is that Jesus in your shot or are you just happy to grift me? (a tale of fees)

when most people think of TX Ag Commissioner Sid Miller Mad Hatter they think of Trump on a Jesus shot with an office full of carcasses and a 50 gallon hat. some may even comment on his authorship of the Texas sonogram which requires the doctor to shove a wand in your yoni to, ya know, look around and ask you what the hell heck you think you’re doing with your life–grow up and call your mother. he’s the kind of guy you enjoy watching at a party when he says, “hold my beer and watch this!” in fact, Belle is surprised that’s not on any of his campaign gear given his previous career as a rodeo clown.

he is not anyone to trust with anything. at all. not even your drink order. nope. and to watch him in action is to fully appreciate the invention of “suspension of disbelief”. if you can pull it off pretending you’re inside a sit-com, it’s hilarious. for example, go one hour ant three minutes into this video and you may get an image of Earth with a meat-belt. I don’t know why he called out Sen. Robert “Santa Claus” Nichols--maybe it has something to do with having a taxedermy shop in one’s office. who knows.

so maybe it wasn’t such a shiny, happy good idea to elect him to one of the most powerful offices in the state. (to be fair, the Democratic primary voters decided it’d be a fine time to fuck the party twice by first nixing the well liked Hugh Fitzimmons, a former history teacher turned bison rancher and apiarist; and then, in the run-off picking this fucking guy over Kinky Friedman who would have at least left the house–most of the time with pants on, too! honestly, the whole thing makes Belle wonder why we were all surprised by the Grande Detour: Tsarina Short Fingers.) remember how Texas names things good? the Ag Commission is no different. we could call it the Department of Weights, Measures and Sometimes PSAs? it does deal with the agriculture sometimes, so you just hush now. and as long as we’re living in this alternative reality with its alternative facts and alternative fashion choices, we may as well sit back and have a laugh…

…or not.

   slow your roll, Sid Mad Hatter is not your puppet.

in the Thursday hearing of the Senate Finance Committee where Article VI (natural resources like oil and low-level radioactive waste–because: TEXAS!), Commissioner Mad Hatter was strangely subdued–lacking even his signature cowboy hat and without a cupcake in sight. he seemed to understand that the Texas Department of Agriculture isn’t a bargain basement warehouse for quantity metaphors. he didn’t wield any gestures in the faces of his deputies. he managed to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground–safely away his mouth. he even provided platitudes on the necessity of nutrition programs. and he was DISAPPOINTING! it was boring, bland, a bummer. it was more whimper than bang.

HOWEVER. there was one exchange that was particularly telling. before Belle gets there, a bit of back story:

giphyyou’ve probably heard about one or both episodes in which Commissioner Mad Hatter used state money for unsanctioned travel–both times he stopped by the offices of his counterparts in the states to give them all the high fives and get a photo to commemorate his “official state business”. the more famous of the two is the Jesus shot heard round the world country. the Jesus shot is available only in Oklahoma City from Dr. Mike and claims to rid you of all pain forever. how long? FOREVER. what’s in it? Dr. Mike will never tell, but it’s $300–unless you want the upgrade, Belle assumes. Commissioner Mad Hatter claimed he had a VITAL NEED for it in February of 2015 to alleviate back pain related to his career on the rodeo circuit–and this one Belle’s going to take at face value, especially given the second episode. the same month, Commissioner Mad Hatter went to Mississippi to participate in the National Dixie Rodeo. and, to turn the ridiculous up to ORANGE, he called investigations into these two incidents by the Texas Rangers “harassment” two days after his communications director quit. he has reimbursed the treasury…with what? Belle’s not sure, but it was supposedly something his campaign account–which could mean anything.

but it gets better worse–so much worse. back in April and May of 2016 Texas AG and admitted felon Ken Paxton was caught stuffing golden parachutes into envelopes for ex-staffers–for which the office had sent out press releases giving the exiting staffer the lege the ol’ pat on the ass and introducing the new guy; after which AG PAxton continued to pay the person who had left (not once, not twice, but thrice). AG Paxton claimed this was for “emergency leave”–a practice set in statute by a bill he voted for and, because he was there at the time, he would have understood that legislative intent was to not penalize state employees if one of many of the state’s natural disasters felling their residence–though one would think that the word “emergency” would pretty clearly say “not for bonuses” to anyone functional enough to google “Jesus shot”. legislators and journalists alike combed financial reports and found that AG Paxton was not alone! looks like a lot of state agency heads played the alternative fact card fast and loose–oops. among them was Commissioner Mad Hatter doling out over $410K to new employees like the wife of one of his consultants and a former Wyoming Ag Commissioner (the latter of which may still live in Wyoming). the $410K did not come exclusively from “emergency leave” sources, however; and this is where the dung heap gets deep.

TDA is one of many state regulatory agencies which generates a good portion of its budget through the cunning use of fees. they also issue fines, but the state takes that revenue for GR lest any agency head feel the need to go all Torquemada on the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. the process for setting the fees is as follows:

  1. LBB tells the legislature tells the lege: we have this many more people who the agency needs to have tea with this more. this is the price of tea and the projected inflation. therefore, they need this many more Texeros than they had last time.
  2. the lege passes a budget–which is the only thing they have to do–which includes “here’s how much the Ag Commission needs to raise for tea parties.”
  3. now having explicit instructions for how to brew tea, the Ag Commission goes to the stakeholders to see who can put in for scones. I mean, what kind of dick can’t put in a couple extra bucks for scones?
  4. in September or October, the Ag Commission posts its proposed fee schedule tea party tab split for public comment to the Secretary of State’s blog.
  5. after 30 days, the Ag Commission reads the notes about how most people would prefer donuts to scones, the corn lobby is allergic to nuts and no one knows what oolong is anyway. having amended the shopping list and taken into account how much everyone can pay, they put up a second blog post.
  6. the Ag Commission votes to pass the full fee schedule the tab for the most epic tea party party sometime in December to take effect on 1/1–which everyone who has not been living under a rock is not surprised by.

   Commissioner Mad Hatter decided, “stakeholder process? we don’t need no fuckin’ stakeholder process!” and published his very own fee schedule in September of 2015 which raised all fees by 30-600% depending on what was being regulated. Belle is sure his mommy is proud of his A+ gold star work on the illustrations, but the lege was not. no, they were more like:

in the Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs Committee’s December 2015 hearing, LBB was like, “well, we’ve never seen anyone with this kind of…um…entrepreneurial spirit? is that what the color for ‘bullshit’ is today?” here’s the math:

the agency had an approved budget of $42.5 million which included the need to collect $5.1-6.1 million more in fees for agency functions, capital items and salaries. the agency’s proposed fee schedule was projected to raise $22.6 million more in fees, which would have given them a total of $60 million in their bank account. of the additional $17.5 million, they figured that $8.1 million was for things they had pretty pleased the lege for and had been told, “no, because you did not eat your vegetables.” which leaves $9.4 million unaccounted for.

   there was also the matter of Rider 28 which allowed the agency to pour Texeros from one bucket into another bucket. and the other small matter of him deciding he wanted drones. what the thought he could do was what it would be kind of like your mom sending you to the store to buy milk and you spending the entire grocery budget, the utilities fees, mortgage payment, health insurance premiums and your little brothers college fund to buy a candy shop. HOWEVER agencies are only supposed to spend what the General Appropriations Bill has stipulated. they can’t just get the entire neighborhood to paint a fence and get Becky Thatcher a necklace–Mom still has to approve and she DOES NOT because, as LBB (played here by Tina Beck) says, “You can’t spend imaginary money.”

so the hearing was a fat lot of NOPE, but included other fun word combinations from commissioner like:

“Operation Maverick”

“I felt a bit like Chicken Little going to see the stakeholders. Everywhere I went, they told me the sky would fall if I raised fees.”

Commissioner Mad Hatter said he needed $21.6 million to “get through this tragedy” which one can only assume is of him being Ag Commissioner.

“I’m pretty much, as the saying goes, hog-tied.”

after the hearing, half the legislators signed a “cease and desist” notice, Gov. Abbott sent one of his own, the stakeholder community was relieved because a new process would be dawning and then Commissioner Mad Hatter imposed the fees on 2/1/16 anyway. which pretty much brings us up to date where milk, sugar and scones are all more expensive whether or not you intent to consume them with the March Hare.

back at Thursday’s hearing  the important part came when Commissioner Mad Hatter said, “The main thing I want y’all to understand in Senate Bill 1: If you move us to the program method, that’s gonna drastically cause us to increase our fees and our license. If we have to cover the ODIC–the other direct or indirect expenses–that is also gonna mandate us to raise our fees and our registration process. And if we’re not allowed to keep those fines we collect, it’s also gonna–and we just–I mean, we just went through that and several of the senators on this panel were irate at us. But we didn’t over do it. We did it within the realms of exactly what it cost us.” in other words, “gimme now or I’ll take it anyway!”

Sen. Kel Seliger shook off the Benadryl* to ask why, on gods green earth he saw fee raises of 147% on gas stations and 253% on seed monitoring starting on 1/1/17 (which is over that of the 2/1/16, if you remember). Commissioner Mad Hatter said that his mom told him that he needed to work for his own allowance and the Senate Finance Committee was not his daddy. they went back and forth for a while. Sen. Seliger does not think that they should be able to raise fees for things the lege hasn’t approved. Commissioner Mad Hatter thinks that they’re a fee generating agency and they will generate more fees, gourd dernit!

something, something zebra chip disease.

Sen. Nichols asked why they were raised by so much so fast. Commissioner Mad Hatter said they hadn’t been raised in 12 years (if you count months and years the same–sure).

something, feral hog bait, something, KAPUT!

there was one bit of fun there at the end. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa asked Commissioner Mad Hatter could hook him up with the now imfamous Jesus Shot. true to his nature, Commissioner Mad Hatter offered to administer the cocktail on the spot. this prompted probably the most laughable line in the hearing from Sen. Hinojosa: hey, no practicing medicine without a medical license!

AND THAT WAS ALL FOLKS!

to say that was nuts is to forget that “nuts” is Commissioner Mad Hatter’s resting mode. but, given his medical history, seeming heavily sedated and compelling not reasons in repetition, Belle is going to suggest that he may have found something stronger than a Jesus shot. which is why the state needs all dispensing agencies on the PMP because if there’s one guy that’s getting it from the veterinarian loop hole, it’s Commissioner Mad Hatter.

Belle does not know what to recommend here because it would seem that between Tsarina Creamsicle in the White House and this garbage that it may be better to be one of the animals decorating Commissioner Mad Hatter’s office. let’s take a gander.

 

fin.

*the senators seem to have been passing around the flu. the first week of Senate Finance several legislators were openly taking allergy medication because they assumed that because they were in Austin, it was allergies–which is generally the right guess. Sen. Seliger said on the first day of testimony, “I have a number of issues I want to touch on which is what normally happens if you take enough of Sudafed.” (46 minutes 45 seconds in–Belle does not lie.)

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