Op-Ed: Telling the Truth About Texas State Budgets

Editor’s Note: The issue of how to properly calculate state expenditures has been hotly contested in Texas. The Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Wall Street Journal have agreed on one set of numbers, while others have asserted their math was incorrect. A counterpoint to the below Op-ed can be found here.

Most Texans suspect their state government spends too much. They’re right. However, they typically lack information to confirm this belief because of a complex budget process and budget gimmicks that mask actual levels of spending. Ordinary Texans who pay the taxes deserve a transparent and comprehensible state budget. Unfortunately, they don’t get it from the opaque and difficult-to-grasp processes currently in place.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) gives Texans and taxpayers an easy-to-understand analysis with our recent report “The Real Texas Budget.” It isn’t what some legislators want Texans to know — and that’s exactly why we should know it.

But how do we make sense of Texas state budgets? For starters, you need a measurement that compares the 24-month biennial periods used in Texas state budgeting against each other. Due to variations in the way money is spent and data availability, multiple metrics might be used. We might, for instance, compare appropriations to appropriations or spending to spending.

There’s an important point here, in that appropriations and spending are not the same thing.The former is what a Legislature approves to be spent, and the latter is how much taxpayer money is actually spent. A credible comparison of an adopted budget alone — that is, appropriations — against actual spending from the previous cycle is not made, because the state almost always spends more during a two-year budget cycle than the appropriated amount.

Advocates of more spending like to compare different numbers over differing time spans to make their growth rates look artificially smaller. 

What are the metrics that are useful to taxpayers in comparing 24-month periods? There are two big ones we set forth in “The Real Texas Budget.”

The first is session vs. session: measuring the appropriations from one legislative session to the next. TPPF employed this method in May and June 2013 to expose the 83rd Legislature’s heavy bias toward spending. That Legislature’s problems actually started with its predecessor, 2011’s 82nd Legislature, which by delaying education payments and underfunding Medicaid, gave the impression that legislators spent conservatively. In fact, they merely pushed spending into the 2013 session. We sounded the alarm on this back in 2011, writing in the Austin American-Statesman that the 82nd Legislature’s “budget writers had to rely heavily on gimmicks and one-time fixes.” We also noted then that legislators passed up key opportunities to make state budgeting more transparent and understandable to the ordinary Texan.

In 2013’s 83rd Legislature, legislators passed supplemental bills to backfill spending into the previous budget period, and undo the accounting gimmicks of 2011. 

As we published last June and republished this week, the appropriations approved by the 83rd Legislature in 2013, including the backfill money, were significantly higher than the appropriations approved back in 2011; 24 percent higher in state general revenue and almost 26 percent higher in all funds, using the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) latest numbers.

That’s a tremendous increase by any standard. 

The second metric taxpayers may find useful is comparing spending on a biennium vs. biennium basis. This is the method legislators generally use to evaluate the growth of state budgets — not least because it often yields smaller numbers that may be less shocking to taxpayers. TPPF’s “Real Texas Budget” report includes this metric. Our report shows all-funds spending will likely increase by 9 percent during the current two-year period — not the 5.1 percent figure published by LBB just before the March primaries.

There’s a reason for the discrepancy, and it brings us to our final principle for honest assessment of state budgets: make sure to measure the same things.

For example, the LBB did not measure spending to spending. Instead, it measured spending to appropriation. In our report, we estimate that there will be at least an additional $1.6 billion in spending this biennium to pay for increased Medicaid costs. Even with this money added in, the LBB’s numbers wouldn’t measure spending to spending because the Legislature made $6.1 billion of “patient income” spending this biennium simply disappear from the budget.

Appropriately accounting for this and other budget gimmicks is essential to accurate examination of state spending.

Here’s the bottom line for Texas taxpayers. In 2013, the Texas Legislature spent almost every penny it could while providing less than half of the ongoing tax relief Governor Rick Perry sought. Taxpayers deserve to know how much of their money is being spent, and that’s what TPPF’s “Real Texas Budget” report provides.

Our report confirms our statements last year about the excessive hike in appropriations from 2011 to 2013. It also debunks the government’s official budget figures that give taxpayers a false impression of the increase in biennial spending.

The “Real Texas Budget” report provides truth in budgeting that Texans deserve. There are those in the corridors of power and the Austin establishment who think you don’t deserve the truth, and attack those who speak it. And that’s exactly why we do.

Arlene Wohlgemuth is the Executive Director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. She served on the Texas House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing healthcare spending in 2003. Talmadge Heflin is the Director of the Center for Fiscal Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and served on the Texas House Appropriations Committee for twelve years, including as its chairman in 2003. Together, they have a collective 32 years of experience, covering 11 state budgets, as State Representatives in the Texas Legislature.




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Facing pressure and incitement, Palestinian professor resigns over Auschwitz trip

Al-Quds University’s Professor Mohammed Dajani, who earlier this year organized the first group of Palestinian university students to tour the Auschwitz death camp, has resigned from the university, Israel’s daily Haaretz reported Sunday.

According to Dajani, a campaign of “incitement” forced him to resign his post as head of the Department of American Studies at the Jerusalem-based Palestinian university.

Last march, Dajani took 27 Palestinian college students to visit Auschwitz in Poland as part of a project designed to teach empathy and tolerance.

Following the trip, Dajani was denounced as a “traitor” and “collaborator” by Palestinian critics, subjected to fierce criticism from Arab colleagues, and expelled from a university teachers’ union.  Dajani’s own university disowned the trip. 

“Dr. Mohammad Dajani’s union membership at Al-Quds University has been suspended because of his visit to Auschwitz,” Rima Najjar, an assistant professor of English Literature at Al Quds, wrote on her Facebook page.

Najjar quoted Arab academic, Mazin Qumsiyeh, as saying, “[Dajani] adopted the Zionist perspective that Judaism and Zionism are the same thing and in our opinion this is an anti-Semitic attitude to equate Zionism and Judaism and somehow link making peace and Zionism with the issues of Jewish suffering around the world.”

According to Haaretz, Dajani submitted a letter of resignation on May 18 and his resignation took effect on June 1.

“I wanted the president of the university to take a stand by not accepting my resignation and in doing so to send a clear and loud message to the university employees and students, and in general, to the Palestinian community, that the university supports academic freedom and considers my trip as an educational journey in search of knowledge by which I broke no university policy, rules, or regulations,” Dajani told Haaretz.

“My letter of resignation from Al-Quds University was a kind of litmus test to see whether the university administration supports academic freedom and freedom of action and of expression as they claim or not,” he added.

In an April interview, Dajani said: “I was brought up in a culture of denial of the Holocaust. It was a taboo and I never studied about it in school or the university. Whatever I knew about it was vague… it was either exaggerated or it was part of the atrocities within the Second World War.”

The professor said he hopes the March trip to Poland is only the first of many and will perhaps eventually lead to the Palestinian authorities introducing Holocaust education into the school curriculum.  But that hope, slim as it ever was, is looking even more doubtful in the wake of the reaction to the professor’s trip.




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Moms Demand Founder: Good Guy with Gun ‘Has Never’ Stopped Bad Guy with Gun

On June 7, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America founder Shannon Watts said a good guy with a gun “has never” stopped a bad guy with a gun. 

Watts made this comment in response to a question from CNN host Victor Blackwell. 

Blackwell said

I want to challenge you on something Shannon. Wayne LaPierre, executive director of the NRA, after Sandy Hook, said the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. And I think, essentially [what guns rights proponents are saying] is [they] want their wives to be able to carry–to be the good person with the gun. Is there an example in school shootings or a mall shooting or these public facilities, where that has been wrong? Where a bad guy with a gun has been stopped in any other way or by a person other than a law enforcement officer with a gun or by killing himself?

Watts responded: “This has never happened. Data shows it doesn’t happen.”

But it does happen–and it happens all the time. 

In February 2013 an armed guard in Atlanta subdued and disarmed a shooter at an Atlanta middle school. 

On December 16 Breitbart News reported the Arapahoe High School shooting only last 80 seconds because the school’s armed resource officer closed in on the shooter, who subsequently killed himself. 

On June 6 Breitbart News reported on how a good guy with a gun stopped a bad guy with a guy who was attacking a courthouse in Georgia.

On November 7 Breitbart News reported guns are used defensively an estimated 2,082 times a day in America. That’s over 2,000 times a day a good guy with a gun acts to stop a bad guy armed with a weapon of some sort. 

Follow AWR Hawkins on Twitter @AWRHawkins  Reach him directly at awrhawkins@breitbart.com.




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Miguel Cotto Dominates Sergio Martinez to Win Middleweight Championship at Packed Madison Square Garden

NEW YORK—Miguel Cotto entered the ring in silence and darkness. He exited it bathed in the limelight and saluted by the roar.

Miguel Cotto knocked Sergio Martinez down four times en route to punishing the champion into a defeat on the stool that enters the fight books as a 10th-round TKO. The underdog’s flawless performance before a raucous full-house at Madison Square Garden stands as the signature win in a career already boasting victories over Shane Mosely, Antonio Margarito, and Ricardo Torres.

Cotto kicked off the Puerto Rican Day (hit) Parade early by rocking Sergio Martinez to start round one. He followed up with a shot that sent his opponent head first into the canvas. Quickly upon the restart, Cotto unrelentingly attacked and sent a wobbly Martinez down with a grazing shot to the top of the head. And then, a third time, Cotto powered Martinez to the floor. Though none of the shots appeared to hurt Martinez terribly, the collective body of knockdowns prompted a long look from the referee. The punches propelled the champion on his backside, on his face, and on his knee—and ultimately out of the fight as a result of the disastrous 10-6 round. 

After a pedestrian second stanza in which Cotto took his foot off the gas, the fighters traded shots in the third. The taller man found his range with the jab and shook off fourteen months of ring rust. Cotto stalked and controlled the center of the ring to start the fourth. After eating more shots, Martinez implored Cotto to bring his best. Martinez quieted the crowd after landing an awkward left. It looked, for a few moments at least, as though we finally had a fight.

But a predatory Cotto had too much fight in him. Those early-round moments when Martinez looked to regain composure proved illusory. The fresh-legged challenger pressured Martinez in the fifth, evading several punches as he pushed forward as a man on a mission. A determined, chin-down, Terminator-like Cotto again enjoyed the best of exchanges with Martinez in the sixth, incessantly stalking. Martinez characteristically dropped his hands and landed the occasional unaccompanied shot. But Cotto doesn’t appear ready to slow down. By every criterion—effective aggression, ring generalship, defense, and clean and hard punching—Cotto demonstrated significant advantages.

The fan favorite rocked Martinez midway through the seventh with a right to the temple. The smaller man then employed footwork to dance, feint, and move for the last minute of the round. Cotto has at this point outbrawled and outboxed the bigger and heretofore better boxer.

In the ninth, Cotto again clobbers the champion with numerous power shots. Every time leather clashes with bone, a packed Madison Square Garden erupts to supply an explanation point. As the round contains just a few dozen more ticks, Cotto again sends the Argentine to the deck and the fans to their feet. Amazingly, a jab provides the force for the knockdown. But it’s the left hooks and right crosses, and not that straight left, which inflict the most damage in a ninth frame every pit as dominant as the first.

As the bell sounds for the tenth, a crowd of cornermen refuse to let Martinez out of the corner. Miguel Cotto wins by tenth-round TKO. As a sense of the victory dawns on the Puerto Rican crowd, a deafening roar lets loose that nearly convexes the concave Garden roof. Miguel Cotto, the former 140-pound titlist, inherits the mantle of Robinson and Hagler and Hopkins and wins the lineal middleweight championship of the world.

“He caught me cold,” Martinez explained after the fight. “He caught me hard.” The Argentine made no excuses despite a lingering knee injury clearly troubling from the disastrous first round forward. A money fight against Canelo Alvarez perhaps looms for the new champion. “I want to rest,” Cotto reflected. “Whatever Freddie [Roach] wants to do, I will do it.”




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Elementary School Principal Suspected of Sex with Student Kills Himself

An elementary school principal shot himself on Friday at his Hanford-area California home after being under suspicion for having sexual activity with a young female student.

According to the Fresno Bee, when Fresno county sheriff detectives showed up to 42-year-old Lance Clement’s home around 7:30 a.m. to serve him with a search warrant, they heard the gunshot that ended his life. At this point, the incident is being investigated as a suicide by the Kings County coroner who is assigned to determine the cause of Clement’s death.

Clement was principal of Orange Center Elementary and is also Orange Center’s superintendent of schools. The elementary school consists of 350 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims only announced that Clement was being investigated a few hours after he killed himself. Up until then, the investigation was under wraps. Last week, an employee of the school notified authorities the day after he saw Clement with a young girl in his office after school with the lights off. The witness claims that he reported the incident because “he trusted his gut.”

After investigators interviewed Clement and the young female student, there was no apparent evidence of impropriety, but “it raised some red flags,” said Mims. On Tuesday, Fresno County sex-crime detectives decided to interview 20 more girls, mostly fifth graders, who had visited his office. It was then that they discovered Clement allegedly had participated in inappropriate gift-giving. According to Mims, in one instance, Clement’s actions “may have risen to a sexual battery, or possibly lewd and lascivious acts involving someone under 14.” She added, “Definitely, unethical behavior took place.”

Mims said that detectives had searched Clement’s computer in his office and that he had removed its hard drive, which sent off an “additional red flag.” School trustees took his keys, and he was placed on leave with pay on Wednesday. Detectives confiscated computers that were at Clement’s home, and the case will continue to be investigated, because “parents have a right to know” if their child was victimized by Clement.

Clement was well-liked by other teachers and, among his accomplishments, according to one former school board member, was his being “instrumental with the solar installation for the school district that saved a lot of money.”

Gus Amos, a board member of Armona School District opined, “He dazzled us with his knowledge, with his demeanor. He was great with kids. I don’t think anyone didn’t like Lance.”




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