Monday, January 17, 2011

Jamestown Theory Could Help Balance the Budget

The majority of people today all tend to believe what they see and hear in the media. I mean if FOX says it it has to be true. The real truth is that all major media sources tend to report with some bias. While our local community media sources do a good job reporting unbiased news many of the major news source report with a lean in one direction or the other. Truth is it is not always their fault.

Consider unemployment figures. November 2010 figures for Milam County show an unemployment rate of 10.8%. For the state unemployment for November 2010 was at 8.3%. These figures show county unemployment at the highest percentage ever and state unemployment at the its highest since June of 1992. Guess I should let the reader know that my figures come from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So, how do they come up with theses figures? If you are like me you think these figures are an estimate of people that are unemployed. I know that is what many folks think. In fact these figures represent only the people that are actively looking for a job. Key word here being "actively." We all know that there are a large number of people who are unemployed that really are not looking for employment. Then there are those that actively search until their unemployment benefits run out.

Now this is not to say that all folks unemployed are not looking for jobs, but one has to admit that there are many that do not actively search for employment. Why should they? The majority of jobs that have been created in Texas in recent months are minimum wage jobs. For many, entitlement programs or unemployment pay more. This is especially true if you figure in the cost of having a job. Transportation to and from work costs money, and with gas near three dollars a gallon it costs more today then last year at this time to hold down a job.

As we look to balance the budget getting more people employed will help balance the budget. They make money they can spend money, and this creates sales tax income for Texas. If you pay someone for doing nothing they are more apt to do nothing then search for employment. So why not have them do something in return for their unemployment checks or their entitlement income? There are lots of things that could be required of an individual in return for their taxpayer supported income.

Why not have them volunteer to assist with the many volunteer programs that are out there. Food banks, litter abatement, recycling programs there are many things that a person could do to assist the social environment that pays their bills. Perhaps having to do something in return for their income would increase their desire to find something that pays a little more or something that they might really like doing better.

I do not intend to insinuate that all persons on entitlement programs or unemployment are playing the system. There are many out there that are truly in need, and many that are doing their best to find employment. However, those that are able to work and return something for what they receive should do so. For those that are able to work we should institute the Jamestown theory, no work no entitlement check.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Budget Options

This blog is titled Inside Milam County, but for the next 135 or so days you might think it would be more aptly titled Inside Austin. The reason is that the 82nd Legislature is in session and a lot of what happens between now and sine die (Latin for; without fixing a day for future action or meeting, or a fancy way of saying it's finally over) will in fact affect all of us inside Milam County.

Texas is currently operating under a deficit budget. Some pundits say that lawmakers created a "structural" deficit in the state budget process in 2005, when they cut school property taxes by one-third and expanded the business tax to make up the difference. But the business tax brings in billions less each year than the property tax did, meaning that with every new budget, lawmakers must find more and more extra money to make up the difference. The structure of the revenue system creates deficits each year. It seems to me as though our Austin leaders set themselves, and us, up for failure in 2005.

I will be the first to admit that we have a huge budget problem in the state. No doubt about that, but how to fix it is the real question. Consolidation of agencies is one idea being floated around Austin, and most folks will probably agree that consolidating state agencies is a good idea. I know I do. However, sometimes the devil truly is in the details. In per capita spending by state, Texas ranks 50th in the nation, meaning there is likely less fat to trim when making budget cuts in Texas than in other states.

One consolidation that looks like a done deal is the combining of the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission. Senator Whitmire said the merger could save taxpayers perhaps as much as $200 million. Whitmire says the new agency, to be called the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, would be a much slimmer operation that the current youth commission, with its resources focused on incarcerating fewer teen-aged offenders in state-run lockups and more emphasis on community-based correction.

Community-based correction is what concerns me. While it might save the state money how much will it cost the community? State Representative Byron Cook said that the Sunset Commission's recommendation that will allow any closed youth commission lockups to be transferred to cities and counties, if they want them. That will cost cities and counties money, and who will pay for that? The local taxpayers of course, but that should not surprise anyone as history shows the Legislature routinely passes costs down to the local level to balance the state budget.

There are a number of options the state leaders have to balance the budget. Use of the rainy day fund, fee increases (fee is just a more politically correct way to spell tax), budget cuts, and consolidation of agencies are just a few of their options. We just need to be sure that whatever saving methods they utilize will not result in an increase in local taxes. Be assured when they promised no new taxes they were not necessarily referring to local taxes.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Modest? Ridcously Low? You be the Judge

Have you been hearing about the modest salary that President Obama’s Press Secretary has been receiving? $172,000.00 really does not seem all that modest to me. As a matter of fact that sounds pretty good from my perspective. However, I read yesterday in the Austin American Statesman that there is some concern about the Chairperson of Texas Department of Transportation making a salary capped at a “ridiculously low” amount of $192,500.00. You need to remember as well that travel, office expenses and other miscellaneous costs do not come out of the salary. Seems to me those at the top might be a little out of touch with what salaries are in the real world.

Do not get me wrong I am not against a person making a good living, but when Texas ranks as the 33rd state in teacher salaries you have to wonder where our priorities are. Seems to me we should be more concerned about educating our future workforce and leaders than keeping the fat cats fat.

Now, if you have been listening to the national news our new 112th Congress seems to have trouble getting started. Might be just media spin, but talk is that the cuts the new folks promised during the campaign were “theoretical”. I have a couple of good suggestions that could make a difference, and these are not theoretical.

First each member of congress should vote to cut their office budgets and salaries and benefits by 10%. 2010 salary for members of Congress is 174,000, Minority and Majority Leaders earn 193,400 and Speaker of the House earns 223,500 dollars per year. This of course does not include benefits. There are 535 members of Congress. There are 100 Senators and 435 members in the House. There is also one non-voting member in the House for the District of Columbia.

So, while this will not make a big dent in the trillion dollar plus national deficit it will make a start. It will also show their commitment to balancing the budget on everyone’s back. Not just the taxpayers. Then if they will take their medical benefits and do away with them and work to get a National Health Care Plan that will work for everyone including members of Congress we can save some more money.

At the state level there are several things that might also be considered. Like maybe cutting some of the Governor’s chairpersons salary. Exactly what is the job description for a position with a salary cap of 192,500 dollars? How about some of the other state agency top positions? What do the top administrators at Texas or Texas A&M University make? How about clipping the football coaches’ salary 10%?

While our state representatives do not make the salaries the federal guys and gals do they still have operating budgets that could be cut. It is going to be interesting to see how they meet the need of the fastest growing state in the nation with no new revenue sources.

I have to admit that we are only in the first couple of days of the 112th Congress, but so far not much has changed. Two members have voted without being sworn in, and the D’s are pointing fingers at R’s and the TP’s seem to be lost in the same as usually action of Washington DC. We are also several days away from the start of the Texas legislative session, but there does not seem to be any real plan to relieve the state’s budget crisis. We need to wish them luck in DC and Austin, and just have to hope and pray that it is not business as usual.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A New Year and a New Day

Well here it is January 3rd, and I am blogging again. Keeping up with that New Year’s resolution, or trying to.

Many have asked is there life after the judgeship. Well, for those that have yet to hear I started my new job today. I am working as a Deputy Clerk in the Milam County Tax Office Annex in Rockdale. I am selling license plates, working titles and collecting taxes. I applied for the job back in December and was lucky enough to be selected for the job.

In spite of what you may hear in the rumor mill I have ABSOLUTELY NO INTENTION in running for the Tax Assessor Collector’s office next election. It is just a job. There are some who may tell you that there is some “plan” behind my accepting this position, and actually there is. To have a regular paycheck and that is it.

If you have questions about what you might hear in the rumor mill please feel free to contact me for the rest of the story. It all comes down to knowing the truth. Just as I have encouraged you to seek the truth as the spin doctors start their work during the upcoming legislative session do your best to stay in touch with the truth about local government as well. It will serve you well in seeing the whole picture.