More on the Texas Enterprise Fund

The Dallas Morning News has a story (“Audit: Perry’s business fund gave millions to firms, universities that never sent an application“) that suggests that funds from the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) was being distributed by the Office of the Governor much less cautiously than the State Auditor considered prudent. The report from the Texas State Auditor identifies a number of way in which the funds were distributed without adequate documentation.

One of the most significant findings (from page 7 of the full report) was that early in the program’s development TEF funds were distributed without an application.

During the 2004- 2005 biennium, the Office [of the Governor] did not require recipients to submit an application and/or did not require recipients to create direct jobs for award agreements associated with 11 projects. The awards associated with those 11 projects totaled $222,281,000, or 44 percent of the $505,838,696 in Texas Enterprise Fund awards the Office made between September 2003 and August 2013.

That’s a lot of money going out the door with very little systematic analysis or documentation. On one hand, many Texas state employees will feel some sympathy with the Office of the Governor because we’ve grappled with the elaborate process behind spending state dollars. On the other hand, you can not help but question why the governor’s office felt it could dish out over $222 million without meticulously detailing and documenting the process. As someone who has been tormented for forgetting to get the sales tax removed from the bill for feeding a job candidate I’m amazed that the people dispensing the TEF were not more systematic in their oversight of much larger sums.

The TEF’s future was already in doubt. Some Texans are questioning the wisdom of getting the government involved in subsidizing some businesses. Others support the idea in theory but question the way in which the funds have been distributed. It’s a good bet that the TEF will be abandoned or transformed when the legislature meets next year. The questions about the fund are closely identified with Rick Perry and the next governor will want a fresh start.

Reefer Revenue

Reefer Madness

The latest incarnation of “reefer madness” is the idea that the legalization of marijuana is the solution budget woes. I’m amazed how often students suggest legalizing marijuana as their answer on assignments about balancing the budget. So, I was intrigued when I saw that the folks over at “Nerd Wallet” had put together some analysis of potential state revenue from legalized marijuana (“Cannabis Cash: How Much Money Could Your State Make From Marijuana Legalization?“).

Nerd Wallet’s estimate assumes at 15% surtax on marijuana similar to the tax in Colorado on top of the Texas’ existing sales tax rate (they use 8.15%). Of course, it’s hard to estimate the size of a market for a product that is currently illegal. I’ll just have to take their word on their estimates of how many people under 25 are/will be using marijuana. In then end, they are very proud of their nation-wide estimate of $3.1 billion per year. I’ll leave others to point out how that compares to the federal deficit.

I’m focused on Texas. Nerd Wallet’s estimate for Texas is $166 million. They take pride in pointing out how their figures compare to the budgets of small state agencies. A more realistic way of looking at this is to consider how this compares to the Texas budget overall. The bottom line is that revenue from marijuana sales would total just under .3% of the Texas state budget. That does not take into account administrative costs of the state takes up the task of deciding who gets to sell marijuana and the costs of any regulation of the product itself.

It’s worth noting that this year Texas is expected to bring in just over one billion dollars from the alcohol beverage tax alone. There are lots of other sources of revenue that could produce as much money as a tax on marijuana. You’re not going to win over many conservative Texans unless you make a bigger dent in the bottom line.

There are lots of other reasons to consider decriminalization of marijuana. However, the idea the legalization of marijuana is some kind of budget balancing miracle is a bigger hallucination than the drug itself would ever induce.

Nerd Wallet Map

Wonder Woman as political media

Cover of Wonder Woman comicWe had an interesting class discussion of “entertainment media” as “political media.” I brought in what I had learned from an interesting story in Smithsonian magazine (“The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman“) that discussed the agenda behind the creation of the Wonder Woman comic character.

Wonder Woman was created with a couple of goals. One was to take the heat off of the comic book publisher because many people thought comic books were dark, perverse, and/or subversive. After only being around ten years, comic books were already blamed for leading the nation’s youth down the wrong path. Comic books were described as a “national disgrace” by one newspaper. To rehabilitate the image of comic books the publisher hired psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston who wanted bring in characters that reflected the growth of women’s power in society. In the words of Moulton, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.”

There have actually been two books recently published on the origins of Wonder Woman. The Smithsonian article was based on The Secret History of Wonder Woman. I had already read a free sample chapter of Wonder Woman Unbound. I’m not a big fan of comic books, but it was a topic that generated a lot of discussion about the motivations behind media.

I know this strays beyond the usual bounds of a Texas politics course. However, I thought the reference to old comic books was an interesting way of engaging some students who usually sat out class discussion.

Cover of the Secret History of Wonder WomaCover of Wonder Woman Unbound