|Texas Elephant Antics (not funny)
||[Sep. 25th, 2010|08:15 pm]
Steve Ogden (R) is, unfortunately, my senator in the state legislature...and the author of legislation which made it possible to divert federal hurricane funds to the restoration of the Texas governor's mansion (wiped out by an arsonist during (in my opinion unnecessary) restoration ordered by Governor Rick Perry (R).
The Austin American-Statesman had the article on the front page, and a sidebar inside (not found in the online version, at least not coupled with the article) at http://tinyurl.com/38kjvjt. The sidebar had the juicy bits--how the shuffle was done.
It goes like this. The state DPS obtained $145 million from the state Health and Human Services Division to pay for services rendered during Hurricane Ike (I think it was Ike. We get a fair number of hurricanes), including transportation of (some) people to higher ground, providing bottles of water, etc. DPS was reimbursed by FEMA. Instead of reimbursing HHS fully with this money, DPS shunted $11 million of their reimbursement to the State Preservation Board, which is tasked with the restoration of the mansion. (I have nothing against "preservation". I have something against this particular approach to preservation, and wonder how you can call building a new mansion on the site of one burned to the ground "restoration." There's nothing left to restore.) The legislature then passed a one-billion-dollar budget that included (neatly hidden in "general revenue") an eventual reimbursement to HHS plus a large lump to the restoration project.
So though the public were told that private donations would take care of the restoration, now it turns out that the mansion will be rebuilt with primarily taxpayer money at a total cost of over $20 million. Almost half from the General Revenue, half from FEMA, plus $4 million in donations.
It's noteworthy that Medicaid and other human services were cut then, and are being cut again, because although Perry brags (in his re-election ads) about the state having a budget surplus, it's certainly not going to be spent on education, health care, housing for the poor, or anything useful like that. The mansion project is essentially exempt from the cuts hitting all other agencies....because FEMA money is exempt from state budget cuts. (And just why is the budget being cut when there's a surplus?)
It's also noteworthy that Perry et al have refused to accept stimulus funds or education funds from the feds "Because of the strings attached." The "strings" consist of being expected to spend the money on what it's given for: using education funds for education, for instance, and being required to sustain state funding rather than replacing existing state funding with federal. Limitations on spending money for things like, for instance, rebuilding a mansion...an insistence that funds given should not be folded into general revenue. Texas legislators delight in moving supposedly dedicated funds into general revenue where they can wander off into other very important uses for very important people...like the mansion. Certainly more important than educating kids, feeding the hungry, providing decent shelter for the homeless and affordable housing for the poor, ensuring that every Texas child (at least) has adequate medical care.
In addition to the mansion itself (it was a lovely building--it's not worth the trouble to rebuild, however, as all the historic value is now ashes) there's been the cost of maintaining the governor and his family somewhere else. They chose a $9000/month rental in a posh gated community. Supposedly this was a security requirement. The mansion rebuilding will include the addition to the old footprint of another 1000 square feet and a lot of security stuff, because Perry's as paranoid as they come. Every visitor in future will go through a screening process in a separate building. Even Bush wasn't that paranoid. Heck, he even allowed a wide selection of Texas writers into the mansion once a year and shook hands with them. Perry relegated the Texas Book Festival guest writers to a hallway in the Capitol building and stayed far away. His wife did the hand-shaking.
What's startling (from the printed comments) is that some people appear not to recognize that the FEMA money is taxpayer money (the person who says "But if they can pay for half of it from hurricane money, it saves the taxpayers..." No. If we spend twenty-odd million dollars on this thing, it's twenty-odd million dollars, and if it's not coming from private donors, it's coming from the rest of us.)
Meanwhile, Perry's buddies in education are off on another Texas Textbook Massacre spree. The version of history they want to teach is worse than what I was taught in the '50s, which wasn't very good. (Understatement.) I suspect some of them aren't convinced the Earth is round. (They've made it clear they don't believe in evolution, global warming, or critical thinking.) But then, an ignorant electorate is easier to control.