Workforce Housing Benefits Everyone

Johnson City is facing a workforce housing crisis. Home sale prices are upwards of $250,000 and rent is $1,000+ per month. People working at restaurants, retail shops, wineries and other local businesses or in trades can not afford to live here.

LBJ NPFor example, LBJ National Park, which currently serves 140,000 visitors per year, is unable to fill all its 40 staff positions. Not because of a lack of qualified candidates willing to relocate to Johnson City, but because of the cost of living, which is driven primarily by housing costs.

To rent a two-bedroom house in Johnson City for $1,200 per month without exceeding 30 percent of your wages for housing, you need to make $24.54 per hour for 40 hours per week. Jobs here typically pay $10-$15 per hour.

This problem affects more than just working folks looking for housing and business owners. It affects everyone with children in our school district. Johnson City Independent School District is considered a wealthy school district. With declining school population, we must give a portion of our property taxes to the state, to the tune of $2.1 million for the coming school year. If school attendance was growing, we could keep more to improve our schools.

JC New home photoLack of workforce housing affects anyone who wants to see our town prosper. Whether it is opportunities for our high school graduates or young families looking to build a life and raise their children, the housing shortage is preventing them from making Johnson City their home.

But, there is another side to this problem. Let’s take a look at wage stagnation. This phenomenon has occurred in the United States since the 1970s and was exacerbated by the Great Recession of 2008. Low-wage workers earn 5 percent less than they did in 1979 (adjusted for inflation), while middle class workers earn only 6 percent more. Those with very high wages saw their pay rise 41 percent.

In 1965, CEO pay was about 20 times that of a typical worker. Today, it is 300 times.

Think it’s because workers today aren’t as productive as workers back then? Not true. Productivity has risen dramatically. If the minimum wage had kept up with growth in American worker productivity, it would be $18 per hour today.

What can we do about these problems?

Consider serving on the Johnson City Planning and Zoning Commission. The Commission JC Mapcurrently has two openings. You do not have to reside in the city to serve. Also, as a community, let’s agree that we need multi-family housing, so the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council can make zoning decisions that help us solve this problem.

Regarding wage stagnation, Republican lawmakers aren’t telling the truth about this. One example: our Congressman Lamar Smith and Senator Ted Cruz say last year’s tax cuts are the solution. But most of the cuts benefit the wealthy, not you or Blanco County. In November, let’s elect the Democratic slate of candidates to fight for us.

Terry C.

Advertisements

Texas Has a Children’s Mental Health Crisis

In last week’s column, I wrote about the crisis in county jails resulting from community members with untreated mental health disorders coming into contact with law enforcement. This week’s focus is the crisis in children’s mental health.

sad girlThe suicide rate among girls in the United States reached a record high in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and has doubled since 2007. The suicide rate for young girls, ages 10-14, increased 300 percent. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens and young adults ages 15-24. In fact, more children and young adults die from suicide than from all natural causes combined.

Twenty percent of children and teens in our country have a mental health disorder. In Blanco County, this equals 433 children.

The most common children’s mental health disorders are anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mood disorders such as depression, and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. These are medical conditions that require treatment from doctors. Children with mental health disorders face daunting challenges in obtaining treatment, not the least of which is the judgment of being a bad kid.

Children, their families and our state pay the price. A child with an untreated mental health condition may self-medicate with alcohol or drugs or engage in high-risk activities, putting them at risk for academic failure and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Fifty percent drop out of high school. Seventy percent of children in the juvenile justice system have a mental health disorder.

sad childPediatricians play an important role in the solution because early diagnosis and treatment is key to a positive outcome. Mental health screenings must take place at regular intervals during childhood, just like hearing and vision screenings. Unfortunately, there is no pediatrician and only one general practitioner in Blanco County.

There is a shortage of doctors in general practice and pediatrics in rural Texas. We rank 47th in the nation for having enough primary care physicians for our population.

The Texas Medical Association recommends three steps to alleviate this crisis. First, provide a path for doctors who are immigrants and licensed in other countries to practice in Texas. Second, allow independent practice for nurse practitioners and offer incentives, such as student loan forgiveness, to practice in rural areas. Third, create incentives for medical schools to fund additional residency positions so all medical school graduates can continue on the path to becoming doctors.

It takes government intervention to make these steps happen. It is our shared responsibility to ensure that children get the medical care they need. It is an appropriate function of government to address community problems with a broad impact.

Current state leadership is more concerned about niche issues that appeal to the Republican base than in finding real solutions to complex issues. Ask the candidates in the November election about these issues. Vote for those who understand these problems and offer solutions, not those that resort to name-calling and finger-pointing. Our children deserve better.child troublemaker

Terry C

Let’s Keep Residents and Officers Safe

Some violent interaction between civilians and law enforcement officers is inevitable. In some communities, this may take the form of conflict between African Americans and police. Law enforcement agencies may respond by saying the threats faced by officers are under-reported and unappreciated.

JC Police badgeTo prepare this column, I visited Blanco County Chief Deputy Neal Leonard and Johnson City Interim Police Chief Marty Corcoran to hear their thoughts about this week’s topic. According to Leonard, rather than race, the greater challenge in Blanco County is conflict between law enforcement and radical right groups, such as Sovereign Nation and Republic of Texas.

On-duty officer deaths in the United States have been dropping since the early 1970s. In 2015, it was at the lowest level since 1960. This coincides with a 49 percent decline in violent crime between 1994 and 2014.

Leonard and Corcoran agree that a pressing law enforcement issue in Blanco County is interactions with people who have mental health challenges. These interactions put residents and people passing through into contact with law enforcement, providing opportunities for violence to occur.

Nationwide, 25 percent of people killed by police have an untreated mental health disorder. These people—our family members, friends, and neighbors—are 16 times more likely than you or me to be involved in a police shooting.

Blanco Sheriff emblemTexas has the 7th highest number of incarcerated people with mental health needs in the nation. One in five Texans has a mental health need, and the burden of caring for those who are untreated often falls on county jails. This issue gained mainstream attention with the suicide of Sandra Bland in the Waller County Jail in 2015. According to Leonard, the Sandra Bland Act requires training for jailers to recognize and assist people who are in crisis. The Blanco County Sheriff’s department now has three mental health officers who have received special training.

Corcoran said police officers bear their fair share of the responsibility for interactions with civilians. He noted that while it is important to practice tactical skills, officers must also gain the communication skills and confidence to deal with people who may be agitated, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or who may come from a different culture.

Democrats understand that everything is connected. There are no easy answers to the complex issues facing our country and community. For example, there is a connection between Texas rejecting the expansion of Medicaid and the millions of uninsured Texans who are unable to obtain or pay for mental healthcare services.

A quick search for mental healthcare services in Blanco County found a state-run clinic and two licensed therapists. These providers cannot meet the needs of more than 2000 county residents with mental healthcare issues. Poor access to mental healthcare services is putting residents and officers at risk. Let’s elect a Texas legislature that will tackle these complex issues and come up with real solutions to keep us and our law enforcement officers safe.black policeman

Post Script

These blogs are often published in the Johnson City Record Courier as part of the ‘Record Discourse’ series that examines public policy issues from the perspective of an active Democrat and an active Republican in our community. Typically the Republican response is not worth comment. However, their commentary published on May 17 is an exception.

Here is a quote from the Republican column. “Democratic politicians need the support of low income and minority voters and in order to gain that support they need an enemy. If there is no enemy, then there is no one to blame other than the Democratic party themselves. The obvious source of blame in this situation was police officers. Just like many “hashtag campaigns,” progressives used celebrities, athletes and minority lawmakers to demonize law enforcement as a whole. Their plan worked. The hate dominoes back and forth across the country until 5 Dallas Police officers were assassinated in the line of duty as they protected the very people who marched against them [italics added].”

Wow. In one paragraph she accuses Democrats of needing an enemy then proceeds to make Democrats the enemy of law enforcement and ultimately places the blame of the unconscionable deaths of the Dallas Police officers on progressives, celebrities, athletes, and minority law makers.

Based on the very informative and candid conversations I had with Chief Deputy Neal Leonard and acting Johnson City Chief of Police Marty Corcoran, I can report that there was absolutely no indication of blame on the Democratic Party, individual Democrats, or progressives by either of these law enforcement leaders. I wonder what they will think and say about this column.

This is what we are up against folks.

Terry C

 

We Must Support Public Schools

child readingDemocrats believe in public school education. We believe in investing in our children, our communities, and our teachers. Texas must rise to create an informed citizenry and meet the needs of the future workforce, which includes both preparation for the university and vocational education.

Yet today, Texas ranks 40th in the nation in the quality of our public school education, according to Education Week. Their analysis shows that funding per student in 2017 was $8,484, the fourth lowest in the nation, and $4,000 less per student than the average in the United States.

The recent precipitous drop in the amount the state contributes to public education is alarming. In 2008, state funds covered 48.5% of the cost. By 2019, it will be 38%. The rest is made up by local property taxes, federal dollars, and “recapture” of funds from wealthier school districts.

kids with ipadThe Johnson City Independent School district (JCISD) is considered a wealthy school district and is penalized by recapture. Enrollment is low, at just under 700 students; however, property values are rising, which equates to higher property tax revenue. Last year, JCISD returned $1.3 million to the state through recapture. Next year, it will be $2 million.

JCISD should be allowed to use those funds to improve our schools. Rural school districts are challenged to provide access to technologies, such as iPads and broadband internet. Our students have fewer options for advanced placement classes and teachers have fewer opportunities for professional development.

teacherTeacher pay in Texas is average, ranked 27th in the nation, but the complex system of funding healthcare and retirement benefits for teachers provides among the lowest benefits in the nation. This harms our children’s education because we can no longer attract and retain the best teachers.

In 2017, Democrats and Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives attempted to alleviate the tax burden on property owners, raise teacher pay, and improve the quality of public schools. Unfortunately, House Bill 21 never made it to the governor’s desk because Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called it a “Ponzi scheme” and attempted to add a “school choice” provision, which would have subsidized private school tuition and taken tax dollars away from public schools.

Kids in autoshopDan Patrick’s actions do not reflect our values and priorities. We must elect representatives who are committed to finding ways to fund public schools without placing undue burden on property owners. We must support teachers by raising teacher pay and providing competitive healthcare and retirement systems.

We all benefit from an educated citizenry that is capable of critical thinking and contributing to the economy. For Texas to remain one of the most powerful economies in the world, we must embrace the educational needs of every child, whether they are rowdy little boys who can’t sit still, hungry little girls who didn’t get breakfast, kids with learning disabilities who require special education, transgender children who want to feel safe at school, college-bound teens, or skilled craftspeople. Our children—our future—deserve no less.

Terry CTeens reading.jpg

Standing with Israel and American Jews

Israel is an important ally and the only democracy in the Middle East. It serves as a check on radical Islam in the region. The United States, as a longtime ally, friend of Israel, and member of the global community, has a duty to participate in a peace process that supports both our interests in the region and the interests of Israel and Palestine in establishing a two-state solution.

Jerusalem with flagThe origins and current state of the conflict between Israel and Palestine are complex. In 1948, Israel was established in what was British-controlled Palestine. It came at the end of World War II, during which six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, but it was preceded by centuries of persecution of Jews by Christians.

The intent was to create two states: Israel and an Arab Palestinian state. Jerusalem, because of its importance to Christians, Muslims, and Jews, was not to be ceded to either state until they reached agreement on how to divide it. Armed conflict began and has continued. No agreement has been reached on Jerusalem.

mulims in jerusalemLast February, President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, a decision praised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A Palestinian peace negotiator disagreed. “This step is prejudging, dictating, closing doors for negotiation, and I think President Trump disqualified America from playing any role in the peace process,” Saeb Erekat said.

Past presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, led as statesmen in honest negotiations to bring peace to the region. The past three presidents supported establishment of a Palestinian state. I am concerned that Trump’s move endangers America’s critical role as mediator.

A troubling issue closer to home is persecution of Jews in the United States. Since the Federal Bureau of Investigation began tracking hate crimes, the highest rate of religiously motivated hate crimes has always been against Jews as compared to other religious groups. Hate crimes against Jews in the US surged 57% in 2017, the largest year-on-year increase since the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, began collecting data in 1979.

American NazisA resurgence of white supremacy groups, such as the “alt-right,” after the election of President Trump is also troubling. Shortly after he was elected, members of the self-proclaimed “alt-right” gathered in Washington, DC, where they exclaimed, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” and raised their arms in Nazi salutes.

Are we at risk of repeating history? During the Holocaust, the Nazis murdered six million Jews and millions of others, including disabled adults and children, citizens of Russia and Poland, and religious dissidents. It happened because Germany was in an economic recession after WWI. Hitler rose to power on the backs of the people he blamed.

Today, here in the United States, hate speech that blames, denigrates, marginalizes, or vilifies any group of people must be rejected. Name-calling must not be tolerated. We must stand together as Americans for fairness, equality, and justice and have respectful conversations about our differences.Jew and Muslim

Terry C

 

I Am My Brother’s Keeper

It’s a good time to discuss “entitlements.” The Republicans in the US House just tried and failed to pass a budget act cutting Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid to pay for their 2017 tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Democrats believe in both fiscal responsibility and being our brother’s keeper. It’s a matter of setting priorities.

VeteranAn “entitlement” is a government program that by law guarantees benefits to specific people. Federal entitlement programs include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, most Veterans Administration programs, federal employee and military retirement plans, unemployment compensation, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as “food stamps”), and agricultural price supports.

Cash assistance for the poor, sometimes called “welfare,” is provided through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It is NOT an entitlement program because no law guarantees benefits to those who qualify.

How did these programs come about? Federal government assistance began in the 1930s after the Great Depression threw millions of Americans into unemployment. Farmers went bankrupt and lost their farms while people in cities had no food.

elderly facePresident Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, passed the New Deal to assist the unemployed, elderly, and farmers. It included Social Security to lift the elderly out of poverty. President Lyndon Johnson built on this foundation with his Great Society initiatives, including Medicare and Medicaid to provide healthcare to the elderly and disabled adults and children. Nutrition assistance programs began during the Great Depression and were revived by President Johnson in the 1960s.

Many of us benefit from these programs:

  • Kids at lunch45 million receive Social Security; 20% are disabled workers (NASI, June 2017)
  • 58.5 million receive Medicare (CMS, 2017)
  • 72.3 million receive Medicaid; 62% are elderly, disabled, or children (CMS, 2017)
  • 42 million receive SNAP. In Texas, 4 million; 80% children, 26% elderly and disabled, 54% working families (CBPP, 2017)

Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid account for about 50% of the federal budget, with SNAP at less than 1% (CBPP, 2017).

Last week, US House Republicans, including District 21 Rep. Lamar Smith, proposed slashing Social Security and Medicare benefits to address the $1.5 trillion deficit caused by their tax cut. Democrats embrace these programs and find solutions. For example, when Medicare was facing a funding crisis with the wave of baby boomers reaching retirement age, the Affordable Care Act shored up funding through a 0.9% tax on people earning more than $200,000/year.

Elder with CaneSocial Security is also facing funding challenges. Did you know that payroll taxes, including contributions to Social Security, are not collected on earnings above $128,400/year? Democrats have introduced the Social Security 2100 Act, which requires that everyone pay their fair share. This enables Social Security to raise benefits and ensures solvency for our children and grandchildren, all without raising taxes or adding to the deficit.

Americans deserve real solutions from honest, bipartisan negotiations. Continued cover ups of failed Republican policies and vilification of retirees who receive benefits is counterproductive. Join us in supporting Democratic Party initiatives that provide real solutions for Americans.

Terry C

Reagan Changed His Mind

The following column appeared in the Johnson City Record Courier on April 12, 2018

Assault RifleLet’s consider the First Amendment to the Constitution, which encompasses many of the most important tenets of our democratic republic: freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Despite their importance, there are limits on these freedoms.

Limits on freedom of speech include prohibitions against libel and speech that incites violence. Pornography is protected speech but child pornography is not. Why? Because the courts ruled that children are a special class of citizen needing protection from sexual exploitation.

Similarly, there are existing limits on the Second Amendment. Prohibitions include registration of fully automatic weapons. Convicted felons cannot own guns. Federal law requires a background check for gun sales from licensed dealers.

In 2008, conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “The Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” A federal judge recently dismissed a lawsuit challenging a state ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, saying they are not protected by the Second Amendment.

You might be surprised to learn that I voted for Ronald Reagan, who appointed Scalia. I recall the assassination attempt on Reagan’s life in 1981. Reagan, his press secretary, a secret service agent, and a police officer were shot.

In the 1980s, particularly after this assassination attempt, there were calls for regulation of handguns. President Reagan opposed such regulation and even called for the abolition of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which enforces federal gun laws.

But after leaving the presidency, Reagan changed his mind. Perhaps he was inspired by the work of his former press secretary, James Brady, who was shot in the head leaving him partially paralyzed. Brady advocated for stronger regulation of handguns, leading to the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993. This federal law mandates background checks on gun buyers and imposes a five-day waiting period on purchases.

Reagan endorsed passage of this law. And in 1994, Reagan led an effort to regulate sales of assault weapons. He did so because he became concerned about the move by gun manufacturers to sell what he called “weapons of war” to the general public. He wrote, “We can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals.” Since the 10-year ban on sales of assault weapons expired in 2004, mass shootings involving assault weapons have increased every year.

Vigorous debate on this issue is long overdue. It’s time for us to find common ground. I am inspired by the young people who have participated in marches and school walkouts because they are advocating for themselves and their safety from gun violence. Let’s support them. Join me in calling Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and Rep. Lamar Smith to demand that they support closing the gun show loophole and banning the sale of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. Now is the time to act.

Terry C