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Good News Dallas
by Tom Pauken    Wed, Nov 23, 2005, 06:47 PM


Wick Allison, publisher of D Magazine, has some excellent suggestions about how to make downtown Dallas more "user friendly" in his publisher’s notes in the December issue of D. He makes the point that the City of Dallas parking code requirements "were written with a precision that would make a Soviet planner quiver with delight".

Without stealing his thunder, let me quote from one paragraph in his article: "Dallas City fathers enacted the present code when they were afraid that downtown would be overrun by cars. That’s hardly the problem now. The city should restore two-way streets and allow for head-in parking to reduce the gully effect. It should eliminate off-street parking requirements to let developers and businesses make their own decisions. It should give the maximum leeway for people to use their own creativity and common sense."

Read the rest of Allison’s article in the December issue of D Magazine.

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by Special to    Wed, Nov 23, 2005, 05:03 PM

Tony Lawton
On Saturday evening, November 19, the College of Saint Thomas More presented Mr. Tony Lawton at the fifteenth annual Lewis-Tolkien Dinner and Lecture. Mr. Lawton brought vividly to life the cast of the Great Divorce: George MacDonald, the woman who simply had to have someone to manage, the man who only wanted his rights, and the addict. Mr. Lawton is a graduate of Notre Dame who pursues his acting career as a vocation, both by representing the text of C. S. Lewis’s stories dramatically and by offering spiritual drama to a secular world through his Mirror Theater Company.

The Lewis-Tolkien Dinner and Lecture is an annual event sponsored by The College of St. Thomas More’s C. S. Lewis Center for the Common Tradition. Through the Center the college has brought to this event such internationally known scholars as Peter Kreeft, Thomas Howard, Richard Land, and Father Ian Ker. The Center was organized not to take part in ecumenical dialog but to pursue the common interests of Christians on the assumption of a shared love for God and love of learning.

Tony Lawton lives in Philadelphia where he is at work on a novel and a children’s story in which the main character is winningly named Foozy.

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SPORTS: Daniels Doesn't Get His Man; But He Gets "IT" by Norm Hitzges
by Special to    Wed, Nov 23, 2005, 02:03 PM

Often times we learn more about people when times are tough than when things are going well. Personally, I found out a lot about Rangers GM Jon Daniels today.

Click here to read more ...

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by    Wed, Nov 23, 2005, 01:41 PM
Justice Nathan Hecht
There is one critical paragraph of Justice Nathan Hecht's majority opinion that does not seem to be getting much attention from the press this evening but could be critical in any future school finance discussions. Hecht issues a pointed warning to lawmakers when he wrote, "Various legislative proposals during the past year to remedy perceived problems with the public education system and its funding would reduce the maximum ad valorem tax rate and allow it to be exceeded for certain purposes. While we express no view on the appropriateness of any of these proposals, we are constrained to caution, as we have before, that a cap to which districts are inexorably forced by educational requirements and economic necessities, as they have been under Senate Bill 7, will in short order violate the prohibition of a state property tax."

The proposals Hecht describe sound an awful lot like HB 2 -- the leadership's school finance bill (which did not finally pass). In that bill, the lawmakers put a lot of new state money into the system and lowered the property tax cap. (The actual amount of the lowered cap varied from $1.05 to $1.25 at various stages of the process). On top of the new, lower cap, lawmakers authorized school districts -- with voter approval -- to levy up to an additional 15 cents of enrichment tax, phased in over several years. There was, however, one catch on which the supreme court did not opine. The bill allowed school districts to go over the cap if two-thirds of district voters approved. To our knowledge, no Texas court has ever faced the issue of how to treat a cap that can be busted by a super-majority.

The core constitutional infirmity cited in the opinion is a lack of "meaningful discretion" on the part of school districts, rather than the property tax rates or the mix of state vs. local financing of education. The paragraph quoted above appeared to be a not-so-subtle warning to the legislature. The key to a constitutional school finance system lies not in the rate, but in the amount of discretion school districts have and whether there are significant variations in the rates charged.
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by Special to    Wed, Nov 23, 2005, 01:24 PM

 Official responses to the School Finance ruling:

Gov. Rick Perry issued the following statement:

Gov.Rick Perry
“The decision issued today by the Texas Supreme Court is an important victory for Texas schoolchildren and property taxpayers. It reaffirms the conclusion that many Texans have already drawn based on the significant achievement gains Texas students have made in recent years: that our system of education funding is fair and meets or exceeds all constitutional requirements.

“And just as importantly, the court ruling validates the demands of Texas taxpayers who are fed up with property tax bills that climb higher and higher with each passing year and who want and deserve substantial and lasting relief. I am also pleased to see that the court agreed with a position I have long advocated, and that is that simply pouring more money into the same system will not alleviate the property tax problem.

“Our entire tax system needs substantial reform to make it fairer, more modern and that will ensure schools have a reliable stream of revenue. That is why I appointed 24 private sector leaders and experts to the Texas Tax Reform Commission led by John Sharp who will develop tax reform recommendations before the legislature next meets.

“I will also continue to work for real classroom reforms, including higher pay for teachers, stronger accountability for failing schools, and a greater emphasis on college readiness so that our children are prepared to succeed in college and access all the opportunities of tomorrow.

“The court also made note of an important point: while the $10 billion in increased funding Texas has provided for education since 1999 has had a positive and measurable impact on our schools, it is possible for the legislature to implement new reforms that will improve student success without necessarily spending additional dollars.

“The June 1 deadline for legislative action is one that I welcome, and I will call lawmakers into special session at an appropriate time before that deadline. I am ready to resolve this issue. So are many legislators and so are the people of Texas.”

House Speaker Tom Craddick on School Finance ruling:

"I accept today's Texas Supreme Court decision and I am committed to finding a fair, equitable, and constitutional alternative to the current school finance system. With six months given to us to address this issue, I look forward to working closely with Governor Rick Perry and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst to find a solution that will appropriately answer the Court's ruling."

The following statement was issued by Reps. Jim Dunnam, Garnet Coleman and Pete Gallego:

Rep. Garnett Coleman
“The Supreme Court told us today, that we have a job to do. The Governor needs to call us back in to special session today so we can pass a school finance plan that fully funds all our schools and provides real property tax relief for all our families, said House Democratic Leader Jim Dunnam.
“The all Republican Texas Supreme Court once again confirmed today that the Republican Legislature failed Texas schoolchildren, failed Texas taxpayers, failed Texas schools, failed Texas parents, failed Texas teachers and failed the test of leadership over the last two years,” said Rep. Pete Gallego (D- Alpine).

“After 2 regular sessions and 3 special sessions, the Republican Leadership punted the Legislature’s duty to the Supreme Court.” Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) continued, “in the ruling handed down today, the Supreme Court confirmed that it is the Legislature’s job to meet this challenge head on and develop a long term solution that is worthy of our school children.” The Republican leadership has taken the wrong approach for the last two years. The Supreme Court warned that the public school system is "drifting toward constitutional inadequacy". Simply swapping out a statewide property tax for another tax won’t fully fund our public schools. The Court noted that our system, although barely adequate now, would face additional court challenges in the near future unless the Legislature and the Governor work for serious long term solutions."

Other selected quotes from Public Officials:

Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston):

Sen. Rodney Ellis
"Today's decision gives us a starting point on what must be done to fix our school finance system. It is time for the Governor and the Legislature to finally come together and do what is right for our school kids. "Our most important job is to ensure a quality education for all Texas children. Our goal must be to build the best schools in the nation by increasing state funding for public schools, increasing equity, and creating a fairer and more equitable tax structure. A dramatic increase in sales taxes should not be considered.

Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas):

Rep. Dan Branch
"The current system needs fixing, and our state business taxes need reform. Local property taxes are too high, many schools need additional resources and the Robin Hood system needs to be fixed. The Legislature must provide a solution to our public school funding crisis and relief for local property taxpayers."

Rep. Joe Nixon (R-Houston):

“I am very grateful for the Texas Supreme Court ruling today, because it confirms what many of us have believed for a long time – that we can, and must, find a fairer way to finance public schools while reducing property taxes,” said Rep. Nixon. “My constituents elected me to solve tough problems like this, and after several very frustrating months I stand ready to complete this mission. With the right leadership, I am confident we will succeed.”

Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin):

Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos
“Disheartening as [the ruling] is, it really isn’t surprising that an all Republican court with a majority of its members appointed by Rick Perry would throw a bone to their suburban base by finding the obvious - that property taxes are too high and that the districts have no effective discretion in setting them - while turning a blind eye to the obvious inequalities in the educational opportunities and experiences of Texas children in different parts of the state."

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by    Wed, Nov 23, 2005, 01:10 PM

KTVT Channell 11 reported last night that Love Field has lost better than $1 million each year for the past five years and City Councilwoman Angela Hunt wants to know why. 

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by    Wed, Nov 23, 2005, 01:00 PM

The Dallas County Commissioners Court has thrown its support behind a proposal to build a Regional Commuter Rail System in North Central Texas. The decision came during a session of the Court on Tuesday. The management and funding of the rail system will be determined at a later date. The commuter rail system will serve a 9 county area. According to the Commissioners Court, it will alleviate traffic and pollution problems in the Metroplex. While a funding source has yet to be decided, some suggestions from Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield include a 0.5% increase in the sales tax and a gasoline tax. Commissioner Maurine Dickey expressed the view that while it is too early to determine the exact character of the rail system, it nonetheless should be thought of as part of a regional vision, and not just a county or city project.

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by Special to    Wed, Nov 23, 2005, 12:56 PM

Key Quotes from Justice Hecht’s West Orange Cove II majority opinion:

Page numbers refer to the PDF file of the opinion posted to the Supreme Court’s website on Nov. 22, 2005.

( p.11) We now hold, as did the district court, that local ad valorem taxes have become a state property tax in violation of article VIII, section 1-e, as we warned ten years ago they inevitably would, absent a change in course, which has not happened. Although the districts have offered evidence of deficiencies in the public school finance system, we conclude that those deficiencies do not amount to a violation of article VII, section 1. We remain convinced, however, as we were sixteen years ago, that defects in the structure of the public school finance system expose the system to constitutional challenge. Pouring more money into the system may forestall those challenges, but only for a time. They will repeat until the system is overhauled.

(p.47) As the State defendants noted, however, the cost studies and court findings overlook the reality that almost all schools are meeting accreditation standards with current funding.

(p. 53-54) II. A. At the outset, the State defendants challenge the district court’s subject matter jurisdiction on three grounds: that the plaintiff and intervenor school districts lack standing to assert any of their constitutional claims, that their claims under article VII, section 1 are nonjusticiable political questions, and that article VII, section 1 is not self-executing and thus cannot be enforced by court action. With one exception, we have previously rejected all of these contentions, either expressly or implicitly, in this case when it was last before us or in the other cases in which the constitutionality of the public school finance system has been at issue. In none of our prior cases has a school district’s standing to challenge the public school finance system under article VII, section 1 been challenged, and we have not specifically addressed that issue.

To the extent we have already spoken to these issues, the State defendants urge us to reconsider. Our prior decisions have not ended litigation over school finance once and for all, and the State defendants argue that this is because the courts cannot give sufficiently certain meaning to the constitutional standards. Each new case, they argue, threatens to drag the courts inescapably into a morass of policy-making where they do not belong and from which they will not be able to extricate themselves, endlessly second-guessing the detailed structures of public education. We think our prior opinions on these matters are clear enough and remain correct

(p. 63) The State defendants do not contest that individuals would have standing to raise the claims in this case. The interests of individual taxpayers in suitable, adequate, efficient public education and in avoiding a state property tax might well diverge from those of their school districts. But individuals’ standing to assert these constitutional claims does not deprive school districts of standing to assert the same claims. Accordingly, we conclude that the plaintiff and intervenor school districts have standing to assert the claims made in this case.

(p. 78-79) In essence, we refused to find a constitutional violation when the challenged aspect of the system was not arbitrary. This comports with what we said in 1931 in Mumme v. Marrs:

The purpose of [article VII, section 1] as written was not only to recognize the inherent power in the Legislature to establish an educational system for the state, but also to make it the mandatory duty of that department to do so. . . . The Legislature alone is to judge what means are necessary and appropriate for a purpose which the Constitution makes legitimate. The legislative determination of the methods, restrictions, and regulations is final, except when so arbitrary as to be violative of the constitutional rights of the citizen.

(p. 81) It would be arbitrary, for example, for the Legislature to define the goals for accomplishing the constitutionally required general diffusion of knowledge, and then to provide insufficient means for achieving those goals. If the Legislature’s choices are informed by guiding rules and principles properly related to public education — that is, if the choices are not arbitrary — then the system does not violate the constitutional provision.

(p. 87) The public education system need not operate perfectly; it is adequate if districts are reasonably able to provide their students the access and opportunity the district court described.

(p. 91-92) Having carefully reviewed the evidence and the district court’s findings, we cannot conclude that the Legislature has acted arbitrarily in structuring and funding the public education system so that school districts are not reasonably able to afford all students the access to education and the educational opportunity to accomplish a general diffusion of knowledge.

We recognize that the standard of arbitrariness we have applied is very deferential to the Legislature, but as we have explained, we believe that standard is what the Constitution requires. Nevertheless, the standard can be violated. There is substantial evidence, which again the district court credited, that the public education system has reached the point where continued improvement will not be possible absent significant change, whether that change take the form of increased funding, improved efficiencies, or better methods of education.

(p. 97) There is much evidence that many districts’ facilities are inadequate, but it is undisputed that some 25% of the districts levy no I&S taxes. The State defendants argue that disparities among districts in available facilities are not proof of inefficiency absent evidence that the districts’ needs are similar. They contend that facilities needs vary widely depending on the size and location of schools, construction expenses, and other variables. We agree that such evidence is necessary and lacking. The State defendants also argue that to prove constitutional inefficiency the intervenors must offer evidence of an inability to provide for a general diffusion of knowledge without additional facilities, and that they have failed to do so. Again, we agree. Efficiency requires only substantially equal access to revenue for facilities necessary for an adequate system … The Legislature may well find many ways of improving the efficiency and adequacy of public education — ways not urged by the parties to this case — that do not involve increased funding.

(p. 109) The State also controls the expenditure of more than $1 billion in local tax revenues recaptured from 134 districts, which educate 12.3% of the students, requiring that they be effectively redistributed to the other districts. The number of districts and amount of revenue subject to recapture have almost tripled since 1994. The State’s control of this local revenue is a significant factor in considering whether local taxes have become a state property tax.

(p.111) Although the statute does not promise any particular level of supplemental funding, local supplementation is made a core component of the system structure, necessitated by the basic philosophy of the virtue of local control. The State cannot provide for local supplementation, pressure most of the districts by increasing accreditation standards in an environment of increasing costs to tax at maximum rates in order to afford any supplementation at all, and then argue that it is not controlling local tax rates.

(p. 111-112) Accordingly, we conclude that the public school finance system violates article VIII, section 1-e of the Texas Constitution. Various legislative proposals during the past year to remedy perceived problems with the public education system and its funding would reduce the maximum ad valorem tax rate and allow it to be exceeded for certain purposes. While we express no view on the appropriateness of any of these proposals, we are constrained to caution, as we have before, that a cap to which districts are inexorably forced by educational requirements and economic necessities, as they have been under Senate Bill 7, will in short order violate the prohibition of a state property tax.

(p. 114) The Constitution does not require a particular solution. We leave such matters to the discretion of the Legislature. To end the constitutional violation, we agree with the district court that the use of the current system must be enjoined. The district court delayed the effect of its injunction until October 1, 2005, to allow the Legislature time to respond. Since the injunction issued, the Legislature has undertaken to respond in a regular session and two special sessions. Its inability to do so appears to be due not to any lack of expertise in the issues but to the absence of agreement. At this point in time, it is unlikely that material changes could be made in the public education system that would affect the current school year. School districts will next begin to prepare budgets and set tax rates in the summer of 2006. To allow the State ample time to fully consider structural changes in the public education system, and to allow the system time to adjust to those changes, we postpone the effective date of the district court’s injunction to June 1, 2006.

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by Special to    Wed, Nov 23, 2005, 12:01 PM

Wednesday's message:

Confidence, happiness and enthusiasm are contagious .... and so is the lack of them. Act "as if" you are confident, happy and enthusiastic and you will become confident, happy, enthusiastic, healthier and successful!

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GM CUTS 30,000 BUT MAKES THE SAME CARS By Vinny Minchillo
by Scott Bennett    Wed, Nov 23, 2005, 02:39 AM

Vinny Minchillo takes note of GM's 30,000 job cuts and suggests it should be to on one's surprise.  He takes note that Toyota is now 1  percentage point behind GM in US sales.  He has some advise for GM:  It's the product stupid.

Click here to read more ...

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