credentials, explaining all things stimulus has largely fallen to one legislator, Rep. Jim Dunnam. The Waco Democrat chairs the House Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization, created to figure out how to use the money. \(The state Senate didn’t own site, txstimulusfund.com , managed by Paddington Media, which specializes in Democratic campaign sites. Dispelling any hopes of a productive bipartisan effort, the site’s “Meet the Members” page contains only pictures of Democratic committee members. The public is invited to participate only by reporting “fraud, waste, abuse or mismanagement of federal funds.” The sites neatly symbolize the lack of foresight Texas has shown in putting those billions to work. Outside of legislative committee hearings, the only opportunities for public input came in March, when Dunnam’s committee held “town hall” meetings in Arlington and San Antonio. Just 400 Texans showed up, many of them Arlingtonians prompted by an automated message from Perry encouraging them to support his rejection of $555 million in federal unemployment insurance If the stimulus was intended, as President Barack Obama said in April, to “lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity:’ Texas has mostly used it to plug budget gaps, paying for existing programs without dipping into the state’s Rainy Day its version of the budget in April, Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, proudly declared that it “uses the federal stimulus dollars wisely to ensure the funds are spent on onetime expenditures that will not result in ongoing costs to the state and leaves the Rainy Day Fund untouched:’ There’s your new foundation, Texas. The last time the state was looking at a similar infusion of cash, with $15 billion from the national tobacco settlement in 1998, the Comptroller’s Office flirted with a visionary idea: Use all the money to build out every temporary public-school building in the state. That would have created construction jobs while tackling educational disparities across the state. It didn’t happen then, and it’s not happening now This time, there’s no comparable idea that might leave a lasting mark on the state. A plan by Rep. Mark Strama, an Austin Democrat, has the most promise, using stimulus funds to set up public-private partnerships offering green jobs training. Strama’s proposal would also reserve 20 percent of the weatherization funds in the stimulus for individuals living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Strama hopes his program will help Texas compete for another cache of federal energy-efficiency money that’s up for grabs. Just weeks after the stimulus bill passed, Maryland began holding grant-application workshops to help local governments win the competitive funds. California and Florida have also held seminars. Texas has not. In an all-day, all-night session in mid-April, the House approved funding for Strama’s plan, as well as Houston Democrat Sylvester Turner’s proposal to use stimulus funds to expand Medicaid, contingent on the bills passing in both chambers. Another House bill would create a Texas Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board to encourage publicprivate partnerships to use stimulus funds. Rep. Yvonne Davis, a Dallas Democrat, added an amendment forcing Gov. Perry to accept the unemployment insurance funds before he gets money for his pet Texas Enterprise Fund, which doles out business incentives that critics view as giveaways. The House measures still have to survive the final budget process, in which the two legislative chambers hammer out compromises on their respective bills. Then the bills will land on the desk of a stimulus-wary governor, needing his signature before becoming law. Creative thinkers like Moorhead have been disappointed by state leaders who view the $16 billion as either “big government” excess or a budgetary bandage. She says she had dreamed that teen parents would get training for green jobs while their kids were in stimulus-funded math and science programs. “Texas could do this;’ she says, “and we’d have whole families ready for a whole new economy:’ Now she just hopes the House’s last-minute flurry will give Texas a little stimulus along with a lot of status quo. HIGHTOWER Mocking Democracy Would you like to get a 22-percent return on the money you invest? That’d be awfully good in today’s sorry market! How about a 2,200-percent return? No way, you say, that’d be a Ponzi scheme. Now try a 22,000-percent return. If you think that’s the stuff of fantasyland, you’ve been playing in the wrong market. That’s the payday corporations have received by investing in a sure thing: Washington lobbyists. Three University of Kansas professors recently issued a report on corporate lobbying to win a tax break in 2004. Pushed in the name of job creation, the bill \(which drastijob gains for workaday folks, but it did produce a boon for lobbyists. The study found that 93 major companiesincluding giants like Pfizer Inc., IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.spent $283 million on lobbyists to slide the bill through Congress. In return, the legislation allowed the corporations to dodge $62.5 billion in taxesa 22,000-percent return on their investment. Not every lobbying campaign produces such eye-popping results, but Washington influence peddlers now promise corporate clients returns of 100-to-1 or better on every lobbying dollar they spend. What we have here is an admissiona boast, reallythat legislation is for sale and that you have to pay to play. It’s the old golden rulethem with the gold ruleand it mocks America’s pretension to representative democracy. To help push for lobbying reform, contact the U.S. Public Interest Research Group at www.uspirg.org . MAY 1, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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