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Tom Pauken

Susan Criss to file in HD23

Some excellent news from the inbox, via Carl Whitmarsh:

Susan Criss

For fifteen years I was honored to wear a black robe for the people of Galveston County. Four times I raised my hand and swore, so help me God, to faithfully execute the duties of the office of the 212th District Court of Galveston County, Texas and to the best of my ability protect, preserve and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of Texas.

While I dearly love this job it is time for me to serve my community in a different capacity. In order to do that I am required by law to resign from this position before December 9, 2013. I sent a letter to Governor Perry resigning from this bench effective at 5 pm December 6, 2013. I ask that he appoint someone to fill this term.

On Sunday December 8, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. I will file for the office of State Representative of District 23 at the Texas Democratic Party office in Austin.

For a decade and a half I administered justice to the best of my ability. I tried to be fair to everyone who appeared before my bench. When I was a young prosecutor Judge Raymond Magee told me that the man who drives to the courthouse in a pickup truck deserves the same justice as the man who drove there in a Cadillac. I never forgot his words and aspired to live up to them every day.

I was addressed as “Your Honor”. That was an appropriate term but not because I was special. It truly was my greatest honor to be able to serve the people of Galveston County in our justice system. I loved this job, the people I worked with, the lawyers who appeared before me and the people I served.

One sign on the door of my courtroom reads “This court belongs to the people.” The other has a quote by Sam Houston, “Do right and risk the consequences.” Both signs reflect my beliefs about justice and about government service.

The pink granite building in Austin also belongs to the people, the ones who drive Cadillacs, the ones who drive pickup trucks and the ones who cannot drive at all.

The people of District 23 deserve strong effective representation in the Texas House. I am excited about working hard to ensure that District 23’s voices are heard in Austin

She also posted that on her Facebook wall, along with that badass picture embedded above. I had wondered if anyone had filed in HD23, and I’m delighted to see a positive answer to that. Retaining this seat that’s being vacated by Rep. Craig Eiland will not be easy, but Judge Criss is as strong a candidate as one could want to make the effort. The Chron has picked up the story, and PDiddie was on it before that.

In other filing news, we have a couple more contested primaries in Harris County. An Azuwuike Okorafor, who may be this attorney, has filed to challenge Rep. Alma Allen in HD131. Allen easily turned back a campaign by Council Member Wanda Adams in 2012, so barring anything unexpected I don’t think this time will be any different. Also, a Lily Leal, who may be this person, filed to run for HCDE Trustee At Large Position 7, which is the seat formerly held by Jim Henley for which 2012 SBOE candidate Traci Jensen filed earlier in the period.

Democrats now also have a candidate for County Judge. Unfortunately, that candidate is Ahmad Hassan, the former Republican (he ran against Sheila Jackson Lee in 2006) who ran for County Judge in 2008 and 2010, losing in each primary to David Mincberg and Gordon Quan, respectively. He’s a perfectly nice person but has no real qualifications for this job or understanding of what it is – give a listen to the interview I did with him in 2010 to see what I mean. I don’t think there’s much appetite among Dems to run against incumbent County Judge Ed Emmett, and I can’t blame them – Emmett is generally well-liked, very well-funded, and was easily the top Republican votegetter both times he was on the ballot. I think 2014 is more likely to be a good year in Harris County than not, and while I expect Ed Emmett to run ahead of the GOP pack, it’s certainly possible he could lose. If he lost to a Mincberg or a Quan that would be one thing. Losing to Hassan would not be a good thing, and would invite comparisons to Jim Foster. This is one primary race that I would very much prefer to be a contested race.

Elsewhere, Trail Blazers confirms that LaRouchie wacko Kesha Rogers has indeed filed to run for the Senate. I will reiterate what I said yesterday that it’s everyone’s job to make sure she doesn’t make it to a runoff, let alone wins the nomination. Ignorance cannot be an excuse, y’all. BOR reports that the Democrats “will indeed be fielding several statewide judicial candidates, who are in the process of gathering the signatures required to run”. I have heard that El Paso District Court Judge Bill Moody was running again, and I had heard there were at least some other Supreme Court candidates out there, but that’s all I know. No clue whether we’ll have any CCA candidates. Finally, Tom Pauken has ended his quest for the GOP gubernatorial nomination on the very reasonable grounds that he had no chance of winning. I can’t claim to have been a fan, but it was better to have more critics of Greg Abbott out there, so to that extent I’m sorry to see him go. Texpatriate has more.

UT/TT poll has Davis trailing Abbott by five

I know today is Election Day 2013, but for better or worse much of the attention lately has been about the 2014 elections. Filing season begins later this week, and we now have a new poll result suggesting that the Governor’s race starts out as a close one.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for Texas governor, holds a single-digit lead over the likely Democratic nominee, state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

In a head-to-head race, Abbott got 40 percent of registered voters to Davis’ 34 percent, with 25 percent of the voters undecided. In a three-way general election, he would get 40 percent, Davis would get 35 percent and Libertarian Kathie Glass would get 5 percent.

“What you’ve got is a race in which, for the first time in a long time, the Democrat is as well-known as the Republican at the outset of the race,” said poll co-director Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.

“These numbers are not evidence that the underlying fundamentals are changing in Texas,” said Jim Henson, who co-directs the poll and heads the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “We have not seen a big change in party identification, and we don’t see any large-scale shifts in the underlying attitudes that are forming.”


Davis holds a lead over [Tom] Pauken in a potential head-to-head race, according to the survey, getting 38 percent to his 34 percent, with 28 percent undecided. When Glass was added to that mix, Davis got 36 percent, Pauken 33 percent and Glass 6 percent, with 25 percent undecided.

The poll methodology is here and the summary is here. I believe this is the first venture by UT and the Trib into the Governor’s race. Public Policy Polling will be doing Texas this week, so we’ll have another result to compare this to. PPP had done earlier polls involving both Abbott and Rick Perry against a variety of potential candidates; PPP had Abbott over Davis 48-40 in July, shortly after the famous filibuster, and Abbott over Davis 46-34 in January. We’ll see what they have this time.

A couple of things are clear. One is that unlike previous elections, this one starts out with two candidates that are about as well known as the other. One wonders when Abbott will start dipping into his gazillions of dollars to start blanketing the airwaves with positive messages about himself and negative ones about Davis. For her part, Davis can jump in anytime and start running issue ads herself. She probably doesn’t need as much of an introduction as Abbott does, which is more than a little weird when you think about it. The situation overall is pretty fluid, with Abbott having a few points’ partisan advantage, but not enough of one to feel comfortable.

Obviously, this is a decent result for a lot of reasons, but let me play the wet blanket here for a minute and stomp down on some excessive exuberance.

Do you wanna know when was the last time a Democrat in Texas started within single digits? I don’t know either so it had to be while the earth was cooling.

Actually, the last time a Democrat in Texas was within single digits in the Governor’s race was 2010. PPP had Bill White tied with Rick Perry in June 2010, and trailing 48-42 in February. Rasmussen had Perry over White 49-43 in March, right after the primary, and up 50-40 in January, which was the first poll for that race. Yes, that was a two-digit lead, but still. For many reasons, I don’t believe 2014 will be like 2010, I just want to point out that we have seen encouraging poll results before. Let’s not believe we’ve won anything just yet.

Again, this is a decent result, but it’s just one result and it’s early. We’ll need to keep an eye on the trend, and see if Davis can make gains. In particular, we need to see if she can get past 42 or 43 percent, regardless of what that makes the difference between her and Abbott. I don’t think I’ve seen any Dem top 44% in a poll in the last decade. That will be the test.

There were other races polled as well, mostly Republican primary races.

Davis is the only Democrat in the race right now, but Abbott faces a five-candidate Republican primary. According to the poll, he would win that primary race handily: Half of the Republicans polled said they would vote for Abbott. His opponents — Lisa Fritsch, Tom Pauken, Miriam Martinez and Larry Kilgore — combined for only 8 percent, while 42 percent said they haven’t decided how they would vote in the GOP primary.


“I’m a little surprised that Pauken is so nowhere,” Shaw said. “I thought he would be the main challenger, and he may well be, but there’s nothing in the data to suggest that.”

I didn’t think much of this, but via PDiddie, I see that Harvey Kronberg did think it was.

The stunner in today’s Texas Tribune poll was not that Wendy Davis is within shouting distance of Greg Abbott in a general election, but that with all his money and name ID among Republican primary voters, he just hits 50%. One wobble and he could be in an unpredictable and volatile runoff where anything could happen.

Honestly, I wouldn’t read that much into it. It’s known Abbott isn’t universally known even among Republicans. But look, he’s at 50%, and his opponents don’t even add up to five. I don’t see him as being in any danger of a runoff, unlike David Dewhurst or Big John Cornyn, who couldn’t crack 40% even without the wingnut David Barton in the race. Cornyn’s been busy campaigning already; I wouldn’t let up if I were him. BOR, Texpatriate, Texas Leftist, and Burka have more.

Abbott’s mushy launch

For a guy who’s supposed to be The Chosen One to succeed Rick Perry, Greg Abbott’s formal campaign launch has been remarkably substance-free.

How Greg Abbott views the process, without the wildebeest stampede

Who needs policies when you have destiny?

With his wife and daughter standing near, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott kicked off his campaign for governor Sunday in San Antonio’s sun-drenched La Villita plaza, where he promised to fight for a Texas of “boundless opportunity and limitless imagination.”

At this first stop on a whirlwind tour of 10 cities over the next five days, Abbott hit the highlights of his political career. He touted his defense of religious displays in public areas, his prosecution of child predators, his opposition to abortion and his history of fighting “overreaching” government in the courtroom.

“When it comes to our freedom and our future, I will never, I will never, stop fighting,” Abbott declared. “That’s why I’m asking you — the people of Texas — to elect me as your next governor.”

Abbott, 55, strayed away from policy specifics, sticking instead to broad rhetorical strokes and weaving elements of his biography into his conservative vision for state government.

“The future of Texas demands better education, safer communities and smarter government,” Abbott said. “The children of Texas deserve it, and we will deliver it.”


“Government is supposed to be on your side — not riding your backs,” Abbott said.

Abbott also proposed reining in state debt by “reducing the amount the state can borrow.”

“Together, we can prioritize that we need the most,” he said. “Our water supplies are going too low. You know by traveling the highway that our traffic congestion is getting too thick, and our schools must do better. We can solve those problems not by raising taxes, but by right-sizing government and putting real limits on spending in Austin, Texas.”

Abbott also promised to make “skyrocketing tuition a thing of the past” and said he would usher in “a new era of education reform.”

“We already have a 21st-century economy,” he said. “Now we need a 21st-century education system.” With little meat in the policy proposals, though, it was hard to say whether Abbott would represent Perry 2.0 or more of a clean break.

It’s not just mushy, it’s basically incoherent. We’re gonna improve our schools, build more roads, and enhance our water infrastructure, all by cutting taxes and reducing spending. Does he actually believe that stuff, or does he just think that Republican primary voters believe it? Hell, even the Legislature doesn’t believe that. Was he even paying attention to this legislative session?

After the opening event, Abbott took his show on the road where he avoided talking about Rick Perry, emphasized the fact that he married a lady whose mother was Mexican, which thus means he understands “diversity”, and tried to muddle his stance on abortion, not that anyone with two brain cells to rub together ought to be fooled, and tried to claim that he has empathy for the common folk, if you don’t count the six million or so people that he’s worked so hard to ensure remain without health insurance. In short, a whole lot of nothing.

Look, I realize it’s early days and no one is paying attention to details right now. But even as big picture visions go, this is laughably sparse. At the very least, as the Trib story notes, is he going to be four more years of Rick Perry, or does he intend to be something different? If it’s the latter, in what way does he intend to be different? I realize that talking about all of the things Rick Perry does that Greg Abbott would undo or do differently might be a bit awkward and might possibly hurt Perry’s feelings, but no one ever said being Governor would be easy. I figure Tom Pauken has to be looking at this and saying to himself “oh, please debate me, please please please debate me”. I hope any Democrat that might be thinking about running for Governor is thinking the same thing.

No “divine right of succession”

I wish you well with that argument, Tom.

How Greg Abbott views the process, without the wildebeest stampede

How Greg Abbott views the process, without the wildebeest stampede

For those who are already declaring that Attorney General Greg Abbott will be Gov. Rick Perry’s successor, former Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken has a clear message.

“This idea that there’s a divine right of succession, I challenge it and thoroughly,” the gubernatorial candidate said Tuesday in a Capitol news conference. “This is a real battle for the soul of the Republican Party between the outsiders and the people that feel they don’t have a real voice in Austin.”

At his news conference, Pauken also took aim at the state’s school finance system and its budget, saying that as governor, he would take decisive action to make both more efficient. He also declared himself a candidate for all of Texas, not just those who have enough money to pay for lobbyists at the state Capitol. Pauken said his proven track record of listening to the issues and doing something about them will make him stand out among his opponents.

So far, Pauken, who announced his candidacy in March, is the only declared GOP candidate in the 2014 race to succeed Perry, who announced Monday that he would not seek re-election. Although Abbott has not declared his candidacy for the position, speculation has run rampant that he will throw his hat in the ring and become the instant favorite.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Pauken said he is running on authentic conservative principles, criticizing the “pretend conservatism” that he says many in Texas have adopted.

“It’s not a conservatism of the heart, it’s not a conservatism that takes the fight to the left that lays out here’s what we’re going to do,” Pauken said of the philosophy he opposes. “It’s taking the easy road of reading polls, seeing what the base wants to hear and giving them that.”

Pauken said that real conservatives listen to regular people, not just those who have enough money to pay for lobbyists. Conservatives are serious about ideas and solving problems, not just saying what people want to hear, Pauken said.

Yeah, good luck with that. I’m pretty sure that Abbott’s campaign, to whatever extent that he bothers to run one, will be hagiographic videos and “ME HATE OBAMA” chest-thumping. The over/under for his percentage in the GOP primary is set at 75 right now. Tom Pauken is hardly my idea of a good Governor, but to the extent that he actually has ideas and wants to Do Something about the real-world problems that Texas faces, he’s about a billion times better than Abbott. And it won’t do him a damn bit of good. Trail Blazers has more.

Perry will not run for re-election

There’s your big announcement.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Wants to spend more time with corndogs

Gov. Rick Perry announced Monday that he will not run for re-election next year, creating the first open race for Texas governor since 1990 and making Attorney General Greg Abbott the instant favorite to replace him.

“I remain excited about the future and the challenges ahead, but the time has come to pass on the mantle of leadership,” Perry said. “Today I am announcing I will not seek re-election as governor of Texas. I will spend the next 18 months working to create more jobs, opportunity and innovation. I will actively lead this great state.”

Abbott hasn’t formally said what job he wants, but with the biggest war chest in Texas politics and a growing staff to match, his ambition for the top job in state government is not a secret. And Perry’s exit from the statewide stage after nearly a quarter century doesn’t necessarily end his political ambition. He has said previously he will make his decision about a White House bid before the end of this year; Perry said on Monday that he’d continue to pray on it.


No matter how much Perry involves himself in the matter of state government during his remaining months in office, Monday marks the start of a new era — with new personalities — in Texas politics.

Below him, in races for lieutenant governor, comptroller, attorney general and other offices, years of pent-up ambition have been unleashed. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is trying to hang on, but his defeat in the U.S. Senate race last year, and a long list of opponents who want his job, will make for a tough re-election race. Comptroller Susan Combs is bowing out after two terms, and a host of other statewide officials are trying to move up the food chain.

Abbott stands to gain the most from Perry’s departure from the race. Because they are both staunch fiscal and social conservatives and share many of the same donors, they would have faced a high-stakes battle for the nomination had they faced off against each other. Republican Tom Pauken, a former Perry appointee to the Texas Workforce Commission, is in the governor’s race but faces an uphill climb.

Another candidate could yet emerge, but with nine months to go before the March primaries, Abbott is sitting pretty.

For such big news, I have very little to say. Perry has been a disaster as Governor, but as things stand now we’re hardly likely to do any better going forward. Policy hasn’t been a priority in this state since at least the first Bush term, and boy howdy, making Dubya look like a wonk is a hell of a thing. I suppose he could run for President again, but frankly I expect him to hop on the wingnut welfare wagon and cash in as soon as he reasonably can. We finally have a closing date for the Rick Perry Era, and I’m glad for that, but barring anything unexpected at this time his style of governance will still be around for the foreseeable future. Robert Miller, the Observer, Jason Stanford, Socratic Gadfly, PDiddie, Texpatriate, BOR, Political Animal, Erica Greider and EoW have more.

The politics of refusing Medicaid expansion

Ron Brownstein posits that by his stubborn and increasingly isolated resistance to Medicaid expansion, including via the Arkansas option, Rick Perry is putting Republicans in electoral danger in Texas. Brownstein runs through the economic arguments and touches on the legislative action so far, then gets to the big finish:

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Rejecting the federal money might not pose an immediate political threat to Texas Republicans, whose coalition revolves around white voters responsive to small-government arguments. But renouncing the money represents an enormous gamble for Republicans with the growing Hispanic community, which is expected to approach one-third of the state’s eligible voters in 2016. Hispanics would benefit most from expansion because they constitute 60 percent of the state’s uninsured. A jaw-dropping 3.6 million Texas Hispanics lack insurance.

Texas Democrats are too weak to much affect the Medicaid debate. But if state Republicans reject federal money that could insure 1 million or more Hispanics, they could provide Democrats with an unprecedented opportunity to energize those voters—the key to the party’s long-term revival. With rejection, says Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas, Republicans “would dig themselves into an even deeper hole with the Hispanic community.”

In 1994, California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson mobilized his base by promoting Proposition 187, a ballot initiative to deny services to illegal immigrants. He won reelection that year—and then lost the war as Hispanics stampeded from the GOP and helped turn the state lastingly Democratic. Texas Republicans wouldn’t be threatened as quickly, but they may someday judge their impending decision on expanding Medicaid as a similar turning point.

Color me less than overwhelmed. I agree that Perry’s intransigence is a dilemma for the Republicans in the Legislature and at local levels that want to get something done, and I certainly agree that Democrats should hammer him for it. I’m sure Battleground Texas would love to start off the 2014 election season with a Democratic base that’s already fired up and ready to vote on this. But that sort of motivation can work for both sides, and if it becomes a matter of tribal identity then all the rational arguments go out the window. A more interesting question is whether Perry’s strident opposition would affect Greg Abbott’s candidacy if Perry steps aside. Abbott is of course as violently opposed to all things related to the Affordable Care Act as Perry is, but he’s just not as visible. As we saw in 2010 and 2006, there’s a not-insignificant number of Republicans willing to vote against Perry in a November election. I presume most of them would switch back for Abbott, and it’s not clear to me if this issue would affect Abbott in any significant way. Maybe Tom Pauken can stir things up by being Mister Pragmatic and making a play for the Ed Emmett types – it’s a longshot strategy to say the least, but he’s not going to out-wingnut either Perry or Abbott, so what the hell. It would undoubtedly help him if Republicans would figure out just what it is they want out of a Medicaid deal, but there is time for that.

Anyway. I just don’t know how this plays out. Among other things, the Dems need to find a credible candidate for Governor who can make the case that Perry and Abbott’s obstruction is hurting the state. Without that, this is all so much trivia. Ed Kilgore and Burka have more.

Pauken for Governor

We have our first official non-fringe candidate for Governor next year.

Tom Pauken

Saying he hoped to reunite the “Reagan coalition of social and economic conservatives,” former Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken confirmed to the Tribune that he will file to run for governor in 2014.

“I like [Gov.] Rick Perry. I like [Attorney General] Greg Abbott,” said Pauken, a former chairman of the Texas Republican Party who also worked in the Reagan administration. “I don’t know what they’re going to do. One or both may run. I’m going to run on issues.”

Pauken’s intention to run for governor was first reported by The Dallas Morning News.

He touted his recent work building support for education reform and emphasizing the importance of vocational training.

“On issues where there’s common ground, let’s bring Texans together,” he said.

Pauken said he wants to get a group together to look at the school finance system, which he said needs an overhaul. “We have a flawed Robin Hood system that was flawed from the beginning,” he said. “It hasn’t gotten better. It’s gotten worse.”

He said the state needed to focus its attention to essential services, such as its transportation infrastructure. He also said Texas needs to become less reliant on high property taxes, and he indicated that he is a strong proponent of term limits for statewide politicians.

“I also think there’s too much crony capitalism out there,” he said. “I think that’s a problem at the federal level, but I think it’s also a problem at the state level.”

Pauken has occasionally been a force for good, and he’s occasionally been a force for bad, which nevertheless gives him a higher batting average than either of the two main as-yet-unannounced contenders. What he’s saying here sounds altogether too reasonable to have any traction with the seething masses of the GOP primary electorate. I’m really hard-pressed to imagine a scenario in which he comes out on top of either Perry or Abbott. I have no idea why he thinks he can win – maybe he’s rooting for Perry to step away and Abbott to stay put. Who knows? Anyway, good luck, and watch out for the Pauken-mentum.

Pauken responds to Hammond

Tom Pauken responds to Bill Hammond on the subject of school accountability.

Hammond encourages us to “stay the course” of the existing high-stakes testing system and “4×4” curriculum that have come to dominate public education in Texas. Implicit in this expensive testing system (the cost to Texas taxpayers is an estimated $450 million over a five-year period) and the 4×4 curriculum is the idea that everyone should be prepared to go to a four-year university. I call it the “one-size-fits-all” approach to education, which doesn’t acknowledge that students have different talents and interests. The current system clearly isn’t working all that well to prepare students to be “college ready.” And it is doing a particularly poor job for those students who would benefit from a greater emphasis on career and technical education at the high school level.

So why should we “stay the course” of an overly prescriptive curriculum and a high-stakes testing system that haven’t delivered on its promises since they were first put in place in the mid-1990s? Rather than acknowledging that this state-mandated system isn’t working, the response from the defenders of the status quo is to roll out a new test, make a few changes to the accountability system and promise everything will be better if we just give it a chance to work. That’s what they said when TAAS became TAKS, and that’s what they are saying now that TAKS is becoming STAAR.

What can we do to inject some common sense into the discussion on education policy? We need multiple pathways to a high school diploma — pathways that reflect student goals. Every student should get the basics. Then, for those students wanting to go on to a university, there would be a college preparatory curriculum with emphasis on math and science, or one that focuses on humanities and the fine arts. There would be a career-oriented curriculum for students so inclined which would prepare them with an industry-certified license or credential by the time they graduate from high school.

I fully support holding schools accountable. But the current system does not hold schools accountable for successfully educating and preparing students; rather, it makes them beholden to performance on a single test. Success and accountability can be measured in a variety of ways.

Pauken’s piece is a response to one that Hammond wrote, which may or may not have been in response to a column by Patti Hart, which continues a debate that flared up after Hammond and the Texas Association of Business threatened to take school finance hostage if they didn’t get their way. As I’ve said before, I agree with Pauken, and I’m not really sure why this is even controversial. But apparently this is how we do things these days.

Hammond pushes back on Pauken

After I read Patti Hart’s column about Tom Pauken and his anti-standardized testing quest, I noted the absence of a mention of uber-testing advocate Bill Hammond. Hammond has no trouble talking about Pauken, however.

Tom Pauken, former chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission, said in The Texas Tribune that he wants to change the state’s new accountability system because somehow that will help youngsters get technical jobs. He is wrong.

We do indeed need to get more youngsters ready for all sorts of jobs, including those in technical and manufacturing fields. But it is the old system that has failed to prepare students for both college and career. That is why we passed House Bill 3, legislation that has led to standards, testing and accountability that align perfectly with getting young people ready for the full spectrum of good jobs and opportunity. Give the change a chance to work, please!

Readers of the Tribune also have seen the views of a professor who opposes accountability. Based upon opinions with no grounding in peer review or published research, Walter Stroup attacked the theory behind state testing. It turns out that the theory he attacked has been established in research for more than 50 years, used in the best assessments in the world and designed to be sure that the tests are unbiased and fair. The tests, it turns out, are indeed quite sensitive to learning the state’s fine new standards.

In the face of all of the naysayers, we must stay the course. But staying the course does not mean that our new reforms are perfect. If there are tweaks that are needed, let us make them. If there are transitions that are needed, let us have those transitions. Business and civic leaders must listen to and work with educators who are ready to take responsibility and move forward with a proper implementation of these policies.

Testing now! Testing forever! Insert macho rallying cry here! Woo hoo!

Well, I guess that appeals to some people. Personally, I think we could do with a little reflection, and a little more balance. But I’m just a guy with two kids in the public schools. What do I know?

Pauken on testing

Patricia Kilday Hart has a conversation with Texas Workforce Commission Chair Tom Pauken about testing and accountability in public schools.

Tom Pauken

As a Texas Workforce Commissioner, Pauken has spent a lot of time studying whether our public school system prepares an educated workforce.

His conclusion? The focus on college-prep and testing has, well, “left behind” kids who would be better served earning an industrial certificate that would snag them a good job with a middle-class income.

Right now, “Help Wanted” signs across Texas beg for trained workers in welding, machinist, electrical or commercial trucking fields. But our college-centered school system – measured incessantly by tests – isn’t producing an adequate pool of applicants.

“I don’t think this teaching to the test benefits anyone,” said Pauken. “It is taking away from learning.”

Does every student need to be college ready? “We need multiple pathways to high school education,” he said. One pathway would be getting ready for college; another would be “career-oriented, with an emphasis on an industrial credential.”

Students who aren’t inclined to pursue college simply give up and drop out of school, Pauken says.

“It’s self-defeating. There are blue-collar jobs out there,” said Pauken. And more to come soon: “The average age of a welder is 50. This is a huge opportunity for young people, and it pays well.”

Pauken hopes to persuade the Texas Legislature to make sweeping changes to our education system when it meets in January – beginning with the acknowledgement that some students are not well-served by a strictly college-prep curriculum.

I agree with what Pauken says about the need for more vocational education, a subject he discusses at greater length in this Statesman editorial. I daresay most people would agree with that, and with the idea that there ought to be more than one pathway to educational success. I’ve interviewed a lot of candidates for various offices and asked them questions about public education and college readiness and standardized testing, and I’ve yet to hear one say that we need less vocational education. If Pauken has a strategy to achieve his stated goals then more power to him. I’m wondering what his plan is to overcome accountability absolutists like Bill Hammon and TAB, as they are unlikely to back off their no-retreat-on-testing stance. I wish Hart had explored that in her column, since it is potentially a critical story line for the 2013 Lege, but I suppose we’ll hear plenty about it before all is said and done. EoW has more.

TAB takes a hostage

Can’t say I’m surprised by this tactic.

Leaders in the business community said Wednesday that they would not stand for increased funding for education if it came with any rollback of accountability standards in Texas public schools.

“If we are going to remain competitive in the world’s market, we are going to have to have an educated workforce. We do not have one today,” said Bill Hammond, the president of the Texas Association of Business. “We will vigorously oppose additional money for the public school system unless and until we are certain that the current accountability system is going to be maintained.”

The Capitol news conference, held by the Texas Coalition for a Competitive Workforce, comes as the standardized testing that is the backbone of the state accountability system is facing considerable backlash from parents, educators and lawmakers.


Wednesday, members of the workforce coalition — which includes groups influential in the Legislature like the Texas Association of Business, Texas Institute for Education Reform, Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Texas Business Leadership Council (formerly the Governor’s Business Council) — made clear they would not support any kind of tweaks to the system that was established by House Bill 3 in 2009. An attempt by outgoing House Public Education chairman Rob Eissler to do just that during the last legislative session failed with the opposition of the business community.

“Before this landmark piece of legislation, HB3, is even fully implemented, we have people who want to roll it back and go back to fight the old wars about teaching to the test and all these other myths that are out there,” said Jim Windham, chairman of Texas Institute for Education Reform.

They argued that the existing system is the only way to ensure taxpayers know their money is being well spent.

“STAAR testing is an excellent step towards ensuring that the state’s education dollars are being directed into the classroom so that college- and workforce-ready students emerge from Texas public schools,” said James Golsan, an education policy analyst for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank.

To be blunt, these guys are full of it. The TPPF thinks we spend too much on education to begin with, and TAB is about as likely to support any measure that would actually increase revenue for education as Rick Perry is. Saying they’ll oppose an increase in funding for public education unless their demands are met is like Willie Sutton saying he’ll oppose the hiring of more police officers unless those pesky bank robbery laws get repealed.

On a more general note, I don’t understand the single-minded focus on the STAAR tests. Everyone wants accountability, and everyone wants students to graduate having received a good, comprehensive, useful education, but why in the world must we believe that STAAR tests are the only way to achieve that? I agree with this:

Dineen Majcher, an Austin lawyer whose daughter will be a sophomore at Anderson High School next fall, said she was offended by the insinuation that parents are being led around by superintendents.

“We are smart enough to see what that system is and is not doing and we can perfectly understand on our own that it is a badly flawed system that needs to be fixed,” said Majcher, who listened to the news conference at the Texas Capitol.

“I think it is inappropriate to hold public funding hostage to repairing the problems that we all know exist with the current testing system,” said Majcher, who is part of a new parent group called Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment. “The testing system is badly implemented, badly flawed, there are a lot of groups, a lot of parents who are working very hard to make positive corrections to that. I would not call that rolling it back. I think when we see a mistake, we make a course correction.”

Exactly. We’ve been pushing various accountability measures for 20 years in Texas. Some have worked well, others not so much, but it’s been an ongoing experiment, with tweaks, adjustments, and changes of direction as needed. To believe that the STAAR and only the STAAR can achieve the goals these guys says they want is myopic and suggests they care more about the process than the result. Turns out, even some prominent Republicans see it that way, too.

Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken said Thursday that the state’s current public education accountability system is “broken and badly in need of fixing.”

During testimony at a hearing of the House Committee on Economic and Small Business Development on career and technology education, the former state GOP chairman expressed his disagreement with a coalition of business leaders and a conservative think tank that announced Wednesday it would oppose any additional funding to public education if there were any rollback of existing accountability standards.

Pauken, who along with two other commissioners oversees the development of the state’s workforce, said he was surprised that the coalition claimed to speak for the business community and conservatives as it defended the existing testing system.

He said he had found widespread agreement among business leaders, teachers, school district officials and community college representatives he had spoken to around the state that “teaching to the test is one of the real reasons that we have a significant skill trade shortage.”

Pauken said he spoke as both a businessman and a conservative when he criticized the position taken by the coalition.

“The current system does not hold schools accountable for successfully educating and preparing students — rather it makes them beholden to performance on a single test,” Pauken said, adding that a consequence of the system was that “‘real learning’ has been replaced by ‘test learning.’”

Hammond and his buddies are speaking in their own interest, not those of schools, students, or parents. We should not take their little tantrum seriously.

How to really put the unemployed to work

Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken has the germ of a good idea here. Unfortunately, he’s incapable of seeing what it is, and so goes off a cliff with it.

“Even in good economic times, there were people in Texas who saw the unemployment system as simply another entitlement program, which it’s not,” Pauken, who served in the Reagan administration, told me. “Obviously there are a tremendous number of people — they’ve lost their job through no fault of their own. They’re doing everything they can to try to find work. How do you distinguish between those who are really out trying to find work and those who simply want to draw an unemployment check as long as they can?”

Pauken suggests setting a wage of, say, $10 an hour and having people who get extended federal benefits work enough hours to cover their unemployment payment — “rather than it continue to be a drain on the taxpayer dollars.”

The appointee of GOP Gov.Rick Perry said this would weed out people “who may be gaming the system,” provide a worthwhile task for those trying their best and possibly open job opportunities.


Pauken “has it all wrong — hard-working Texans should not be required to take a low-paying job that has no relationship to their skills and background using their limited unemployment benefits to subsidize their wages,” saidMaurice Emsellem of the National Employment Law Project. “Unemployment benefits were created as an insurance program to help people get back on their feet, not to add insult to injury by blaming workers and their families for the devastating economic mess we’re in thanks to Wall Street.”

The Texas AFL-CIO’sRick Levy called the idea “a perversion of the unemployment system … Really what he’s proposing is a public jobs program, but instead of paying people a living wage, we would make them work for their unemployment benefits.

“In many ways, it’s an insult to working families that are doing everything they can to scrape by right now,” Levy said. “Basically, it would be putting people to work but eliminating things like minimum-wage and safety and health protections that only attach if you’re part of the workforce.”

To address Pauken’s points, there are people who believe that fluoridation of the water supply is a Communist plot to brainwash the American public. We’re not required to take that viewpoint seriously, and we’re under no compunction to do the same with those who think that unemployment insurance is a scam for lazy people, either. I’m sure there are a few folks gaming the system out there, working hard to get a meager one-third of their former salary instead of finding a job that might pay a real wage, just as there are those who commit other kinds of fraud. The marginal benefit we’d likely get from trying to root them out in this fashion is minimal, especially when weighed against the indignity and inconvenience of those who are working diligently to find employment while receiving this insurance. Putting the insult aside, what’s the point? Pauken doesn’t even suggest a pulled-from-his-ear figure of how much his silly idea might save if it were to be implemented, which is a sure sign of its half-baked-ness.

Having said that, I’m all in favor of a program to get unemployed people back to work, which we clearly need. It’s called another federal stimulus package, this one containing enough money for cities and states to eliminate the many large anti-stimulus packages that have greatly harmed the economic recovery. There’s still a gazillion infrastructure projects that can and should go forward, not to mention a lot of beach cleanup – I like the idea of making BP put up a couple billion dollars to pay for workers to clean the beaches – and of course we’ll need a lot of job skills retraining for folks who’ve been unemployed long term. That’d do the trick a lot more effectively than what Pauken proposes, and it would be a long-term winner for the federal deficit as well as all those underfunded states. You want people working, Tom, there’s your answer.

Just a reminder about Perry’s unemployment tax increase

Lisa Falkenberg watches some video of Texas Workforce Commission Executive Director Larry Temple testifying before the Senate and reiterates something we knew.

Temple acknowledged Thursday to the Senate Committee on Economic Development that Texas’ decision not to take $556 million in unemployment stimulus dollars directly led to higher taxes for business owners and more borrowing from the federal government to replenish the state’s broke unemployment trust fund.

As you’ll recall, Gov. Rick Perry refused to accept a half a billion in federal unemployment stimulus dollars, saying there were too many strings attached, even though he knew the state’s unemployment fund was projected to go broke within months.

Temple testified Thursday that the commission has had to double the tax rate for businesses in order to replenish the unemployment fund. And he conceded under intense questioning from [State Sen. Kevin] Eltife that the hike wouldn’t have been as high if we’d taken the half a billion.

Earlier this week, Commission Chairman Tom Pauken notified lawmakers that the agency may have to issue $2 billion in bonds to feed the unemployment fund as time runs out on the state’s no-interest borrowing from the feds.

And for some businesses, the tax rate nearly tripled. You really need to see the video to get the full effect of Sen. Eltife’s questioning. Eye on Williamson has the key five-minute clip, which I’ve embedded here:

Sen. Eltife did his best to steer away from the politics of this, but we all know whose idea it was to turn down the unemployment insurance money. Rick Perry’s decision to do so was harmful to people who had lost their jobs and is now adversely affecting business owners. We knew this would happen, but he didn’t care.

Always go to the source

If you find yourself in the position of needing to file for unemployment insurance from the state of Texas, be sure you go to the Texas Workforce Commission page to do it. Do not go anywhere else.

As if it’s not bad enough to lose a job, some people trying to apply for unemployment benefits with the state have instead mistakenly filed their personal information with privately run Web sites.

“What you’ve got is a private site that may be legal but is trying to get information from people so they can sell those lists to others for possible financial gain,” said Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Tom Pauken. “They are just taking advantage of the situation. There’s always somebody trying to figure out an angle.”

The state commission isn’t alleging any laws have been broken, he said, but people may be confused by official-looking private sites if they aren’t familiar with the system.

Just this week, the three-member commission decided to allow a woman to backdate her jobless claim after she initially provided information to a site called www.The, and began an e-mail correspondence with it.


The Unemployment Advisor doesn’t appear to charge a fee to those who provide information; instead it offers advice on maximizing the chance of getting claims approved to those who provide their information.

The state agency said some businesses may try to charge a fee to file claims. Filing for benefits through the Texas Workforce Commission is free.

It’s not really clear what that site might be doing, since presumably it has a profit motive in mind. I suppose this woman and anyone like her will start to receive a lot of unwanted mail now.

Besides warning jobless Texans to be sure they file in the right place, Pauken said the commission is looking into contacting Google to see whether the search engine can help make sure this type of site “doesn’t bubble up to the top” in searches.

In a Web search Wednesday for “unemployment benefits,” www.TheUnemployment was the second site to pop up.

The first was for another private company.

The good news is that a Google search for unemployment benefits Texas, the TWC page came up first. When I searched simply for unemployment benefits, sites for other states filled the first result page, but atop them was a sponsored link to a private company that claimed to represent Texas and exhorted me to “Submit an Application online today. Visit our site. Get your benefits!” Be careful where you click, that’s all I can say.

You can pay me now, or you can pay me later

Odds are, we’ll opt for later to deal with the large deficit we’re facing with the unemployment insurance trust fund.

Texas’ jobless-benefits fund is empty, and the state will probably borrow $1.5 billion from the federal government to pay benefits through December, a state official said Tuesday.

But it’s unclear when Texas employers will have to pay a much higher tax to repay the loan and rebuild a required $863 million cushion in the unemployment compensation trust fund.

A second Texas Workforce Commission official and an outside expert said the brunt of expected higher taxes might not sock employers until 2011, after the worst of the recession passes and well past the March primary for Gov. Rick Perry.

A key driver of higher tax bills for employers – though not the only one – in the next few years will be a “deficit assessment” to restore the fund to fiscal health.

“The commission can use its discretion in minimizing the tax impact to Texas employers,” said Workforce Commission spokeswoman Ann Hatchitt.


Hatchitt said some time this fall, the state will decide whether to postpone a deficit assessment until 2011. Commissioners will probably decide at the same time their schedule for issuing bonds, possibly next year, she said. Bond proceeds — a figure of $2 billion has been widely mentioned — would repay funds Texas is borrowing from the federal government.

At Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the three-member commission, chairman Tom Pauken of Dallas pressed the agency’s chief financial officer, Randy Townsend, for an estimate of how much the state will borrow from the feds by Dec. 31. Townsend indicated it would be about $1.5 billion.

Texas won’t have to pay interest on the federal loans until January 2011.

Don Baylor Jr., an employment policy expert, said that if the commission postpones a deficit assessment until 2011, that will force more borrowing from the federal government next year, just to pay ongoing benefits to laid-off workers.

And in 2011, employers would pay not only a deficit assessment but also the first installment of a “bond obligation assessment” lasting several years, said Baylor, who works for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low- and middle-income Texans.

It is reasonable to defer the cost of refilling the trust fund until after the economy recovers, which means that Governor Perry better hope that President Obama’s plans to get things back on track succeed. Of course, if Perry hadn’t so foolishly suspended collection of the replenishment tax back when times were still good, we’d be in less of a pickle now. And the longer we defer the pain, the more we’ll have to borrow in the interim, and the more we’ll have to pay back in the future. The next biennium’s budget is under enough stress already, and this will just add to that. But at least we’ll get to deal with it after the GOP gubernatorial primary. That’s what really matters, after all.

Two billion dollars

Governor Perry’s grandstanding rejection of the federal stimulus money for unemployment insurance is going to cost us all more and more.

Texas is preparing to borrow as much as $2-billion to pay for unemployment insurance benefits. That’s what the chairman for the Texas Workforce Commission told KERA in a recent interview. KERA’s Shelley Kofler reports employers who fund benefits can expect a tax increase, too.

The fund that pays unemployment benefits to Texans ran out of money this month. That forced the state to take out the first of several no-interest, federal loans that will total some $643 million- just to pay benefits through September. Then what? Workforce Commission Chairman Tom Pauken says the state will borrow more. A lot more.

Pauken: We are looking at putting a bond in place probably next year in excess of a billion and we could look at a bond in the range of a billion and a half or $2 billion.

Kofler: The state of Texas may have to borrow $2 billion?

Pauken: Yeah, that could well be the case in terms of a bond over a seven-to-10 year period.

Pauken wants to stretch the repayment of $2 billion plus interest over at least seven years saying that might limit a huge spike in the tax rate employers pay to support the benefits fund. But for employers, Pauken says there’s no escape.

Pauken: Oh, they are going to have to pay more next year. They have had lower rates in recent years because the economy has been so good in Texas, but it is going to go higher next year.

Remember, business owners, you will have Governor Perry to thank for this. Now even if we had accepted the stimulus money for unemployment insurance, we’d still be short of what we need to handle the increase in claims. Of course, a big part of the reason for that was because the Texas Workforce Commission stopped collecting the replenishment tax for the unemployment insurance trust fund, which is now broke, back when times were better, because of course the good times always last forever. That was done at the behest of Governor Perry, as Sen. Watson helpfully reminds us. So pretty much every decision Perry has made regarding unemployment insurance has wound up costing businesses money. He’s claiming we may not have to borrow quite as much as $2 billion, but given his track record so far, why should anyone believe him? More here.

Watson on unemployment

State Sen. Kirk Watson reviews the bidding on how the state of Texas has handled its unemployment issues.

As was noted during this past legislative session by Workforce Commission Chairman Tom Pauken (who was appointed by the Governor and once led the Texas Republican Party), unemployment assistance is not a welfare program. It exists to provide temporary help to Texans in tough, sometimes tragic, situations so they can find work without losing their homes, cars, or electricity. And it protects the economy as much as the people who need it.

The commission’s job is to figure out how much money the state needs for unemployment benefits, what to charge businesses that support the program, and how to prepare for things like economic recessions that send the state’s unemployment rate skyrocketing.

And as you may have noticed over the last few days, the commission isn’t doing any of those things very well.

He then provides a nice itemized list of the ways that the TWC and Governor Perry have screwed up or fallen short in this. The TWC has now taken emergency action to avoid needlessly cutting off some 15,000 people’s unemployment insurance. And hey, lookie here, some actual campaign-related activity from Camp KBH:

Rising unemployment in Texas has become an escalating issue in Perry’s re-election campaign. He says his policies have created jobs and helped insulate the state from the worst of the national recession, but on Monday, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s campaign called those assertions “political spin.”

“Maybe with all of the double talk coming out of the governor’s office, they haven’t had time to notice that our state has lost 266,300 jobs over the past year,” Hutchison spokesman Hans Klingler said.

Klingler used to be a spokesperson for the state GOP, so he knows his doubletalk. Hitting Perry on job losses is about as good a strategy as any I could think of. The question is in what way will you actually be different than him as Governor. Needless to say, I think Watson would make for a much sharper contrast than KBH would, assuming she ever gets around to trying.

More unemployed, fewer benefits

Boy, no one could have predicted this.

In a sign of lingering hardship, more than 15,000 Texans will lose their unemployment checks at the end of the month because they have exhausted their benefits after 59 weeks without a job.

They are among 82,000 Texans who are on their last allotment of unemployment benefits. Though they are eligible for a further extension funded by the federal government, it could take weeks or months to receive.

Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Tom Pauken has said people are staying unemployed longer as a woeful economy continues to affect people across the state.

During the week of July 4 this year, there were 22,115 initial claims, compared with 12,541 in the same time period a year earlier. Continued claims for that week totaled 298,821, up from 113,489 in the same time period in 2008.

Advocates for labor and for people with lower incomes are frustrated.

“People are literally in the lurch right now,” said Don Baylor of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for services for lower-income people. Baylor said he’s heard it could be well into the fall before the extra federal extension kicks in, adding, “That’s going to be really, really difficult for thousands of Texans who are losing their benefits.”

Some of these folks are going to lose their houses as a result of this, which needless to say isn’t going to make the overall economic picture any better.

[Texas Workforce Commission spokeswoman Ann] Hatchitt said Tuesday the state will need to borrow about $643 million from the federal government through Oct. 1, an increase of $150 million from the $493 million projected just last month.

Despite the tough times, Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday stood by his decision to oppose the state getting another $555 million in federal stimulus money that was contingent on it changing its jobless benefits to allow more people to qualify for payments.

Perry’s “principled” stand is going to cost the state and its businesses a lot of money, and that’s before we take into account the extra helpings of misery that the folks who could have benefited from the expansion of the program will endure. I don’t know what else there is to say that hasn’t already been said.

Well, okay there is one more thing.

Despite the loan, Gov. Perry defended his decision to those who questioned it.

“They are shortsighted and probably criticizing for a political reason rather than a legitimate financial reason,” Gov. Perry said.

Sure, because there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING POLITICAL about the rejection of the unemployment stimulus funds in the first place. Why can’t Governor Perry’s critics understand that? He was just operating in Texas’ best interests, politics be damned!

Unemployment insurance taxes set to rise

Good news, business owners! You’re going to see a tax increase soon.

Most Texas employers should plan for their unemployment insurance taxes to increase significantly next year, Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Tom Pauken of Dallas said Tuesday.

While tax rates won’t be set until December, Pauken said that mounting layoffs are close to exhausting a state trust fund, forcing him and two fellow commissioners recently to authorize what they expect to be $2 billion of interest-free borrowing from the federal government.


Pauken’s projections came nearly three months after Gov. Rick Perry, with the backing of many business groups, rejected $556 million in federal stimulus money for unemployed Texans. He said President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress attached too many strings to the money and that Texas would have had to expand eligibility for benefits.

Pauken said that though things could still change, it’s probable that the commission next year will need to raise an amount from employers comparable to the amount raised in 2003 – or 2.4 percent of all taxable wages.

In 2003, the “minimum tax” paid by nearly 278,000 employers was 0.67 percent of the first $9,000 of an employee’s wages, or $60.30 per worker. This year’s minimum tax rate is only 0.26 percent, or $23.40 a head.

For all 448,000 employers, the average tax rate in 2003 was 1.67 percent, compared with 0.99 percent this year. If next year’s rates mirror those from six years ago, the average employer would pay about $150 per employee, up from just under $90 this year.

If the commission doesn’t issue bonds to defer the pain into future years, he said, the commission next year would have to slap an even bigger “deficit tax” on employers.

Under that scenario, Pauken said, the commission would have to squeeze from employers an amount approaching 2.9 percent of all taxable wages – a level not seen in the last decade or so.

And just remember, you have Rick Perry to thank for all of this. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman about this is beneath the fold.


Lege versus Gov on unemployment funds

Showdown time.

The House committee charged with recommending how to use the federal stimulus money does not see eye to eye with Gov. Rick Perry on the $555 million for unemployment insurance.

In a 5 to 1 vote, the committee on Thursday endorsed enacting the necessary changes to state law so that Texas would be eligible for the money. Earlier today, Perry said Texas should not take the money.

House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts was the only Republican among the “ayes.” Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, voted against the measure and argued that action should be delayed.


Also, Pitts plans to join Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, as a co-author of a bill that would enact the required legislative changes but allow the extended benefits to expire when the federal money is gone. Estimates indicate the federal money would cover seven years of the additional benefits.

Crownover objected to the vote being today – she says two other members of the committee were in the building but didn’t think any action was being taken. Be that as it may, she hasn’t said she’d reject the funds. And as Phil notes, Texas Workforce Commission Chair Tom Pauken will be working with Reps. Pitts and Parker to craft that legislation. It’s entirely possible to me that the Lege will vote to bypass Governor Perry. Whether they can do it in time to make a veto override attempt is another story. But the stage is set for a rebuke. This will be fun to watch.

Economist Ray Perryman, testifying before the committee, said taking the money is on balance a good deal for Texas. The federal infusion would lessen a tax increase on employers now and would cover the extended benefit for at least seven years.

He added that the unemployment tax does not affect Texas’ ability to compete for jobs. Property taxes and the business tax are much bigger considerations when businesses choose where to set down roots, Perryman said.

Perry is of course simply playing to a small audience – he has a primary to win, after all, and it must be noted that he’s got KBH on her heels right now. The kind of person Rick Perry is trying to please by taking this action is in fact pleased by it. Who cares what the rest of us think?

Here’s a copy of official motion (PDF), which lays out the case for accepting the funds, and a copy of a statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman (PDF), which notes that Texas is already mostly in compliance with the federal law for the funds. EoW, Vince and Vince again, Eileen, McBlogger, and the CPPP have more; I also have a couple of press releases, from Rep. Coleman and State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. By the way, did you know that 32 million people are on food stamps, and one in 11 of them is in Texas? Or that Texas’ unemployment rate is now 6.4% and climbing? Just FYI. Maybe someone should inform the Governor.

UPDATE: More from Texas Impact.


Will we or won’t we fix unemployment insurance?

There’s a lot of money riding on the answer to that question.

The lure of $555 million in federal stimulus money for additional unemployment insurance has Texas legislators mulling whether to expand unemployment benefits to more workers.

To get that money, Texas would have to implement some key changes to state law — including modifying some eligibility requirements to include tens of thousands of low-wage workers. Such changes have been considered but not enacted in previous sessions.


Gov. Rick Perry is reviewing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Barack Obama this month and the strings attached to all the money, a spokeswoman said.

The unemployment money would be the mostly likely candidate if Perry were to reject anything from the stimulus package.

Perry has said the stimulus money should be used only for one-time projects, not ongoing expenses.

“The hardest thing to remove from government is a temporary program,” Ken Armbrister, Perry’s legislative director, said at a Wednesday hearing.


The federal money could lessen the need for new taxes on business, said state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who is chairman of the Technology, Economic Development and Workforce Committee.

“Failure to adopt the policy changes … would result in a higher burden on business taxpayers in the immediate and near term during the recession” than would expanding the benefits, Strama said.

I can understand the reluctance to taking one-time money for potentially ongoing expenditures. But sometimes these are things you should have been doing anyway, and will at worst take on a relatively small expense while getting a worthwhile return on it. A little more analysis and a little less sloganeering would go a long way here.

The Workforce Commission is still determining how much the change would cost.

But an analysis of a similar 2007 bill put the price tag at about $35 million to $45 million a year as 74,000 additional workers would become eligible for benefits, according to the Legislative Budget Board.

The number, however, would probably be somewhat higher given today’s higher unemployment rates.

That change alone would open the door to Texas receiving $185 million of the stimulus money.

The Legislature has some options for how to tap the remaining $370 million. Lawmakers would need to enact two of four policy changes, such as allowing people to get benefits while searching for part-time work.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income Texans, estimates that all of the reforms combined would cost $55 million to $75 million a year, so the federal money could cover the costs for seven years or more.

No one knows the true cost because that would be driven by how many more people took advantage of the benefits, said Talmadge Heflin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which advocates for limited government.

“The upside is all short-term,” Heflin said. “The downside in future years will greatly outweigh any upside.”

Funny, you could say the exact same thing about those big property tax cuts we enacted last session when we had some extra cash lying around. I don’t recall there being a whole lot of angst from certain quarters about how we were going to pay for it going forward – there may have been something about the beauty of the free market, or the Laffer curve, or magic pixie dust, I’m not sure. You want to talk about something that’s tough to get rid of, try repealing an irresponsible tax cut. In contrast, this would cost about $150 million per biennium – likely less in the future when the economy improves and more people are working again – which is about 0.2% of the total state revenue we have for this period. It would also help a lot of people who could really use it, and would be quite economically stimulative, as the recipients would be spending all that money on frivolities like food and housing. Seems like an easy decision to make, if you ask me. Patricia Kilday Hart sums up the hearings, in which Texas Workforce Commission Chair (and former chair of the Republican Party of Texas) Tom Pauken spoke in favor of getting stimulus money, as follows:

So, to review:

1. An escalating unemployment rate means the trust fund is paying out 120 percent more than it did this time last year and

2. At current rates, the trust fund will be broke by fall and

3. Bill Hammond [of the Texas Association of Business] doesn’t want to take any federal stimulus money to fix it because somebody might have to pay higher taxes in the future.

Like I said, seems like an easy call to me. Press releases from the AFL-CIO of Texas and Senators Rodney Ellis, Eddie Lucio, Leticia Van de Putte, and Representative Joe Deshotel, who are urging Governor Perry to declare this a legislative emergency, are beneath the fold.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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