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THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD They’re getting closer. Just in time for the upcoming legislative session, the San Antonio-based Texas Public Policy Foundation, has opened an office in Austin, one block from the state capitol. The conservative think-tank is a project of James Leininger, the right-wing millionaire who famously boosted Rick Perry’s Lieutenant Governor campaign with a last-minute, million dollar loan. Leininger must be feeling fat again, having rented a suite in the lobbyist-infested Texas Association of Broadcaster’s Building. The Austin office will be headed by Lee Adams, currently chief of staff for Mesquite Republican State Rep. Elvira Reyna. Like Dr. Leininger, who helped underwrite the tort reform campaign after the fortune he made in adjustable medical beds was temporarily threatened by product liability suits \(some people got the “principles of limited government, free enterprise, private property rights, and individual responsibility.” If you spent any time in the capitol last session, you’d think TPPF had already taken up residence: their ubiquitous press releases and special reports littered the halls. \(The budget of the self-described “research institute” has to be at least fifty percent marketing and pubour long-range plan to add additional infrastructure to support free market reforms of state government,” TPPF president Jeff Judson said in a press release. Time to unplug the fax machine, in other words. STAND AND BE COUNTED As lobbyists and legislators begin their biennial pas de deux in the skyboxes of Royal Memorial stadium, 350 leaders of the twelve organizations of the Texas Inmet in Austin in mid-September to hammer out their agenda for the upcoming legislative session. They were joined by a number of state senators and representatives who met with the IAF organizations in preparation for January’s legislative session. And they weren’t just there to meet. As the IAF leaders announced the components of their legislative agenda for 2001, the legislators were asked to pledge support for that agenda. It was time for ac 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER countability. “Invest in our communities,” Austin Interfaith leader Oralia Garza de Cortes told the legislators. “We want a piece of the New Economy pie.” And these “real people” had real issues based on their real experiences for the legislators to support. They included proposals on health care, public education, higher education and job training. The proposals were presented to the legislators by IAF leaders telling stories drawn from these experiences. Texas is one of five states that has kept three barriers to Medicaid enrollment in place. As a consequence, 600,000 Medicaid eligible children in Texas are not enrolled. The Texas IAF delegations asked legislators to follow the lead of other states by removing the assets test, eliminating the face-to-face interview and lengthening the enrollment period to twelve-months instead of the current six. They also proposed extending Medicaid and CHIP benefits to low-income adults as 15 other states do. The federal government would reimburse Texas between 60 cents and 72 cents for every dollar spent on covering adults. To these proposals, State Rep. Garnet year “we are fighting for all kids, including those kids in Medicaid.” Austin State Rep. Elliott Naishtat said he and others were already “in the process of getting bills drafted to eliminate the assets test, eliminate the face-to-face interview, and to create 12 months’ eligibility for Medicaid.” He added, “Providing coverage for parents will be just as big a fight, but we need to do it.” Alicia Alvarez, a Valley Interfaith leader and social studies teacher at PharrSan Juan-Alamo High School, told the legislators about the value of the state’s Investment Capital Fund for her school. The fund was created by then Texas Education Commissioner Skip Meno and the legislature in 1993 in response to pressure from the Texas IAF to create extra state funding to support parent and community engagement in schools and special school programs. The fund has grown from $2 million in 1993 to $14 million in 1999. It has supported enrichment programs, extension of the school year, after-school programs, and training for parents, teachers and prin cipals to build community support for public schools. Ms. Alvarez told how it funded an after-school folklorico program for 10th graders having difficulties in school. This was integrated with research and writing projects and math. All the children in the program passed their TAAS exit exams in English and stopped having truancy problems. The Texas IAF leaders are proposing increasing the fund to $20 million in the next legislative session to serve more schools and to provide the possibility of larger grants. In agreeing to support the entire IAF agenda, State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso said, “A compassionate governor ought to start with kids first. I’m from a part of the state where we figured out what `compassionate conservatism’ really means. He came to visit us 14 times, and so we had time to figure it out. It means besos y buena suerte [kisses and good luck].” The IAF organizations also called on the legislators to amend the Local Government Code to allow cities to dedicate economic development funds to support educational and job training programshuman development as well as economic development. Last spring, COPS and Metro AllianceSan Antonio IAF organizationswere successful in getting language on that city’s ballot to use a portion of the city sales tax for a Human Development Fund to support job training, after-school programs, college scholarship programs, and early childhood strategies. The initiative was pulled, however, when it was discovered that state law prohibits using sales tax revenues for such purposes. The IAF organizations are proposing legislation to rectify that situation. They’ve convinced the City of San Antonio and that city’s legislative delegation to help lead the charge. The IAF organizations are also calling for more than quadrupling the current Texas Grant Fund to $214 million to ensure a scholarship for any Texas student with financial need who is entering college. Houston State Sen. Rodney Ellis responded, “California put $1 billion a year into a comparable program. Georgia put $170 million, and it’s got one-fifth the students. We should be embarrassed we’re so tight as $50 million.” NOVEMBER 3, 2000