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Now What? Sessions: A Conversation about Competing Priorities Facing the 83rd Legislature

Now What? Sessions: A Conversation about Competing Priorities Facing the 83rd Legislature

[ Silence ]>>Well thanks everybody those
of you that have come back, those of you that are new, we
had a nice session this morning. We’re going to get ostensibly
more policy oriented here in the afternoon. My name is Jim Henson. For those of you I don’t know, I direct the Texas Politics
project at UT Austin. We’re here in an event
that’s cosponsored with our good friends
at the Texas Tribune. This afternoon, we’re going
to have a conversation about competing priorities
facing the 83rd legislature. I want to thank our friends
at the Tribune, our staff here from UT Austin, all of you
for coming, just a little bit of housekeeping if you could
silence your cell phones. We’ve been tweeting pretty
much on the piggybacking on the TribLIVE hashtag for
those of you on Twitter. We’ll have a Q&A afterwards. If during the Q&A, you could
just pause slightly before the question– before you ask
your question and that’s not so that we can, you know,
we can hear you necessarily but it helps us to be able to
capture your voice on tape. So if you can just, we’ll
have somebody coming around with the microphone
and so if you’ll wait, that
would be great. I want to introduce
our panelists and we will get started. Immediately to my
left is Albert Hawkins who was the HSS Executive
Commissioner from 2003 until 2009. Before his appointment,
as Health and Human Services
Executive Commissioner, he served as a senior
White House aid to President George
W. Bush for two years. From 1995 to 2000, he
was a Budget Director for the Governors Office, worked
at the Texas Legislative Board for 16 years and seems to be enjoying himself now
based on our previous–>>Indeed, thank you.>>– a conversation
a moment ago. Next to him is Tom Mason. He served as General Manager of the Lower Colorado River
Authority from 2007 to 2011. Prior to that, he was the
LCRA’s General Counsel. Before that, he served as
the Assistant General Counsel for the department– Texas
Department of Water Resources and Director of the
Water Quality Division at the Texas Water Commission. He is now back in
private practice and I think he too
is enjoying that. Next to him, Deirdre Delisi is a
partner in Delisi Communication and Service Chair of the Texas
Transportation Commission from 2008 to 2011. She has of course held a
wide range of governmental and campaign positions
in the service of Governor Rick Perry including
serving as his Chief of Staff from 2004 and 2007, and now I
feel like I don’t want to imply that you’re not enjoying
yourself now. [Laughter] All right? And at the end, Robert Scott
served as Senior Policy Adviser to Governor Perry
during the creation of the Texas High School
Initiative in 2003, was involved in the bill’s passage
and implementation. But probably most notably
to people in this room, he was the State Education
Commissioner from 2007 to 2012 after playing a variety
of roles at TEA and I know he too is enjoying
himself now ’cause he said so out in the hall. Now obviously, as you
all can figure out, we’re here to talk really about the issues coming before
the legislature next time and we’ve chosen to talk
about the issues that seem to be very much on the minds
of folks in this building and in the process, so we want to do today even though I’m
going to invite everybody to comment in as ragingly
or to what comment as widely as you’d like. We’re interested in talking
about issues related to HHS, to water, to transportation,
to education on the expectation that we will be talking
about those quite a bit. So please welcome our
guests, if you will. [ Applause ] We designed this
panel, basically, Evan, Ross and I in mind because
we thought all of these areas in which you all set is
such extensive experience, would be right for legislative
action in the upcoming session. That said, I want to start
by pivoting from the election and ask you to comment on how,
if at all, you think the federal and state election results
will impact discussion of these issues as
we begin to pivot into the legislative process, so I’d like to start
with you Mr. Hawkins.>>Oh, thank you. Good afternoon and privilege
to be a part oft this panel. And I will talk primarily about
Health and Human Services, although, you know, I
always been interested in establishing transportation
policy or school finance policy. I’ll stay focused this afternoon
on Health and Human Services. When you maybe look first
at the national elections and I think there’s
still probably a lot to be learned more about that
and how it might change some of the dynamics in Congress, I think the early
conclusion can be that well not much
has probably changed, that we still have the Democrats
controlling the White House and the Senate, and Republicans
controlling the House. And so, you might
look at it and say with that same configuration, why would you expect
anything different. But I do think with the– say elections, there probably is
a little change in the dynamics that did take place because
of the press of the issues, the crisis of the fiscal cliff. So I think it will
cause some movement. And some– I think some
effort to address issues such as entitlements whether
it’s Medicare or Medicaid and those are the kinds of
things that would flow– have flow down in path to
states, particularly Health and Human Services
Commission here in this state. Taking a look at the state
level elections, again, probably not much change in the
players, the actors involved. Again, I think that it would
just be dominated by the issues that they have to confront. One of the things I think
that we’ll be interesting to observe is how the reelection of President Obama might
change the view or analysis or expectation in our state
around the Affordable Care Act, and more particularly,
the opportunity for Medicaid expansion,
and the opportunity for a health benefit exchange. It could be that now
that is clear that, that the law is going to move
forward with implementation that there might be
a different analysis that maybe is more tilted
toward the fiscal impacts of that legislation, that
the legislature takes a look at really difficult challenge
to be addressed I think.>>Yeah, I want to follow
up on that, we’ll do that. Mr. Mason, what do
you think, water?>>On the waterfront,
I don’t think that the federal elections
are particularly relevant. Because for the most part, water
is a local issue the only area where it– generally speaking as
relevant is in terms of funding, and until we have a budget
surplus at the federal level, I don’t think you are going
to see a lot of action there. Most of it is going to
be on the state level. And I think there’s two issues with the recent elections
on the state level. One of course is funding. We have the same
issue, limited dollars and lots of competing needs. And at the same time,
I think there’s what, 49 new members in
the legislature. And this morning, I took a
look on the Tribune website, they had brief profiles
that have almost all of them indicating their
interest and their priorities. And of the more than
40 that were listed, four mentioned something related
to water and that was it. So, my sense is there is
not a great deal of concern at least among the new
membership compared to the other issues
they were highlighting. A lot of which in many cases
was smaller government cutting taxes, tightening our
fiscal belts and so forth which traditionally, in a
water arena is a real challenge because most people think of
water projects and they think of water supplies for
the future, big projects, and water is not cheap. We assume it will be. Now, you know, this cost 2600
times more than what you’ll pay for tap water from the city of
Austin, bottled water like this. And yet, to provide a
water infrastructure which is a real expense
is extremely costly and we haven’t built a
lot of larger reservoirs from major pipeline projects
in a long, long time, and yet, last year was the
hottest summer on record and the driest 12-month period
in Texas recorded history. That got a lot of people’s
attention but unfortunately, while water specialists talked
about the hydrological cycle, the reality is for water
planners and water funders and legislators and staffers, we talked about the
hydro illogical cycle. As long as it’s raining,
everything is okay. And then it starts getting dry, people get a little
bit concerned. When you hit a full blown
drought, people really got upset and they start calling their
elected officials and say, “You need to do something
about this.” People do, they look to
the state water plan, they actually introduce
legislation. They consider fees or
ways to fund new projects and then guess what happens? It rains again and you
start that cycle over. The bigger challenge I think now with these 49 new members
is having them educated on the true cost of water, what the state water
plan really means and what projects are
actually affordable and give the most
bang for the buck. Conservation being I
think the prime example, it accounts for the
largest single portion of new water supplies in
the state water plan and yet there’s no money
allocated for that, it’s the cheapest most
economical fastest way to get new water. But that will be competing with individual projects
around the state. And of course, water will
be competing with all of this other interest as well. It’s the one thing we have
to have to live and yet, it’s the one thing we probably
take the most for granted because we assume someone is
going to provide us clean, affordable cheap water, no
matter where we choose to live.>>All of a sudden I feel guilty
for taking a drink of this. [Laughter] The elections
and transportation, we don’t hear a lot about
it during the lecture.>>That was a huge issue– the defining issue of
the federal election. You know, I think I’m a little–
well first of all, you know, when think about
transportation, I actually think about infrastructure
more globally than just transportation. Clearly, I cared deeply
about transportation but I think transportation is
pretty well linked to water and the electric grid as
well because when you think about those three things
together holistically, that is the future for
the economic stability and growth of the state. When you think about the
limiting factors of the state, it is– I think the number
one limiting factor is water, and to a lesser extent,
our electric grid and our transportation system. And so, I’m actually a
little bit more bullish on the prospects for infrastructure
funding this session than maybe some normally
are, I mean, yes, I agree that public education,
health and human services, those were the issues that
garner the immediate attention. Tax issues, budget issues,
those were the issues that were talked a lot very
vocally in the elections but I do get the sense of
our growing recognition among at the very highest
levels of government and among the membership
that we have to do something. Now of course, the big
challenge when you’re talking about infrastructure is
our crisis is 4, 6, 20, 50 years down the road
and the challenge for us in infrastructure have always
argued as how do we explain to people that there
is a problem. And when you’re talking about
transportation or infras– or water structure, whatever
infrastructure you’re talking about, the solution takes
many years to get to. It’s not like we need more
teachers, so, here’s more money to go hire more teachers
and you can turn it around fairly quickly. So, how we go about articulating
that there is a problem and what the solutions could be. And, you know, in
transportation, we’ve been pretty fortunate. We had a governor who took on
transportation as an issue, took a lot of political flack
for taking on those issues, embraced nontraditional sources
of funding for transportation, innovative financing
that have forth well for the state have made Texas
the number state in the nation for transportation
infrastructure. You know, I think as
long as we continue to embrace those
mechanisms that– and look at some new ways
of developing transportation and other forms of
infrastructure, I think we’re on the right path
but we have to– like I said, the
biggest challenge, one of the bigger
challenge is in addition to funding the money is making
sure the public understands there may have to be new ways of
delivering these needed services and it maybe different and
it maybe a little bit scary at first or whatever,
it’s just not used– what they’re used too
but we’re trying– we have to solve the
problem now so that in 20 years we don’t get into– we don’t completely stunt
the growth of the state.>>Want to talk about
that a little bit more. Robert, in the last
session, we– Caroline Boyle was one of
the– from the political side, was on the people of the panel and I thought there was a
little bit of a disconnect on that panel between the focus
that she saw in the centrality, she saw the education
in the last election and what we were seeing
in polling and what– I think we really heard
in public discourse that on one hand, in some
of the electoral contest, education was front
and center but overall, we’re not seeing it
moving the needle a lot. I’m wondering how you
think education, you know, gets impacted by the
election results?>>Well at the federal level,
I think a divided Congress and administration seriously
compromises the ability to do a reauthorization
of No Child Left Behind, that’s further complicated by
the fact that the US Department of Ed is giving waivers
to other states. So, the, you know, necessity of doing it now I think has been
severely limited so, you know, from people I talked to, they
say that Congress may not get around to it until
2014 and 2015. So, I think that’s going to be
one of the interesting things for a state like Texas, you
know, we’ll probably try to seek a waiver but doing
a little bit different way from what I understand.. At the state level, you know, I talked to editorial
boards myself and, you know, as candidates were coming
in, they were all talking about education, so I
think it’s pretty high on the new members
minds and, you know, it’s always an issue
for the state. It’s always Article 2 and Article 3 are always
the big drivers of spending and I think they’ll
continue to do that. The challenge facing
Texas in going in the next session is looking
at things like enrollment growth and being able to figure out how
to fund the enrollment growth that we have and seeing if we
have some additional supports for kids implementing
the end of course exams because as what we’re starting
to see is normally what we saw in a subsequent test
administration, you’d pick up about 50
percent of the kids, 50 percent would pass on
the second or third try. We’re not seeing that this time. We’re seeing failure rates
in the 75 to 80 percent on the second, so I think
that there’s going to have to be a shift in some resources to provide interventions
for those kids.>>A couple of you have
mentioned, you know, the idea that there are
line I was talking to Tom about this I think
before we started. There seems to be a little bit
of a disconnect when we talk about the– both the physical and the human capital
infrastructure issues between what people inside the
process are increasingly looking at as something on the edge of
crisis and what we’re hearing from the electorate
and you kind of– you touched on this I think,
you know, really well, Deirdre. How do you– how do you
think we’re going to manage that in those areas what– you know, how do you talk to
the public about these issues and ways that sustain
their attention, do you have a sense of that?>>It’s a real challenge I
think particularly when you– when you look at some of the
more complex policy areas that the state has
to develop solutions around whether school finance or whether it’s transportation
policy or water policy, you know, it’s all very complex. When you think about
Medicaid, and the issues that are identified with
it and just a very nature of Medicaid is really
five different programs but we all talk about it as
being the Medicaid program but the issues stand along
separately whether you’re’ talking about long term services
and supports or a cue care or care– dental
care for children. I think one of the
things that new members of the legislature have
to deal with very early on in their tenure is the
complexity of the issues and the difficulty in putting
in place effective solutions to address those challenges
because of the complex nature, the need to balance out
the effects of any changes and the cost involved. Clearly, you know, dollars
influence a lot of the decisions that are made and I think
they learn very quickly that it’s not quite as easy as they thought it
was six months ago when they were campaigning
for office. And so they get the deal
first hand with some of those real difficult issues,
is I think also in incumbent about them to better explain to their constituents the
challenges that are there. And so when you start talking about educating the public
more broadly, there are number of advocacy groups and they
are all very familiar with it but I think it takes the
elected representatives to better inform
their constituents on the challenges that exist.>>You know, that kind of ties
to something you mentioned in your previous
answer and I want– that I want to ask you about. Do you think that the
president being re-elected in a sense the settling of
the issue of the ACA will– is sufficient to clear the
climate in Texas for the kind of discussion you implied
before about, you know, a kind of looking at it
surely in terms of the numbers of the favorable federal match
if you accept that, et cetera. I mean, how big a factor
is it and you mentioned that kind of in passing–>>I think it’s an important
factor just in the sense that it removes an
element of doubt around it doesn’t really
make more clear the choices that are– I mean, I think
those choices have already been self evident. It doesn’t change in that
respect the philosophical views that different officials
might have on it. What it does do though is take out a consideration the
possibility or potential that the law would
not move forward. So, you have that
clearly established. I would expect that the law
is going to move forward. It’s going to move
forward in different pace, in different levels,
in different states. And so, I think it’s going
to be back to the governor and the legislature to determine
what is the most appropriate approach for Texas. But the reelection of the president doesn’t
help resolve those philosophical differences. It does remove the consideration
of whether Congress or the president would
change direction.>>So Tom, what do you think,
is it inevitable that we’re in the hydro illogical
cycle at the state level? You know, we’ve seen a couple
of attempts and a couple of different ways [inaudible]
to a couple of sessions ago, you know, bills like
the tap fee last time. Is there– can you see that
there’s a way out of that cycle?>>I think there is and
I’m a cynical optimist, but I hope it doesn’t
take an extended drought which we will have
another one in Texas. We relied upon the
1950’s drought at record to be our benchmark
for water planning and that was a 10-year
drought from 1947 to 1957, and it devastated
the state economy. But we’ve gone back and set
the tree rings and realize that there have been 30
year droughts in Texas and the southwest and it’s
simply, it’s inevitable and at some point, we’ll have
another one such as that. But barring that, I’m– I have some optimism because we
have folks like Chairman Ritter who have– who has
just repeatedly talked about this issue and very
honest in straightforward terms and more and more members of the legislature I think
are listening to this and realizing especially
because of last year’s drought that this is real, we
have to do something. It’s not an easy
issue but there’s– some really particular
challenges when it comes to water. Most water issues
are very local. Texas in a way is a
victim of this geography. East Texas has a lot– we have
a lot of water in the state, it’s just not where
most of the people live. And the old joke on
water folks is, you know, water doesn’t really flow down
hill, it flows towards money. And what that means
is ultimately, water gets to where the
population centers are because people will demand it. And with the tremendous
increase in population in Texas, we’re going to need to point where formally adequate
resources for rivers and ground water and the
existing lakes had been fine but they’re strained now. And if you put a
drought on top of that, you have a real problem. But if your legislator in east
Texas where it’s really wet, why do you vote for a water
project or a funding source at statewide when it’s going
to benefit those people in the west where it’s dry. And of course, almost
everyone thinks that it serves other people who
don’t conserve enough water, I do a great job
of conservation. And so, you have that
built-in problem and yet, I’ve heard very, very
honest conversations from Chairman Ritter and others
talking about this issue, admitting that it is not going
to happen quickly but we have to get the sort of
critical mass of legislators to understand the issue. It is a long term
matter as Deirdre said. It’s very analogous to her
other infrastructures issues and it is the limiting factor
I think for Texas’ growth. I think that maybe
the way to sell it, absent a really intense drought
that goes on for a long time which is if we want economic
development to continue in Texas, we have to have
a reliable water supply for the whole state. Large employers when they
come in, a new industry ask– that’s one of the first
questions they ask. They want a good educated work
force and things like that, but you to have an
adequate water supply. And we’re going to have to have
a good answer or else folks up are on the– in the rust
belt along the great lakes, you’re going to say, “Come on
back, we’ve’ got lots of water.” So, I think we can get there. The big question is going to
be what is the funding source and how do we educate the voters as to why this is
really important. And I’m going to add
another note here which is I think we need to
educate people about the fact that water is not free. We have assumed that it is but the reality is we
don’t value water very much because it is essentially free. And the most modest tap fee that most people
would never recognize, in fact I think most people in this room don’t even know
what their water bill was for last month, compared
to their cell phone bill, or your cable TV bill. So we become accustomed to
thinking that water is something that I just get gratis. We’ve got to change that and
I think we can educate people about how little it would
cause to raise sufficient funds to revive adequate water
supplies for the future but we haven’t done that yet.>>[Inaudible] during your
tenure at TxDOT that you– there was, you know,
both in terms of– it seemed to me about
the internal dynamics and the Sunset Review. There was a renewed
emphasis on– or a lot of attention to
TxDOT that communicated with the public,
what the public image of transportation was,
how do you view this?>>Well, there’s no question
that TxDOT is little bit ahead of the power curve
in this issues because the transportation
issues were put on the radar screen and
put into the public domain in such a very public way
in the, you know, 2001, 2003 sessions that yet– you
know, it was the backlash from the public was loud and
vociferous and they had– and it creeped into a political
campaigns in a major way and have forced the agency
and enforce policy makers to recognize that and
to do things differently and I think the story of
the Trans-Texas Corridor, it’s demise and it’s
potential future replacement with the parallel and
at separate parallel, I’ve got a quarter to I35
but one that it is driven and determined at the
local level rather than the state level is probably
the biggest outcome from the– what we’ve saw in at Tex. the biggest mistake
where we made was– which was telling
people there’s a problem and here’s the solution. And I still believe
the agency was right. There is a problem and
that was a great solution. We’re told, we didn’t educate. And so now, the agency has now
gone back and it’s been a– it’s– got the four year
long process of working through local segment committees
to get the local folks, you know, made up the Farm
Bureau, county judges, mayors, you name it to come together
work through consensus to recognize okay, yes, we
need additional capacity, where is it going to go and
how do we communicate that and get support in
our local community. So, I think TxDOT learned
a very important lesson. The good news is I don’t–
at the end of the day, TxDOT became a better agency
for it and we were still able to continue and deliver
these projects. And the results have
been remarkable, I mean look at the opening
of the State Highway 130, segments five and six
a couple of weeks ago. That was the very first
comprehensive development agreement project in the state. It was developed by
Cintra, a foreign company. But the opening was
to great fanfare and the only negative stories
so far have been the number of feral hogs on the road,
I mean, that’s a great– that’s a great road, it’s
the most high tech piece of payment in the world. And for that, the state was
given 125 million dollars for a road that would not
exist today, had it not been for this really innovative
tool but it took a lot of growing pains to
get us to that point. Thankfully, the legislatures
took with agency. We had to take a few lumps but
we then now reason those tools to apply it in the
Metroplex and two big projects that are going on, well I
should– three CDA projects, but only two of them got our
concession up in the Metroplex. So, I think on terms of sort of
the innovative financing side of transportation, TxDOT has
learned a lesson before they’re ahead at the power curve on
how to deal with those issues. In terms of new sources of
funding for transportation, whether it’s an increase in the
gas tax or index in the gas tax or new registration fees
or scraping in the gas tax, all together in going to a
vehicle’s mile travel system for a stay up that what
transportation needs and what TxDOT needs is
a stable, reliable source of funding for transportation, the gas tax is none
of those things. We have not loss
gas tax revenues because our population is
a hedge against the loss of the– in the gas tax. So, you know, that to
me is the big unknown with this legislature. Are they going to embrace
increased fees through a gas tax or increase registration
fees, I don’t know. They haven’t historically
been and that’s why I– and during my tenure at TxDOT, I’ve embraced very strongly
these different sources of financing for transportation. That wasn’t always very
popular but it has allowed us to continue to move
forward in Texas. And, you know, and I don’t
know, I like to think that maybe that it’s a model that
can be used for water, I don’t know, it may, perhaps. But, so I think there’s two
ways, there’s two sources of funding that you need to
look at for transportation and how the public reacts to new
sources of fees and revenues, I don’t know where they
are right now, none.>>I want to come back
to that with all of you. What do you– what do you think
Robert in terms of, you know, this question in
regard to education?>>Well I think most folks look to their local school districts
for, you know, how they feel about what’s going
on in education. And that you got a
complicated message now because of six different
school finance lawsuits that are going on. So, and you’re speaking to
a large and growing number of households that don’t
have school age children. And so I could make a
statement that, gosh, you know, the student success initiative
really wouldn’t fund it at a certain level. And what I was talking about in
the scheme things was a rounding error in the state budget. That was just, you know, a
reallocation of resources to what I thought
was a critical deed. But the backlash
that you saw was oh, here comes TEA just asking
for billions of more dollars but in the scheme things,
it was far, far less but it was something I
thought we needed to focus on. So, anytime you talk about
that, you see the division. There are some bright spots. You’re starting to see
public interest in education. Look what happened
on the election at San Antonio, Pre-K for SA. I mean, you know, I was one
of the people who was going, you know, I don’t know if
black folks are going to vote for 1/8 cent tax
increase for Pre-K but sure enough, it passed. So you see interest
out there in continuing to support public
ed that, you know, tax rollback collections
passing, bond issues passing. So, you see that support
out there but it’s– you’re speaking to a far
more complex audience than you traditionally
have in the past without school age kids.>>Well, let me– kind of
wanted to come back down but since you raised that, how do you read the physical
environment right now? I mean I think in the
mood in terms of revenue, it’s come up one way or the
other in everybody’s answer. Clearly, the last couple of
cycles with budget packs, with, you know, fiscal, you know,
a mood of fiscal crisis in the nation, you
know, less pronounce but certainly present
in the state. How do you read that? Is it changing and is
it kind of inevitable that we reach a tipping
point in your area. I mean education is, I
think, what we’re talking about at front and center is
people talk again and again about the reduction and poor
people spending less time, what the impact is, how much
people are going to notice that. Is this now the new normal
or do we think it’s swaying?>>Oh, I think, you know,
anytime you talk about Texas, you have to look at their
context with the rest of the country and wearing a
far lot better shape than a lot of other states that significantly cut education
even more than Texas debts. So, and you hope that when
the pendulum swings back, that will be able to
reallocate those resources and, like I said, fund
enrollment growth and perhaps even target some
interventions for students who fail the test and
provide what the law requires. Because it wouldn’t
just me saying, hey, I think this is a good idea. It was me saying, this is
what I think the law requires. And, you know, and then we’ll
see how six different school finance lawsuits pan out. But remember last time, the
courts heard three issues, equity, adequacy, and an unconstitutional
statewide property tax. By the time it got to the
Supreme Court, the only problem that was presented to the legislature was the
unconstitutional statewide property tax. They fixed it. Some would argue they
fixed it too well. And without given
meaningful discretion locally to raise revenue
but the question is who does meaningful
discretion lie in? Is it the voters or
the school board? So, you got all these
things working but I think the climate overall
is improving and, you know, hopefully we’ll be able
to take advantage of that.>>Let me ask you
by the climate, do you mean the economic climate
or the political climate?>>I think the economic
climate is improving, you know, look at sales tax receipts. I mean, just yesterday, we
said 5.4 percent increase in sales tax receipts. So certainly that is an
indication of an improving and thriving, in
some cases, economy. And I think on the
political side, you got what, 49 new members of the House. You’ve got, I think,
seven or eight new members of the state board of education. I think that’s the big question
mark is no one really knows.>>Yeah. I think some would
argue that part of that, that new member support
the orientation of that new membership suggest that they’re not really
necessarily seeing it is a pendulum swing. But you seem to think that it
will come back politically too. Am I reading too much into that?>>What I was talking about last
year was the pendulum swinging on standardized test, you know. When the House votes 138 to 2
to ban testing for two years, I thought I was just simply
stating the obvious, you know. There’s a backlash coming,
let’s prepare for it because I didn’t
want to lose a system that I thought helped
kids, you know. But I thought that we were
overemphasizing and even if we weren’t overemphasizing
at the state level, the interpretation out in the
school district ’cause that’s all we cared about so
that’s all they did. It was benchmark
testing and that’s when I used the dreaded P word
and I talked about, you know, the system becoming aversion. The whole focus was
supposed to be on the curriculum,
not just the test. Anybody who was in those
meetings back in the mid ’90s when we’re developing the
accountability system, we were 100 percent convinced
that we were going to focus on the curriculum and
not just the test. And so, that’s what
I was talking about.>>The education report at
the tribunal strangled me if I do a follow up on that. So what do you think
went wrong there?>>You know, I think it
was a combination of we– as I said, double down on a
test every couple of years. And then the interpretation
out there was that that’s all we cared about, that’s all the ratings we’re
going to be based from. And what I was talking about
was an accountability system that looked it every other day
and what does a good career and tech program look like and what does a good finance
arts program, and I was hoping that we could kind of take
the blinders that focus only on the test and kind of give
some breadth and, you know, depth to understanding what’s
really going on our schools. But, you know, we
just– we have to appoint that I think the agency did
a very good job of trying to get information out there
about starting in the course but it was never enough. The only thing that would have
worked is if we’ve been able to release a test, you know. And that’s kind of what we
were getting as, you know, we had reams of information and
then I think it was just short of us being able to
release a practice test that drove everybody crazy.>>Is there a legislative
remedy to that?>>Well, you know, there
is a law in chapter 39 that says districts
cannot benchmark test more than 10 percent of the
instructional days. But I think in many cases, that’s probably not
being enforced, or not– maybe it’s not known. So, you know, there were
precautions put in place in statute to try
to prevent that. I think just, like I said, the system desegregation
of data is essential. We need to keep that, keep
focusing on our subgroups. But take a look at, you know,
some of the high stakes, you know the 15 percent thing. You know, last year we
have what, over 120 members of the House wrote me a
letter saying, please get rid of this this year, it’s
driving our parents crazy. So I think those things are
just illogical conversation that we can have moving
in about accountability and assessments as
we move forward.>>You implied that– you didn’t
even implied, you said that, you know, you were
happy with the fact that you would introduce,
you know, sort of new– you would impart of introducing
new funding mechanisms at TxDOT. Same question to you,
is that going to have to be the permanent solution? Do you think the fiscal
climate is such that, you know, there’s never going to be– at a climate where you can
create new revenue mechanisms directly from government?>>You got to keep in
mind and we weren’t– transportation is such an odd
duck funding issue because, you know, I don’t care about
GR, how much GR we have or don’t have because
we’re not relying on GR. GR is a very small part of our
budget, although significant in some of our bonding programs. As a result and I’ve have gigged
other former commissioners in the past about this where other areas might
have been getting cut. Transportation in last session
actually increased funding. So, you know, we were
pretty happy about that. I think the bigger issue
is the overall policy about how you fund
transportation. It’s not so much how much money
is available in general revenue but if we know the
gas tax is broken, what are we going
to replace it with? So to me, it’s less– it may– obviously, that is a fiscal
conversation but it’s more of a policy conversation of are
we ready to scrap the gas tax and go to something that’s more
directly measures use of roads like a vehicle miles
traveled, a system would which frankly scares
a lot of people. Do we go– do we increase
registration fees, driver’s license fees, index
the gas tax, things like that. And those are larger
policy discussions that really haven’t been
had at the state level. And they’ve been largely masked
by the fact that we have focused on this innovative financing
techniques for transportation. And a lot of the members, the legislature have
been critical with that. They think that, you know,
increase reliance on tolling and bonding is just– has essentially put us back
in having the conversation about the permanent long
term dependable source of funding for transportation. It has to happen like
it’s done to gas tax.>>But as close as you are
at the political process, it seems to me you are good
person to ask though that, you know, as you
sort of imply there, as soon as you start talking
about new funding mechanisms, it seems like there has become
a much more stringent task for talking about new
sources of revenues. So I guess, my question is do
you think that will change? I mean, you sound like you
hope it will but I’m wondering if you think it will or not?>>Right. What I would
love to see to happen for transportation is if
a solution can be found that replaces the gas taxes–
the gas tax today on a dollar for dollar basis, but
with something that grows with the population and grows
over time, the gas tax doesn’t. The gas tax is just stagnant
even though our population is growing. The only reason why it
is stagnant is ’cause our population is growing. So, I’m hopeful maybe, that
can be a policy solution for a legislature that has
very real political concerns about raising taxes
to say, you know, we didn’t raise your
transportation taxes but it was replaced with
something that’s going to grow over time and be something that
transportation planners can rely on to meet the needs
of a growing state.>>Tom, it seems like that
argument is another version of the argument you
talked about with water, with a marginal tap fee. I wonder if you see,
you know, any, you know, that the restrictiveness of that
environment easy enough at all?>>I think it might. I’m not terribly
optimistic about that. I don’t see taxes
being raised for water. I just don’t. I think that the likelihood
of a very modest tap fee, if there was enough
education statewide as well as within a capital, I
think that might happen. I’ve heard talk about tapping
a rainy day fund for so that the kernel of some funding,
they could be distributed by the weather development
board for really needy projects on a high priority basis. Not terribly optimistic about
that, but I’m hearing more and more discussions of it. The good news about that is at
least there are people talking about possible sources of
revenue because a couple of sessions ago, you
really didn’t hear a lot that the bottled water fee
was raised some years back and has come up repeatedly
but, you know, the association doesn’t
want to be targeted and I’m not really optimistic
about that one either. I think we’re going
to see a push on public-private
partnerships as a way to similar to transportation to leverage
really limited dollars at least on the front end so that local
governments perhaps can get a lot of projects funded for their
region on a priority basis. But again, if you want to
kick-start some of that, if you want a help from
the statewide level, it’s going to take
some sort of funding. And I think, if not this
session, then perhaps the next that will be some sort
of non-tax revenue source that has a decent
chance of passing. To me, the tap fee, because it’s
so widespread and it could be such a small amount on your
bill seems like a good approach. Chairman Ritter talked
about it a lot in his different conversations,
at water conferences and so forth but the proof
will in a putting, we’ll see.>>The rainy day fund
is a really unfortunate, I mean for you, is it–>>I know, I know. [Laughter] We don’t have
a drought fund, so–>>Oh, what you think
in terms of HHS? Obviously, Medicaid,
Medicare, huge but, you know, the discussion of this
is very complicated. This morning, I’ve ended the
conversation with Kirk Watson, with Senators Watson and
Senator Patrick and Blake, you know, Senator Patrick. Senator Patrick was pretty
definite I think in saying that, you know, HHS and in funding
on Medicaid and Medicare and Social Services was going
to basically break the state if we didn’t do something, you
know, drastically different and then in fact he drew
a direct parallel saying that it was coming at
the expensive education. Is that an inevitable
kind of formulation?>>Well, I think that
certainly is the major concern that many members of the
legislature have and that is that the required of
mandatory funding for Health and Human Services crowds
out the funding opportunities for other areas of government
particularly public education. And one of the most difficult
things that people would say to me when I served
as commissioner was that Medicaid is unsustainable. And, I mean, I could not
really disagree with them but I didn’t really have
anything to offer them with that– in that
regard, you know. And so I think the focus
then well continue to be on. When you talk about alternative
revenue sources in Health and Human Services, typically
that means, well, is there a way to get some additional federal
funds, which and, you know, federal funds are not
free but, you know, they come to our government
and we should seek them and apply them appropriately
and so, there’s always efforts to maximize federal funding. And so, that’s one
option that’s available. And the other side, our word is
always how can you deliver the same level of services
at a lower cost. And so, a lot of focus on
cost containment efforts. You know, is there a less
costly equally effective way to provide medical
services to those who need. And so, you try to balance
those two things out. But it continues to be a huge
fiscal challenge for the state, you know, Health and
Human Services represents about I guess the third
of all state spending but when you start looking at the discretionary
general revenue, that the legislature has
available to allocate it, it continues to require
a huge chunk of that and limits their ability to
respond to other policy needs.>>I want to ask
you about something that I suspect you’re thankful
to not be in the middle of, but it’s in your domain
in this conversation and that’s the ongoing
transition or possible transition in the
women’s healthcare program.>>Oh, yeah.>>How do you read that
conflict and what do you– how do you make sense of
what’s going on with there? Is that– is this a discussion
that’s driven primarily by politics around
Planned Parenthood? Is there a legitimate kind of policy domain
question in where–>>Well, you could talk about
it or think about it in terms of politics but politics
means, you know, they are reflecting their
beliefs, their philosophy, the principles upon which they
were elected to the legislature on either side of the issue. And so, I think the political
process then balances out those competing
views and priorities. I mean, I think, right now
is so confusing to everybody because of the back
and forth in court, whether it’s federal
court or state court. And so, I’ve lost
track of where it is. I think it’s back
in state court now and there’s a temporary
restraining order so everything is okay and
federal funds are still flowing. At some point, it will
come to a resolution and I think the political
process is the mechanism we have to resolve those
kinds of conflicts. And so, again, I
think what the Health and Human Services
Commission has done is put in place the decisions
of the legislature from the last session. The governor has been very clear about what his beliefs
and position is. The legislature is concurred. And so, back again
in next session and see if that’s reaffirmed.>>Well, I might even have
thought you were still in office. [Laughter] Let me
ask you another– then a followup question. All right. Do you think based on your
experience and allowing for the fact Jim been in
office for a little bit, do you think the state has
the capacity to deliver– to continue delivering
the kind of services that have been delivered if Planned Parenthood
is cut out the equation?>>I think there are enough
resources available are enough for the providers. I mean, the Planned Parenthood
has been a large willing provider and the
program is made– been accessible to
a lot of women and they’re familiar with that. That doesn’t mean that there
aren’t other providers. When I think of seeing
something from the commission that indicates they’ve
identified 3,000 additional providers. Now, the issue, I don’t
know really is based around the program structure. I think it’s really more around
the philosophical disagreement and whether or not the state
should exclude that provider as a matter of choice, I mean. And, you know, I know
the arguments go to all of these other operational
points and the financing points
and, yeah, it does. It is nice to give 90
percent federal match. But, you know, when you’re
talking about 40 million dollars in a 25 billion dollar
Medicaid budget, I don’t know that’s the basis that the decision
would be made upon. And so, it really is. It really is more
of ideological, philosophical disagreement and I think that’s what
the elected officials are in office to determine.>>Well, this goes back to the first question I asked
a little bit just once more on that beat. Now that the national quest– the national election
has taken place, the Obama Administration
is not going anywhere. Attorney General Abbott kind
of famously tweeted the morning of the election something
to the effect of, you know, when Romney wins today, we’ll be
able to drop all these lawsuits and not have to pay
for them anymore. Well, that’s obviously
not going to happen. I mean, aside from the financial
incentive, do you think that having the administration
in place for four years may
help alleviate this? I mean, you’ve worked from both
the federal and the state level.>>No, I mean, when it comes
to the women’s health program in particular, I don’t think
the federal government is open to changing their interpretation
and their position, and so I think the
lines are drawn on that. And I was just thinking back. I was commissioner when the
program was first implemented. And the prohibition was in law
at that time and it did revolve around the meaning of affiliate. The definition of affiliate that
we applied focus more on whether or not there was a business
or financial relationship that existed between a business
entity that performed abortion and a business entity that
did not perform abortion. And I think, you know,
following the implementation on that basis, the
legislature came back around and I was no longer
a commissioner but made a determination
that’s not really what we meant by that restriction. We meant for it to be
more broadly applied. And so, they are the
ones that are in placed to make those kind of decisions. And so, I think that’s
the position that will be maintained. I don’t see that the
centers for Medicaid, Medicare services are too open to changing their
interpretation about it either. So it may won’t back up
in federal court again. Okay, I want you all to be
thinking about questions. I want to ask you guys one
quick lightning round based on this discussion while people
are charting questions out. In the domains, we’ve
talked about as we go in, as we go into the
legislature, are you optimistic or pessimistic about progress
being made in the areas where you guys have
so previously served. I’ve been gleaning
on you so we’ll start with Robert on the other end.>>Cautiously optimistic.>>Optimistic.>>Cautiously optimistic.>>I’m neutral. I mean, I think when it comes
to Health and Human Services, you know, progress, I mean, maybe the outcome would
be to hold their own.>>Well, nobody is negative.>>Yeah, right.>>Okay, so [inaudible]
going to have a microphone and we’re going to open it
to the floor for questions. [Inaudible] Again,
just to remind you, please wait for the
microphone, it’d be helpful. Thank you.>>Hi, thanks for coming. This one’s for you Mr. Hawkins. The expansion of Medicaid,
Medicare, I’m not too familiar with it but if I understand it
correctly, if the state decides to not do it themselves, the federal government
is going to do it anyway? Is that correct and if so would
the state want to have control over that and so do you think that they’ll go ahead
and accept those?>>That’s not the
case when you deal– when you look at the
Medicaid expansion. That’s a state determination,
a state authorization. And so it’s up to the
state to determine whether or not to expand Medicaid. On the other side of it is
the Health Insurance Exchange that will take place
regardless of whether or not the state runs it. And so, that’s already
being developed now. Our state has opted
not to establish and operate the Health
Insurance Exchange established under federal law and so the
federal government is moving forward with that. When it comes to the
Medicaid expansion, now the Supreme Court
ruling made clear that the state has a
discretion as to whether or not to expand its Medicaid program.>>Another question? Gentleman over here. [ Pause ]>>I’m glad you’re
all optimistic. It’s– well, you have
every reason to be. It would appear that when
the controller releases the estimate, there’ll be somewhere
in the neighborhood of 10 to 12 billion dollars
and would seem to be that the constraint now
will be the spending limit. So, if you were still
commissioner of education and Albert, if you were still
responsible for Medicaid, would you guys just be
willing to flip a coin and split the 7 billion
dollars between you?>>Probably not. [Laughter] I’d go for broke. I don’t know, Robert
might, you know, I think that the
fiscal demands are one of the real reasons I’ve been
neutral about the outlook for this session in Health and
Human Services and certainly, this session will be a lot
more promising and positive than the last session
when we were scaling back. But just to stay
even with Medicaid, it’s going to take 10 billion. So, there was 4.7 billion
dollars shortfall for 2013. We have to match that amount
for the 14, 15 by any amount and the federal match rate
is changed, that’s going to cost state funds 600
million more and so I think just to start off even with
Medicaid, you need 10 billion. [Multiple Speakers]
[Inaudible Remark]>>Yes. [Inaudible Remark]
Yes and so then you have to start looking
ahead at 14, 15, yes. [Inaudible Remark] I take that–>>You could use with the
difference and flip a coin or would you say [inaudible]>>Given that, I’d
split the difference.>>Yeah, I don’t know that I
would flip a coin, you know. I’d look at, you know, what
I did in LAR, you know. When I thought what the
priorities the state need to be focused on and right
now that’s implementing in the course exams in the subjects I mentioned
earlier in enrollment growth. You know, that’s, you know, a couple of billion dollars
each biennium, you know, just for enrolment growth
plus looking at the cuts that were made last time
and seeing if you want to restore some of those and
then getting into, as I said, implementation of end of
course exams to start. So, I don’t know that I
could get 10 billion dollars but I’d buy them for it.>>Let me follow up on that and
in a slightly more focused way, do you think that all things
being equal, it would be best to restore the cuts, in
other words save, you know, even if you stipulate the
question whether you want to or not, do you think that the– those cuts hurt the system
badly enough that you think that they need to be
restored if they could be?>>You can never paint with
that broad of a brush in a state as large and diverse as Texas. In some cases, school
districts really got hurt. In some cases, they
were already hurt, the chaos of local decisions
that they have made for 10 or 15 years, poor
decisions about hiring and not firing compounded
themselves over time. In some cases, you had districts with fund balances
that were fine. So, it’s impossible to paint
with that broad a brush. Money is relevant but
not this positive. But when you get to a point,
now I would have absolutely said that with the 10 billion
dollars they propose cutting, that would have done some
serious long term damage. And I think that working with
the legislature to get back that 6 billion dollars prevented
us from really, you know, seeing mass chaos
across the system. I think the system can function. It’s looking ahead, you
know, for enrollment growth in the future demands have
start and of course we’re going to have to have some
serious conversations about additional revenue.>>Another question from– okay, let’s go over here
and then over there.>>Thanks Daniel.>>Oh yeah.>>So this morning,
Senator Patrick and Senator Watson had a, I would say a very
spirited conversation about the aspect of
education funding. And one thing that
Senator Watson was bringing out was the fact, you
know, we cut that, we need to put money back to it. Senator Patrick came
back and said, well, you just don’t throw money
at the problem, you know, you need to go in
and fix the solution. Of course, he is going back to
his little piece of vouchers or his– he called
it school choice. So, let’s just say we take money
off the table, what can we do to go in and fix the schools? I mean, what can we do to go in and as Senator Patrick
said addressed the issue?>>I’m a believer that real
education reform is something very similar to what
Deirdre said. It’s something that you
plot out and takes time. And I believe that the college
incurs readiness standards that we’ve put in place. If we properly align our
instructional materials, assessments, professional
development, and resources to them will be better for kids. I think end of course exams
will be better for kids. It’s just how we implement them,
what stakes we attach to them. I believe if we stay the course
on a lot of these things, it will be better for kids. But we’re going to have
to have a conversation about resources in the future. Now, you know, I don’t know that
there’s ever a magic bullet. You know, if you go
back to the late 1800s, the headlines were colleges
and universities are upset, the kids aren’t graduating
ready for college. It’s in the late 1800s. We’re still having
that debate today. So, it’s one of those things
that everything is cyclical in education and the same
thing with vouchers, you know. You can have– let’s
have a conversation about school choice. I don’t think you have an agency
that’s prepared to implement it and that’s going to be the
devil, it’s going to be details and implementation of that. I said that the Tribune Fest
you need to get the agency guns and badges because I worry that,
you know, you have some fly by nighters open up, send the
state a bill and then be off with some non-extradition
country before we know what happens. So, you need to be very careful
about how to implement it. Remember too, the
Supreme Court has ruled that the agency cannot regulate
private schools particularly home schools. So, you got that little
constitutional thing coming out here again so you
got to be thoughtful about how you think
through that.>>I want to follow
up in a little bit. What do you anticipate– what do
you anticipate Senator Patrick doing or proposing?>>You know, I heard
this morning, he has a plan but
no one seen it. So I really couldn’t, I
don’t want to put words in this mouth, you know. Like I said the school choice
voucher debate has been on the table for how
many decades now, I mean, we’ve been talking about–
[Inaudible Remark] Huh?>>Since 1999.>>Since ’99 and, you
know, they tried a number of avenues, a number of options. You know, I personally think
high quality charter schools are something that that
should be encouraged. I think the bad charter schools
ought to be closed more quickly, but– so I think that can
be instructive to us and is to how a school choice system
could morph into something that we didn’t intend.>>There’s another question but
I couldn’t see where it was. [ Pause ] Okay, well, please,
thank our guests. [ Applause ] [ Silence ]

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