Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics (October 16)

The era of “what, me worry?” when it comes to the effects of the oil boom came closer to the end this week with the comptroller’s downward revision of his revenue estimates, a revision based largely on the effects of the collapse in oil prices. The Lt. Governor followed with his serial interim charge announcements calling for “options to further reduce the tax burden on property owners.”  On the national stage, the vacuum created by the recognition that being Speaker of the U.S. House is a one-way ticket out of electoral politics led some GOP members to launch trial balloons. Meanwhile, over in the Democratic Presidential nomination race, Hillary Clinton reminded Democratic voters that she’s the pro in the race with a mostly sharp, funny performance that also showed her shrewdness by effortlessly getting to Bernie Sanders’ left on guns. Speaking of guns, the media was buzzing – and in some cases seemingly altering their policy on language appropriate for family newspapers – with the announcement by some activists at UT-Austin of a protest against the new campus carry law that will involve the open carry of dildos.

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1. Comptroller Glenn Hegar this week released a revised budget revenue estimate reflecting current economic conditions – most importantly, the decline in oil prices. Hegar had estimated that oil would still be trading somewhere between $65 and $75 a barrel last January, despite the fact that even at the time, oil was trading at about $46 per barrel.  Hegar is now estimating that oil will trade at $45 in the first year of the biennium and $51 in the second. What the economy will look like in the 2017 session, still over a year away, is a matter of conjecture (ask Hegar), but it sure does seem unlikely that the next session will be a replay of the politics of largesse with many a legislator muttering, “gee whiz, what should we do with all this extra money?” while the Tea Party faction fumes. Should oil prices remain low while interest rates go up (the only direction they can go from the current rates), we’re likely to see a tighter budget next session. Last time we had one of these (in February 2011), we asked Texans how the legislature should respond and received not-unpredictably partisan answers. Republicans were far more likely to say that the budget shortfall should be dealt with through spending cuts than were Democrats (as the graphic below illustrates), and the most popular (or palatable?) cuts were ending funding for pre-k (38 percent), reducing funding for new highway construction (37 percent), ending state environmental regulations and leaving it to the federal government (35 percent), closing one or more prisons for adults or for juveniles (33 percent each), reducing state contributions to the teacher and state employee retirement systems (32 percent), and a range of other less popular proposals.  If you were looking to get a new spending program going next session, time to call your government affairs representative to get the bad news.

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0 - Close the gap entirely through spending cuts3%17%31%
10 - Close the gap entirely through revenue increases7%9%2%

2. Some Texas members of Congress spent the early part of the week floating trial balloons for the Speakership while Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) continued to hold the GOP at bay while he decides whether or not he is willing to take a job that he really doesn’t want. But those Texans are a big block of the Republican caucus, and GOP voters, while they may have contempt for Congress overall, still provide some evidence that they conform to the old academic saw of hating congress but loving their Congressman.

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categoryLean RepublicanNot very strong RepublicanStrong Republican
Approve strongly11%3%21%
Approve somewhat33%29%39%
Neither approve nor disapprove23%36%18%
Disapprove somewhat17%20%12%
Disapprove strongly13%6%7%
Don't know3%7%3%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Approve strongly7%15%14%
Approve somewhat18%29%32%
Neither approve nor disapprove19%30%14%
Disapprove somewhat19%12%23%
Disapprove strongly32%11%14%
Don't know6%3%3%

3. In the first Democratic debate on Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton took the opportunity to outflank Sen. Bernie Sanders on gun control (one of the few issues that she – or anyone – is to the left of the Vermont Senator). He seemed surprised, but he very well may have been the only one. This was an obvious move for Clinton, highlighted as a strong possibility in the lead up to the debate. Even in Texas, where Democrats are more conservative than most of their national (or at least non-Southern) brethren, Democrats tend to be liberal on gun control, and given the recent and seemingly endless news of mass shootings, this issue does not appear likely to lose salience for the Democrats, and especially for Sanders. In February 2015, 69 percent of Texas Democrats said that they thought gun laws should be made more strict, 19 percent said that they should remain the same, and only 6 percent said that they should be made less strict.

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More strict69%28%12%
Less strict6%26%34%
Left as they are now19%32%52%
Don't know/No opinion6%14%2%


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More strict33%40%
Less strict31%14%
Left as they are now33%39%
Don't know/No opinion3%7%

4. Speaking of guns, we can’t think of a gun that rhymes with penis, but the planned protest at UT-Austin on the day that concealed carry on college campuses goes into effect also sent us back to the same polling on gun control to find gender and age differences. Women were more likely to say that gun laws should be made more strict (40 percent to 33 percent), but only 14 percent of women said that they should be made less strict, compared to 31 percent of men. And when it comes to age groups, those between the ages of 18-29 were the most likely to endorse stricter gun laws in the February 2015 UT/TT poll. Since UT-Austin was also in the news two years ago on account of a student who created the model for 3-D printing a handgun, maybe 3-D printing is a place where gun control and gun rights activists can find some common interests over which to hash out their differences. The researchers at UCLA and the University of New Mexico behind a study of women’s preferences for penis sizes also used 3-D printers to model phalluses for a study of female sexual preferences, and made those models available on the internet for anyone wishing to print their very own. Maybe a 3-D printing party could help bridge the gender gap here? Okay, probably not, given the response to media coverage of the protest.

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More strict43%41%36%29%
Less strict19%16%25%25%
Left as they are now29%37%34%42%
Don't know/No opinion9%5%5%4%


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Enough to make a difference to most Texas families29%
Not enough to make a difference56%
Don't know/No opinion14%

5.  Finally, we wrote somewhat extensively over the last two weeks about Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s interim charges (and even talked about it), but it was hard to keep up with his extended rollout strategy (itself a notable media relations move by the Lt. Governor’s team). The mid-week installments of the rollout included charges targeted at lowering property taxes, this despite the fact that the Legislature spent most of the last session not on whether to cut taxes, but arguing about how exactly to do it. In the end, voters will decide on an increase in the homestead exemption (a de facto cut in property taxes) this November. So why all the attention on property taxes? Estimates suggest that the eventual amount that homeowners will save will approximate to about $125 a year on their property tax bills (at least in the near term). We asked in the June 2015 UT/TT poll whether this would be enough to make a difference to most Texas families and found that only 29 percent agreed, 56 percent said that it wouldn’t be enough to make a difference. This is also probably one of the very tiny handful of areas in which Democrats and Tea Party Republicans look more alike than they do like non-Tea Party Republicans (see below). Expect to see lots of primary ads by incumbents trumpeting the sum total of that tax cut, at times even combined with the cut in the margins tax. Also expect voters to be unimpressed with the actual results – and for that dissatisfaction to be on the minds of GOP legislators next session. With the decrease in revenue reported by the Comptroller and the likelihood that the revenue situation is unlikely to turn around significantly by 2017-2018, future property tax reduction likely would have to come out of somebody’s hide – either local government or other existing spending.

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Enough to make a difference to most Texas families26%42%30%
Not enough to make a difference66%47%63%
Don't know/No opinion8%10%6%