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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

July 31, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Waco Tribune-Herald. July 28, 2018.

Trying to be philosophical about a hike of nearly 9 percent in average home values in McLennan County might seem weak medicine indeed for what riles us. Still, after fuming a little over what this jolt might or might not mean in individual property-tax bills, it helps to remember that all of us gain in at least one respect when our property gains in value. That’s one reason we keep watering the lawn. Like much else, we also might experience some pain along the way.

When our salary goes up through pay raises or promotion to a post of greater responsibility, often so do the income taxes we pay (though lucky Texans get a pass on state income taxes). And when factors suggest our homes will command more when for sale, it’s natural we’ll pay more in taxes based on commercial value while we’re living in our homes. And if that’s still too painful to bear, remember that property taxes pay for the local roads on which we drive, the local police who safeguard us and the education of locals who serve us in various key capacities.

And let’s face it. Due to the efforts of many citizens, civic leaders and business proprietors — maybe even you — Waco is now a happening place. People not only want to visit but also live here. Property values rise partially based on the corresponding average price of Waco area homes sold. A story on the local economy by Mike Copeland reveals that homes sold last month averaged $234,275 — a jump of more than 10 percent from prices the same month a year ago.

Many blame the engaging stars of the Waco-based home-renovation TV show “Fixer Upper” or Baylor University for rising property values and the tax bills that come with them. But far more is at work, including our prime location on bustling, soon-to-be-improved Interstate 35, smack between burgeoning Dallas-Fort Worth and fast-growing Austin. If you really want to avoid spiraling property values, plenty of sparsely settled stretches of our great state remain, and with all their amenities. But growth is an unavoidable dynamic in our county.

Homeowners can cushion the blow. For starters, remember there’s a 10 percent cap on any annual increase in your home’s taxable appraised value — but only if you secure a homestead exemption (and this applies only to one’s principal residence). For more info, consult the state comptroller’s website on homestead exemptions.

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Houston Chronicle. July 29, 2018.

Finally. President Trump is following the advice of at least one respected, mainstream American conservative.

You’ll remember that it was former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell who warned, in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, “you break it, you own it.”

Now Trump is heeding that wisdom, even if unwittingly: He essentially broke the delicately crafted global trade networks for everything from soy to steel, and now he’s offering to pay for the damage.

Problem is, the bill for knocking that delicate piece of bone china off the display case isn’t going to Trump. It’s going to the American taxpayers. We’re the ones on the hook for his $12 billion bailout of the agriculture industry.

Now other industries harmed by Trump’s reckless trade war want to know if their check is in the mail.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has pointed out that one-third of her state’s seafood goes to China, which retaliated against Trump’s tariffs with similar taxes, and her constituents are curious if they’ll get a bailout, too.

Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz ought to consider asking for a financial reparation on Houston’s behalf.

Our economy relies on international trade more than almost any other city. When Trump imposes tariffs, he taxes our engine for growth. Roughly 17 percent of our regional GDP was created by exporting locally originated goods, according to the Brookings Institution. That’s one in every six dollars. Overall, those exports — international sales of things we produce here — totaled $79billion last year.

“If you say we lost 10 percent of our exports, that could be $7.9 billion,” Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president for research and regional economist at Greater Houston Partnership, told the editorial board.

To make it simple, Mr. President, just round up the check to $8 billion.

It isn’t just a matter of lost revenue. A mere 10 percent downturn in exports would also impact 33,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry — the lifeblood of Houston’s economy — sits on the front lines of Trump’s trade war. Tariffs on steel imports raise costs for building the new pipelines, refineries and chemical plants we’ll need to take full advantage of our shale resources.

Then there’s the instability of it all, which can lead to cold feet.

“If there’s so much uncertainty out there, you postpone hiring decisions and you postpone investment decisions,” Jankowski said. “And if you postpone hiring decisions and investment decisions, that will lead to slower economic growth.”

Things aren’t slowing down just yet. The GDP grew by 4.1 percent last quarter, a rate not seen since 2014. As much as we’d like to cheer, economists warn this number was juiced by frantic stockpiling before the tariffs went into effect — something akin to Houstonians raiding the shelves at H-E-B before a big storm. What goes up prematurely must come down. When it does, the damage will be clear.

Politicians in Washington need to mend this trade conflict before it gets worse. . The problem is that nobody seems to know Trump’s goal.

He dropped out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but Japan has rejected his proposed replacement deal.

His bluster about a trade war with the European Union ended up with consensus on a free trade agreement — albeit one that sounds an awful lot like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that was negotiated under the Obama administration.

Trump said he wants to stop China from stealing intellectual property, but it’s not clear how tariffs will accomplish that.

As Cornyn asked last month: How does this end?

No doubt, Trump’s fans relish the spectacle of a president willing to shake things up. But trade policy requires more finesse than a bull in a china shop can muster. Leaders in congress, stop this mess. The nation can only glue the pieces back together so many times before the damage becomes irreparable.

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The Dallas Morning News. July 30, 2018.

No one likes to be held accountable for achievement, especially when the goal is extremely hard to attain. But raising the performance of our public schools so that every child has a legitimate shot at a decent education is both a moral imperative and an economic necessity in our increasingly competitive world.

For those reasons, we are encouraged by recent changes to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness or STAAR standards. Our sense is that STAAR is taking three broad steps forward.

First, STAAR is a standardized testing program and therefore comes with all of the normally attendant drawbacks to such exams. But testing is a necessity for anyone interested in improvement. And in this case, we like that STAAR exams have been made vastly more accessible to parents.

Simply put, parents will be able to log-on through a Texas Education Administration web site to see how their child performed and even the test questions they faced. Parents can also see how their child’s district, as well as school, performed. And rather than using confusing labels, scores for districts and schools will be assigned a letter grade from A through F.

If that seems less than revolutionary, consider this fact: There may be no better source to press a local school to improve than local parents. By arming parents with real information about their kids and their schools, Texas has just created a mechanism for continuous improvement (assuming that officials don’t water down the tests to rob the entire process of its meaning).

The second reason STAAR took a step forward this year is this: The system is now designed to encourage improvement regardless of how a student scores. So even if a student turns in a B performance, the system now has built-in mechanisms to encourage schools to help that student master the subject. That new pressure will likely improve overall performance.

And finally, the third reason we are encouraged by the work being done through STAAR is that there has been some care taken to win buy-in throughout the system. The exam questions are being developed by teachers, and the teachers will also have access to key pieces of data. These facets of the system will help create quality exams and enable teachers to identify how best to help students raise their performance. This level of inclusion gives the system a better chance at success.

The first round of A through F district scores are due to be released on Aug. 15. Over time, each campus will get a letter grade, too. Our hope is that STAAR now enables parents and school officials to be better equipped as they make tough decisions.

Raising educational achievement isn’t easy. But then the teachers we know show up every day because they are dedicated to one of the hardest challenges facing us today.

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San Antonio Express-News. July 30, 2018.

Impeachment.

It’s a word spoken way too carelessly — and prematurely — when it comes to President Donald Trump. But it is also a word just as reckless when applied to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. A group of conservative U.S. House members has introduced a resolution calling precisely for that.

The resolution cites “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are nothing of the sort.

Rosenstein stands accused of not responding with enough alacrity to members’ demands for documents, though the Justice Department has supplied plenty and is working on much of the rest, save for a document that the department believes, if released, could compromise special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Rosenstein also stands accused of obfuscating the source of some of the material cited to get a FISA court to allow surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump aide (who was indicted and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI). But there was no such withholding of information, as the release of pertinent documents in the past few weeks demonstrated. Moreover, the investigation into Page began before Rosenstein was deputy attorney general — he signed only one of the renewal applications to the court.

He has redacted too much in the documents supplied, the members charge. But, even if true, there is no basis to the assumption that this was done for nefarious purposes.

As a whole, the charges’ real intent is entirely clear: to give cover to President Trump, who has repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt,” to go into House re-election season with plenty of red meat to hand the base and, potentially, to hand the president a pretext for firing Rosenstein, replacing him with someone far more malleable who would either fire Mueller or hinder the investigation.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he opposes the resolution, which is offered by 11 Republicans, led by Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, all members of the House Freedom Caucus. That, however, might not stop this group from pressing for a vote after Congress returns from a summer recess.

The nation should be clear what the result of a Rosenstein impeachment and Mueller firing would be: a constitutional crisis that tests whether a presidential derailing of an investigation into the president constitutes obstruction of justice.

The president mustn’t go there.

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Amarillo Globe-News. July 31, 2018.

“If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, that’s the highway that’s the best ... It winds from Chicago to L.A., more than 2,000 miles all the way ... Now you go through St. Looey, Joplin, Missouri, and Oklahoma City is mighty pretty. You’ll see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Arizona, don’t forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino ... Won’t you get hip to this timely tip: When you make that California trip, get your kicks on Route 66.”

- (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66, (Nat) King Cole Trio, 1946.

The above tune is a classic — and has been covered from everyone to Chuck Berry to the Rolling Stones to Asleep At The Wheel.

There was even a television show about “Route 66” in the early 1960s.

And references in popular culture to this legendary stretch of road, which runs through Amarillo, are endless.

There is no debate about it — Route 66 is a piece of Americana.

This is why it makes sense for Amarillo to do whatever it can to preserve this classic roadway, which was the main artery connecting Chicago and California.

With the preservation of Route 66 in mind, the Amarillo Convention and Visitor Council recently made it known to the U.S. Senate that it supports a National Historic Trail designation for Route 66.

In terms of American history, there are few historic trails in this country that could rival the influence of Route 66 - so we hope senators (including Texas’ U.S. senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn) are listening to Amarillo.

While it is true that Route 66 has been replaced by more modern thoroughfares (primarily Interstate 40, at least in these parts), this does not diminish what Route 66 still means. This roadway is American history - and it should be preserved.

We encourage Amarillo and Texas Panhandle residents to support a National Historic Trail Designation for Route 66 by going to the National Trust for Historic Preservation website (savingplaces.org) and completing the online form to preserve Route 66.

It would be a shame to let America lose a piece of itself.

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