Latest Columns

Water rates are rising

The 86th Texas Legislature is in session, and water utility customers from across the state should be watching two issues that have the potential to impact water rates and the ability of rural utilities to serve their customers in the future. Many consumers are unaware of how these issues may affect them and cause their water rates to increase.

Dennis Bonnen, a Goldilocks Speaker for Texas Republicans?

Many Republicans were critical of Tom Craddick for being excessively conservative and partisan (as well as too authoritarian) and critical of Joe Straus for being insufficiently conservative and partisan. Dennis Bonnen’s legislative record suggests he may turn out to be the Texas GOP’s "Just Right" Goldilocks Speaker.

It’s time to invest in the people of Texas

With energy and ideas from first-time legislators and lots of newly engaged Texans, we're at the beginning of an exciting and critically important Texas legislative session. Now is the time for Texas to invest in our most valuable resource — our own people.

R.I.P., the Texas Public Information Act

Unless there is a political price to pay for denying Texans their right to an open government, that government will be open only for special interests and the interests of the officeholders themselves, not for the Texas public.  The rest of us will be cut out.

Hating on the state’s most prosperous city

Austin is such an easy target for those in control of the Texas Capitol. But their Austin-bashing is nothing more than a facile attempt to deflect attention away from the state’s own very serious challenges and the failures in addressing those challenges.

Taxing Texans right out of their comfort food

It’s too late for Threadgill’s World Headquarters, Frank & Angie’s, and other small businesses so overburdened by taxes that they have to shut their doors. But can’t we agree that in a state in which armadillo boxer shorts are a unifying political statement that more freedom and more opportunity are worth taking bold steps?

Despite critics’ concerns, more oversight of state agencies is a good thing

Gov. Greg Abbott's letter on administrative rules to agency heads does not indicate that his approval is required or that he might try to “veto” proposed rules, as some speculate. The face of the letter indicates that the governor’s office wants to be aware of what state agencies are doing with respect to rulemaking. To me, it looks a lot like he’s protecting the Legislature’s turf.

A Harvey civics lesson for Texas lawmakers

We will always count on the resilience of the Texas spirit in hard times. As Hurricane Harvey taught us, though, Texans must also be able to count on public infrastructure and investments — to help us recover from disasters and to ensure a prosperous future for all Texans.

Dishonesty won’t fix property taxes

Mike Collier’s TribTalk article clearly shows either his total ignorance regarding Texas law and the state budgeting process — as well as his absolute lack of qualifications for the office he seeks — or his willingness to intentionally mislead Texans about the issues facing our state.

Texas’ property tax mess

By blowing holes in our revenue systems, and then borrowing billions and driving debt service costs up, the state has made a complete hash of our finances. We simply don’t have enough money to make ends meet. And the one place lawmakers always turn for more money is local property taxes.

Time to sunset the Sunset Advisory Commission

The Sunset Advisory Commission was established to periodically review this level of governance, review the need for agencies and make them more cost effective. But Sunset reviews usually result in minor tweaks to agencies without much benefit to the Texas taxpayer. Perhaps it’s time to consider a sunset of the Sunset Advisory Commission.

On Earth Day, judges matter

Now that we've observed Earth Day by planting a tree or cleaning up a stream, it's important to do one more thing: Let senators know that we want judges who will follow the law, rather than serving the Trump administration’s political agenda, in interpreting environmental statutes. Oppose the confirmation of Andy Oldham.

On issues like guns and marijuana, prohibition fails where faith succeeds

Classical conservatism and liberalism need one another. Without the freedom to do what is right (and wrong), there is nothing to conserve. Without virtue and a common commitment to order, freedom is quickly lost. However, hubris is the downfall of both conservatives and liberals. Hubris makes it is easy to forget our own depravity and idolize power in our own hands, but hard not to stop it in others.

Let local officials run local government

Local elected officials welcome the opportunity to talk with state leaders to find common ground on these issues and the principle of local control. That’s a principle I’ve never stopped believing in, nor will I stop fighting for it.

Congress shouldn’t create more barriers

Fighting for ideals such as ensuring the inequality of people with disabilities has always been my focus. This is why I am gravely concerned about how U.S. House Republicans have crafted a bill, H.R. 620, undermining the accessibility guidelines for businesses that the Americans with Disabilities Act had created.

Tax reform efforts show Republicans working to keep promises

Every Texan — and every American — will benefit from the leadership that our president and the Texas Republicans in Congress have shown in this fight. Their willingness to work to fulfill these campaign promises is refreshing. I eagerly anticipate the results of their efforts: an even more successful economy and a brighter future for Texas and the Republican Party.

Bipartisanship inspired by our nation’s heroes

The Veterans Apprenticeship and Labor Opportunity Reform Act (VALOR) Act makes it easier for businesses to offer apprenticeships to veterans. By cutting out redundant bureaucratic red tape and unnecessary procedures at the VA, this bill smooths a veteran’s transition from the battlefield to the workplace.

Fired up over barbecue carve-outs

Restaurant lobbyists will have a chance to fix scale regulations during the new legislative session in 2019. I will be there again to oppose them. Until then, I must implement the law as written. While some barbecue restaurants are now exempt from regulation of their food scales, most are not.

The decline of Democratic influence in the Texas House: 2009-2017

Centrist Republicans rule the roost in the Texas House. That has not changed since the 2009 coup that ousted Craddick. What has changed is the structure of legislative alliances. Between 2009 and 2014, the dominant alliance was between Democrats and centrist Republicans, with many movement conservative Republicans often finding bills they opposed passing over their objections.

Rolling back the red tape

Federal rules and regulations are a very real and expensive burden on Americans. They drive up the cost of everyday items families need and make it harder for the economy to grow — a critical feature of job creation. And they are often a barrier to agencies, charities and even brave individuals taking quick and emergency action to get people help.

Hiding a real problem behind a bogus property tax reform

The Senate’s proposal to limit cities and counties from raising the funds they need to pay police officers, firefighters and paramedics is a bad idea. Senate Bill 1, as this proposal is called in this special legislative session, would also threaten local funding for health care, parks and libraries. Fund public education and the rest will take care of itself.

An open letter from one disabled person to another

In 2014, I tried to go to the polls to vote. I knew the additional voting requirements of showing a photo ID would likely pummel any hopes that the disability community would have in accumulating political power. I realized I had an opportunity to shine a spotlight on how the law had disenfranchised me of my voting rights.

The new United States of America

An alliance of states was announced to follow the Paris agreement’s terms and it became clear that the states had begun to reassert themselves. California has reached an accord with Quebec. The Canadian government is in talks with Texas, Florida, and other states. They are ready to take on responsibilities abandoned many years ago.

George Washington set the standard on term limits

Setting limits on the time politicians can serve in a particular office will not solve all the problems with Washington’s broken culture. However, I believe it will help achieve a much-needed, positive dynamic: more courage to solve the big problems for our country rather than congressional leaders planning their careers and protecting their longevity.

Ethics, vetoes and pay-for-play politics

Appointing officials to state boards and commissions is one of the most important roles of the Texas governor. Individuals appointed to positions in public agencies and on state boards should be chosen on the basis of their qualifications, not their ability to donate money. We owe it to the people of Texas to take money out of the equation, ensuring that all Texans can be equally considered for these appointments on the basis of merit alone.

We lawmakers didn’t do enough for average Texans

Sometimes I wonder if the august body of the Texas Legislature remains true to the Reagan ethos of servant leadership. Where is the humanity? Where is the compassion for the least among us? Can the blind ideology of libertarianism adequately address the pain and suffering of our fellow Texans? This session, it seems as though some members have chosen fealty to an unseen, nihilistic special interest over the lives of those who they were sent here to represent.

What Rainy Day Fund?

Legislators frittered away the Rainy Day Fund long ago. Sure, it has a cash balance — according to the books, anyway. But that cash, amounting to roughly $10 billion, is offset by debt, amounting to roughly $50 billion.

Acts of war and the limits on presidential power

Our founders were both realists and idealists. They knew the terrors of war and prepared for its eventuality. They also believed the decision to commence war, or even engage in potentially provocative and aggressive offensive military action, was too terrible and momentous to entrust to one or even a select group of elected officials.

The Economic Stabilization Fund: A Texas legacy

The irony with long-term issues is they don’t need to be solved immediately, yet because they do not need to be solved immediately, those issues are rarely adequately funded in each state budget. The Texas Legacy Fund within the ESF would allow the state to better manage long-term issues, which are the greatest threat to our state’s AAA credit rating.

In Texas, libraries transform

From enrichment to education, libraries transform how we as patrons engage in the world around us by providing access to resources and by developing programs specific to the needs of our communities. In the years ahead, the services that libraries provide will be essential as more and more cities adopt aging-in-place initiatives.

Outdated sales tax system thwarts Texas businesses

Ten percent of retail transactions are now online, and this proportion increases every year, while sales tax collection for the state of Texas has increased anemically. As our sales tax collections stagnate, lost revenue will be made up with higher taxes elsewhere, most likely through property taxes and additional cuts.

The only bill the Texas Legislature has to pass

State government will close its doors on Thursday, August 31. The only way those doors will open the next day is if the Legislature can pass a budget that is certified to balance by Comptroller Glenn Hegar and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. While an early start to the Labor Day weekend might sound good to students, failure is not an option.

A smart wireless strategy for Austin

Wireless connectivity amplifies every aspect of daily life, from improving transportation and public safety to enhancing business and personal communications. Yet Austin's current wireless infrastructure is as frustratingly clogged as its streets and highways.

Don't blame oil prices for budget woes

A 4 percent budget cut may not seem like much to the casual observer, but for a state that already underinvests in critical public services like education and health care, it represents potentially significant cuts to services that help Texans compete and succeed in life.

Abbott's constitutional wish list

There is much to be said for Gov. Greg Abbott’s call for a new convention to revise the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately, ours is the most difficult to amend in the world, making his proposal more of a wish list than a practical program.

Criminalizing moving apps hurts Texas

If Texas wants to retain its status as the envy of the nation in terms of opportunity and economic growth, it must not allow government to restrict the advance of the free market to the point of criminalization just to serve the narrow business interest of industry incumbents.

The fallacy of the separation of church and state

Those who would remove religion completely from the public square have hijacked the phrase "separation of church and state," to the point that many believe those five words are found in the Constitution. Of course they are not, and neither is this radical doctrine of a religion-free culture.

Kill the margins tax

Given the potential for big economic benefits, Texas lawmakers would be wise to use every available dollar this year to fully repeal the state's business tax, also known as the margins tax.

Reform state purchasing now

Texans must feel confident that their tax dollars are being used wisely and fairly. As the state's chief financial officer, I'm committed to transparency and trustworthiness in the contracting and purchasing process.

A gross overreach in Houston

In today’s polarized society, it’s often hard to find areas of consensus. But thanks to the city of Houston's outlandish subpoenas of pastors' sermons, we’ve found something that we can all agree on.