The Lessons We Learned from George Floyd and the Chauvin Trial

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A Hennepin County jury has found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of all counts relating to George Floyd’s death. But the lessons many seem to be taking away from this year of division and destruction are not ones that will result in safer streets and better police. Instead, responses to the verdict reinforce very dangerous lessons, indeed, with a focus on perceptions, regardless of whether they reflect truth.
The truth is that the nation was unified in the visceral response that the video of Floyd’s death generated. It was hard to watch for everyone, regardless of politics. But that unity was brief and nearly a year of deepening divisions culminated in the verdict yesterday. Now we move forward, uncertainly, in a very changed world. A criminal case that ends in a conviction should be the end of the story, but it is not the end of this one.
What did members of law enforcement learn from all of this? They didn’t learn that a police officer shouldn’t put his knee on a person’s neck for nine minutes—because none of them thought that was OK before.
Yet in Minneapolis, one officer did that, and he was found guilty for having done it. There is no lesson here for the other 800,000 officers in the United States. This trial was so high profile precisely because it was so unique.
What the other cops learned instead, from those burning down buildings to demand an end to being unfairly treated as a group, is that treating police officers unfairly as a group is totally acceptable. Given the circumstances surrounding this event and the trial, including the rhetoric of politicians at the highest levels of government, they also learned that the constitutional guarantee of an officer receiving a fair trial no longer exists.
What did the anti-police crowd learn from all of this? They got some of what they wanted. They demanded “justice”—but only on their terms, which sound an awful lot like vengeance. In their eyes, it worked.
Was the backdrop of burning cities , looted stores, violence, the promise of more violence, and a courthouse ringed in concrete barriers, razor wire, and the National Guard enough to influence a jury’s verdict? The anti-police Left celebrated it as such, and learned that this is how to get it done—in the same way that other dark elements in our nation’s history, such as the mafia and the klan, learned to parlay fear and violence into power.
We can expect this playbook to be used again going forward. Their quest for vengeance did not stop with Derek Chauvin, and this verdict will not satisfy the anti-police crowd for long.
Additionally, the Left used this incident to propose a wish list of anti-police legislation in the name of “reform” that did not include a single thing that would have changed the outcome for George Floyd.
Many of those not on the Left’s anti-cop bandwagon learned something different. Some of them will certainly question the legitimacy of the jury’s verdict under those circumstances. The media did its best to learn the identities of the jury, and with the doxing we are seeing all too often, there was legitimate reason for a juror to worry about the consequences of their decision at least as much as about the facts of the case before them. The fortified courthouse let jurors and their families know exactly how exposed they are at home or away from those security measures.
None of these lessons are good for anyone. If the process had been allowed to play out without all of the outside influences, then we all might have had faith that the justice system worked properly. A few years ago a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed an unarmed woman. The officer was fired, charged, convicted, and sent to prison without a whole lot of fanfare. The system worked.
It worked in the same location that George Floyd’s death would be resolved. Instead of letting that system play out, in a system already proven to take responsible action in holding police accountable, we saw enough external distractions to create bad perceptions and bad lessons for everyone involved.
And now we have a very different case coming in the apparent accidental shooting of Duante Wright. This case presents real opportunities for learning and it highlights the need for more and better training for our police officers.
Let’s allow this one take its proper course and actually learn the right lessons—knowledge that can be used to prevent incidents like this in the future, without tainting the eventual outcome.

The Rise of Eco-Anxiety in our Nation’s Youth

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In recent years, psychologists have noticed an uptick in a new condition called eco-anxiety—what the American Psychological Association says is a “chronic fear of environmental doom.” The media is constantly feeding us exaggerated information regarding climate change.
For example, in 2019, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez claimed “the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change.” These apocalyptic statements, which are based on inaccurate and over-simplified interpretations of climate science, are having a tremendous impact on people’s mental health. As a society, we need to make informed statements about climate change to help stop the spread of eco-anxiety.
Eco-anxiety is most commonly found in teenagers and children, and it can be detrimental to a child’s development. In September, the Washington-Post Kaiser Foundation released a poll that concluded 57% of teenagers feel scared about climate change, whereas only 29% of teenagers feel hopeful about it.
Many teenagers feel a personal responsibility to fix these environmental problems, but teenagers suffering with eco-anxiety can take this to an extreme. For example, one medical journal tells the heartbreaking story of a teenage boy who refused to drink water during a drought and as a result was hospitalized. Some teenagers and children want to skip school, because they think that the world is burning. Anxiety about the environment should not be getting in the way of teenager’s mental and physical health and their education.
The media’s tendency to promote simplistic, attention-grabbing headlines instead of nuanced policy conversations fuels a false narrative about an apocalyptic future due to climate change, and this can only heighten people’s eco-anxiety. Politicians supporting the Green New Deal claim the world is going to end in 12 years — or less. But there is no evidence to support this claim. Two years ago, the Associated Press published, “There is no scientific consensus, much less unanimity, that the planet only has 12 years to fix the problem (of climate change).
A report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, drawn from the work of hundreds of scientists, uses 2030 as a prominent benchmark because signatories to the Paris agreement have pledged emission cuts by then. But it’s not a last chance, hard deadline for action, as it has been interpreted in some quarters.” In fact, data models used by these same scientists show how microscopic the impact of cutting manmade greenhouse gas emissions would be.
Instead, politicians and the media should be publishing claims about climate change that have scientific evidence to back them up rather than publishing doomsday predictions that cause anxiety with no hard evidence to support them.
It seems like the majority of news articles only report about the human causes of climate change, but there are many other causes that are completely out of our control that affect the earth’s temperature. For example, the way that the earth is orbiting around the sun is changing. The earth is starting to have a more elliptical orbit rather than a circular orbit around the sun; as a result, the north and south poles are positioned closer to the sun, causing an increase of temperatures in the poles.
In 1920, Milutin Milanković discovered that the Earth’s orbit, position, and torque can affect the Earth’s temperature. This is rarely discussed in the media as a cause for climate change. Instead, the media implies that climate change is only a manmade problem, causing unnecessary stress and anxiety.
As a society, we have the ability to reduce eco-anxiety cases in children and teenagers by reporting facts about climate change rather than doomsday scenarios with no scientific evidence. Some teenagers today are more concerned about the environment than going to school or taking care of themselves, which is incredibly damaging to a child’s development. AOC believes the world is going to end in 12 years; however, it is 100% more likely that in 12 years we are going to be seeing an increase in anxiety disorders in adults if we do not return the policy conversation to sound science and reason.

Senate Bill 167: Government Failure in Higher Ed

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Vance Ginn, PhD, is chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute in Austin.
Texas’s public higher education systems can withstand a temporary tuition freeze. SB 167 would freeze tuition for 5 years in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and tuition would be adjusted by the previous year’s change in the consumer price index (CPI). This sort of freeze will be a step in the right direction, and the temporary nature of the freeze will allow for the results of this action to be evaluated to determine if it is working better than the current flawed approach. Tuition freezes have been successfully instituted by other public colleges.
Testimony in Support to the Texas Senate Committee on Higher Education

Tennessee Governor is Leading the Way on Conservative Criminal Justice Reform

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It has never been more important for conservatives to hold the line on protecting our communities. In the midst of civil unrest, homicide rates spiking nationwide and unprecedented rates of drug use, the time is now to get our criminal justice system right.
That’s what Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is doing, as he emerges as a national leader on criminal justice reform. Tennessee will be a better state, and Tennesseans will be safer because of this.
Gov. Lee’s focus is exactly where it should be: Not on rhetoric, but on evidence-based policies proven to improve public safety.
During my 14-plus years as the Governor of Texas, I oversaw the comprehensive reform of the state’s criminal justice system. Together with Brooke Rollins and the conservative thought leaders at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, leadership in the Texas Legislature, and various stakeholders, we designed a model that began with the expressed declaration that Texas would not build new prisons. The then-current “lock ‘em up” Texas system would only fill those new prisons up, requiring Texans to pay for even more prisons, which was economically unsustainable for a fiscally conscious government.
More compellingly, we understood that simply incarcerating offenders who we are not scared of but just mad at, merely afforded us the feeling of being tough on crime. It was an illusion because that feeling failed to translate into actual public safety benefits.
Rather than spend billions on building prisons, Texas invested $241 million into alternative sentencing, greater access to parole, and evidence-based programming aimed at improving the success rate for those reentering society or on supervision. Texas conservatives now measure success by the reduction in crime and recidivism, rather than just how big of a hammer was wield.
The result has been a resounding success for Texas, both in terms of fiscal savings and public safety. Since 2007, Texas has seen a 20% reduction in the incarceration rate, the closure of 10 prison facilities, the savings of $2 billion in projected new prison builds, for approximately $4 billion in total savings. Most importantly, the Texas investment into probation and parole programming yielded a 46% reduction in parole revocations, a 25% reduction in recidivism, and a 31% decline in the crime rate. The Texas crime rate is now its lowest since the 1960s.
Texas is proof that conservative criminal justice reform is tough on crime. Conservatives in Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Indiana, Utah, and even the federal government have since followed Texas’ lead.
The Trump administration applied the lessons learned in Texas with the passage of the First Step Act, a sweeping criminal justice bill set to recalibrate how the federal government measures its toughness to focus on the direct impact to public safety.
While there exists room for some bipartisan agreement around criminal justice reform, critical distinctions must be drawn. As conservatives, we must never lose sight of the ultimate goal of any criminal justice system: the promotion of justice, the rule of law, and public safety. Just as we cannot compromise these goals to indulge our need to feel tough, we must never abide a sentiment that vilifies these goals. Both views are shortsighted, and as such, are a danger to public safety.
The people of Tennessee elected my friend, Bill, governor on the promise that he would lead the nation in conservative criminal justice reform. Gov. Lee is championing conservative reforms like those in Texas, proven effective in reducing crime. This comes at a critical time since Tennessee has one of the highest crime rates in the region coupled with one of the highest incarceration rates in the Nation. Despite being subject to the tired “soft on crime” and “hug a thug” tropes, while being simultaneously subject to critics on the left challenging his commitment to their version of reform, Gov. Lee is not leading by feelings. Soon, Tennessee may even give Texas a run for its money.
More than ever, this nation needs conservative leaders willing to be an example of how to govern with bold commitment to principles that serve the interest of our fellow citizens. This certainly includes the system designed to keep them safe.

On This Earth Day, Celebrate U.S. Environmental Leadership

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Between the pandemic, divisive politics, and a media culture obsessed with rare but headline-grabbing shootings, it’s been a heavy year and a half for many Americans. This Earth Day, environmentalists will only perpetuate the doom-and-gloom zeitgeist by fixating on minuscule, insignificant changes in air pollution and overblown fears of apocalyptic climate change.
But we can rest easy, because there’s plenty of good news to celebrate this Earth Day. Contrary to the entrenched narrative that we’re killing the planet, our nation is leading the world in environmental protection — and the future is looking brighter than ever.
 America has cut air pollution by a healthy 77% in the last 50 years, and there’s no sign of this progress slowing. In fact, our air is so clean that it’s almost impossible to distinguish from natural levels. During the COVID-19 shutdowns, removing 40% or more of vehicle traffic from the road and pausing significant industrial activity didn’t improve air quality — and in some cities, particulate matter levels actually went up.
In the United States, dust and pollen have a far greater effect on our air quality than any human activity. That’s not the case in other countries, like India and China, where mask-wearing was common practice long before the pandemic because of toxic smog so thick you can taste it.
Contrary to the narrative that our environment is getting worse — and that our existence is to blame for it — America’s air and water are cleaner than ever. This improvement coincides with our nation’s dramatic growth in population, economic activity, and, surprisingly (to some), fossil fuel use. Prosperity and environmental quality go hand-in-hand, and prosperity depends on access to affordable, reliable energy.
 But what about climate change? Again, the news here is good. Sound bites about a burning planet and cataclysmic sea rise usually misinterpret worst-case-scenario data models (which are suspect to begin with) as a surefire glimpse into the future, instead of a wide range of conceivable but unlikely possibilities.
Even former President Obama’s chief energy scientist described the mainstream media’s interpretation of climate science as “drifting so far out of touch with the actual science as to be absurdly, demonstrably false.”
What all these stories leave out is the incredible improvement in human resilience that invalidates the climate alarmist narrative. Global climate-related deaths have fallen an astounding 99% since 1920 — declining at a far faster rate than deaths from non-climate-related disasters like earthquakes and volcanoes. Improved technology and reduced poverty (both of which stem in part from access to energy) mean that we’re more adaptable than ever to our natural surroundings.
More important than the state of the planet — though it’s a blessing we should steward with care — is the well-being of the people who live on it. In this category, the news is better than ever.
There are many ways to measure the health of the human race. I’ve written many times about global improvements in life expectancy, poverty, and more around the globe. But the good news goes beyond having our immediate physical needs met. In much of the world, people are more comfortable, better educated, wealthier, and freer than ever before.
Human flourishing is no longer just a someday dream of philosophers and social scientists. For most of the world, it’s here. We need only open our eyes and appreciate the blessings we take for granted.
A small but real faction of environmentalists is arguing with straight faces that COVID-19 shutdowns should be extended indefinitely for the sake of the environment. But humans aren’t the scourge on the planet they think we are. America’s environmental successes prove we can have our cake and eat it too — that prosperity and environmental quality can and should coexist.

The True Face of Voter Fraud in Texas

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The face of voter fraud in Texas is not Crystal Mason who voted provisionally, but illegally. She had not completed her terms of supervised release stemming from a 2011 federal tax fraud conviction. She is the exception who made a mistake, though it is still considered “harvesting” under the current definition.
The real problem we face in Texas are the Politiquerias, political operatives, and the wholesalers who buy and sell ballots. They are the people who lawmakers have set their sights on this session.
Each stolen vote disenfranchises a legitimate voter. Unfortunately some of the most vulnerable areas being exploited are senior citizen’s homes, new American communities, and college campuses. These groups are regularly being taken advantage of by people they trust.
They are frequently referred to as  harvesters but we should call it like it is—they are vote traffickers. A single voter like Mrs. Mason, hardly qualifies under the existing definition of a harvester. Unlike a pending case where a state facility care worker in the Mexia facility allegedly fraudulently requested ballots for 60 some residents there, most without their knowledge.
The face of vote fraud is more simply like the ongoing prosecution of Joann Ramone, who’s been in the media more than once for voter fraud. While “innocent until proven guilty” is what our nation was founded upon, she certainly has some things to explain after being caught on video bragging about delivering ballots. Interestingly, she also owns a cemetery in San Antonio and according to the same coverage, refuses to release the records of who is interred there. Perhaps some of those voters rose to participate in elections in the past? Who knows. What I do know is that these people are causing Texans, regardless of their political leaning, to distrust the process and system.
Ballot traffickers, and stopping their cycle of exploitation and broken chain of custody, are why we need reform–not Mrs. Mason. It is understandable she may not have understood that her right to vote had not yet been restored. It was an isolated incident and nobody seems to have a good answer for her being convicted in a Fort Worth court of appeals. The media isn’t shouting quite so loudly that this violation is under review and hopefully will be expunged. As Texas Public Policy are leaders in criminal justice reform, we certainly applaud second chances.
Thankfully, legislators have several reforms measures this session, including omnibuses HB 6, SB 7, as well as House HB 2478 on voter ID for mail ballots and its companion in the Senate, SB 1509, being heard this week.
Taken together, these represent an important step towards accountability and security in our elections. They secure in person voting, prohibit public officials from sending out unrequested absentee ballots, strengthen protections against ballot harvesting, and ban the unsavory private money in public election administration. These bills also standardize the ID requirements for voting by mail and voting in-person.
While we’re still waiting for rulings in the alleged fraud the last few cycles, we know these stories have eroded the trust in our elections. Fortunately, our formula to restore the integrity of our elections is simple: HB 6 + SB 7+ the voter ID for ballot-by-mail.
Opponents say the proposed the penalties in bills such as HB 6 and SB 7 would create more cases like Mrs. Mason’s. But let’s take a moment to think. These existing codes have knowing or willing intent as a standard. By that standard, your friends or family would be criminally liable only if knowingly and with intent to violate the law they assist you to vote with intent to defraud you, or you vote when you are aware you are ineligible and committing an illegal act. Honest mistakes are not what the Attorney General’s already-stretched fraud division (only composed of a handful of prosecutors) are interested in. Fraud is.
Some bills being considered go an extra step to explicitly inform a convicted felon they are ineligible to vote until completing the full terms of their supervision, which may have helped Mrs. Mason but regardless, the individual is not the issue here. It’s the people exploiting the individual. And even more, those confusing the point and fear-mongering when 81% of Texans believe in voter ID.
For those lawyers out there, the term is mens rea. For the rest of us, that means guilty intent—and ballot traffickers have it. Individuals making mistakes do not. It’s a distinction many of the opponents of election integrity reform would do well to remember—that is, after they read the bills, the Election code, and precedent set by Supreme court cases and not use a straw man, or woman, as proof there are no problems here.

Houston, We Have a Problem: The Chronicle Misleads on Election Integrity

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To lead off its editorial railing against Senate Bill 7 and efforts to reform—or at least regularize—the rules for voting in Texas, the Houston Chronicle evokes the White Man’s Primary Association of Dimmit County. But like the editorial itself, there’s far less here than meets the eye.
It’s true that in tiny Dimmit County in South Texas, white Democrats established white-only primaries and sought other ways to disenfranchise newly freed Blacks. But what’s the link between that practice (struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in Smith v. Allwright in 1944) and current efforts to ensure free and fair election in Texas? There isn’t one.
It’s a simple association fallacy; the Chronicle argues that because they both cite voter fraud, lawmakers today looking to clean up voting rolls and rules must be “protégés” of the Dimmit County dimwits of the 1880s.
Editorial space is precious, and you don’t spend the first 100 words of it raving about 19th Century Dimmit County when you have something substantive to say about today’s Texas. But having nothing to say rarely stops anyone. So let’s look at the Chronicle’s claims, point-by-point.
First: “Courts have repeatedly debunked the notion of widespread voter fraud…”
The key word in here is “widespread.” Of course voter fraud exists. The Chronicle admits as much in this very editorial, citing Lyndon Johnson’s 1948 Senate election. That fraud was certainly not widespread; it was one voting box in Jim Wells County, with just 202 votes.
Yet that single act of fraud changed history. Johnson made the most of his Senate win, and by the time a young and untried John F. Kennedy sought the presidency, he needed a powerful southerner like Johnson on his ticket. When Kennedy was gunned down, Johnson took the helm of the most powerful nation in the world—and soon began sending American troops into Vietnam.
“Not widespread” doesn’t mean insignificant. And the fact is that a single instance of voter fraud silences the voice of a legitimate Texas voter.
Still, have courts truly debunked the notion of widespread voter fraud? That’s a trick question; courts don’t work that way. Courts rule on fact and cases, and in many, many instances, courts have ruled that voter fraud was egregious enough to overturn elections.
Perhaps that’s why the Chronicle fails to provide any support for that claim.
Next, this doozy:
“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. Namely, Black and brown folks.”
The Chronicle unashamedly declares that every Republican—including James White, a Black Republican from East Texas—is a racist seeking to silence the “undeserving.” Instead of addressing the facts at hand—we face a crisis of confidence in our elections system, which goes beyond party lines—the Chronicle simply shouts “racism.” That’s not an argument worthy of an editorial; it’s the kind of irresponsible personal attack that destroys dialogue.
As a former editorial page editor and editorial writer (and board member of the industry group, the Association of Opinion Journalists), I’m deeply disappointed in the tone of the Chronicle’s editorial. Our goal should always be to hash out our differences without resorting to name-calling, personal attacks or overstatement. We can make our case without making enemies.
But let’s address that “unconstitutional” claim; does Senate Bill 7 do anything unconstitutional? On the contrary; by banning “practices as voting after 9 p.m., drive-thru voting, and dropping off an absentee ballot in a secure drop box,” as the Chronicle put it, SB 7 is simply reminding Texas counties (such as Harris, where Houston is located) that according to the U.S. Constitution, the “time, place and manner” of elections is to be determined by the Legislature—not county officials.
If the Chronicle wants drive-through voting and drop-boxes, it should find a willing legislator and get a bill passed. It’s that simple.
The Chronicle also cites a “chilling exchange” about the “stated rationale” of Texas voter ID law in a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2016. Yet the Chronicle fails to mention that in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled ID requirements for voting to be constitutional (Crawford v. Marion County Election Board) and ruled that obtaining a government ID is not overly burdensome.
The Chronicle concludes, “Republican leaders pushing the restrictions accuse critics of ‘race-baiting’ and insist their efforts are about securing elections. Sure they are: securing elections for themselves.”
But the Chronicle will find that its readers don’t agree. In fact, there’s widespread support of voter ID laws among Americans.
“A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 75% of Likely U.S. Voters believe voters should be required to show photo identification such as a driver’s license before being allowed to vote,” Rasmussen says. “Only 21% are opposed to such a requirement.”
That includes 69% of blacks and 82% of other minorities.
And new polling from the Dallas Morning News shows that “60% of voters support additional requirements beyond signature verification to increase “election integrity,” while only 18% thought additional requirements are unnecessary.”
In short, people support securing our elections, no one thinks voter ID is racist, and there is no evidence of voter suppression—just the opposite.
Free and fair elections are vital to the future of Texas. They’re worth securing—even at the cost of incurring the wrath of the Houston Chronicle.

Senate Bill 2213: Energy Storage Facilities

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Brent Bennett, Ph.D., is the policy director for Life:Powered, an initiative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation to raise America’s energy IQ.
Life:Powered, an initiative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation to raise America’s energy IQ, supports SB 2213 because Texas needs to start grappling with the end-of-life issues presented by the growth of energy storage facilities in the state, usually paired with solar facilities but also operating on their own.
Testimony Before the Texas Senate Business & Commerce Committee

Senate Bill 1716: CARES Act

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Early in the onset of COVID-19, federal funds in the form of the CARES Act flowed directly to states for education. The distribution was left up to the discretion of the governors based on their own state’s needs. Governor Abbott saw the strug- gles of Texas students with disabilities and dedicated $30 million to supporting them this year through the Supplemental Special Education Services (SSES) program.

Testimony in Support Submitted to the Texas Senate Education Committee

Senate Bill 1955: Learning Pods

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A “learning pod” is simply a group of families who voluntarily gather either in a home, park, or other location to share aca- demic resources, tutoring, or just moral support. Recent polling reveals that about 85% of parents currently participating in a learning pod are doing so in addition to regular schooling (p. 21). Unfortunately, certain municipalities, including Austin, have attempted to regulate learning pods using provisions that apply to child care providers, residential zoning, and school health guidelines.

Testimony in Support Submitted to the Texas Senate Education Committee

SALT in the Wound: I Actually Agree with AOC

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I have rarely agreed with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) on anything—especially tax policy. Yet here we are, opposing unlimited SALT deductions together. State And Local Tax deductions are paid for by you and me, yet they go to the wealthiest people in the country.
SALT deductions work like this: If choosing itemized deductions on your federal income tax return, you can deduct the state and local taxes that you paid when calculating your income that is subject to federal income tax. Basically, paying more in state and local taxes (whether income, sales, or property taxes) means you can pay a little less in federal income taxes.
When your income is measured in the millions—or billions—of dollars however, then that little less is a lot more. Before the cap on SALT deductions, almost all the benefits from the deduction went to the top income quintile. A full quarter of the tax deduction went to the top 0.1% while a mere 4% of the tax deduction went to the entire middle class, at a value of just $27 per middle-class taxpayer.
That changed with the 2017 tax reform, which capped the SALT deduction at $10,000. This affected hardly any lower- or middle-class families, but it forced high-income earners to pay more of the burden of living in a high-tax state or municipality. Many Democrats in high-tax states want to repeal the cap so that their wealthiest constituents can receive the tax subsidy again. AOC wants to keep the cap in place because she believes the wealthy are not “paying their fair share,” and she supported the recent New York tax hike on millionaires.
To be sure, whether or not the wealthy are paying their fair share is irrelevant. AOC’s “soak the rich” strategy has never worked, which is why New Yorkers have been fleeing the state’s high taxes for years. While her talking points may sound attractive, they are bad economic policy.
But let us not get too far off the rails—I did say, after all, that I agree with her on the SALT deduction issue. However, the real reason for opposing the unlimited SALT deduction—or any SALT deduction for that matter—is not just because it is a giveaway to the rich, but because it is a giveaway to fiscally irresponsible state and local governments. It is a subsidy for those financial basket-case governments that is paid for by people in financially responsible states. Tax dollars from Texas and Florida are used to replace lost tax dollars in California and Connecticut.
Put simply, this system punishes good behavior and rewards bad behavior.
There is no excuse for so perverse an incentive as this. If a state wants to raise taxes and frivolously spend the taxpayers’ money, then that state should be free to do so—provided that its residents bear the full cost of doing so. It is not only economically inefficient to be subsidizing wasteful states at our expense; it is morally wrong.
While eliminating the cap on SALT deductions shifts tax burdens from high-income earners to low-income earners, it also shifts the burden from states that have fiscally run themselves into the ground, à la Illinois and New York, and puts that burden on Texas and other states that have largely been responsible with their budgets. If you are looking for an unfair tax policy, that is it.
The solution in this instance is crystal clear: There should be no federal income tax deductions for state and local taxes.
It is just another example of how our inordinately complicated federal tax code creates more inequality instead of reducing it. While repealing the SALT deduction in its entirety would certainly be preferable to the current situation, at least the cap is an improvement over where we were in 2016. (We must not let the best be the enemy of the good.)
Though I did not think I would be writing this today, I agree with AOC. The faux-populist “Sandy” Cortez may be wrong about 70% tax rates, Modern Monetary Theory, and Medicare-for-All, but at least she is right on this—even if her motive is wrong. Then again, as T.S. Eliot noted,
“The last temptation is the greatest treason,
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

The Alarming Absence of Accountability in the Homelessness System

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Federal prosecutors filed charges against the recently terminated CEO of one of New York’s largest homeless shelter networks. They allege he pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from contractors hired by the nonprofit organization he led for two decades.
These charges were in addition to the sexual abuse and financial impropriety charges that resulted in his firing last month. Victor Rivera, according to the prosecutors, had enriched himself for years.
In the heart of the nation’s financial services capital, in the heart of its homelessness capital, in the heart of someone who professedly cares about the homeless, how do such egregious crimes happen even once, let alone over 10 years without notice?
Welcome to the world of homelessness, where accountability no longer exists and is now considered a barrier to helping the homeless. A lack of accountability in a system often has a snowball effect, spilling over into other parts. In this case, it certainly has.
It starts at the top with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the largest funder of homelessness in the nation and, thus, the nation’s driver of policy. In 2008, HUD rolled out Housing First, designed to address a very narrow segment of the homeless population — the severely and chronically homeless, mostly those living on the streets. From 2011 to 2013, HUD expanded it to apply to all segments of the homeless population, without any reasonable evidence it would work for everyone. HUD literally promised to solve homelessness in a decade; some officials asserted some populations would take as little as five years.
Instead, newly released, pre-COVID-19 data provided by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness substantiates a more than 16% increase in nationwide homelessness — including a 22% increase in unsheltered homelessness, the population for whom Housing First was developed. This occurred under a 200% increase in homelessness spending, a booming economy, and, of course, with HUD’s promise of ending homelessness in 10 years.
Despite its failure, Housing First continues to reign at HUD and in the 230-plus local jurisdictions that chose to follow HUD’s lead. California adopted Housing First in 2016 and has since experienced a staggering 37% increase in homelessness. In Austin, homelessness has increased 17% since 2016, with a 93% increase in the unsheltered population.
Nevertheless, these policies — and the vast majority of their advocates — remain in place. None of the elected officials who adopted this policy are suffering, but the homeless are.
At the provider level, accountability is also nonexistent. According to the New York Times, which broke the story on Rivera’s appalling behavior, he used his nonprofit organization as a means to build his personal empire. He gave jobs to family members, awarded contracts to close associates, drove a Mercedes-Benz leased by his organization, and bought a home with a heated pool north of New York City and another house in the Poconos — all of this on top of the many sexual abuse allegations he faces.
A system in which no one notices such activity over a decade is unquestionably lacking accountability. As the New York Times noted, “This case shows the extent to which shelter providers can avoid meaningful repercussions for even serious malfeasance.”
At the individual level, the lack of accountability is even more glaring. Under Housing First, the homeless receive housing for life as “the solution” to the complex challenges they are facing. More than 75% suffer from substance abuse disorder, mental illness, or physical disabilities, often in addition to criminal histories, domestic violence, and lack of education or work experience.
However, sobriety, mental health treatment, and job training services are expressly prohibited as a required condition of receiving the “subsidized-for-life” housing provided. The result of this materialistic focus on four walls and a roof is that the homeless are straightjacketed into dependency, and taxpayers are straightjacketed into providing subsidized-for-life housing for hundreds of thousands of people who could work and provide for themselves with the proper tools and supportive services.
An additional and often unrecognized tragedy has unfolded under Housing First: The nonprofit groups that actually employ any sort of accountability measures with the homeless they serve are ineligible for government funding.
People and systems will flourish only where accountability exists. Until we demand that accountability be instilled at every level of our homelessness system, the homeless, and the systems we have in place to help them, will continue to struggle.

The Results are in: Texans Want Voter ID to Secure Elections

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I don’t know how widespread voter fraud was in the last two presidential elections. But I do know that vulnerabilities exist in our election system that allow both sides to sow legitimate doubts about the results. For the sake of our democracy, this needs to stop.
Thankfully, the vast majority of Texans agree.
The key to protecting the integrity of our elections is verifying that only eligible voters can cast ballots and ensuring that only legitimate votes count. The weaknesses in our system get called out when critics, generally the losers in an election, point to irregularities in how our process collects and counts votes.
While these claims mostly serve to soothe the spurned egos of failed politicos, the reality is that our system is vulnerable, nefarious actors exploit it, and this leads to illegal votes that violate the rights—and choices—of legitimate voters. Policymakers need to take that seriously.
We know the biggest vulnerability is mail-in ballots, which are susceptible to ballot trafficking. That is the practice of using gifts, coercion, intimidation, deception, or simply stealing ballots out of mailboxes, to substitute the trafficker’s choice for the voter’s.
Ballot trafficking and abusing the mail-in ballot process is a preferred method of committing fraud. Once the illegal votes are mixed with the legal ones, it’s virtually impossible to separate them. Mail-in ballots do require a signature, but discrepancies are not checked or largely ignored, which makes signatures a less-than-ideal security measure—one unworthy of protecting a voter’s most fundamental democratic right.
Additionally, our system offers very little recourse for challenge potential fraud after the votes have been counted, which contributes to undermining confidence in the results.
To restore confidence, we need measures that make fraud less likely to succeed in the first place.
That’s why the overwhelming majority of Texans support common-sense voter verification requirements. 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.
These results roundly reject the idea that making elections more secure equates to “Jim Crow” or lead to so-called voter suppression (of which there has been no evidence for numerous decades).
It’s appropriate, and some might argue obligatory, for policymakers to address deficiencies in our institutions when the people are not served by them. The left and right might not agree on the specific way in which problems are fixed, but we all agree the way we educate our kids, deliver heath care, or raise tax revenue could be better. But no one demands that medical malpractice or illiteracy be “widespread” before we expect our politicians to act.
The same is true with our election system. Just as every individual person’s health and education is important, so is the right of a legitimate voter to be counted equally.
Patching the weaknesses in our system, like requiring voter ID for mail in ballots the way we do in-person ballots, gets us closer to truly free and fair elections.

Dream Big: We Can Eliminate School District M&O Property Taxes

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In Texas, we dream big. That’s what House Bill 59 does—it imagines a Texas that lightens the tax burden on Texans, upholds property rights and ensures that education is properly funded.
Authored by Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, the bill would eliminate the school maintenance and operations portion of your property tax bill on Jan. 1, 2024, and would create a legislative commission that would use the intervening time to study the best way to replace that revenue. This bill would cut local property taxes nearly in half while adhering to the state’s constitutional responsibility of funding government schools.
The key to achieving this, of course, is restraining government spending at the state and local government levels.
The fact is that the skyrocketing local property tax burden remains one of the state’s most pressing policy challenges. Property taxes have been growing faster than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for them. Any growth over population-plus-inflation represents a growth in government above our ability to pay. For more on this formula, which we call the Conservative Texas Budget, click here.
According to the Tax Foundation, Texas has the seventh most burdensome property tax on homeowners. Too many have been forced out of their homes and businesses because of rapidly rising property taxes.
It would be great to eliminate all property taxes, which tend to hurt lower-income earners the most, so Texans can stop effectively renting from the government forever.
A good start in that process would be to eliminate school district M&O property taxes, which account for nearly half of the total property tax burden on Texans. Eliminating just the school district M&O property taxes is rather straightforward because the state determines the funding formulas for the school finance system, and it represents nearly half of the property tax levy across the state.
The question is how to replace this revenue. That’s easy—with a broader-based sales tax.
State sales taxes have grown far less than property taxes, less than personal income, and more closely with population growth plus inflation. This indicates that moving to a system based on the sales tax better aligns with the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for these taxes that fund government spending over time.
There are some important reasons why a sales tax is the better way to fund schools.
First, property taxes are inefficient. Property taxes in Texas are based primarily on subjective valuations by appraisal review boards and tax rates determined by local tax entities with little to no feedback from citizens, creating a highly inefficient collection mechanism.
Next, property taxes are more regressive than sales taxes. Sales taxes are paid once at purchase, yet property taxes are paid annually, hurting low- and fixed-income Texans the most because the costs compound over time. A high property tax also prevents many low-income earners from purchasing their first home and forces many others who do purchase to struggle to keep their home—they may even lose it.
Finally, during recessions (like the recent pandemic), lower-income earners tend to face the highest levels of unemployment and are least able to shoulder a tax burden. Their property tax burden, however, would increase relative to their income, while their sales tax burden would fall more proportionately with their income.
The sales tax is money that comes directly from the choices of consumers. It ensures that all financial power remains within their control, whereas property taxes are a burden that is forced upon all taxpayers with little means of working around it.
It would work—and result in fully funding schools based on the state’s school finance system.
Economists of the Baker Institute at Rice University studied the economic effects of replacing property taxes with sales taxes over time. They found that just a 3.6% decrease in school district M&O property taxes could contribute to a $14.3 billion increase in economic output and 217,000 new jobs after just the first year of reforms and more thereafter. Imagine if we eliminated that burden!
By combining property tax reductions and reform with spending limitations, Texas could shift to a more efficient and fairer sales tax system. In this way, Texans can be assured meaningful, lasting, property tax relief and an improved Texas Model that will sustain economic prosperity for generations.

A Home Run for Health Care

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An important slate of health care reform bills has passed in the Texas House. It’s now up to the Senate to move the legislation forward, and if these bills are signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, the result will be a healthier, more prosperous Texas.
The bills, bundled together as the “Healthy Families, Healthy Texas” plan by Speaker Dade Phelan, are a bipartisan effort—something truly rare in these hyperpartisan times. They focus on three things: increasing access to care, improving health outcomes and making care more affordable.
To improve access to care, House Bill 4 expands the use of telemedicine (also called telehealth). During the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine proved an invaluable tool for Texans, many of whom wouldn’t have been able to see their doctors otherwise. The bill will also allow Medicaid recipients to use telemedicine services and would address technology gaps (allowing for phone calls when patients don’t have broadband, for example).
House Bill 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.
To improve health outcomes, House Bill 18 will reduce the cost of prescription medications for approximately 3 million uninsured Texans. We know that medication compliance is a big factor in determining outcomes; the bill would give the uninsured access to to deeply discounted  prescriptions.
House Bill 133 addresses maternal health and mortality by expanding Medicaid eligibility to new mothers for up to a year after their child’s birth.
“Access to medical resources and counseling can save the lives of mothers,” notes the bill’s author, state Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas. “The safety net for those needing assistance disappears 60 days after delivery, despite the medical proof that their lives remain in danger for a year or more after birth.”
There are other elements of the Healthy Families, Healthy Texas plan that haven’t passed the House yet. We would like to see action on these items, too. A provision to require price transparency, House Bill 2487 from Rep. Tom Oliverson, is a game-changer that would finally end the pernicious practice of surprise billing and inconsistent, arbitrary pricing that threatens so many Texans financially. Fortunately, that bill’s Senate companion passed that body on March 31, and is headed to the House.
One thing notable about Healthy Families, Healthy Texas is that it makes fixes to our health care system that go beyond the usual calls to expand Medicaid coverage to more people. Coverage doesn’t equal care, and Healthy Families, Healthy Texas focuses on the delivery and affordability of health care services.
A common complaint from the left is that these programs are the equivalent of “small ball” when Medicaid expansion helps more people. The truth of the matter is that these bills would help more Texans than expansion could.
That’s a home run for Texas families.

Free and Fair Elections are Under Siege

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Growing up in one of the most politically active communities in Houston, I was taught from an early age that voting was our most important civic duty. My father would always say “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.” In those days, people had a great deal of confidence in one another and our electoral process. We believed that our vote stood as an instrument necessary to elevate America to its greatest potential, and we believed that everyone’s vote should be respected.
However, the thirst for power has now eclipsed the passion for integrity. The extreme left has set itself on a course to redefine America—the first step of which is securing the gavel for many years to come. They have unified their forces around a single target: breaking down the integrity of our election system.
Following the 2020 election, polls say that 74 million Americans feel that the election results were not accurate. According to a Gallup poll, nearly 60% of Americans didn’t have confidence in the honesty of our elections. Even within the Democrat party, 30% do not trust the outcomes from 2020.
With trust in our elections continuing to erode, leadership on the left and global corporations have combined money, politics, and race to create a climate that would allow them to re-write the rules to secure power in perpetuity. The first phase of this strategy is to eliminate voter identification requirements, remove signature verification of mail-in ballots, and promote universal mail-in voting along with ballot harvesting.
Fortunately, there are reasonable measures that can re-establish the lost trust in our system and prevent fraud. Chairman Briscoe Cain filed House Bill 6, which has passed his Elections Committee and stands ready for a floor vote. HB 6 codifies the rules on mail-in ballots, bans the unlawful distribution of unrequested mail-in-ballot applications, and it protects voters from illegal coercion regardless of where they vote. Additionally, Sen. Bryan Hughes has won Senate passage of Senate Bill 7, which now moves to the House. SB 7 strengthens poll watcher protections, requires a verifiable voter paper trail, and secures more timely investigations into evidence of alleged voter fraud.
These bills are commendable steps, but they must include voter ID for mail-in ballots to truly restore trust and integrity.
While some claim that these measures lead to voter suppression and are reminiscent of the days of Jim Crow laws, opponents of election integrity have never been able to produce a single case of voter suppression. The fact is, most Texans and Americans, regardless of their race, support common-sense ballot integrity measures such as ID laws, requiring that those who request a ballot-by-mail are actually eligible for a ballot-by-mail, as well as not allowing administrators to change the rules of the game without Legislature approval.
In a poll conducted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, more than four out of five (81%) of Texans said that voting in person and by mail should have the same voter identification requirements; and from the same poll, 60% believed that voting by mail should be available only to citizens who are elderly, disabled, away from their primary residence for work, or military.
Not only are these ideas the opposite of discrimination, they are also precisely the kind of measures we need in order to restore trust and confidence in our elections.
No voter should have to question if their vote counts, just because we’ve made it too easy for ineligible voters to cast ballots.

Election Integrity Only Really Matters When It’s Gone

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As a first-generation American kid, the saying, “you only really appreciate something when it’s gone” was repeated to me ad nauseum and drilled into my brain by my parents, who were forced to flee their homeland of Cuba in 1960. I heard it at family gatherings as well, and when visitors came over.
Hearing it was one thing, but I could also feel it in their voices and I saw it in their faces as they remembered all that they had lost. According to their stories, Cuba of the 1950s—though not perfect—was considered a paradise and a jewel of the Caribbean and Latin America. It even had a model constitution. All that was, of course, taken away by Fidel Castro and his communist revolution in 1959.
I think about that now, and I hear the saying as witness the current controversy over our elections. I never would have thought that in this country, the integrity of our elections and the electoral process—the very bedrock of our American republic—would be in jeopardy. But it is. Now I realize, with a bit of my own fear, what my parents were trying to tell me.
It is like President Ronald Reagan once said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same.”
Without accountability and transparency, it is difficult, if not impossible, to have trust and faith in the electoral process which underpins all the decisions made to govern our nation and our state.
While the media circus has focused much of its attention on election legislation in Georgia, we have our own fight right here in Texas. Two of the most prominent bills making their way through the Texas Legislature are Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6.  Taken together, they close loopholes and strengthen our state electoral process by addressing the issues of maintaining accurate voter rolls, clarifying voter assistance provisions, prohibiting the use of private funds for election administration, and curbing the problems of ballot harvesting and unsolicited ballot requests. Both are needed and should be passed.
However, a third measure should be added in order to ensure we protect our voting system: voter identification for mail-in ballots. While the controversy has reached a fever-pitch across the country with the left (as usual) raising the specter of racism, nothing could be further from the truth. Texas already requires voter ID for in-person voting. This requirement is part of the law and has withstood legal challenge.
Requiring identification for mail-in ballots simply would bring uniformity and fairness to the system by making sure that all ballots cast whether in-person or by mail follow the same set of rules. Claiming the requirement of mail-in voter ID is racist is disingenuous and a distraction. Under this specious standard, identification requirements for Social Security, Medicaid, welfare, and food stamp applications would also be racist.
What I and many Americans are feeling is a disquieting sense of impending loss, and a sense that the foundations of America are under attack. Free and fair elections are what America is known for.
Faith in our elections leads to the peace and stability that allows our nation to grow and prosper. It is the hope that draws people from across the world to our shores.
We must rally around our election system. We must strengthen and protect it, not weaken it. We must appreciate and protect what we have while we have it—and not wait until it is gone.

Senate Bill 27: Virtual Education

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TPPF has long noted that the state of Texas’s limitations on virtual education have led to unexpected and unintended consequences that have intensified with the recent COVID-19 pandemic. The limitations on a district’s ability to develop virtual education systems have significantly impacted the provision of virtual education, rendering districts unprepared to meet the needs of students in pandemic-like situations. As referenced in TPPF’s November 2020 report, Virtual Education in Texas, “allowing the development of flexible school models can allow more students to learn in the way they prefer and create a more resilient public education system.”

Prioritizing Reliability is the Only Way to Stop the Blackouts

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If the February blackouts weren’t a wakeup call to the Texas Legislature, this week’s electricity conservation alerts — unheard of in mild April weather with demand nowhere close to peak levels — should make them bolt upright. It’s clear we desperately need market reform that prioritizes reliability, not just capacity.
Unfortunately, “Texas-style blackouts” is already replacing “California-style blackouts” in common parlance. Our leaders must act now to right the ship and keep our state — the energy capital — from becoming the laughingstock of the nation.
 The problem is straightforward, if not simple: Our electricity market isn’t set up to value reliability. Thanks to decades of market-distorting subsidies and policies that favor building new capacity instead of ensuring we actually have enough electricity, slim-to-nothing reserve margins are becoming more and more common. In July 2020 I warned that had it not been for the COVID-19 shutdowns we would likely have had rolling outages. A month later, on August 14, 2020, I was almost proved right as we were dangerously close to a Level 1 emergency. It’s all but certain we’ll have them again this summer, if not earlier.
The cost — both financial and in lost productivity — of unreliable electricity shouldn’t be borne by Texans. Instead, it should fall on the generators that cause it.
We can no longer accept that wind and solar produce “enough” when their generation is so wildly variable, dependent on the weather, and often pitifully low. Wind and solar produced just 8% of our electricity on the day of the blackouts, at one point falling as low as 1.5% — yet activists trumpeted that renewables met expectations.
If one of my boys came home with a 2% grade on his test, you can bet I wouldn’t be pleased, even if the teacher only expected him to score 2%. It’s still a failing grade — and in the case of electricity, a failing grade Texans are paying dearly for.
My former colleagues in the Texas Legislature should unapologetically support bills to require reliable generation and place the cost on the generators that need it, not on Texans.
 The Legislature should also end energy subsidies that distort the market and created this problem in the first place. For decades, wind and solar have received tens of billions of our hard-earned tax dollars in subsidies and tax breaks at the state and federal level.
Fossil fuels are subsidized too, but at a much lower rate. Oil and gas receive an average of 39 cents per megawatt-hour, while wind receives $18.86 and solar $82.46. With the average price of electricity last year just over $22, it’s not hard to see why wind and solar get an artificial advantage and more reliable thermal generators are crowded out of the market. It’s hard to make ends meet, even if your product is a better choice, when your competitors are able to pay their customers a large proportion of the time, as is the case with wind generators.
Regardless, all subsidies should be eliminated in order to allow the free market to function and properly value reliability.
 The Capitol is also abuzz with talk of weatherization. These measures might be some help but shouldn’t be mandated. Our electric generators should be empowered to make the choices that best fit their customers and their business models.
Furthermore, even the most effective winterization measures won’t help inevitable summer demand — and could actually hurt. Understandably, technology that keeps plants warm in the winter makes them run less efficiently in the summer, when they don’t need any help staying warm in searing 100-degree temperatures.
Ultimately, weatherization will be little more than a Band-Aid on a gaping wound and should be viewed as an option to improve reliability, not a turnkey solution.
With just six weeks left in the 87th Legislative Session, time is running short. Without decisive action, more blackouts are not just possible, but inevitable. Texans deserve better — and the Legislature should act accordingly.

House Bill 4361: Fast Track to Employment

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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 re-skilling to fill specialized roles in IT, manufacturing, construction, and healthcare.

Texas Has Renewable Energy – Now It Needs Reliable Energy

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Should power generators be required to guarantee that they can provide a certain amount of electricity? That’s what state legislators are considering at the Texas Capitol.
A cadre of out-of-state banks and tech companies fretted in a letter to state leaders that such a mandate would “inappropriately and unfairly” impose more costs on renewable energy companies. Instead, they argue that these costs should be borne by “all the beneficiaries of those ancillary services” – i.e., consumers. But February’s blackouts from Winter Storm Uri that left over 4 million Texans shivering in the cold – and killed at least 80 – should make it clearer than ever to legislators that state residents shouldn’t have to bear the burden of the intermittency costs of wind and generation, which are transferred to the rest of the grid and ultimately to consumers.
There has been ample debate in Capitol circles about who’s to blame for the blackouts. Is it ERCOT? Natural gas? Renewables? The renewable lobby’s strawman claim is that wind out-performed day-ahead forecasts, but the real issue is that wind usually generates the least amount of energy when it’s needed most.
So, let’s cut through the noise: Even if every generator that was online the night of February 14 had continued operating at full tilt, we still would have seen widespread and lasting outages. Weatherization and the need for more reliable natural gas infrastructure are only part of the problem. The legislature must make real market reforms, or else we will be back asking the same questions in the near future.
Texas simply doesn’t have enough reliable electricity generators – power plants that can be counted on to produce consistently and to ramp up during peak demand. Over the last five years, the Lone Star State has prematurely retired more than 5,000 MW in natural gas and clean coal while its population and economy grew significantly. Even though renewable capacity nearly tripled over the same period, the problem remains that wind and solar can’t be counted on to provide enough electricity when needed most because their output varies with the weather, not with demand.
How did we get here? There are several explanations. One involves decades of multibillion-dollar subsidies for wind and solar, including federal subsidies, which are often 50% or more of wholesale electricity prices. These subsidies give renewables an artificial advantage and make it almost impossible for reliable power plants to remain economically competitive in an energy-only market, hence the premature retirements of reliable generating capacity.
Additionally, wind and solar benefit from a hidden subsidy, in that they don’t fully bear the intermittency costs they impose on the rest of the grid. Econ 101 predicts that if unreliable capacity is subsidized and reliable capacity penalized, you will end up with over-investment in unreliable capacity and under-investment in the capacity most needed to keep the lights on. That describes Texas to a tee. Add to that the way in which Texas has socialized the additional cost of transmission for wind and solar, and you have a market far out of balance.
 Texas’s current electricity market isn’t set up to properly value reliability in the presence of large amounts of variable wind and solar generation. Scarcity pricing and limited ancillary services (the technical term for backup generation to fill in gaps during peak demand periods) are designed to account for small variations in power availability – up to about 10%. These mechanisms aren’t capable of counterbalancing the 50% or greater variability of wind and solar during peak demand periods.
Electricity prices were near zero a week before the February blackouts, and negative – meaning generators actually paid the grid to take their power – just a day after it ended. It’s very difficult to invest in a natural gas power plant that relies on brief and unpredictable periods of high prices while losing money the rest of the year.
After the blackouts, it should be clear that cheap electricity is not very valuable if it is not there when we need it. Wind and solar generators make up a third of Texas’s generating capacity but produce only a small fraction of that capacity when they’re needed the most. The only way to move the market closer to a proper equilibrium is to require unreliable wind and solar generators to improve their reliability so that it is closer to that of thermal generators.
Some legislators are proposing a “capacity market,” which would socialize the cost of improved reliability through a flat fee on consumers. This is an ill-considered and inefficient solution that arbitrarily imposes the cost of intermittency on Texans, instead of on the generators that cause it.
Texas desperately needs more reliable electricity generation; the state’s economy, population, and energy needs show no sign of slowing down. But current projections suggest that Texas will lose at least as much reliable generating capacity as it will add over the next several years.
The Texas legislature should create clear guidelines for statewide electric reliability and ensure that California-style blackouts don’t become the norm here. Targeted and efficient market reforms can begin to solve this problem if legislators and the Public Utility Commission are willing to ask the hard questions about Winter Storm Uri – and learn the proper lessons from it.

My Story: Health Care Price Transparency Would Have Saved Us Thousands of Dollars

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When I needed to get a test done at my local hospital, my first thought was to ask around and search the internet to determine what this would cost me. I’ve tried to ask the hospital directly before but have been told they can’t tell me what a procedure will cost until after it’s complete. What I thought would be a $1,000 test turned out to be $8,000. Stories like mine are surprisingly common, but Texas lawmakers have an opportunity to ensure that future patients don’t suffer from sticker shock as I did.
Getting personal: My doctor and I discussed a fertility-related diagnostic test and determined it was necessary to see any possible causes of why I’ve been unable to get pregnant. This procedure involves a radiologist, so I understood the higher cost associated with the test. I also knew ahead of time I would have to cover 100% because my insurance would not help since the test was related to fertility.
When the bill came two months later, my husband opened it, handed it to me, and said, “Don’t panic—we’ll figure this out.” I laughed when I saw the amount due because I thought there’s no way this is real. Then the worry started. We have been saving in anticipation of needing IVF treatment. Would that opportunity be put on hold because of this procedure that now felt incredibly futile? Infertility is hard enough, and this bill was like a twist on the knife already in my back.
The next day, I called the hospital and asked for an itemized bill, hoping to find a mistake. Without skipping a beat, they offered me a 75% discount. I was shocked. How many people pay a bill because they don’t think they have any other option? I, like many millennials, pay all of my bills online without ever speaking to the charging party. How many people ignore a high bill and take a hit to their credit instead? After all, who has $8,000 sitting around like loose change?
Still thinking that the test should cost less than what the hospital offered, my husband and I started calling around. Looking for any insight or help, we called my insurance company, my doctor who ordered the test, my general PA who was familiar with the test, and finally ran the issue up through the hospital. In the end, we paid the hospital’s discounted price. We felt grateful not to have paid $8,000 but still felt taken advantage of.
The most frustrating thing is that after paying the bill I learned that the next city’s hospital, roughly 15 minutes away, charges less than $1,000 for the test. Situations like this could be why nearly nine out of 10 people believe that all healthcare prices should be disclosed. Those polled above also said that they would feel more comfortable getting the care they may need if they knew the costs in advance.
Fortunately, there are some measures being considered during the 87th Legislature which would ensure transparency in health care. Transparent health care rates could mean a difference of hundreds or, in my case, thousands of dollars saved by families. We have price transparency in virtually every aspect of our lives—airline tickets, vehicle purchase prices, buying a home, you name it. Why should health care be any different?

House Bill 3015: Accountability Mechanism

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As introduced, HB 3015 would provide additional enforcement mechanisms to encourage compliance with and a timely response to Public Information Act (PIA) requests, even if the desired information does not exist or if it may be legally withheld. Enshrining these extra protections in state law would promote transparency and ensure accountability.

House Bill 1656: Emergency Powers

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Texas Government Code Chapter 418, also known as the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, grants broad but temporary emer- gency powers to the governor and certain local officials, albeit in unequal measure. During the COVID-19 pandemic, officials used this authority to impose a wide variety of rules and restrictions on Texans. As evidenced in the Foundation’s research, some of these new regulations imposed at the local level have been burdensome and many conflicted with state orders.*

House Bill 1810: Texas Public Information Act

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The Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) provides the public with the tools needed to request government information. As the opening preamble of the public information act states:
The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.
While this intent may be good and true, the law in practice has evolved into a tool that is often less effective than what it aspires to be. This is evidenced, in part, when individuals receive the requested information in an unusable format one that is not easy to search or sort. The Office of the Attorney General stated that information should be provided in the requested format, if available. Unfortunately, that is not always the outcome.

Lockdowns Hurt Our Kids’ Futures

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A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted the devastating mental health effects of the pandemic on children. Kids have been subjected to stifling lockdowns even though there has been overwhelming evidence that children are at low to no risk of experiencing severe symptoms or transmitting COVID-19. While the article is certainly correct to emphasize the terrible state of America’s youth, it wrongly places the blame—the pandemic did not do this to our children. Government-imposed lockdowns did.
Isolation has taken its toll on everyone, but most especially the very young and very old.
A study conducted at a pediatric emergency department in Texas found that suicide ideation among 11- to 21-year-olds as well as suicide attempts are up significantly from 2019. Mental health-related emergency department visits for minors jumped 11.3% in the first quarter of 2020 and then another 44.1% through October 2020. Remote learning has negatively affected the mental and emotional health of one in four children.
Instead of normal, healthy human interaction, children have been left to their own devices—literally. These include phones, tablets, gaming consoles, and computers, all of which are poor substitutes for human relationships and interpersonal connections.
But the toll on children goes beyond deteriorating mental health and retrograding social skills. Children are falling behind in the classroom, especially in math. Remote learning and so-called hybrid learning have proved a poor substitute in educating many of the young.
Almost half of parents in a study of low-income families reported experiencing food insecurity. Given the sky-high unemployment caused by government-imposed lockdowns, this is not surprising, especially because low-income earners were more heavily affected by this forced unemployment. Parental angst due to economic issues adds to a child’s already increased anxiety.
Like the isolation imposed on children, the source of the nation’s unemployment also has not been a virus, but government-imposed lockdowns.
The proof of this is the comparison between states that implemented lockdowns and those that did not. The lowest unemployment rates are found in states that have essentially returned to normal, or never imposed restrictions in the first place. The highest unemployment rates are found in states that implemented the harshest lockdowns.
While the tightest lockdowns were all in Democrat-run states, this is not strictly a political issue. Among all Republican trifecta states, (where Republicans control the entire legislature and the governorship) Texas has the worst unemployment, as Texas imposed some of the tightest and longest restrictions. Texas must now catch up to states like South Dakota and Florida, which both returned to normal long before Texas.
Just as unemployment has been highest in states with harsher lockdowns, school closures have been the worst in those same states. And yet, despite the severe costs which the lockdowns have imposed upon children, those lockdowns were seemingly ineffective at slowing the spread and reducing the death rate of COVID-19. (New cases and deaths in Texas are continuing their downward trend since the statewide mask mandate was lifted on March 10.) In fact, the chart below shows a slightly positive, although statistically insignificant, relationship between government-imposed lockdowns and state death rates.

In contrast, there is a strong relationship between the severity of government-imposed lockdowns and both school closures and state unemployment rates. Unsurprisingly, the states that forced businesses and schools to close suffered, and continue to suffer, the highest unemployment.

So, while the government-imposed lockdowns failed to achieve their primary stated objective, those lockdowns succeeded in crashing the best economy in half a century and inflicting our children with low-quality educational experiences and mental-health afflictions. Sadly, even after the government-imposed lockdowns end, children are more likely to have depression and anxiety because of this artificial isolation.
The lockdowns were a mistake, but where do we go from here?
First and foremost, we need to return to normal, and not some kind of Orwellian “new normal.” Families need to be allowed to practice personal responsibility rather than be told how to act by politicians or bureaucrats.
Second, our children will need more mental and emotional support, which starts with healthy and robust families, and is buttressed by private organizations (both for-profit and non-profit) that cater to these family issues at the local level.
Finally, this last year has been a massive case study demonstrating why educational freedom is essential. Giving parents more options in how their children are educated is a powerful way to improve educational outcomes because of the competition that arises when students are not forced to attend a particular school but rather choose one that meets their unique needs.
None of these strategies involve growing government or bureaucracy. In fact, they involve limiting or reducing the roles of governments by strengthening institutions and freeing local communities to help children and families prosper. And given how far many children have fallen behind in the last year, they need all the help we can give them.

Is It Time to End Policing?

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Is it time to end policing—as was recently insisted by a member of the majority party in the United States House of Representatives? In response to the shooting death of Duante Wright, Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan tweeted in part, “No more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can’t be reformed,” equating policing with “government funded murder.”
In her opinion, the shooting was not an accident because “Policing in our country is inherently & intentionally racist.” The police officer who—by all appearances—mistakenly deployed a pistol instead of a Taser is guilty of murder, no matter her intent.
Rep. Tlaib is wrong.
Policing is a core function of government. While the Left appears intent on destroying it, policing is fundamental to a civil society because small portions of society tend to not be civil when left to their own devices. Repeat criminals may make up a very small percentage of our communities, but they commit a disproportionate number of the crimes. Without law enforcement pressure, there will be little to no restraint on their criminal impulses, something that very likely accounts for the skyrocketing crime rates in all of our major cities.
It has become so common for the Left to claim that anything they disagree with is racist that the term has lost much of its definition and most of its impact. And that is shameful; genuine racism should still generate a visceral disgust where it is found. But using it as a constant bludgeon against those with different policy positions weakens the term, our reaction to it, and the strength of the argument of those using it.  Policing is not a racist institution. Police officers spend a lot of time protecting minority lives, lives that are exponentially more often lost as victims of crime than at the hands of police officers.
For Rep. Tlaib to use the Minnesota shooting, which by all accounts appears to have been a tragic accident, as an example of systemic racism is reprehensible and destructive. It contributes to the rioting we are seeing, it disincentivizes proactive policing to quell rising violent crime, and suppresses the hiring of good recruits into the profession.
Policing is becoming increasingly more difficult to recruit for, and the already low number of minority police officers will not be helped by this sort of anti-police rhetoric. Should we be surprised that there are smaller numbers of Black applicants for law enforcement positions with the constant drumbeat declaring cops are racist? Who would want to go work with an agency that that hates them, after all?
The truth is that Black police officers are needed, and that the police subculture, officers see each other as blue, without regard to skin color, sex, religion, etc.
Maybe if potential police recruits knew that they would be welcomed into the police family regardless of their skin color or other identifiers that divide the rest of society, they would pick up an application and serve their communities alongside others committed to the same goal. They could be proud of the badge they wear and the oath they take and not feel that they are betraying their race in the process.
I stand by my initial analysis that the shooting in Minnesota was accidental. Still, that doesn’t make it any less tragic, so how do we prevent it in the future? Better training.
The officer apparently made the proper judgment call (a cognitive skill) to use the Taser, but then failed in the application of the tool (a physical skill). Physical skills, such as grabbing the proper tool and properly using it, are perishable skills that require constant training to maintain, more so than cognitive skills like de-escalation, decision-making, and communication. Most police departments do the bare minimum on physical skills training and retraining, and that is woefully inadequate. Training once per year with a Taser, handgun, baton, and personal weapons might check a box for a state mandate or department policy, but does little to maintain or improve the officers’ skills with those tools.
Imagine a baseball player who practiced hitting one time per year and then went into the season with that level of preparation. Any decision a baseball player will make, and any action they perform, is of far less consequence than that of a police officer.  And yet, that is what we often do with our police officers under the best of economic conditions.
Guess what the first thing to get cut is when we defund the police? That’s right—training.

Healthcare Hearing Legislative Alert

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Legislative alert: HAPPENING TODAY!
The Texas House will hear a critical bill which would lower drug prices for uninsured Texans on the House Floor TODAY—Thursday, April 14. This bill would establish a prescription drug savings program for uninsured Texans.
Below is some information on lowering drug pricing in the Lone Star State.

We are working day and night to advance liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise in the Lone Star State. Thank you for joining us in our mission!

Yes, Overreliance On Wind And Solar Helped Feed Texas’s Power Outages

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When the lights went out in Texas earlier this year, corporate media and the left swiftly developed a narrative and stuck to it: Texas failed because it didn’t regulate enough and it wasn’t part of the national grid.
This storyline also claimed a lack of electricity from wind and solar had nothing to do with the disaster that claimed 111 lives. Instead, the blackouts were the failure of normally reliable thermal power—natural gas, coal, and nuclear—due to a reluctance to spend billions of dollars to winterize facilities throughout a state more known for persistently hot summers than for transient polar vortices.
A variant of this liberal argument was posited by Pedro Gonzalez at American Greatness. The headline echoed the corporate media’s main gloat over Texas’s misfortune: “When the Free Market Freezes Over.” Unfortunately, Gonzalez, as with leftist media and the environmentalists he draws upon, make a few assertions that turn out to be not quite so.
Correcting the record is important since assigning the wrong reasons for Texas’s electric blackouts will lead to the wrong solutions.
How Much to Blame Wind
Gonzalez starts with the observation that at the root of Texas’s failure is “an indictment of a bought, unresponsive, ruling class.” This is likely his essay’s most correct statement, although not quite in the way he thinks. Gonzalez then repeats the oft-claimed charge that the blackouts were driven by thermal power failures with “wind shutdowns account(ing) for less than 13 percent of the outages.”
It is true that natural gas production in Texas, much of it in the Permian Basin in the west, dropped by about 75 percent soon after the cold front hit. Unfortunately, a cloud of disinformation peddled by the unreliables lobby (for wind and solar) and corporate media fed a false narrative that the failures were due solely to a lack of weatherization.
The reason for the drop in natural gas available for power generation is complicated, but a partial picture of what happened emerged from some 50 hours of sworn testimony before both houses of the Texas legislature on Feb. 25 and 26. Those hearings indicated there may have been some loss of gas supply due to wellhead freeze-offs and cold pipeline problems.
But unmentioned by critics was that ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) and Oncor, the Texas grid operator and one of its two large regulated electric transmission and distribution providers, respectively, inexplicably decided to cut power to the oil and gas fields, compressors, and pipeline infrastructure responsible for fueling the gas-fired power plants that were laboring mightily to keep the lights and heat on in Texas. Thus, human error played a role.
Additional natural-gas supplies were diverted to home heating needs during the record cold. Gas supply ramped up commensurate with electricity provided to the gas production infrastructure. The loss of power to oil and gas infrastructure was also made worse by an Obama administration environmental edict that forced the oil and gas industry to replace natural gas pipeline compressors powered by natural gas with electric compressors.
That regulated industries and the regulators who oversee them—ERCOT and the Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUC)—failed to recognize the critical nature of Texas natural gas infrastructure was hardly a failure of the free market, as Gonzalez and the left allege. It was a failure of government regulators.
The Failures Accumulated Into One Big Storm
Gonzalez quotes me: “Chuck DeVore, vice president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, took a similar line as Abbott. ‘Blackouts are a feature of the push to have more unreliable renewables on the grid,’ he tweeted, adding that energy subsidies are bad, too.”
Gonzalez quotes from ERCOT, the very grid operator responsible for much of Texas’s disaster, noting that, “wind shutdowns accounted for less than 13 percent of the outages. ‘It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system…’” But focusing on the days of the power outage is a strawman. Texas’s energy history didn’t start with February’s blackouts. Rather, it is the culmination of 20 years of bad policy.
It’s true that of 31,000 megawatts of installed mostly wind and some solar capacity in Texas, only about 300 megawatts were producing at a critical time during the storm. It’s also true that not much was expected from the unreliables—they generally don’t do well in adverse conditions.
Yes, some 16,000 megawatts of thermal (gas, coal, and nuclear) went offline early morning on Feb. 15, with another 14,000 megawatts offline due to maintenance to prepare for Texas’s long, hot summer. But the focus on what happened just after 1 a.m. on Feb. 15 misses how we got to this point over decades.
Texas Has Substituted Unreliable for Reliable Backups
In the last five years alone, Texas added some 20,000 megawatts of installed capacity of wind and solar while losing a net of 4,000 megawatts of coal and natural gas. This fact alone meant that had every thermal plant operated flawlessly during the height of the polar vortex, Texas still would have been short some 2,000 megawatts of potential demand—a new record in a state that is used to setting electricity consumption records in the summer.
Texas has rapidly become the nation’s leader in wind power largely due to a federal tax incentive called the Production Tax Credit (PTC). First enacted in 1992, the PTC expired in June 1999. It was extended for two more years in late 1999 with an expiration of Dec. 31, 2001. The PTC was expected to be dead by 2001 when, in 1999, the Texas legislature debated and passed its electricity deregulation bill, SB 7. SB 7 went into effect on Jan. 1, 2002. The PTC lay dormant until it was again revived by Congress in March 2002.
The PTC has a significant share of blame in Texas’s recent blackouts in that it incentivizes wind generators to push electricity into the grid even when an abundance of wind, typically in the middle of the night, pushes wholesale electricity prices into negative territory. Wind generators, some owned by foreign governments, can pay the grid to take their power and still make money because the PTC pays them federal tax money for every megawatt they produce. This economic distortion, deepened by Texas’s own property tax abatements for wind and solar, have acted to discourage investment in reliable thermal power plants.
This isn’t the free market in operation, as The New York Times and Gonzalez allege—quite the contrary.
Lack of Weatherization Isn’t the Whole Story
So, about those thermal plant failures, were they due to a lack of weatherization, as the unreliables lobbyists and Gonzalez suggest, or was something else at play? In sworn testimony before the Texas Legislature, it became very clear that cold weather failures were only a portion of the problem, likely less than half.
Most of the thermal plants either tripped offline due to power grid frequency fluctuations—likely ERCOT’s fault for not load shedding quickly enough—or because they were starved of fuel. Importantly, neither problem would have been solved by billions of dollars more in weatherization.
Gonzalez moves next to the unfortunate stories of Texans who used their ability to select their retail electric provider—about 80 percent of Texans within the ERCOT grid have retail choice—to choose Griddy as their provider. These customers were slammed with bills that in some cases exceeded $10,000.
But context is key. ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to 26 million Texas customers, with about 7.5 million meters in that region having retail choice. Griddy served about 30,000 meters, or 0.4 percent of the competitive market. Griddy filed for bankruptcy on March 15 and the $29 million in high electric charges it passed on to its customers will be forgiven.
Lastly, Gonzales repeats the false refrain that Texas’s winter storm of 2011 was “nearly identical” to the St. Valentine’s Day storm of 2021. But February’s storm was substantially worse, and the duration of the cold lasted far longer.
In San Antonio, for example, the 2011 storm saw a low of 19F with temperatures remaining below freezing for two days. In 2021, the low dipped to 9F, with temperatures below freezing for four solid days. Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio broke seven record lows over three days during the event—not at all “identical” circumstances.
Even in the face of a record-breaking storm, most of the power failures can be traced to human error—both in regulatory management of the grid and in a failure to account for how subsidies encourage over-building unreliable wind and solar while discouraging the construction of new thermal plants.
Weakening the Grid for Politics Hurts Texans
So, when Gonzalez concludes by observing that, “the bigger picture comes into view as an indictment of a bought, unresponsive ruling class, weaseling its way from one bubble to the next, letting everyday Americans socialize the cost one way or another,” he’s right, after a fashion, but not in the way he says.
Rather, Texans have suffered as the unreliables lobby has linked up with huge industrials to provide subsidized wind power while destabilizing Texas’s grid. Manufacturers get two things out of this deal: cheap electricity and virtue signaling about their “no-carbon” footprint.
Meanwhile, the cost of reliability gets pushed to everyday Texans—socialized—with the tab going up as more extreme measures come into play to keep the lights, heat, or air conditioning on in a grid with increasingly more unreliables and less thermal year after year.
Unfortunately, Texas—and California and the other 12 states on the Western Interconnection grid—are at high risk for blackouts this summer for much the same reason: Texas has overbuilt wind while California has overbuilt solar. Both have placed enormous financial pressure on reliable thermal generation, causing many thermal power plants to be retired prematurely or not built at all.
The more dependent the entire U.S. grid becomes on unreliables, the more it is increasingly at risk of blackouts. One way to prevent this is to assign a value to reliability and resiliency, forcing intermittent sources of electricity to pay for the cost of ensuring backup—whether through massive battery farms or via contracting with thermal plants that may remain idle until needed—thus ending the dangerous fiction that unreliables are cheap.
As a postscript, Public Utility Commission of Texas Chairman DeAnn Walker resigned on March 1 with the other two commissioners tendering their resignations soon after. At ERCOT, seven of its 14 board members, including all five of the nonprofit’s out-of-state members, have resigned and its CEO was fired.
Meanwhile, the Texas legislature is considering two bills—SB 1278 by Sen. Kelly Hancock and HB 4466 by Rep. Phil King—to assign the cost of rebuilding grid reliability to the wind and solar installations that have done so much to undermine it, leaving Texans shivering in the dark.

Children’s Literature in the Age of Wokeness

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“Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those, the art of living well.”
So wrote the philosopher Aristotle in the Fourth Century B.C.
Books are indispensable to a sound education, and in light last week being National Library Week, I wanted to look for books for my grandchildren.
A simple internet search turned up The New York Times’ “25 Best Children’s Books of 2020.” I decided to read what the Times had to say. That was my first mistake. In what follows, I survey five of the 25 kids’ books recommended by the Times.
Beginning with the “younger children” section of the list, I found a number of them focus on race—some innocuously, such as The Little Mermaid, by Jerry Pinkney. The Times tells us that, “in Pinkney’s vivid reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale, the mermaid befriends a human girl instead of pining over a handsome prince, and all the characters, human and mermaid, are Black.”
But other books for young kids deal with race from a more aggressive (read: Social Justice Warrior) position, such as Class Act, by Jerry Craft. The Times tells us, “A Black student from the Co-op City section of the Bronx attends a private middle school in wealthier Riverdale in this moving and often funny graphic novel about the convergence of an awkward age (13 to 14) with another awkward age (America’s racial reckoning).”
America’s racial reckoning?! For middle-schoolers?! What could go wrong? Only everything.
Not to be outdone in wokeness is Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It, by Andrea David Pinkney. The Times writes: “Sparkling with Southern diction and rhythms, and peppered with poems and songs, this novel composed of read-aloud monologues follows three generations of children in one fictional Mississippi family as they survive hardships from sharecropping to voter suppression.”
Voter suppression?! Again, for middle-schoolers?
Race returns as a prominent theme in the Times’s “Young Adult” recommendations, beginning with Dragon Hoops, by Gene Luen Yang. The Times judges the book “full of insight about race and ethnicity, this graphic novel intercuts the thrilling wins and crushing defeats of one high school team with basketball’s own turbulent history.”
In other words, kids can’t just read about sports for the fun of it. They must also be subjected to the author’s “insight about race and ethnicity.” Everything must be a political statement, and nothing must be left to childish fun any longer.
Also intent on draining every last drop of joy from childhood is The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson. The Talk promises to subject your kids to “hard conversations” about race as it manifests itself in their “bewildering and hostile” world. According to the Times, “These essays, stories, poems, letters and illustrations work to prepare children for a world that can be bewildering and hostile, while also making plain that the hard conversations we all need to have about race are part of a broader national reckoning.”
A “broader national reckoning”? What does this apocalyptic phrase mean, exactly, and why are kids being dragged into it?
What  is most noteworthy—and alarming—about the children’s books selected by The New York Times is their heavily politicized content offered in the service of a “woke” Social Justice Warrior agenda. At a time when national surveys show that most Americans are civic illiterates, the Times seems bound and determined to keep it that way. In this case, the Party slogan from George Orwell’s 1984 comes to mind: “Ignorance is [ideological] strength.”
But there is good news to be found on the subject of children’s books. (You just won’t find it in the Times.)
My internet search also yielded a list of books compiled by Valerie Pfundstein. Among the books in her list, you might want to investigate General Houston’s Little Spy: A Texas Revolution Story is a young adult historical fiction novel written by Cara Skinner.
Another book focusing on the Lone Star State is Texas: Cowboys and Campfires, Nancy Sifford Alana, is a work of historical fiction that introduces kids to Texas history.
A book that will introduce your middle-school kids to the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution is Land of the Free, by Maureen Paterson, herself a teacher.
And high school students will benefit greatly from reading Wilfred McClay’s new book, Land of Hope, which is a much-needed rebuttal to the “America is and has been systemically racist” diatribes of people like Howard Zinn (A People’s History of the United States) and Nicole Hannah Jones (lead author and editor of The New York Times’s deceived and deceiving “1619 Project,” which argues that racism is part of “America’s DNA.”)
Fifth and last among books worthy of your children’s reading is an old favorite, C.S. Lewis’s classic, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. (If your kids think themselves “too old” for this classic, buy them a copy of Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. If you aren’t familiar with Abolition, you’ll be as no less rewarded than your children for reading it.

SB 1262: Banning Natural Gas Bans

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A common saying around the Capitol is, “as goes Texas, so goes the nation.” Unfortunately, “as goes California, so goes Austin” is just as accurate. Following in the footsteps of Berkeley, San Francisco, and other California cities, Austin and other Texas municipalities are considering banning natural gas utilities for new homes and businesses.
Communities of color in California are already waking up to the fact that natural gas bans are harming minorities, and Texas leaders should heed these warnings. While these policies satisfy environmental groups and political constituencies that lobby our city councils, recent polling shows that nearly 70% of Texans oppose them.

How America’s Foreign Enemies Use The Border Crisis As A Weapon Of War

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As a candidate, Joe Biden promised amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the United States and expanded asylum for those on the way. Now that he’s become president, Biden formally lifted his predecessor’s pandemic-based prohibition on border crossings for minors from Northern Triangle countries, ostensibly turning away all other would-be immigrants.
In February, 59 percent of families encountered on the border nevertheless were granted entry into the United States. Yet the secretary of Homeland Security recently declared the border “closed.”
Biden promised a kinder, more humane immigration system. Two months in, thousands of children in border intake facilities are sleeping on floors and denied showers.
Then there was Biden’s recent delegation of the border “situation” to Vice President Kamala Harris, swiftly followed by her spokeswoman’s clarification that she “is not doing the border.” Instead, Harris is addressing the so-called “root causes” of migration from the Northern Triangle countries, distancing herself from the epicenter of the crisis.
An expansive effort to address the core, interrelated causes of mass migration from that region — government corruption, lack of security, and underdeveloped economies — is a worthwhile and necessary part of any long-term solution. But an approach prioritizing the socioeconomic plight of three countries more than 1,500 miles away, while minimizing the dangerous interplay of hostile foreign states and criminal organizations capitalizing on the current border chaos, comes at America’s peril.
The same Mexican transnational criminal organizations that control each land port between the United States and Mexico operate globally, coordinating with communist regimes and terrorist organizations throughout the world. They traffic everything from firearms and advanced weaponry to stolen petroleum and illegal migrants. They also traffic deadly opioids.
Before the Mexican criminal organizations trafficked opioids, they trafficked cocaine. Before they trafficked cocaine, they mastered the production and transportation of marijuana and opium into the United States.
Back in the 1980s, the first generation of South American cocaine producers found themselves with a distribution problem. The demand for their cocaine was skyrocketing throughout the United States. Unlike South American agricultural exports like coffee or chocolate, however, cocaine was illegal in the United States, and Drug Enforcement Administration counter-drug efforts disrupted Caribbean-based cocaine supply lines.
Enter Mexico. Colombian cocaine traffickers negotiated with Mexican marijuana and opium transporters for the use of their routes in moving cocaine to the United States. As such, Mexican drug traffickers soon 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 Jeff Bezos and Amazon, there was the first generation of Mexican drug lords. They transported anything and everything profitable, with illegal drugs long holding the largest profit margins.
The U.S. government took a while to catch on. Plan Colombia, an early 1990s U.S. initiative to combat cocaine cartels in that country, has largely been regarded as a success. Yet its Mexican counterpart, the Merida Initiative, was not conceived until 2008 and has been an unmitigated $3 billion failure. Unfortunately, the United States has consistently underestimated and under-addressed the threat posed by the transnational criminal organizations to its south.
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 waves of north-bound Central American migrants in recent years, the same organizations have become a part of the “Mexican bridge.”
As with cocaine, Mexico’s complex transnational criminal organizations are not involved in the “supply” of migrants headed north. Instead, smaller, less organized human trafficking and smuggling organizations and gangs like MS-13 and 18th Street are largely responsible for organizing caravans and motivating migration.
Now, 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. Many of the women and girls coming from the Northern Triangle — escaping rampant crime and extreme poverty in the hope for a new life in America — are raped and abused along the way.
Years ago, the world’s second-largest economy took note of the world’s largest, most ruthless criminal organizations. China has long been the chief supplier of the primary ingredient in methamphetamine synthesis — pseudoephedrine — and methamphetamine production has been dominated by the Mexican criminal organizations for over a decade.
More recently, Mexican organizations have replaced opium, the primary ingredient in heroin, with the deadly and China-supplied opioid fentanyl. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Americans have since died of fentanyl-related overdoses.
The Chinese also readily provide Mexican criminal organizations with financial institutions and businesses to facilitate money laundering, a method of “moving” drug-related proceeds from the United States to Mexico that is extremely difficult for U.S. law enforcement to stop. Yet China should not be regarded as the only hostile nation at the southern border.
Leftist Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador declared in 2019 that Mexico would withdraw from the Merida Initiative and its focus on combating Mexican organized crime to seek an agreement addressing the root causes of migration from the Northern Triangle — a refrain strikingly similar to today’s Biden administration messaging. Under Obrador, Mexico has also repeatedly violated its extradition treaty with the United States and, most recently, has handcuffed Drug Enforcement Administration operations within Mexico.
Mexico has chosen a side in the effort to fight Mexican organized crime, and it’s not that of the United States. Obrador ignores that the same root causes of migration from the Northern Triangle — corruption, insecurity, and economic underdevelopment — are endemic to his country as well. Indeed, the Mexican political establishment, which has profited for decades from the cartelization of its drug trafficking organizations, is perfectly happy to see the Biden administration focused on the countries to its south.
As the Mexican criminal underworld grows stronger, the corrupt Mexican political establishment grows wealthier, and the United States plays along. The present border crisis is not only an immigration issue involving Central American migrants. It’s a national security issue involving enemy states immediately to our south.

The ER Dilemma: Medicaid Expansion does not Improve the Quality of Care

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Medicaid expansion is not a good idea, and here’s why: It fails to improve the quality of care.
Support for Medicaid expansion often looks like a new op-ed titled “Refusing to expand Medicaid is wrong call.” Although its author highlights the need to focus on the quality of care for specific individuals, he misses the fact that Medicaid expansion has statistically proven to decrease the quality of care. Not only does the quality of care go down, but taxpayer dollars are wasted. This combination would compromise economic prosperity in Texas and fall short of making a significant impact on anyone.
As of 2018, Medicaid currently consists of a population of over 4 million people—and constitutes one of the biggest portions of the Texas state budget. Health care is far from cheap, and in order to sustain this ever-increasing cost, it is imperative to make fundamental changes now.
The data presented by TPPF’s Texas Medicaid Utilization of ER by County outlines state-allocated funds to Medicaid patients in fiscal year 2018. We found that ER spending accounted for more than $1.1 billion of the health services budget. Of this $1.1 billion, $684.3 million was used on non-urgent ER visits. This cost is hefty and can be avoided by encouraging and helping Medicaid beneficiaries transition from unnecessarily racing to the ER to visiting primary care doctors instead.
Texas Medicaid beneficiaries make an average of 5.8 million ER visits annually. The cost of ER visits range dramatically but the average price for an urgent and non-urgent visit respectively is $206.58 and $184.89. Of the 4 million Texas Medicaid beneficiaries, 1.8 million (44%) go to the ER each year. This means that the group of individuals who go to the ER more often tend to visit at an average of 3.3 times annually. Of the 3.3 times, 1.2 (36%) are for urgent visits but 2.1 (64%) are for non-urgent visits. These numbers show that nearly two-thirds of visits are non-urgent and did not require a trip to the ER.
The two main reasons that so many Medicaid beneficiaries rely on ER treatments are because they either perceive their condition to be too severe for a primary care visit or because they simply default to the ER as their usual place of care. Urgent Care (UC) centers exist for most non-urgent visits, but emergency departments fear the accusation of rejecting patients, leading them to at least notify patients of the 30 minutes UC wait time versus the wait times at the ER, which can be three to fourn hours.
When using these numbers to calculate a “wasted” expense (the amount used on non-urgent ER visits) it seems Texas is wasting about $388 per patient who goes to the ER on average per year. We are unable to target specific individuals and it’s impossible to tell if a new Medicaid enrollee is going to fall into the 44% that goes to the ER or the 56% that does not. Yet we can determine an average cost of everyone on Medicaid related to ER expenses; this way we can see how many dollars are expected to be wasted for each new individual that enrolls.
To do this we simply calculate an average cost per Medicaid beneficiary and break it down between urgent and non-urgent visits to see the average amount we can expect to be wasted. This average annual cost spent per Medicaid patient from ER expenses totals $276.30. Of that figure $170.16 is going towards non-urgent ER visits. This means for every single one of the 4 million Medicaid beneficiaries, $170.16 is being wasted. Of course, as we noted earlier, not every specific individual is going to the ER. This number helps us look at one specific individual and say, given the chance that they do go to the ER (44%), they go 3.3 times per year. Of those 3.3 times, 2.1 are non-urgent. Now we can expect that $170.16 is going to be “wasted” on non-urgent ER visits to every specific unique beneficiary. Once again, this is significant since we are unable to distinguish whether one person is going to go to the ER in any given year.
This money that is wasted could be saved and better optimized. It can go to better social programs, or better yet, given back to the taxpayers to allow them to use it in the free market. Releasing the floodgates of Medicaid expansion will ultimately increase the total number of dollars wasted on non-urgent ER visits. Thus, the focus must be on minimizing that number so we can use these dollars to increase economic prosperity in Texas.

SB 1138: Need to Study Safety Nets in Texas

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Institutions Matter
There is a need to improve Texas’s inclusive institutional framework for increased job creation and community and family involvement that supports the dignity of work, permanent self-sufficiency, and paths to prosperity. This is part of our Opportunity Project. But even in a robust economic situation, some individuals are likely to fall through the cracks of the system, which necessitates improved workforce development and reduced governmental barriers to entrepreneurship, while others have already fallen through the cracks.
Therefore, family, communities, churches, nonprofits, and other institutions are important to help people get back on their feet and flourish. But, currently, not everyone has access to these institutions, so there is a limited role for government to temporarily assist those in need.

Voter ID Matters, Even with Mail-In Ballots

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When Texas voters walk into a polling place, the process is clear; election workers check them in, comparing their photo IDs to the county voter rolls. It takes seconds, but it adds a level of security to our election that Texans truly value.
And Texans want the same security for their mail-in ballots; better than four out of five Texans say that voting in person and by mail should have the same voter identification requirements. Georgia Republicans are taking a beating in the media right now for enacting such a rule; that must not discourage Texas lawmakers from doing the right thing. More on that in a moment.
Voter ID for mail-in ballots is precisely what all the fuss is about surrounding Georgia’s new election laws. The legislation that House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn calls “a new Jim Crow” doesn’t really change much. (For a concise explainer on what is—and isn’t—in the Georgia law, click here.) But it does change the way it verifies mail-in ballots. Instead of using signature verification (which can be subjective), it verifies voters using their state-issued IDs.
The New York Times claims this new requirement “is virtually certain to limit access to absentee voting.” It even adds (without citing a single source) that “Stringent voter-ID laws in other states have depressed voting mostly among people of color.”
Since that’s the real claim, let’s set aside the inflammatory rhetoric and evaluate it fairly. First, are voter ID rules unconstitutional? And do they suppress votes and target minority voters?
Fortunately for us all, that’s been examined and litigated extensively.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board that voter ID laws are not overly burdensome. Justices pointed out that when the original lawsuit was filed, the plaintiffs could not produce a single person who was unable to vote because of the law. “The universally applicable requirements of Indiana’s voter-identification law are eminently reasonable,” justices wrote. “The burden of acquiring, possessing, and showing a free photo identification is simply not severe, because it does not even represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting.”
Nor are voter ID laws discriminatory; “The Indiana photo-identification law is a generally applicable, nondiscriminatory voting regulation,” the majority ruled.
So if voter ID laws are fine for in-person voting, why are they not for mail-in ballots (where there is clear opportunity for voter fraud)?
The fact is that such rules can be adjusted to ensure that no legitimate voter is refused a say, simply because the election is made more secure. In Georgia, voters who want to mail in their ballot but don’t have a state-issued photo ID can use the last four digits of their Social Security Number and their birthday, or even a copy of a utility bill or other official-ish document that shows their name and address.
That’s why we would like to see a common-sense voter ID provision added to the bills now being considered that would require all mail-in ballots to include either the voter’s driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security Number.
Why is this important? Even if Texas legislators get everything else right this session, getting this one thing wrong would be disastrous. The freedom and prosperity we enjoy in this country and this state are directly tied to the strength of our institutions. And our confidence in one institution—free and fair elections—was shaken in 2020.
“Texas voters have serious concerns about voting and the 2020 election, UT/TT Poll finds,” the Texas Tribune reported last fall. “Less than half of Texas registered voters are confident that Americans will trust the results of the presidential election, and fewer still said they themselves will trust those results, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.”
As pollster Joshua Blank noted, “It’s not a story of just Democrats or just Republicans. More than half in both parties say they’re not going to trust the results, or they’re not sure.”
It’s up to the Texas Legislature to restore that trust. How? With solid, popular measures such as voter ID rules (with some limited workarounds) that can give Texans confidence that their votes matter—and won’t be canceled out by illegitimate votes.

Minnesota Shooting Shows Need for Better Training

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We should all be hesitant to weigh in on a police shooting before the investigation is completed for two reasons. The first reason is completeness; it is generally not good to toss around opinions on something when all of the facts are not known. The second is that police officers are entitled to due process, just like everyone else, we should not try them in the court of public opinion.
There’s still much we don’t know about the officer-involved shooting in Brooklyn Center outside of Minneapolis, but I feel it’s appropriate to make a few observations based on the release of the bodycam footage.
It appears the officer intended to use her Taser—a less lethal tool—on the suspect who was actively attempting to defeat the arrest. The officer threatens to tase the suspect, and then yells “Taser, Taser, Taser” to alert her partners just before she discharges her firearm. From the released bodycam footage, it does not appear that she intended to use deadly force on the suspect only realizing after the gun discharged that she had shot him.
This is as far as I am willing to go in analyzing the officer’s intentions until all the facts are revealed. I think it is fair to say that at best, this was a tragic accident. But there are larger issues we can address that really get to the heart of police reform, and why training is absolutely the first place to begin.
It may sound counter-intuitive at first to suggest that making officers more skilled in their use of force will improve problems with using force, but it is absolutely necessary. Skilled and competent officers will make better use-of-force decisions. Unskilled officers will often overreact to a threat or underreact, and both can have tragic consequences. The decision to use a Taser in the Brooklyn Center shooting appears completely justified, and if that was the officer’s intention then it was not a lack of judgment or poor decision-making that resulted in the shooting.
But just as important as decision-making is competence in applying force options. Police officers must be intimately familiar with all of their tools and weapons, skilled in their use, and knowledgeable in their own abilities and that of the tools they have at their disposal. Physical skills are a very real part of a police officer’s toolbox and cannot be supplanted by communications and de-escalation techniques. They must instead be integrated into a comprehensive skill set that officers are able to execute seamlessly.
This is not easy and requires training—better training than we currently provide most officers. Training is one of the first things that would be cut if we defund our police officers, ensuring they will make poorer use-of-force decisions rather than better ones. Police officers should be training continuously, similar to the way athletes do, and integrating all of their skills and tools in scenario-based training environments that improve and maintain the very perishable physical skills (and somewhat less perishable communications and de-escalation skills).
The difference between a Taser and a pistol is obvious, except under extreme duress and/or to someone not very familiar with either. The Taser is a very effective less-lethal tool (almost always non-lethal) and would have been an appropriate tool for the scenario we saw on the bodycam footage. Under the stress of physical confrontation, police officers must be extremely well trained in order perform properly.
Choosing the wrong tool could indicate several training failures. But choosing the right tool and then grabbing the wrong one is indicative of a failure to regularly train with supplied equipment until its use is nearly subconscious, a level of skill that takes time and resources that we rarely provide for our police officers.
The police chief for Brooklyn Center said he felt the shooting was accidental. That’s what the bodycam footage says to me. If this is correct, then Daunte Wright died not because a police officer made a bad decision to shoot him, but because the officer made the right decision and then did it wrong—very wrong.
If we want to prevent such incidents in the future, we can only do so with training. And we cannot properly train while also defunding our police. Good equipment and advances in technology do nothing without the corresponding skills in applying them.

Flawed Perryman Study Doesn’t Refute Need for Election Protections

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A recent Perryman Group study (paid for by the Texas Civil Rights Project, a left-wing group that advocates for insecure election practices) claims that Texas will lose more than $3 trillion and almost 7 million jobs over 25 years if the Legislature passes a bill to ensure more secure elections. But what does the one have to do with the other? Let’s look at the Perryman study a little more closely.
The study repeatedly claims that “extensive research” shows increasing voting access leads to higher wages. The study provides just one citation for this claim, a paper which investigated the effects of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That law overruled many Jim Crow laws that were preventing Blacks from voting. The authors who analyzed the effects of Black enfranchisement found a positive impact on Black wages because Blacks were able to vote against discriminatory laws which had previously prevented Blacks from engaging in certain types of work or receiving the same pay as their white counterparts. Blacks also voted for more spending on education services which increased their human capital and therefore their wages.
But the situation in Texas today is vastly different from the United States in 1965 and the bill before the Legislature is nothing like a Jim Crow law. This hardly counts as “extensive research.” This means the Perryman study is fundamentally flawed in its assumption that election integrity will reduce wages and therefore workforce participation. As such, its conclusions are invalid.
The study also never explains how the bill before the Legislature will disenfranchise minorities, which is the implicit claim made in the study. There is nothing in either the Senate or House bills that mentions race, sexuality, or creed. There is no mention of poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, or anything else that in any way resembles Jim Crow.
And there are other flaws that cast serious doubt on the Perryman study. The Perryman Group repeatedly cites its own studies as references, for example.
Nevertheless, the study purports to estimate the effects of “discriminatory legislation” and “voter suppression laws,” without demonstrating that those are actually being debated by the Legislature.
The fact is that 69% of blacks and 82% of other minorities support measures that help secure elections, such as voter ID laws. Perhaps the only bigoted assumption here is that minorities are somehow incapable of obtaining an ID or filling out a form properly.
The bills which the Legislature has proposed do not restrict voting; they restrict opportunities for fraud in the voting process. Fraud dilutes legitimate votes and cancels them out, which is why furtive and unreliable voting practices, like mailing out unsolicited absentee ballots, are on the chopping block. The bills do not restrict voting access as Perryman implies. In short, the study is based on a misleading assumption.
There are more flaws in the Perryman study. Though it repeatedly espouses the virtue of the model that was apparently used, no structural empirical model is ever presented, anywhere, in the paper. How can we have confidence in the results?
The study also lists “internal losses” as those stemming from reductions in consumer spending. By some unrevealed metric, the study claims that billions of dollars will be lost every year in consumer spending if the sanctity of elections are protected, and fraud is minimized. By that logic, election fraud could be the greatest economic stimulus in the world. Precisely what calculations were used to derive these estimates is a mystery.
The “external losses” listed in the study are those stemming from reductions in tourism and “economic development.” Yet it rightly describes tourism losses as “potential.” Every single one of the external losses, from reduced tourism to reduced investment, relies on the incredulous assumption that the Lone Star State will be placed under a catastrophic economic boycott, largely by corporations and people from states with equally stringent voting protections and election laws.
In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled ID requirements for voting to be constitutional (Crawford v. Marion County Election Board) and cited the fact that obtaining a government ID is not overly burdensome. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a law that required Texas to obtain federal preclearance before implementing a voter ID law (Shelby County v. Holder). Texas was then immediately allowed to enact the law.
The legal case for voter ID laws and other election protections is sound. Likewise, the need for them is clear. Free and just elections are the only peaceful method by which people can protect their liberties and lives. Secure elections ensure that politicians are held accountable to the people whom they represent.
Along that line of thought, what better way to improve Texas, economically and politically, than with more secure elections? Politicians will be less likely to waste the taxpayers’ money and impose burdensome taxes and regulations if those same politicians are held accountable via a free and just election in which every legal vote is counted. It is the answerability of politicians to the people of Texas that will keep Texas free and prosperous, and that prosperity will undoubtedly attract many others to the Lone Star State. That means more investment, higher pay for employees, more jobs, and a better future.
If we want to see prosperity unleashed upon this land, secure elections are a prerequisite.

HB 59 Replacing School District M&O Property Taxes in Texas

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While there are several valuable bills and ideas available this session to achieve this goal, HB 59 helps start the discussion by eliminating the school district M&O property taxes on January 1, 2024, and by creating a legislative commission in the interim to study how to replace them on that date. This bill would cut local property taxes nearly in half while adhering to the state’s constitutional responsibility of funding government schools.
The key to achieving this is restraining government spending at the state and local government levels along with reforming sales taxes to a broader-based form of the current final sales and use tax without moving Texas to other new, excessively burdensome types of consumption tax such as a value-added tax (VAT) or a carbon tax.

Corporate Tax Hike Would Affect Us All

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Along with more than $2 trillion in new government spending, President Joe Biden also wants to raise the corporate income tax (CIT) rate from 21% to 28%—that’s a 33% tax hike on corporations. He also wants to increase the tax on American corporations’ foreign profits to an effective rate of 26.25%—doubling it. More government spending, taxation, and regulation is destructive fiscal policy, especially when most Americans are still reeling from government-imposed shutdowns. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is simultaneously pushing for a global minimum CIT rate, implemented by an international cartel of sorts.
There is just one problem with the scheme: corporations do not pay taxes.
Corporations are people de jure but not de facto. As such, they cannot pay taxes because only people pay taxes. Sure, the money goes to the IRS from a corporate account, but where would that money have gone if the IRS did not take it? Or, the more accurate question is, to whom would that money have gone?
There are basically three possibilities.
First, the corporation could have paid its employees more in the form of higher salaries and benefits or hired more employees. Second, the corporation could have paid its owners (shareholders) more in the form of higher dividends, or invested in more capital or a stock buyback, all of which would elevate stock values of the shareholders. Third, the corporation could have used the money to lower prices for its products and services to be more competitive, essentially giving the money to its customers.
Shareholders, employees, and customers are the people who pay the CIT.
So even though corporations do not truly pay taxes, they still try to avoid them. That is because the tax will mean either fewer investors, fewer customers, a lower-quality workforce, or some combination thereof.
The easiest way for corporations to avoid taxes is to simply relocate.
In this way, countries compete for corporate headquarters. If one country raises its CIT rate too high, then businesses flee to another country with a lower rate, taking jobs, investment, and tax revenue with them. This is a basic example of competition in the marketplace, and it serves as a check against oppressive taxation.
What Sec. Yellen is proposing is nothing short of a cartel agreement, designed to squash this natural competition, and it will accomplish three things.
First, it will raise taxes on faceless corporations, a politically popular move since many people think it will not harm them. Second, it will provide government officials with increased funding to continue growing government programs. Lastly, these government programs will ultimately be paid for by the three groups mentioned above: shareholders, employees, and customers.
In other words, raising corporate taxes around the entire world is simply a way to fleece the public for additional revenue without people realizing their taxes are being raised. And that is exactly how the cartel wants it.

Biden ‘Stimulus’ Plan will Mean 6 Million Fewer American Jobs

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President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion “COVID-19 relief” package signed in March (in combination with the $900 billion package signed into law back in December) contains the largest impediment to employment in modern times, if not in American history. That’s the conclusion I reached along with fellow economists Casey Mulligan and Stephen Moore in a new report for the Committee to Unleash Prosperity.
We estimate that because of the passage of the bill, dubbed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), between 5 and 7 million fewer Americans will be employed over the next six months.
This is because ARPA is one of the largest expansions in government welfare benefits—either for not working, or for benefits not related to working—since the modern-day welfare state was created. There are numerous provisions of the bill that either pay people not to work or pay people money or government benefits that are not tied to whether they work. This bill actually weakens work requirements that were a hallmark of the Bill Clinton welfare reforms of 1996.
The provisions that discourage work incentives include:

$300 a week supplemental unemployment benefits per unemployed worker, on top of normal benefits that can reach $400 to $600 a week depending on the state;

A $3,000 per child tax credit;
Expansion of food stamps;
Rental assistance benefits;
$2,000 per person checks ($600 under Trump and $1,400 under Biden); and
Expanded health care benefits including Obamacare subsidies that can reach families with incomes of up to $200,000.

There are other cash and benefit programs, such as the $21,000 paid-leave benefit for federal employees ($1,400 a week for 15 weeks), student loan payment and interest suspensions, the elimination of federal income taxes applied to unemployment benefits (with certain income caps), and so on, that will disincentivize work.
The relative financial advantage of unemployment benefits versus work is enhanced by the fact that payroll taxes are not applied to unemployment payments, but they are deducted from wages and salaries. This provides a 7.65% bump in after-tax income for the unemployment benefit option.
This study comes to four conclusions:
1) In many states, a family of four—two unemployed adults with two children—can qualify for benefits (on an annual basis) that will reach over $100,000. When comparing this with a similar person who has continued to work and must pay the 7.65% payroll tax on earnings and incur other work-related expenses, the after-tax benefits of the welfare package in some states like California and Massachusetts can reach the equivalent of between $100,000 to $150,000 in income from working.
2) In six states—Alabama, California, Montana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—unemployment benefits are not subject to the state income tax, so many workers can take home nearly three times the take home pay for working.
3) These benefits will have a substantial negative effect on employment. The benefits are currently scheduled to last until September, and we estimate that over this six-month period, national employment will be roughly 6 million below the baseline case without the benefits.
4) Roughly 5 to 7 million more Americans will sign up for these expanded government benefits, thus increasing the welfare rolls and dependency on government for at least six months.
In many ways this “stimulus” bill will stimulate more joblessness and more government. To read our full report, click here.

Let Markets Work by Ending Chapter 313

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Free-market capitalism is the best path to prosperity.
The Tax Code should not pick winners and losers but rather fund limited roles for government.
Unfortunately, Chapter 313 property tax abatements do pick winners: Big businesses are favored over small businesses.

Businesses that may not be in operation for the long term receive long-term tax breaks.
Nearly two thirds of Chapter 313 projects are for renewable energy, which would likely locate in Texas anyway given Texas’s geography of open lands, a lot of sun, and wind in specific regions.
A third of those renewable energy projects are for foreign companies, like those affiliated with French and Chinese governments.
These agreements can result in increased property values in certain areas, which reduces housing affordability, and decreased property values in others.

Chapter 313 tax breaks socialize the cost of those local school districts’ deals to the rest of the state’s taxpayers by holding school districts harmless.

Rising Crime Rates and the Defunding Movement

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Most of our cities saw a dramatic rise in crime last year that appears unabated this year. Is the “defund the police” movement to blame? After all, some of the cities with the worst spikes have adopted that philosophy and made cuts to their police departments. The answer is more complicated than that, but that doesn’t let ridiculousness of defunding the police off the hook entirely.
At its core, the idea of defunding the police was aimed at either punishing the police—all of the police—for what happened to George Floyd, or abolishing the police completely. The former is emotionally driven and found mostly in already anti-cop circles, but the latter is anarchist in nature. If either of their visions are ever brought to fruition, the result on crime rates would be both immediate and apocalyptic. Fortunately, neither have been fully implemented, and even where defunding has occurred it has often been more of a shell game than actual substantive cuts. In other cases, moves to reverse the mistake are already in progress.
The very best mechanism for improving policing is and always has been through training. Not the kind of training that tells recruits that they’re racists (implicitly) and “teaches” them how not to be. Instead, we should focus on communications, de-escalation, fitness, prioritization of the sanctity of life, constitutional policing, ethics, and, yes, use of force.
It is important to understand that a fit and skilled police officer has more options when it comes to force and is likely to perceive a threat differently than an unskilled, out-of-shape officer. The latter will justifiably escalate their force response to a threat. Society has a vested interest in having fit, competent, and confident officers, because their force decisions are almost always better.
Defunding the police forces departments to cut everywhere—including training. That means less capable officers will be patrolling our streets and it increases the likelihood of a bad use-of-force decision. The resulting viral videos will set more cities on fire. Defunding will have a tragic downstream affect on police and community interactions and will guarantee more, not fewer incidents like the ones that have caused protests and riots. This seems to be the exact opposite of what those in favor of defunding claim to want.
But that result is in the future and its effect on crime rates is less clear. What then should we consider in the current crime crisis? I believe we can look to the anti-police environment created by a combination of false narratives fueled by an agenda-driven media and politicians who engage in anti-police rhetoric, for starters. When a police officer feels that anything they do will be wrong, or at least painted that way in the media, and that the governing unit he or she works for will use them as a political pawn, there is no incentive to engage in proactive policing.
Police officers are not paid by commission. They make the same amount of money whether they make 10 arrests in a day or none at. Same goes for writing traffic tickets. What would motivate them to engage in anything confrontational when they can instead simply respond to calls they receive?
Proactive policing is done because officers are passionate about protecting their communities, and they actively seek out criminal activity. How much of that is going to happen in the environment we find ourselves in now? The answer is obvious, and crime rates reflect that. When there is little-to-no law enforcement pressure on criminals and gangs, they do what they do.
Defunding the police is a dangerously bad idea, but as with our teachers abandoning the classrooms, it might take some time to realize just how bad the consequences are. The immediate danger can be found in the thinking behind the defunding movement. Anti-police rhetoric and actions, false narratives, and the resulting de-policing of our cities will have a more immediate negative impact on crime, it likely already has.

Senate Bill 1615: High School Education

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Erin Davis Valdez is a policy analyst for the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Right on Work initiative. Valdez conducts research on career and technical education at the secondary and post-secondary levels, civics education, and welfare-to-work programs in Texas.
This bill goes one step beyond simply bringing a high school diploma within reach of many adult students; it provides them the opportunity to earn an industry certification simultaneously.

Testimony Before the Senate Education Committee

House Bill 4383: Fixed-Rate Tuition

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My name is Tom Lindsay. I represent the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which I serve as senior distinguished fellow in higher education and constitutional studies. I am testifying in favor of the bill.
In my view, this is a worthy bill. It simply seeks to provide full transparency regarding fixed-rate tuition costs. This is the same sort of honest disclosure of all costs that we have come to expect when we buy cell phones, cars, and homes.

Testimony in Support Before the Texas House Higher Education Committee

House Bill 819: Pilot Programs

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My name is Vance Ginn, and I am chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of HB 819, which would create pilot programs to encourage opportunities to flourish in disadvantaged areas by reducing governmental barriers to work and get an education. The areas in Texas targeted by HB 819 are often dis- proportionately burdened by high regulations like occupational licenses and by high taxes like the business franchise tax, also known as the margins tax. Thus, these areas would benefit greatly by reducing and removing those barriers to unleash Texans’ desire and opportunities to flourish.

Testimony Submitted for HB 819 to the Texas House International Relations & Economic Development Committee

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul’s Rent

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The looming “eviction crisis” represents a dismal failure of government at nearly every level. The Centers for Disease Controls set renters and landlords alike up for failure when it imposed an unconstitutional eviction moratorium as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19 that has now been declared unlawful by federal courts in Texas, Ohio, and Tennessee.
The state agencies in charge of distributing rent relief dollars have made things worse by failing to get the money to those who need it.
And now the Justice Department is causing confusion by claiming incorrectly that the judgments setting aside the moratorium don’t apply generally—that they only apply to the plaintiffs in the cases.
Let’s look at each of these failures in turn.
There was never any science or logic behind the CDC’s evictions ban. “A temporary halt of evictions can help people who get sick or who are at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 protect themselves and others by staying in one place to quarantine,” the agency reasoned. At the same time, it warned renters that they still owe what they owe—their rent doesn’t go away.
Nor was there ever any constitutional authority for the CDC’s evictions moratorium. That’s what a federal judge ruled in February.
“The federal government cannot say that it has ever before invoked its power over interstate commerce to impose a residential eviction moratorium,” Judge J. Campbell Barker pointed out in his ruling. “It did not do so during the deadly Spanish Flu pandemic. Nor did it invoke such a power during the exigencies of the Great Depression. The federal government has not claimed such a power at any point during our Nation’s history until last year.”
He concluded, “Although the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so does the Constitution.”
In other words, there are real, meaningful, limits to federal power under our Constitution. And pandemic or not, federal courts have a “virtually unflagging obligation” to impose those limits in cases brought before them, as Judge Barker ruled.
That’s why the Texas Supreme Court was right to allow its emergency orders that incorporated the CDC eviction ban to expire on March 31. When federal courts set aside the CDC Order, the Texas Supreme Court no longer had basis to reference a federal rule that no longer was valid.
What’s lost in the media coverage of the evictions crisis is the fact that property owners have bills to pay too. An eviction moratorium leaves landlords holding the bag. And they’ve been hurt. You can read a story about our lead plaintiff in the case, Lauren Terkel, here. Or the story of Diane Velasco, who was forced to sell the income properties she and her disabled husband depended upon here.
In Diane’s words, “I could no longer take on the risk of the two mortgages for my small multifamily properties should my tenants lose their jobs and stop paying rent. So, with an extremely frustrated and heavy heart, I was forced to sell.”
She’s not alone; as CNBC reports, “A federal ban on evictions is putting the squeeze on smaller landlords, who are unable to directly access COVID-19 rental relief funds, and some are starting to sell properties to recoup some losses.”
What could have helped—rental assistance that would have allowed both renters and property owners to keep their heads above water—also represents a failure of government. As the Dallas Morning News reports, “Texas has disbursed less than 1% of the $1.3 billion in federal funding for pandemic rent relief in the program’s first 45 days.” And other states are seeing similar delays.
Let’s not forget that renters, too, are hurt by a “temporary” ban extended again and again. Many are so far behind that they’ll never catch up. Rental assistance could have been done first without ever having imposed an eviction ban.
Smaller landlords can’t afford to keep this up.
“Our analysis finds that 40 percent of residential property units are owned by individual investor landlords,” the Brookings Institution reports. “Among those owning residential investment property, roughly a third are from low- to moderate-income households; property income constitutes up to 20 percent of their total household income. Without rental assistance, tenants and smaller landlords alike will continue to struggle to make ends meet.”
The third failure of government in this mess is the Justice Department’s position that court rulings against the moratorium were limited. The ruling, Justice claims, “does not extend beyond the particular plaintiffs in that case, and it does not prohibit the application of the CDC’s eviction moratorium to other parties.”
That’s not true; there was only one CDC eviction order. When the Texas federal court declared it unconstitutional and set it aside, it did so for everyone, not just Mrs. Terkel and her co-plaintiffs.

Why I Cancelled My MLB Subscription

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I love Major League baseball. And not just Major League. I’ve stopped to watch High School and even Little League games in the hope of identifying the next Mike Trout. I’ve subscribed to MLB for years so that I could follow my beloved White Sox even after moving away from Chicago. I even watched all of the Spring Training exhibition games in March.
How, then, could someone who’s loved baseball for decades decide to cancel his only chance to watch his team—especially when they’re loaded with power and pitching such as they’ve not had since they last won the World Series in 2005?
The answer is that when push comes to shove, I love my country more than I love baseball. Unfortunately, MLB just went from pushing to shoving me—out of my lifelong love for The Game.
This past weekend, MLB announced that due to its opposition to Georgia’s newly passed Voter I.D. law, it was moving this year’s All Star Game out of Atlanta.
Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. issued the following statement on April 2: “I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft. Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box… Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”
The best hitters are said to be able “to read the stitches on a fastball.” But their Commissioner appears unable to read the printed words in a new law, in this case, Georgia’s Voter ID law. Read it, and you will find that there is nothing in it that remotely threatens “fair access to voting.”
But there is good news: The overwhelming majority of Americans—of all races—know better than Commissioner Manfred and strongly support voter ID laws. A new Rasmussen Reports survey finds that the vast majority of likely voters agree with Georgia that some form of photo ID should be required in order to cast a vote.
Specifically, the Rasmussen national survey found that 75% of likely voters believe photo IDs should be required to cast a ballot. Sixty percent of Democrats support voter ID laws, with 89% of Republicans joining them. Moreover, a whopping 77% of politically unaffiliated voters also support ID laws.
But what about the argument that voter ID laws discriminate against African-Americans and other minorities? Fully 60% of voters believe that requiring photo IDs at polling places does not discriminate against Black voters and other minorities. Among Republicans, 79% agree in finding no discrimination, while 67% of unaffiliated voters find that the laws are not discriminatory. A bare majority (51%) of Democrats deem the laws discriminatory.
But this raises the inevitable question: How do minorities themselves feel about voter ID laws?
The Rasmussen survey reveals that 69% of Black voters respond that photo IDs should be mandatory for voting. Among other minorities surveyed, 82% agree that IDs should be required. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of white voters agree with the majority of Black and other minorities on the need for ID laws.
In fact, the Rasmussen survey finds that “Support for voter ID laws has actually increased since 2018, when 67% said voters should be required to show photo identification such as a driver’s license before being allowed to vote.”
In this light, it becomes clear that MLB’s moving the All-Star game betrays the overwhelming majority of Black and other minority viewers. Thus the subject line of my email to MLB Customer Service: “Cancel my subscription immediately. “
In my letter of explanation for cancelling my subscription, I closed with this: “MLB’s mistake in this matter will likely lead to far more cancellations than mine alone.”
Apparently, Woke Social Justice Ideology has mandated that Americans can’t simply watch sports and have fun doing it.
Instead, they must be lectured to. Ceaselessly. And all this is being done by the very people whose livelihoods depend on our paying to watch their games.
The game I’ve loved since I was a child has been taken from me. It is time for me to put away childish things.

It’s Not Just About the Cocktails-to-Go

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If regulations proved unnecessary during the COVID-19 pandemic, were they ever really necessary at all? That’s the thought behind a growing push to eliminate unnecessary and even harmful rules that were set aside during the last year.
“Across the country, state and local governments have temporarily eased hundreds of regulations during the pandemic, aiming to help consumers social distance and businesses avoid economic disaster,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Now, some want to abandon them for good.”
The WSJ cited Austin’s beloved El Arroyo restaurant, which pleaded during the shutdowns on its famous sign: “Now would be a good time to legalize drive-up margaritas.” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott heeded the advice, doing just that a few days later; El Arroyo was soon able to rehire 40 employees.
Texas ranks high in overall economic freedom as a result of low taxes and favorable labor laws, yet it has among the highest number of restrictive regulations in the country.
At their core, regulations should only exist to serve a necessary function of civilized society as determined by legislation and limited by the state and U.S. constitutions, such as protecting the public from physical or economic harm.
For example, we regulate the practice of medicine to ensure those willing to practice are adequately trained and capable of delivering quality care. Similarly, those practicing law, engineering, architecture and such must demonstrate adequate training and ability to practice in their chosen field for the safety and health of others.
But such regulations should be narrowly drawn to achieve their intended purpose and should be frequently reviewed to ensure their existence is still necessary and does not unnecessarily encroach on economic freedoms.
Gov. Abbott’s waivers and suspensions during the pandemic provided for:

Expanding the use of telemedicine and telehealth options.
Allowing pharmacists to conduct telephonic consultations.
Allowing graduate nurses and vocational nurses to practice while waiting to take license exams.
Expanding the authorized practice of physicians in training.
Authorizing certain retailers and restaurants to deliver alcohol to customers.
Authorizing restaurants to sell bulk products to customers.
Waiving temporary permit requirements for out-of-state licensed truckers.

Many of the suspended regulations can and should be permanently repealed. But the governor’s authority to issue the executive orders waiving these regulations stems from the emergency declaration due to COVID-19. Any permanent repeal requires legislative action.
That’s what state Rep. Matt Krause’s HB 2662 would provide. It would permanently waive certain regulations that were suspended during the pandemic. The bill has been referred to the State Affairs Committee. There are several other bills, as well, that would achieve the same purpose.
Texas remains a strong and vibrant state for business and individuals to thrive. Our job growth, tax burden and overall economic freedom are among the best in the nation, but far more can be done to reduce the regulatory burden on those individuals and businesses entering the marketplace. Texas values its freedom and liberty. These reforms can help keep it that way.

Austin’s Homelessness Policies Making Matters Worse

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Three campfires in one evening sounds like an awful lot of fun, unless you are a firefighter like Austin Fire Department Battalion Chief Thayer Smith. In the wee hours of April 2, his unit battled fires at three homeless encampments.
What is happening in Austin is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis. It threatens the health and safety of the community, and in particular of those struggling with homelessness.
According to pre-COVID-19 data released in late March by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the number of Austin’s unsheltered population—those who live in makeshift tents around the city—has risen a staggering 93% since 2016.
The Austin metro area represents 7% of the overall population of Texas, but about 25% of Texas’ unsheltered population today resides on its streets today.
Homeless individuals are at much greater risk of exposure to violence, disease, malnutrition, and as we’ve seen in the last several days, fires. Behavioral health issues such as schizophrenia, substance use disorders and depression often develop, and are made worse, while experiencing homelessness. If they have chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma, homelessness accelerates the effects of those diseases given the difficulty in accessing medications and in storing them properly.
Homelessness significantly harms the health and safety of the surrounding community, as well. Not only is it extremely difficult to witness the homeless perishing on our streets, homelessness imposes risks to public health as we’ve seen most recently with COVID-19. It reduces the availability of health care and public safety resources available to a community. It degrades the use of public parks, lands, waterways, and sidewalks that have become riddled with needles, human feces, and debris. It discourages access to businesses whose customers would rather find another place to do business than to step over a homeless person passed out in the business’ doorway.
It is important to understand the origin of Austin’s homelessness surge. In 2013, HUD rolled out a one-size-fits-all homelessness policy, called Housing First, with spotty evidence of efficacy. Their “solution” to homelessness? Provide life-long, “no strings attached” housing—no requirement of sobriety, no work requirement, no requirement to access services to change the behaviors that led to homelessness. Austin’s elected officials took the bait—hook, line, and sinker.
HUD promised the Housing First approach would end homelessness in a decade. Instead, it resulted in an over 16% increase across the nation, including a 21% increase in the “unsheltered” population—ironically, the population for which this approach was originally designed.
Because Austin elected officials chose to follow HUD down an uncharted rabbit hole, Austin has experienced the same disastrous results, indeed the same disastrous results California has seen since it adopted Housing First in 2016—a stunning 37% increase in homelessness.
About three-quarters of the homeless population suffer from underlying issues such as mental illness, addiction, and physical disabilities which led to their homelessness. Policy needs to acknowledge this while also honoring the human dignity of those suffering from homelessness. Policies must facilitate their healing and growth, rather than straight-jacketing them into these circumstances as Housing First does.
Imagine a hospital. Imagine removing the doctors and nurses, then remove the medicine. All that’s left is beds. This is Housing First.
The result of the single-minded focus on four walls and a roof is that taxpayers underwrite subsidized-for-life housing for Austin’s homeless, the vast majority of whom, if healed and if provided the proper tools and incentives, could work and provide for themselves.
Austin will never be able to create “enough” housing units under this system. And because there will never be enough of these units, and because policy does not treat the underlying reasons for an individual’s homelessness, more and more people will be driven to Austin’s streets.
House Bill 1925 and Senate Bill 987, currently under consideration by the Texas Legislature, prohibit local communities from allowing public camping. This is an important first step towards addressing Austin’s homelessness crisis.
The allowance of camping does nothing to help Austin’s homeless heal and does nothing to help our community prosper. Rather, it allows Austin’s elected officials to continue to avoid making the tough policy changes necessary to turn this crisis around while appearing to be virtuous.

House Bill 1923: Supply Chains

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Vance Ginn, PhD, is chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit, non-partisan research institute in Austin. He served as associate director for economic policy at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, taught at several universities, and earned a doctorate in economics at Texas Tech University.

Woke Scolds Get Election Protection Laws Wrong

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There’s a very telling subhead in the Dallas Morning News story on “backlash” to election protection laws: “If bills are viewed as discriminatory, Texas could lose NCAA and professional sporting events.”
The Morning News isn’t wrong (about that, at least); it’s not about whether proposals such as Senate Bill 7 actually are discriminatory; it’s about perceptions. What the woke scolds in the corporate world, such as American Airlines, Dell and Major League Baseball, get completely wrong is that Texans want secure elections—and that their performative threats don’t scare us at all.
The corporations are also misreading their customer bases.
“The data clearly shows that 87–92% of Americans don’t want corporations and athletes preaching woke politics,” says Phillip Stutts, founder and CEO of Win Big Media, which studies political marketing. “You aren’t crazy for wanting to watch games and be distracted in these weird times, instead of being told how bad a person you are for not agreeing with a ‘woke’ reporter or athlete’s opinion.”
(For that matter, corporations aren’t even pleasing their presumed woke audiences; Colin Kaepernick is still not satisfied with the NFL’s dedication to the Black Lives Matter movement, for example.)
But back to the Dallas Morning News. This is the newspaper that published a shockingly inaccurate report on Senate Bill 7, claiming that the legislation would “make it harder to vote.” It literally does the opposite.
What it does is limit the powers of local elections officials from making up new rules and processes—something that’s clearly and constitutionally the role of the Texas Legislature. The bill doesn’t take away anything. It simply stops the extralegal measures that officials in Harris County (especially) and other locales enacted under the guise of COVID-19 response. Those measures (even ones not enacted) then become the new normal, and anything less is portrayed as voter suppression.
The Morning News complained that the bill “would limit early voting hours.” The opposite is true. The Texas Election Code sets out voter hours, which are currently 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The bill expands them to 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. The newspaper adds that it would also limit mail-in ballot drop-off locations. First, there’s a drop-off location at every home: It’s called a mail-in ballot for a reason. The chain of custody of these ballots through the USPS has been tested over time and there’s no reason to change that. And finally, it bans drive-through voting—which the bill’s author, Sen. Bryan Hughes, notes has never been allowed and therefore never been made secure.

If Texas Democrats want to allow for these changes in our voting rules, they can write the bills and try to convince their fellow lawmakers these are good ideas. That’s the way you change election policies and the Texas Election Code. You don’t simply set aside the law and the U.S. Constitution, as these woke corporations want us to do.
But those Texas Democrats will find that the public isn’t behind them. Texans want to be sure our elections are free and fair.
Currently, Texas requires voters to show a valid government-issued ID to vote in person, but they need only a signature and no identification to vote by mail. Nor do they have to prove they’re disabled or otherwise qualify for a mail-in ballot. More than four out of five (81%) of Texans said in our recent poll that voting in person and by mail should have the same voter identification requirements.
Additionally, 60% of Texans believe vote-by-mail should be available only to citizens who are elderly, disabled, away from their primary residence for work, or serving in the military. While SB 7 initially contained a provision that would enforce this by requiring documentation, but that was stripped out of the bill at the last minute. That amendment was offered by Democratic Sen. Judith Zaffirini.
The Dell Corporation issued a statement when SB 7 was passed by the Texas Senate last week: “Instead of seeking to limit access, governments should provide innovative pathways for citizens to have their voices heard.”
The truth is that every fraudulent ballot cast silences the voice of an eligible Texas voter. That’s where our focus should be.
It’s a perception problem, all right. But Texans won’t allow woke corporations with purchased platforms to misconstrue legislation and mislead the public. Secure elections are the right of every Texas voter, and lawmakers have a duty to them—not to the insufferable scolds of the corporate world.

Eviction Moratoriums Destroyed My Texas Real Estate Business

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“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Government IS the problem.”
– Ronald Reagan
If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that constitutional rights and the rule of law are the first casualties when government gets out of control and picks winners and losers in the marketplace. Inevitably, there are unintended consequences that result in greater problems than the one a totalitarian government attempts to mitigate.
As a result of governmental overreach, first through mandatory shutdowns, I lost  my job as a marketing communications professional. My situation was then exacerbated by the obliteration of my private property rights by the eviction moratoriums and rent holds.
I originally created American Home Property Solutions, LLC with the goal of providing clean, affordable housing for working class people, as well as to provide a source of supplemental retirement income for my husband and myself. We’re both in our 60s, and he has been disabled since 2013, so I have been the only source of income for our family.
My rents ranged from $575 to $850. I deliberately kept them below exorbitant market rates. Tenants included college students, teachers, healthcare workers, retail clerks, salon managers, factory staff, and other low-wage workers. My tenants frequently expressed their gratitude that my properties were kept clean and well-managed, which is so often not the case when tenants rent in this price range.
With the two separate eviction moratoriums in place, I could no longer take on the risk of the two mortgages for my small multifamily properties should my tenants lose their jobs and stop paying rent.
So, with an extremely frustrated and heavy heart, I was forced to sell.
The National Association of Realtors attempted to offer a more reasonable approach and urged Congress to pass legislation that would instead provide emergency rental assistance programs to housing providers.
In its article “Home/Eviction Moratorium? Owners Need Relief Too,”  NAR President Vince Malta stated,
“Any eviction moratorium must also come with rental assistance for property owners, the vast majority of which are mom-and-pop investors and are still required to meet their financial obligations even as they cease to receive income on their properties.”
Unfortunately, that assistance never came, and I became one of those property owners who was put out of business, in effect without due process, since I simply could not take the risk of carrying the costs of ownership that was abruptly thrust upon me by the government.
At a minimum, the government could have provided additional assistance to tenants who lost their jobs rather than make private property owners shoulder the burden and risk of these unprecedented and unconstitutional edicts.
I am encouraged and grateful to organizations such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation that have taken the CDC to court and won. Although much damage has been done, at least there is hope that court decisions may help prevent the federal government from destroying our rights and our businesses in the future.

Senate Bill 1473: Efficiency Audit

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James Quintero is the policy director for the Government for the People campaign at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Quintero focuses extensively on state and local government spending, taxes, debt, public pension reform, annexation, and local regulations.

Senate Bill 10: TFL

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The bill before the committee today is easily one of the most consequential pieces of legislation this session. As introduced, SB 10 would take aim at the practice of using tax dollars to hire registered lobbyists by:

ƒ  Preventing a county or a municipality from spending public money on or providing compensation to someone for the purpose of “directly or indirectly influenc[ing] or attempt[ing] to influence the outcome of any legislation pending before the legislature.”
ƒ  Clarifying that a city or a county may still—

Allow an officer or employee to provide information for a member of the Legislature or appear before a legislativecommittee at the request of a member of the Legislature;
Send a locally elected official to advocate for or against legislation or otherwise influence matters before the Legislature; and
Dispatch an employee to advocate for or against legislation or otherwise influence matters before the Legislature as long as those actions would not require a person to register as a Chapter 305 lobbyist.

ƒ  Providing that if a political subdivision is engaged in prohibited activity, a taxpayer or resident of that entity is entitled to injunctive relief to prevent any further activity. A taxpayer or resident who prevails is entitled to recover reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

Testimony Before the Senate Committee on Local Government

Louisiana Needs Transparency in the Asset Forfeiture Process

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In 2019, law enforcement seized over $12 million in cash or private property from property owners in the state of Louisiana through a practice called civil asset forfeiture. Upon a showing that the property may have been implicated in a crime in civil court, the seizing agency can then take possession of the proceeds from the seizure. Without so much as a criminal charge filed, the seizing agency may deposit the proceeds in its own revenue account with little accountability concerning the culpability of the property owner, or how the proceeds are spent.
Transparency and accountability are fundamental tenets of conservativism aimed at ensuring government functions as good stewards of the rights and resources of its citizens.
A lack of transparency amounts to a lack of accountability, which can ultimately lead to a failure of government integrity and the people suffer as a result. Given the hallowedness of Americans’ right to their own property, and in order to guard against any challenge to the sanctity of this right, Louisiana must apply the utmost due diligence where the civil asset forfeiture practice is concerned. This practice circumvents the Legislature’s budgeting authority, with little oversight over how the funds are being spent or managed, not to mention its overall effectiveness in curbing criminal enterprise.
Budgets for law enforcement agencies are submitted and overseen by either a city council, parish government, or the Legislature. Because the proceeds from civil asset forfeitures are not a part of the budget, the agency has total discretion in how these funds are used. As in any criminal proceeding, chain of custody is important, and government’s power to seize and ultimately forfeit someone’s assets should require a greater deal of transparency and accountability. Law enforcement functions as the protector of citizen’s unalienable rights, which is an awesome responsibility.
Louisianans have a right to know the nature of the proceeds (personal property, cash, etc.), whether the proceeds were associated with a criminal charge and/or conviction, the value of the proceeds, and how the proceeds were spent. However, the current reporting requirements outlined in Louisiana’s civil asset forfeiture laws leave Louisianans in the dark where this important information is concerned. This shortcoming must be remedied with an elevated scrutiny, if Louisianans’ property rights are to be afforded the full measure of respect under the law our freedoms demand.
Make no mistake, it is critical that our state’s law enforcement agencies receive the funding necessary to maintain the rule of law. It is the function of the Legislature and local city/parish councils to ensure law enforcement receives the necessary funding. It must not be the responsibility of law enforcement agencies to fill their own coffers through a civil asset forfeiture practice accountable to no one.
Lawmakers must provide law enforcement with the resources necessary to ensure public safety. This task must be accomplished without comprising the integrity of an individual’s property rights. This balance ensures Louisiana remains a great place to operate a business and raise a family.
As a former member of law enforcement, I understand the demands on our law enforcement officers and the risks they face every day. Enhancing the reporting requirements for forfeitures ensures the proper checks and balances are in place and allows lawmakers to evaluate the effectiveness of civil asset forfeiture in fighting crime. Most importantly, making the civil asset forfeiture process more transparent and accountable to the people of Louisiana enhances the integrity of the Pelican State.

New Superintendent Salary Data Reveals Massive Paychecks

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The Texas Education Agency has released its annual superintendent salary update and the new data reveals some eye-popping details.
For instance, the highest paid full-time superintendent in Texas makes almost $450,000 in base pay alone. In 2021, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD’s top administrator will pull in $437,018, which is more than the President of the United States earns, about three times what the Texas Governor will make, and seven times greater than the median household income. That’s just base pay, too. The figure doesn’t include things like the superintendent’s automobile allowance ($24,000 in 2019); cell phone allowance ($1,200 in 2019); life insurance policy allowance ($4,000); and more.
The data also reveals that the second highest paid full-time superintendent—at Barbers Hill ISD—will get paid $425,773 despite the district teaching fewer than 6,500 students. Not far behind is Crowley ISD, which plans to pay its top administrator $383,093 in spite of the district having only around 15,000 students.
Some other interesting nuggets: The top 10 highest paid full-time superintendents will make over $3.9 million this year, excluding benefits; eight of the top ten highest paid full-time administrators serve as the heads of traditional ISDs (not charters); the base pay for 215 full-time superintendents is $200,000 or more; and one part-time superintendent in San Vicente ISD gets paid $55,750 despite the district only having 5 enrollees.
The value of this data is two-fold. First, it enlightens public discourse on school district spending. Second, it deflates the persistent narrative advanced by Big Education that school districts are underfunded. Both are very much helpful with the Legislature in session.

Source: Texas Education Agency’s Superintendent Salary Database

Tan Parker: What Loving Your Neighbor Means

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What does the commandment that we love our neighbor mean? During Holy Week—when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus—I’ve been thinking about that topic.
I’ve also been thinking about it as I review proposed legislation in the Texas House, where I serve. The assistance we render to needy Texans—who are also our neighbors—must be personal, active and effective.
Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate the commandment. In the Gospel of Luke, an “expert in the law” asked Jesus who his neighbor was. Jesus then told the story of a man who was set upon by thieves. They beat him, robbed him and left him for dead. Two religious officials passed by, but neither helped. Then a Samaritan passed by. The Samaritans were enemies of the Jews, yet this Samaritan stopped and helped.
As the Gospel of Luke tells us, “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him” (Luke 10:34, NIV). He even left money with the innkeepers to pay the man’s expenses, promising to make good if costs ran over.
The Samaritan loved his neighbor—but that love wasn’t an emotion, it was an act. He provided assistance that was personal, active and effective. That’s the model I try to implement whenever possible. As the wise Marvin Olasky reminds us, the Latin root of the word “compassion” is “to suffer with.” It’s not enough to simply pass by our neighbors and assume that either they’re beyond help, or that it’s someone else’s problem. We must come alongside them.
That brings me to the Texas TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program. This vital program provides cash assistance for struggling Texas families with children. TANF is a federal program administered by the states. Unfortunately, it’s too often administered in an ineffective fashion across the country.
As such, Texas needs to lead for the nation. It begins with ensuring that TANF dollars are used effectively. That’s why I have filed House Bill 1516, which would require the Health and Human Services Commission to conduct an independent efficiency audit of TANF in 2022, and every six years thereafter. Assistance isn’t assistance if it’s not reaching the families in need; nor is it help if it doesn’t achieve the goals set out for the program.
TANF (which came out of the Welfare Reform Act of 1996) has four specific goals. It is meant to:

Provide assistance to needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives.
End the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage.
Prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

Yet the Pew organization reports that “over time, instead of focusing on helping low-income people get jobs, TANF has devolved into a kind of candy store that many states are raiding to plug budget holes and pay for programs that have little to do with moving poor people into the workforce…”
A review of the most recent data says that states spend only 11 percent of TANF funds on work-related activities including education and training.
The most tragic finding of the report is this: “Just 1 in 4 TANF cases close because clients found jobs. Others close because people have lost eligibility, failed to comply with requirements or for other reasons.”
In Texas, we spend one-third of our TANF dollars on child welfare services provided through the Department of Family and Protective Services—more than half of that going to administration, staffing and operations, instead of helping children directly.
We can do better, and it begins by ensuring we are spending TANF money properly. That can only be done with a third-party efficiency audit. What if we spent more TANF funds to keep kids out of foster care by helping needy families become self-sufficient or we were able to provide more significant direct financial benefits from these resources to these families and their children.
Addressing immediate needs is important, but we want to look beyond that, and provide families with opportunity—and hope. There’s much more we can do to help needy Texans, and I’m eager to have those conversations. But a good start for the current legislative session is my bill that will help make sure that the scarce taxpayer money we’re already spending now is being spent well by using these resources as they were intended while helping families achieve permanent self-sufficiency.
State Rep. Tan Parker represents District 63 (a portion of Denton County) in the Texas House of Representatives.

House Bill 2189: ESG Goals

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On behalf of Life:Powered, a project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation to raise America’s energy IQ, thank you for the opportunity to testify today in support of HB 2189. This bill is not just of great interest to our team but also to me person- ally, as it touches on the fields of energy, finance, and policy that have marked my own career path.

Testimony Before the Texas House State Affairs Committee

Texas House and Senate Budgets Below TPPF’s Conservative Texas Budget

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TPPF Conservative Texas Budget: $246.8 Billion
Texas House Introduced Base Budget: $245.5 Billion
Texas Senate Committee Substitute Budget: $244.7 Billion

The table provide an apples-to-apples comparison of amounts appropriated for the 2020-21 budget from the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) Fiscal Size-Up and each chamber’s 2022-23 appropriated amounts. We compare each chamber’s appropriated amounts with the Foundation’s Conservative Texas Budget (CTB) limits for state funds and all funds (state and federal) based on maximum increase of 5% in population growth plus inflation over the last two fiscal years.
We exclude from the 2020-21 budget the designated $8.3 billion in Hurricane Harvey recovery one-time expenses and $5 billion in general revenue for property tax relief, which did not go to grow government, in HB 3 from the 2019 session. Likewise, we exclude from each chamber’s version of the 2022-23 budget the $6 billion in general revenue to maintain the property tax relief in last session’s HB 3 and will exclude any one-time COVID-related funding. The exclusion of one-time expenses for a declared disaster recovery is important to not inflate the base by that amount allowing for excess spending later and to improve budget transparency.
Fortunately, the Senate’s committee substitute for SB 1 and the House’s introduced HB 1 fall below the CTB limits in state funds and all funds. This must be maintained throughout session to better match the average Texas taxpayer’s ability to pay for government spending while leaving more money in the productive private sector to let people prosper.

Lawmakers Should Limit Disaster Powers

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Was the Constitution a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic? One federal judge warned that it could be. Striking down a ban on indoor church gatherings in North Carolina, Judge James C. Dever III ruled that “There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution of the United States or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”
Here in Texas, the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, codified as Texas Government Code Chapter 418, grants special authority to the governor and certain local officials in times of disaster. These extraordinary powers enabled officials to impose a wide variety of rules and restrictions in response to COVID-19. Some jurisdictions exercised that authority in ways that were troubling. Across Texas, the pandemic rules were at times confusing, contradictory and inconsistent.
Events over the last year make plain that Chapter 418 needs reform. The aim of this effort must be to better balance government power with individual liberty in times of crisis. Two bills, SB 1025 and SJR 45, would make critical changes to the law by clarifying the roles of the executive and the legislature during times of disaster, creating a new legislative check against executive overreach, and making certain protections explicit.
Under the proposed legislation, only the Texas Legislature would have the authority to suspend a provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Penal Code, or the Election Code during a declared state of disaster. The Legislature alone is responsible for creating, voiding, and nullifying laws. Governors, county judges and mayors aren’t.
The proposed bill language clarifies that only state lawmakers can “renew or extend the governor’s state of disaster declaration.” By effectively limiting a unilateral statewide disaster declaration to a 30-day period, this provides a legislative check on executive authority that becomes operative after a reasonable amount of time.
The bills also say that only the legislature can renew or extend a state of disaster. In order to continue a statewide disaster declaration beyond 30 days, a governor would be required to convene a special session of the legislature.
Finally, the bills prohibit the governor from declaring a new state of disaster based on the same or similar circumstances covered under a prior declaration that was not renewed by the Legislature.
In concert, these provisions seek to enshrine a more robust role for the legislative branch in times of disaster. And to give the new rules some teeth, the bills have included an enforcement mechanism that grants any sitting legislator at the time of the disaster standing to challenge the executive branch at the Texas Supreme Court, should a governor refuse to convene a special session of the legislature.
Once convened, the Legislature would have the authority to terminate or renew orders as it deems appropriate.
Senate Bill 1025 and Senate Joint Resolution 45 represent a significant improvement over the status quo. Through various provisions, the legislation reforms emergency management powers in a way that better balances the competing needs for decisive action in a time of crisis and the preservation of individual liberty.
The measures also strengthen our existing system of checks and balances, which is at the very heart of our constitutional republic. The concept’s importance is perhaps best captured by James Madison, who said: “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.”

Senate Bill 1616: Emergency Powers

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The Texas Disaster Act of 1975, codified as Texas Government Code Chapter 418, grants special authority to the governor and certain local officials in times of a declared disaster.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, this temporary authority enabled officials to impose a wide variety of rules and restrictions on Texans. As evidenced in the Foundation’s research, many of these requirements have been overly burdensome, and some have even tipped into the realm of unlawfulness.

HB 1200: Historic Preservation Ordinances

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Private property rights are part of the foundation of this state and, as such, require eternal vigilance.
The Zoning Enabling Act provides some measure of private property protections; however, some cities, like Houston, stray from those protections and impose burdensome regulations on property owners. These extra-regulatory actions merit a legislative response; however, bills such as HB 1200 represent movement in the wrong direction.

HB 3204: Creating Pathways to High-Demand, High-Wage Occupations

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As Texas recovers from 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.
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 in dynamic industries.
Data released by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on March 9, 2021, sheds some light on a possible origin of this skilled trade gap. Of 82,076 students who completed a career and technology education program of study in 2018-19, only

0.1% (or 123 students) were in HVAC and sheet metal,
0.1% (or 103 students) were in plumbing and pipefitting,
0.2% (or 196 students) were in electrical,
0.7% (or 578 students) were in welding, and
0.7% (or 573 students) were in IT support and services.

Testimony Before the Texas House Public Education Committee

Senate Bill 1025 & Senate Joint Resolution 45

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James Quintero is the policy director for the Government for the People campaign at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Quintero focuses extensively on state and local government spending, taxes, debt, public pension reform, annexation, and local regulations.

First, allow me to provide some background. The Texas Disaster Act of 1975, codified as Texas Government Code Chapter 418, grants special authority to the governor and certain local officials in times of disaster. These extraordinary powers enabled officials to impose a wide variety of rules and restrictions in response to COVID-19. As documented in the Foundation’s research, some jurisdictions exercised that authority in ways that were troubling.*

Testimony to the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs

Defunding the Police Sets Officers Up for Failure

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As the crime rates soar in our major cities, some jurisdictions are reconsidering their early devotion to defunding the police. The anti-police rhetoric, symbolic and real “reform” initiatives, and a complete lack of support for our police officers have all had exactly the effect that everyone knew they would. The decades-long trend of declining violent crime rates came to an abrupt end last year, and it shows no sign of getting better.
We can’t really call the defunding of our police an experiment; that would imply that the outcome would have been unknown. The goal of the defunding movement was never about public safety). Rather, the goal has always been punishing the police and even abolishing law enforcement. Who exactly stands to gain the most from this agenda? Soaring crime rates give us that answer, and the ones who suffer are the most vulnerable among us in high-crime neighborhoods.
Defunding the police proved to be terribly unpopular among the public. Not the tiny percentage of the public that burned down buildings during protests, but the voting public. The media did their best to avoid condemning the violence last summer, and leftist politicians excused or even endorsed the rioting, but business owners and the people who had to live in these warzones had a different opinion about what was happening.
Those same people, the ones who matter because they live, work, and vote in these cities, are now demanding solutions to the surge in violent crime. The answer to violence is the same as it has been for centuries. Our police have always been the thin blue line between the people and the criminals. They are still the answer to the problem. To no one’s surprise, trying to cut them out of the equation did not work out well.
Is there room for reform in policing? Of course there is, just as there is with any government institution. The best mechanism for reform is training. Each and every high profile police incident has revolved around a use of force. Some of these incidents were awful to look at. Some were creations of an irresponsible media capitalizing on the anti-police sentiments of some in society, but not all of them. Failures in use of force almost always come from a lack of training, and nearly every police agency gets less training than it should.
When a police officer is in fear for his or her life, deadly force is a very real option. Police officers will evaluate their levels of fear differently based on their training, experience, and capabilities among other factors. Poorly trained officers are less capable of handling threats to their safety and will escalate their levels of force more quickly than highly skilled officers in the same circumstance. This human variable is impossible to remove, but better training raises that bar for all police officers. Making them more skilled in de-escalation, communications, and yes, use of force techniques, allows them to make better force decisions.
Will those decisions look better on video? Maybe, but that really isn’t what this is about. Force usually looks bad even if it is done right. It is a positive sign that seeing force used against a person still tends to upset us as a community because once we lose that revulsion, we have started down a dark road. But that doesn’t mean that all force is bad, and we do generally understand this intuitively. Training our officers to be highly skilled in all of the areas surrounding their interactions with the public will go a long way in preventing some of the incidents we have seen that were both legally justified and revolting to watch.
Training officers requires resources, and that’s the very opposite of defunding. Training is the first thing police agencies must cut when they lose the already limited resources they have, and that makes our police less able to perform the way we expect them to. Our police officers deserve better than that. Defunding sets them up for failure on a viral video. Most officers would love to get more and better training. If we are looking to reform policing, training is where we should start.

Biden Stands Down at the Border

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It could be argued that, taken one at a time, the Biden Administration’s policy directives regarding immigration are worthy of thoughtful debate. But taken as a whole, and being either already executed or under serious consideration so early in the president’s first term, the mosaic clearly shows that he is standing down the execution of federal immigration laws. And the worst crisis in 20 years—by  his own Department of Homeland Security Secretary’s admission—is likely to reach a truly unprecedented level.
Let’s take a look at how we got here.
On his first half day in office, President Biden’s DHS terminated enrollment in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Otherwise known as “Remain in Mexico,” this program provided that migrants who had entered the US—“illegally or without proper documentation”—from Mexico would be returned there while their claims for asylum were processed.
This program alone greatly diminished the draw of people to illegally enter the U.S. when they learned that they would not be released into the interior of the U.S. after initially making their claim. After all, the vast majority of claims are made simply to obtain such release into the U.S. so that migrants could reach the safety and prosperity our country offers.
With the termination of the MPP, migrants can now return to the practice of illegally entering the U.S. and, if caught, they can make a (most likely spurious) claim for asylum, with the confidence they will be released into the interior of the U.S. and be given a shot at the American Dream. At the time of their release, those migrants will be given a Notice To Appear (NTA) before an Immigration Judge to hear the final determination on their claim, but we’ll elaborate on that later.
Not only did the Biden DHS stop new enrollments into the MPP program, they’re in the process of transitioning those enrolled during the Trump Administration and temporarily residing in Mexico back to the U.S. for continued processing and release into the interior of the country.
Nearly simultaneous with the termination of new enrollments into the MPP, Biden’s DHS placed a “100-day pause” on most deportations. When the Attorney General of Texas filed suit claiming he and his fellow Texans would be understandably harmed by such an (in)action, a federal judge indefinitely blocked the president from not doing his job to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” But as has been noted by other observers, the judge simply said that the Biden Administration could not stop the deportation process. He didn’t say how quickly the president should faithfully do his job.
One way to bring the deportation of illegal aliens to a crawl would be to re-assign personnel whose job is just that, to another role. This was no doubt the motivation for a recent call between DHS leadership and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. The call included discussion of potential plans to move deportation officers to criminal investigators. According to one report, the transition would be similar to “a city police department converting its beat cops to detectives, leaving nobody to patrol the streets for basic crimes.” Such a transition of personnel would not only slow the deportation process, it would likewise affect the arrest of many in the U.S. illegally. This would drastically slow much of the execution of immigration law at both the front end and the back end.
Finally, as the numbers of migrants entering the US’s southwest border has overwhelmed our ability to respond, the most hard hit sector—Texas’s Rio Grande Valley (RGV) sector—has recently discontinued the issuance of Notices to Appear to asylum claimants in order to more quickly “process” migrants—especially minors—who have flooded the sector recently. Recall that these Notices To Appear are issued to migrants apprehended at the border who have made a claim for asylum in the U.S. The worst kept secret in this entire scheme is that, once out of sight of government officials, the notice is disposed of and the migrant is effectively free to wander the fruited plains of the U.S. This most recent change in asylum processing dispenses of the façade for the pressing purpose of moving migrants—especially migrant children—out of severely overcrowded detention facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To be fair to the unconscionably overworked defenders of our southwest border, we must remember that the Biden administration has added to Border Patrol’s concerns at these facilities by removing the public health bar of many new minor child entries into the U.S. during the pandemic. And we know what will happen when news of these developments reaches would-be migrants, through the smuggling industry that exploits them.
These changes to the execution of immigration laws in the first two months of Biden’s first term are stressing the southwest border in a way that can only result in greater chaos as the winter turns to spring. The administration is standing down—and Americans (as well as migrants themselves) will suffer for it.

HB 3041 Implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act

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In 2018, the federal government enacted one of the most dramatic overhauls of child welfare policy in over 30 years. Known as the Family First Prevention Services Act, this landmark legislation aims to prevent children from entering foster care by focusing efforts on family preservation and reduce reliance on placing children in institutional settings. These goals represent a sea change in child welfare practice and are an important step toward creating a more compassionate and effective system.
Family First implementation presents a unique opportunity, but also a number of challenges. As the October 2021 compliance deadline approaches, the 87th Legislature is facing several critical decisions for how Texas will respond. House Bill 3041 provides a thoughtful, fiscally responsible path toward not only complying with Family First, but also sustaining long-overdue transformation.

Wyoming: Medicare Expansion Still Isn’t the Answer

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President Joe Biden sweetened the deal for Medicaid expansion in Wyoming (and other states that have yet to expand it) with COVID-19 “stimulus” dollars. According to Wyoming lawmakers who have historically resisted expansion, that money “really changed some hearts and minds in the Legislature.” The Wyoming House has now passed an expansion bill, and the matter is now before the Senate.
Here’s what that bribe didn’t change: It didn’t change the fact that Wyoming has a physician shortage. According to Eric Boley, president of the Wyoming Hospital Association, it’s “almost impossible” to recruit family practice physicians to Wyoming’s rural areas. “My facilities are having to pay, in some cases, the 95th percentile for salaries, with sign-on bonuses and really lucrative living expense packages,” he explains.
Nor do the COVID-19 funds increase Wyoming’s Medicaid reimbursement rates, which will limit the number of existing doctors who can afford to accept new patients. Unless Wyoming lawmakers bite that fiscal bullet and permanently raise reimbursement rates across the board, expanding Medicaid will increase only demand—not supply.
The truth is that coverage doesn’t equal care. If Wyoming takes the bait and expands Medicaid, it will crowd out the truly needy young mothers, children and disabled with newly enrolled able-bodied adults.
One Wyoming lawmaker says the state has no other choice.
“I voted ‘no’ multiple times on this same issue,” Wyoming Republican House Speaker Eric Barlow said, “and I’m going to vote ‘yes’ this time, because I haven’t seen any other solution. Nobody’s brought anything forward, and I’ve looked myself.”
He’s wrong. There are alternatives to Medicaid expansion that will provide care—not just coverage—and won’t break the bank.
Let’s look at the case NBC News led with when it when it reported on the Wyoming House’s vote: A woman couldn’t afford her insulin. That’s an important issue, and it doesn’t just affect Wyoming residents, it affects Texans, too.
That’s why the Texas Legislature is taking a targeted approach, with a bill that would establish a safety net for Texans, offering affordable medications to the uninsured. The bill, authored by state Rep. Tom Oliverson, a medical doctor himself, is modeled on a successful program being used in Utah.
It simply doesn’t make sense to expand a massive, cumbersome and deeply flawed Medicaid program. More targeted assistance would have a far greater impact on public health—and our fiscal well-being.
Other innovations, such as broader use of telemedicine in the vast windswept plains and mountains of Wyoming, and incentivizing Federally Qualified Health Centers to care for its rural communities, could remake the state’s health care system.
Medical cost sharing organizations are another alternative. Medical cost sharing provides a less expensive non-insurance market based alternative for non-traditional workforces such as contract workers and the unemployed could benefit. Medical cost sharing is already legal in Wyoming, but lawmakers could explore ways to help it grow.
Texas, like Wyoming, is often criticized for choosing to not expand Medicaid. But the decision is based, in part, on higher-than-expected Medicaid costs and research showing that overall health outcomes have not improved for expansion populations.
Instead of expanding an ineffective, bureaucratic program, Wyoming lawmakers should look to state-based initiatives targeting access to health care.
Like Texas, Wyoming can seek solutions for affordable drugs, affordable health coverage, price transparency, and other options that put patients in charge of their own health care decisions, and that give them peace of mind.

House Bill 749

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The bill before the committee is easily one of the most consequential pieces of legislation this session. As introduced, HB 749 would:

Prohibit a political subdivision from spending public funds 1) to hire an individual required to register as a lobby-ist under Chapter 305 of the Texas Government Code for the purpose of legislative advocacy, or 2) to pay a nonprofit association or organization that primarily represents governmental interests and hires or contracts with an individual required to register as a lobbyist under Chapter 305.
Provide that if a political subdivision is engaged in prohibited activity, a taxpayer or resident of that entity is entitled to injunctive relief to prevent any further activity or expenditures. A taxpayer or resident who prevails is entitled to recover reasonable attorney’s fees.

More Stimulus? No Thanks

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Let’s start with a simple fact: It’s not economic “stimulus” when someone comes along, takes money from your right pocket and puts some of it back in your left pocket (keeping much of it for “other uses”). That’s sleight-of-hand, not stimulus, which is a reason the government can’t stimulate anything other than more government.
That’s more and more true when less and less of the funds go back in your pocket. And make no mistake, President Joe Biden’s plans for a third “stimulus” bill—eclipsing the previous two—isn’t about helping struggling Americans hit hard by the pandemic and the shutdowns. Instead, it’s a massive, pork-laden bill that seeks to keep many of his lavish campaign promises and shore up support among key constituencies.
And nowhere is this more evident than in the area of climate activism.
According to CNBC, “The recovery plan, to be unveiled this week, will likely involve installing thousands of electric vehicle charging stations and building millions of new energy-efficient homes.” (Note to President Biden: Out-of-work Americans can’t afford new electric vehicles.)
Biden’s plan to “Build Back Better” also “supports his broader goal to achieve carbon-free power generation by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050”—an impossible goal that, even if it was achievable, would have little effect on global temperatures.
But that’s not all.
The Washington Post reports that it would spend “hundreds of billions of dollars to repair the nation’s roads, bridges, waterways and rails. It also includes funding for retrofitting buildings, safety improvements, schools infrastructure, and low-income and tribal groups, as well as $100 billion for schools and education infrastructure.”
And he plans a slew of massive tax hikes to help pay for it.
He could raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, which would destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs, and raise taxes on American individuals. These actions and others would undo key parts of the Tax Reform and Jobs Act of 2017 that combined with deregulation helped launch tangible economic prosperity until the global pandemic.
Each of these initiatives—climate activism, massive “infrastructure” spending and tax hikes—is bad economic policy in and of itself. Together, they’re a trifecta of terrible, guaranteed to overburden our economy and saddle us and future generations with more government, more debt and less opportunity.
History demonstrates that despite the promises of a Green New Deal, new green jobs prove elusive—and the ones that are created are very, very expensive, which requires more government spending of our hard-earned tax dollars that reduces growth and jobs in the process.
Here’s what President Obama said in his 2008 acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention: “I’ll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy—wind power, and solar power, and the next generation of biofuels—an investment that will lead to new industries and 5 million new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced.”
That never happened.
Obama himself later acknowledged that “Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.” That went for both the climate jobs (his policies sent solar panel manufacturing to China, for example, and other companies simply misled the government, took the money and declared bankruptcy) and for infrastructure jobs.
The good news is that we know what works. We can truly support more self-sufficiency, dignity, and human flourishing by fully opening the economy up.
Americans aren’t clamoring for a Green New Deal (when they’re told what it will cost), but they sure would like to dine out, see family members again and open up their businesses without the heavy-handed pandemic measures imposed by governments at every level.
It begins with Congress rejecting the third “stimulus” boondoggle. States should also reject some if not all of the latest round of bailout money to keep from unnecessarily expanding government programs and losing some independence to the federal government. And Congress should instead adopt the Texas Model of less spending, lower taxes and more reasonable regulation.
A great next step would be for the Biden administration to lift its “halt” on new oil and gas permits on federal lands and in federal waters.
That action alone would achieve all three of Biden’s stated goals for his “stimulus”: It would reduce emissions by allowing access to cleaner-burning natural gas, it would support many new and existing high-paying jobs for Americans (instead of outsourcing them to other countries, which we’ll be forced to buy our petroleum from), and it would support infrastructure improvement through the taxes producers pay for their use of our roads and bridges.
Another step would be to rein in excessive government spending that is bankrupting our country.
Ultimately, we can regain the prosperity we had before the pandemic—but not with Biden’s progressive plan.

Iowa, beware of tax rate complacency

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Toyota Financial Services recently announced that as a result of consolidating customer service centers, the Cedar Rapids facility will close and cut 600 jobs, due in part to the private sector employing 5% fewer people than a year ago. The consolidation of customer service centers is a loss for Iowa and a win for other states, such as Texas. Businesses are responding to both economic climates and the new work environment brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
States with high tax rates are seeing an exodus of both people and businesses while those with lower rates are seeing them arrive in droves. This is yet another example of how people vote with their feet when the burden of government becomes excessive.
Iowa has made progress in recent years by lowering the individual and corporate income tax rates, but policymakers should beware of becoming too complacent, and they should work to continue reining in spending and lowering rates to attract people and businesses.
Many states have or are gradually lowering their personal and corporate income tax rates. This happened at the federal level during the Trump administration and many people had tangible prosperity that they’d never experienced. But the Biden administration may soon reverse those gains if progressives in D.C. have their way, which makes more competitive tax systems in Iowa and other states essential.
Legislatures in Arizona, Mississippi, and West Virginia are currently considering bills to phase-out their state income tax. For Iowa to remain economically competitive, it must follow suit. Iowa’s tax rates matter because we are in direct competition with 49 other states for businesses, jobs, and people. For example, South Dakota, Iowa’s neighbor, does not tax individual or corporate income, making it far more economically competitive.
Texas, another no-personal-income tax state, is a national leader in terms of economic growth and attracting both people and businesses. Iowa could also learn from Texas’s recent property tax reform in 2019, which limited growth in property taxes without voter approval to 3.5 percent for local governments and to 2.5 percent for school districts. They are even considering improving their tax system by eliminating nearly half of their property taxes.
Higher tax rates not only deter economic growth, but they also penalize hard-working individuals, families, and businesses. Taxes on income are considered the most harmful of taxes as they discourage productivity, hiring, and investing in Iowa.
In 2018, Governor Kim Reynolds and the Republican-led legislature passed pro-growth tax reform that lowered income tax rates and broadened the sales tax base. Reducing tax rates and practicing responsible spending policies is making Iowa more competitive and economically strong.
As a result of the 2018 law, this year Iowa’s corporate tax rate fell from 12 percent, the highest in the nation, to 9.8 percent—matching Minnesota’s. Even at 9.8 percent Iowa still has the third high corporate tax rate in the nation.
In 2023, the income tax is scheduled to be reduced to 6.5 percent—making it more competitive in the region. The caveat is, for the rate reduction to occur, it must meet two stringent revenue triggers.
First, state revenues must surpass $8.3 billion. Second, revenue growth must be at least 4% during that fiscal year. The use of revenue triggers in state tax policy can be a good idea but creating a high threshold can unnecessarily delay tax rate reductions and reduce the necessary restraint on government spending—the driver of higher tax burdens.
Lowering income taxes should not be hindered by the 4% growth trigger, so repealing it to use any revenue above $8.3 billion for cutting the income tax would reduce a major roadblock to tax relief and provide taxpayers with more certainty they can use to plan for their more prosperous futures.
Gov. Reynolds continues to stress the importance of making Iowa’s tax code more competitive. The Iowa Senate has passed legislation that will repeal both revenue triggers and phase-out the obsolete inheritance tax. Both measures would place taxpayers first and make the state’s tax code more competitive.
Iowa can look to states such as Texas, Indiana, North Carolina, among others that are creating pro-growth tax codes and practicing fiscal restraint. To be an economic leader in the Midwest—and to let people prosper—Iowa cannot afford to become complacent.

HB 1886 Need to Study Safety Nets in Texas

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Institutions Matter
There is a need to improve Texas’s inclusive institutional framework for increased job creation and community and family involvement that supports the dignity of work, permanent self-sufficiency, and paths to prosperity. This is part of our Opportunity Project.
But even in a robust economic situation, some individuals are likely to fall through the cracks of the system, which necessitates improved workforce development and reduced governmental barriers to entrepreneurship, while others have already fallen through the cracks. Therefore, family, communities, churches, nonprofits, and other institutions are important to help people get back on their feet and flourish.
But, currently, not everyone has access to these institutions, so there is a limited role for government to temporarily assist those in need.

SB 1336 Strengthening Texas’s Spending Limit

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Texas has done better economically and fiscally than most states during much of the last two decades.
This success is a result of a limited government philosophy encapsulated in the Texas Model. However, weaknesses within the state’s spending limit threaten this success as excessive government spending over time has necessitated higher taxes and debt.
Weaknesses include (a) covering less than half of the budget, (b) using a volatile metric and unreliable indicator of the aver­ age taxpayer’s burden with personal income, (c) relying on practically impossible growth projections, and (d) having only a simple majority vote in each chamber to exceed the limit.

Responsible Recovery Agenda Strengthens the Texas Model

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Given the economic situation, with many unemployed Texans struggling from business closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, government restrictions, and following recent power outages, the Legislature should consider less spending, taxing, and regulating so Texans have more opportunities to prosper.

HB 2926 Reinstatement of Parental Rights

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It is fitting that this bill is being heard during Holy Week as it rests on the ideas of redemption and restoration that are central to the observance of Easter. Although these ideas receive special emphasis during this season, humanity’s capacity to change for the better and heal that which is broken is a universal truth, regardless of faith tradition.
House Bill 2926 recognizes that this even applies to parents whose past mistakes led to the involuntary termination of their parental rights. An analysis of data obtained from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that Texas ranked second behind California for the highest number of total terminations of parental rights between 2010 and 2018. In 2018, there were more than 5,500 terminations of parental rights in Texas for a rate of 7.53 per 10,000 child population. Many of these terminations involved children in the foster care system.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment: A Crisis of Its Own Making

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The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) furthers the climate change catastrophe narrative through its use of outdated and extreme CO2 emissions forecasts and its unsubstantiated predictions of widespread environmental and economic damage.

Key Points

The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) is not an unbiased assessment of climate science. It largely follows the climate change catastrophe narrative that advocates for reducing CO2 emissions as quickly as possible.
NCA4 relies heavily on an outdated and extreme emissions scenario, RCP8.5, to create unrealistic predictions of widespread environmental and economic damage from rising temperatures.
NCA4 fails to adequately justify the level of confidence that it ascribes to most of its predictions and makes only passing references to many of the uncertainties highlighted in its underlying studies.
The next National Climate Assessment should be subject to review by scientists willing to argue against its main conclusions, with alternative viewpoints noted in the final document.
Recent history contradicts the pessimistic predictions of NCA4. Climate resiliency and quality of life have improved dramatically for most of humanity as energy consumption and temperatures have risen over the past century.

Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

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When former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with TPPF’s Kevin Roberts for a livestream event on March 24, he cited a 2019 report from the State Department on the topic of unalienable rights.
That report found, in part, that “the American example of freedom, equality, and democratic self-government has long inspired, and continues to inspire, champions of human rights around the world, and American human rights advocacy has provided encouragement to tens of millions of women and men suffering under authoritarian regimes that routinely trample on the rights of their citizens.”
Here’s a link to that report.

SB 346 Closing the Skilled Trades Gap & Ensuring Equal Opportunity for All Public School Students

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Benefits of Career and Technical Education for Students
The Texas Workforce Investment Council reports many benefits for Texas students who participate in CTE programs in high school, including:

Higher graduation rates (95.6% of CTE participants vs. 89.1% of all students).
Better academic performance in Algebra I and English II on state assessments.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, “eight years after their expected high school graduation, the median annual earnings for CTE concentrators were higher than for non-concentrators.”

HB 618 Closing the Skilled Trades Gap & Ensuring Equal Opportunity for All Public School Students

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Benefits of Career and Technical Education for Students
The Texas Workforce Investment Council reports many benefits for Texas students who participate in CTE programs in high school, including:

Higher graduation rates (95.6% of CTE participants vs. 89.1% of all students).
Better academic performance in Algebra I and English II on state assessments.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, “eight years after their expected high school graduation, the median annual earnings for CTE concentrators were higher than for non-concentrators.”

We Can’t Allow Foster Care Reform to Founder

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Last Friday was the deadline to file bills at the Texas Legislature. For people who earn their livings in and around the Capitol, it’s a minor holiday. There’s a flurry of activity as staff work to finalize their boss’ legislative packages and lobbyists race to find sponsors for the remaining bills in their portfolios before time runs out. No one is paying attention to anything else outside the pink granite walls of the Capitol.
It’s a perfect time for agencies to release news they’d prefer go unnoticed.
Case-in-point: Late the night before bill filing deadline, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) quietly published a long-awaited evaluation of its performance rolling out the new community-based model for foster care. The evaluation, which was ordered by the Legislature and conducted by Texas Tech University, concluded that the department was mishandling the transfer of foster care responsibilities to local communities and undermining the success of the state’s child welfare reform efforts.
Among the evaluation’s findings was that the department’s efforts to implement community-based care lacked a clear strategic framework and suffered from “processes that were random, chaotic, and trial-and-error.”
Improving the Texas foster care system is of utmost importance. Rather than allowing this report to fly under the radar, the Legislature should take it seriously and enact its recommendations to make the Texas foster care system safer and more responsive to the needs of children.
The community-based model of foster care was created by the Legislature in 2017 in response to an ongoing federal lawsuit, M.D. v. Abbott, which alleged that the state systematically subjected children in the permanent care of DFPS to an unreasonable risk of harm. One of the primary goals of this reform was to addresses the deficiencies brought to light by the lawsuit by transferring primary responsibility for their care to local non-profit charitable organizations operating under contract with the state.
Currently, 6,480 children—roughly 21% of the state’s foster care population—are being served in one of the four active community-based care regions. In these regions, the model is doing exactly what it was designed to do. Local providers are achieving positive gains in key outcomes including child safety, placement stability, and placement in the least restrictive setting. As the evaluation points out, these improvements are being achieved in spite of the department’s mismanagement of implementation.
Any successful entrepreneur will tell you the importance of being willing to learn and adapt. Initial plans almost always change based on data and experience gained through actually doing the work. It’s been four years since the Legislature created community-based care, and we’ve learned a great deal in that time. Rather than attempting to bury a report that highlights areas for improvement, the department should be embracing the evaluation and putting together a plan to incorporate its recommendations into the next phase of community-based care.
We’re glad to see that Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, recently filed SB 1896, which makes a number of necessary improvements to state programs for children.
Among the improvements it makes is taking responsibility for overseeing the rollout of community-based care away from DFPS and transferring it to the Health and Human Services Commission. This is a commonsense move that recognizes that agencies should not be allowed to evaluate themselves or oversee reductions in their authority. Moreover, it improves oversight and accountability by housing these functions in an independent organization that is not in direct competition with the new providers.
Another example is HB 3691 by Rep. James Frank, the chairman of the House Human Services Committee. This bill incorporates many of the lessons learned by the community-based providers who are operating under the new foster care model. It also addresses the inconsistencies in DFPS’s implementation of community-based care highlighted in the evaluation report by making changes to the enacting statute to ensure that consistent, predictable standards are applied moving forward.
Community-based care is the solution to the systemic problems that have plagued the Texas foster care system over the last decade. The 87th Legislature has a unique opportunity to finish the work it started in 2017 and make Texas a model for successful child welfare reform. Lawmakers must seize it.

Merit-Based Teacher Pay Improves Outcomes for All

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Merit based teacher pay, an idea that prioritizes quality teaching and retains top educators in the profession, recently was implemented into a new Texas incentive program. Since its start in 2019, 3,977 of Texas’s top teachers were awarded raises, totaling $39.2 million under the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA).
The Houston Chronicle noted, “Thousands of Texas teachers across 26 public school districts—including five in the Houston area—will see some of the biggest raises of their careers this year, as the state begins rolling out a landmark program designed to keep the best educators in the classroom.”
The Texas Public Policy Foundation has supported teacher incentive pay in the past as it rewards, helps retain, and helps recruit skilled teachers for the lone star state’s schools.
The TIA program helps to combat teacher turnover, which remains a large issue in Texas. Jessica Palma, a fourth grade teacher at San Antonio’s Harmony charter school, was given a raise through the program. She told Fox News, “There’s so many teachers that are amazing and [TIA] will just give them that extra push to stay in the profession.”
This is more crucial now than ever before, as a high teacher turnover rate is plaguing Texas—turnover rate has stayed consistently around 31% for years and around one in three Texas public school teachers quit prior to teaching six years. High turnover is extremely undesirable as it reduces “productivity, revenues and remaining employee satisfaction,” and compensation has been found to be a major contributing factor in employee retention.
Low teacher compensation has also had the unfortunate effect of reducing the number of teachers from undergraduate teaching programs by 15%. To help solve this problem, TIA’s thorough evaluation systems reward teacher distinction with previously hard-to-come-by six-figure salaries—which keeps the best teachers teaching instead of leaving the classroom to find higher-paying jobs.
The TIA program also utilizes an in-depth process to recognize truly talented educators. Top teachers are identified as Recognized, Exemplary, or Master through an evaluation system taking into consideration both student performance and peer observation, along with additional factors such as student, parent, peer, and community surveys (depending on the district).
Performance-based salary places emphasis on the skill and effort of teachers as opposed to their seniority­—a distinction that prioritizes students and their education. It’s a hedge against mediocrity. Teacher performance-based pay also has been shown to conclusively improve “student achievement, teacher retention, and teacher recruitment.”
The system to evaluate teacher performance takes into consideration qualitative factors like the teacher’s ability to “consistently engage all students with relevant, meaningful learning based on their interests” and “integrate learning objectives with other disciplines, content areas, and real-world experience” along with student growth expectation calculations.
While all Texas school districts and open-enrollment charter schools are in consideration for TIA funding, the program prioritizes high-needs and rural schools. The program focuses on these schools because of historical trends such as a discrepancy in teacher pay, reductions in school funding (partially due to fewer students), and academic performance gaps between Texas rural and city public schools. Rural Texas public schools also are substantially more racially diverse than their city counterparts, so inequitable funding to rural schools has a damaging effect on Texas’s minority populations.
TPPF has supported programs that places value on teachers at rural and high-needs schools in the past and continues to, as a result of their ability to increase student outcomes and foster a positive learning environment.
TIA ultimately is for the students. With more quality teachers, the next generation of Texas will be inspired to work hard, motivated to learn, and encouraged to pursue their interests. Many adults fondly recall their favorite teacher and acknowledge the immense impact he or she had on their life—Texas is finally valuing and rewarding those very educators who most inspire and change students’ lives.

SB 14

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Over the last few years, local governments throughout Texas have attempted to mandate regulations on private businesses and employees including but not limited to employment benefits as well as hiring and scheduling practices. Senate Bill 14 prohibits these types of local ordinances that regulate private employment practices.
At its core, SB 14 aims to preserve the ability of employers and employees to freely negotiate their terms of employment.
Testimony Before the Texas Senate Committee on Business & Commerce

TPPF Mourns the Passing of Renowned Economist Steve Pejovich

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The Texas Public Policy Foundation mourns the loss of Svetozar “Steve” Pejovich, a luminary in the field of economics whose work to defend private property rights, the rule of law, and individual liberty has inspired the conservative movement in untold ways. He passed away on February 12, 2021, only days before his 90th birthday. Yet as much as TPPF laments his passing, there is much more to celebrate about Steve’s tremendous life and legacy.
Born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Steve lived through both the Nazi occupation of the land of his birth and its later fall to Communism. The resilience of his family and the values which they instilled in him during his youth, however, gave him the determination and optimism he needed to rise above the dire circumstances of his formative years. When he arrived in the United States in 1957, he dedicated himself to studying, teaching, and writing about the principles of free enterprise as the foundation for a fair and prosperous society.
Steve devoted himself to the idea that scholarship and research, not ideology or political maneuvering, are the best tools for promoting liberty and human flourishing in the world.
Steve earned a Ph.D. in Economics from Georgetown University in 1963. Over the course of his academic career, Steve worked for a number of institutions of higher education, including St. Mary’s College in Minnesota, the University of Dallas and Texas A&M. At A&M, he served from 1981 to 1990 as the director of the Center for Free Enterprise, now known as the Private Enterprise Research Center, where he brought internationally renowned economists together to elucidate the principles of a free-market economy. He continued working in the A&M Economics Department till he retired as Professor Emeritus in 2002.
Steve’s many distinctions in academia are too numerous to name, but among them, he was proudly committed to sharing his talents internationally. He was a senior research fellow at the International Center for Economic Research in Torino, Italy, a visiting scholar at Francisco Marroquin University in Guatemala, and a founder of the University of Donja Gorica in Montenegro (an independent state of the former Yugoslavia).
Steve was a longtime resident of the state of Texas and found that Texan values and ideals embodied his vision of freedom, prosperity, and the rule of law. His wit, humor, and generosity are remembered by the family, friends, and colleagues whose lives he touched.
TPPF is honored by Steve’s gift of his collected works to the Foundation, which are displayed in the Kercheville Library at our headquarters in downtown Austin. His daughter, Brenda, also carries on his legacy through serving on TPPF’s Board of Directors.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation strives to worthily model and advance the same spirit of liberty to which Steve Pejovich devoted his life.

Government Power Grab Thwarted By ‘Unconstitutional’ Eviction Moratorium

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As Americans reflect on the past year of how much power the federal government has taken for itself in the name of COVID-19, one of the most far-reaching power grabs came directly from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the form of a nationwide eviction moratorium order. Under the order, private property owners are required to allow non-paying renters to live rent-free until the federal government says otherwise, costing landlords billions of dollars in unpaid rent—all while landowners remain responsible for property taxes, mortgages, and the costs of their property. And if a property owner tries to get their property back by filing an eviction case, the federal government says it can fine them up to $100,000 and even put them in jail.
But last week, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas entered a final judgment declaring the federal government’s eviction moratorium unconstitutional and set the CDC Order aside.  The case filed by Texas Public Policy Foundation and Southeastern Legal Foundation on behalf of private property owners argued that the eviction order was unconstitutional because the federal government cannot interfere with private property owners’ rights or access to the courts, and the court agreed. Though only a handful of landlords filed suit, the intent of the court was clear in its decision to set aside the entire CDC Order, rendering it today of no legal force or effect.  While the Biden Administration now seeks to limit the scope of the final judgment, representations by the Department of Justice attorney at the final hearing were clear that the federal government pledged to abide by the Court’s decision.
The CDC invoked the federal government’s power over interstate commerce and pointed to COVID-19 as its reason for needing the eviction moratorium. But just like the many other regulations we have seen since March 2020, it turns out the pandemic had nothing to do with it. After SLF and TPPF filed suit, the federal government admitted as much and claimed to have the authority to suspend residential evictions for any reason, including its own views on “fairness.”
If the federal government was correct and the Constitution gave it the power to base decisions on the vagueries of a subjective “fairness” standard, we would have no Constitution at all. Instead, we’d have a government that could (and would!) cancel anyone and their rights for any reason—a government that can suspend the rights to worship, assembly and free speech in the name of “fairness.”
As we reflect on the last year, we challenge all Americans to recall how “14 days to flatten the curve” turned into potential jail time for private property owners who don’t provide free housing, despite their own ongoing cost burdens that were never addressed in the $4-plus trillion doled out during the pandemic.  If the government can cancel property rights, what else can it cancel?
Fortunately, we do have the Constitution’s requirement of much more than fairness to justify government action. And fortunately, we have private property owners who refused to be cancelled and instead stood up for the rights of all Americans.
The court’s decision sets a critical precedent—the eviction moratorium imposed by the federal government is unconstitutional. That means that even Congress cannot come in behind this decision and legislate. It is just flat-out unconstitutional. It also makes clear that even during a pandemic, the Constitution persists. For it is in times of crisis when our constitutional protections are most needed—and tragically, most vulnerable.

Hey Texas! Help is Here!

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“Hey Florida! Help is Here.”
That’s how Vice President Kamala Harris recently put a 21st Century spin on Ronald Reagan’s famous quote, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”
What does this have to do with the Texas budget and House Bill 3548? Let me explain.
The premise of the Vice President’s tweet is that government’s job is to swoop in and solve all of our problems. The premise of Reagan’s quote is that too often, government is the problem—or at least standing in the way of solutions. Reagan was right, of course; government fulfills some necessary functions, but in most cases, more government means less freedom.
That’s why we at the Texas Public Policy Foundation have labored for years to chisel the idea of a Conservative Texas Budget into the hard granite at the Texas state capitol. Our reasoning is clear — people don’t need more government; they need more opportunity. And our simple formula reflects that: The state’s total budget, which is the footprint of government funded by taxpayers, ought not to grow faster than our population growth plus . This spending limit is reflected in Rep. Matt Krause’s HB 594, which has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee.
Growth beyond that equation is an excessive growth of government—meaning bigger state agencies, which inevitably assume more and more regulatory powers to themselves. And a bigger budget also means more taxes, since states (unlike the federal government) can’t hide behind deficit spending. Government shouldn’t grow faster than the citizens’ ability to pay for it.
Now, state Rep. Greg Bonnen, who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has had his HB 3548 referred to the committee on Monday. This bill would improve the state’s current weak spending limit by expanding the base to all general revenue funds and by changing the growth limit to one closely related to ours of population growth times inflation.
It’s important to note that the Conservative Texas Budget is a ceiling, not a floor. It’s a limit on how much the budget can increase, not a target. There’s no limit on shrinking government, cutting taxes and reducing regulations. That course would be best for Texans, and TPPF has outlined many ways in which lawmakers should do so. Our top 10 legislative priorities for this Session, which we call our Liberty Action Agenda, provides a clear path for legislators to shift power and prosperity back to the people of Texas.
While Chairman Bonnen’s bill would set an improved formula closer to ours into stone and ensure that future Legislatures comply, we are pleased to see that both the House’s and the Senate’s introduced (proposed) budgets fit within our guidelines. Our math says that a total of $246.8 billion in all funds for 2022-2023 would represent a 5% increase over the last biennium, matching the growth in population plus inflation. Both proposed budgets came in under that number after excluding $6 billion toward maintaining property tax relief from last session instead of growing government.
Historically, lawmakers have been too ready to increase the Texas budget and grow government. But in 2015, we introduced the Conservative Texas Budget, giving legislators a clear bar. Prior to this, the average growth rate of the biennial budget from 2004 to 2015 was 12%. With the Conservative Texas Budget in place, the average growth rate was just 5.5%. More importantly, before 2015, the average growth rate of appropriations exceeded that of population plus inflation by almost 5 percentage points, while since then, growth has been limited to an average of almost a full percentage point below population and inflation.
The Conservative Texas Budget provides a path toward responsible state spending. It has proven to be successful at restraining excessive growth in government in the past, and it will continue to do so in the future if followed each session.
That’s why Chairman Bonnen’s bill, which codifies much of the Conservative Texas budget, is so important. It’s the help Texas families truly need.

A Win for Patients and Physicians in Montana

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Some great news from our friends at Montana’s Frontier Institute! The Montana Legislature has passed a bill to permanently authorize Direct Primary Care (also called Direct Patient Care) in the state.
Texas passed similar legislation several sessions ago, allowing doctors to contract with patients to provide regular medical care for a set monthly fee. It bypasses insurance and other middlemen. Patients and providers are given the opportunity to develop a stronger relationship in these arrangements, which can improve patient health in the long term.
Here’s their news:
The Frontier Institute is celebrating today because the Senate has officially sent SB 101 to the Governor’s desk, which we expect him to sign very soon. 
 SB 101 draws from recommendations in our Montana Recovery Agenda to permanently authorize Direct Patient Care (DPC) in Montana. The bill sponsor sought Frontier Institute’s help directly in drafting SB 101 and when considering any amendments.
 SB 101 protects medical entrepreneurs from being regulated as insurance companies simply for offering DPC memberships to their patients. It also allows DPC to be used by all sorts of medical providers, not just primary care.
 When signed, SB 101 will be the nation’s most expansive authorization of DPC to date, making Montana a leader in affordable healthcare options. We anticipate this bill opening the door for many more employers and patients across the state to benefit from DPC. 
 Our hard work and education has paid off, and the Montana legislature is delivering a serious healthcare reform. 

Texas Should Strengthen its use of the E-Verify System

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Imagine a solution to a seemingly intractable problem that is both popular across the political spectrum and effective. It would make us safer, lower unemployment and protect wages. In honor of the start of baseball season, let’s call that solution a low and slow pitch just to the outside, begging to be knocked out of the park.
E-Verify is just such a solution. And Texas lawmakers now have the opportunity to strengthen this system by ensuring that state contractors and political subdivisions (such as cities, counties, schools and special districts) use it to ensure that the workers they hire are able to work in the U.S. legally. In short, House Bill 1336 is a base-clearing homerun waiting to happen.
E-Verify is a process that checks employees and employee applications to see if workers are eligible to work in the United States. Currently, Texas uses this process for state agencies and higher education. Other states, like Florida, have begun using E-Verify for all businesses in the state—including those in the private sector.
HB 1336 doesn’t go quite that far; it simply requires government in Texas to abide by its own rules. It’s authored by a Democrat, state Rep. Leo Pacheco of San Antonio, but it’s gaining support on both sides of the aisle. That’s no surprise; it enjoys broad public support, and it’s proven to be effective. It costs virtually nothing to contractors (they can check eligibility on a smartphone in minutes), and it protects jobs for U.S. citizens and lawful residents.
Let’s look at each of those points.
First, Americans overwhelmingly support E-Verify. A 2018 poll by Zogby and the Federation for American Immigration Reform shows that E-Verify “enjoys a lopsided 73.6% to 8.6% margin of support from all voters. Support cuts across all party and ethic/racial lines.” A clear majority of Democrats (54.6%) support making it mandatory for all employers (even the private sector), with 90.5% of Republicans agreeing, as well as 78.4% of independents.
And employers like E-Verify. It has high rates of satisfaction from businesses that use it, and 78% of employers who use E-Verify consider themselves small businesses.
What’s more, E-Verify is effective, in both lowering unemployment and decreasing illegal immigration. “All states that enacted or expanded E-Verify after 2008, save one, saw their unemployment rates drop, even when the national rate increased,” FAIR reported in 2017. “More impressively, 12 of the 15 states that passed new measures experienced a drop in unemployment larger than the national average.”
And E-Verify reduces illegal immigration by targeting the cause—the lure of jobs—rather than the symptom. As Progressives for Immigration Reform’s Joe Guzzardi pointed out in 2019, “Faced with an exorbitant fee for a smuggler to guide him through the desert, a migrant who knows he’ll be E-Verified and therefore unable to get a job is much less likely to come to the U.S.”
The cost to employers is negligible. Verification is quick and almost error-free. In the few cases in which a worker mistakenly receives a “temporary non-compliance” result, there’s an easy appeals process and fix. That’s why many in the private sector voluntarily use E-Verify—because it’s easy, accurate and the right thing to do.
My friends at the Texas Public Policy Foundation have been at the forefront of a growing movement to find state-level solutions to the national problem of illegal immigration. They support HB 1336 for the simple reason that evidence supports E-Verify. It works.
Critics will say that expanding E-Verify will make another problem worse—identity theft. Undocumented workers will simply steal the documents of those who are qualified, they say. But that’s not an argument against E-Verify; it’s an argument for better enforcement of identity theft laws. You don’t solve one crime by excusing another.
Rarely has the Texas Legislature been presented with such an elegant solution. Expanding E-Verify as outlined in HB 1336 would achieve goals that we can all agree upon. Lawmakers can and should blast this one into the bleachers.

Will Samsung Build Outside of Austin Without Incentives? Don’t Bet Taxpayer Money on It

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Government may soon decide whether a major multinational corporation should pay no taxes on a chip-making plant planned for the Austin area, stirring concerns that economic development programs are being abused.
Samsung Semiconductor plans to build a new plant, and Austin, where it already has facilities, is on the short list. But Samsung is requesting incentives from all levels of government: a 100% property tax rebate from the city for more than 25 years, a Chapter 313 tax abatement from Manor ISD, a tax incentive package from Travis County, and possibly additional help from the state (Texas Enterprise Fund) and federal levels. The plant would represent a $17bn investment and could create nearly 2,000 jobs.
Here’s the problem: Samsung wants special tax treatments and subsidies, but we don’t know whether it would build in Austin without the incentives.
Every year, state and local governments give away billions of dollars in tax abatements, subsidies, and other government goodies to attract or keep specific businesses. However, several studies on targeted business incentives, like the ones Samsung claims it needs to pick Austin, reach an almost unanimous conclusion: They are rarely the determining factor.
First, businesses make location decisions based on a variety of factors, including the labor market, industry hubs and geographic relevance to supply chain or customers. Incentives, while they can reduce the cost of a project, are rarely at the top of the list.
Nathan Jensen, a professor at UT-Austin, has studied Chapter 313 agreements, in which Texas school districts offer tax abatements to businesses, and concluded that only about 15% of businesses that received such deals would have located elsewhere without them. Timothy Bartik, an economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute, found that at least 75% of businesses that received incentives in the U.S. would have located where they did without them. In cases where incentives are requested and granted, but not necessary, governments lose revenues and taxpayers can bear the additional cost.
Samsung already has a large presence in Austin, which it has developed since the 1990s, investing in various ways in the area over the years. It recently bought new land next to its existing facility. Additionally, it is already under three active tax incentive agreements—one with the city of Austin, one with Travis County and one with Manor ISD.
If the argument is that property taxes in Texas are too high, the same holds true for all taxpayers—and it’s hard to understand how reducing the taxes of a select few well-connected businesses will help fix the problem—especially when the cost of providing services falls to the rest of us.
Government-directed tax breaks and subsidies do more harm than good. They create a culture in which businesses focus on seeking favors from government instead of creating value for their customers. This puts non-favored businesses at a disadvantage and often costs taxpayers money.
But what if Samsung builds elsewhere? Will it mean billions of dollars and jobs lost to Austin?
Research suggests that Samsung will seek to locate where it will be most profitable and have the best chance to succeed, which does not hinge on tax incentives. The last thing Texas should do is grant government favors to businesses that claim to need them to succeed—this would be a bad investment, if true.
To be fair, government can play a greater role in encouraging economic development by reducing regulations and lowering taxes (hint: property tax) for everyone. Minimizing the footprint of government and creating a level playing field for all is the absolute best way to attract Samsung and everyone else to Texas.

Let’s Make Hospitals More Transparent About Prices

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Texans like to know up front what they’re paying for goods and services. That’s especially true of their health care services—yet prices in hospitals, where we spent the largest portion of our health care dollars—can remain a mystery.
But now, state Rep. Tom Oliverson, a medical doctor himself, has filed a bill that would require hospitals to disclose their prices for the most common services and items. This builds on Oliverson’s previous work to lower costs and ensure better access to health care for all Texans, including his bill last session that ended surprise medical billing.
Speaking at a recent forum on health care reform, Oliverson noted that, “Because the patient is kept in the dark until after the service is provided, we do not have a cost-effective health care delivery system. It just doesn’t exist.”
The Trump administration issued an executive order on hospital price transparency last year, but hospitals have dragged their feet and even sued to prevent the order from taking effect. The American Hospital Association claims that “disclosure of privately negotiated rates does nothing to help patients understand what they will actually pay for treatment and will create widespread confusion for them.” It even claims that posting prices will “accelerate anticompetitive behavior.”
Texans disagree. They support hospital price transparency—strongly. According to a new Texas Public Policy Foundation poll, 89% of Texans believe patients should be told the price for non-emergency procedures and treatments before doctors perform them.
It matters to families because most of us have traditional insurance, which has a deductible we’ll owe, and then a portion (usually 20 percent) of the final bill that we’ll also be responsible for paying.
Let’s take two Pennsylvania hospitals as an example. According to our data, an uncomplicated birth for members of Independence Blue Cross Insurance at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia would run $13,055 (posted, on average). But at Chester County Hospital in West Chester, the posted price is $5,395 under the same plan. That’s a difference of $7,660—and just 32 miles.
What would that mean be for a young Pennsylvania family with a typical insurance policy—a $5,000 deductible and a 20 percent copay? A whopping $1,532, at a time when the family’s other new costs, from diapers to doctor visit copays, are mounting, as well.
Knowing prices can make a big difference in that young family’s lives. Imagine if prices were deliberately hidden from them in any other context: “Choose any car on the lot—but you’re on the hook for the full sticker price, when we eventually let you know what it is.”
The Biden administration has yet to weigh in officially on the price transparency rule. But President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, promised “robust enforcement” of the rule, adding in a congressional hearing that “For far too long, people have never had an idea of what they are going to pay if they walk into a hospital.”
The administration should, of course, support something so universally backed by the American people. It should also increase penalties for noncompliance—which, at $109,500 per year, per hospital, is low enough that some hospitals would rather pay it than follow the law.
In the meantime, though, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, along with Health Cost Labs, have developed a Hospital Price Transparency Index that will provide compliance rates by state.
The score card shows how many of each states’ hospitals have posted their secret negotiated rates. The greater the compliance, the more opportunity for downward pressure on hospital rates.
Rep. Oliverson’s bill—and its Senate counterpart, filed by Texas Sen. Kelly Hancock—will help ensure that Texans can see prices up front. And this, in turn, will help make health care more affordable.

An insider’s insight on today’s economy: Texas

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Texas’s economy continues to improve during challenges. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and forced business shutdowns by government since spring 2020, the Texas economy has faced multiple headwinds.
With Texas partially reopening over time, economic activity increased, and the labor market recovered, but improvements slowed down with more government restrictions on operating capacity imposed during periods of elevated COVID-19 hospitalizations. As the pandemic subsides and restrictions are removed, Texans can regain prosperity with a responsible fiscal and regulatory policy.

Texas Legislature must take tax reform to finish line

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A new property tax report is raising eyebrows—especially among Texans struggling to put food on the table.
The newly-released report, published every other year by the Texas Comptroller’s Office, confirms what most already suspect: Property taxes are big and growing fast.
In 2019, more than 4,200 local governments hit homeowners and businesses with property tax bills totaling $67.3 billion, a one-year increase of $3.5 billion or 5.5%. More than half of the burden was on account of school districts, who siphoned $36.2 billion out of the private sector. From 2014 to 2019, school taxes increased by almost $10 billion.
What’s more, the overall levy growth has been relentless. From 1998 to 2019, the average annual increase in the total property tax levy was 5.9%, meaning that the typical city, county, school district, special district enjoyed a revenue bump of almost 6% every year for the last two decades. That means local government coffers swelled year-after-year, decade-after-decade no matter the economic condition nor catastrophe.
To be fair, the 2019 Texas Legislature tempered these anti-taxpayer trends to some extent with historic new laws that provided billions in tax relief and increased voter input. Even still, local property taxes continue to strain family budgets, many of which are under assault from other crises too.
Make no mistake: Texas families need help. The data confirms this. Fortunately, today’s Texas Legislature is in a position to do something about it.
Over the next few months, state lawmakers will consider many different ideas, including some related to property tax reform and relief, before officials conclude their business in May. It’s crucial that strong taxpayer protections make it across the finish line.
One obvious place to start is to shore up last session’s signature property tax reform. Over the past year, a few bad actors sought to take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to raise taxes to excess without voter approval. These cities and counties wrongly claimed that their interpretation of the law allowed them to increase taxes beyond 3.5% without asking the public’s permission first. New laws are needed to make it unmistakably clear that there is no disaster loophole for local governments to exploit and penalize those who acted in bad faith.
Another way to improve upon the 2019 law: Expand its requirements to include other types of local governments that were left out. Hospital districts, community colleges, and other small property taxing entities should also be required to seek voter approval for tax increases above 3.5%. The ideal system is one that applies one low universal standard to all.
Other technical changes are needed too. For instance, debt payable by property taxes should be included in the calculation of the 3.5% limit. Right now, local officials have an incentive to finance ordinary spending with certain debt instruments, like certificates of obligation, because they’re excluded from how the voter-approval tax rate is calculated. Lawmakers should remove the temptation here.
In addition to the changes above, we must also think big. Texans can’t afford for lawmakers to only tinker around the edges. Systemic changes are needed now. Serious discussion should be given to proposals like House Bills 59 and 958, which would eliminate a large portion of school district property taxes using either surplus state revenue or some other mechanism. It’s this sort of redesign of Texas’ tax system that should be our ultimate goal this session.
Taxpayers today are under siege. Despite last session’s signature property tax reform, local governments continue to assault property taxpayers, pushing many past their breaking point. More than ever, people need protection from local governments gone wild.
Over the next few months, state lawmakers have a chance to implement smart, aggressive changes that protect the most vulnerable and prioritize family budgets. They must rise to the occasion.

Higher Education Reality Check

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While Texas’s debate over public higher education has garnered a great deal of state press coverage in the last decade, this is by no means a Texas issue alone.
As the statistics below demonstrate, skyrocketing tuitions and student-loan debt, suppression of free speech and debate, as well as poor student learning and administrative bloat, signal a deep, systemic crisis in higher education, both in Texas and nationally.
This crisis will never be successfully addressed until the realities detailed below become public knowledge—and then inform public policy.

Improving Online Education—For Those Who Want It

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So far this school year, 14 Dallas County schools closed down at least temporarily because of COVID-19.  A report in the Dallas Morning News cites a lack of clear guidelines and other inconsistencies for the closures.
“The majority of policies are vague and don’t stipulate specific numbers that would trigger a campus closure,” the report says. “Officials at most districts that closed a school said the main reasons they did so was because of a widespread need to quarantine or a related staff or substitute shortage.”
Here’s what we know: Texas was ill-prepared for the pandemic and the subsequent closing of schools. And we still are. The explosive growth in demand for virtual schooling met a supply intentionally constricted through state policy.
As virtual education serves more students longer, the focus must shift from emergency response to creating a more sustainable, quality product that will meet the needs of Texas students in a changing landscape.
Fortunately, we have a path forward. Parents want—and many children need—options when it comes to education. Some kids thrive online; some simply can’t get the education they need that way. So Texas must continue to offer both. Our most recent polling shows that Texans strongly support this; 74% say Texas school districts should have the authority to decide whether or not to provide virtual education options. And 84% say if a school district decides to not provide virtual education, parents should have the ability to enroll their child in a school district that does provide a virtual education option.
But the online model must be improved—not just for those students who do well at it now, but also for future closures, like those 14 schools in Dallas County that went fully online at some point this year.
Last spring, as COVID-19 began to spread, the state’s challenges in shifting to virtual instruction were exacerbated by several structural weaknesses within the Texas Virtual Schools Network. Before the pandemic, only eight independent and charter districts around the state (out of approximately 1,200) were authorized to offer a fulltime virtual education curriculum, and all of them were prevented from offering services between kindergarten and second grade.
These limitations in virtual education infrastructure came home to roost during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Texas faced a particularly daunting endeavor in moving to online education. The state virtual network was not capable of handling a sudden influx of students, leading to districts scrambling to create their own virtual education infrastructure, often from scratch.
Other states had more success. Florida, in particular, had developed a more robust virtual education network and was able to quickly scale its system from a few thousand students to 2.7 million, allowing for a smooth transition to online learning.
There are other models we can look to. Here are just two:
New Hampshire’s Virtual Learning Academy Charter School considers parental involvement to be of the utmost importance; in fact, students may not enroll in a course until a virtual meeting with parents is conducted. According to US News & World Report analyses, drawn from state-administered assessment data, 92% of VLACS students were proficient or above in reading, and 67% were proficient or above in math. Both scores greatly outperformed the New Hampshire state average.
Texas Tech University’s K-12 offering, TTU K-12, is an entirely virtual program that serves nearly 1,600 full-time students around the world. TTU K-12 also serves thousands more through part-time and supplemental programs, as well as an extensive credit-by-examination system. The program is self-paced and appears consistently in rankings of the premier virtual schools in the United States.
There are many more examples, which can be seen in our report here. But it will take some legislative changes—and legislators’ commitment—to enable the best elements of these models on a statewide basis.
Virtual education will be an integral component of the Texas education landscape for the duration of the COVID19 pandemic and beyond. Student and district circumstances, health-related and otherwise, will necessitate increased structural flexibility.
A more robust virtual system can better serve the families who prefer virtual education for the long term, equip Texas to offer parents more high-quality choices, and prepare the state more effectively for the next pandemic or emergency.

HB 1032 Paid Apprenticeships for High School Students

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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.
According to the January 2021 Texas Labor Market Review, unemployment among young people 16-19 is up to 18%, compared with 13% in January 2020. We know that a first job is a crucial first step toward future economic mobility. According to the Aspen Institute:
Youth unemployment can have lasting consequences – repressed wages, decreased upward mobility, and lessened productivity over a person’s work life. In particular, this is true for young people of color, who are often combating systemic barriers that limit their access to jobs – and which can contribute to setting them up for disparities later in life.
HB 1032 addresses the need for students of all economic backgrounds to have access to paid internships, apprenticeships, and other work-based learning experiences.

Americans Move to Freedom: People are Fleeing These Five States

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When people vote – with a moving van or a U-Haul truck – they vote for lower taxes and smaller government. That’s the conclusion from comparing a new report on freedom at the state level with the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data.
Over the course of a year, a net of 788,381 people moved to Florida, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, the “freest” five states in America, according to the Fraser Institute’s annual Economic Freedom in North America index.
The annual report, published by Canada’s Fraser Institute, ranks the states and provinces of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico using objective measures of government spending, tax rates and labor market freedom. The least-free U.S. state is New York. West Virginia, Alaska, California and Vermont round out the bottom five.
According to Census Bureau state-to-state migration estimates through mid-2018, the freest five states attracted a net of 270,608 people from other states while the bottom five saw a net outbound loss of 398,067 residents through domestic migration. New York lost the most, as 458,014 left the state and 254,447 moved in for a net loss of 203,567. California’s net loss was 190,122 for the year.
When adding in overseas immigration, including foreign arrivals, Americans moving to the mainland from Puerto Rico, and expatriates returning home, the top five saw an additional 517,773 new residents while the bottom five received 431,341, erasing their domestic migration losses to eke out a net gain of 33,274 compared to growth of almost 800,000 in the freest five.
The difference in growth over just one year in these 10 states is about equal to one U.S. House seat’s population – showing how migration driven by people seeking a better life ends up changing states’ clout in Congress. Current estimates are that Texas will gain three seats in Congress and Florida, one, while California, New York and West Virginia will lose one seat each, shifting a total of seven votes in Congress from the least-free states to the most-free.
These migration patterns can be seen in U-Haul rates between states. The do-it-yourself mover pays people to drive empty trucks back to states people are fleeing in droves, leading them to charge more to leave California for Texas than heading the other direction, for example. Renting a 26-foot truck from Austin to San Francisco will set you back $1,085 – but moving from the land of blackouts, wildfires and high taxes to Texas will cost the migrant $5,371, almost five times as much!
The rush of Californians trying to become former Californians has gotten so heavy that scam artists are filling the void. The irony here is that California’s own miserable regulatory burden is preventing the market from filling the need by denying state licenses to new moving services, thus creating an underground economy for the desperate looking to leave.
If you do manage to get on the road to head out of California, you’ll pay the nation’s highest state gas tax at 62.5 cents per gallon as a parting gift. Texas levies a 20 cent per gallon gas tax.
Some of the Californians heading to Texas these days are even from the Silicon Valley’s vaunted venture-capital community. Joe Lonsdale founded technology firms Palantir and Addepar and now runs a $3.6 billion venture-capital firm. On Nov. 15 he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “I love California, but I had to leave.”
He moved to Austin. Lonsdale then listed a breakdown in public safety, unreliable electricity, a non-responsive government caused by “California’s intolerant far left, which would rather demonize opponents than discuss honest differences of opinion,” and high housing costs made worse by government regulation.
Comparing migration only between the top five and bottom states is illuminating as well. A net of 110,527 moved from the least free to the freest over the course of a year.
While it isn’t likely that politicians in California or New York will reverse course anytime soon to stem the flood of people moving out by cutting taxes and trimming red tape, they might not have to do anything at all to stanch their losses.
Govs. Gavin Newsom and Andrew Cuomo may be rescued by the Biden administration in Washington, D.C., as they deploy the crushing might of federal regulations to flatten the competitive differences between the states.
How? For instance, the move to rejoin the Paris climate accords will produce volumes of federal regulations that will increase energy costs in Texas, Florida and other states with affordable fuel and electricity costs while inflicting little additional pain on liberal states.
Freedom only survives if people are able to choose it.

There’s No Such Thing as a Free ‘Stimulus’

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“Stimulus” checks are in the mail to many (but not all) Americans, and the news is awash in stories about the best ways to spend that $1,400, and even speculation about whether we’ll see a “stimmy rally” on Wall Street.
But Texans are smart enough to know that no check from the government comes without strings attached.
President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion monstrosity is filled with a progressive “wish list;” only about 9% of the funds have to do with the pandemic.
Additionally, it will add substantially to the national debt, saddling us and our kids and grandkids with the tab while moving toward another redistribution recession as these funds reduce incentives to work, open states, and move off of government dependence.
And to make things worse, President Biden is already planning huge tax hikes to pay for more that would ultimately be paid by workers.
It’s no different for the states, which will also be receiving ARPA funds soon. There’s no such thing as free “stimulus” money; there are always strings attached. That’s why Texas’s leaders must be very careful with the roughly $43 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) they’re slated to receive. We must use the money wisely, and possibly, not to use it at all.
Some of the money is already earmarked. As for the more flexible funding the state will receive, Texas can expect about $17 billion to state government and $10 billion to local governments.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office, along with its counterparts in 20 other states, are already questioning the biggest string attached to the funding—Congress’ stipulation that it not be used “to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue.”
They rightly argue in a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that this provision oversteps the federal government’s authority and could be used to prevent any state from cutting any tax. We need answers from her as soon as possible, especially as legislative sessions in Texas and elsewhere are quickly coming to an end.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki seemed to confirm this interpretation of the bill. “The original purpose of the state and local funding was to keep cops, firefighters, other essential employees at work and employed, and it wasn’t intended to cut taxes,” she said.
The best strategy for the Texas leadership would be to follow a pro-growth course that lets people prosper without government interference. This approach would seek to keep taxes lower than otherwise, reduce debt obligations and fund only one-time expenditures. And Texas should reject all or most funds with strings attached.
We don’t need to adapt our approach to taxes and spending to fit the vision of progressives in Washington; we already have the successful Texas Model, thank you very much.
We must ensure that we don’t spend taxpayer money in ways that will create fiscal cliffs later on. Boosting public education funding with ARPA, for example, would result in public education “cuts” once that money is gone, and those “cuts” would be met with loud demands for more money from Texans, as was the case after receiving President Obama’s “stimulus” funds in 2009.
We must stick with one-time purchases, or paying off things, if possible, like loans to the federal unemployment insurance trust fund of at least $6.6 billion, paying down state debt that was borrowed at a high interest rate, better funding and reforming other post-employment benefits, or funding startup costs for market-based options in education and health care.
And we would like to see a high level of transparency and accountability. Ideally, all spending related to ARPA would be separated from the rest of the state’s budget and documented clearly on a government website.
But we have something even bolder to suggest: Texas should use some of the funding to extend the border wall, addressing another growing crisis.
The best way to help Texans recover from the economic devastation wrought by the government’s response to the pandemic is simply to let them return to work. ARPA ignores this. Instead, it’s a distraction from the onerous hikes in taxes, spending, and regulation by the Biden administration.
So, if Texas is going to accept this money (and rejecting it in full or in part should be strongly considered given the many restrictions and strings attached), let’s use this taxpayer money wisely, and ensure it goes to help keep Texas Texan.

A Much Needed Update for Kentucky’s Felony Theft

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Property theft is a serious offense that should be treated as such. However, Kentucky’s threshold by which theft escalates from misdemeanor to felony has not been amended in over a decade and is outdated due to inflation. Meanwhile, the state’s corrections facilities are stretched and overcrowded, with the seventh highest incarceration rate in the country—the third highest for women. It is time for lawmakers to usher in reforms to modernize our laws, more efficiently spend taxpayer money in the corrections system, and maintain public safety.
Currently, any theft over $500 is a Class D felony, which carries a sentence of one to five years in prison. For context, $500 is only half the cost of a new iPhone 12. House Bill 126, sponsored by Representative Ed Massey (R-Hebron), increases the felony threshold to $1,000, meaning that thefts under $1000 would generally be charged as misdemeanors, carrying a sentence of up to one year in jail. The bill also adds the ability to aggregate smaller thefts within 90 days into a felony offense and to enhance penalties for repeat offenders within five years.
The national median felony theft threshold currently sits at $1,000, the same level as many of our neighboring states—West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, and Ohio. Increasing the threshold might seem like it would embolden criminals to be more aggressive and lead to an increase in thefts. However, experience from other states and research indicates the opposite. Pew Charitable Trusts, which studied crime trends in 30 states over 12 years, found that felony theft threshold increases had no impact on overall property or larceny rates; states that increased their thresholds reported roughly the same average decrease in crime as the 20 states that did not change their laws, and a state’s felony theft threshold, whether it was $500, $1,000 or over $2,000, was not correlated with its property crime and larceny rates.
This has proven true in Kentucky, too. In 2009, when Kentucky increased its felony theft threshold from $300 to $500, the state did not see an increase in thefts. To the contrary, Kentucky has actually seen a decrease in thefts in recent years, perhaps in large part due to technological advances in surveillance and security.
In addition to what the research on felony theft thresholds tells us, we also know that second chances are important. Having a felony record impedes a person’s ability to find a job, housing, and education, among other things. This can easily perpetuate a cycle of crime and poverty. Individuals who are ready to turn their lives around after completing their sentences may be held back by the barrier of their felony record in Kentucky. Reforming the law to classify most thefts under $1,000 as misdemeanors will provide a pathway for offenders to have a second chance at becoming productive members of society.
House Bill 126 passed the Kentucky House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support. Now it awaits consideration in the Senate. Raising Kentucky’s felony theft threshold will bring state law in line with surrounding states. Perhaps more importantly, the increase will reduce Kentucky prison population, as well as significant costs borne by taxpayers to incarcerate low-level theft offenders. Our limited corrections dollars are best reserved and prioritized toward more dangerous criminals. As a former prosecutor and criminal justice advocate who have worked to implement evidence based, conservative criminal justice reforms, we urge Kentucky legislators to thoughtfully consider the reforms set forth in House Bill 126 as the right policy for Kentucky.

Bills would Secure Honest Elections in Texas

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From 2012 to 2020, mail-in ballot use in Texas grew from 204,000 to about 1 million, a quintupling of mailed votes. This suggests Texas is moving from an excuse-required to vote by mail state to a de facto vote-by-mail state, all without a change in the state’s election code.
Why does this matter? Because voting by mail isn’t as secure as voting in person. As a result, it’s the preferred method by those who seek to steal elections through fraud.
My recent paper, “The Role of Voter List Maintenance and Voter Identification in Election Integrity” details how fraudulent vote-by-mail schemes exploit weaknesses in our election system.
In response to a Public Information Act request, the Office of the Attorney General of Texas (AG) reported on 140 successful prosecutions for election fraud from 2005 to 2020. These cases averaged a little more than six per year for the ten years through 2014. As the Legislature strengthened election integrity laws in 2017 and as the AG’s office applied more resources towards combatting election fraud, the election fraud conviction rate almost doubled to 11 per year from 2015 to 2019. 2020 saw 18 convictions for election fraud.
Of the 140 convictions through 2020, just more than half, 72, involved mail-in ballot fraud—making it by far the most commonly prosecuted form of election related criminal activity.
The second-most common violation of election law with 28 convictions was for people illegally voting for an office for which they were ineligible to vote because they didn’t live in the district. There were 12 felons convicted of voting illegally. In addition, there were nine instances of impersonating a voter at the polls including two by non-citizens.
These resolved cases involved 531 counts prosecuted, of which 307 were for mail ballot fraud, or 58% of the offenses.
The Texas AG’s office also reported that there are 508 counts of election fraud pending with the majority of these being for trafficking in mail-in ballots, with many of those cases arising out of assisted living centers.
In the face of this long and accelerating record of election fraud convictions, former state representative and current Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted out, “We don’t have voter fraud in Texas…”—this, as the Texas legislature considers dozens of bills to strengthen election integrity.
Well more than 300 bills relating to elections have been introduced in Texas’s 2021 legislative session. Most of them would weaken election integrity by lowering voter identification requirements, breaking chain-of-custody safeguards, and making it easier to register to vote without proving citizenship.
A few key bills would improve election integrity, with the two most consequential ones being House Bill 6 by Rep. Briscoe Cain, Chairman of the House Elections Committee, and Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, Chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee.
HB 6 and SB 7 are not identical, but they share some key provisions.
Notable reforms in HB 6 include provisions for improving the maintenance of voter lists by removing deceased voters, defining election watchers, defining and improving security practices on ballot chain-of-custody, strengthening the safety of mail-in ballots by discouraging improper pressure in the guise of “assistance,” better defining illegal ballot trafficking activities by third party organizations, strengthening penalties for election fraud, prohibiting elections officials from sending out unrequested vote-by-mail applications and mail-in ballots, and creating a pathway to investigate election fraud that doesn’t rely on a county district attorney so as to bypass a conflict of interest. HB 6 doesn’t feature a better definition of disability eligibility for voting by mail nor does it have language on voter ID, citizenship or signature verification for mail-in ballots.
Some of SB 7’s key amendments to the election code include requiring an affirmative statement by a voter requesting a mail-in ballot due to a disability that they are “…physically unable to enter a polling place without needing personal assistance or injuring my health” accompanied by documentation of that disability, a system to track mail-in ballots combined with a requirement for additional ID that brings in-person voting safeguards to voting by mail, enhanced electronic voting machine fail-safes, a prohibition on private donations in excess of $1,000 to underwrite election administration, and increased civil penalties for violations of election law.
Other elections related bills worthy of support—some of which are redundant to provisions in HB 6 or SB 7—include: HB 25 (Rep. Valoree Swanson) and SB 208 (Sen. Paul Bettencourt) which would ban unsolicited early voting ballot applications by any official, HB 329 (Rep. Briscoe Cain) to prevent noncitizens from registering to vote, HB 330 (Rep. Briscoe Cain) to increase penalties for people registering to vote at an address at which they don’t actually live, HB 574 (Rep. Greg Bonnen) that criminalizes the intentional miscounting of votes—by extension, this would include any tampering of election counting machinery to do the same, HB 611 (Rep. Valoree Swanson) increasing safeguards against improperly pressuring voters, HB 1026 (Rep. Mayes Middleton) that would designate the Secretary of State as voter registrar, who would then maintain voter lists, and determine citizenship and eligibility to vote in place of the counties, SB 1235 (Sen. Bryan Hughes) to improve the verification of citizenship for eligibility to vote, SB 1114 (Senators Bettencourt, Birdwell, Creighton, Hall, Kolkhorst, and Schwertner) regarding citizenship verification, and SB 1340 (Sen. Dawn Buckingham) to reduce the number of ineligible people on the voter lists.
The passage of these commonsense measures and other related bills recently introduced will go a long way towards securing free and fair elections in Texas.

HB 1348 Clarifying Municipal Ordinances Regarding Open-Enrollment Charter Schools

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Charter schools, established in Texas in 1995, compose a small but influential sector of Texas public education. Now in existence over 25 years, open-enrollment charter schools served approximately 336,900 students (or roughly 6% of Texas public education students) in 2019-20. Tens of thousands of students are on charter school waitlists across the state, according to early state reports.

We Must Restore Trust in Our Elections

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Everything that’s wrong with the H.R. 1 election takeover bill can be summed up with the propagandistic misnomer the Democrats have labeled it with—the “For the People Act.” It undermines the very right it purports to uphold, a citizen’s right to have a say in our representative democracy. Enabling fraudulent ballots to cancel out legitimate votes doesn’t empower the people, it empowers the political machine—by design.
The America of our founders and the very way of life that we cherish are under constant assault from the left, and our election systems are a key target of this plan.
Last summer and fall, I was appalled about how the widespread increase of reckless practices across the country, which led directly to the crisis of confidence that now plagues our election system. But instead of working to restore the public’s trust in the ballot box, Democrats are seizing upon the opportunity to concentrate power in Washington. Under the guise of fixing the election system, they’re seeking to fix election outcomes—permanently.
That’s why I and other conservatives voted against HR 1. The Constitution is clear—state legislatures decide the manner in which elections are conducted. The bill that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shoved through recently would usurp that power and remove all protections that states like my own, Texas, have put in place to ensure that elections are free and fair—protections ranging from voter ID laws to bans on ballot-harvesting.
My hope — and the hope of those who want secure elections —is that this disastrous bill will die in the Senate, which is and should remain a legislative graveyard for bad ideas. If Senate procedural shenanigans ultimately allow its passage, then we can only hope that a U.S. Supreme Court now more faithful to the real meaning of the Constitution—President Trump’s lasting legacy—will rule against it.
But in the meantime, we must shore up our election systems state-by-state. That’s where the Constitution places primary responsibility over these matters, and that’s where those of us who value its wisdom should focus. There are very few things that can adequately be addressed by a one-size-fits-all solution from Washington, and election reform certainly isn’t one of them.
In Texas, for example, we must work to clean up our own house by banning the use of public money to fund elections offices, eliminating unsecured ballot drop boxes, and ensuring the accuracy of voter rolls.
Regarding the problems seen throughout the rest of the union, my team and I are currently hard at work putting together a national coalition to plan, organize, and take the fight for election integrity to state legislatures around the country. This group will include policy experts and conservative leaders who will work together to unrig election systems, protect your voice at the ballot box, and uphold the principles of federalism in the process.
State by state, this coalition will advocate for principles like:

Requiring voter ID
Reasonable limits on early voting
Ending mass mail-in voting
Restricting and securing absentee ballots
Banning ballot harvesting
Mandating that all ballots be counted on Election Day

We will work with state-level organizations and legislators here in Texas and every other state to demand these reforms. An effort of this scale will certainly not be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.
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. Our country simply cannot allow the kind of disaster we have seen these last few months to ever happen again.

HB 1516 TANF Needs an Efficiency Audit

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Given the current economic situation with many unemployed Texans struggling— but even during robust economic times—the Legislature should ensure that scarce taxpayer dollars going to safety net programs that intend to help Texans in need are used in the most effective way to provide determined support and quickly move people to self-sufficiency.
Expanding economic opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency starts with an institutional framework that provides ways for Texans to prosper. Also, there is a need to improve safety nets to better assist those in need, starting with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Yes, Virginia, There’s Voter Fraud in Texas

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Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted out a bold statement on Tuesday: “We don’t have voter fraud in Texas…”
It was part of a longer tweet, which continued, “but we did have massive systemwide grid failure, statewide power outages, bursted water pipes, no water and high electricity bills. Um. Now I understand why some elected officials are trying to limit and restrict people’s right to vote.”
Bursted pipes aside, let’s be very clear. We do have voter fraud in Texas. Here are just a few examples:

In Bandera County, three suspects were indicted last month on charges stemming from the 2018 Medina County Primary Election. They’re being accused of illegally harvesting ballots from assisted living centers.
In Medina County, four people—including an elected justice of the peace—were charged in February with 150 counts of election fraud. The charges include ballot harvesting and illegal voting.
In Bexar County, a self-described “ballot chaser” was arrested in January and charged with multiple voter fraud felonies. Investigators say she traded gift bags for votes.
In Gregg County last fall, a county commissioner and three others were charged with 134 felony counts of voter fraud. The Attorney General’s Office says they urged ineligible voter to vote by mail, and they filled in a vote for the county commissioner.

Mayor Turner may say “We don’t have voter fraud in Texas…” but he can’t truly believe it doesn’t exist. The AG’s Office has prosecuted hundreds of instances of fraud. And every instance steals the voice of a legitimate Texas voter.
Let’s stop denying reality, and let’s start talking about how to make Texas elections free, fair and secure.

Outside, It’s El Salvador

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In a 2009 episode of HBO‘s Flight of the Conchords, Brian, the fictional prime minister of New Zealand, wants to meet the American president. Unable to convince the White House switchboard operator that New Zealand is a real country, Brian travels to Washington and instead takes a public White House tour hoping for a “chance” meeting with the president.
Real life heads of state do not normally travel to Washington uninvited in hopes of scoring a meeting with the president.
Yet Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele did just that in January.
Perhaps expecting the informal, transactional approach of President Joe Biden‘s predecessor, Bukele showed up unannounced and asked for a meeting with the newly inaugurated president. Neither the fictional Brian nor the very real Bukele got their presidential meeting.
Bukele’s snub had nothing to do with a switchboard operator doubting that El Salvador was real. The Central American country is front and center in the immigration debate dominating the early days of the Biden administration.
Last year caravans formed in El Salvador on candidate Biden’s promise of amnesty for undocumented immigrants. As that promise makes its way into legislation and the caravans make their way north, unimpeded by Trump-era immigration law enforcement efforts in Guatemala and Mexico, the likelihood of a humanitarian crisis on the U.S. southern border grows by the day.
Salvadorans do know their way to the southern border. An estimated half-million fled to the United States during a civil war that stretched from 1979 to 1992. Around 1.4 million documented Salvadoran immigrants are known to live in the United States today, nearly a quarter of its population. Add in their children, and the number approaches 2.2 million. Another estimated half million undocumented Salvadorans are in the U.S. Despite being roughly the same size and population as Massachusetts, El Salvador is second only to Mexico as an immigrant source country.
Mass migration from a war-torn El Salvador in the 1980s was predictable. The continued migration of Salvadorans to the United States four decades later paints a picture of a nation in a perpetual state of crisis. El Salvador’s principal export, coffee, has left its wealth concentrated in the hands of a few landowners. Its unabated security crisis since the war has discouraged tourism and foreign investment.
The country’s homicide rate, which in the years following the war approached a staggering 150 per 100,000 citizens, had fallen to 100 per 100,000 in 2015. By 2020, it was down to 52 per 100,000. As encouraging as the trend seems, El Salvador remains statistically the most dangerous place on the planet. With its growing population overwhelming the availability of legitimate sources of employment, most Salvadorans are left to decide between becoming a part of the country’s growing criminal underworld or joining a migrant caravan destined for the United States.
Enter Bukele.
El Salvador’s 39-year-old, counter-establishment president won election in 2019 on the promises of reforming a corrupt system, reducing gang violence and building El Salvador’s economy through foreign investment and tourism. Two years later, he remains enormously popular among Salvadorans, with his party winning a supermajority in last month’s legislative assembly elections. It is the first time since El Salvador’s civil war that the same party has controlled both its executive and legislative branches.
Yet the results of Bukele’s tenure have been uneven at best. His government has most recently come under criticism for its handling of COVID-19, from a premature economy-crippling lockdown to allegations of improper use of funds allocated to fight the pandemic.
To his credit, Bukele has waged a public campaign against El Salvador’s two gangs, MS-13 and 18th Street. But falling crime rates have been more the result of a negotiated truce between gangs and government, with the gangs agreeing to reduce violence (aside from extortion, their primary source of income) and deliver a reliable voting bloc for Bukele’s party in last month’s congressional elections. Bukele’s predecessors reached similar truces with the same gangs, with crime rates later surging as the truces inevitably fell apart.
Then there is Oscar Rolando Castro, a Bukele cabinet-level official with well-documented ties to MS-13 and drug trafficking. While politicians linked to organized crime are not uncommon in Latin America, Bukele’s appointment of Castro is not befitting a politician promising to reform a corrupt system.
Topping it off, in an apparent fit of autocratic youthful exuberance, Bukele last year brought a Salvadoran military battalion to the Salvadoran Congress in order to force through a vote on security spending.
What’s the fun in having a military at your disposal if you never use it?
Bukele’s ill-fated trip to Washington last month was emblematic of his patent desire to partner with the U.S., which presents an opportunity for the Biden administration. Biden’s opening salvos on immigration reform included $4 billion of direct aid to Central America. Any such aid, to date administered through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, should hinge on a renewed commitment to transparency in Bukele’s government, including prompt removal of Castro. But direct assistance to governments lacking good track records in transparency does not seem the best approach.
A better approach would incentivize corporate investment and security in Latin America.
U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) championed Opportunity Zones, an innovative idea that provides tax incentives for investment in economically distressed areas of America. A similar approach in Latin America would bring in the private investment and capital necessary to transform the region into a place that people want to come to, rather than a place that people escape from.
But for foreign investment to transform El Salvador, its security situation must improve dramatically. Additional government funding of non-governmental organizations operating effectively in El Salvador, like International Justice Mission, and expansion of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, would lead to the criminal justice reform crucial to its future. Countries with effective criminal justice systems do not negotiate truces with criminal organizations. They arrest them.
“Outside, it’s America”—with those words in the 1987 song “Bullet the Blue Sky,” U2 lead singer Bono laid the humanitarian horrors of the Salvadoran civil war at the feet of the United States. The narrative was that the U.S.-sponsored Salvadoran military was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians, leading to a mass migration of Salvadorans “into the arms of America,” the very nation funding the Salvadoran military.
The situation was more complex than that.
The Soviet-backed Communist Party seized control of Cuba and Nicaragua, which in turn were supporting the Salvadoran rebels. The same Communist Party was responsible for over 100 million deaths of innocent people in the 20th century, and the Sandinistas of Nicaragua and rebels of El Salvador were involved in their share of human rights atrocities. The U.S. had no operational control over the counter-insurgency efforts of the Salvadoran military. Yet the criticism is valid. The U.S. did support a regime that was responsible for military operations targeting innocent civilians.
The U.S. has an opportunity to reshape that narrative.
Bukele, in a 2019 speech at the Heritage Foundation, said that El Salvador does not “want aid, we want to do business with you.” Biden should hold the young president to that.
Incentivize investment to build the Salvadoran economy, promote reformation of its criminal justice system and the nation at the heart of the burgeoning border crisis could become a symbol of renewed hope in Latin America.

Cartels and Their Cruelty Are the Crisis at the Border

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In January, police in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas found 19 charred corpses in two burned-out vehicles. The initial investigation showed they had been shot first, then set aflame. They were migrants, many from Central America, on their way to Texas.
One of them was Marvin Alberto Tomás — “Lefty” to his friends. He left his family in Guatemala to seek work. He found only death; now, a dozen Mexican police officers (some trained in the United States) have been arrested for their involvement in the massacre.
The fate of Marvin and the others was horrific, but not uncommon. Organized crime involving even the police is an integral part of the worsening immigration crisis. Criminal organizations are involved at every stage of the migration process, from motivating migrant departures for the United States to security along human smuggling routes through Mexico, to the mechanisms for entering the United States undetected.
There are two kinds of criminal groups at work here — transnational gangs and transnational criminal organizations. The brutal violence and unchecked extortion perpetrated by transnational gangs in the Northern Triangle (the nations of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala), targeting both civilian populations and rival gang members, motivate Central Americans to uproot their lives and families in the hope of a better, safer life in America.
Transnational criminal organizations control, regulate, and tax every land port along the southern border. They also control smuggling routes through Mexico and impose a tax, called a piso, on the smugglers and migrants who use them. These groups control the flow of migrant caravans, strategically diverting Border Patrol resources from sectors of the border that are used to smuggle illegal drugs into the United States.
For those who choose to leave the Northern Triangle for a better life in America, the escape from territory controlled by transnational gangs leads them into territory controlled by the transnational criminal organizations.
In most cases, they use coyotes — human smugglers and traffickers who charge them thousands of dollars. Human smugglers range from independent operators and loose networks to subsidiaries of the transnational criminal organizations themselves.
Beyond what migrants pay up front, as the Associated Press reports, many are kidnapped and tortured “until they reveal the phone numbers of relatives in the United States and holding them for ransom.”
If they can’t pay — or if their families can’t — they’re killed. As one analyst points out, “It’s a long trail of extortions, and it’s a very dangerous journey for all of them.”
The groups also sometimes use migrants as drug mules. They will coerce migrants traveling through their territory into carrying large bags, or mochilas, filled with illegal drugs. Not only does this perpetuate the stream of narcotics into the U.S., it also victimizes migrants, making them desperate to unlawfully enter and remain in the U.S. — even if imprisoned on drug charges — for fear of being killed if they are sent home.
The bottom line is that throwing open our borders — as President Biden has effectively done — only serves to empower these transnational criminal enterprises. His immigration policies aren’t humanitarian; they’re creating more victims.
Our best course of action is to continue bolstering border security and reform existing immigration law in order to de-incentivize illegal crossings. Specifically, larger numbers of Border Patrol officers would prevent these criminal groups from successfully moving illegal drugs across with the distraction of human smuggling groups. Better technology would enable agents to locate tunnels used to move illegal aliens and illegal drugs.
Finally, a concerted effort to improve the criminal justice systems and build the economies in the Northern Triangle countries would likewise provide a disincentive to illegal migration into the U.S.

The health of the community inside and outside prisons is imperative in Indiana

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Indiana’s 2021 legislative session showed promising efforts to reform the criminal justice system and promote public safety, with lawmakers introducing several important bills. In particular, this session brought opportunities for the state to improve initiatives protecting women in prison, but these attempts ultimately failed when lawmakers hit the halfway marker of the 2021 session. As a result, Indiana missed a great opportunity for public safety-focused criminal justice reform.
It is unfortunate that bills like HB 1430 and HB 1349 failed since they would have allowed the state to create a better system for housing female, including pregnant, inmates. Both bills provided restrictions on restraints and shackles for pregnant inmates and required appropriate prenatal and postnatal care for inmates. HB 1430 specifically focused on pregnant inmates while HB 1349 aimed to provide basic necessities and care for female inmates.
Indiana could have followed the example of other conservative states, including South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Texas, which have recently passed legislation to protect incarcerated women and develop appropriate correctional policies for the treatment of pregnant women. These bills are often called “dignity for incarcerated women bills” as they provide crucial steps towards safety and health while addressing the unique situations female inmates find themselves in. These basic human rights protections are also emphasized by the Bangkok Rules established by the United Nations.
Given that the number of incarcerated women is growing not only in Indiana but also worldwide, it is essential to establish protections and improve outcomes for this population. The sharp rise in women behind bars necessitates further changes for Indiana prisons to adapt to these demographic shifts. It is important to understand that female inmates are often dealing with inadequate care and do not have access to vital sanitary products. Furthermore, pregnant inmates experience dangerous shackling during pregnancy and childbirth which increases pregnancy risks and exacerbates pregnancy-related mental health problems. Such practice is completely unnecessary and outdated. Too often, prisons do not have codified protocols for the care of pregnant women and their existing policies do not include provisions for basic medical needs. There should be additional legislative changes across the country to ensure incarcerated women are treated with dignity and their medical needs and safety are addressed.
On the federal level, the First Step Act banned the shackling of pregnant inmates in federal prisons, though the practice continues to be a problem in state prisons across the country. The First Step Act also provided hygiene products at no cost to the inmate. In prisons, basic necessities are often subject to inflated prices while inmates in non-industry jobs are getting paid on average 63 cents a day. This is an enormous cost and health burden on the inmate. It takes several days of work to buy a 24-pack of sanitary pads for $2.63. Additionally, it forces inmates to prioritize which other products they have to go without.
The federal push for more care for the growing female inmate population is a good foundation for states like Indiana to follow, considering that female inmates are more often incarcerated in state prisons and jails rather than federal prisons. It is estimated that 65 percent of state female inmates have children under the age of 18. According to the Indiana Department of Corrections, there are around 2,192 incarcerated women under the department’s custody. These women including pregnant and postpartum inmates could greatly benefit from the aforementioned bills if enacted.
These proposed legislative efforts reflect just some of the changes needed in the state’s criminal justice system and would have helped ensure the state’s prison system meets health care standards for women. It is disappointing that HB 1430 and HB 1349 did not move forward this legislative session as they would have been particularly helpful for female inmates, inmate mothers, and inmates needing immediate health care. Indiana should continue reforming the criminal justice system with similar legislation to align it with efforts made in other states and on the federal level. In the next legislative session, it will be critical for Indiana lawmakers to address issues affecting incarcerated women and make a substantive move towards protecting their rights and securing dignity for all.

Don’t Let the Pandemic (or the Freeze) Cloud Sunshine Week

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Video from a Jan. 5 officer-involved shooting won’t be made public until April, the Austin police say, because on top of everything else, it got cold in Texas in February.
According to a police statement, “due to recent city of Austin weather-related closures, APD will not be releasing the video during the initial 60-day timeframe.”
Last year was a bad one for the Texas Public Information Act and other government accountability (“sunshine”) laws. And 2021 isn’t starting off so well, either. Numerous government agencies cited the pandemic as an excuse to delay public information requests.
Some used—or misused—a law that was passed in 2019 intended to give governmental agencies a little more time to respond to open records requests in the event of a true natural disaster, such as Hurricane Harvey.
But the Texas Press Association, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas and others worried that law might be abused, and testified against the bill in a committee hearing. As the FOIF’s Kelley Shannon points out, “The law gave too much leeway to governments.”
Yet the principle behind our sunshine laws is as important now as it ever has been—and even more so.
“Where are COVID-19 clusters occurring?” Shannon asked in a recent blog post. “Are elderly loved ones safe? What’s the latest on COVID testing and vaccine distribution? How are taxpayer dollars being spent on pandemic aid in our communities? The Texas Public Information Act is supposed to help us answer these questions of life and death and following the money. But in many cases, governments are using the pandemic itself to ignore them.”
The opening preamble of the public information act states, in part: “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.” That’s about as clear and direct as anything you’ll read in the Texas Government Code.
And yet, the public information act in principle bears little resemblance to the law in practice. Today’s transparency tool is a rather dull and sometimes ineffective version of what it aspires to be.
But we can strengthen it. The Texas Public Policy Foundation and a diverse group of organizations ranging from the ACLU-Texas and Americans for Prosperity to East Texas’ own Grassroots America have come together to form the Transparent & Accountable Government Coalition.
“Mistrust of government is at an all-time high, and the TAG Coalition believes that the way to regain trust is through transparency and accountability,” we say in our Mission Statement. “The people have a right to know how public officials are conducting business and how tax dollars are spent.”
Our agenda for the current legislative session has three parts. We must clarify what delays are allowable in responding to open records requests during an emergency. We can retain flexibility for government agencies during such an emergency, but we must ensure that this flexibility is not abused and accountability is maintained.
We support legislation that will ensure public officials know to respond to open records requests. And we must make sure that governments don’t cite remote work and virtual meetings as an excuse to deny access to information or prevent the citizens of Texas from participating in their government.
On Thursday, March 18, TPPF will host a livestream event titled “Regaining Trust in Government,” with state Rep. Gio Capriglione, Kelley Shannon from the FOIF of Texas and Donnis Baggett of the Texas Press Association. It will last from noon until 1 p.m., and can be viewed at www.texaspolicy.com/events/.
Sunshine Week lasts from March 14 through March 20.

Government Responses to the Pandemic were Disastrous

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A year ago, Texas governments were making it up as we went along.
Officials responded to COVID-19 by upending our lives, shutting down the economy, and closing schools. Parents became teachers and grocery store stockers became vital front-line troops. Governments further closed bars, mandated masks, and enforced stringent measures that chipped away at our fundamental freedoms.
Today, it’s clear that pandemic powers need to be changed. Texans deserve stronger protections that make clear what powers governments have and do not have during disastrous times. That’s what House Bill 3, the Texas Pandemic Response Act (TPRA), aims to accomplish.
Let’s state the obvious upfront: the TPRA is not a perfect bill. No piece of legislation is. However, it should be equally obvious the latest iteration of the bill rebalances disaster policy in a positive way and it is expected to continue to improve as the legislative process unfolds. Calls to abandon the TPRA are shortsighted. Without a viable legislative vehicle for reform, no changes will be made to pandemic powers and Texans will be stuck with the confusion and overreach of the past twelve months for the next eighteen.
That would be tragic, especially because the TPRA proposes several important changes conservatives should cheer.
In its current form, the TPRA creates a limited legislative check on executive authority, more narrowly tailors local government powers, and enshrines several smaller but still significant reforms, like preventing big tax increases during a disaster and preventing governments from jailing people for noncompliance.
The plan to create a new check-and-balance on executive authority is very important. Over the last 12 months, the absence of state lawmakers has been widely felt. To ensure their voices aren’t sidelined again in the future, the TPRA proposes to create the Legislative Pandemic Disaster Oversight Committee, a 10-member body tasked to convene after a short period and armed with the ability to: 1) end the state of disaster; and 2) terminate any rule or order issued pursuant to the disaster declaration.
The committee—comprised of the Lt. Governor, the Speaker of the House, and other select members—represents a much-needed check on executive authority as it would rope-in other elected representatives into the decision-making process after the event horizon.
Some have criticized the TPRA for not requiring the full legislature to convene and sought to dismiss it entirely on that basis. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The creation of a limited legislative body to check executive overreach is an obvious step in the right direction. Conservatives must not be quick to dismiss such incremental gains.
The TPRA would also greatly diminish the opportunity for local government shenanigans.
Local government excesses have been obvious throughout COVID-19, with city and county officials extending disaster declarations indefinitely; proposing excessive fines and criminal penalties for noncompliance; threatening to commandeer private property; imposing unconstitutional demands on houses of worship; and empowering unelected bureaucrats in some concerning ways.
To address this, the TPRA omits a portion of the Texas Disaster Act (Sec. 418.108(g) of the Government Code) that has been broadly interpreted by city and county officials to impose a wide variety on big government rules and restrictions. The TPRA also makes it unmistakably clear that state authority trumps local orders during pandemics. This is much-needed as the state has spent a lot of time fighting local politicians when their resources should be directed elsewhere.
The patchwork quilt of disaster declarations creates uncertainty at the worst time and a clarification of roles and responsibilities is sorely needed. The TPRA does that. It eliminates confusion and ensures a more unified response by a clear, single source of authority with an appropriate check in place.
The TPRA also addresses other problems that gained infamy over the last year, including excessive tax increases, election integrity, infringements on religious freedom, and threats to the 2nd Amendment.
There is much to like about the TPRA, even in its current form. Could it be improved? Absolutely—and the Texas Public Policy Foundation has ideas on how.
COVID-19 has made it clear that pandemic powers need reform, be it through the TPRA or another viable legislative vehicle. The status quo is not good enough. So let’s work together to better balance government power with individual liberty in times of crisis.

Virtual Reality: A Sampling of Online Education in Practice

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Virtual education programs must shift from emergency response to creating a more sustainable, quality product that will meet the needs of Texas students. This publication highlights nine institutions as potential models in that endeavor.
Key points:
Within a matter of months, “virtual education” vaulted in 2020 from a niche educational offering used by less than 1% of Texas students to a widespread instructional model offered to students during continuing school closures.
This explosive growth in demand met a supply intentionally constricted through state policy.
As virtual education serves more students longer, the focus must shift from emergency response to creating a more sustainable, quality product that will meet the needs of Texas students in a changing landscape.
This publication highlights a selection of nine virtual education institutions from across the country that predate the COVID-19 pandemic, two from within Texas.
These examples can serve as inspiration for policymakers and district leaders who seek to reform Texas’s barebones virtual education system.

San Francisco School Board Dances Atop Lincoln’s Grave

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If a U.S. president can be impeached twice—even with the second trial coming after he leaves office—Abraham Lincoln can be assassinated a second time, with the second attack coming on his reputation. This posthumous attack comes from the woke luminaries heading up the San Francisco Unified School District, which recently decided to rename its schools formerly known as Lincoln (along with Jefferson, Washington, Paul Revere, “Star Spangled Banner” composer Francis Scott Key and others).
School board president Gabriela Lopez went out of her way to assure concerned parents that they were not witnessing what they were in fact witnessing: “I want to ensure people this in no way cancels or erases history,” she said. Removing Abraham Lincoln from his place as “the Great Emancipator” does not cancel or erase history? Really?
At the very least, it erases the words of Frederick Douglass. After Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Douglass stated that “No people or class of people in the country…have a better reason for lamenting the death of Abraham Lincoln, and for desiring to honor and perpetuate his memory, than have the colored people.” Lincoln’s devotion to equality for all races renders him “in a sense hitherto without example, emphatically the black man’s president: the first to show any respect for their rights as men.”
Douglass went on to say that, had Lincoln not been cut down by an assassin’s bullet, Blacks in the South “would have more than a hope of enfranchisement and no rebels would hold the reins of government in any one of the late rebellious states. Whosoever else have cause to mourn the loss of Abraham Lincoln, to the colored people of the country his death is an unspeakable calamity.”
But what of Lincoln’s treatment of Native Americans, which the San Francisco school board listed as the former president’s greatest offense? Aside from the fact that Lincoln largely continued the Native American policies of his predecessors, critics point to the aftermath of the 1862 Dakota War to impugn the president. Here’s what happened: In November 1862, a military commission sentenced more than 300 Santee Sioux in Minnesota to death for the rape and murder of settlers. The Santee also experienced mistreatment and even starvation on reservations at the hands of federal agents.
This was a tragic event on a number of levels. But what was Lincoln’s precise role in it? Within a month of the trial, the president reviewed its records and commuted more than 260 of the 300 sentences.
That’s it. That’s the basis for the charge that Lincoln was “anti-Native American.”
Sound convincing to you? Me neither. But it was apparently enough for the San Francisco School Board.
However, it was also “enough” for San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who blasted the proposal to rename schools, given that, as Breed stated, “We should be talking about getting [students] in classrooms, getting them mental health support and getting them the resources they need in this challenging time.”
At the same time, the basis for Mayor Breed’s disapproval appears to be not the renaming per se, but its timing. “I understand the significance of the name of a school, and a school’s name should instill a feeling of pride in every student that walks through its doors, regardless of their race, religion or sexual orientation,” said the mayor.
San Francisco schools have until next month to suggest still more names to erase. In the meantime, we might want to reflect on what this country will look like once all the “bad” names, statues, paintings and whatever else have been purged to make history as clean as a whistle—and as factually clear as mud.
We might also want to reflect on the following question: Has there ever been a country where taxpayers were compelled to subsidize schools teaching their kids to hate their own country?

Did The Shutdowns Save Lives? A Year Later, Statistical Analysis Suggests Not

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The government response to COVID-19 has mostly been a failure. Theatric, yes—see New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Emmy. Symbolic, yes. But there is no evidence shutdowns did anything but deepen the economic suffering, increase suicides, and prevent lifesaving medical tests and treatments.
With the exception of former President Trump’s effort to speed research, approval, and rollout of a COVID vaccine—Operation Warp Speed—and efforts to discourage the spread of the virus through border restrictions—now abandoned by President Biden, what policies can objectively be shown to have worked?
Last May, I had a piece in The Federalist that looked at state-level unemployment for the month of April, writing, “The numbers are brutal, with each bit of cold data representing people who have lost their livelihoods, seeing their plans derailed by a virus released by what appears to be sloppy lab procedures in Wuhan, China.” And then noting, “There appears to be no statistical connection between the economic pain of the nationwide shutdowns and the number of COVID-19 cases or fatalities. None. Let that sink in for a moment, given we were told we had to lock down America to ‘flatten the curve’ and save lives.” I also found a statistical connection between a state’s reliance on mass transit and a higher fatality rate.
One year on, has anything changed? What does the data say? Does anything suggest that the shutdowns were worth it?
The change in private sector employment among the states from January 2020 to December 2020, the latest month for which data is available, can be used as a proxy for the severity of government edicts to slow the spread of the virus. It represents closed restaurants and family-owned businesses, destroyed lives and life’s savings. In theory, this economic pain should have been rewarded with a lower COVID fatality rate—that’s what we were told as we obediently stayed at home.
The data shows there to be no benefit earned by the states that inflicted the largest destruction on their job base, judging by the fatality rates from COVID. Graphically, it looks like this.

Another constant feature of the corporate media’s COVID-19 coverage was that red states were killing their people. Again, the data after a year shows no correlation between a state’s level of freedom, as measured by the Fraser Institute in their annual Economic Freedom of North America survey, and COVID fatalities.

However, there is a modest correlation between economic freedom and the strength of the job market over the past year—though it is important to note that the correlation between freedom on the state level and job creation has been a long-term trend, one that COVID-19 did not change.

Digging deeper into the data, a regression analysis seeking correlations to per capita COVID-19 fatalities at the state level to five variables—use of mass transit, change in private sector employment, economic freedom, share of the population 65 and older, and the percentage of adults with obesity in 2020, finds only a weak connection (adjusted R square of 0.19). Only two variables are significant in this correlation: the share of mass transit use (P-value of 0.001) and prevalence of obesity (P-value of 0.009).
This would suggest that the virus takes its course, more or less infecting and killing people regardless of steps taken by our governments so far—with the possible exception, pending additional viral mutations—of the effort to develop and deploy effective vaccines.
Thus, with no statistically consistent difference in virus fatality outcomes between Gov. Cuomo’s New York, 11.9% drop in private sector jobs, Gov. Newsom’s California, 8.3% loss of jobs, Gov. Abbott’s Texas, 3.7% decline, and Gov. DeSantis’s Florida, 5.1% drop, it makes sense to encourage opening the economy while protecting the most vulnerable populations.
Lastly, as a crowning example of our politicians’ proclivity to reward failure, it is illuminating to see that more than 90% of the $1.9 trillion Biden stimulus is not directly related to COVID-19. Some $350 billion of the behemoth spending bill bails out the same state and local governments that inflicted the greatest damage on their own economies, realizing no measurable gain in public health.
As the Foundation for Economic Education notes, “…Biden’s bill spends more than twice as much lining the pockets of bankrupt blue states than it does actually addressing public health.”
But then, spending, not public health, is the purpose of the bill.

Invited Testimony to the Texas House Committee on State Affairs: House Bill 3

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The Texas Disaster Act of 1975, codified as Texas Government Code Chapter 418, grants special authority to the governor and certain local officials in times of a declared disaster. It is this temporary authority that enabled officials over the past year to impose a wide variety of rules and restrictions in response to COVID-19. Many of these requirements have been onerous and unreasonable.[1]
[1] For examples of unreasonable rules and restrictions, see: Exposing Overreach: Tarrant County; Exposing Overreach: Harris County; and Austin’s Next Power Grab.

The Role of Voter List Maintenance and Voter Identification in Election Integrity

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Legislative efforts to improve election integrity should be focused on improving identification safeguards for mail-in ballots and voter list maintenance.
Key points:
The quintupling of mail-in ballots in Texas since 2012 to one million likely increases the threat to election integrity posed by poorly maintained voter lists and weak voter verification.
Texas voter ID laws do not apply to by-mail voting, which instead relies on signature validation.
Poorly maintained voter lists are estimated to include about 75,000 noncitizens, deceased voters, and people who have moved out of state.
Texas should increase efforts to identify and remove noncitizens from the voter lists.
Texas should enhance mail-in ballot security by improving voter verification of those ballots.

HB 484 (In Favor) Texas House Committee on Human Services

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Article II – Health and Human Services *House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Article II*
Family March 2, 2021

Addressing Cost Drivers in U.S. Healthcare Through Transparency, Competition, and Value
Health Care March 8, 2021

HB 567 – Preserving and Strengthening Families
Family March 8, 2021

Montana: Lower Taxes Start by Reining in Spending

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Debates about Montana’s budget often invoke bitter contention over spending cuts, but miss an opportunity for consensus on limiting spending growth.
Most Montanans I grew up with would likely agree our government should spend within its means and not tax too much. Those who drafted Montana’s constitution wisely required governments to balance budgets for that very purpose. But balanced budgets don’t necessarily mean the taxpayer is off the hook.
The sky-high property taxes burdening many Montana communities are one symptom of a larger problem: uncontrolled growth in government spending at the state and local levels.
Economists often use economic growth as a measuring stick for government’s fiscal responsibility, enabling policy makers to estimate how much spending taxpayers can afford. Montana budget leaders have pointed to population growth plus inflation as the fairest measure of economic growth by accounting for potential changes in demand for government services and the cost of providing them.
By this measure, Montana’s state budget has often grown considerably faster than taxpayers’ ability to pay for it over the last 16 years.
State spending grew 138% over the last 16 years, compared to 54% growth of population plus inflation. This difference has left Montana taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars more than if the budget had stayed within the bounds of the state’s economic growth.
Placing fiscally conservative limits on budget growth, or even reducing it as many families have done with their budgets during the recession, would be a substantial step toward enabling tax relief to give Montanans more opportunities to flourish.
My organization, the Frontier Institute, partnered with leading national economists to create the Conservative Montana Budget, a budget that sets a maximum threshold for spending growth based on taxpayers’ ability to fund it instead of how much an appropriator can appropriate. This results in a spending growth limit for the next biennium of 4.4 percent, based on the growth of Montana’s economy.
Texas has used a similar model of conservative budget limits since 2015, with spending growth mostly following population plus inflation. This fiscal responsibility has allowed Texas to implement billions of dollars in property tax cuts. By placing limits on spending growth, Montana could do the same.
The budget proposed by Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte looks to be a Conservative Montana Budget that protects taxpayers – keeping spending growth under the maximum 4.4% and reducing spending growth by $100 million compared to his predecessor.
The Legislature could certainly spend less than the maximum limit and still provide basic public necessities, based on how fast spending has grown over time. In fact, our leaders owe it to taxpayers to debate the necessity for every dime of state spending and should eliminate waste whenever possible.
But if the Legislature can agree to stay under the limit of a Conservative Montana Budget as they make final appropriations, they will deliver a budget that protects taxpayers and works to correct years of uncontrolled spending growth.
Furthermore, local government spending growth far outpaces the state budget. As many homeowners can tell you, uncontrolled local spending relies on revenue from property taxes. This causes headaches for lawmakers who want to cut state property taxes but have to make up for lost local revenue. Without limits on local government spending, local property taxes will continue to burden Montana communities.
Placing fiscally conservative spending limits on state and local government spending is one way to protect taxpayers and start to undo the damage done by out-of-control government growth.
Kendall Cotton is the President and CEO of the Frontier Institute, a think tank dedicated to breaking down government barriers so all Montanans can thrive.

Iowa Needs A Conservative Budget

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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Republican-led legislature have mainly been following fiscal conservative principles of limiting spending and reducing tax rates. Gov. Reynolds even received an “A” grade from Cato Institute’s 2020 Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors for her fiscal conservatism.
As a result of conservative budgeting practices, Iowa’s fiscal house was not only prepared for the economic emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it remains in strong condition. Iowa’s budget has a $305 million surplus, and over $770 million in reserves.
Still, there is room for improvement.
Families across Iowa, whether in good or bad economic times, practice priority-based budgeting. Families must make decisions, often difficult ones, on how best to spend their hard-earned dollars. The same is true for small business owners across Iowa who must prioritize their spending to not only keep their doors open but meet payroll and provide for themselves.
As households across Iowa prioritize spending, governments should do the same, and even more so given it’s not their money. This results in a sound reason for government to practice priority-based budgeting or zero-based budgeting, whereby legislators take a close look at how every taxpayer dollar is spent.
Gov. Reynolds has proposed an $8.1 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2022. Although this increase from the $7.77 billion FY 2021 budget does not seem like much, this growth is more than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay, as appropriately measured by population growth plus inflation.
This would compound the higher taxes that Iowans are paying to fund their government.
From 2013 to 2020, Iowa’s budget has grown 1.6 times faster than population growth plus inflation. This means that the cost of government is increasing at a faster rate than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for government. This does not include the high property tax burden placed on taxpayers by local governments or the $9 billion in federal funds that Iowa received in FY 2019.
If the budget had matched population growth plus inflation over that period, it would have saved a family of four, on average, $430 per year. This may not appear to be a large savings, but for most families an extra $430 is a vehicle payment or extra money to place in savings. Either way, it is more choices of how to spend their hard-earned dollars.
Both Gov. Reynolds and legislative leaders have voiced their concern that Iowa needs a more competitive business tax climate, which the Tax Foundation ranks 40th in the nation. Taxes and spending are two sides of the same coin and Iowa’s high individual and corporate income tax rates will not be reduced if spending is not limited.
Controlling spending will take discipline.
Iowa’s budget has a 99 percent spending limitation in law, which means that the legislature must spend at least 1 percent less than projected revenues. Strengthening the spending limit with a constitutional amendment and limiting spending to no more than population growth plus inflation would help keep spending in line with the average taxpayer’s ability to pay. This is an important measure because it accounts for more people paying taxes and higher wages that are highly correlated with inflation.
The Tax Education Foundation’s Conservative Iowa Budget sets the maximum threshold on appropriations based on population growth plus inflation over the last year. Specifically, the maximum threshold on 2022 General Funds is $7.88 billion after an increase of 1.38 percent. Achieving this feat will help keep more money in Iowans’ pockets so they have abundant opportunities to prosper.

Controlling spending is the most difficult thing for a government to achieve because the demands on government continue to grow. Numerous special interests are also applying pressure on the legislature for greater spending, which often crowds out the voice of taxpayers.
History has demonstrated that governments cannot spend and tax their way to prosperity. Iowa only needs to look at our neighbors in Illinois to see the consequences of out-of-control spending.
Policymakers should consider the Conservative Iowa Budget and work to further limit spending. Keeping spending levels low will not only serve the taxpayers’ interests, but it will also make Iowa more economically competitive so that they have more opportunities to achieve their hopes and dreams.

John Hendrickson is policy director at Tax Education Foundation of Iowa and Vance Ginn, Ph.D., is chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation based in Austin, Texas. He is the former chief economist of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during the Trump administration.

Addressing Cost Drivers in U.S. Healthcare Through Transparency, Competition, and Value

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Growing healthcare costs in the U.S. are a major concern. Policy efforts are needed to address major drivers of healthcare costs, especially in key areas like hospital services, health insurance, and prescription drugs.
Key points:
Rising healthcare costs are a concern for patients, policymakers, and taxpayers. Roughly 3 in 10 Americans have delayed or forgone seeking medical treatment due to costs.
Hospitals, health insurance, and pharmaceuticals represent three areas with opportunities to address some of the main drivers of healthcare costs in the U.S.
Underlying the various drivers of healthcare costs is the common theme of a dysfunctional marketplace hampered by anti-competitive behavior and excessive regulation.

“Action Civics”: Summary

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Biden’s Anti-Fossil Fuel Agenda Hurts the World’s Poor
Energy & Environment March 8, 2021

This is What Building a Future Looks Like
K-12 Education February 26, 2021

Joined at the Hip: Organized Crime and Illegal Immigration
Immigration March 5, 2021

HB 567 – Preserving and Strengthening Families

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The 87th Legislature has a unique opportunity to build on recent efforts to reform the Texas child welfare system and make our system more compassionate and responsive. Much of this work will be focused on bringing the state into compliance with the requirements of the Family First Prevention Services Act.

Biden’s Anti-Fossil Fuel Agenda Hurts the World’s Poor

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The first thing Aysha picks up when she opens her eyes to the warm glow of the morning sun is not an iPhone, not an alarm clock, not even a glass of water. It’s her collection of large plastic gasoline canisters. The 13-year-old Ethiopian straps them to her camel — which her family is lucky to have — and begins the four-plus-hour walk to the nearest river. The water there is dirty and brown and unsanitary, but it’s water, and her family needs it to survive.
Aysha doesn’t get back home until the sun is already setting. Meanwhile, her brother has gone to school.
President Biden’s administration — between cries for unity, equity, and an end to poverty and oppression — is beginning to enact policies that will deny Aysha and the countless girls like her the opportunity to move from bleak, backbreaking destitution to a self-actualized life of equality and opportunity.
 Energy poverty is among the most crippling but least talked-about crises of the 21st century. Billions like Aysha in Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, and even parts of the United States live with little to no access to electricity. Electricity is the one of the simplest solutions to improved health, economic opportunity, education, nutrition, and comfort in the developing world, especially for women and girls.
Yet among President Biden’s “Climate Day” executive orders is a unilateral ban on “international financing of carbon-intensive fossil fuel-based energy.” In layman’s terms, the United States of America will no longer extend foreign aid funds to developing nations seeking affordable, reliable energy to lift their citizens out of poverty.
For Aysha, that funding could have offered clean running water flowing right to her home, a safer way to cook without inhaling the toxic fumes from burning wood, kerosene or even dung, the opportunity to go to school like her brother, and even such simple gifts as walking safely through her village at night.
 Westerners unfamiliar with the harsh realities of extreme poverty — many well-meaning renewable energy advocates among them — might imagine shipping solar panels to Africa to be a simple fix. But reaching anywhere near constant power via renewable energy requires deploying massive quantities of renewable energy infrastructure along with expensive battery storage for when the wind isn’t blowing or sun isn’t shining.
As attractive as off-grid solar might sound for developing countries, there just isn’t enough battery storage in the world — and there won’t be for several generations — to make renewables more than a tiny Band-Aid on a gaping wound.
And without battery storage (or fossil fuel power backup generation), electricity that only works sometimes is little better than no electricity at all. Intermittent, occasional power doesn’t help hospitals refrigerate life-saving vaccines, schools and churches feed hungry children, or entrepreneurs start their businesses.
Instead, the best solution to lift communities like Aysha’s around the world out of poverty remains affordable, reliable energy from fossil fuels. It’s no accident that nearly every statistic we use to measure quality of life has improved drastically along with increasing use, and decreasing cost, of fossil fuels. Electricity makes every part of our lives both easier and safer.
That includes climate resiliency. Climate-related deaths have plummeted 98.9% since the last century, and that will only improve as more people get access to better health care, more sophisticated emergency management, safer homes, and the other myriad benefits of electricity. Improving the climate resiliency of developing nations by providing greater energy access will yield real benefits regardless of how the climate changes in the future.
The abundant fossil energy we produce in the United States — and the technology that makes it both cost-effective and clean — could offer these revolutionary benefits to the developing world for a remarkably small price.
If President Biden’s administration is serious about fighting poverty and leading the world in pursuit of equity, it should start by reversing the ban on fossil fuel financing for the developing world.

Joined at the Hip: Organized Crime and Illegal Immigration

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From motivating the decision to migrate to controlling the smuggling routes, criminal organizations are an inextricable part of the current equation of illegal immigration across the U.S. southern border.
Key points:
Criminal organizations are largely responsible for the violence that permeates Mexico and the Northern Triangle and serve as a major motivation for people to leave their homes and migrate north.
Most organized crime along smuggling routes to the U.S. resembles that of a governing authority: Criminal organizations control swaths of territory, regulate which routes can be used and when, and tax the smugglers and migrants who want to use them.
Transnational criminal organizations also sometimes use migrant crossings to distract and overwhelm U.S. Border Patrol agents ahead of drug shipments.

Facts, Not Unfounded Fears, Should Drive Policy on Methane Emissions

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As IHS Market’s CERA Week, the world’s premier gathering of executives and ministers to discuss energy, environment, and climate, comes to a close it is clear climate change will – as Biden promised – take center stage in this administration. Unfortunately for the American people, Biden’s actions on methane emissions, as well as other climate change policies, are based on unfounded fears, not on facts.
In articles about the EPA’s replacement of Obama-era methane regulations, the first thing we usually read about methane is that it is a “super-pollutant” because each molecule we emit traps 25 times as much heat in the atmosphere as CO2 over a 100 year period.
But while methane, also known as natural gas, is a greenhouse gas that contributes to mildly increasing global temperatures, it is not a pollutant in the sense of soot or smog, which cause direct harm to human health. Like CO2, it is biologically inert. It is also incredibly useful for heating our homes, cooking safely, producing electricity, and providing the feedstock to create thousands of products that we use every day.
So why did the Obama EPA, under the Clean Air Act, choose to regulate methane emissions in the same category as those other pollutants? And why is the Biden administration likely to follow in those footsteps?
The given answer is that methane’s ability to trap heat contributes to climate change and that methane is one of many precursors to the formation of smog. The Obama EPA cited these reasons when it promulgated the final rule in 2016. However, its arguments for the significance of methane’s contribution to temperature change and to ozone formation, which are crucial to its ability to regulate methane under the Clean Air Act, fall flat upon closer inspection.
If the U.S. eliminated all of its methane emissions by 2050, climate models used by the EPA estimate that average global temperature in 2100 would be 0.03 degrees C lower. About 30% of U.S. methane emissions come from the oil and gas industry, so the significance of those emissions is even less. The EPA recently finalized a rule concluding that any stationary source of greenhouse gases that emits less than 3% of total U.S. emissions is not significant enough to warrant regulation under the Clean Air Act. The rule specifically cites emissions from oil and gas production and transport as falling below this standard.
While methane is known to increase ground-level ozone, a.k.a. smog, over long time-scales, the effect is global in nature and difficult to measure. Therefore, the EPA did not even try to quantify the benefits of reducing methane emissions on ozone pollution levels. Plus, ground-level ozone is already regulated under the Clean Air Act.
Given the negligible environmental benefits of the Obama-era methane regulations, the only true consequence would have been the cost, estimated at more than $500 million annually by 2025. Furthermore, the 2016 rule tried to force technology that was meant for large high-volume facilities on small facilities, without sufficient research to prove that such technology would have a positive impact. These actions would have put a disproportionate burden on small businesses.
Fortunately, the EPA reversed these requirements in August 2020 and chose only to regulate emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Efforts to eliminate VOC emissions also address methane emissions because natural gas flows as a stream, not as separate components. As a result, the EPA estimates that the new rule will alter the emissions reductions projected from the 2016 rule by only a few percent a year, while cutting costs by over $100 million per year over the next 10 years.
Another key point missing from the hype about methane emissions is that even without direct regulation, emissions from the U.S. energy sector have declined 30% since 1990. Because methane has economic value, companies have a natural incentive to capture as much of it as is economically feasible. That is why many American companies, such as ExxonMobil and Chevron, which have the technology and the economic means, are voluntarily working to reduce methane leaks. Additional regulations will only make American energy more expensive and drive more oil and gas production to countries with far fewer environmental protections.
It is impossible for us to protect our environment without freedom and prosperity, and our global environment will benefit the most when our governments allow energy producers and consumers, not regulatory bureaucracies, to determine our energy future.

It’s Time to Enforce Hospital Price Transparency Rules

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Cities across Texas are witnessing some of the country’s fastest growth. With this rapid change, it’s no wonder that Texas is becoming an innovation hub — with Austin dubbed the “new Silicon Valley.” Health care innovation is no exception. We’re seeing new business models rise (from Direct Primary Care practices to direct contract surgery marketplaces) hoping to introduce affordability, accessibility, and a patient-centered approach to a broken system.
But the private sector can’t transform the system alone. Our elected officials also have a role to play. Texas is a leader in passing laws that address surprise medical billing, promoting drug price transparency, and cracking down on emergency room price gouging. Just last year, a law passed in 2019 finally went into effect requiring insurers and health care providers to leave the patient out of billing disputes and negotiate prices for out-of-network care — setting a landmark standard for addressing issues of surprise billing across the country.
The 2021 legislative session provides lawmakers with another opportunity to tackle health policy concerns. But they’re faced with a somber agenda: Texas has the highest estimated number of uninsured citizens of any state. The counts are double the national average. While these numbers don’t account for the large population in Texas who get their care from insurance alternatives, such as health care cost-sharing organizations, these estimates are shocking and reprehensible.
As two professionals whose careers focus on advocating for a free-market health care economy, we believe a transformation of the system is imperative and long overdue. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight. But we must start somewhere. Here in Texas, we need common-sense measures that put power back in the hands of Texans immediately when it comes to their health.
The stage is set for legislators. On January 1, 2021, a new Federal Price Transparency Rule went into effect requiring hospitals to make their standard charges for items and services public. This rule will likely bolster consumer empowerment — meaning that patients could shop for the best deal in non-emergency health-related situations. You would never board a flight without knowing how much the airline ticket costs, so why should getting a standard medical procedure like an MRI be any different? 
But out of evaluated hospitals, only 2,000 hospitals nationwide have started to comply. The other 4,000 are dragging their feet. Many even tried to stop it from happening in the first place. Given that entrenched secrecy in pricing benefits large hospitals and traditional insurers, allowing them to charge as much as they would like, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing this scattershot approach to implementing reform.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, in partnership with Health Cost Labs created a “Price Transparency Compliance Index” to objectively observe and compare state compliance with this Federal Rule. Only 28% of Texas hospitals have complied with the law at this moment in time, putting our state at the bottom half of the list.
Texas has the opportunity to change this narrative and start to lead the way. Representative Dr. Tom Oliverson, serving Texas’s 130th State House District, has filed a bill that would require Texas hospitals to post their prices.
And that’s a good start—but it’s only a start. Ideally, we should develop a system for medical services that allows consumers to easily shop for what they need—like Expedia does for travel.
We envision a future where Texans walk into their primary care doctor and ask for a menu of prices for each routine test and blood panel needed. Price gouging would significantly decline once providers are forced to show the wide discrepancies in prices to patients.
Ensuring hospital compliance with the new federal rule is a meaningful and impactful step Texas lawmakers can do right now that will immediately help Texans.
David Balat is the Healthcare Policy Director at Texas Public Policy Foundation, a former hospital executive and congressional candidate. Jamie Lagarde is the CEO of Sedera.

Please Don’t California the Puerto Rican Power Grid

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The most significant threats to Puerto Rico’s energy grid are not tropical storms, hurricanes, or earthquakes—but rather decades of mismanagement and the Island’s unrealistic renewable energy goals for 2025.
With the Biden Administration making aggressive renewable environmental policy changes, the Island can expect more pressure from the federal government for renewable energy in Puerto Rico.
It is easy to assume that a broken Puerto Rico grid results from a series of natural disasters, but as we have learned in Florida, electrical grids and power generation facilities can be reliable and cost-competitive. So why is Puerto Rico’s grid different?
Governor Vazquez Garced took the first step in liberating the grid from bureaucracy’s wickets with the historic LUMA deal. By the end of 2021, LUMA, a private company, will operate, manage, and transform the grid’s Transmission and Distribution system.
Removing customer service from the claws of government and placing it in the private sector promises to prioritize customer service and reliability.
New leadership at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority plans to expand private-public partnerships to manage older diesel or bunker fuel-powered generation units. These legacy units serve a critical role in the grid’s reliability—without them, there is no manufacturing industry in Puerto Rico. However, they need to be replaced with higher efficiency combined-cycle natural gas units that are closer to demand, have a suitable amount of LNG storage, and port access.
Private-public partnerships will fix some of the institutional problems caused by decades of mismanagement, poor customer service, and government bureaucracy. But Puerto Rico must learn from our friends in Florida and prioritize reliability.
Puerto Rico has an ambitious goal of 3,500 megawatts of renewables by 2025. That is enough energy to power the entire island on a sunny and windy day. But when the sun goes down and the wind stops blowing, people tend to return home from work, creating a peak in demand: AC units ramp up, lights turn on, and families gather around the television. Energy storage technology is decades away from being practical and cost-competitive.
Current renewable energy goals place the island on track to become the next California —  a Green New Deal state begging residents to turn off their AC units because politicians grossly miscalculated load requirements.
Puerto Rico is not in a position to follow the failed dreams of renewable energy worshipers. Instead, the island must mirror what has been battle-tested in Florida and Texas.
Florida Power and Light and NextEra hold the title of the largest private producer of renewable energy globally, and Texas leads the U.S. in wind energy. They both achieved these benchmarks by mastering reliability and cost competitiveness and only then moving towards a realistic renewable energy goal. It can take Florida less than one week—sometimes even a few days—to recover from a category five hurricane. In Puerto Rico, it can take more than 11 months. That’s unacceptable.
Florida Power and Light’s new Dania Beach natural gas power plant has the potential to power almost half of the island of Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, three years after Hurricane Maria, Palo Seco—a facility with the capacity to power the metropolitan area of San Juan—has yet to break ground and is waiting for Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (PREB) approval. Instead, PREB approved a “study” and suggested retiring the remaining natural gas power plants in San Juan.
Renewable energy over-prioritization has neglected a handful of energy projects that promise to reduce cost, increase reliability, and improve America’s energy dominance in the region.
While Admiral Brown, Dr. Peter Navarro, and I worked to reshore manufacturing and pharmaceutical production to Puerto Rico and the United States, Puerto Rico’s legislature has compromised the grid and placed the burden of energy reliability on local industry. The Biden administration’s energy public policy only makes matters worse by threatening thousands of manufacturing and pharmaceutical jobs on the island.
Puerto Rican companies pay more than three times the energy costs as their mainland or foreign competitors. While touring dozens of manufacturing and pharmaceutical plants in Puerto Rico on behalf of the White House, I have witnessed the energy burdens they face. Most facilities rely on privately-owned natural gas or diesel generation units due to energy reliability, quality, and cost concerns.
The manufacturing and pharmaceutical sector in Puerto Rico will not survive a California energy trajectory—gambling billions of taxpayer dollars on a Green New Deal pipe dream, only to find a less reliable and more expensive grid 15 years down the line.
These pressures go directly against manufacturing interests on the island. It is time for Puerto Rico to adopt an “All of the Above” energy strategy and to unleash the power and reliability of natural gas, energy diversity, and small modular nuclear reactors. It is time for clean, cost-competitive, and reliable energy for the people of Puerto Rico.

Article II – Health and Human Services *House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Article II*

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Over the last several years, a considerable amount of work has gone into addressing systemic deficiencies that have long plagued the Texas foster care system. This work is bearing fruit, and the 87th Legislature has a unique opportunity to build on the successes already achieved by reform efforts.
Seizing this opportunity will require the Legislature to carefully coordinate the continued expansion and improvement of the community-based care system created by the 85th Legislature with implementation of key reforms made by the federal Family First Prevention Services Act. If done well, Texas can create a more compassionate, responsive child welfare system and become a national model for successful child welfare reform.

Neglecting Decommissioning Standards Risks Undoing Green Energy Progress

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President Joe Biden’s green energy agenda is expansive, with plans to spend over $2 trillion over the course of his first term in office. Democrats’ main talking point is that the United States needs to expand solar energy’s part within America’s energy mix as quickly as possible. However, there is little conversation around what is to be done when this infrastructure becomes obsolete after its 20-30 year useful life.
Local, state, and federal decommissioning standards currently in place for hydrocarbons should be extended to solar energy and other sources to mitigate risk of new environmental harms — and resulting taxpayer-funded remediation efforts — due to abandoned solar farms and insolvent solar producers.
Sustainability has become trendy, and many in corporate America are updating their business models to include product life-cycle (i.e., cradle to grave) sustainability practices. For example, initiatives such as Patagonia’s “Worn Wear” and Apple’s trade-in programs encourage their customers to recycle their products instead of throwing them away.
Unfortunately, while there are mandates on the oil and gas industry to decommission end-of-life equipment, many of these laws are not applicable to green energy sources, such as solar energy. This matters, particularly because of scale. Solar panels require 10 times the quantity of materials and 20 to 100 times the required land-use when compared to hydrocarbon equipment that produces equivalent energy output.
A recent study estimates a whopping 8 million tons of solar panels will be sent to landfills by 2030, ballooning to 80 million tons by 2050. Furthermore, by 2050 waste from end-of-life solar equipment will nearly double the current estimated annual plastic pollution or e-waste. With all the resources poised to be deployed by the Biden administration and Democrat-led House and Senate, a major focus should be on addressing planning for solar waste.
Federal, state, and local governments offer generous subsidies and tax breaks to encourage the development of solar farms, and the focus of alternative energy advocates has been on increasing the generation capacity of “green” energy to replace existing hydrocarbons. However, the conversations surrounding renewable energy and the resulting legislative priorities could sabotage all of the progress made toward that goal if they focus exclusively on power generation at the expense of responsible disposal.
Democrats must expand the scope of their green agenda to include implementing safeguards to ensure that these solar facilities are decommissioned and responsibly disposed of at the end of their lives. For example, the Texas Legislature in 2019 put forward House Bill 2845, which sought to require wind producers to provide financial assurances, such as a bond or a guarantee from the producer’s parent company, to back their promises of decommissioning facilities at the end of their life. This legislation should be reconsidered now as the legislature meets for the 87th Legislative Session. The regulatory framework for decommissioning assets already exists for oil and gas production, it only needs to be expanded to cover other energy production.
Further, all-energy-inclusive decommissioning standards will create and maintain a predictable regulatory environment for producers. Should governments kick the problem of end-of-life solar panels down the road, the cost to taxpayers will be enormous – studies generally show that the decommissioning of an average solar farm could reach a million dollars or more. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for solar producers’ negligence to clean up their waste.
Assets at the end of their life must be disposed of, meaning the equipment must be repurposed, recycled, or thrown into a landfill. While hydrocarbon equipment is readily recyclable, recycling of solar panels is not only difficult, it is expensive. Efforts must be made to improve the recycling of solar panels to prevent their accumulation in landfills and corresponding negative environmental impacts.
As suggested in a January 2021 EPA briefing paper, the Biden administration should instruct the EPA and Department of Energy to leverage their expertise and tools to further innovation in the disposal and remediation efforts of green energy equipment.

Texas Needs a Responsible Recovery Agenda

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Given the economic situation with many unemployed Texans struggling from business closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions and following recent power outages, the Legislature should consider less spending, taxing, and regulating so Texans have more opportunities to prosper.
Invited testimony submitted to the Texas House Committee on Ways & Means

Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, Dignity, and Prosperity in Texas

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Given the economic situation with many unemployed Texans struggling from business closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions and following recent power outages, the Legislature should consider less spending, taxing, and regulating so Texans have more opportunities to prosper.
Invited testimony submitted to the Texas House Committee on Appropriations – S/C on Article II

Let’s Ensure that Texas Elections are Free and Fair

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As a legislator, I believe that we must work to secure the right of every citizen to participate in guiding the direction of our government.
When people do not have confidence in our electoral institutions—when political legitimacy is questioned—liberty is threatened. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the Texas Legislature this session to ensure that elections, the bedrock of our Republic, are free, fair, and secure.
With the goal of restoring and safeguarding the people’s faith in their electoral system, the Legislature must be mindful of the following provision of the Texas Bill of Rights.  Article I, Section 2 of the Texas Constitution declares that: “All political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their benefit. The faith of the people of Texas stands pledged to the preservation of a republican form of government, and, subject to this limitation only, they have at all times the inalienable right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think expedient.” Tex. Const. art. I, § 2.
Unfortunately, the events all Texans, as well as all Americans, witnessed this fall did little to address worries that our elections are not secure, and the results lack authority. Make no mistake, these issues far predated 2020, or even the changes made with COVID-19 as a justification. People are angry and afraid that their voice and their vote don’t count.
That is why election integrity is the canary in the coal mine that presages breakdown, corruption and lawlessness. When legal votes are diluted by illegal votes, the very sovereignty of the people is under attack. The narrative at first was voter fraud was a myth, then systemic voter fraud was a myth, finally voter fraud was not enough to affect the outcome of our elections. But now, it seems, the people behind this “shadow campaign” cannot help doing a victory lap and have all but admitted to most of the violations we were told did not exist.
The idea that our elections are free from vote dilution is a myth that is demonstrably false. The truth is every single illegitimate vote suppresses the voice of a legitimate voter and a citizen of our nation. All votes matter because all voices matter. Our duty to voters is to get this right. This can be done by ensuring: i) that all eligible voters are given ample opportunity to vote and that their vote is never watered down by illegitimate votes; ii) that our voter rolls are accurate and current; iii) that polling locations are geographically dispersed in a nondiscriminatory manner; and iv) that the procedures and processes of elections are general and uniform throughout the state so that all voters regardless of their county of residence feel they had a fair opportunity to have their voice heard.
Forthcoming research from Texas Public Policy Foundation found that poorly maintained voter lists may include more than 100,000 ineligible voters (noncitizens, deceased, and people who have moved out of state). The casting of just one unlawful ballot is too many. While perfection may be impossible, we should and will strive for it.
The U.S. Constitution rightly delegates powers to the states through the Tenth Amendment. Yet Congress is now attempting a breathtaking level of overreach in areas like voter roll maintenance, ID requirements, and mail-in-ballot eligibility. This will only serve to further weaken elections and do little to restore the tenuous trust voters have in 2021.
And, with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent declaration of election integrity as an emergency item, there’s never been a better time to restore trust and protect voters from the deleterious effects of allowing bad data, lack of voter ID and unreasonable expansion of receipt deadlines for mail-in ballots to exacerbate problems we saw both in Texas as well as states like Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Secure and Free Election Agenda also has several other policy proposals that are similar to fixes offered up by me and my colleagues.
As we discuss and consider how to repair a system that was broken well before COVID-19 began to spread, I hope we can use such policies to achieve more fair and free elections for all Texas voters. My hope is that the Lone Star State will be an example of election integrity that other states will follow.

Texas legislators must protect the lifeblood of Texas

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With President Biden wasting little time in office, he has clearly set his sights on Texas’ prosperity — first by canceling the Keystone Pipeline and thousands of jobs along with it, then by rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, and lastly by banning fracking on federal land.
Who could expect him to remember his promise on August 31, 2020: “I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again. I am not banning fracking”? None of Biden’s actions will result in a better environment, but they will result in higher costs and fewer American jobs.
Democrats in Congress — and even some Republicans — will seize the opportunity to introduce a predictable smattering of wasteful spending, government overreach, and progressive social engineering. Democrats in the Texas Legislature will likely do the same while peddling a false narrative of environmental doom. Fortunately, the Texas Legislature maintains a conservative majority, so it’s no dice for the intrusive, big-government climate policies of the liberal elite.
My former colleagues should seize this opportunity to cement Texas’ strong energy industry and preserve the abundant energy resources we — and the entire nation — depend upon. Because without energy, Texas wouldn’t be Texas.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Texas’ oil and natural gas, not just to each of our lives, but also to the lives of billions across America and around the world. Fossil fuels don’t just keep our cars and air conditioners running. They power the data centers keeping our banking, communication, and national security online. They keep hospitals, law enforcement, and businesses from local coffee shops to global conglomerates operating smoothly. As much as 41% of American oil and 25% of natural gas comes from Texas.
Thanks to our rich natural resources and to reasonable, predictable regulations put in place by generations of Texas leaders, we’re now exporting liquefied natural gas to trading partners as far away as India. Energy is the dividing line between poverty and prosperity, oppression and freedom, destitution and opportunity around the world — and Texas makes the world a better place.
Natural gas and oil also employ hundreds of thousands of Texans with above-average salaries. The industry makes good-paying jobs available for millions more in other sectors that wouldn’t exist without affordable, reliable power. The Texas economy, contrary to some perceptions, isn’t solely about oil and gas. But our economic success, driving us to become the ninth-largest economy in the world, even beating out Russia and Canada, would have been impossible without it.
But what about climate change? Doesn’t Texas have an obligation to act? According to voters — and climate science — the answer is clearly no. Joe Biden, supposedly a national unifier, won even fewer Texas counties than Hillary Clinton in 2016. And voters soundly defeated the Bloomberg-funded Democrat running for Railroad Commission in the “most important election for American climate policy.” (In Texas, the RRC regulates oil and gas production.)
And science supports the choice of voters. The data models used nearly universally by climate organizations worldwide project that even eliminating all fossil fuels in the U.S. would barely change global average temperatures, dropping them less than two-tenths of a degree by the end of the century. Meanwhile, humanity is becoming more resilient to our natural surroundings, not less.
Texans recognize that for energy, as for most policy issues, the heavy hand of government isn’t the solution. The legislature should heed its constituents’ wishes and take a few key actions to preserve access to the energy we need.
First, legislators should end energy discrimination by investment firms, pension managers, and banks that politicize their investing choices instead of carefully stewarding our workers’ and retirees’ money.
Second, they should protect our electric grid by rolling back tax breaks that prop up unreliable energy projects and ensure each generator pledges to provide “dispatchable” (readily available) power during peak times.
Finally, lawmakers should ensure a level playing field by prohibiting cities from ludicrously banning natural gas and apply the same decommissioning standards to every energy source.
The 2020 election may have flipped the White House from Republican to Democrat, but in Texas, this legislative session is an opportunity to cement the Lone Star State’s energy leadership and boost the nation’s economy. Let’s hope the legislature continues to embrace the Texas-made fuels that have powered our state to prosperity.

Stop Trying Our Police Officers in the Court of Public Opinion

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Coverage of the disturbing events of Jan. 6 has given us a glimpse of just how differently the left and the right are treated in the media. Americans on both the left and the right watched in disbelief and horror as a mob overran Capitol Police and invaded the Capitol building. One protestor was shot and a police officer died amidst the fighting. This is tragic. Every conservative I know agrees.
And for many of us conservatives, the horror was multiplied when we realized that the rioters—including the horned hat-wearing cartoon character who is now refusing to eat anything but organic prison food—purported to represent us. Nothing could be further from the truth; we cherish our core principle of law and order.
But just like that, the left now found the words to describe this event more accurately than they could describe any of the rioting and mayhem we saw all summer. Lives were lost on Jan. 6; that’s true. It’s also true that the legitimacy of the legacy media was also a casualty.
Of course, those with legitimate concerns over police reform on the left suffered a similar fate last summer, with a similar outcome. There were genuine peaceful protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, who died during his arrest. But the truly peaceful protests were overshadowed by the destruction and violence perpetrated by actors uninterested in peace. Many of us on the right allowed those on the left to be characterized by their worst actors and those who screamed “defund the police” the loudest. In reality, “defunding the police” was not popular even among the groups that claimed support for it.
For their part, the media did their best to protect the left from scrutiny by downplaying the destruction and violence. Who can forget CNN’s “fiery, but mostly peaceful” designation of events? The media was unable to find the words “violence” or “destruction” for months, and politicians on the left ignored, or even encouraged the ongoing unrest. There was no appetite in the media or among politicians to calm or even condemn the violence, further infuriating those on the right.
The result—entirely predictable—was a pendulum swing toward support for our police officers. “Back the Blue” became the mantra of the right, while the left over-played its hand and intensified calls for defunding police even as violent crime soared in major cities. Vanished was any desire to work together on policing.
Following Jan. 6 came the left’s justification for the double standard. The media said that Jan 6. was different because it was the Capitol, and that the summer’s rioting was merely “smashing the window of a Jamba Juice.” It wasn’t different; both were horrible—yet only one side seems able to clearly see that.  A federal police officer died in protests over the summer as well. Federal courthouses were attacked in the Pacific Northwest, and police precincts were overrun. It wasn’t different, it was exactly the same, but only one side saw violence and the other side allowed violence to continue without criticism for months.
Until there is some symmetry in how real instances of right and wrong are covered, there can be no bipartisanship or unity as President Biden has called for. Not every policy disagreement is a “good versus evil” proposition; in fact very few really are. But until we can recognize right and wrong together, there isn’t much else we can agree on.
In policing, that begins with finding policies that result in better training, better integration and better communication with communities. Defunding, certainly won’t get us there, and neither will continuing to try our police officers in the court of public opinion.

Defunding Police Is Not The Answer

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I grew up when the show “COPS” was popular on television. Though police dramas had been on for years, this was the first real-life depiction of police and what these officers went through. For many of us, it was the first time we saw a side of society we often try to ignore.
For me, the famous theme song—“Bad Boys, Bad Boys”—was a warning to would-be criminals. Later, as an adult, I was surprised when learned that some parents say to their kids, “Be good or we are going to call the bad boys to come get you.” It was hard for me to believe some would relate the song to the police officers—not the criminals.
Fast forward to today, when television dramas focus far more on crooked departments and “darker” themes, it’s no surprise to hear voices calling for defunding of the police. Some say that “defunding” simply means reform—but in reality, a cut is a cut. For police departments in cities like Austin, budget cuts have real-life impact. Most recently, “defunding” resulted in the termination of all cadet classes in the upcoming fiscal year. We see cities from Minnesota to Texas calling for more body cameras and more administrative layers all while cutting the department resources. Inevitably, this leads to cuts in training, equipment, personnel—or all of the above.
I can assure you that officers would love to have an open discussion about reform. Many will tell you they signed on to protect their communities, not enforce political whims from overzealous government officials. Policing is a fraternity of men and women who believe in their work and mission. They want to be well-trained and able to ensure safe communities. Officers consider themselves professionals—and take pride in that fact.
Texas requires hundreds of training hours covering every facet of policing before allowing you to sit for your certification. Training covers everything from traffic laws to CPR and de-escalation to weapons techniques. Officers learn to read people and to interact with citizens in what are some of the worst moments of their lives. They learn not just how to write a speeding ticket but how to handle a drunk driver hitting a teenager head-on. They learn how to interact with the family when a loved one commits suicide. Many agree they can always learn more.
In my spare time, I’m also a baseball umpire. There, too, we’re expected to “be perfect on day one and improve from there.” Emotions are high. The similarities to policing are striking.
Defunding is not the answer and nothing is truly reformed by simply cutting budgets. We should instead evaluate what leads to the outcomes we are trying to end. Sometimes, it’s a city’s policies themselves.
A notorious example is the case of the late Eric Garner and New York City. Police confronted Garner, who was selling loose cigarettes (“loosies”) without a tax stamp, thus denying the city its tax revenues. Police attempted to enforce this policy, but Garner resisted arrest and then succumbed to a coronary attack that would claim his life. Who was at fault? Partly, at least, it was those who created the policy. Yet we saw little discussion of that; instead, the news was filled with arguments against “holds” by police, despite the coroner agreeing that Garner did not suffocate from a hold but from previous medical conditions.
I support law and order. I also support reform—when that means training and education. I support an audit of how tax dollars are spent. I support allowing officers to be active in their communities. Most of all, I support those men and women who, no matter the criticism and lack of support, will still defend your right to protest them.

Article II – Health and Human Services

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Over the last several years, a considerable amount of work has gone into addressing systemic deficiencies that have long plagued the Texas foster care system. This work is bearing fruit, and the 87th Legislature has a unique opportunity to build on the successes already achieved by reform efforts. Seizing this opportunity will require the Legislature to carefully coordinate the continued expansion and improvement of the community-based care system created by the 85th Legislature with implementation of key reforms made by the federal Family First Prevention Services Act. If done well, Texas can create a more compassionate, responsive child welfare system and become a national model for successful child welfare reform.

This is What Building a Future Looks Like

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Victor Munoz is proud of his new skills. Welding, the 16-year-old says, will take him places.
“I’m planning on going into underwater welding,” he says. “Or I might go into the railroad; I have an uncle who manages a rail yard up in Dallas. He told me as soon as I get my certification, he’ll get me in.”
What Victor has now is options—a brighter future based on skills that are much in demand. And he acquired those skills at the unlikeliest of places—a Gallery Furniture store in north Houston.

Victor is a student at the charter high school and adult trade school established last spring by Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale at his expansive Gallery Furniture warehouse. Premier High School Houston (Gallery Furniture North) is tuition-free, and it specializes in teaching trade skills to students who weren’t finding success in their traditional schools. It has an adult trade school, as well. It even has a preschool that focuses on early educational interventions.

In the Amazon.com age, Mattress Mack says, brick-and-mortar stores like his must be involved in the community to stay relevant.
“That’s why we took 30,000 square feet of the store and dedicated the school to the trade school and to the preschool,” he says. “And guess what? Since we did that sales have doubled, so something’s working.”
Lauren Tanner, also 16, was having trouble at her former high school when she learned about Premier and its trades program. She likes working with her hands and she likes solving puzzles. So she’s now enrolled in the electrician program.

“Being an electrician is essential—it will always be around,” she says. “It’s well-paid and there are different things you can do. You can work on the blueprints, you can make the blueprints, you can be a foreman, you can be a supervisor, you can be a safety supervisor. There are a lot of things you can do with your hands, and that’s good for me.”

Lauren says that college just isn’t for her—for now, at least. That concept is sometimes a little difficult for educators to grasp, says Jill Wright, principal at Premier.
“I want to tell you my story about Angel,” she says. “He was my student at an alternative school. He had been in trouble. He wanted to get a diploma. He wanted to change his life and he worked really hard to get it. He graduated with that piece of paper and we celebrated, but a couple of weeks later, I saw him at a grocery store pushing carts. And I realized we didn’t do anything for this child.”
That diploma simply didn’t mean much in Angel’s life. It was designed to tell colleges he was ready to attend, but Angel wasn’t heading to college.
“We didn’t give him the skills that he needed,” Jill explains. “And that’s when I became passionate that we have to not only provide a diploma, but we also have to give kids skills that employers would want.”

At Premier, students up to the age of 26 can earn high school diplomas along with industry certifications. They also learn the “soft skills” such as personal responsibility and showing up on time, that often determine success or failure in a new job.
Mike Feinberg helped Mattress Mack create Premier High School Houston (Gallery Furniture North).
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “Here, we found there were a lot of people doing great work already when it came to adult training, adolescent training and all kinds of social support services. But everything was happening in silos—in isolation. So we created a non-profit, WorkTexas, where everyone could work together easily.”
Currently, Premier has 140 students. About half are the usual age for high-schoolers, 14 to 18. But about half are older students returning for their diplomas. The trade school has 80 adults attending it; the preschool has about 50 children, from infants to 4-year-olds. Feinberg says there are plans to make those numbers even bigger.
He adds that its success can be replicated elsewhere.
TPPF’s Erin Davis Valdez agrees.
“When we include the private sector from the start, we can ensure that Texas career and technical education (CTE) funds are spent effectively, providing the skills that students need to get and keep good-paying jobs,” she says. “At the legislative level, we should tie state funding to local workforce demand. We can never lose sight of the fact that these aren’t numbers, they’re real students, who deserve the brightest futures we can give them.”
CTE reform is part of TPPF’s Liberty Action Agenda. To learn more, click here:
https://www.texaspolicy.com/next-generation-texas/

Inviting Common Sense Into the Texas Law of Parties Doctrine

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Texas’s law of parties bases a defendant’s responsibility for a crime on his relationship to the perpetrator, rather than his own conduct or intent, and can yield sentences that are disproportionate to the defendant’s culpability for a crime.
Key points:
A subprovision of the law of parties allows courts to convict individuals of crimes they neither committed nor intended for anyone else to commit.
This rule is problematic in murder and capital murder cases, which require evidence that the actual assailant had a high level of intent, but a conspirator may be convicted with a showing that he should have been aware that his co-conspirator would commit the crime.
The law of parties undermines the integrity of Texas’s capital punishment system, which must reserve executions for the “worst of the worst” offenders, by providing a mechanism under which individuals who did not kill anyone or intend that anyone killed may be sentenced to death.
This rule is also particularly harsh against juveniles and young adults who are prone to impulsive, reckless behavior in group settings but are unlikely to re-offend.

Houston’s Anti-Freedom Force

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Most people know that the city of Houston will spend almost $1 million on contract lobbyists this year. But some may be surprised to learn that it also employs in-house lobbyists. And these Bayou City boosters excel at pushing for higher taxes, more spending, and less government accountability.
The city’s in-house lobby team, otherwise known as its Inter Government Relations (IGR) department, purportedly exists to: “Provid[e] effective counsel and advocacy for the Mayor’s policies and city operations before the federal and state government.” Said differently, they’re a highly paid public relations squad that carries water for the mayor. And theirs is no small operation, either.
Houston’s IGR department consists of four full-time employees equipped with an almost $600,000 annual budget. The department also borrows heavily from within. In 2019, it tapped more than 180 persons across two dozen different divisions to assist with “…reviewing legislation, crafting testimony, and understanding policy implications.” It also helps steer those aforementioned contract lobbyists, though things haven’t always gone to plan.
But while IGR has a mission and the means, it is hard to say what taxpayers gain from its pro-government activism. In fact, its advocacy arguably hurts, not helps, the average Houstonian.
Consider some of its chief lobbyist’s activities. When not attacking the mayor’s political rivals or trolling Texas’ junior U.S. Senator, the department director took stands against mainstream legislation, like bills to let voters decide on massive tax increases, to make government more transparent, to end forced annexation, and to ease local regulations that spike housing costs. Fortunately, most of these proposals passed in the end, but Houston-area taxpayers footed the bill for all of the attempted quashings.
These are just a few examples. Over the years, department staff have opposed countless commonsense reforms, both out in the open and behind closed doors. The IGR team may as well be known as Houston’s Anti-Freedom Force, a special bureau of big government guardians fighting for central planning and collectivist policies. Their success is liberty’s loss.
Today, the Texas Legislature is again in session and IGR has flooded the statehouse with its tax-paid promoters. At the top of their to-do list: preserve the city’s ability to misuse emergency orders; tighten Houston’s regulatory grip over the energy industry; get more money from state taxpayers; and crowd out low-income women and children in the state’s Medicaid program by adding more healthy, able-bodied adults to the system.
It’s wrong for city governments to participate in this kind of publicly funded advocacy. Lobbying is not a core function of government nor is it an appropriate use of public money. It’s a way for insiders to leverage personal relationships to expand government’s power, influence, and budgets—all at taxpayer expense.
Of course, there’s no problem with city officials educating legislators and staff on issues important to their districts. But cities cross a line when their employees’ activities move from education to advocacy, from sharing information to taking scalps. Texans expect their tax dollars to pay for police and potholes, not pressuring politicians.
There are enough forces aligned against freedom and liberty today. Houstonians don’t need another one to contend with, especially one that comes at their expense.

ICYMI: TPPF Launches Statewide Radio Ad Campaign Targeting Tax Dollars Spent on Lobbying

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The Texas Public Policy Foundation is taking its message on local government lobbying to every corner in the Lone Star State.
Earlier this week, the Foundation launched an aggressive statewide radio campaign educating Texans on the insidious practice of spending taxpayer money to lobby for more taxpayer money. The campaign comes on the heels of a new poll showing almost 9 in 10 Texans oppose using tax dollars to fund Austin lobbyists.
When made aware of the issue, Texans are almost universally against the practice. Some object to the tens of millions spent each year on contract lobbyists. Others balk at the idea that third parties, who most often live out of town, are at the Capitol representing their interests instead of their local elected officials. Still others take umbrage with the fact that the statehouse is flooded with pro-government lobbyists who drown out the voice of everyday Texans.
The combination of these factors helps explain why most Texans are so strongly against using public money to hire professional lobbyists. It’s time to end the practice.
Watch the ad here.

Gun Control Bill Would Create Instant Felons

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It’s one thing to hear the gun-grabbing rhetoric coming out of Washington. But Texas?
We knew that President Biden’s administration would be far less Second Amendment-friendly than the previous administration. At one point, Biden even promised to put Beto “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15” O’Rourke in charge of his administration’s gun policies.
Yet it wasn’t a D.C. denizen who filed H.R. 127; it was a member of Congress from Texas. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s bill resuscitates some long-ago debunked “public safety” measures that wouldn’t increase safety, but would instead penalize law-abiding gun owners and put barriers in place that would prevent Americans from exercising their rights.
The bill would require the U.S. Attorney General (who is expected to be Judge Merrick Garland) to establish a licensing scheme for gun ownership. It would require every gun owner to report to the AG’s Office when and where the gun was acquired, where it is stored, and whether the firearm might ever be loaned to someone else.
It would make the estimated 40 percent of Americans who own a firearm into instant felons, unless they apply for a license and pass both a criminal background check and a psychological evaluation.
The evaluations sounds both expensive and intrusive. The bill says the AG’s Office will require licensed psychologists to interview “any spouse of the individual, any former spouse of the individual, and at least 2 other persons who are a member of the family of, or an associate of, the individual to further determine the state of the mental, emotional, and relational stability of the individual in relation to firearms.”
The bill would also require gun owners to purchase firearm insurance. It would establish a publicly searchable database (which will become known to burglars as a “shopping list”). And it would set mandatory minimum sentences for any violation of the Act.
The fee for all of this is $800, according to the text of the bill (not including the head-shrinking).
The unintended consequences of such a bill would be legion. Many working class Americans would be priced out of defending themselves and their families—at least legally. And the criminals who haven’t obeyed even the existing gun laws? They’ll be undeterred.
What’s more, it will put our law enforcement officers in an untenable position. They’ve sworn oaths to uphold both state and federal constitutions, as well as local, state and federal laws. What are they to do if ordered to break that oath? It would take every cop in America to enforce H.R. 127, and there would be many, many confrontations that would no doubt turn deadly.
Police already have their hands full with the spike in crime rates that have followed the “defund the police” fad. It is unconscionable to set the police against law-abiding citizens as in pursuit of progressive orthodoxy.
Fortunately, our states have effective recourse. For example, the state legislatures can prohibit local entities from participating in federal grant programs that attempt to push the anti-gun agenda. Governors can similarly refuse to participate in federal programs that do the same. A number of governors, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have gone as far as declaring their states “Second Amendment sanctuaries.
The new administration in Washington may have high hopes for gun control, but here in Texas, the motto on the Gonzales battle flag lives on: “Come and take it.”

NEW: Report Details Property Tax Growth

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The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts has just published a new report detailing the extent of property tax growth over the last few years. The data is revealing.
According to the 2018-19 Biennial Property Tax Report, almost 4,300 local taxing units levied $67.3 billion in property taxes on homeowners and businesses in 2019. That’s a one-year increase in the tax levy of $3.5 billion or 5.5%. Since 2015, the tax levy has increased by more than $15 billion or about a 30% growth for the period.
Over a longer time horizon, property taxes continue to soar in a similar fashion. From 1998 to 2019, the average annual increase in the total property tax levy was 5.9%, meaning that cities, counties, school districts, and special districts have seen, on average, a revenue bump of almost 6% every year for the last two decades.
These data confirm that the property tax burden continues to increase at a rapid rate and that further reforms are needed, with an eye toward reversing the excessive revenue growth and letting Texans keep more of their own hard-earned money.

School District Property Taxes are the Problem

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School district property taxes are massive.
In 2019, Texas’ local governments walloped homeowners and businesses with property taxes totaling $67.3 billion, according to a new Texas Comptroller report. Of the total tax levy, school districts, by far, imposed the greatest burden at $36.2 billion or 54% of the whole.
By comparison, property taxes levied by cities totaled $11.2 billion (16.6%); by counties $11 billion (16.4%); and by special districts $8.9 billion (13.2%). Figures may not add due to rounding.

Source: Texas Comptroller’s 2018-19 Biennial Property Tax Report
Looked at another way and over a longer period (1998 – 2019), it is quite clear which local governmental entity is responsible for the bulk of Texas’ property tax problem.

Source: Texas Comptroller’s 2018-19 Biennial Property Tax Report
The Texas Comptroller’s latest report confirms the findings of a Texas Public Policy Foundation report published in October 2020 that examined property tax trends in populous areas (see: Just the Facts: Property Taxes in Texas’s Most Populous Cities, Counties, and School Districts). In the report, the authors write:
School district property taxes rose sharply from 2014 to 2018. In almost every instance, school district property tax levies [for the ten most populous ISDs] soared past enrollment growth and inflation increases. In certain cases, the rate of levy growth was practically unexplainable given the decline in student enrollment.
And so the evidence continues to mount that school district property taxes are big and growing fast, pushing some Texans to brink. State lawmakers must do more to tackle this issue in earnest and come prepared with fresh, bold ideas to move us in a radically better direction.

Wind Energy — and Media Spin — Failed Texas

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As Texans are dealing with the aftermath of a harrowing week of blackouts, boil-water notices, and frigid temperatures, the finger-pointing has begun. Many of us, my colleagues in the Legislature included, are looking for someone, or something, to blame — understandably so.
But we must move on from searching for a convenient scapegoat to understanding the truth of what happened and finding a solution for the systemic problems that led to the blackouts.
As policy makers, we must be careful that we are not implementing new regulations without considering every working aspect of an industry. As a professional in the electricity industry for 16 years, I want to share my perspective — and one major component of what I believe Texas should do to keep this from becoming a regular occurrence.
First, the record should be set straight since the mainstream media has utterly failed in its responsibility to impartially report the facts. Here’s what the media won’t tell you: wind energy collapsed and investors in Texas have not built the new reliable energy generators necessary to back up wind in an emergency.
Most news sources either ignored or sought to defend wind energy’s near-total failure. The spin was that wind performed “as expected.” They don’t mention that the expectation was near zero because wind is of little use in extreme weather.
Further, many big-league Texas reporters have repeatedly refused to cover important stories like Austin’s $2 billion biomass power plant sitting idle while Texans suffered in the cold.
ERCOT made mistakes — it waited too long to take action to minimize the fallout — and must be held accountable, but the blackouts would have happened anyway because too many reliable power plants have closed. Decades of bad policy decisions have made it almost impossible to make ends meet running natural gas, clean coal, or nuclear. Instead, Texas and the U.S. have offered extravagant subsidies that make wind artificially lucrative — without any obligation to provide consistent, reliable power.
Think of it this way: You own a hamburger stand where you sell burgers for $3 apiece. Then the government provides “incentives” (paid for with our taxes) to a competitor to build another hamburger stand next door. Those incentives allow the new hamburger stand to sell the exact same burgers — and pay their customers to eat them.
In this scenario, how likely are you to be able to maintain and grow your business, to invest in new technology or weatherize your stand? How likely are other culinary entrepreneurs to open new hamburger stands the way they want to, instead of the way the government pushes them to?
Decades of taxpayer-funded subsidies that favor unreliable wind power are crowding reliable energy sources out of the market, weakening the grid, and leading directly to the blackouts we experienced last week.
It’s no surprise — in fact, Texas came close to seeing widespread blackouts in August 2019. Our reserve margin, the buffer of extra electricity between what Texans are using and what we can produce, has become steadily smaller in recent years. And without quick action by state leaders, it will only get worse.
We should eliminate subsidies and tax breaks for energy companies — especially unreliable wind— to allow the free market to function smoothly. We must prioritize reliability and affordability in our electricity choices. Unfortunately, that’s not politically popular. But these are steps we can and must take for our state’s future.
As one solution, I just refiled House Bill 1951 to ensure that the financial costs of unreliable energy are placed on the generators where they belong, instead of passed down to Texas ratepayers and taxpayers who already have enough on their plates. I am confident that HB 1951 will protect Texas’ access to electricity by freeing up generation capacity and ensuring that reliable sources of energy are available to Texans – extreme weather or not.
Texans deserve better.

Beyond Four Walls: How Competency-Based Learning Can Enhance Public Education

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COVID-19 has disrupted the education of millions of Texas students, perhaps for a generation. Our public education system needs to continue moving toward a student-centered funding model in order to address the magnitude of this crisis.
Key points:
The recent pandemic has highlighted flaws in our education system’s focus on “seat time” as a method for organizing school funding and structure rather than student outcomes.
In times when students cannot always physically attend school, we need better measures of education progress and quality.
The school finance commission paved the way for a stronger focus on student outcomes; prioritizing student competency over student presence is the next step in creating a student-centric, outcomes-focused system.
Other states, such as New Hampshire and Idaho, have begun to incorporate competency-based education more thoroughly into their education models.
Texas has begun encouraging competency-based instruction in subject areas such as math, but more remains to be done. Career and technical education courses of study could especially benefit from flexibility.

Indefinite Extensions

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For the past eleven months, we’ve been living under a siege of executive orders. What started as a two-week shutdown to flatten the curve turned into a near-permanent pause, with no end in sight. At least that’s the message local governments have been sending.
Since March 2020, local governments throughout the state have issued their own disaster declarations separate from the state’s executive orders. While local governments have the authority to do so, a few local officials have overstepped, sparking conversation on the use and abuse of emergency powers during the COVID pandemic.
Following the initial onset of disaster declarations, one fact has become clear—there is a massive gap in the law regarding the length of local declarations. Under the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, a local disaster declaration may not last longer than seven days without the approval of the governing body. However, certain political subdivisions have interpreted this to mean that they only need one vote from the governing body within the first week and then operate under an indefinite extension.
Political subdivisions who seemed to misinterpret this provision include the cities of Austin, San Antonio, and Houston as well as El Paso County and Harris County. But while these political subdivisions have chosen to leave their citizens in a prolonged state of disaster, the state does not have the power to do so.
In fact, the law says that a state-level state of disaster may not last more than 30 days unless it is renewed by the governor. And there’s another check on this power—the Legislature has the authority to “terminate a state of disaster at any time.” Although this check on the state exists, there is no such similar check-and-balance in place for local disaster declarations.
Local governments serve as arms of state government and, as such, a system of checks-and-balances should be in place.
For too long local governments have run amuck and overstepped their jurisdictions. By telling their citizens that this pandemic lifestyle has no end and their broadened power to rule their lives will continue until they see fit, local entities are attempting to force Texans to live in a constant state of fear and confusion. This is wrong.
Reform is desperately needed. We must address this gap in the law and keep local governments in check. While this pandemic may still be ongoing, a local government’s emergency authority should only last a finite length of time, and with the approval of its citizens.

Powering the future: Texas must expand energy career & technical education

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Astronauts. Ballerinas. Doctors. Firefighters. Oilfield workers? One of these things is not like the others.
When children daydream about what they want to be when they grow up, oil and gas jobs rarely make the list — even in Texas, the country’s top energy-producing state. That needs to change for sake of the future of our state and for our nation’s energy independence.
Fortunately, improvements to Texas’ career and technical education(CTE) offerings signal a bright future for our state’s energy workforce. But our educators, energy leaders, and elected officials should do more to prioritize energy education.
Texas public high schools offer students a variety of “career clusters,” specialized classes to equip them with practical, marketable skills that lead to good-paying jobs, with or without a college degree. Until just two years ago, students interested in energy had to sign up for the agriculture career cluster, where they might also take classes on animal husbandry, fishery management, or greenhouse operations. This career path mismatch did little to incentivize students to consider energy careers. It’s likely that few students knew an energy specialization was available at all — and that often left businesses without a well-trained local workforce.
In Port Arthur, for example, 21% of students in career clusters took courses from the agriculture cluster, but agriculture makes up less than 1% of the region’s jobs. The community needs more skilled workers in manufacturing and energy.
The creation of the energy career cluster in 2019 means more students will be given the opportunity to learn about our energy resources and the variety of fulfilling, good-paying jobs available to them, including blue-collar and white-collar positions. The average oil and gas job pays more than double the private-sector average, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The oil and gas industry might not sound glamorous, but it’s a lucrative career path.
Energy education is critical not just because of the noteworthy role of oil and gas in our economy — employing nearly 200,000 Texans in direct jobs alone — but because energy makes every part of our lives possible.
Texas energy producers, and the myriad businesses that support them, need a talented workforce to provide gas to power our cars, delivery trucks, farm equipment, fire engines, and ambulances. Workers are needed to provide the electricity running our schools, data centers, hospitals, banks, and dispatch centers. These workers make refrigeration for food and lifesaving vaccines possible, and they protect us against the harsh cold of winter. They even produce the plastics that make up nearly all the products we use every day.
Affordable, reliable energy from fossil fuels — the source of 80% of our energy — is the reason this is the best time in human history to be alive, and the data on everything from life expectancy to child labor show it.
Texans should be proud of our state’s outsized role in powering America to prosperity. The energy career cluster is an important step forward, but more should be done to ensure Texas stays the nation’s leader in oil and gas.
Part of instilling pride in young Texans is keeping energy curriculum fact- and science-based, carefully examining the pros and cons of each energy source without veering into environmental alarmism. The most rigorous science shows not only that climate change — which progressive activists will fixate on almost exclusively — is not the threat it’s made out to be. Every energy choice comes with consequences, including renewable energy, and educators should strive to arm students with the knowledge and confidence to tackle those challenges, rather than perpetuating to the alarmism afflicting so many young people with “eco-anxiety.”
The future of Texas’ energy leadership is bright. With the continued efforts of principled leaders across our state, from classrooms to the state Capitol, we can help more young Texans discover their dream careers and keep the Lone Star State’s vibrant energy industry the envy of the nation.

A Roadmap for Austin’s New Homelessness Czar

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The city of Austin recently announced a new homelessness “czar,” a position that had been open for more than one year—the first “czar” lasted only a month.
As a first course of action, we hope she will advocate for the reversal of a recent decision by ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness Coalition) to skip a full annual count of the homeless for a mere estimate. Without a full count, Austin cannot accurately gauge the scope of the problem it’s now facing.
Two years ago, Austin’s count exposed a 30% increase in the number of unsheltered homeless over the two years ending in 2019, with another 45% increase last year alone.
Given the explosive growth of people living on the street and the economic and societal impacts it has on Austin neighborhoods, and given the amount of money spent by the city, county and the feds to specifically address the unsheltered in Austin, ECHO’s decision is troubling. Sure, a full count poses certain risks, but those can be minimized by adherence to federal and Travis County guidelines. There are greater risks in not conducting a full count.
Homelessness is an epidemic. Like COVID-19, it can be deadly. In 2020, 256 homeless Austinites died—a 38% increase over 2019. In San Francisco, a city that Austin appears to be mimicking in its approach to homelessness, the “street homeless” are dying from drug overdoses at four times the rate as from COVID-19.
How many more Austinites need to perish before policymakers realize their policies aren’t working—and are actively causing harm?
The new czar’s next order of business should be a major policy overhaul. The data shows that Austin’s “one-size-fits-all” approach to homelessness—Housing First—has clearly failed those struggling with homelessness as well as the community at large. Still, Austin officials continue to stand unflinchingly behind this approach, investing an additional $17 million in the City’s 2019-2020 homelessness budget—a 37% spending increase.
It’s also failed in California where it has been employed since 2016—California has since experienced a 16.4% increase in homelessness—and at the federal level where it’s been mandated since 2013.
Newly released data (see chart below) mirrors Austin’s tragic results with Housing First.
Homelessness increased by at least 16% nationwide, in spite of a 200% increase in funding, and an economy that was booming prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only has Austin’s unsheltered population risen significantly under Housing First, the overall homeless population exploded by 28% from 2013-2018. How much more failure can our community tolerate?
For many, the path to homelessness began with unaddressed childhood trauma and adversity. By the time a homeless child is 8 years old, one in three has a major mental disorder. Homeless children also have twice the rate of learning disabilities and three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems. They are also twice as likely to go hungry and experience illness as other children. All of these factors contribute to learning difficulties, making them twice as likely to repeat a grade compared to non-homeless children. Without appropriate and early interventions, upon which homelessness policy should insist, it is no wonder that data increasingly shows that homeless children often become homeless adults.
This leads to our third recommendation. The newly-issued report by the United States Interagency Council on Homeless called, “Expanding the Toolbox” is a must-read for the new czar and for her colleagues. After reviewing the irrefutable data, USICH now grasps the importance of addressing the underlying issues that led a person to homelessness in conjunction with housing assistance. They also stress the need for “population-focused programming,” versus one-size-fits-all approaches.
Personnel is policy. With the new czar at the helm, Austinites need her to be up to the task ahead.

President Biden’s “Unity” Policy Means Increased Poverty

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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our routines, but it doesn’t change the laws of economics. Yet it seems government is in the business of doing something when it really should do nothing, such as the recent proposals by President Biden and Congress to spend more and raise the federal minimum wage in the name of pandemic relief.
These actions would not only make a bad economic situation worse, especially for the ones the policies are intended to help, but they would destroy the unity that the president says he wants.
We’ve already seen the devastation that government action can cause during the pandemic, as the broad U6 unemployment rate remains at an elevated 11.1% and almost 800,000 people are filing initial jobless claims every week. The government shutdowns are an unfolding tragedy, and we won’t know their full extent for years to come.
But, as usual, there’s another attempt to put a patch on the American economy with an unnecessary, poorly crafted monstrosity of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which includes raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour by June 2025.
This boondoggle sends taxpayer money to people through checks when real personal income reached a record high in 2020. Its higher unemployment payments will distort incentives to work. And it will bail out profligate state and local governments when they’ve already received nearly three times more in taxpayer funds than their estimated losses.
Collectively, this package could delay the needed reopening of our economy, the only real path to regain Americans’ taken prosperity.
The focus of a package—if it must be done—should be to get the vaccines out as quickly as possible to open America now so that people can regain their prosperity they had before the pandemic. Better yet, a pro-growth approach of spending restraint, tax relief, and deregulation would be a better federal response.
In fact, the latter two measures (tax relief and deregulation) were practiced by the Trump administration and it contributed to records of the highest real median household income and lowest poverty rate in 2019. And while President Trump’s budgets found more fiscal savings than any other president, Congress continued to spend excessively—thereby bankrupting us and our country in the process.
But what’s getting a lot of media attention recently without much consideration of its cost is the Raise the Wage Act that the Democrats in Congress are trying to push through. This arbitrary hike of the federal minimum wage would be a mistake as it would separate us in terms of economic status and further divide us as a nation. That’s not what I would consider as “unity.”
According to a 2019 Pew Research poll, about two-thirds of Americans supported increasing the minimum wage to $15. But at what cost, given that nothing is free?
For example, the Congressional Budget Office recently reported that passing the Raise the Wage Act could mean as many as 2.7 million workers lose their job and earn the real minimum wage of $0. This would also come at the cost of $54 billion more to the national debt, further bankrupting us. And while the number of people lifted up from poverty could be 900,000, many of them will face higher prices, higher taxes, and higher interest rates making it harder for even those lucky enough to not lose their jobs to make ends meet.
But this analysis misses two key points that should not be overlooked: 58.5% of Americans earning the minimum wage are between 16 to 24 years old, and costs of living vary greatly across states, with California being 50% more expensive than Texas.
This means that those who will be hit hardest by raising the minimum wage are those just trying to get their foot on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, and typically have other sources of income. In fact, raising the minimum wage can benefit high-wage, highly skilled people at the expense of low-wage, low-skill people as employers move from labor to capital in their operations. This actually increases income inequality.
And states that have done a good job in keeping the cost of living low, like Texas (due to more pro-growth policies resulting in increased economic freedom) are hit hardest compared with those that don’t, like California. We should let federalism’s system of “laboratories of democracy” continue to prove that people vote with their feet, as the number of Californians moving to Texas increased by 36% in 2018.
America may still be suffering through the chaos of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean we need more of it. President Biden should give doing nothing a chance, especially his policies will bankrupt the country and force increased unemployment.

An insider’s insight on today’s economy.

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Many Americans are recovering from the economic destruction that started in March 2020 due to shutdowns by state and local governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy has improved, but the pace has slowed because of increased restrictions by many state governors making it more difficult to regain the tangible prosperity experienced last February.
I highlight data on economic growth and employment and provide pro-growth policy recommendations to help quickly recover.

Make Big Spending Bad Again

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The Tea Party I knew cared about excessive government spending and unfettered illegal immigration. In the era of Trump, border security was rightfully prioritized, but running up the national debt and printing historic amounts of money became a means to an end.  Under Biden, the federal government will throw the southern border wide open and put spending into overdrive.
Actions have consequences. Republicans must make spending restraint great again. Failure to do so is to lose the heart of what it means to be a Republican, and is a clear and present danger to the future of our country. Washington politicians in both parties are putting the nation in serious financial risk, yet they act as if all this debt doesn’t matter.
It isn’t about Republicans, or Democrats—it’s math. No nation can accumulate this kind of debt without a day of reckoning. Inflation and higher interest rates will return some day, and in the meantime, the debt must be serviced.
As a society, our dependence on student loan debt, stimulus checks, and deficits have become so commonplace that people have become numb to the terms. Yet spending beyond our means, the Federal Reserve rapidly expanding the money supply, and the monetization of debt will have profound consequences. Inflation and higher interest rates will choke the economy and lead to greater poverty and more social unrest.
Texas must realize that there is no “free money” from Washington to expand Medicaid, address COVID-19, or shore up irresponsible state budgets. Every dollar of additional spending in Washington is another dollar of debt. We cannot become addicted to the sugar high. The Texas Legislature must budget our precious tax dollars relative to the real economy. State spending growth should not exceed family finances, and therefore the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Conservative Texas Budget formula, population growth plus inflation, is a number we should not exceed.
Politics has a way of moving in cycles. I hope that conservative Republicans recall and re-emphasize their belief in fiscal restraint. Your money is what fuels economic and personal liberty. Debt is dangerous. Fiscal restraint preserves freedom. Let’s make it great again!
State Rep. Matt Schaefer is a Republican from Tyler.

To Fix Elections, Look First to the States

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Elections are a state matter—not a federal one.
The 10th Amendment to our U.S. Constitution wisely states “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Elections fall under this, as was made even more clear by the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 2002 Help America Vote Act.
But that seems to have been lost on many on Capitol Hill, following the unsettled period we predicted from Nov. 6, 2020 to Jan. 20, 2021 in our “79 Days to Inauguration Simulation.” While 74 million Americans don’t trust in the results of the election, and while even a significant number of the winning party concede that the election may not have been honest, we won’t restore trust in our elections or achieve any sort of unity through federal overreach.
Yet overreach is exactly what the federal election omnibus bill is aiming for. H.R.1 contains plank after plank of bad policy, reflecting the “shadow campaign” that changed the rules of the game in the 2020 election mid-stream, legalizing many practices that had previously been illegal.
H.R. 1 brushes aside states’ authority by loosening everything from voter ID standards to voter roll maintenance (already protected by HAVA), and eligibility for mail in ballots. Roll in the usual chestnut of “dark money,” despite major injections of cash by the Center for Tech and Civic life in dense urban progressive centers in 2020 and the third rail of election administration redistricting or “gerrymandering,” and you have a colossal bill that purports to stamp out election fraud but does little to address the real problems that far predated COVID 19.
It also raises donor privacy issues and significant free speech concerns, leaving Americans to be mercilessly bullied by the media-enabled cancel culture that currently prevails.
What’s more, even experts can be dubbed conspiracy theorists or accused of fomenting insurrection if they point out, as we have, legitimate instances of voter fraud. A brief look at the Heritage Foundation’s database, or our own Attorney General Ken Paxton’s website reveals a plethora of information the so called “fact checkers” always seem to miss.
And hyperbole is alive and well in framing this massive package of bad ideas. This terrible legislation is titled the “For the People Act.”
There is some hope—but as usual, it comes from the states, not Washington D.C. My organization, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, is working with members of Congress to help reform elections, while respecting the Tenth Amendment and proper separation of powers.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has rightly designated restoring trust and confidence in the integrity of our elections as an “emergency” agenda item for the 87th Texas Legislature this year. Our Secure and Free Elections Agenda, and forthcoming research our project has produced, point to a number of effective policies that can address the broken chain of custody and fraud in mail-in ballots, the inaccurate and outdated voter rolls that enable ballot harvesters and fraudsters to ply their craft, as well as ensuring the Secretary of State holds counties to account if they are deficient in their duties of administering elections.
Even small changes such as modifying state law to allow poll watchers and election staff to work in a location outside their county would help to ensure equal and more impartial representation at the polls and central counting.
We have an opportunity here to ensure that the voices of all Texan count. And if the Lone Star State leads by example, all Americans can feel their votes matter If, that is, policymakers have the courage to both do the right things, and not do the wrong ones.

TEXAS BOMBSHELL: 5 Texas Energy Commissioners Live Outside of Texas

Jennifer Kerns AAN Headlines, TEXAS

As millions of Texas still sit without power tonight, big questions remain to be answered.
One of them should be: Why does Texas allow its top energy authorities to live outside of the Lone Star State?
Investigators from local TV station KXAN report that a stunning five members of the Electricity Reliability Commission of Texas actually live outside of Texas — far outside, in fact.
Even more stunning is that ERCOT’s top two managers live thousands of miles away from the constituents they serve.
The electricity board’s new Chairman, Sally Talberg, actually lives in Michigan, while its Vice Chairman Peter Cranton lives in Del Mar, California. Cranton also lists one of his other professions as a professor at the University of Cologne in Germany.
At least three other board members who oversee Texas’s electricity grid also live outside of the state — and the country.
One of the board members lives in Maine, another lives in Illinois, and another lives in Canada.
That’s a mighty long way from Texas!
According to ERCOT’s bylaws, it’s not a requirement for board members to live in Texas but it sure seems inappropriate for board members to live thousands of miles away from the residents they serve.
State representatives are looking into the matter.

Texas’s Blackouts Are The Result Of Unreliable ‘Green’ Energy

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As Texans reel from ongoing blackouts at the worst possible time, during a nationwide cold snap that has sent temperatures plummeting to single digits, the news has left people in other states wondering: How could this happen in Texas, the nation’s energy powerhouse?
But policy experts have seen this moment coming for years. The only surprise is that the house of cards collapsed in the dead of winter, not the toasty Texas summers that usually shatter peak electricity demand records.
The blackouts, which have left as many as 4 million Texans trapped in the cold, show the numerous chilling consequences of putting too many eggs in the renewable basket.
Fossil Fuels Aren’t to Blame
There are misleading reports asserting the blackouts were caused by large numbers of natural gas and coal plants failing or freezing. Here’s what really happened: the vast majority of our fossil fuel power plants continued running smoothly, just as they do in far colder climates across the world. Power plant infrastructure is designed for cold weather and rarely freezes, unlike wind turbines that must be specially outfitted to handle extreme cold.
It appears that ERCOT, Texas’s grid operator, was caught off guard by how soon demand began to exceed supply. Failure to institute a managed rolling blackout before the grid frequency fell to dangerously low levels meant some plants had to shut off to protect their equipment. This is likely why so many power plants went offline, not because they had failed to maintain operations in the cold weather.
Yet these operational errors overshadow the decades of policy blunders that made these blackouts inevitable. Thanks to market-distorting policies that favor and subsidize wind and solar energy, Texas has added more than 20,000 megawatts (MW) of those intermittent resources since 2015 while barely adding any natural gas and retiring significant coal generation.
Increased Reliance on Unreliable Renewables
On the whole, Texas is losing reliable generation and counting solely on wind and solar to keep up with its growing electricity demand. I wrote last summer about how ERCOT was failing to account for the increasing likelihood that an event combining record demand with low wind and solar generation would lead to blackouts. The only surprise was that such a situation occurred during a rare winter freeze and not during the predictable Texas summer heat waves.
Yet ERCOT still should not have been surprised by this event, as its own long-term forecasts indicated it was possible, even in the winter. Although many wind turbines did freeze and total wind generation was at 2 percent of installed capacity Monday night, overall wind production at the time the blackouts began was roughly in line with ERCOT forecasts from the previous week.
We knew solar would not produce anything during the night, when demand was peaking. Intermittency is not a technical problem but a fundamental reality when trying to generate electricity from wind and solar. This is a known and predictable problem, but Texas regulators fooled themselves into thinking that the risk of such low wind and solar production at the time it was needed most was not significant.
Special Breaks Helped Cause the Blackouts
The primary policy blunder that made this crisis possible is the lavish suite of government incentives for wind and solar. They guarantee profits to big, often foreign corporations and lead to market distortions that prevent reliable generators from building the capacity we need to keep the lights on when wind and solar don’t show up.
Research by the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Life:Powered project found that more than $80 billion of our tax dollars have been spent on wind and solar subsidies in the last decade, in federal subsidies alone. Texans are also charged an average of $1.5 billion a year in state subsidies for renewable energy.
All that cash hasn’t materially changed our energy landscape. Wind and solar still provide just 4 percent of our energy nationwide. The promise that subsidies would kickstart renewable energy technology remains unmet after more than 40 years.
Renewable advocates will be quick to point out that fossil fuels also receive subsidies from the federal government. That’s partially true, but solar companies receive 75 times more money and wind 17 times more per unit of electricity generated. Nevertheless, the best solution for Texans, and all Americans, would be to eliminate all energy subsidies and allow the free market to drive our energy choices.
As politically popular as wind and solar energy are, no amount of greenwashing can cover up their fundamental unreliability and impracticality for anything other than a supplemental energy source. Yet our government — even in the oil country of Texas, home of Spindletop and the Permian Basin — is designed to incentivize renewable energy projects.
Keep This from Happening Again
This week’s blackouts should be a wakeup call to politicians. Overconfidence in renewables led us uncomfortably close to total grid failure — and when the going gets tough, few things really matter to voters as much as access to electricity. Without it, scrambling for the barest necessities like food, water, and warmth becomes expensive, stressful, and all-consuming.
The consequences are potentially deadly. For all the talk of climate change, cold is far deadlier than heat, responsible for 20 times more deaths. Although the cold itself may not kill you — you might not literally freeze to death — it has devastating potential to exacerbate preexisting conditions and make otherwise minor illnesses life-threatening.
It’s a reality far too many know firsthand, as a recent study found increasing natural gas utility prices led to an increase in wintertime deaths as they force families to choose between putting food on the table and paying the heat bill. In this health-conscious era of the COVID-19 crisis, this should be enough to pause any policy discussion that might inhibit electricity access.
Here’s What to Do
The Texas Legislature, and other states hoping to avoid similar messes, should act decisively to protect our electric grid in a few specific ways. First, they should require all electric generation to be “dispatchable,” or readily available — meaning generators guarantee a certain amount of power will be available at all times. No more should we tolerate wind turbines pumping out a measly 2 percent of their capacity and leaving Texas families in the cold.
Second, they should end subsidies for both renewable and traditional energy sources. Research by the Texas Public Policy Foundation explains extensively the problems with energy subsidies, including distorting markets without improving technology or shifting our energy landscape in the slightest. Rather than wasting tax dollars trying (and failing) to pick winners and losers, lawmakers should allow the free market to work.
Finally, they should work to discourage the discriminatory practice of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing, which prioritizes political correctness over fiduciary duty and places workers’ and retirees’ futures at risk. Texas and several other states will file legislation soon to prohibit companies that boycott or divest from fossil fuels from doing business with the government. It’s a good start to ensure this energy discrimination campaign doesn’t infiltrate state pensions and investments.
Especially in the bitter cold of winter, a life without electricity is a miserable one. It’s unfortunate that years of poor policy choices — coupled with ERCOT’s mismanagement — made this crisis a reality for so many Texans.
Texans learned firsthand the consequences of unreliable renewable energy this week. If their voices are heard, it won’t happen again.

When the Walls Come Tumbling Down

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“The crisis has already begun,” former U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan pointed out during the Texas Public Policy Foundation livestream event, “When the Walls Come Tumbling Down: The Coming Border Crisis.” Morgan joined TPPF Senior Fellow in Border Security Josh Jones and TPPF Executive Director Kevin Roberts to discuss the quickly accelerating impact of the sweeping border security and immigration policy changes that are being made by the new administration in Washington.
Morgan recounted that in 2019, prior to the full implementation of a series of aggressive Trump administration measures such as the Migrant Protection Protocols with Mexico, federal court-ordered restrictions along with loopholes in the U.S. asylum system had forced both his agency and ICE to “catch and release” over half a million unauthorized immigrants into the country. Trump administration measures proven to be effective “are now systematically being undone,” Morgan said.
The new administration, Morgan lamented, has instead chosen to revive the practice of catch and release and “once you’re here illegally they are going to protect you from lawful deportation, and then as you remain here illegally they are going to reward you with an expansion of DACA, amnesty and free health care.”
With the end of the Migrant Protection Protocols and other measures, TPPF’s Josh Jones said it remains to be seen whether Mexico and other governments in the region will continue to collaborate in stopping migrant caravans from heading to the U.S. southwestern border. Jones said the security situation in Mexico continues to deteriorate, with the government there “increasingly unable to protect its people from organized crime. The government is becoming increasingly compromised by organized crime.”
As the Biden administration’s policies effectively reignite the crisis, Morgan said “at some point, the Northern Triangle countries and Mexico are going to say ‘Hey, wait a minute, we’re doing our part, you’re not doing your part’” in stemming the northward flow of potentially millions of additional asylum seekers and unauthorized immigrants from around the world.
Morgan praised Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for his lawsuit, which TPPF supports, challenging the Biden administration’s plan to halt lawful deportations for 100 days. He warned that the new administration appears to be hell-bent on “systematically reducing and removing ICE’s enforcement capabilities.”
As TPPF has also repeatedly recommended, Morgan said it is incumbent on Congress to pass legislation that would supersede the Flores Settlement Agreement, which is what currently mandates the release of unaccompanied foreign national minors after 20 days of detention, a time period which is insufficient to make a final determination on an asylum claim. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008 should be similarly amended by Congress to eliminate the incentive for families from non-contiguous countries to send children across the border unaccompanied.
Both Jones and Morgan emphasized the need for greater use of technology in tunnel detection efforts, as well as more thorough non-intrusive inspections at ports of entry. Jones added that as the Biden administration follows through on its pledge to increase aid to the Northern Triangle countries, that aid should have “strings attached” including improving the enforcement of their own borders. As he also did in a recent National Review article, Jones also emphasized the need for the U.S. government to “get much tougher” with the government of Mexico. Jones said that includes investigating and prosecuting government actors who are protecting the drug cartels.

ERCOT’s “Assessment of Resource Adequacy” Shows Blackout Almost Inevitable

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See the second page of ERCOT’s latest reliability assessment.
Under the top table describing the reserve margins, they have a table labelled “Range of Potential Risks.” Something between the 4th and 5th columns is what happened this week. Add 2,000 MW of demand above ERCOT’s adjustment here (they assumed a record of 67,200 MW) and 10,000 MW from planned thermal outages, likely for maintenance, going into the cold front.
Take out another 1,600-1,900 MW from lower wind production than in the baseline, and reserves are below 2,000 MW. That’s where Texas was Sunday night.
At that point, the reserve margins are running so thin that it only takes a few plants failing to trip the grid as appears to have happened. Large base load thermal plants, once tripped offline, either due to cold or due to the grid going unstable and the plant tripping to protect circuitry, take hours to bring back online, longer in the cold.
ERCOT compounded the error by cutting power to the Permian Basin substations that power the national gas pipelines that feed the power plants, throughput went from 16 billion cubic feet to four, forcing more plants offline.
While there were mistakes made (too many planned outages, running too close to the edge Sunday night), ERCOT’s own planning document suggests this event was almost inevitable.
Demand was forecast to go above 74,000 MW Monday morning and Monday night. Wind production went almost to zero Monday night (650 MW) right when demand would have peaked if not for the blackouts. That’s a 10 GW deficit from where we were Sunday night. Even if Texas had all its thermal plants running like in the summer, the grid still would have collapsed without planned rolling blackouts.
The only way blackouts would have been avoided is if Texas had built 10 GW of gas (or not prematurely retired coal) in the past 5 years instead of building 20 GW of wind and solar.

The Texas Power Outage Started With Bad Policy

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The story of how Texas was brought to its knees by crippling cold weather leaving millions without power is a complex one, yet entirely predictable and avoidable.
The details matter, so it is important to know the long story, but let’s start with the short version: For years, Texas’ grid operator (ERCOT) has overestimated the ability to maintain a reliable grid without a sufficient supply buffer, known as a “reserve margin.” That margin is the difference between demand for electricity and what the grid can produce. When demand exceeds production, you get blackouts. That buffer has been shrinking because reliable sources of energy have been retired, few reliable plants have been constructed, and the grid is depending more and more on weather-dependent renewable energy that repeatedly fails to perform when we need it most.
When wind and solar production predictably dropped as the winter storm hit, the buffer collapsed. ERCOT needed to execute a series of balancing measures that would have protected the grid. But it did not act soon enough, which caused many more gas and some coal power plants in the system to “trip.” (Think of it as a circuit breaker that triggers to prevent a fire or other emergency at your house when there is a system imbalance.) Other weather-related issues caused problems too but ERCOT’s failure to act sooner was a major factor.
Usually, a system trip wouldn’t last long and we’d have power back in a few hours. But this time, many of the units that were tripped off the system had difficulty coming back online for a variety of reasons, including the fact that some were not designed to be taken off and put back on the system quickly, as well as other cold weather issues that exacerbated the problem.
So when people blame ERCOT for not acting quickly, they’re right. And so are the people who say that both renewable energy and fossil energy plants are not generating what they should. But it doesn’t begin there. Our overdependence on unreliable energy that caused the razor thin reserve margins started the ball rolling years ago.
Here’s the long story.
Keeping the power on is a bit of a guessing game played out every day by the grid operator to make sure we have the right mix of energy getting on to the grid. There’s that buffer, the reserve margin, which ERCOT uses to give it some leeway in making moves. As with anything, the more reliable and predictable the source of energy, the better moves ERCOT can make.
However, the race to add in renewables pushed out more reliable forms of energy and kept new reliable energy from being built. That resulted in the buffer in our electric grid being stripped out—going from more than a 20% surplus years ago to single digits in the last couple of years.
Without that buffer, our system has become much more vulnerable to outages when we see extreme heat or extreme cold. The problem is made worse by the fact that renewables have grown to become a significant percentage of our fleet, making our power grid much more susceptible to weather-related shortages. That is because renewables do not show up when we need power the most (high heat, freezing cold, big storms, etc.)
For example, starting on Sunday night through Wednesday, our nearly 32,000 MWs of installed wind capacity was delivering less than 10% of that capacity and, for several key hours of this event, less than 3% of that capacity. Since the blackouts started at night, solar energy wasn’t going to be any help. Still, by mid-day Monday it was only producing about half of its 5,700 MW of installed solar capacity.
On Valentine’s Day, the lack of buffer and predictable failure of wind and solar had ERCOT on alert to do what all system operators do when they anticipate razor-thin reserve margins—they start to implement rolling, temporary outages across the system to keep the level of demand in balance with the level of supply.
This practice of bringing parts of the grid down and back up again in series has been done before, often, and across the country, with success. When done properly, brief power outages are little more than an inconvenience and normalcy is quickly restored. What happened late Sunday night and early Monday morning was that ERCOT waited too long to commence this balancing activity. Add to that some other, not-yet-fully-understood interruptions, the result was an imbalance in the grid that “tripped” large numbers of previously operating gas and coal plants off the system. While technically complex, this “tripping” phenomenon occurs when the system operator allows voltage and frequency in the transmission system to drop too dramatically, thereby triggering safety equipment at the power plants to “trip” off to avoid destroying equipment with an overload.
Because of ERCOT’s errors, among those losing power were many of Texas’ natural gas producers in the Permian Basin, which were then unable to continue providing fuel for the grid, potentially exacerbating the problem.
To be clear, if the Texas grid had more reliable energy available, ERCOT would never have had to start implementing rolling outages. The mistakes it made in not starting soon enough and then subsequently making poor judgments about how to fix the problems they caused would never have happened had we not allowed our system to grow too unreliable to begin with.
Because of the severe cold, when a large number of gas and coal plants were tripped off the system, many had difficulty coming back online. This is a common problem with all power plants—other than a subset of smaller “quick-start plants,” most plants are designed to be running and online all the time. So restarting them takes time, even when the weather is good. On Monday morning, when we had single-digit temperatures and below-zero wind chills (which have persisted to keep things frozen throughout the week), a long list of complications hit the power plants—ranging from frozen gas lines to interrupted gas service to frozen pipes and other equipment. We may find that some of those failures occurred before the “trips,” but the majority of the problems experienced occurred afterward, once the plants went cold because of ERCOT’s mistakes.
Renewables were the dominant factor in why Texas got into this situation to begin with, which led to the need for action by ERCOT, their resulting mistakes, and the problems with getting coal and gas back online. Just pointing the finger at downed gas plants is a bit like steadily replacing the bricks holding your house up with straw and masking tape, and then blaming the chimney when the whole thing collapses.
A final thought: Power plants that use gas, coal and nuclear energy have proven to have extremely high reliability and availability factors (over 99%) over peak conditions in Texas for the past several years. Although extreme cold is more of a challenge for these units than our normal peak—extreme heat—they are still a proven reliable source of energy across the northern parts of our country and across the globe that experience much colder temperatures than we did this week.
Many weatherization improvements were made to the Texas fleet after a 2011 winter peak, and it may be that additional weatherization is called for based on the experiences of this week.
But it is critically important to understand that never before have so many of the Texas units been subjected to the mistakes ERCOT made on February 14-15, which undermined their ability to stay online and to maintain reliable energy’s stellar performance record during peak conditions.
The lessons learned from this utterly predictable episode may lead to more winterization efforts. But we can’t forget that we got here through years of adding unreliable power to the grid, reducing the margin of error for mistakes, and undercutting access to reliable energy.

Here’s How the Texas Energy Grid Fell Short

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Editor’s note: TPPF’s Chuck DeVore breaks down for us exactly what went wrong with the Texas power grid—and why so many of us have been without power in this week’s epic winter storm.
There were two problems, one short term and one long term—which exacerbated the short-term one.
The short-term failure came at about 1 a.m. Monday when ERCOT should have seen the loads soaring due to plummeting temperatures, and arranged for more generation.
Texas came very close to having a system-wide outage for the whole state (in the ERCOT area, about 85% of the state) due to not arranging for more generation.
This tripped the grid, knocking some reliable thermal plants (gas and coal) offline. This was a failure of the grid operator (ERCOT) not the power plants.
In the last four to five years, Texas lost a net of 3,000 megawatts of thermal out of a total installed capacity 73,000 megawatts today.
We lost the thermal power because operators couldn’t see a return on investment due to be undercut by wind and solar, which is cheap for two reasons—it’s subsidized and it doesn’t have to pay for the costs of grid reliability by purchasing battery farms or contracting with gas peaker plants to produce power when needed, not when they can.
Meanwhile, Texas has seen a growth of 20,000 megawatts of wind and solar over the same period to a total of 34,000 megawatts of installed capacity statewide, though they rarely perform anywhere close to capacity.
Wind and solar, with state and federal subsidies, have pushed reliable thermal operators out of business or prevented new generation from being built as operators can’t make money off of the market.
This reduced the capacity margin—grids must have excess capacity to ensure stability.
Texas is now experiencing what California deals with on a regular basis—unreliable power.

Correcting the Record: Why Texas’ Blackouts Occurred

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The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Life:Powered project released the following statement clarifying the causes of the blackouts across Texas this week:
While Texas attempts to identify the causes of the tragic blackouts this week and the sources of mismanagement, it’s clear that poor policy decisions are the root of the problem. Texas has lost significant fossil fuel generation capacity over the past several years and instead counted on nearly 20,000 MW of new wind and solar generation to satisfy steadily rising electricity demand. It has been known for years that a weather event combining low wind and solar production and record demand could lead to blackouts. This week, that event became reality as new wind and solar generation failed to produce when it was needed the most.
As temperatures dropped further Sunday night and electricity demand started rising, wind generation also began to drop, eventually bottoming out at 2% of installed capacity last night. Preliminary data indicates conservation measures and rolling outages were not initiated quickly enough. Contrary to numerous false reports that coal and natural gas plants were also “frozen,” almost all those reliable generators were operating without interruption until this system failure, just as they do in much colder climates all over the world.
This situation could have been avoided had ERCOT acted more swiftly — but it never would have been an issue had our grid not been so deeply penetrated by renewable energy sources that contribute the least when they are needed the most, yet are propped up by billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies every year.
That’s why the Texas Public Policy Foundation has made it a priority in our Liberty Action Agenda to develop a market-based system that would require all electric generators to guarantee a certain amount of “dispatchable,” or readily available, power available to the grid at all times. We look forward to working with the Texas Legislature to preserve Texans’ access to affordable, reliable electricity no matter the weather.
“As this week’s power outages developed, the prevailing narrative devolved further and further from the facts,” said TPPF’s Kevin Roberts. “It’s been a hard few days for Texans, many of whom are still cold and hungry. It is not an overstatement to say, unfortunately, that terrible policy decisions and poor management thereafter will cost some Texans their lives. There are hard days still to come, but it’s our hope that these events are a wakeup call to those in power that energy is not just important to our economy, but an integral part of our survival.”
To view all energy-related proposals in the Liberty Action Agenda, click here.

Safe and Warm? Thank Fossil Fuels

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Punxsutawney Phil wasn’t kidding when he predicted six more weeks of winter. As most of the nation plunges into a bitter cold snap — with temperatures falling into the unheard-of single digits in Texas — we have fossil fuels to thank for keeping Texans warm and safe. For now, anyway.
This week, as the state and nation are blanketed in ice, we can expect most of our wind turbines to be still and solar panels to produce little to no electricity. Texas energy experts are projecting wind to produce, at most, 10% of its generating capacity.
Fortunately, our abundant natural gas and clean coal power plants can be ramped up to meet our power needs at any time. Without this consistent source of electricity, the consequences could be disastrous. Even Germany, while noisily and aggressively pursuing a 100% renewable energy agenda, is quietly grateful for fossil fuels keeping the heat on.
Though renewable energy activists will point to utility-scale battery storage as the turnkey solution to keep our heaters on when the wind isn’t blowing and sun isn’t shining, the technology remains impractical and expensive.
A study by the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Life:Powered project found that Texas would need more than 2 million MWh of energy storage to cover the needs of a 100% renewable grid during an average Texas winter. Even as statewide battery storage capacity will soar to 1,900 MW by 2025, that’s still only 0.4% of Texas’ power needs. That’s a lot of families left in the cold.
Losing power is more than an inconvenience. A recent study by Northwestern University researchers found that increasing natural gas prices lead to increasing deaths in the wintertime. When utility bills become unaffordable, families struggling to make ends meet are forced to choose between keeping their house warm and more pressing needs like putting food on the table or refilling essential prescriptions. Being trapped in the cold is not only uncomfortable, but also increases risk of illness and exacerbates preexisting conditions that weaken resilience against disease.
As President Biden continues his crusade against our affordable, reliable energy resources, Texans should stand firm in defense of the Texas-made fuels keeping us warm, cozy, and safe this winter.

PIA Response from the City of San Marcos on Mermaid-Related Expenses

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Upon news that the city of San Marcos could soon be officially designated as “the mermaid capital of Texas,” the Texas Public Policy Foundation submitted the following Public Information Act request:
“Please provide a list of mermaid-related expenses in fiscal year 2020. City expenditures may include (but are not limited to): marketing, advertising, public art, parades, repair, etc. Include all expenditures irrespective of fund type.”
In response, city officials provided the information below, which covers a wide range of mermaid-related activities and expenses—much of which unfolded during difficult economic times and widespread joblessness.

Mark Cuban ‘Experimented’ With Cancelling the National Anthem

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Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is worth an estimated $4.3 billion. The team’s players have salaries ranging from $449,114 to $29 million for star Kristaps Porzingis. Yet the team ceased opening its games with the National Anthem for several weeks, in what Cuban later said was an experiment.
He has said not because they don’t love the U.S; rather, it’s because many feel the anthem “doesn’t represent them.”
The NBA quickly came out with a statement saying that all teams would be required to play the National Anthem; Cuban responded that the Mavericks would comply.
This is the rotten fruit of identity politics and racial division. As much as any other national symbol, the National Anthem unites—and represents—us all. Its message is martial, but not divisive. Penned by a captive American aboard a British warship in the War of 1812, the song is about an external threat and American steadfastness.
Where intersectional wokeness gets it all wrong is in refusing the see the good as well as the bad in our history. We can do both; we can acknowledge our nation’s shortcomings, but also recognize that nowhere else, in the history of the world, can someone like Cuban, the son of an automobile upholsterer, create a company like Broadcast.com and then sell it for billions.
It’s not about the wealth, of course. But it is about the opportunity. It’s also about the unity so many on the left are calling for, even as they take divisive stands on things like the National Anthem.
They’ve forgotten the point of that other national symbol, our motto: E Pluribus Unum—out of many one.
They’ve forgotten, too, that other grand experiment—the United States itself. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, a nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

NEW: Poll Finds Most Texans Oppose Tax Dollars for Lobbyists

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Yesterday, the Foundation released a new poll of 800+ registered voters, conducted by WPA Intelligence between Feb. 2 – 4, 2021, that asked Texans whether local governments should spend tax money to hire lobbyists. The poll’s findings mirror results from a similar survey conducted in 2019.
Here’s the major takeaway:
Texans overwhelmingly oppose allowing tax dollars to fund lobbyists, with 86% saying the practice should end and only 7% who believe it should stay.
That’s right, about 9 in 10 Texans oppose tax dollars going to lobbyists. The huge margin speaks volumes, though it’s not terribly surprising considering that the publicly-funded practice enables higher taxes, more spending, and bigger government. Texans want their tax dollars to go toward police and potholes, not well-heeled lobbyists.
It’s good to see that, even in today’s trying times, there are still some issues that everyone can agree on. Like putting a stop to using tax dollars to fund lobbyists.