Politics

By Ian White

A PROPOSAL to raise a school district’s tax rate by 13 cents gained traction when the district’s trustees voted unanimously this week to put the mesasure on the ballot in November’s election.
Five members of the public spoke in favor of the idea during a public hearing held by the trustees of Texas City independent school district on Tuesday.
As The Post revealed last weekend, the district was forced to hold the meeting to consider how to deal with a $3.9m shortfall in its budget for the academic year just started.
The choice was whether to cut services and staff levels, including teacher numbers, or to raise the rate at which the district levies property taxes by 13 cents. A hybrid mix of the two, with a lesser hike in the tax rate, was also possible.
The trustees voted unanimously to put the tax-rate increase on the ballot after hearing the five members of the public who addressed the hearing all speak in its favor.
After the district’s chief financial officer, Margaret Lee, outlined its plight in view of state financial restrictions leading to falling revenues while ever-more-costly student enrollment is on the rise, mayor Matt Doyle said: “The state system is broke.”
Referring to the district’s development of new schools and facilities, he said that to stop funding the education system “would be a tragic mistake”.
And, with an eye on the longer-term future, he added: “If we don’t support our kids now, we’ll never be able to attract them back.”
Construction-business owner Randy Dietel said a rise in the tax rate “will affect me as a business but I’m willing to do that. I’m very much in favor.”
Popular community activist José Boix said: “We have trust and confidence in our district administrators. The onus is on state legislators to sort out the problem.”
Resident Jack Cross said: “We have a beautiful city but it’s all gone for naught if you don’t have a good school district. We have no choice.”
And Texas City lawyer Mark Ciavaglia said: “These circumstances are not of the district’s making. Raising the tax rate is the right thing to do. To cut staff and resources would be a travesty and a crime to our children.”

By Ian White

AN ATTORNEY who took county leaders to the wire in their legal dispute about jurisdiction over the justice administration department won his motion for more time to prepare his case this week – one day before his original deadline.
The state’s Houston-based first court of appeals granted counsel Terry Adams a further nine days to file his brief on behalf of the county commissioners, who are trying to overturn an injunction preventing them from rearranging the department.
Adams claimed the extra time less than a week before his August 26 deadline, telling the court he had only recently been appointed to the case and that a visit to a dentist had cut into his preparation period.
That drew the ire of opposing attorney Mark Stevens, who represents the commissioners’ adversary in the case, 56th-district-court judge Lonnie Cox, and who responded by telling the appeals court Adams’ request was a cynical delaying tactic.
Cox has declared null and void the commission’s summary firing of department director Bonnie Quiroga in July last year and last month won the injunction from visiting judge Sharolyn Wood.
Her order also ruled that the commissioners rehire Quiroga pending a trial in January, an order they are refusing to obey while their appeal is in progress.
Adams now has until Friday, September 4, to file his brief, with Stevens having to present his reply within the following 10 days.

 

By Ian White

IT’S NOT just the county’s judges and commissioners who are throwing mud at each other in the long-running legal battle over control of the county’s justice administration service.
Now the attorneys are at it as well – and it’s all because of a trip to the dentist.
Smarting from claims by Galveston lawyer Mark Stevens in an appeals-court document last week, Houston counsel Terry Adams has hit back, writing to the court to accuse his adversary of a “scurrilous attack” on his “character and integrity”.
The new war of words began last week when Adams, representing county judge Mark Henry and the commissioners in the so-called Quiroga case, filed a motion seeking more time to prepare a brief for his clients’ appeal against an injunction awarded against them early in July.
Part of the reason Adams cited for last Wednesday’s request to the state’s first-district court of appeals was a dentist’s visit he claimed to have made on July 10.
Having joined the appellants’ defense team only recently, he wrote that he needed more time – an extra nine days – to prepare the brief “only so that justice may be done”.
Stevens, who represents appellee Lonnie Cox, fired off an immediate objection to the request, making it clear he regarded the claim as the sort of ruse a schoolboy would employ as an excuse for not doing his homework.
Calling the extended-time motion “a transparent attempt at tactical delay”, he said it “does not even try to satisfy the requirements” of the Texas rules of appellate procedure and argued that the reasons behind the request “are revealing
and disturbing”.
He also took direct aim at the commissioners’ attorneys, writing: “An even less inspiring reason is the bonanza which this case has become for appellant’s numerous counsel.”
He said the county has spent circa $177,00 on the case to date, including $73,000 for one attorney – presumably trial counsel Ed Friedman – “for his work over a two-week period”.
Within hours of Stevens’ objection being filed, Adams hit back, saying his opponent’s accusations were false and had been written as “a smoke screen”.
“The personal attack cannot go unrebutted,” he wrote.
“There is no gamesmanship or other nefarious motive underlying appellant’s request as counsel for appellee has stated.”
As The Post went to press on Monday, the appeals court had not ruled on the contested request. At that time, its stated deadline for Adams’ brief was today, Wednesday.

Hamilton, Lee             Lee Hamilton

The Post’s look at national politics now has more than one contributor – this week, it’s the turn of our original columnist.

THE MOST important function the US congress serves is to debate and pass the federal budget. I know – it also levies taxes, imposes or relaxes regulations and, once in a while, nudges our social, economic or political order in a meaningful way. But the budget tells the government what to do and makes it possible to do it. Everything else follows from that.
Even at the best of times, passing a budget is a test of congress’ abilities. And these aren’t the best of times. Congress’ two houses are controlled by Republicans who don’t see eye to eye. The White House is in the hands of a Democratic president who really doesn’t agree with them.
So, to get a budget enacted into law, everyone involved has to negotiate seriously. They have to make realistic political judgments about what’s possible. They have to compromise.
Given our divided government, you’d think that everyone would step up to these challenges. Early this year, following the GOP’s takeover of the senate in November’s election, it seemed as though they might. Gone, at least in rhetoric, were the days of shutdowns, sequestration and the fiscal cliff. The “regular order” of committee hearings and duly-marked-up appropriations bills would be restored.
In the house of representatives, appropriations-committee chairman Hal Rogers accomplished something that hasn’t been managed for years – all 12 appropriations bills made it out of the committee.
But that’s where the good news ended. For the bills themselves were largely political statements that had no chance of being enacted, as they contained provisions that were anathema to Democrats – including president Barack Obama, who made it clear he had no intention of signing them.
What provisions? The appropriators voted to reverse the affordable care act. They zeroed out family planning. They imposed strict rules on for-profit universities. They pulled back regulations on the environment. They resorted to long-practiced budget gimmicks – planning for faster economic growth than is defensible so they could increase projected revenues; boosting military spending then moving it off-budget, which allowed them to claim to support defense spending without actually counting it as spending.
So now congress is headed for partisan gridlock and the result is predictable, because we’ve seen all this play out before. Instead of the regular order, we’re once again pointed toward fiscal showdowns.
This month, congress gave up on securing a new round of transportation funding for the states – at the height of the summer construction season – instead announcing a three-month extension that saves the hard negotiating for the fall.
A vote to raise the debt ceiling also looms in the fall and, given the state of play, it seems inevitable that, once again, congress will resort to the travesty known as a continuing resolution, which relinquishes its power of the purse by basically extending the previous budget’s fiscal policy.
There are no members who defend this way of budgeting, but they end up doing it year after year anyway, as if held hostage by their own worst inclinations. There are no serious negotiations at this point.
Which is a problem. Because to prepare a budget thoughtfully – especially when it requires negotiation with the other party – demands working through literally thousands of details. Yet we approached adjournment with no serious talks to make mutually acceptable headway on the budget – although somehow congress found the time to take a recess, shutting down for the remainder of the summer.
So with congress having left Washington and only a dozen or so working days once it returns to put a budget together, the delay means that our budget-setting body won’t actually be able to resolve the issues it faces.
Congressional leaders seem fine with this. They rejected early negotiations, preferring a last-minute confrontation, which will lead to another fiscal impasse.
In other words, they’re punting. I can’t predict how long they’ll make their continuing resolution last but, with presidential elections looming, the period could be longer rather than shorter. Instead of turning over a new leaf, as congress promised it would do just seven months ago, it’s once again consigning us to fiscal chaos.
You should be angry. It’s a lousy way to do business.
Lee Hamilton is director of The Center On Congress At Indiana University and was a member of the US house of representatives for 34 years.

By Lora-Marie Bernard

TEXAS’ two US senators claim the Iranian nuclear-weapons agreement shows naivety on the part of the federal government.
“Hearing the specific details, this deal is not materially different than simply calling the Iranian supreme leader, asking if they’re developing nuclear weapons and taking his word for it when he says ‘no’,” junior senator Ted Cruz said after attending a briefing on the issue.
President Barack Obama is on a three-week push to get congressional approval for the deal, which calls for Iran to reduce its uranium by 98 per cent for the next 15 years. The administration says the agreement allows rotor and centrifuge inspections for 20 years. Inspectors can monitor Iran’s uranium ore stock for 25 years.
But senior senator John Cornyn said all those points carry less weight in light of a side agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency that would allow Iran to inspect its own military complex, Parchin.
The senator said the side deal, revealed this month by the Associated Press news agency, erodes trust in the deal and reinforces deep-seated Republican-party concerns.
“It is time for the Obama administration to come clean with the American people and provide all information about these secret side agreements between Iran and the IAEA,” he said.
Cruz echoed Cornyn’s concern that, under the agreement, the United States would lose leverage.
“The idea that we would trust Iran to inspect their own facilities takes a level of gullibility and naiveté that exceeds the standards even of the Obama administration,” he said.
“Nobody would sign this agreement without knowing full well that the predictable and certain outcome of this agreement is that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons,” he said.
“And no one in their right mind would want a regime that is led by a radical theocratic ayatollah who chants ‘Death to America’ to acquire nuclear weapons.”
He also said the inspection regime simply gives the Iranians time to reposition themselves.
“We all know about the 24-day-notice, which is a delay that is designed only to give the Iranian regime time to cover up their nuclear program,” he said.

Cruz,Ted web ready                 Ted Cruz