This just in: Texans support the Death Penalty

It’s not the most exciting news you ever heard. However, a recent Texas Tribune poll found that Texans still support the use of the death penalty (“UT/TT Poll: Texans Stand Behind Death Penalty“).

Poll of support for the death penalty.

It was very interesting to me that while nearly three out of four Texans support the death penalty, a bare majority believe it has been applied fairly.

Only 51% of those questioned believed the death penalty had been fairly applied in Texas.

How serious these concerns of about fairness might be is not clear. However, Texans clearly feel a little uneasy about our legal system as it makes its most dramatic decisions.



What is conservative?

A Texas Tribune interview with Senator John Carona reminded me of the questions I’ve been asking as I work on the revised fiscal policy section of the book.

[TribLive: Carona on Perry’s “Disrespectful” Pledge]

It seems to me that Texas has three choices on roads (for example):

  1. Stop building/expanding Texas roads.
  2. Raise taxes to build more roads.
  3. Allow private companies to build toll roads.

Option one does not seem practical given the state’s population growth. Failure to stay up with the growing demands on Texas roadways undermines economic growth as workers and products spend more time stuck in traffic. Senator Carona is discussing the difference between option two and three. He is advocating raising the state gasoline tax which has not been increased in 20 years. Raising taxes is generally not a good thing to conservatives. However, Carona’s argument is that it is actually more fiscally responsible to raise taxes than it is to allow private companies to charge Texans to drive on roads. His research suggests that the final cost to Texans is lower if we use taxes dollars to fund road projects rather than paying for roads through taxes. There are some problems with his argument, but the basic point has to be addressed.

It’s an interesting question. When we privatize roads we are passing tax collection off to private firms. Asking someone from the private sector doesn’t change the fact that the cost results from government decisions and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t add all those tolls to the government’s tab.

Our policy debates are driven by the political fears of our candidates. The policy world is much more complicated and nuanced than the noisy claims we hear during elections. It is much easier for most citizens to notice a tax increase than to see the rising number of toll road popping up around the state. The word “tax” is (for the moment, at least) more problematic for politicians than “toll.”

So, Corona makes a valid point. The question is: who else is brave enough to raise it?

Rules that work?

Injuries per 100,000 residents by state National Journal (a great national publication widely read by insiders of both parties in DC) had an interesting little article (“Nanny State Works, When It Comes to Injuries“) on the relationship between state safety laws and injury fatalities.

Americans love to complain about rules: federal rules, state laws, local building codes, etc. However, I think we should admit when those work. Whenever I see an earthquake or hurricane completely devastate buildings in other nations, I think that some of those annoying building codes might just work.

Calvin and Hobbes on self-fulfilling plans

A classic Calvin and Hobbs comic strip that reflects on how we free ourselves from the responsibilities of democracy.

Americans work very hard at finding reasons why they are not responsible for what happens. We need to consider the possibility that the problem with our government is that it actually represents us pretty well

Attracting Business Without Giving Away the Store

Governing magazine has a story (“Attracting Business Without Giving Away the Store“) on accountability in how states give out tax breaks to attract businesses. The story is based on a study (“Evidence Counts: Evaluating State Tax Incentives for Jobs and Growth“) by the Pew Center on the States.

“Accountability” has been a buzzword in state government for years. Apparently, politicians have been much more interested in asking questions about state agencies (like universities) than about the tax breaks they give to the kinds of businesses that produce large donors.

Higher education data

The Texas Tribune has updated  their interactive feature that compares graduation rates a Texas’ public universities. You can use the feature to generate charts that compare graduation rates of most of the state’s public universities. I looked at six-year graduation rates to reflect some of the differences between a few of the state’s schools because school has become so expensive that many students can not afford to attend school full-time.

Six Year Graduation Rates

You can also compare how much each school spends per student. Notice that all of the state’s current Southland Conference schools (it seemed as good as any pool for comparison) cluster together between $13,000 and $16,000 per student while UT and A&M cost much more.

Operating Expense Per Full  Time student

Note that spending at these schools has not risen nearly as much as tuition and fees (below). Of course, some elected officials have tried to pin the rising cost on the schools when shrinking state support is a major contribution to the problem.

Average Tuition and Fees

You can customize the charts using the Tribune’s interactive feature and make up your own mind. I was lucky enough to attend college when the state did much more to support the education of young Texans and it seems clear to me that students today will not enjoy the same level of support from the state.

PETA’s greatest hits

Pound for pound, no organized interest is better at gaining attention that PETA  (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Their base of support seems to include a disproportionate number of models, and they put that to use. While I disagree with much of their agenda, they are very successful at getting it across.

KIROTV has put together a kind of greatest hits of PETA’s protests (“PETA’s most outrageous protests“). You have to admit that their “KFC tortures chics” protest is memorable.