The Comptroller in the spotlight

Texas’ brand new comptroller, Glenn Hegar, took center stage this morning to announce the biennial revenue estimate for Texas. A lot of state officials watched or listened live. Others paused for a moment and check their phone.

http://www.window.state.tx.us/about/bio.phpThe comptroller’s revenue estimate is one of the legislative session’s most important moments—despite the fact that it occurs before the legislature officially convenes because the comptroller’s estimate become the limit on how much the legislature can plan on spending over the next two years. It is possible to appropriate more than the estimate, but very few Texas legislators are interested in taking a stand for spending more.

This is an especially important moment for Glenn Hegar. Some conservative will take their measure of Hegar’s ideology today because they want a low estimate that will constrain legislative spending. Others will take their measure of his technical competence in the years to come based on the accuracy of the estimate.

This is an especially tough year for having your credibility based on budget projections. The national economy is beginning to show more signs of strong growth. However, volatile oil prices have an impact very directly on the state’s taxes on oil production tax revenue and indirectly through the general sales tax that rises and falls with the state’s economy overall.

Making an accurate prediction of state revenues for the next several years is a nearly impossible task that will subject to all kinds of scrutiny.  In the days and years to come, Hegar will be subject to all kinds of criticism for this projection.

Whataburger and Net Neutrality

Bobby Hill at WhataburgerI don’t usually write about nation issues. There are plenty of blogs and other sources on that subject. However, national politics recently intruded into my process of updating the fourth edition of our textbook.

Most Monday mornings during the summer, I stop by Whataburger, get myself a Jalapeño Cheddar biscuit (okay, two), and do a little editing. Can you really write about Texas politics without spending some time at Whataburger?

The good folks at Whataburger provide WiFi so that I can check out Internet sources while there. I was trying to get the some numbers on state revenue when I smacked into this digital wall:

Request denied by WatchGuard HTTP proxy.  Reason: one or more categories denied helper='PublicAP-WebBlocker' details='Gambling'  Method: GET  Host: www.txlottery.org

The numbers I needed were on the state’s revenue from the lottery. It turns out that the good people at Whataburger wanted to protect me from gambling. The fact that it was state-sponsored did not diminish their concerns. I also found myself protected from happyplace.someecards.com for “Adult/Sexually Explicit.” (The content I was trying to get to was “Thieving dog apologizes to baby for stealing her toy“) Well intentioned? Maybe. Clumsy and mistaken? Yes.

It was a reminder of why I don’t want anyone between me and content. The Internet has remained remarkably free of government censorship and I’m now concerned about corporate control. I spend too much time sitting through insufferable Suddenlink ads while watching cable television to trust my cable company’s intelligence or intentions. I don’t want to give these companies any more control over my life.

I accept Whataburger’s WiFi rules. However, they don’t try to regulate my food intake when I’m home. I don’t want my Internet provider regulating information intake.

How rich do you have to be?

A story about Virginia politics has me thinking about politics in Texas and everywhere else.

National Journal’s Matt Berman put together a thoughtful article (“What the Bob McDonnell Indictment Reveals About Wealth in American Politics“) about the predicament that Governor McDonnell and his wife found themselves in. There are, as Berman points out, a set of expectations that come with living in the public eye.

It’s not surprising to see U.S. politicians place so much value on appearance, even well above their own means. To be shocked is to ignore the often outrageous pressure society puts on its (especially female) political figures to look the part. Not even Janet Yellen can wear a dress twice. And remember, as big as the bill is for Maureen McDonnell’s shopping spree, it doesn’t even touch the $150,000 the Republican National Committee spent on a makeover for Sarah Palin in 2008.

Governor McDonnell at his inaugural

Society expects it elected officials (and their families) to be impeccably dressed. In other words, we expect that the people who will represent us will look and dress nothing like us. As Lucia Grave points out in her analysis have some kind of serious problem when “serious” news outlets like Roll Call  judge people like Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen based on their wardrobe. Ironically, even those defending Yellen’s attire displayed some of the warning signs of extreme shallowness. In his mea culpa for writing about Yellen’s attire, Warren Rojas recounts some of the criticisms he faced: “Where is the blistering assault on President Barack Obama’s strict rotation of blue or gray suits, some wondered. Why no exposés about current Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s penchant for Jos. A. Bank wear, prodded others.?” This left me wondering, who was tracking Obama’s suit rotation or researching the origins of Bernanke’s suits? Why is anyone trying to judge any important person by their clothes?

None of this excuses what Governor McDonnell and his wife may have done. However, it is worrisome to think about the impact of this discussion on the thousands of lower or middle-class men and women thinking about entering public life and wondering if they can afford the trappings of power. How many people look at what their elected officials wear and implicitly understand that those people live in a different world? How many average Americans will never try to enter halls of power of power because they don’t feel they can meet this implied dress code?

Many of our elected officials have advocated school uniforms (in part) to address the kind of petty materialism behind this problem. Uniforms also contribute to a sense of teamwork, emphasize learning, and discouraging the formation of gangs. This seems as needed in Austin and Washington as our schools.

Salute to Homeowners Associations

No article to post. Just a great cartoon from Cul de Sac (by the great Richard Thompson) about the rules that homeowner associations create.

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On blogging

Another cartoon that puts blogging into perspective. This one is from the “Beardo” strip written by Dan Dougherty.

Blogging...

 

Nick Anderson

Nick Anderson has become my favorite political cartoonist . He has a fun visual style and does a pretty good job of irritating both sides.

A recent cartoon did a great job of capturing the dilemma of health care costs. As a few Texans have noticed, many people are already getting “free” health care by showing up at hospital emergency rooms even though they can not afford to pay the bills. This leaves local governments and private hospitals to pass these costs along to the other patients at the hospital or taxpayers in general. The next time you’re looking at a big bill ask the hospital why it’s so high. They’ll tell you that part of what you’re paying is to cover the expenses for those who checked out without paying.

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Anderson really irritated some people with a recent cartoon on Obama’s proposal to change the way cost of living increases are calculated for future Social Security recipients.

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Anderson’s cartoon depiction of the hysterical overreaction of some was quickly mirrored by angry overreaction from readers. Life imitated art as one ready told him: “Obama has proposed, endorsed, pushed a budget that DELIBERATELY is designed to kill off senior citizens.” I suspect that Anderson thought his cartoon might make some people think about the overly dramatic rhetoric floating around the issue. Some readers just weren’t that interested in thinking about the subject.

Income inequality in the states

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has put together a report (“Pulling Apart: A State-by-State Analysis of Income Trends“) that looks at differences in income inequality across the states.

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There are a lot of causes behind this inequality that seem ripe for classroom discussion.