Ken Paxton’s Capitol Steps: Collin County honored at National Conference

By State Representative Ken Paxton

This week, I would like to congratulate Collin County Clerk Stacey Kemp and her team on receiving the National Association of Counties’ (NACo) Achievement Award for quality, efficient and responsive county government management and administration. This award specifically recognizes her Office’s Electronic Public Information Program.

Last legislative session, County Clerk Kemp presented an idea to me for a statewide law that allows County Clerks across Texas the option to post legal and public notices electronically. Understanding that her idea would provide an opportunity for counties to save both time and money, I offered to author House Bill 3601. House Bill 3601, which was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Perry, provides counties the option of electronically posting legal and public notes, whether at kiosks or on county websites. Prior to the passage of this bill, all such notices were required to be in paper form and physically posted at county courthouses. County Clerk Kemp’s suggestion has not only led to counties saving paper and hours of staff time, but her suggestion also provides greater access to public notices.

This is the first time that the Collin County Clerk’s Office has won a national award. I appreciate County Clerk Stacey Kemp’s efforts for improving government efficiency and transparency and welcome additional suggestions from her for improving County operations in the State of Texas.

NACo has also awarded two Achievement Awards to Collin County’s Human Resources Department recognizing their Reduction of Workers’ Compensation Costs Through the Use of Existing In-house Resources Program and the Collin County Medical Insurance Discount Program for the programs’ effectiveness and innovation in county government.

The Reduction of Workers’ Compensation Costs program is Human Resources’ answer for providing cost-effective alternatives to traditional workers’ compensation treatment sources. This program has resulted in a 30% cost savings in work-related medical claims.

The Medical Insurance Discount program uses discounts and other incentives to promote preventative care and the early detection and treatment of major illness. Since the inception of this program, participant claims costs have significantly decreased.

I appreciate Collin County’s Human Resources Director Cynthia Jacobson and her team for creating and implementing innovative solutions that improve efficiency. These efforts benefit Collin County taxpayers. Our County leaders continue to demonstrate excellence and make me proud to represent Collin County in the State Legislature.

Capitol Steps: Curriculum standards approved

By Ken Paxton, State Representative
After more than a year of debate, more than 30 hours of public testimony from four open public meetings, and 14,000 emails, the State Board of Education (SBOE) approved and successfully passed new Social Studies Curriculum Standards at their May 21, 2010 meeting. While no curriculum can ever be perfect, the final work product is a strong step in the right direction and will give students a fuller understanding of the roots of American history.

The curriculum standards, which are now part of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), will be reflected in textbooks, K-12 classroom instruction and achievement tests used in Texas schools over the next decade. The new standards, according to Dr. Robert Koons, a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas-Austin, have “strengthened the curriculum standards in ways that any scholar should recognize.”

SBOE was able to pass the new curriculum standards despite the efforts by certain groups to undermine the curriculum review process. Opposition criticized everything from the revisions to the TEKS to the process and functions of the Board itself.

SBOE’s approach to revising the standards is directed by the Texas Legislature, the Texas Constitution and the Texas Education Code. Each of the 15 members of the SBOE is directly elected by the citizens of Texas from their respective districts. The SBOE does not make decisions on its own. The process involves several expert reviewers and working groups that consist of educators, parents, business and industry leaders, and employers who issue recommendations for changes to the curriculum standards.

In addition to the collaborative effort to make curriculum recommendations, SBOE meetings and discussions are transparent and public participation is encouraged. Legislation passed in the 2009 Legislative Session requires all meetings held by SBOE to be streamed live over the internet. Previously, audio recordings of SBOE meetings were available online. All SBOE meetings are archived on the Board’s website.

Opposition to SBOE falsely accused the Board of attempting to draft a revised curriculum based on a political agenda. An example of the absurd accusations is that the SBOE was trying to strike Founding Father Thomas Jefferson from the social studies curriculum. In fact, the new standards mention only George Washington more frequently then Thomas Jefferson, who is taught in fifth grade American history, in eighth grade American history and in U.S. Government. These are the same grades where Jefferson and his legacy have always been taught, and the Board has not changed this emphasis.

Other accusations asserted that the new standards discount the historical contributions of minorities to American history and culture. This assertion is again false. The Social Studies TEKS include more minority representation than ever before. In fact, Dr. David Upham, assistant professor at the University of Texas-Dallas, argued in The Wall Street Journal against a letter signed by several historians at the Universities of Texas at Austin and El Paso that claimed the board “ignored the struggles of women and minorities for civil rights.” Dr. Upham stated that “despite the allegations, however, no one has pointed to a particular significant error of fact. My own review of the proposed curriculum did not reveal anything plainly false, and the oft-repeated accusations of outrageous omission are demonstrably false.”

Regarding inclusion of aspects of America’s religious heritage – a controversial topic for some critics of the Board – Professor Jesús de la Teja, State Historian, SBOE expert reviewer, and professor and chairman of History at Texas State University-San Marcos noted, “By and large, the inclusion of religion is well within the bounds of what is taught in most college classrooms, and there has been no effort to force curriculum to be written that overly emphasizes the Christian roots of this nation or of Western civilization.”

The attacks on the State Board of Education ignored the transparent approach that the Board took toward developing curriculum standards for Texas school children, misstated many of the changes that the Board proposed, and sought to undermine the Board’s diligent work to execute its constitutional and statutory obligations. The Board should be applauded for their conscientious efforts. Texas school children will be the long-term beneficiaries.

Ken Paxton serves Collin County. He threw out the first pitch at the Frisco RoughRiders baseball game on Friday.

Capitol Steps: Veterans’ Assistance program funds

By Ken Paxton, State Representative

Yesterday, the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) announced the solicitation of Letters of Interest from organizations interested in applying for TVC Fund for Veterans’ Assistance (FVA) grants. The Texas Legislature created the FVA to offer grants for programs that address veterans’ needs and that enhance veterans’ assistance programs, including veterans’ representation and counseling. The FVA receives funding from generous individual and corporate donations, the Texas Veterans’ lottery scratch-off game, and directed contributions from the State Employee Charitable Campaign.

Applying for a TVC grant is a two-step process. First, applicants must submit a Letter of Interest, along with required supporting materials. Organizations with an acceptable Letter of Interest, as determined via objective review criteria, will be invited to submit a grant application.

A grant proposal for TVC FVA funding is accepted by invitation only, following receipt of an acceptable Letter of Interest. Letters of Interest are accepted at the discretion of TVC based on the requirements for use and the availability of the funds.

Each Letter of Interest must propose a project that meets at least one of the following grant purposes:

· Emergency financial needs of veterans and their families;
· Transportation services;
· Family and/or individual counseling for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI);
· Employment training, education, and job placement assistance that supplements and does not supplant existing funding and services;
· Housing assistance for homeless veterans;
· Family and child services;
· Legal services, excluding criminal defense;
· Development of professional services networks; and
· Enhancement or improvement of veterans’ assistance programs, including veterans’ representation and counseling.

Units of local government, 501(c)(19) posts or organizations of past of present members of the armed forces, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, and 501(c)(4) veterans service organizations are eligible to apply. All letters must be received by 5:00 PM on June 7, 2010.

For more information about the Texas Veterans Commission or the TVC Fund for Veterans Assistance, please visit http://www.tvc.state.tx.us/about/current-grant-process-and-form or call 1-800-252-VETS (8387).

Paxton’s view: Texas must exercise fiscal restraint

By Ken Paxton, State Representative
In the 2011 legislative session, lawmakers will have a momentous opportunity to cut the State budget. Our State’s projected budget shortfall for 2012 – 2013 is estimated to be between $10.8 billion and $17 billion. This shortfall affords legislators the rare opportunity to make significant cuts to extraneous programs that do not assist state agencies in meeting their core missions – an effort that will once again set Texas lawmakers apart from our wasteful spending counterparts in Washington, D.C.
The shortfall also encourages our State government agencies to enact cost-saving measures and reductions in their programs and services.

Texas is well-positioned to address the shortfall because of the budget-cutting measures that were undertaken in 2003 when the State met a $7.4 billion shortfall without raising taxes and without dipping into the “Rainy Day Fund.”
These budget cuts did not result in a social or economic crisis. Rather, the cuts positioned Texas as the nation’s fiscal powerhouse for almost a decade and have helped our State weather the current economic downturn better than all other states. As a direct result of limiting state government growth, the fundamentals of the Texas economy are sound – Unemployment is among the lowest in the nation; Texas’ projected shortfall is smaller than that of most other large states (notably California and New York); and taxes remain relatively low.

Central to the task of repeating the success of the 2003 budget will be a renewed focus on the State’s core responsibilities and functions, with the goal of eliminating discretionary and wasteful spending that fall outside clear State responsibilities. Next legislative session, we must focus on passing several important reforms that will limit the growth of our state budget, including the following:

Institute a Stricter Constitutional Spending Limit – The current spending limit contained in the Texas Constitution limits the growth of State spending to “the rate of growth of the State’s economy.” This definition of growth is too loose and has proven to be ineffective. Limiting state budget growth to the sum of population growth plus inflation would provide the necessary protection for taxpayers.

Dedicate Surplus Revenues to Property Tax Relief and the Economic Stabilization Fund (Rainy Day Fund) – Despite the projected shortfall in 2012 – 2013, the State consistently generates surplus tax revenues, which net $27 billion since 1995. The majority of surplus revenues should be returned to the taxpayers in the form of lower property taxes.
These funds should not be used to grow government. A constitutional amendment directing a portion of future State budget surpluses to property tax relief and the Rainy Day Fund would slow the growth of government, address the overbearing and increasingly dire financial burden of local property taxation, and stimulate the economy by putting more money into the hands of consumers (taxpayers).

Dedicate revenues to projects for which they were originally intended – Many taxes levied by the State, most notably the gas tax, are constitutionally dedicated to certain funds in the State treasury with the intent that they be spent on specific budget items. However, the appropriations process frequently uses these revenues in other areas of the budget, which determines the principle of truth-in-taxation. Dedicated funds should be allocated solely to their dedicated purpose or discontinued.

Reconsider the Role of Federal Funds in the State Budget – Across all articles of the State budget, federal funds are a major factor behind spending growth. In sum, federal funds account for one-third of the entire State budget and are major drivers in the health and human services budget ($39 billion in 2010-11 up from $21 billion in 2002 – 03) and the education budget ($9 million in 2010-11 up from $5.6 billion in 2002 – 03). Accepting federal funds undermines the principle of federalism by allowing the federal government to wield power over Texas by placing requirements on how federal funds are spent, which gives Texas less control and flexibility over its programs. It is vital for Texas to consider the implications of accepting federal funds to expand or create programs.
Oftentimes, rejecting federal funds as an enticement to create new programs would slow the growth of our State budget. The rejection of the Unemployment Insurance “stimulus” in 2009 is a positive example of this approach.

Limited government is a pillar of fiscal strength and economic prosperity. We have a tremendous opportunity to reduce the size of our state government and our dependency on the federal government, and I will focus my efforts next session to accomplish the aforementioned goals.

Ken Paxton represents McKinney and Collin County.

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