Communicating Progressive Values in Texas Memo: Responding to Jerry Patterson’s Letter to Progress Texas Members

Jerry Patterson’s letter says Progress Texas is misleading our membership about two things: (1) Patterson argues that by approving Proposition 6 in the November 2011 constitutional amendment election, voters approved a transfer of money to the Available School Fund, but never $300 million specifically. This claim is absolutely false. Editorials across the state noted the $300 million associated with Proposition 6, and one even noted that Patterson had dropped his original opposition to the amendment. In fact, the official Journal of the Texas House notes that Patterson had agreed to release $300 million once the law went into effect. (2) Patterson also argues that by inverting the words “to” and “from” in the letter we asked members to sign we are purposefully misleading our members about this action. We own up to our mistake – we did invert the two words in the letter – but to suggest we purposefully misled our membership is a coward’s play designed to distract from Patterson’s lies in Point 1. Our language explaining the transfer of $300 million was accurate in the e-mail we sent announcing the action, in our blog post about the action, and in our “The Facts” section of our action page. Each of those points is addressed more fully below.

Point 1: Voters Knew $300 Million Was at Stake with Proposition 6 Patterson states that, “If you read Proposition 6 that Texas approved in November 2011, you’ll find that Proposition 6 does not mention $300 million anywhere.” This is true. However, as Commissioner Patterson is well aware, the technical language of a Constitutional Amendment is often vague. That’s why voter guides by third party groups and newspaper reports are so important – to explain the language elected officials make purposefully vague. The following are just some examples of how clearly Prop 6 was about the $300 million. First, from the San Antonio Express News: The amendment also would allow the School Land Board to send as much as $300 million a year directly to the Available School Fund.

Communicating Progressive Values in Texas
From the Austin American-Statesman: This amendment would let the state send up to $300 million a year directly to the Available School Fund. From the Texas Tribune: If passed, the constitutional amendment would allow the land commissioner to send no more than $300 million each year to spend in the state's public education budget. Patterson originally was opposed to the amendment in Proposition 6 – he even testified against HJR 109, the law passed by the legislature to establish Prop 6. But he changed his mind, as noted in the Dallas Morning News: Early in legislative debate on the amendment and a companion bill, some lawmakers worried that proposed changes could erode Land Board assets by requiring a fixed share of investment revenue to be earmarked for school spending. One critic was Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who chairs the board. He testified that the changes would tie the hands of managers and possibly hurt the fund over time. Those proposed payout minimums were dropped, however, and Patterson dropped his opposition. Both houses of the Legislature eventually voted unanimously to place the issue on the ballot. Finally, the official Texas House Journal – which keeps a record of all official action of the House and will, on occasion, record exchanges legislators have on the floor of the Texas House – shows that Patterson agreed to release the $300 million. Republican State Representative Rob Orr, the author of the bill that created Prop 6, had this exchange about the “many conversations” he’d had with Patterson about the amendment (emphasis added): ORR: The way the current law now is, [Patterson] can make as much or as little deposit to the State Board of Education now. He doesn’t even have to do a payout. The last several years he has done about $100 million a year. This session, in negotiations on this, he is committed to what he is already committed to with this— somewhere close

Communicating Progressive Values in Texas
to $800 million—and so, he’s not behind or ahead. He is doing the right thing. We’ve worked hard to put ’together this agreement, to be sure to protect the permanent school fund. WEBER: Okay, well, that confuses me a little bit. He s been putting about $100 million a year, but this time he’s put $800 million a year, is that what you said? ORR: He is committed. He did the $100 million and then after that, through the process, he committed another $150 million per year, another $300 million, and then he just— doing this, he committed $300 million for the next biennium. There were clear expectations that Patterson had agreed to the $300 million. Even the Republican Speaker of the House, Joe Straus, thought it would be no problem for Patterson to send along the money. From the Texas Tribune story that brought Patterson’s inaction to our attention in the first place (“Board Vote Means $300 Million Less for Public Schools”), which also shows, again, Rep. Orr confident that the money was going to come through: “We anticipated this funding for public education,” said Jason Embry, a spokesman for House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. “We're evaluating the impact on the budget and working with Commissioner Patterson to ensure there is no impact to public schools.” […] “I was told that there would be $300 million going into the Available School Fund. Everything was put in place to allow to that to happen,” said Orr, who said the General Land Office agreed to transfer the money if the amendment passed. “I believe it needed to happen, so I'm not sure why it didn't.” It is an unchallenged fact that Proposition 6 was, at least in part, about the transfer of $300 million. Patterson knew it, and news organizations reported it. For Jerry Patterson to assert voters didn’t know Proposition 6 was about that money is a documented lie.

Communicating Progressive Values in Texas
Point 2: Inverting Two Words is not Purposefully Misleading On the second point, Patterson is correct in his letter that we accidentally inverted the words “to” and “from” in our letter, regarding whether the amendment authorized money to go “to” the Available School Fund or “from” the Available School Fund. We apologize for the mistake and we have updated the letter – but to say we are purposefully misleading is silly and distracts from his lies earlier in the letter. In the e-mail we sent to our members, in our blog post on the topic, and even in our “The Facts” section about the letter on the action page, we never made that error. As can still be read from our “The Facts” section on our action page:  Proposition 6 instructed the 3-person School Land Board, run by Chairman Jerry Patterson as part of the General Land Office, to put a portion of earnings - $300 million, to be precise - from investments on real estate assets into the Available School Fund as a way to soften the blow of $5.4 billion in cuts to public education. The $300 million was budgeted to support school operations, contingent upon the constitutional amendment’s passage in November and the approval of the School Land Board, which lawmakers thought was guaranteed.

Additionally, our e-mail, action page, and blog post all pointed to the Texas Tribune story (“Board Vote Means $300 Million Less for Public Schools”) on the subject, which is how we learned about Patterson’s action in the first place. From the Tribune story: Usually the proceeds from the sale and management of public school lands would go into a $26 billion trust whose revenue feeds into what’s called the Available School Fund. Proposition 6 made it so the School Land Board, if it chose, could bypass that step and put money directly into the fund. We erred in our letter, and we apologize for the mistake. But for Patterson to seize upon this mistake – one that was not present in any of our communications – is grasping at the scrawniest of straws in order to distract from his documented lies earlier in the letter.

Communicating Progressive Values in Texas
The Policy In his letter, Patterson continues to discuss the policy surrounding the Permanent School Fund, and why he believes it is the best policy decision to not send $300 million out of the Fund. First of all, remember that Patterson dropped his opposition to Prop 6 long ago – so he is merely stunting now when he argues against it. Patterson writes, at one point, that: “The corpus of the fund is meant to grow and has been doing just that. Failure to make investments that grow the corpus and/or paying out more dollars than is financially prudent will negatively affect the growth of the PSF.” Going back to the records in the House Journal, lawmakers considered this exact concern, and even quoted Patterson. From the debate about the law: BRANCH: [Patterson] says, "Any action by the State of Texas to diminish the value of this guarantee would not be in the best interest of the public school system, nor would it represent fair treatment to the investors who have loaned money to various school districts based on this guarantee." What’s your reaction to that? ORR: The answer to that is that the Land Office on the PSF fund—this does not touch the corpus whatsoever, and so, it will not devalue the fund whatsoever in what I’m doing here. BRANCH: So, you’re saying it doesn’t affect the guarantee. ORR: Absolutely not. As we repeatedly have said, we agree with Patterson that the Republicans in the Legislature are responsible for $5.4 billion in education cuts, and they continue to fail our kids by not fully funding our schools. But we can’t tap the Rainy Day Fund today. We can’t pass a law to send more money to our schools today. What can be done is what Jerry Patterson is refusing to do: respect the will of the voters and stop hoarding the $300 million from our kids’ classrooms. And while some may say the $300 million is a small amount compared to the $5.4 billion Republicans cut from our schools, that $300 million would restore jobs to 3,000 teachers (earning the average $47,000 a year salary) for these two years.

Communicating Progressive Values in Texas
Conclusion Patterson concludes his letter with the following reckless bravado: Funding for Public Schools is complicated and important enough for you to spend the time to get your facts straight. By participating in Progress Texas’ “slacktivist” campaign, you allowed them to put your name on a letter that is erroneous, misguided, and pointless. I encourage you to dig deeper, get involved, and don’t let some third-party organization do your civic duty for you. Our response: 1. As we’ve demonstrated above, it is Patterson who does not have his facts straight. 2. Patterson has more adjectives to describe our letter than examples of any errors in our letter. 3. Digging deeper shows just how full of nonsense Patterson is on this matter. Patterson is making a lot of noise to distract from the fact that he is hoarding that money from our kids’ classrooms. He has agreed, as stated by Rep. Rob Orr, to release this $300 million, an amount voters knew was associated with the passage of Proposition 6. If Representative Orr was lying and Patterson never promised to release a dime, then the fault and dishonesty lies with Representative Rob Orr – not Progress Texas or its membership.

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