January 12, 2015

Mike Hasson: EPA regs put affordable, reliable power at risk

The Obama administration is now finalizing its Clean Power Plan regulation to force Texas to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. This leaves our state legislators with a choice when they return to Austin: Submit to the administration’s demands, or stand up to this federal power grab by passing legislation protecting their constituents.

The regulation, proposed last summer by the Environmental Protection Agency, amounts to a bureaucratic takeover of our state’s electricity grid, directing Texas to cut its emissions by 39 percent over the next 15 years — a total volume twice as large as the next two states combined.

While everyone agrees we must be good stewards of our environment, any federal environmental directive should meet three minimum requirements before requiring state compliance. Any such directive should:

— Not place an economic burden on citizens.

— Show a demonstrable environmental impact.

— Pass constitutional review.

The EPA’s regulation fails all three of these measures, and Texas lawmakers should oppose its implementation.

Two recent studies estimated it will increase Texans’ utility bills by 10 percent every year until 2030 and will cause industrial electricity rates to more than double by 2020 over their 2012 levels. According to the EPA’s own climate model, it will only slow global warming by 0.032 degrees and slow sea-level rise by 0.01 inches.

The regulation’s constitutionality also faces serious questions. Twelve states have already filed suit, and legal scholars from conservative and progressive camps alike have argued that the regulation violates both the U.S. Constitution and existing statutory law.

In light of the regulation’s shortcomings and questionable legality, during the legislative session our representatives should pass a law that accomplishes two objectives.

First, the law should provide state legislators with the ability to reject any plan adversely impacting the affordability and reliability of energy for their constituents. Second, the law should bar the use of state funds to comply with the regulation unless and until the agency can establish that its actions are legal and constitutional.

Mike Hasson is the Texas state director of Americans for Prosperity. Reach him at mhasson@afphq.org.

Ann Beeson: Help make our kids healthy, wealthy, wise

The start of the 84th legislative session is a perfect time for Texans to put aside our differences and focus on what we all believe in — making this the best state for hardworking people and their families.

Local leaders like Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins are working locally to ensure that all Texans can compete and succeed in life. Now our state leaders have the chance to enact policies to expand economic opportunity across our great state.

I’m heartened by bipartisan support for reforming the way we care for Texans with mental illness. Texas prisons and jails have become our primary treatment centers for people with mental illness, and that doesn’t make sense. Helping people get the treatment they need and stay out of jail through peer-support re-entry programs would improve mental health and save taxpayers money. There’s also momentum around ending the practice of surprise medical billing, which sticks Texans with hefty fees when they receive care at in-network emergency rooms from out-of-network doctors.

Speaking of health care, Texas starts this legislative session in a familiar spot — with the regrettable distinction of having the country’s highest percentage of uninsured residents (22 percent). At the Center for Public Policy Priorities, we join business leaders and bipartisan county judges in pushing for a Texas approach to closing the health care coverage gap. Expanded health care could bring more than $6 billion each year into the state’s economy and create more than 200,000 new Texas jobs in three years.

To attract those jobs, we’ll need a skilled workforce, and education has to start early. Research shows that participation in quality prekindergarten programs is associated with improved reading and math scores, but only 52 percent of Texas 4-year-olds attend public pre-K. We’re tracking common-sense proposals that would offer full-day, high-quality pre-K. Lawmakers should bookend the early investments in education with college and advanced job training programs. Only 16 percent of Texas boys and 23 percent of girls currently complete a higher education degree or credential. For Texas to prosper far into the future, more of our children and grandchildren need to get the training they need for successful careers.

I look forward to the session’s opening gavel and to working toward a Texas where everyone is healthy, well-educated and financially secure.

Dallas native Ann Beeson is executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities. Reach her at beeson@cppp.org.

Talmadge Heflin: Go for a lean budget, end margin tax

To sustain the Texas model’s economic success, the 84th Texas Legislature should slow the growth of the state’s budget and eliminate the costly business margin tax.

Since 2004, Texas’ total budget has increased by 64 percent to $204 billion for the current two-year fiscal period. Adjusted for population growth plus inflation, the total budget is up an astounding 13.4 percent in the same period, costing Texas families of four $1,800 this year to fund their government.

With the Texas comptroller’s recent revenue estimates showing $7.5 billion in funds available at the end of the current fiscal period plus additional general revenue available during the upcoming two-year budget period, legislators will be tempted to spend every available dollar. However, this is an excellent opportunity for them to practice fiscal restraint by prioritizing spending on core government functions and use additional funds to provide tax relief.

To maintain a level of spending that can be sustained over the long term, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and 13 other organizations support a conservative 2016-17 total budget that spends no more than $217.1 billion. This budget is based on a 6.5 percent increase in population growth plus inflation for the last two fiscal years above the current two-year budget.

It is true that despite increased spending and the margin tax, Texas has generally had a robust economy. For example, since the last recession started in December 2007, Texas has created roughly 10 times more jobs than all other states combined.

However, with a drop in oil prices, we need to ensure that the Texas economy remains strong. To continue helping the working poor and all Texans to prosper, the Legislature should limit spending growth by passing a conservative budget and eliminating the state’s margin tax.

Talmadge Heflin is director of the Center for Fiscal Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Reach him at theflin@texaspolicy.com.

Heather Fazio: Let’s be sensible and reform marijuana policy

Finally, a robust and unified effort is under way to reform Texas’ flawed marijuana prohibition laws.

Advocates, community leaders and organizations from around the state and across the political spectrum have formed a broad coalition, Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, which is urging state lawmakers to adopt a more sensible approach to marijuana policy.

Texas voters also appear ready for change. A poll conducted around this time last year found more than 3 out of 4 support overhauling current state marijuana laws. Most want to see harsh criminal penalties removed for simple possession or legal access to medical marijuana for people with serious illnesses.

In 2012, there were 72,150 arrests or citations in Texas for marijuana-related offenses, of which 97 percent were for possession. Meanwhile, nearly 90 percent of all burglaries — including home invasions — and 88 percent of all motor vehicle thefts went unsolved by law enforcement.

Texans deserve better, and Texas can do better. We can begin by enacting marijuana policies that are based on science and evidence instead of fear and misinformation.

Marijuana prohibition is a failed government program. It has not prevented the widespread availability and use of marijuana, but it has derailed the lives of countless Texans. It has also created a dangerous underground market, empowered violent cartels and wasted limited law enforcement resources.

In Texas, we pride ourselves on being tough on crime, and we should be. Protecting citizens and facilitating justice for victims are among the most important functions of a limited government. By distracting police officers, overburdening prosecutors and misemploying correctional facilities to fight an unwinnable war on marijuana, we are setting ourselves up to fail.

It is time to replace prohibition with a more just, compassionate and efficient marijuana policy. Texans are ready. Hopefully our elected representatives are, too.

Heather Fazio is Texas political director of the Marijuana Policy Project. Reach her at hfazio@mpp.org.

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