S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Southwest Digest - 2007

This blog comes out of Southwest USA. And I am a Texan. Today I'll post about what is currently happening in Texas that relates to the wider world: legislating, reforming/cutting social services, struggling with illegal immigration, declining affirmative action and union membership, plus arguing over George W. Bush's presidential library.
The Texas Legislature meets every other year - In the state capitol, Austin, the 80th Legislature will go into session today, 1/29/07. And there has been an oil and gas related Texas revenue windfall, according to the Austin-American Statesman. But, unfortunately, it will not help our most vulnerable citizens very much. To quote from the story,

On the spending side, the reins were still tight, despite the money that's been pouring in.
About 25,000 students who qualified for a Texas Grant scholarship, which offers free tuition to students who take challenging classes in high school and show financial need, did not get them last year.
About 85,000 Texans with mental retardation and other disabilities are on waiting lists for home-based nursing care, physical therapy and respite care, instead of seeking those services at institutions. Meanwhile, problems such as paperwork mix-ups and inadequate training have kept eligible Texans from receiving public assistance programs as the state has tried to save money by giving private companies a larger role in providing those services.
"In higher education, in the Children's Health Insurance Program, in Medicaid, in mental health services, we are not nearly meeting the needs of this state," said state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso.

"Reform" Medicaid or cut services? Texas' governor Rick Perry will propose that the state's Medicaid program be restructured. I very much fear that it will result in fewer people being adequately served. Headlined, "Perry: Medicaid must be reformed," the Dallas Business Journal carried an article, from which I quote,
Gov. Rick Perry on Friday joined U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt and state lawmakers to discuss restructuring the state's Medicaid program.
As the cost of managing the Medicaid program continues to grow, Perry says the state must develop new approaches to sustain the program that serves 2.7 million disabled and elderly Texans.
"Texas cannot continue to take a one-size-fits-all approach to Medicaid," Perry said. "Escalating costs and increasing enrollment has made our current system unsustainable. Together, with our state and federal partners, we must develop a more flexible and efficient system of providing safe, quality medical care to those who need it most."
In 10 years, from 1994 to 2004, the cost of Medicaid doubled in Texas, Perry said. It now takes up 26 percent of the state's budget.

Immigration reform or increase cultural divisions? Proposed legislation is pending before the coming legislative session. The Austin-American Statesman carried this headline - "A look at illegal immigration proposals filed by Texas lawmakers." The New York Times carried a story about a Dallas suburb's ordinance that bans renting to illegal immigrants. To quote from this ugly story,
DALLAS, Jan. 23 — The City Council of a Dallas suburb has revised its proposed ban on renting apartments to illegal immigrants to allow landlords to rent to families with mixed citizenship or residency status. But the proposal in the suburb, Farmers Branch, is being challenged in court and requires the approval of voters in May before it takes effect.
The Council voted 5 to 0 on Monday night for the revised ordinance after more than two hours of public testimony. It allows landlords to rent to families with a head of household or a spouse who has legal residency or citizenship, and it exempts minors from mandatory document checks.
The ban was to take effect earlier this month, but a judge issued a restraining order after city officials were accused of violating a state open-meetings law. Other lawsuits say the effort is unconstitutional.
. . . Elizabeth Villafranca, 43, and other volunteers with the group Let the Voters Decide said they were starting a voter registration campaign to try to defeat the ordinance.
“They’re trying to send a message that minorities aren’t welcome,” said Ms. Villafranca, adding that she had been told to “go back to Mexico,” even though she was born in the United States.
Mayor Bob Phelps said that although his city was taking steps to curb illegal immigration, the effort should begin with the federal government. “Walls, fences, that’s not going to solve the problem,” he said. “It’s got to start from Washington.”
Higher education diversity challenges remain - In a New York Times story that discussed problems in a number of states, I quoted the portions pertaining to Texas. It begins with the headline, "Colleges Regroup After Voters Ban Race Preferences", from which comes the quote,
Texas banned affirmative action for seven years. The University of Texas resumed consideration of race after the 2003 United States Supreme Court ruling. “We need every tool we can get,” concluded Dr. Bruce Walker, the university’s director of admissions.
In California and Texas, the first two states to ban racial preferences, underrepresented minorities at the flagship universities declined — even though both states, and Florida, adopted plans giving a percentage of top high school graduates guaranteed admission to state universities.
In Texas, students admitted through the Top 10 percent plan swamped the flagship Austin campus. But the plan, now being rethought by the Legislature, never brought in many minority students. Last fall, with both race-conscious admissions and the Top 10 plan, blacks made up an all-time high of 5 percent of the freshman class, and Hispanics 19 percent.
Union membership around the nation has declined , according to a recent New York Times article. This is a continuing problem for the Democratic party. (see Texas stats in bold below):
Union membership dropped sharply last year in the United States, as the percentage of manufacturing workers in unions fell below the percentage of American workers in unions for the first time in modern history.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday that union membership fell by 326,000 in 2006, to 15.4 million workers, bringing the percentage of employees in unions to 12 percent, down from 12.5 percent in 2005. Those figures are down from 20 percent in 1983 and from 35 percent in the 1950s.
Work force experts said the decline in union membership was caused by large-scale layoffs and buyouts in the auto industry and other manufacturing industries, together with the labor movement’s difficulties in organizing nonunion workers fast enough to offset those losses.
Correction: A chart yesterday with an article about declining union membership gave outdated information on the states with the highest and lowest membership in 2006. The top states were Hawaii (24.7%), New York (24.4%), Alaska (22.2%), New Jersey (20.1%) and Washington (19.8%); the bottom states were Texas (4.9%), Georgia (4.4%), Virginia (4.0%), and North and South Carolina (both with 3.3%). The chart listed the 2005 rankings. (As the article noted correctly, the national average is 12 percent, based on 2006 figures.)
Our current president will probably move back to Texas in 2009. A controversy has already started about where his library will be located. The New York Times reports that the (then former) president may be putting his library at SMU in Dallas. Not all institutions are welcoming, according to the linked story.
The "Southwest" Connection: Readers sometimes mistakenly come across my blog after doing a Google search on a very popular Austin music festival called "South by Southwest." The actual website is SXSW Festival. It gives current information about this year's event happening March 9-18, 2007, featuring "Film & Interactive Conferences, Festivals & Trade Shows."
References: Texas statistics, Texas legislature Online, Wikipedia-Texas, Texas Weekly TDCJ-Death Row Information
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