Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I’ve been writing about the goings-on in Austin. How our legislators are robbing Peter to pay Paul. How their “No New Taxes” is not necessarily the truth. It is simply a matter of semantics. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and one man’s fee is simply another tax on the taxpayer.

To add insult to injury many of the fees that the legislature now wants to redirect are for very good causes. Previous legislatures have passed bills to collect these fees for a good reason. Now they are going to change the rules in the middle of the game, and the sad thing is not even tell us the rules have been changed.

What follows is an article printed earlier this month in the Austin American Statesman by Jason Embry. Just wanted y’all to know that I am not the only one out there that wants to make the voters aware of what is really going on in Austin.

The 'unconscionable' practice that Texas can't quit Jason Embry, Commentary

In the middle of the past decade, when tax collections were so robust that politicians could legitimately boast about state budget surpluses, lawmakers couldn't kick their habit of collecting fees for one purpose and spending them on something else.

So you can imagine how tempting those fees are now that surpluses have become shortfalls.

They've done it with license-plate fees that are supposed to go toward the spaying and neutering of animals. They did it with sales taxes that were supposed to go toward state parks. But perhaps the most tempting stack of cash has always been the System Benefit Fund.

Lawmakers set up the fund in the late 1990s as they deregulated the electric market. Texans in deregulated markets would pay a fee on their electric bills to give low-income Texans in those markets an electricity discount.

The fee, about a dollar per month for customers, is still going strong. The discount? Not so much.

Lawmakers have in recent years spent only some of the money on the electric discount, with the rest of it used to help balance the state budget. The fund is projected to have more than $750 million by the end of the current budget year, with only about $135 million going toward electric discounts.

State leaders have directed most agencies to cut 7.5 percent from their budgets this year, which would take about $10 million out of the benefit program. Then Gov. Rick Perry's appointees on the Public Utility Commission voted in December to reduce the discount by an additional $31 million. And last week, citing lower energy prices and the need to look at all of the state's programs, Perry's aides suggested that House budget-writers could save about $35 million more by making even further reductions.

In other words, it's not enough that more than $600 million collected from a fee designed to help low-income Texans pay their electric bills isn't actually going toward helping them pay their electric bills. Or that what began as a year-round discount has become one that's given only in the five hottest months of the year. Perry and his appointees think even fewer of those dollars should go toward the electric discount.

"We're taking it from people who cannot afford to come up here and lobby," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat and one of the creators of the fund.

There's a larger point here. The fact that state leaders can't stop collecting the fee and others like it, but don't think that they can afford to spend the money on its intended purpose, indicates that the state's tax structure cannot support this fast-growing state. Or, at least, it cannot keep up with the Legislature's spending habits. And that's why the Legislature uses such tricks. Besides, if there is more money in the fund than can be used for the stated purpose, why do Texans still pay the monthly charge on their electric bills?

One Texan addressed the problem rather bluntly in a 2006 letter to the PUC, saying the fee should go toward the electric discount or else the state should stop collecting it.

"It is unconscionable for the money to be collected and not go to the citizens it was designed to help," he wrote.

Well said, Governor Perry.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I want to thank each and every one of you who have commented on my blogging. I say thank you to the compliments, comments and criticism. I was asked the other day why I was not posting the comments I received. I did in fact post some of the early ones, but as I received more and more I decided that I created the blog for blogging and not for commenting.

I really do appreciate each of you who made comments. Those that were positive as well as the negative comments are appreciated. Those comments that have attacked me and or my opinions or those that have praised my thoughts are welcome. While we may not agree I will defend your right to your opinion. However, there are a couple of problems with posting the comments.

Number one is that several of you have made very derogatory comments concerning Judge Barkemeyer. While some of my writings have discussed the facts and my disapproval of some of the things that are being done by the Judge I in no way ever intend nor have I intended in any way to directly attack his character as some of your comments have. Therefore I feel that the posting of your comments, both those signed and anonymous might lead some to think that I am in agreement with them.

Secondly, some of the comments have been what one might call “thought provoking” which I see easily getting a number of responses of varying opinions. Again, I created this blog to blog my thoughts and to try to keep folks up with what is going on in Milam County. I do not want to spend my time refereeing comments between various followers that may or may not have anything to do with the blog.

Thirdly, while a majority of you have signed your comments with an email several of you, commenting both good and bad about the blog, have presented your comments anonymously. Not sure if you were ashamed of what you said, did not want your friends to know you liked what you read or just why you felt you had to be anonymous. Personally I feel it is not fair to give those who hide behind anonymous the same exposure as those who sign their comments so that others may contact them.

Finally, please keep sending your comments. I really mean that. I do enjoy reading them all, the good, bad and the ugly. I will read them and do appreciate your thoughts and comments. Thanks to all of you who read Inside Milam County. If you see something you like be sure to tell your friends.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Well now here we are two months into the year and the county is in a DIRE budgetary crisis. According to the Judge we are facing a 1.5 million dollar shortfall for the current fiscal year. I doubt that we will be anywhere close to that type of financial situation by the end of the year. Current official figures just do not indicate the Judge is telling the whole truth.

I am not sure where he gets his figures, but somebody is definitely doing some Enron accounting here. The old saying liars figure and figures lie is something most of us have heard many times. I certainly do not intend to say that Mr. Barkemeyer is intentionally misrepresenting the facts, but the manner in which he is presenting the facts does not tell the truth.

Dave is taking monthly totals and combining them to do his analysis of the Milam County budget. This sounds logical, but in fact is not. There are some accounts that are one time payments, such as the local volunteer fire departments and ambulance service, and there are others that are quarterly payments such as the appraisal district commitment.

It does not take rocket science to understand that if you budget say a 200,000 dollar payment for the year, but then make it as a one time payment you cannot include the entire amount in your budget analysis. Although the payment is made one time it is accounted for over the full 12 months not the month that it is paid in. The actual amount to be used in a monthly analysis would be $16,666.67, not the full 200,000 like Dave does.

Another good example is equipment purchases. The Milam County Sheriff’s Department has three cars budgeted for 2011. They will purchase all of them at one time. If they pay 60,000 dollars all at one time for the three cars it still should be annualized over the entire 12 month budget and should be figured at 5,000 dollars per month over 12 months versus a one month expense. I’ll bet Dave will list the full payment as an expense which will skew the budgetary figures even more. That is unless he reads this blog.

So the question is this, is our county’s chief financial officer really this clueless, or is there a method to his madness? I find it hard to believe that a man with Dave’s education and experience is all that clueless. On the other hand a good politician might pump the electorate up by misinforming them and then when everything balances out at the end of the year take credit for what a miraculous job they have done in saving the county from sure financial ruin. Time will tell.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Okay, so the voters spoke in the November elections. From what I gather from the media and other sources their voices said something about limiting government and no new taxes. So do you think they heard them in Austin? From what is going on it looks to me like they are speaking a different language in Austin.

Take, for instance, the 911 fund. In 1987 HB 911 imposed a fifty cent fee on every phone line in the state to pay for the statewide 911 emergency system. This was an act of genius and has done exactly what it was intended to do; develop and maintain a statewide 911 system. It has done so well in fact that there is a surplus in the fund. A surplus that would be more than enough to continue to maintain and update the 911 system as new technology evolves.

Unfortunately the legislators in Austin are looking to use this “dedicated” fee to help balance the budget. Not only do they intend to sweep the current balance of the fund into general revenue to balance the budget they also intend to keep collecting the fifty cent fee under the ruse of 911 funding.

According to some reports they intend “redefine” the direction of the fund and use it in the future as a source for general revenue. Maybe it is not a new tax, but certainly a new use for a dedicated fee.

To make things a bit more complicated some of the larger counties receive their 911 funding directly while other counties, like Milam, get their money through the Councils of Government. To add even more complexity some counties receive the funding while in other counties, like Milam, cities receive the funding. Bottom line is that if 911 is to continue in Milam County Rockdale and Cameron will have to provide the funding.

There is another option though. Simply do not fund the 911 program with local tax dollars. HB 911 provided a vehicle for the funding of this program and that vehicle is still running. We just need to make sure HB 911 continues down the road it was meant for…..funding 911.

If the state decides to sweep the 911 funds and redirect the future revenue that will mean what already is paid for will have to be paid for again with your tax dollars. Can you spell unfunded mandate, double dipping, misappropriation of funds? Hopefully our city and county leaders will have the backbone to just say no to funding 911 with local tax dollars.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


As I read and listen to what Dave has to say I keep thinking I might be able to figure out what he is talking about. He really has me fooled with his budget 101. While he talks as though he is trying to get some important information out he still does not tell you the whole story.

Take his budget briefing on the January 2011 budget. I pointed out several errors last blog that were indicators of how Dave needs to spend some more time with someone who knows something about county budgeting. Some of the line items in his handout just do not add up.

On the expense side of the handout he shows that the line item for the Tax Appraisal Office is more than 40,000 dollars over budget. Dave, the county pays the appraisal district on a quarterly basis, just like the other entities do. Therefore, with the first quarter payment of $58,969.98 being made the county is in fact right on budget.

Similar examples are also in other line items in the handout. Ambulance is quarterly and fire protection is a one time a year payment. So if you take Dave’s figures as accurate the budget won’t be right till December.

Of course he could be simply setting the taxpayers up for the tax increase that lies ahead for the 2012 budget. He might be following the role model of his Austin mentors in trying to use a smoke and mirrors technique so that’s when it is all said and done he can blame someone else for the budget increase.

I have written before about how what happens in Austin will affect us in Milam County. Well hang on folks cause it ain’t gonna be pretty. Last Thursday Senator Troy Fraser spoke to a group of rural County Judges and basically said that dedicated funds were going to be reorganized in the budget and placed in general revenue. Another term for this maneuver is sweeping.

Well that is exactly what your representatives in Austin are going to do in an effort to balance the budget. To me a better term for this sweeping action would be misappropriation of funds. Senator Fraser told the group the state was going to sweep 911 and other dedicated funds to be used in balancing the budget. They will continue to collect the 50 cents per phone line fee under the auspices of 911 funding, but the money will actually be going to the general revenue of the state.

So what does this mean to us as taxpayers? We get to foot the bill if we want to see 911 services continue in the county. There are going to be a lot of other services, if continued, that will be picked up by the local taxpayer as well. Senior citizens, MHMR and many other programs are going to be hard hit.

As the governor continues to define voter id and sonograms as emergencies you have to wonder when they are going to get around to the real emergency at hand. You can be sure of one thing whatever comes out of Austin will cost us on the local basis.

So maybe there is a method to Dave’s madness. Maybe his plan is just like Austin’s. To bring on the smoke and mirrors and try to make us think all is well or at the least find somebody else to blame the problems on.