Where is our subsidy?

During my trips to see the Rangers this summer I sat in Arlington and found myself surrounded by the numerous infrastructure projects being done in preparation for next year’s Super Bowl and thinking about the Texas tax dollars being spent on the 2012  Super Bowl. The Austin-American Statesman had an article (“More public money used to attract big events to Texas“) describing the money that our state has spent on sixty or more such events in Texas.

These big events are parties hosted by the state and businesses looking for new locations will be impressed to see national or international events hosted by Texas. They have to think that any state that can bring in a Super Bowl and Formula One racing knows how to make things happen. Still, I find it hard to believe that of all things that Texans needs– sports deserve more tax dollars. Does anyone think that we don’t have enough football in Texas? Anyone worried about the salaries and profits in the NFL?

The state’s political leaders must be picturing themselves in luxury boxes hosting VIPs during the Super Bowl. Where better to sit and rail against the excesses of the federal stimulus package–all while providing money for a parts of the economy that doesn’t need stimulating.

But then…

Photo Not Available--Thanks Governor Perry!We were putting together the second edition of Lone Star Politics and wanted to use one of the Governor’s office’s cool pictures of Rick Perry signing the bill that provides those millions for movie/television/video game production to set up the opening of the last chapter. That turned out to be impossible.

Millions for the movies, video games, car racing, and the Super Bowl. No photo use for us.


Perry shuns yard signs

According to the Texas Tribune, Rick Perry’s campaign is generally avoiding yard signs:

Perry Campaign Eschews Yard Signs

by Elise Hu, The Texas Tribune
September 21, 2010

You won’t be seeing many Rick Perry yard signs this fall — by design. Except for a few that are available for purchase, the governor’s campaign is generally eschewing traditional tools like signs and direct mail, preferring a new set of ways to win over voters.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://trib.it/a6hCqR.

Of course, the Perry campaign is half right about yard signs. Citizens are not driving through neighborhoods, counting yard signs, and voting as their neighbor say. However, yard signs might still be worth keeping around.

Many supporters expect that they’ll be able to get yard signs to proclaim their support and they’ll be frustrated when they don’t get to express their views to the neighbors. It may not be rational, but anyone thinking they can explain Texas politics in purely rational terms is going to get a headache.

Yard signs can also be a way that communities convey their norms. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann‘s “spiral of silence” theory suggests that people will become less likely to voice an opinion if they feel that they are in the minority because they want to avoid isolation from the majority. It’s very much like peer group pressure and yard signs can be a way that citizens could get the message that they need to fit in.

Yard signs may have no significant impact. On the other hand, most of what campaigns do has little impact. There is some evidence that campaign ads have an impact, but it’s not clear that the effect is large or enduring. I suspect that campaigns spend a lot of time and effort on things that have little impact. Most of the press releases coming out of the Perry and White campaigns are silly and irrelevant and I can’t imagine them being read and taken seriously by anyone.

If campaign consultants were honest they would have to admit that they’re unsure about the value of most of what they do. Yard signs, like much of the campaign, don’t make much sense.  Do they have to?

Can knowing the costs of sentences be bad for judges?

According to a story in the New York Times, Missouri’s Sentence Advisory Commission has begun providing the state’s judges with information on the cost of sentencing option.

Should Texas adopt a similar system? After all, the Texas legislature is required to look at the fiscal note that analyzes the cost of any legislation before it passes  and many people are pushing Congress to do a cost-benefit analysis on all legislation.

Changing public school funding

Florence Shapiro, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, is calling on the Legislature to completely replace the current school funding system with a completely new system. According to a story in the San Antonio Express News, Shapiro and other members of a select committee on school finance have been looking at the issue between legislative sessions and feel that the current system can’t be fixed with another round of tinkering.

Shapiro deserves credit for acknowledging an issue that has long gone neglected by the state’s leaders. The current system has generated numerous legal challenges and so far the legislature has only managed to put band aids over the worst of the system’s flaw. The next session is showing signs of becoming a festival of position taking and desk pounding that will yield little major reform. Efforts to change school finance could end up lost in the battle over whether the state should shift toward more reliance of property or sales tax. However, Shapiro or some other member of that committee might put together a compromise that could win broad-based support. Despite the fussing about particular taxes going up or down, the state would be in their debt. Political leadership in Texas has been too timid for too long and someone is going to have to take a few political risks for the state to move ahead.

Reassessing the Texas Lottery–Is the juice worth the squeeze?

Texas Lottery LogoThe Austin-American Statesman is doing a series on the Texas Lottery. In part one, we learn that the lottery is selling fewer tickets to fewer people. In 1994 about 70% of Texans bought tickets. Today, that number is about 40%. Further, these fewer players appear to be spending more. In 2004, the average spending per player was about $390. That number is closer to $550 today. The fact that ticket sales seem to be highest among the poorest Texans id disturbing.

Waco Democratic Representative Jim Dunnam originally supported the lottery. After looking at the impact it’s had on his constituency, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the region, Dunnam wants to end the lottery saying: “The juice ain’t worth the squeeze anymore.”

The Statesman reports in part two of the series that the state’s shift to “scratch off” games has left the state collecting a smaller share. In 1998, $3 billion in sales translated into lottery contributed $1.16 billion for Texas’ public schools. In 2009, the schools got $160 million less even though sales totaled $700 million more than 1998.

Ironically, the Texas legislature has falling into the same “something for nothing” funding plan that drives people who can’t afford lottery tickets to buy them. Lots of people are arguing that it’s time we got the government out of the business of gambling and running ad encouraging the poor to squander their money. The question is: where will they find the money to replace the billion we make off the lottery every year.