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican.
At the first hearing for the bill, Bettencourt and other members noted that of the 30 people who testified in person against the bill, all were either lobbyists—many of whom were paid to be there with taxpayer funds—or government employees. Unsurprisingly, not one witness in opposition was an average Texan seeking to have his property taxes increase without limit.
Recalling the effort to reform limit property tax increases in Texas, Bettencourt said, “It took three regular sessions of the Texas legislature to pass property tax relief in the face of entrenched taxpayer-funded lobbying. I know we had finally won the fight when at the last hearing on SB 2, no regular citizen testified against the property tax relief bill, only elected officials—and paid lobbyists!”
Taxpayers Paying Lobbyists to Fight Taxpayers
The fight for SB 2 sparked a growing concern among lawmakers over taxpayer dollars being used to hire lobbyists who worked to increase local governments’ ability to tax and regulate more. This fueled the passage of Senate Bill 65 that same year. SB 65, by state Sen. Jane Nelson, required local governments to post the contracts they award for lobbying services.
But more consequential bills in the Texas Senate and House by Sen. Bob Hall and Rep. Mayes Middleton, respectively, that sought to ban taxpayer funds from being used to hire lobbyists failed. Lobbyists played a prominent role in the bills’ defeat.
Lobbying is big business nationwide. In 2006, a comprehensive study found 40,000 lobbyists across America, five lobbyists for every lawmaker.
In 2017, I spent several days reviewing 8,800 lobbyist filings for the state of Texas. I found that as much as $376.6 million was spent to influence state policymakers that year, of which up to $41 million was spent by local governments to influence state lawmakers and executive branch officials.
Much of this effort was aimed at influencing how the Texas budget would be spent. For perspective, about $3 was spent in lobbying for every $1,000 of state expenditures.
Lobbying has a direct link to our form of representative democracy and the Constitution’s First Amendment with its right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances. While lobbyists have a general constitutional right to lobby, the courts have found that some restrictions on lobbyists’ activities are legal. For instance, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that, “Any payment made by a lobbyist to a public official, whether a campaign contribution or simply a gift, calls into question the propriety of the relationship.”
In both Alaska and California, the state supreme courts upheld restrictions on lobbyists’ ability to contribute money to lawmakers’ campaigns. The Alaskan jurists noted that lobbyists have a “special role in the legislative system” combined with a powerful incentive to contribute to large numbers of lawmakers “in position to introduce or thwart legislation and to vote in committees or on the floor on matters of professional interest to the lobbyist … creates a very real perception of influence-buying.” This, the court observed, can “create special risks of actual or apparent corruption.”
Lawmakers Gut Bill to End Taxpayer-Paid Lobbying
Lobbyists’ “special role in the legislative system” was clearly evident in the Texas Capitol on May 14 when SB 10, one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priority bills, was heard in the Texas House Committee on State Affairs. When the bill arrived in the House from the Senate on April 15, it prevented cities or counties from using taxpayer dollars to “directly or indirectly influence or attempt to influence the outcome of any legislation pending before the legislature.” The bill exempted government employees and local elected officials.
But, in an astounding turn of events, SB 10 was gutted and replaced with language that exempted lobbyists who are lawyers from any restrictions on lobbying, and freed them from Texas’s requirements to report their lobbying activities. The rationale given was that such work was confidential under attorney-client privilege.
The amended bill also repealed Section 2254.030 of the Government Code. This section, enacted in 2019 by SB 65, caused great consternation among many of Texas’s thousands of political subdivisions—so much so that many simply refused to comply with the new law. As a result, Middleton sent out two rounds of 3,000 letters to school districts, cities, and counties asking them to disclose how much they spent to lobby.
Should SB 10 ultimately pass the Texas House in close to its original form, Texas will be one of the few states with meaningful restrictions on the use of public funds to lobby, a reform supported by 86 percent of registered Texan voters.
Lawmakers Don’t Want to Cut Themselves Off
A final note about how an issue as popular with the voting public as preventing their hard-earned tax dollars from being used to lobby against their interests could nonetheless be blocked in one of the nation’s more conservative legislative bodies. Texas lobbyists pull in hundreds of millions of dollars a cycle from businesses, associations, and local governments. Many lobbyists then tithe generously, churning a portion of their fees back to lawmakers’ campaigns.
This cash influence can be both large and consequential. For instance, a review of Texas Ethics Commission reports showed that one of Texas’s more focused recipients of tax dollars to lobby on behalf of local governments received some $800,000 over the past few years. Over the same time, this entity contributed about $80,000 to lawmakers’ campaigns—in effect, an unintended form of public financing of campaigns.
On the receiving end of lobbyists’ donations, it’s not uncommon for longtime incumbents to rely more and more on lobbyist donations as well as the corporate and special interest donations they control or advise—and less and less on donations from constituents in their own districts. Some members’ financial reports show that from 80 percent to as high as 95 percent of the dollars they raised to get reelected came not from their districts, but from lobbyists and special interests.
Texas might yet see consequential reform limiting local government from using tax dollars to pay for lobbyists—but the victory won’t be easy.
HB 572: Diplomas and Criminal Justice
Erin Davis Valdez is a policy analyst for Next Generation Texas, an initiative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
The relationship between a high school education and involvement in the criminal justice system is well-established. HB 572 specifically encompasses student populations, such as dropouts, that are likely to interact with the criminal justice system. According to recent data provided to TPPF by TDCJ, about 40% of those entering the criminal justice system had a verified high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate. This is in contrast with about 83% of all Texans over the age of 25 who have diplomas or HSEs.
The intent of this bill is very simple: provide a pilot program that gives at-risk students the opportunity to earn a high school diploma through a framework that supports them in their unique circumstances, while maintaining a rigorous framework of learning.
Testimony Before the Texas Senate Education Committee
Colonial Pipeline Shutdown Shows How Much We Need Fossil Fuels
President Joe Biden was quick to take credit for reopening the Colonial Pipeline (before a technical glitch brought it down again) and helping drivers fighting gas shortages — an ironic move considering the war he is waging on fossil fuels.
Biden tweeted that it was thanks to the “extraordinary measures [his] administration has taken” that over 5 million vehicles were able to fuel up. The federal government relaxed rules for pipeline operators which provided some flexibility for personnel to help manually get sections of the pipeline reoperating. There were emergency orders put in place which allowed states to lift their weight restrictions for truck drivers in order for them to deliver more fuel in the region. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a 20-day waiver of federal standards in some eastern states to allow fuel suppliers to have more flexibility to use limited available fuel where necessary.
But when you break it down, roughly 11 states were affected by the pipeline shutdown. North Carolina saw the worst of it with 65% of its gas stations out of service. As of 2016, North Carolina was estimated to have roughly 7 million drivers on the road. When you account for the other ten states affected, 5 million vehicles doesn’t amount to much.
The Biden administration’s victory lap as shortages subside is hypocritical considering the president’s well-documented stance on fossil fuels: “We are going to get rid of fossil fuels.” “We’re going to phase out fossil fuels.” “I would transition away from the oil industry, yes.”
One of his first moves as president was to end the construction of the Keystone Pipeline, which abruptly ended an estimated 11,000 jobs. The pipeline would have boosted economic growth, adding more than $3 billion towards U.S. GDP. Not to forget, the pipeline would have been a great stride towards American energy independence, delivering safe, secure crude oil. Aiming at long-term operation and security, the Keystone Pipeline took advanced measures to be environmentally friendly, not only meeting, but exceeding federal regulations. Now, in his latest tweet, President Biden is proud to have delivered fuel to millions of vehicles, and he wants you to know it.
Biden’s plan is to achieve zero CO2 emissions in the U.S. by 2050. To do so, he proposed an estimated $1 trillion investment by ending all government support for oil, gas and coal corporations and allocating that money instead to other climate initiatives. This is ironic because over time, the government has subsidized unreliable energy sources, like wind and solar, significantly more than fossil fuels.
Transportation is the largest energy consuming sector, over 91% accounting for the use of petroleum, while renewables only account for 5%. This aggressive climate action plan includes phasing out gasoline-powered vehicles. In order to reach zero emissions by 2050, Biden has been advised that all new car sales should be zero-emission vehicles by 2035. Private companies, including Uber and Lyft, have already begun their process of phasing out the use of gas-powered vehicles and shifting towards only using electric vehicles, a move that will put more Americans out of work.
The ramifications of anti-fossil fuel policies go far beyond our personal vehicles. Different lifestyles and industries require different vehicles. Farmers, ranchers, and other laborious jobs require trucks and trailers. So what happens to Farmer John when he’s told he has to trade in his natural gas dually? He’s told to go to Tesla and take a look at the new Cybertruck. Semi-trucks, which deliver goods all over the country, will also be phased out. Trucking companies will be directed to electric options like the Tesla Semi, which has a price tag of an estimated $!00,000 on the battery alone. While the government insists that the switch to electric vehicles will be “cheap,” rising inflation and the current car scarcity suggests otherwise.
It is impractical to believe that phasing out gas-powered vehicles will save the human race. Besides the fact that coal powers electric charging stations, electric cars are not zero emission vehicles; on average they produce more than eight metric tons of CO2 in manufacturing and production, plus an additional two metric tons of CO2 per year based on the energy mix used for electric generation. Even if electric cars were as climate-friendly as advocates claim, the science doesn’t support their reputation as a cure-all for climate change. Even eliminating all fossil fuel consumption nationwide would barely shift global temperatures.
The manufacturing of lithium batteries also comes with environmental and human rights concerns, including child slavery, massive water usage, pollution, and more. China is currently the world leader in battery production, as it is in solar panel production. China has been accused of using enslaved Uighur Muslims for its rapid production of these products.
The U.S. will not be the first country to attempt zero emissions, but we will just be another country to try and fail. Solar and wind powered energy may sound intriguing, but they will never be reliable. Perhaps the Colonial Pipeline shutdown will show fossil fuel foes just how important a role fossil fuels play in our everyday lives, and why phasing them out will be costly and impractical.
So today you can thank President Biden for delivering fuel for your vehicle. Soon you can thank him when you can no longer use it.
Ignoring the Crisis at the Southern Border
Americans can sigh a sigh of relief. Our Border Czar, Vice President Kamala Harris, finally visited the border and spoke of protecting the men and women and the dignity of work, even calling for “much work that needs to be done in support of Milwaukee,” Sadly, it was the wrong border.
We applaud the Vice President on her emphasis of people “finding hope at home,” in other words, finding reasons not to migrate to the U.S. We also commend her for speaking extensively on corruption and how it greatly factors into a person’s decision to flee their home country.
However, she was appointed to oversee border issues by President Biden on March 24, making nearly two months that she has had the chance to — but chosen not to — travel to the southern border and see firsthand the disaster brought about by her and President Joe Biden’s administration. When she finally commented on the southern border crisis, she ludicrously claimed that the root cause of this surge of illegal immigration is a “lack of climate adaptation” and “climate change resilience.” This is an insult to Americans — and to the thousands of people who are being trafficked into the U.S. every day.
Pointing fingers at the false narrative of a climate crisis in order to avoid facing the truth of the ongoing border crisis is a disingenuous move that abandons the American people’s fundamental rights.
Harris has chosen to focus on migration from the Northern Triangle (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala), neglecting the fact that large numbers of migrants that Homeland Security encounter at the Mexican border are from not just South and Central America, but also Somalia, the Congo, the Middle East, Russia and China.
There’s no climate crisis in Central America. In fact, major crop production has risen since 2000 in all three countries in the Northern Triangle. El Salvador has seen an increase in the production of corn, beans and sugarcane. Guatemala has seen more consistent production of coffee, bananas, palm oil, sugar, corn, rice and beans. And Honduras has increased its production of palm oil, melons, coffee, and bananas.
The climate did not suddenly change; what changed is U.S. policy. People were suddenly invited. Weak laws and open borders are the root cause. There is poverty and oppression, but far too many of these border crossings are simply migrants taking advantage of the federal government’s negligence — at the American people’s expense.
The Biden Administration’s leniency on border security has enhanced the drug cartel business and human traffickers. According to Border Patrol research, cartels now make more than $24 million per week in human trafficking just in one 200-mile stretch of the border in southwest Texas. Thousands of children are being sent on a long, dangerous journey on coyotes’ false promise that they will be cared for and delivered safely. Instead, many are not fed, not given water and forced to sleep piled on top of each other in tight spaces. And many are sexually assaulted. The U.S. is facing record numbers of unaccompanied minors being processed by Border Patrol.
In San Antonio, the Freeman Coliseum has been converted to house over 2,000 unaccompanied migrants while they are processed. Minors are meant to stay here at these facilities while representatives attempt to find them any relatives in the U.S. or find safe foster homes they can remain in until a more permanent solution is found. Recently, reports have surfaced that minors are being released to human traffickers to pay their debts for their illegal entry into the country. Volunteers and the Department of Health and Human Services are unable to keep track of who is going where, leaving these minors vulnerable to human traffickers and sex offenders.
Meanwhile, the foster care system in this country is barely able to handle our own cases.
At a town hall in Comstock, Texas, local resident Susan Goble asked, “What about our lives, our liberty, our pursuit of happiness? What about that? It seems like it’s always all about everybody else, but what about when our lives are in danger? We’re American citizens. I thought the government was about the security of the American people. We’re hard-working people paying our taxes, and what are we getting from it? We can’t even enjoy our place anymore. We have to carry guns now and be in fear of our lives. That’s what I’m frustrated with. I feel helpless.”
It is the federal government’s responsibility to stop the flow of illegal drugs, human trafficking, and unlawful immigration. Vice President Harris should visit the southern border and see first-hand how Border Patrol agents process thousands of people every day. She should listen to the local communities, talk to the migrants, and then secure the border. This would show the American people that our rights — and this humanitarian crisis — are her priorities.
Eliminating Accelerated Math Courses Doesn’t Add Up
Texas is falling behind other states in mathematics education and is on the verge of making a decision that would irrevocably harm students for generations.
Nationally, there’s a movement to remove all accelerated courses from kindergarten through tenth grade in the name of “equity.” The Virginia Department of Education recently announced these intentions, which in practice would dump all students in each respective grade into a singular level of math—regardless of natural talent and hard work. Students would be required to spend the prescribed amount of time on every single course objective despite actual understanding. Teachers, parents, students and even a member of the Trump administration have come out against Virginia’s plan to weaken the state’s math education.
Removing accelerated courses cuts both ways. Students who require additional time to obtain sufficient understanding will be left behind without true comprehension in their math courses. Tutors will be necessary for these slower-paced students in order to keep up with their peers, but all students do not necessarily have access to tutoring resources or parents with an education attainment level conducive to aiding their children.
Problems also arise for high-achieving and naturally gifted students—if these students are forced to spend additional time on topics that were quickly understood days if not weeks prior, boredom likely will set in. Boredom has been linked to high levels of cortisol, the stress-causing component of the brain, and atrophy of nerves linked to spatial reasoning, verbal skills, and memory.
It would be a tragedy for Texas to give up on its math curriculum and in turn its students through removing accelerated courses. We should want the best for the next generation of Texas and a deteriorating math education is not favorable for success.
There are 28 states with better math curriculums than Texas, as well as eight other countries. These countries remain some of our nation’s largest global competitors in innovation, production, and entrepreneurship. This puts Texas students at a disadvantage when they enter the global marketplace and begin careers (whether immediately out of high school, through enlistment, or after completing higher education). Education is supposed to prepare the next generation of Texans, not release students into the world unprepared and struggling to keep up.
For now, accelerated math programs are the only pathway for graduates of Texas public schools to reach even the bare minimum standards of many other states. Texas’s top students are graduating with the math equivalency of the lowest math students from the majority of other states, and if Texas moves to eliminate all accelerated courses like Virginia, none of Texas’s students will be competitive in math or STEM in general.
At the end of the day, the issue of accelerated courses is rooted in the debate of greater schooling options and parental empowerment. The Texas Public Policy Foundation has always been a supporter of creating more educational opportunities for students. All students do not learn in the same way and therefore should not be thrown into the same courses—students and their families should have a choice in what and how they learn.
Gone with the Wind: Unsightly Turbines Installed at Taxpayer Expense
I grew up in a small, central Texas county that non-locals often knew for one of three reasons: its local BBQ joint, 7,500-acre lake, or its expanse of pristine land home to an abundance of native wildlife.
But, I see my home attempting to become known for another reason – renewable energy subsidies.
Wind turbines that used to be secluded in west Texas are becoming more and more prevalent in the heart of Texas. It seems as if every time I return home, a new wind farm has moved into a neighboring county.
Recently, my husband and I were driving to my family farm. This drive is typically picture-perfect Texas. It is wildflower season, and the grass was bright green and lush following a week of rain.
Then we passed a wind farm that wasn’t there the last time we made the drive. The towering turbines felt out of place among the landscape that had been relatively untouched by man. Later that night, I found the typically ink-black night sky littered with the turbines’ flashing red dots.
While I will grumble to my family about the visual pollution of the turbines, I can also appreciate that a private business can make private dealings with private landowners. However, the buck stops with me when that company starts asking for a tax abatement. The local officials should not help these companies put a black mark on our beloved home.
The Texas Tax Code allows tax abatements to corporations through its Chapter 312 (for cities, counties, and special districts) and Chapter 313 (for school districts). These forms of corporate welfare are sold to residents as spurring economic growth and job creation. The companies will allude that they’ll take their business elsewhere if they don’t receive an abatement.
But the evidence shows that these incentives are ineffective and can even be economically harmful. Taxpayers have to foot the bill to cover the tax revenue loss from abatements across the state. The Texas Comptroller estimates these revenue losses from Chapter 313 alone are likely to exceed $1 billion in 2023. Not to mention that corporate welfare picks winners and losers and distorts the market.
Then there’s the promise of job creation. For Chapter 313, a company must make at least 10 jobs in a rural area. However, waivers to eliminate the requirement are all too common. Chapter 312 doesn’t even require a promise of job creation. In 2013, the Texas Comptroller found that taxpayers spent $341,363 for every Chapter 313 created job.
As far as the companies relocating, the Texas Observer reviewed more than 360 abatement agreements and found that many companies had settled on where to build before even applying. A University of Texas professor found that 85 to 90% of Chapter 313 projects would have continued forward without the abatement.
My home county’s residents have battled to stop abatements over the last decade. A few school districts have accepted agreements, but the county hasn’t taken the bait to date. But county commissioners are under immense pressure. A recent abatement vote narrowly failed 3 to 2.
I’m fortunate to have grown up where I did. I hope that generations to come can experience the same Texas backyard that I grew up in, but it’s going to take a fight to keep it that way. We should hold our locally- and state-elected official’s feet to the fire on corporate welfare. I don’t want any part of my tax dollars being used to enrich their bottom lines.
For now, chapter 312 was extended by the 86th Legislature until 2029. But Chapter 313 is up for renewal with this 87th Legislature. The legislature should let it expire or, at the very least, rein it in. We should require 30-day public notices that contain information on the agreements, repeal the job requirement waivers, and remove projects from eligibility whose societal costs exceed their benefits.
My hometown’s slogan is “Feels like home.” But if we allow these tax abatements to continue, I have to wonder, for how long?
Expand Second Chances to Energize the Texas Workforce
The line from the classic American songbook “nice work if you can get it and you can get it if you try” has never been truer. As this nation emerges from the pandemic and states pare back COVID-19 restrictions, there are now a record 8.1 million jobs waiting to be filled. However, old criminal records too often keep workers on the sidelines. By acting on pending record-clearing legislation, state lawmakers can enable more Texans to find employment and address the unmet workforce needs of our fast-growing state.
Though the exact number is unclear, as many as 70 million American adults have a record of arrest or conviction. In some cases, a misdemeanor that occurred at the age of 18 can become a lifelong scarlet letter, causing a person to be unemployed or underemployed decades later. Given that the government creates criminal records and that research indicates that nearly all recidivism occurs within the first few years of sentencing or release from prison, there is a public interest in giving those who have proven themselves over time a fresh start by removing this roadblock to success.
Fortunately, Texas lawmakers have recently recognized this imperative when it comes to those convicted of a single nonviolent misdemeanor such as marijuana possession. Legislation adopted in 2015 and expanded in 2017 enables individuals in such cases to seal their record after two years in the community with no new offense. However, few people take advantage of such opportunities for relief, likely because they are unaware or due to the requirement to file documentation and pay a fee.
Several pending bills that are advancing through the Texas House but await action in the Senate would enhance access to record sealing, including HB 3601 by Rep. Jeff Leach which would leverage modern technology to automate the process for those already entitled to seal a single nonviolent misdemeanor.
Notably, record sealing, known formally as nondisclosure in Texas, does not detract from public safety, as prosecutors and law enforcement can still see the sealed records and use them to inform decisions in any future cases. In fact, given the evidence that gainful employment reduces recidivism, expanding access to the sealing of records can be expected to reduce crime.
Additionally, on the heels of pent-up demand following lockdowns and runaway federal spending, recent economic reports have highlighted the specter of spiraling inflation. This effectively amounts to too much money chasing too limited a supply of goods and services. Streamlining record clearing policies is part of the antidote since expanded private sector workforce participation is critical to generating more goods and services. In fact, empirical research has found that record clearing increases employment rates of individuals by up to 10% and earnings during the first three years by one-third.
Automatic record clearing policies are gaining traction across the country. In the last few years, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Utah have adopted “clean slate” legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support. Public support is also robust, with some 71% of Americans backing “clean slate” policies, including 62% of Republicans.
Automating the sealing process for those with a single old nonviolent misdemeanor, who are therefore already entitled to sealing upon request, is not the only priority. In addition, provisions in HB 1394 by Rep. James White would remove the exclusion of those with more than one nonviolent misdemeanor, while still ensuring they have proven themselves over at least two years of living in the community without a new offense.
Gov. Greg Abbott is right to focus on getting Texans “in the paycheck line where they can earn that paycheck to pay their bills and put food on their table.” Texas policymakers must seize this opportunity to clear out the cobwebs of old misdemeanor records and put more of our fellow citizens on the path to prosperity.
Senate Bill 2005: Fast Track to Employment
Erin Davis Valdez is a policy analyst with Right on Work at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
As the trickle of businesses relocating to Texas becomes a flood, it is vitally important for policymakers to consider how to make hiring the existing Texas workforce more attractive to employers than importing workers, who may not share Texas values, from other states. Texans still suffering COVID-related unemployment in the hard-hit service sector could benefit from reskilling to fill specialized roles in IT, manufacturing, construction, and healthcare.
In addition, after the significant damages recently caused by Winter Storm Uri, the shortage of skilled tradespeople—such as plumbers—has become an urgent matter of public policy.
In order for Texas to live up to its reputation as a business-friendly state, as well as to protect its liberties and prosperity in the long term, employers need to be able to develop the talents of Texans within their communities quickly and effectively.
Testimony in Support of SB 2005 Submitted to the Texas Senate Committee on Higher Education
Building a Workforce for the Future of Texas
We’re seeing a lot of California plates in and around Austin these days. It’s not just individuals from the West Coast pulling up stakes and moving here; businesses are also fleeing states with high taxes and unfavorable regulatory environments to the Lone Star State.
To meet growing demands, our workforce must grow, as well. A recently approved bill in the Texas Legislature could help make this possible.
Texans are still enduring the effects of the COVID-19 shutdown, especially workers in the hospitality and leisure industry, where employment is down about 10% compared to March 2020. Another notable industry with lagging unemployment numbers is mining and logging, which in Texas includes the oil and gas industry.
Another economic challenge Texas faces, and that Winter Storm Uri highlighted, is the large (and growing) deficit of skilled tradespeople—such as plumbers. According to the Texas Tribune (February 26, 2021), “A shortage of skilled trade workers — plumbers, electricians and the like — has been growing in the state for the past decade, and that is exacerbating problems for those seeking help with broken pipes and damaged water heaters.”
One solution that can help both employers that need skilled workers and Texans seeking higher wage occupations is employer-driven workforce education. A striking example of what is possible comes from the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME) apprenticeship model. According to a recent Brookings Institution and Opportunity America report, five years post-graduation, FAME students’ median earnings were $96,098, compared with non-FAME graduates’ median earnings of $36,437.
The great news is that Texas has the opportunity this legislative session to allow employers to innovate with their own robust workforce training models. On Friday, the Texas House voted unanimously for HB 4361, a bill authored by state Rep. John Raney in the House and by Sen. Paul Bettencourt in the Senate (SB 2005).
How would HB 4361/SB 2005 help fill the demand for skilled workers? Very simply, it would allow employers need to partner quickly and effectively with public higher education institutions to develop the talents of Texans. Employers would be able to issue a request for proposal to any higher education institution, community college, or public technical college to offer off-campus workforce education if the institution in the service district area where the employer is located does not formalize an agreement meeting the employer or consortium of employers’ specifications and time frame within a period of six weeks of the employer’s initial contact with the institution. This bill has the support of the Texas Manufacturers Association, the Texas Builders Association, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, and several other business groups.
For Texas to protect its liberties and prosperity in the long term, as well as live up to its reputation as a business-friendly state, lawmakers can and should support SB 2005/HB 4361. It is an important step toward improving the economic opportunities for all Texans, addressing the need for the state to have a skilled workforce, and providing an attractive policy environment for current and future employers.
An End to the Lockdowns
Texas has lifted a majority of COVID-19 restrictions. Businesses are open. Kids are in school. And people who want the vaccine are able to get it.
Despite these advancements and the continuing decrease in new COVID-19 cases, some local officials in Texas have continued to demand that people stay home. For example, until yesterday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo still had the threat alert of COVID-19 at Level 1: Severe, which calls for people to stay home. After multiple call outs to lower the threat level, it seems as though “lockdown Lina” finally listened as she lowered Harris County to Threat Level 2.
The governor’s most recent COVID-19 protocols allows for increased capacity and further openings in trauma areas that are under 15% of COVID-19 hospitalizations. As of Sunday, Houston was only at 4.7%. In fact, every trauma service area in Texas remained under 5% in COVID-19 hospitalizations, except for one around 8%. Even further, the statewide percentage is at 3.4%.
Harris County isn’t the only one either. Hidalgo County remains at threat level 1, despite their COVID-19 hospitalizations remaining below the threshold at 5.8%. With the statewide restrictions light or completely lifted and the COVID-19 cases down, local officials should not be using fear to keep people in line. Nor should they be using criminal penalties to force compliance.
Unfortunately, both of these trends have been quite apparent over the last 13 months. Texans should not be threatened into compliance by their local officials. Texans should not face criminal penalties for not wearing a face mask or doing their jobs.
Senate Bill 1616, authored by Senator Bettencourt, would ensure that local officials cannot continue these trends. The past 13 months have been difficult and we’ve learned a lot. One thing we’ve learned is that using fear and threatening jail are not how to ensure the safety of Texans.
Bidenomics: A Lesson in Intentions vs. Results
The economic policies of the Biden administration—Bidenomics—is conspicuously marked by lofty rhetoric, grand promises, and the best of intentions. It espouses helping the poorest among us, along with amorphous but attractive values like “fairness.” But the results of these policies do not live up to their intentions. Here are just a few examples.
The American Relief Plan does not provide relief for Americans. Instead, it threatens states’ sovereignty and prevents Americans from receiving tax relief.
The American Jobs Plan does not create jobs, but green-energy flimflams. It stifles real job creation through perverse incentives and burdensome regulations. The expansion of unemployment payments is contributing to 6 million fewer jobs, because many people are making more on unemployment than they did while working.
The American Family Plan does not strengthen families, but government dependency. It weakens families by making people reliant on federal programs instead of each other. It also provides health care subsidies without accounting for income, meaning that the very wealthy can receive taxpayer-subsidized health insurance.
The idea of fairness has taken a conspicuous role in the current administration’s agenda, yet its proposed tax changes will result in lower wages, fewer jobs, and less savings, burdens which will fall disproportionately on low-income households.
Inside this Trojan Horse of fairness, Bidenomics seeks higher marginal tax rates on wages, dividends, and corporate income, along with higher death taxes, taxes on unrealized capital gains, taxes on retirement savings, and more.
Infrastructure is a key pillar of Bidenomics, but not the infrastructure you’re probably thinking of. The administration’s proposal allocates only a few percent of its infrastructure dollars to roads, bridges, electrical grids, water and sewer mains, etc. It pours money into green-energy boondoggles, and even seeks to bulldoze highways in perfect condition if they are too close to minority neighborhoods, among other outlandish plans.
To pay for record-breaking spending, Bidenomics relies on funding from the federal reserve, a surefire way to produce inflation. Nothing in this life is free, and we are witnessing those trillions of dollars in government spending fuel rising prices. Inflation is decreasing real wages, particularly among low- and moderate-income households. The very people whom these policies are supposed to help are instead being undermined economically.
If these policies worked only half as well as the names of the bills imply, economic growth would be breaking records, and no one would remain in poverty. Instead, these policies are holding back the recovery like a choke collar, and welfare rolls are swelling. Real private GDP is still about $200 billion below Q4-2019 levels, despite pouring previously unimagined quantities of money into the economy.
We should not be surprised by these results; the policies of Bidenomics—higher marginal tax rates, more government spending and regulation, excessive money creation—have been tried before and found wanting. Nevertheless, many so-called experts continue to push this agenda.
The experts were expecting almost a million jobs in the last jobs report, but we saw only a quarter of that. The experts were expecting 3.6% inflation, but we saw 4.2%. The experts were expecting Keynesianism to revive the economy, but we are seeing the economy sputter. When it comes to Bidenomics, the experts seem to be always wrong but never in doubt.
An activist in economist’s clothing favorably characterized Bidenomics as “heads down, block out the noise, deliver timely help to the American people.” They have their “heads down” alright—like an ostrich with its head in the sand, oblivious to empirical evidence all around. And what is characterized as “noise” is not irrelevant distraction, but the practical feedback that should inform policy decisions. Lastly, the “timely help” is late to the game, with funds allocated in March not actually being spent or sent out to Americans until July.
It is reminiscent of the funding for “shovel-ready jobs” described in the 2009 rescue packages. Even former President Obama admitted that the funds he authorized took years to be spent, arriving far too late to achieve their stated objective.
While some economic policies, good and bad, take years to bear fruit, we are seeing the effects of Bidenomics sooner rather than later. Those effects do not at all match the goals and intentions of the policies, so we must judge according to effects, not the intentions. As the aphorism says, you shall know a tree by its fruit.
To learn more about Bidenomics, click here.
Hypocrisy: Responses to the Deaths of Ashli Babbitt and Brian Sicknick
Discussion has been remarkably limited since the shooting of Ashli Babbitt by a United States Capitol police officer during the Jan. 6 riot in Washington D.C. An unarmed woman was shot and killed by police during the riot, something not seen in the any of the previous eight months of rioting throughout the country. And yet, there have been no protests on her behalf, no cities burned to the ground, no demonizing of the officer that shot her by political officials. On the contrary, rabidly anti-police leftist politicians have hailed the Capitol Police as heroic during the riot.
To be clear, we know very little about the events of that day. We knew almost nothing about the death of U.S. Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick until last month because almost nothing has been officially released, but were assured for almost a year that he had been murdered by the rioters. As with most leftist narratives about the police, this was not true. Ofc. Sicknick died of natural causes two days after the riots. This does not make him less of a hero, but it doesn’t quite fit the left’s narrative either, so we won’t hear much more about it.
The same is true of the shooting of Ashli Babbitt. We have very few facts on what occurred but we know that the officer will not be indicted in that shooting, so the investigation must have shown that the shooting was justified.
Unless evidence comes to light indicating the contrary, the things we do know point to that being a proper determination. A large, angry mob forcibly broke into the chambers where Congress was gathered, which placed the officers in that chamber, sworn to protect those members of Congress, under an immediate threat. Under current jurisprudence, with the limited information we know, the reasonableness standard for deadly force would appear to have been met. Babbitt’s death was tragic, but then so was the entire situation everyone in the Capitol found themselves in that day. None of it should have happened.
The left, which could not find the right words to describe the anti-police rioting in our major cities for almost a year, instantly found the most alarming descriptions for the Capitol riot: sedition, insurrection, attack on democracy, white supremacy. Most on the right were quick to condemn the Capitol rioters and sought to distance themselves from their actions, something the left has still refused to do in regard to the continuing rioting from its side of the political spectrum. It is a glaring hypocrisy that they are rarely called out on.
Part of the reason that the left has gotten away with this hypocrisy is a feeling of guilt on the right. The right is ashamed of the attack on the Capitol and fears that any attempt to point to almost a year of death and destruction on the part of the left will be seen as defending the attack on the Capitol. We can condemn the Capitol rioting and still call out the alarming crime rates and the death and destruction in our other cities. It is not a one-or-the-other proposition. We do not have to pick good and bad riots based on our political preferences; they are all bad.
Which leads to the unspeakable height of hypocrisy. An unarmed woman was shot by police during what the left would, in any other case, call a protest, an exercise of her First Amendment rights. I cannot find one other circumstance in the almost year of rioting in which an unarmed protestor was killed by the police, but no one has any doubts about the calamity that would have ensued if that had happened anywhere else. “Unarmed” is but one part of the calculus officers uses in determining the threat an offender poses, but not the only one, maybe not even the most important one in some cases. An unarmed person can very much represent a deadly threat, but only in the shooting of Ashli Babbitt does this seem to be understood by the left.
The reality is that Ashli Babbitt was committing a crime and not obeying commands from the police. She has this in common with most of the high profile police shootings that have been the subject of protests across the country to some degree or another. That those on the left are willing to accept her death as reasonable but are not able to apply the same rationale to other shootings is repulsive evidence of their hypocrisy in the matter. Ironically, the Democrat-led House recently passed the George Floyd Act which contains language that would have prohibited this shooting. It is ironic that the one police shooting they don’t seem to have a problem with would result in the officer being indicted if their bill were law.
While the left’s narrative of Ofc. Brian Sicknick’s death as a martyr at the hands of bloodthirsty white supremacists is untrue, it would be nice if we could all realize that it was not the way he died that made him a hero, but the way he lived.
Texans Convicted of Crimes in their Youth Deserve a Second Look
Larry Robinson is no stranger to the battlefield, having served five combat tours in his 24 years as a sergeant in the U.S Army. But now he is fighting for a much more personal cause—a chance at redemption for his son, Jason.
While Robinson was deployed to Iraq in 1994, his son, 16 at the time, was part of a robbery that led to the death of pawn store clerk Troy Langseth. Although Jason wasn’t the shooter, he was sentenced to life in prison.
Now, more than a quarter century later, the Texas Legislature is set to decide whether people convicted of serious crimes in their youth should be considered for parole after 20 years, instead of 40 years.
On April 8, the Texas House approved HB 686 with more than a two-thirds majority. The “second-look” concept as applied to crimes committed by minors embodied in HB686 is not new—and is becoming law in a growing number of states. The conservative Ohio Senate approved a comparable bill with nearly 90 percent of lawmakers in support, and it was signed earlier this year by Gov. Mike DeWine.
Texas must follow. Research has demonstrated that young people who offend, including those who commit the most heinous crimes, are even more capable of change than their older counterparts. Jason, now 43, is a case in point. He has earned two degrees while incarcerated and is now training as an HVAC technician.
Instead of languishing longer in prison at a cost of about $25,000 a year to taxpayers, such individuals could be contributing to the resurgent Texas economy, which is facing a shortage of workers in many skilled fields.
Such benefits, of course, would not matter if adopting second-look legislation would imperil the safety of our communities. But the data is clear that this is not the case. A study of Pennsylvania juveniles serving life terms who were released on a similar basis revealed that just two of the 174 youth who were freed had been convicted of a new offense during an average 21-month period following release.
This is not surprising given that many cases involving youths sentenced to life for serious crimes involve poor decisions reflecting immaturity made in a very specific context. This was true in the case of Jason, whose mental health deteriorated in the absence of his father and who accompanied a friend who ultimately fired the shot. Notably, another long overdue bill, HB 1340, which would reform the law of the parties in Texas to limit the death penalty to those who pulled the trigger or at least intended that someone be killed, has also passed the House and awaits action in the Senate.
Finally, just as Larry is waiting to help his son reenter society, many other parents and loved ones have laid the groundwork in Texas to provide such support through the Epicenter Initiative. Sadly, if current law continues to preclude parole review until 40 years have passed, many of those released will be too old to start a career that can lead to self-sufficiency, and their parents, assuming they are still living, may not be in a position to assist them.
While Robinson is no longer in the Middle East fighting for his country, he is in the middle of a legislative dogfight battling on behalf of his son. The Texas Senate must act now so that just as surely as the prison gates swing shut, the door to redemption can swing open.
David Frum’s Weakness On China Is Worse Than His Push For Middle Eastern Wars
David Frum is a prominent member of the foreign policy priesthood, albeit an accidental one, and he continues to urge U.S. foreign policy errors in a new Atlantic article about China. “China Is a Paper Dragon” argues the Biden administration is unnecessarily concerned about the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Frum’s argument is part of a larger effort by high-profile pundits to suggest that if China attacks democratically ruled Taiwan, helping Taiwan is not worth the risk of war with China. He’s wrong about this, like he has been wrong about foreign policy for years.
The right approach to the PRC, Frum opined in 2015, should be one of economic engagement with military containment. But what happens when mercantilist China leverages 20 years of Permanent Most Favored Nation status and membership in the World Trade Organization, which Frum frequently urged, to finance a formidable military machine?
By 2015, it was glaringly obvious that China had become a military threat, but Frum stuck to his metaphorical guns, writing, “China’s admission to the World Trade Organization in 2001 was necessary and unavoidable.” Now that Frum’s urged economic engagement with the PRC has made containing it increasingly difficult and dangerous, he wants to throw in the towel. In Frum’s recent Atlantic piece, he virtually invites the Chinese Communist Party to take over democratic and self-ruled Taiwan.
Frum draws his Atlantic arguments from Michael Beckley’s 2018 book, “Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World’s Sole Superpower.” Beckley, a Tufts University professor, argues that China, while possessing a large economy, historically and today has had to dedicate a large portion of its resources towards controlling its populace. Further, he claims China’s supposed advantages in weaponry, technology, and research are vastly overstated.
As a result, American policymakers “risk harming this country by justifying protectionism and inflating the defense budget beyond reasonable levels,” Frum argued in a supporting tweet. He continued, “Trump added $100 billion / year in defense spending, most of it aimed at fighting China.”
Frum then suggested the $200 billion annually saved from spending less on defense and on creating more robust supply chains could be used to “buy a *lot* of more authentic usefulness: carbon reduction, road improvement, cheaper college tuition.” In other words, don’t worry about the People’s Republic of China; instead, relax and spend the peace dividend on domestic priorities.
Frum’s Advice Crippled Our Ability to Contain China
Frum joined the new George W. Bush administration as an economic speech writer in January 2001. After 9/11, Frum stayed on another five months, and was credited with minting Bush’s phrase “Axis of Evil” to describe an arrangement of terror-sponsoring nations—Iran, Iraq, and North Korea—in his State of the Union address.
Frum’s involvement with the Bush administration’s formative response to 9/11 led to a decade of him justifying America’s deepening involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Eventually, Frum soured on the war in Afghanistan. But by then U.S. involvement was stuck.
Fighting wars, mending veterans, and building nations cost some $7 trillion over 20 years, about $2 trillion of that in Afghanistan alone. Assume, for a moment, that half of that $2 trillion spent fighting in Afghanistan while propping up its weak and corrupt government could have been saved if the war were wound down 10 years ago.
Perhaps half of that savings might have been invested in better military technologies and procurement. A half-trillion dollars could purchase scores of naval vessels, a larger, more capable Marine Corps, and aircraft and missiles capable of sinking enemy shipping and damaging their ports and airfields.
This investment, had it been made, would alter today’s correlation of forces in the strategic Taiwan Strait—the waters separating the lynchpin of the first island chain from China. But instead, our foreign policy opinion leaders, Frum among them, locked America into no-win conflicts that they neither had the moral courage nor the imagination to wind down. This left us with a defense and foreign policy that treated all threats as existential threats.
But he who defends everything defends nothing. Priorities must be made. The Taliban, operating out of Afghanistan, has no industrial potential, no capacity to forge a modern military capable of projecting force, and no ability to build a nuclear arsenal. The People’s Republic of China has all those things—and likely far more of them than we know.
Frum’s Take on China Is at Least as Bad
In Frum’s Atlantic piece, he paints a sanguine portrait of a post-PRC invasion of Taiwan, suggesting that, “any such attack (would) cost China dear in ships and men – smashing up the Chinese armed forces for a long time to come. But more important: Suppose China did ‘win’ such a conflict. What happens next? …Perpetual military occupation of 24 million resistant Chinese speakers … China’s other neighbors all turn enemy. Japan and South Korea pushed to become nuclear weapons states … and – underscore this – not a single one of China’s larger strategic problem solved, because Taiwan’s ports all face the wrong way, west not east, meaning post-invasion China remains as landlocked as ever.”
His analysis is dangerously glib on several levels. The People’s Liberation Army believes that if it can prevent Japan and the United States from intervening in a conflict with Taiwan, it can win at an acceptable cost—that’s why suggestions by high-profile commentators like Frum are dangerous. They reduce deterrent, making the Chinese Communist Party more confident while sowing doubt with friendly defense and foreign policy officials on both sides of the Pacific.
Further, China’s largely trouble-free crushing of dissent in Hong Kong, population 7.5 million, should dispel notions that the Chairman Xi Jinping would fear doing the same with 23.6 million Taiwanese. The Chinese Communist Party’s all-seeing social credit scoring system (built with Western technology that Frum approved selling them), combined with midnight raids on recalcitrant democratically minded citizens, have given the communists confidence, not fear. Xi and his cadre view repression is a feature, not a bug.
That “China’s other neighbors all turn enemy,” as Frum predicts, is not a given. If the PRC snuffs out one of the region’s most vibrant democracies as an encore to its subjugation of Hong Kong, it is not assured that nearby nations would rally—especially if America is seen as shrinking from a confrontation. South Korea and the Philippines, and to a lesser extent Japan and Vietnam, might conclude that accommodating China—as they did for centuries as vassal states—is preferable to losing a destructive war alongside an unreliable ally.
Taiwan Is the First Link in the Island Chain
Lastly, Frum’s comment that “Taiwan’s ports all face the wrong way” makes no sense, betraying Frum’s lack of military studies. The port of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan processes more shipping than Taiwan’s other 14 major ports combined. Kaohsiung is less than 50 miles from the southern extent of Taiwan.
More importantly, the port immediately opens to deep waters, allowing the PRC’s submarine fleet a valuable advantage it would have nowhere else on mainland China or from Hainan Island. Further, Keelung, the island’s fourth-largest port by volume of trade, faces northeast, not west.
What direction Taiwan’s ports face is far less important than how naval vessels might operate out of those ports. Taiwan is the middle link of the first island chain. Take Taiwan and the chain is broken, allowing the PRC unfettered access to the Pacific.
Other Technical Details In Dispute Also
Now for a final and potentially deadly analytical flaw—forgetting that the enemy has a vote. Frum’s Atlantic article rests heavily on the Tufts professor who asserts that, “Chinese pilots fly 100 to 150 fewer hours than U.S. pilots,” spending “20 to 30 percent of their time studying communist ideology.” But this claim appears to be based on military exchanges dating back 10 years or more.
More recently in The National Interest, Lyle J. Morris and Eric Heginbotham, with RAND Corporation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, respectively, wrote, “we find that the PLAAF (People’s Liberation Army Air Force) has embarked on major reform of its pilot training program in order to remedy deep-seated flaws in fighter pilot competency.”
They further note that the PLAAF “is acutely aware of its shortcomings in pilot combat skills and that is seeking to train pilots capable of ‘fighting and winning’ battles against near peer military adversaries, like the United States.” Improving pilot competency takes less time than does building a large and modern air force. China has the latter and appears to be addressing the former.
China’s Designs on Taiwan Endanger Americans
As a final rebuke to Frum’s don’t worry, be happy approach to China, the Wall Street Journal reported on May 13 that the United Kingdom has assembled its largest fleet since 1982 and is sending it to the Pacific near Taiwan. This British fleet includes the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier along with seven vessels. A U.S. destroyer and a Dutch ship will join the strike group, which will sail through the South China Sea, the site of numerous illegal Chinese bases built from rocky outcroppings in waters far from China, in territory claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
The Chinese Communist Party is deadly serious about destroying Taiwan’s democracy. A large share of Americans—and our allies—understand that mere existence of a democratic Taiwan stands as an existential threat to a PRC ruled by the totalitarian Chinese Communist Party. The idea of self-rule is anathema to a one-party communist state.
By striving to preserve Taiwan’s freedom, we preserve our own security against a threat even greater than the threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Everything’s Bigger in Texas: How to Protest Your Property Tax Appraisal
It’s no secret, property values are on the rise in Texas. Appraisals have arrived and the deadline to protest them is just around the corner. More than ever, Texans should be protected from escalating property taxes. One thing you have the power to do directly is protest your property tax appraisal. In this webinar, Certified Public Accountant Michael Berlanga and TPPF’s James Quintero share best practices* to arm you with the information you need when protesting your property taxes.
James Quintero (Moderator) – Policy Director, Government for the People, Texas Public Policy Foundation
Mike Berlanga (Guest) – President, Christian Chamber of San Antonio; Founder, True Tax Center
To find out more about what TPPF is doing to reform taxes in Texas, click here.
Keep Texas Texan Path for COVID Relief Funds
Texas looks to receive roughly $40 billion in taxpayer money provided by Congress through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This includes $11.2 billion already released to public schools and soon to be released $10 billion to local governments and $4 billion to infrastructure projects (i.e., only water, sewage, and broadband projects). And $15.8 billion in more flexible funding to the state in one payment given Texas’s unemployment rate is 2 percentage points above the rate before the pandemic.
Approach Given Restrictions
The U.S. Treasury recently released guidance (Fact Sheet) for the restrictions on how state and local governments can use the ARPA funds. There will now be a 60-day period for public comments on these restrictions before additional clarity will be provided. In the meantime, it appears that the state cannot use these funds for direct or indirect state tax cuts, except for special cases that do not seem to apply in Texas while local tax cuts by state or local governments seem legitimate and advisable, or deposits into pension funds. Given strings attached, if the state accepts ARPA funds, there should be a pro-growth, long-term strategy to strengthen Texas’s future while assisting struggling Texans from the pandemic and shutdowns.
The strategy should strive to return these funds to taxpayers by reducing and keeping taxes lower than otherwise, funding only one-time expenditures, and rejecting all or most ARPA funds with strings attached. This strategy would help avoid expanding government, reduce the impact on state sovereignty, mitigate the rising burden of the federal government’s high spending and debt, and provide relief to families. Texas would recover faster and better withstand the Biden administration’s onerous policies by using the $15.8 billion in more flexible funding on the following options to Keep Texas Texan.
If Texas accepts some or all the funds, consider the following:
Provide Texans with Relief
$9 billion for federal unemployment trust fund loan and replenish state fund to avoid tax hike.
$5.1 billion for border wall completion and border security to provide relief of border crisis.
Ensure Accountability and Transparency
No ARPA funds for ongoing expenses to avoid fiscal cliffs (e.g., pub ed “cuts” after ARRA).
Place funds in separate Article from base budget like TPPF’s Conservative TX Budget
Publish receipts and outlays of funds on Comptroller’s or LBB’s website.
Replace general revenue with federal funds for only one-time items.
Support Reform—May be restricted but possibly by swapping general revenue appropriations
Fund Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) with reforms for sustainability.
Swap with GR to pay down state debt with a high interest rate.
Swap with GR to fund expanded special education microgrants created during COVID.
Swap with GR to fund market-based healthcare with direct primary care and other options.
Texas should consider rejecting some or all the funds, particularly those with strings attached that could create fiscal cliffs in subsequent sessions, eliminate tax relief opportunities through December 31, 2024, generate school finance problems, and more.
The Sovereignty of Texas is at Stake: ARPA Funds Come with Strings Attached
Texas looks to receive $41 billion in taxpayer money provided by Congress in the $1.9 trillion American Relief Plan Act (ARPA). With $31 billion being sent to the state, this is 25% of the state’s annual budget. This excessive spending in D.C. has become the norm and now they’re trying to push their profligate spending onto Texas.
We must not let that happen, and here’s how to stop it.
ARPA funds to Texas include $11.2 billion already released to public schools. Soon, there will be $10 billion for local governments and $4 billion for only water, sewage, and broadband projects. And $15.8 billion in more flexible funding will head to the state in one payment, since Texas’s unemployment rate is more than 2 percentage points above the pre-pandemic rate.
Not only are these funds adding to the skyrocketing national debt, but they’re also more than what Texas needs. The state and local governments already have balanced budgets or surpluses. And to make matters worse, these funds come with strings attached which jeopardize state sovereignty and our republic’s future.
The U.S. Treasury recently released guidance (a Fact Sheet) for the restrictions on how state and local governments can use the ARPA funds. There will now be a 60-day period for public comments on this guidance before additional clarity will be provided.
In the meantime, it appears that the state cannot use these funds for deposits into pension funds or for direct or indirect state tax cuts, except for special cases that don’t seem to apply in Texas, even though cuts by state or local governments seem legitimate and advisable.
The tangle of strings attached to this ARPA money makes it almost impossible to shrink government. Furthermore, states with respectable fiscal track records, like Texas, are being punished while irresponsible state and local governments, like California and Austin, are being rewarded.
Given the strings attached, if the state accepts ARPA funds, Texas’ approach should be a pro-growth, long-term strategy to strengthen the state while assisting struggling Texans still affected by the pandemic and the shutdowns.
The strategy should strive to return these funds to taxpayers by reducing and keeping taxes lower than otherwise, funding only one-time expenditures, and rejecting all or most ARPA funds with strings attached.
This strategy would help avoid expanding government, reduce the impact on state sovereignty, mitigate the rising burden of the federal government’s high spending and debt, and provide relief to families.
Texas would recover faster, and would better withstand the Biden administration’s onerous policies by using the $15.8 billion in more flexible funding on the following options to Keep Texas Texan.
We should allocate $9 billion for federal unemployment trust fund loans and replenish the state unemployment fund to avoid massive tax hikes that would be needed to fund these.
We should use $5.1 billion in ARPA funds directly or those swapped out with state general revenue to complete the border wall and add border security to provide relief of the border crisis and stop using state taxpayer dollars every biennium for this purpose.
And with property taxes continuing to climb, we should use the other $1.7 billion to provide a 2-cent compression of local school M&O property taxes for additional tax relief this session. Adding the extra $3 billion that Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently announced is available would mean there’s an opportunity to provide a 5.5-cent compression. Since these are technically local taxes, this could be a way to navigate around the unwise restrictions imposed by D.C.
These expenditures should be done in a way that ensures accountability and transparency to taxpayers.
There should be no ARPA funds for ongoing expenses to avoid fiscal cliffs that led to problems a decade ago, when Democrats argued there were “cuts” to public education when Obama’s one-time “stimulus” funds ran out. And these funds should be placed in a separate budget article from the base budget like the Foundation’s Conservative Texas Budget does. And spending should be posted on the Comptroller’s or Legislative Budget Board’s website.
There are other good ideas on how to use ARPA funds, but they may be restricted because of the many strings attached, which is why there should be more clarity from the Treasury. Thus, with so many hoops to jump through, Texas should strongly consider rejecting some or all the funds.
Particularly those with strings attached that would weaken the state’s fiscal and economic situation by creating fiscal cliffs in subsequent sessions, eliminating tax relief opportunities through December 31, 2024, and more. Rejecting ARPA funds would also give Texas an opportunity to help provide relief from the Biden administration’s gambit to bankrupt America with $6 trillion either passed or proposed in legislation during his first 100 days in office.
Texas is a sovereign state. It’s time D.C. recognizes that.
Tax Fairness Is Subjective Folly
President Joe Biden has made so-called “fairness” a central facet of his tax proposals. This prompts the question: what is fair? We all have different definitions of the word.
It is dangerous, then, to desultorily apply opinions and envy in the progressives’ flawed attempt to solve perceived social injustices through the federal income tax code.
Because everyone drafting or revising the tax code views fairness differently, this approach to fiscal policy has helped turn the tax code into a complicated nightmare. The result is an amalgamation of confusion which no sane person could possibly examine and then diagnose as being “fair.”
The U.S. Tax Code is already extremely progressive with 58.4 million low- and mid-income taxpayers (39% of all filers) having no federal income tax liability in 2021. Meanwhile, the top 50% of taxpayers pay more than 97% of all individual income taxes while the top 1% of taxpayers earned 20.9% of total income yet paid 40.1% of all income taxes.
Biden wants to raise the top federal marginal income tax rate to 43.4% with the Obamacare surtax—and that is before any state and local income taxes are added. Is it fair to tax some income more than other income, and is it fair to take more than 40 cents of every dollar from some Americans when millions of others pay no income taxes?
Biden also wants to raise the corporate income tax rate to 28% so that the top combined tax rate would average 65.1% compared to current law of 47.3%. This would be only a few years after the Trump tax cuts brought the U.S. rate down to 21% which helped to make the U.S. more competitive with other countries. Confiscatory high rates actually raise less revenue than lower rates but, like President Obama, Biden wants higher tax rates because of fairness.
Is it fair to punish success? There is also this consideration: Corporate income is taxed twice—once at the corporate level and then again for the investor. Is it fair that some income is taxed twice instead of once?
Furthermore, corporations do not pay taxes—the corporate income tax is submitted to the government but we pay for it through higher prices, lower wages, and fewer job opportunities. Is it fair to make those people, many of whom earn a modest income well below the $400,000 max income that Biden promised he wouldn’t tax more, pay the corporate tax?
And what about taxing different types of personal income? Earned income is taxed at progressively higher rates but capital gains (like from the sale of stock) are taxed at a lower flat rate. This is done, in part, to account for this tax not being adjusted for inflation.
However, Biden wants to tax capital gains progressively higher, the way earned income is taxed, but he also wants very high rates. With his proposal, 14 states would have a top combined capital gains tax rate of at least 50% (New York City would be over 58%) with a nationwide average of 48%. After inflation, there may be no real investment gains left. Is that fair?
In some ways, we would be better off taxing consumption via a sales tax. That way, income used for savings and investment is not taxed until that that money is used for consumption. This would augment savings and investment which supports more capital accumulation, more productivity, higher wages, and more economic growth, providing gains across the income spectrum. Furthermore, low-income earners would pay a lower tax rate on earned lifetime income than high-income earners, so the tax would still be progressive.
Would it be fair to tax wealth instead, as with Biden’s proposed 61 precent wealth tax? It depends on what you think is fair.
Taxing wealth reduces savings and the capital stock, encouraging dissipation and wastefulness. It also reduces the ability to leave wealth for your descendants, reducing intergenerational savings, and further lessening the capital stock. That reduces wages in the long run, including those on the lower end of the income distribution, while incentivizing wealth to move to tax havens and away from productive allocations.
It turns out that taxation issues are more subtle and sophisticated than politicians lead us to believe—even before fairness is considered.
If the purpose of taxation is to finance the limited roles of government, then fairness becomes the most economically efficient way to collect that revenue.
But this is not Biden’s priority. The far left’s agenda is to implement a tax policy that confiscates wealth and punishes achievement using envy, one of the seven deadly sins, as the reason. In their quest to socially engineer society, those on the left value lofty rhetoric and utopian ideals more than the poverty-ridden outcomes of their policies.
If the point of taxation is not to fund limited government via the most efficient arrangement possible, then fairness becomes whatever the person in power wants it to mean—an appalling thought. Yet that thought explains the insanity in D.C.
Biden’s Climate Plans Will Hurt the Poor, With Limited Benefit to the Environment
On Earth Day 2021, President Biden announced that the U.S. will cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2030. The pledge marked a radical about-face from the Trump administration’s prioritization of poverty reduction, economic growth, and U.S. energy dominance over GHG emissions. It is also twice the size of the Obama administration’s pledge to cut emissions by 25%, which already impossible to achieve without a complete remaking of the U.S. economy. The only sector that reduced carbon emissions from 2008-2016 was electric utilities, and in fact, transportation emissions went up 1.9% in 2016.
President Biden’s climate and infrastructure plan is expected to cost taxpayers $2 trillion, or $3,500 for the average taxpayer. This is a huge expense, especially when it does not factor in the cost of higher energy bills (an inevitable result of increasing renewable energy), retrofitting our homes for electric heating and appliances, and more expensive cars to meet fuel efficiency mandates.
According to a study conducted by Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago and profiled in the Wall Street Journal, this new climate plan will cost the poor the most and the wealthy the least. In this study, the U.S. population was divided into five income cohorts, and the conclusion was that the combination of consumer regulations, labor regulations, and restrictions on energy production would cost the bottom group 15.3% of their income; however, it will only cost the highest group 2.1% of their income. So much for President Biden’s rallying cries for equity.
In 2020, 46% of Germany’s electricity came from renewable energy. Germany has some of the highest energy prices in the world, in part because of its renewable energy surcharge tax. German households pay 36 cents per kilowatt hour, including the surcharge tax , whereas U.S. households pay 15 cents per kilowatt hour on average. If President Biden’s plan is put into place, the U.S. should expect to see energy prices more like Germany’s, or even higher.
President Biden prides himself on his new plan being better for the environment, but he fails to mention how his “green” plan would drastically change the landscape of America. Achieving an all-renewable electric grid by 2050 would potentially require the U.S. to install up to 1.1 million square kilometers’ worth of solar panels, wind farms, and biomass powerplants, which is enough land to cover six whole states (Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and West Virginia). The effect of this buildout would cause irreversible damage to our ecosystems, destroy our beautiful rural landscapes and displace many American families and even wildlife.
People need energy to live and prosper, so even if the U.S. stops producing fossil fuels under President Biden’s plan, our energy needs will not go away. And as the recent blackouts in Texas show, wind and solar can’t be relied on to provide all, or even most, of our electricity. The U.S. will just have to import energy from other countries, which causes more pollution and more global carbon emissions than producing energy here. In fact, shipping U.S. natural gas to Europe produces significantly less greenhouse gases than importing gas a quarter of the distance from North Africa.
President Biden’s plan irreversibly damages the U.S. economy and landscape with little reward. If this plan is put into place, it is far more likely that we will see an increase in poverty, rather than improvement in our environment.
Tennessee Leaders Define Conservative Criminal Justice Reform
Where use of incarceration is concerned, thoughtful criminal justice advocates tend to draw a distinction between those to be “scared of” versus others “we are mad at.” This makes sense. Conservative leaders in Tennessee, led by Gov. Bill Lee, are enacting policies that recognize this distinction in order to improve the overall effectiveness of the state’s criminal justice system.
The 2021 Tennessee legislative session brought comprehensive criminal justice reforms championed by conservative leaders. Right on Crime proudly supported these reforms for the immediate and long term, positive impact on public safety. Two bills championed by Governor Lee passed; the first, to expand and improve the overall effectiveness of alternative sentencing policies in Tennessee, and the other, the Reentry Success Act, will improve the likelihood of an individual’s successful integration back into the community following release. Moreover, Tennessee lawmakers joined law enforcement to champion policing reforms aimed at improving law enforcement training, and to address certain police practices relative to interaction with the community.
While The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference pushed for an expansive mandatory minimum regime to address truth in sentencing concerns, Tennessee legislative leadership took a far more measured approach. In so doing, lawmakers reinforced the distinction between violent criminals and nonviolent individuals who simply make made bad choices. House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally sponsored this legislative effort, now pending the Governor’s signature, to impose a mandatory prison sentence for specific sexual offenses. While Right on Crime generally remains adverse to mandatory minimum prison sentences, this bill not only targets offenses that directly undermine public safety, but also preserves the court or jury’s discretion to impose an alternative sentence if they find the facts justify the same.
The wellbeing of victims must never be absent from conversations around criminal justice reform. In recognition of this principle, Right on Crime congratulates House Majority Leader William Lamberth and Senate Judiciary Chairman Mike Bell for the passage of a bill that provides victims a lifetime protective order against those convicted of violent crimes.
There are critics who contend the effort of Gov. Lee and legislative leadership is