Friday, April 06, 2007

Bay Area Houston: It's official. Texas worst place to live in US.

Bay Area Houston: It's official. Texas worst place to live in US.

As a Texan whose family was pioneer settlers in the Republic of Texas, it saddens me to acknowledge the realities JOHN COBY succinctly acknowledges in this short diary from the BAY ARE HOUSTON blog.Ignoring them is irresponsible.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Who Owns America's Wealth?

Posted by NUFFRESPECT on U-Tube March 31, 2006. This video basically sums up the distribution of wealth throughout the US population. The distribution of wealth in other countries, like the UK, is very similar. These figures are more than a decade old. It's even more concentrated now.

Texas Commission of the Arts Under Attack by the Abolish or Privatize Crowd

Please contact members of the Texas House Committee on Culture, Recreation and Tourism and express STRONG OPPOSITION to HB 2460 Author: Flynn Title: Relating to the continuation and functions of the Texas Commission on the Arts. This bill calls for the abolition of the TCA. TCA was reviewed recently and the Sunset Review Staff found that the agency's mission is appropriate and meets valid needs of citizens of Texas. They found the Texas Commission of the Arts fulfills its goal to promote art throughout the State of Texas, serving the state both geographically and socio-economically with equity. Please object to any move to PRIVATIZE the Commission of the Arts, to abolish it, or to move it into the Governor's office. The Commission of the Arts is not broken. If more of the State's agencies earned the kind of performance reports like the recent Sunset Review Staff assessment of TCA, we'd have few problems in Texas. Don't mess with that which isn't broken! Urge the Committee to vote No on HB 2460 and not pass it out of committee.

COMMITTEE: Culture, Recreation, & Tourism
TIME & DATE: 2:00 PM or upon final adjourn./recess
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
PLACE: E2.014

The identical bill in the Senate is SB 901 filed by Sen. Bob Duell This bill doesn't mention moving the Commission of the Arts to the Governor's office, but during the Sunset Review Committee Hearing on TCA, one member stated that he wanted to see it privatized or moved into the Governor's Office. The Sunset Review Staff stated that their finding show no financial or operational benefit to moving the Commission of the Arts. Please contact your Representative and Senator and members of the Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee and state opposition to HB 2460 and Senate Bill 901. When you discuss this bill, also state that you oppose any move to either privatize or to move the agency. Art should be independent of politics.

House Committee on Culture, Recreation, & Tourism

Position Member
Chair: Rep. Harvey Hilderbran
Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0536 District Phone: (830) 257-2333
Vice Chair: Rep. Edmund Kuempel
Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0602 District Phone: (830) 379-8732
Budget & Oversight Chair: Rep. Dawnna Dukes
Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0506
Members: Rep. Mark Homer
Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0650
District Phone: (903) 784-0977
Rep. Donna Howard
Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0631 District Phone: (512) 463-0631
Rep. Mike O'Day
Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0707
District Phone: (281) 997-1103
Rep. Larry Phillips
Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0297
District Phone: (903) 891-7297

Here is a link to e-mail for State Representative:

Here is a link to e-mail for State Sentors:

In researching this issue, I listened to the Sunset Review Hearing on TCA and telephoned TCA Executive Director Ricardo Hernandez. Mary Beck, TCA Director of Finance e-mailed me financial data on TCA and spoke with me by telephone regarding sources of TCA revenue and their administration of grants.

During the Sunset Review Committee Hearing on TCA, it was disclosed that the Legislature exerts pressure on the agency through the Legislative Budget Board process. TCA Executive Director Ricardo Hernandez testified that "at no time during our meetings with the Legislative Budget Board or with Legislators who are charged with oversight of our agency were we told that we needed to narrow our focus. Instead the discussion was about how to be more efficient in fulfilling our mission." Yet when the questions were developed for Performance Board Measurement, they did not measure the mission of our agency. To meet the criteria of the PMA results in a shift in the mission of the TCA. Yet, the Mission of the TCA is affirmed by both the TCA and Sunset Review Staff as being appropriate and beneficial to the State and serves the people of Texas. In response to discussions with the Legislative Budget Board, Mr. Hernandez stated: "We eliminated some programs... At the time we did not realize that our focus was being redirected by the Legislature through this process. We didn't realize it at the time, but now we know that it was." Selection of questions which do not truly measure how effective the agency meets its goal impacts the focus of the agency. The better the agency responds to meeting its goals, the lower it will score on the existing performance review because of inappropriate questions used in measuring the agency.
Members of the Sunset Review Board testified that the mission of the TCA is valid and beneficial to the State of Texas and its citizens.

THE ENDOWMENT IS THEIR WEAKEST LINK:There is some fine tuning that must be done with the TCA endowement. The State ceased paying interest that accrued to the TCA's endowment fund to the agency in FY06. Members of the Sunset Review Panel and of the Texas Endowment for the Arts Commission Executive Board expressed their belief that private donations to the endowment diminished because donors were afraid that the Legislature would take the fund and divert it to other uses.

Originally a goal was set to acquire $200 mil dollars in the fund by 2005 so that the agency could operate off of the interest. The Legislature appropriated $1 million annually to the endowment for about a decade and other funds came from interest and private donors. When the State faced a severe budget crisis, The Commission for the Arts suggested that the payments to the Endowment fund from the General Fund be curtailed temporarily. The Legislature responded by also stopping payment of of the interest on the endowment as well! That was a violation of the trust of the private donors who also were contributors to the fund. Even though the endowment never came close to attaining its original goal, its interest has served has as buffer in lean years and helped to fund some grants. In years when the State was in financial crisis, interest has been used from the endowment to pay some TCA staff salaries and for funding the Young Masters Program (A scholarship program which has paid a total of $129,000.00 for art scholarships for 25 artists.)

The Sunset Review Staff did not suggest that the fund be diverted to the General Fund, but they did suggest abolishing the trust and using the approximate $10 million in the fund which came from the General Fund for something else and returning the balance to the private donors. This could be a stepping stone toward diverting the dollars previously appropriated to the endowment for the arts to the General Fund or toward some of Governor Perry's other pet projects. The Sunset Review Staff, when quizzed by members of the Sunset Review panel were unable to give sound reasons why it would be beneficial to abolish the endowment fund and return the money to the donors. Some of the Legislators on the Sunset Review Commission seem to lean toward reorganizing the endowment rather than abolishing it.
Ricardo Hernandez and the TCA prefers that existing funds be left in the endowment, and that the Legislature reverse its policy of not paying interest on the endowment. Instead of diverting interest from the endowment to the General Fund, Hernandez says that he hopes that while the economy is healthy, he'd like to see the fund grow to about $50 million dollars (from the current $14.5 million) and the interest be used to fund grants for development of Cultural Arts Districts and other programs.
The Legislative Budget Board and members of the Sunset Committee affirmed the need for appropriations to enable the TCA to increase its grant programs. There does not seem to be much argument over the mission of the TTC.
One member of the Sunset Review Board wants to abolish it because he thinks "it duplicates" what is done in the private sector and thinks it could "be done more effectively in the private sector." However, he stated that he might change his mind. He did not substantiate his assertions that privatization will better serve the public good with any studies or other evidence. Yet he promised to get other legislators to help him abolish the TCA or privatize it.
HB 2460 and SB 901 are bills were authored in support this undocumented unsubstantiated opinion.
The evidence presented by the Sunset Review Staff clearly shows that no benefit will come from privatization or moving it to the Governor's office or abolishing it. Ironically this bill starts out citing Sunset Review or abolish yet when reviewed by the Sunset Review Staff, the authors of this bill ignored their findings!
There appears to be no financial or performance justification in any of the facts or testimony presented before the Sunset Review Committee for moving the Agency to the Office of the Governor as or abolishing it as is proposed in SB 901 or HB2460.
Even though there has been no evidence of the Legislative Review Board or Legislature directing the TCA to limit its focus certain delivery of Arts Education programming, this was a recommendation of the Sunset Review Staff.
It appears to me from listening to the hearing testimony that the TCA has a clearer grasp of their mission and what they must do to best serve the people of Texas in those areas than does the Staff Members of the Texas Sunset Commission who reported their "findings" to the Sunset Review Committee. Committee members questions to the Sunset Review Staff indicates to me that they saw some flaws in the logic of the Staffers regarding abolishment of the endowment fund and restructuring of the TCA.

The agency spends about 11% on indirect administration and technology expenses.

In FY 06 the overall TCA budget was $560M. Only $2.4 M came for the State's General Revenue fund.

$462K came from citizens electing to purchase State of the Arts License Plates which nets $22 per plate contribution to the Texas Commission of the Arts.
TCA received $796 in Federal funds from the National Endowment of the Arts raised
$363K in private donations, etc.
A substantial part of the TCAs budget comes through interagency contracts with other state agencies. TCA administers grants involving art and creative design for agencies such as TxDot (Don't Mess with Texas Campaign) and the State Agriculture Commission's Main Street small down development programs.
In FY 06 TCA administered $1,030,000 in interagency contracts with other state agencies. If the TCA were abolished, these funds would still be spent, only they would not be overseen by a state agency with the skill and positive track record that TCA has in administering grants for creative work for governmental agencies with Texas artists.

TCA is very good at administering grants. They have developed tools and guidelines over the years to protect the state's and private donors' investments in the arts... A map showing their programs and grants are spread throughout the state. They service rural communities in counties, even those geographically remote from Austin, reaching places where most politicians rarely visit. They administer and promote art programs in urban inner-city low income neighbors. They are respected and private donors have elected to utilize the TCA in administering private grants. In FY 06 private money, in grants administered by the TCA, funded Hurricane Katrina/Rita relief through the Houston Endowment. TCAs Texas Music Project provided Music Education Grants. With the Texas Cultural Trust Council, grants enabled Literacy Grants to Libraries through the All Americans Project. To learn more about TCA Programs:

We read and hear a lot about graft and corruption and violations of the public trust. We don't hear much about public agencies and state employees who do a very good job. I am writing you about the The Texas Commission of the Art because I think you deserve to hear about a Texas Agency which remains focused on serving the all the citizens of Texas as efficiently, effectively, and with equity. The more I dig the more evidence I see that this is one Texas State Agency which is neither broken, misdirected, nor corrupt.

Texans have cause to be proud of this agency. The staff, director and employees of the Texas Commission of the Arts deserves a hearty sincere thank-you for excellence.
They serve other agencies by providing art expertise in administering contracts involving creative talent and artists.
They administer grants with skill, attracting private money and inspiring citizens to pay more for their car tags so that the work of the TCA can continue. It is obvious that the money from the General Fund enables the agency to attract other revenue and maximize the impact of arts programs and development of culture and the arts throughout the state.

Examination of the TCA endowment shows that the investment from the State General Fund has netted a significant return. For a number of years $1M a year was appropriated to the endowment from the General Fund. Private donors also gave to the fund. During lean years, some of the interest was utilized to pay TCA agency salaries (when the state was in a budget crunch). A few years ago, when the state was asking for budget cuts in every department, TCA suggested that instead of cutting their operation budget, the Legislature just not appropriate the $1M to the endowment that year. Unfortunately the next session of the Legislature elected not only to not contribute to the endowment but also voted not to pay interest on the endowment. This crippled TCA in attracting private donors. Private donors felt betrayed when they learned that the money they had donated to the endowment would not continue to grow because the Legislature had voted to suspend interest payments. However, despite this unfortunate, and in my opinion, stupid move by the Legislature, the endowment, which only had at $10 million investment of state money, still has about $14.5 million in it. It has used interest to pay staff salaries and all of the scholarships to the Young Master's Program.
If you look at it only in mathematical terms, it seems to me that a $4.5 plus Million dollar return on a $10 Million dollar investment of taxpayers money is an excellent rate of return.
Much of what TCA does cannot be measured in dollars and cents. The Legislature has screwed up so much by making changes to the Transportation Code, withholding designated monies from parks and transportation and from elderly low-income citizens needing utility assistance. Usually it is difficult to look as deeply as I have at the TCA without coming away disillusioned and disgusted. However, when However as I look through their Programs and Services, and at the methods, policies of the TCA I am reassured that at least one governmental agency in Texas is working right!

Please call your Representative and Senator and tell them they should commend the TCA for excellence, leave it alone. Tell them not to move it. Tell them not to privatize it. Tell them to resume paying interest on the endowment

Please call and e-mail MONDAY. The hearing is TUESDAY afternoon.

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