Tommy Williams

Horns Down: Every time we turn around...

Student loan default rates have grown for the sixth year in a row, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education on Monday. The two-year default rate has increased from 9.1 percent to 10 percent, and the three-year default rate has increased from 13.5 percent to 14.7 percent. This is no surprise, as the time needed for young workers to reach financial self-sufficiency has increased along with soaring tuition rates.


Horns Up: Better weather to come.

There’s no federal government, the seas continue to rise and the world’s bees are still mysteriously disappearing, but right now in Austin, at least the heat’s finally starting to break. And it’ll only get better from here. The Weather Channel forecasts highs of 77 and 73 degrees for the weekend — just in time for ACL.


Horns Down: Tommy Williams leaving the Texas Senate.

The Texas Tribune on Wednesday announced that State Senator Tommy Williams, (R-The Woodlands), was resigning from the Senate. Williams’ valiant work as the chair of the powerful Finance committee earned him a spot on Texas Monthly’s “Best Legislators” list last session. Though we disagree with Williams on some issues, we admire him as a lawmaker and negotiator and are sad to see him go.

Last Thursday, Texas Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, filed Senate Joint Resolution 1, a proposal to spend $2.5 billion on water supply projects and $3.5 billion on infrastructure and transportation. It would also amend the Texas Constitution to create a permanent State Water Implementation Fund, as well as a similar funding source for infrastructure.

The proposal was quickly moved to a hearing in the Finance Committee, where it passed unanimously. It now awaits debate and a vote on the Senate floor, where it is likely to pass.

Senators from both sides of the aisle claim to support the bill, although with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, argued as he voted “yes” that the funding proposal should include a substantial amount of Rainy Day Fund money for public education as well, saying, “We shouldn’t pit the need for water or highways against public education.”

Several expressed reservations about whether the proposed transportation funding would be adequate, but Williams emphasized that it was not a panacea. Rather it is “part of a solution” to the problems. The most prominent part of the proposal — the creation of the water fund — was also the most popular. Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, called it “visionary.”

One of the most appealing aspects of SJR 1 is that it allows for greater expenditures for water management than have been previously proposed. Williams’ spokesman Gary Scharrer said that a constitutional amendment “carries no risk of running up against the state’s spending cap,” as that $97 billion limit does not apply to spending specifically outlined in the Texas Constitution.

While we support such a comprehensive move to fund the projects called for in the Texas Water Development Board’s 2012 State Water Plan, the proposal sets the stage for a precarious scenario by making the entire initiative contingent on one statewide vote in November.

Other legislative attempts to fund water supply projects have taken the form of bills rather than constitutional amendments and as such are subject to the legislative process — and the threat of a veto by Gov. Rick Perry. In his 2013 State of the State speech, Perry mentioned the need to spend money on both water and transportation, but his proposal was over $2 billion less than Williams’. If passed by the Legislature, SJR 1 would bypass Perry’s desk.

Scharrer also said, “On these big projects it’s good to get voter approval.” But there are several reasons why such a referendum could end in disaster.

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll conducted in February reported that only 4 percent of Texans considered water the most important issue facing the state — and that’s the highest percentage since 2010. Even in this period of severe drought, water supply isn’t an issue that galvanizes the public. That likely has a lot to do with the daunting complexity of the problem, as well as the fact that most Texans’ taps are still running just fine.

Another problem is that the vote is scheduled for an off-year election cycle. In November 2011, only 5 percent of Texans went to the polls (compared to almost 60 percent in the 2012 elections). That low turnout was a contributing factor in the demise of the last legislative session’s proposed constitutional amendment, which would have provided tax incentives to landowners for water conservation.

That amendment was defeated despite the absence of any organized opposition. This one, if it passes the Legislature, will almost certainly face organized opposition. Conservative advocacy groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation have already come out against existing plans to spend money from the Rainy Day Fund on water management. A statement posted March 25 on the TPPF website claims that a two-thirds vote for such spending “would set a dangerous precedent in setting Texas on the path of growing government ahead of the people’s ability to pay for it.” Instead, they argue that the Legislature should “return the [Rainy Day Fund] money to the people with a tax cut.” SJR 1 would spend half a billion dollars more than the one that statement protested.

Such ideological opposition to necessary attempts to save our state is shortsighted at best. The question about such measures should not be whether they cost too much, but whether doing everything possible will actually be enough to prepare for the unprecedented water shortage that is approaching Texas like an oncoming train.

We support funding as much of the State Water Plan as possible, but we remain unconvinced that a constitutional amendment is the best way to do that. If Williams’ amendment goes to the polls in November, opposition groups could take advantage of what will almost certainly be a very small and unmotivated voter turnout and kill the proposal. If this is the path the Legislature chooses, then it’s absolutely vital that the amendment pass in November. If it doesn’t, then all of the efforts this session to prepare for the coming crisis will have gone in vain.

Here’s an arithmetic problem: While back-to-school shopping, Dave gives his son Pete $10 to buy a calculator. The next year Dave gives Pete only $5 for the same model of calculator, and Pete can’t afford it. After Pete fails math in spectacular fashion, Dave agrees to give Pete the five additional dollars he’d taken away. However, calculators now cost $12. Can Pete afford the calculator?

If you said yes, then congratulations, you’re about as good at math as the Texas Senate Finance Committee.

When the Texas Senate passed its proposed budget on March 20, many hailed it as a major step in repairing the $5.4 billion in cuts to public education from the 2011 legislative session. Those cuts were struck down as unconstitutional by a state district court earlier this year, after hundreds of broke school districts sued the state government in desperation. The new Senate budget restored $1.5 billion for public education. Claiming the matter to be settled, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said, “We have completely funded enrollment growth in public education.”

Not so fast. As Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, brought up during the debate, statistics compiled by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a nonprofit, nonpartisan  policy institute, show that after adjusting for inflation, the amount of money spent per student at the end of the next biennium will be $185 less than it had been in 2012 and $980 less than it had been before the 2011 cuts. The state’s formula-based funding methodology does not take inflation into account. When presented with the data, Williams responded, “I don’t believe that’s the case, but there’s room for us to disagree.”

It’s admittedly not our strongest subject, but we’re pretty sure math isn’t open to such broad interpretation. Even with this questionable arithmetic, the final budget overwhelmingly passed the Senate. Just don’t be fooled by anyone suggesting this was a resounding victory for public education in Texas. Every first-grader in the state can understand that giving them less money and calling it more calls for voters to expel legislators from the classroom.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A $6.6 billion emergency spending bill to mostly cover unpaid Medicaid costs is closer to landing on Gov. Rick Perry's desk.

The Senate on Tuesday passed the measure after Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis withdrew an amendment that sought to tack on $400 million more in public education spending. Republican Sen. Tommy Williams, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told Davis that conversation needs to wait for another spending bill.

Budget writers say doctors and hospitals won't get paid unless the Legislature this month approves the emergency bill that includes $4.5 billion for Medicaid costs. Another $1.8 billion in the bill reverses a deferred public school payment that lawmakers in 2011 moved off the books to help close a massive budget shortfall.

The bill now moves back to the Hose.

Texas A&M football’s move to the Southeastern Conference next year has now become a political issue, with one state senator moving to legislatively mandate the traditional Thanksgiving football matchup against UT.

Texas State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, announced plans to preserve the long-standing rivalry between the A&M Aggies and the UT Longhorns by introducing legislation instructing both teams to meet by law.

State Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, will sponsor the legislation to be presented during the 83rd session of the Texas Legislature, according to a press release from Sen. Williams‘s office.

“This football series began in 1894, and I don’t think it’s time to stop this rivalry,” Sen. Williams said in the press release.

“The game has served as an important family tradition for millions of Texans throughout the century, and it’s important we preserve this great tradition.”

UT men’s athletics director DeLoss Dodds said political intervention may cause scheduling problems for both schools.

“At Texas, we have contracts for three non-conference games each year that run until 2018,” Dodds said. “We also don’t know what the configuration of the Big 12 will be. We didn’t leave the conference — they did. We’ll make a decision that’s best for Texas.”

President William Powers Jr. expressed similar sentiments in an interview with The Daily Texan conducted last week.

“A&M is leaving, and that’s sad. We hate to see them go, but A&M is doing what is best for A&M,” Powers said. “They’ve been thinking about leaving since before the [Longhorn Network] started, so there is no connection.”

International relations junior Hallie Warnock said she was strongly in favor of keeping the game on Thanksgiving weekend but questioned the need for political intervention.

“They’re one of our biggest rivals after OU,” Warnock said.

“It’s one of the games you get most excited about. It’s a rivalry that’s gone on for a long time, and it’s really important to us. No matter which team is better each year, it’s such a great accomplishment to beat them. UT takes it more seriously than anyone.”

Warnock said although she believes some politics should regulate sports, mandating legislation is too intense.

Texas A&M successfully eliminated all legal barriers preventing a move into the SEC, clearing the way for it to compete in all sporting fixtures for the 2012-2013 academic years, the league announced on Sunday.

Printed Thursday, September 29, 2011 as: Senator looks to preserve rivalry by introducing bill

The Sanctuary Cities bill passed in the state Senate despite emotional opposition speeches from Hispanic senators who claimed American citizens will be harassed and targeted because of their skin color.

“This [bill] is going to be reversed some day,” said Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville. “This is the lowest point of my 24 years on [the Senate] floor.”

The bill allows law enforcement officials to inquire about a person’s citizenship status and eliminates the option for districts to not allow officers to inquire about citizenship status. These districts were known as ‘sanctuary cities.’

The bill passed around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, after nearly seven hours of debate with a 19-12 vote along party lines.

“The goal of this legislation is to be proactive,” said Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands. “Human trafficking, drug smuggling; it is real and at our doorstep. We can send a loud and clear message to illegal aliens that we will not tolerate their presence”

The bill was originally defeated by Democrats during the 82nd regular session, but resurfaced last week after Gov. Rick Perry signed it into the special session. It passed the House earlier last week and will be sent back to them for final consideration.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, stood against the legislation, claiming it would separate families and would cost $4 million for districts to train officers.

“The police chiefs of our major metropolitan cites all stand opposed to your legislation,” Whitmire said. “Austin, San Antonio, Fort-Worth and Houston [police chiefs] asked to kill this legislation because it would interfere with providing good public safety.”

Despite the recommendations from police chiefs, Williams said he disagreed with their concerns and said this legislation would aid in fighting against illegal immigration, but would not turn police officers into immigration agents.

“This legislation will bring a uniform policy to the state that would allow police officers to understand what they can and cannot do,” Williams said. “We are not requiring the officers to make an inquiry, we are saying you cannot have a policy that prohibits the inquiry.”

Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, asked Williams to list each sanctuary city in Texas. Although William’s legislative polls did not produce a solid list of sanctuary cities, the following cities will be affected by this legislation: Austin, Baytown, Brownsville, Channelview, Denton, Dallas, El Cenizo, Ft. Worth, Houston, Katy, Laredo, McAllen and Port Arthur.

The last two hours of debate involved each Hispanic member of the Senate standing up to put a face on the legislation, claiming it will racially profile each of them.

“This legislation puts us back in the 1950s; the Jim Crow days.” said Sen. Mario Gallegos, D- Houston. “This bill is the most racist, Latino bashing bill I have ever seen.”