03.30.15

Texas Blog Round Up (March 30, 2015)

Posted in Around The State, Commentary at 8:33 am by wcnews

The Texas Progressive Alliance thinks even Ted Cruz deserves affordable health insurance as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff hears the death rattle of the anti-gay forces.

Harold Cook explains how the “school choice” scam works.

Horwitz at Texpatriate makes an early pick and endorses Sylvester Turner for mayor of Houston.

Libby Shaw at Texas Kaos and contributing to Daily Kos is pleased to know the Houston Chronicle called out Ted Cruz for being all about Ted. The Houston Chronicle Spanks Ted Cruz.

Houston’s LyondellBasell refinery’s management turned off an advance warning system near the front gates of the plant, where striking USW workers walk the picket line. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs says that if this is how they demonstrate their concerns for worker safety, it’s no wonder they won’t end a work stoppage despite the national settlement.

Neil at All People Have Value said you should make an effort with the people in your life as part of a complete outlook on life. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

From WCNews at Eye on Williamson. Bad things happen when a bunch of government haters try to run the government like a business. This Is What Happens When We Turn Government Over To Corporations.

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And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Nonsequiteuse analyzes Ted Cruz’s font and logo choices.

Paradise in Hell examines the Supreme Court arguments about specialty license plates sporting the Confederate Battle Flag.

Grits for Breakfast hopes the state loses that specialty license plate case, though not for the same reason as the plaintiffs.

Purple City thinks the legislative attempt to kill the private high speed rail line may not amount to much.

Better Texas Blog gamely stumps for Medicaid expansion.

The Texas Election Law Blog explains what recent SCOTUS decisions on voter ID and redistricting have to do with pending litigation over those issues here.

Raise Your Hand Texas testified against the voucher bills in the Senate.

03.26.15

This Is What Happens When We Turn Government Over To Corporations

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans at 1:47 pm by wcnews

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This is a very interesting comment from GOP Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.  It’s related to the disastrous lack of oversight at the HHSC under Kyle Janek.

House Speaker Joe Straus is asking lawmakers to develop a comprehensive solution to the state’s contracting woes, in light of what he called a “troubling” new report on more such problems at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Straus said the latest audit illustrates a “systemic problem across all of state government.” With more agencies relying on the private sector, he said, it appears those agencies “lack the resources or expertise to effectively negotiate and implement these contracts.”

“The policies and procedures for awarding these contracts are too often sidestepped, and oversight is too often incompetent or non-existent,” the Republican said in a statement, his most in-depth comments on the topic to date.

In other words we’ve turned our government services over to the corporations. That’s likely not what Straus meant.

And folks who were involved in doing that – like former GOP state Sen. Kyle Janek – don’t seem to think there needs to be oversight. You know, if we run our state like a business and let the free market take care it!

The reason those agencies don’t have the necessary resources and expertise is because the GOP Lege has been gutting agency budgets for at least a decade. Just ask Sid Miller.  The folks who pay for their campaigns don’t wont oversight, so we’re not getting oversight.

As has been said here many times, this is what happens when we elect people who believe the government is the problem and can’t do anything good for the citizenry.  They will do everything they can to prove it.

Williamson County News – New Elections Administrator, Prosecutorial Misconduct, and Debt

Posted in Criminal Justice, Elections, Williamson County at 12:32 pm by wcnews

Williamson County has chosen a new Elections Administrator.  Welcome Chris Davis from Cameron County, New elections administrator hired.

With early voting set to start two weeks after his first day on the job, Williamson County’s new elections administrator will hit the ground running.

The county’s five-member Election Commission on Feb. 26 chose Chris Davis to fill the position. Since January 2013 Davis has been elections administrator for Cameron County, which includes Brownsville and South Padre Island.

“Chris has a lot of qualities that we thought were a good match for the position,” said Deborah Hunt, Williamson County’s tax assessor/collector and one of five Election Commission members. “His enthusiasm and sincere desire to work in an area where voter turnout was higher was a strong pull for him.

“Chris speaks fluent Spanish, which we thought was an advantage. He is technically astute and seems to thrive on challenge. I think coming here, with our vote centers and electronic tablets for all the polling places, was a draw as well.”

Joining Hunt in approving the hire were her fellow commission members: County Judge Dan Gattis, County Clerk Nancy Rister, Republican Party Chairman Bill Fairbrother and Democratic Party Chair Karen Carter.

“I’m humbled by the opportunity to serve Williamson County in this capacity and will do my best to make the county, its voters and its entities proud,” Davis said in a press release.

Davis is scheduled to start work in Williamson County on April 13 and will be paid an annual salary of $84,000, county spokesperson Connie Watson said.

Because of Williamson County’s history it always grabs attention when accusations of “prosecutorial misconduct” come up, Williamson Co. DA’s Office accused of withholding evidence in murder case.

Hidden and difficult-to-access timestamps on a key piece of evidence led to a mistrial in a capital murder case last May. Now, it has led to allegations of prosecutorial misconduct against Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty.

Ron Morrison is right (don’t read that here very often), and Lisa Birkman is wrong,
Williamson County Calls for More Public Feedback Before Debt Vote.

“Nobody likes to build buildings, but we just don’t have a choice,” Williamson County Commissioner Ron Morrison said. “We’re busting at the seams in every area.”

County leaders are considering another $70 million in debt to cover the county’s Capital Improvements Project. The project would add training facilities for the sheriff’s office and EMS as well as office space for county services.

Commissioner Lisa Birkman believes there’s some fat that can be cut from what she calls a “wish list.”

“Some of them seem to have things that would be nice to have, but we don’t necessarily have to have right away,” Birkman said. “I’d like to see us put it to the voters.”

[…]

“We’re only going to see higher interest rates, and I’d like to capitalize on that,” Morrison said. “And $10 million in the grand scheme of things over the next 10 or 50 years is not going to make that much of a difference.”

Morrison calls concerns about county debt “legitimate.”

“I don’t like going any more in debt, but we’re one of the fastest growing counties in the nation,” Morrison said. “I don’t know what else to do.”

Still, Morrison believes deeper debt is the county’s best option until revenue catches up with growth.

We don’t need to put this on a ballot.

03.24.15

The Latest GOP Tax Cut Scheme In Texas

Posted in 84th Legislature, Bad Government Republicans, Taxes at 1:02 pm by wcnews

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This little nugget is tucked into SJR 1, the constitutional amendment for the Senate’s property tax cut bill.

and prohibiting the imposition or collection of a tax on the conveyance, including by sale, lease, or other transfer, of an interest in real property.

A constitutional amendment prohibiting a sales tax on real estate transactions.

Last week Ross Ramsey told us what was going to happen, Killing a Tax Without Saving Taxpayers a Dime.

Careful readers will find an Easter egg tucked in one of the tax measures approved by a Senate committee this week — a mostly unmentioned clause that would constitutionally ban taxes on real estate transactions.

Don’t count your savings: Texas doesn’t even have a tax on real estate transactions.

[…]

Texas is one of the 13 states without a tax on real estate transactions; a constitutional ban would prevent future lawmakers from imposing one without voter approval.

It would make your friendly neighborhood Realtor happy, however. And it is especially delicious for the Texas Association of Realtors, the trade association for real estate agents and a wealthy and generous donor to political campaigns. For this industry, any talk of taxing home and building sales, leases and other transactions is a cardinal threat.

Not a bad idea to get all the real estate agents on your side when you’re trying to pass a property tax swap scheme that will have little effect on most homeowners.

The reason this is interesting is because last week many in the Texas business community pushed back on the Senate’s tax plan, Business groups say tax plan needs to make state needs priority.

Major business groups pushed back Friday against a multi­billion-dollar package of tax cuts advancing in the Texas Senate, calling it inequitable and saying state needs should be funded before lawmakers consider tax relief.

The criticism highlights how, despite support for tax cuts among Republican legislative leaders, details are far from settled and are prompting dissension among lawmakers and businesses.

It also echoes concerns from some leading lawmakers that the emphasis on tax cuts could imperil efforts to address such issues, as education, transportation, state debt and pension programs.

And this week those in the real estate business in Texas pushed back on them.

Well-funded and vocal opposition to these measures show little regard for homeowners who are crippled under our current property tax system. Or for any business, especially small businesses, who are working within a tax system that stifles business expansion and economic opportunities.

Furthermore, in objecting to these tax relief measures the opposition boldly state lawmakers should protect infrastructure and special interests needs first: “If there is any money left over, it is appropriate to consider tax relief.”

While we support long-term infrastructure needs in Texas, we feel it is time to put home owners and business interests at the forefront of any public policy debate and not as a trickle down afterthought.

Didn’t see that coming.  Pretty soon, if we aren’t careful, all taxes will be constitutionally banned in Texas.  Which has been the plan all along.

What Is Ted Cruz Up To?

Posted in Around The Nation, Election 2016 at 6:46 am by wcnews

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The main reason Ted Cruz is running for President, and he’s not the only member of the GOP doing it, is because there’s no reason not to run.  It’s a wide open field without a front runner.

But he’s mainly running because “there’s gold in them thar hills”.  There’s a ton of money to be made running for president and getting his name even further embedded into the right wing scam machine.  Start a PAC, raise Koch money, and gallivant all over the country on other people’s money.  Who wouldn’t want to do that?

Does he have a chance?  Who knows, but don’t write him off.  No one thought he could be David Dewhurst and now he’s a US Senator.

 

03.23.15

TPA Blog Round Up (March 23, 2015)

Posted in Around The State, Commentary at 11:34 am by wcnews

The Texas Progressive Alliance roots for underdogs even to the detriment of its own brackets as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff argues against having a state spending cap, much less making it tighter.

Libby Shaw writing for Texas Kaos and contributing to Daily Kos makes a solid case as to Why The Right is so Wrong given the last few weeks of national political events.

The Poop Cruz is now boarding and ready to set sail, announces PDiddie at Brains and Eggs. Or is that ‘shove off’?

Neil at All People Have Value saw the real spirit of Texas at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

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Texans for Public Justice concludes that transferring the Public Integrity Unit would reward crooked politicians by undermining prosecutorial independence.

Concerned Citizens wants to hear voices of support for San Antonio Mayoral candidates.

Better Texas Blog calls the latest effort to restrict spending in the Legislature a really bad idea.

Michael Barajas says to stop calling Houston a “sanctuary city”.

Texas Clean Air Matters rounds up the energy, water, and climate bills in the 84th Legislature.

The Texas Election Law Blog highlights systemic issues documented in Battleground Texas’ post-election report.

03.16.15

TPA Blog Round Up (March 16, 2015)

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Uncategorized at 11:57 am by wcnews

The Texas Progressive Alliance is still full from celebrating Pi Day as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff reports on the last (we hope) special legislative election of the year.

Libby Shaw writing for Texas Kaos and contributing to Daily Kos is both outraged and embarrassed by the 47 GOP U.S. Senator saboteurs. The Snow Made Them Do It.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is terrified that private entities are controlling are access to water. Oligarchy is the Republican way.

From WCNews at Eye on Williamson. The GOP in Texas used to be for local control, now they’re not. Why is that? They’re For Local Control As Long As They Control The Locals.

A tale of letters, email, and self-inflicted wounds was told by PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

Neil at All People Have Value visited the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. Neil hopes that any race of super-smart alien cows who visit us have mercy on our souls. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

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And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

The Makeshift Academic reminds us that Obamacare is about people, not states.

Austin Contrarian illustrates the problem of disconnectivity in the streets.

The TSTA blog previews a couple of bad education bills.

Texas Vox calls for renewables to push out coal.

Mean Green Cougar Red supports doing away with Daylight Saving Time.

Rafael McDonnell recalls a meeting and interview he had with anti-gay pastor Flip Benham 20 years ago.

Raise Your Hand Texas testifies that an A-F grading system for schools and school districts is a bad idea.

03.13.15

Why Not Take The Tolls Off SH 130?

Posted in 84th Legislature, Around The State, Transportation at 5:35 pm by wcnews

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That’s the question Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso) asked yesterday and it’s damn good one.   It’s the least bad idea I’ve heard so far when it comes to transportation this session.  Via Ben Wear.

State Rep. Joe Pickett, an El Paso Democrat known around the Capitol for understanding transportation finance as well as anyone in the Legislature, on Thursday lobbed what amounted to a policy grenade into his own committee hearing.

Why not, he suggested, take the tolls off of Texas 130?

Not just lower them for trucks, as legislation carried by Rep. Celia Israel and Sen. Kirk Watson, both Austin Democrats, would do on the section from north of Georgetown to Texas 45 Southeast near Mustang Ridge. Take away all the tolls on that section, Pickett said, to provide a powerful incentive for trucks and passenger vehicles to take the metro area’s eastern loop rather than using Interstate 35 through Georgetown, Round Rock and Austin.

“We can do this if we want to,” said Pickett, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

The cost? About $4.5 billion in debt payments over the next 30 years – $150 million a year, currently covered by tolls – plus whatever it would cost to maintain the road and, eventually, overhaul it. Figures for those expenses weren’t available Thursday. [Emphasis added]

And then there are the potential surpluses from Texas 130 that the Texas Department of Transportation expects to start flowing, modestly at first, in as little as two years. By 2042, the year that the current $2.6 billion in debt on that toll road and three others would be paid off, the system would be generating $250 million a year in profit that could be spent on other Central Texas transportation projects, according to a January estimate by TxDOT.

That money too, whatever it actually turns out to be, would be lost to TxDOT. Pickett preferred to focus on the $150 million-a-year debt payments.

“That’s a bargain,” Pickett said after the hearing. “If we don’t do this, shame on us.”

Who knows how much traffic it will draw from I-35 through Austin, but it would certainly draw more without tolls on it.

The main concerns at this point, beside the cost, is will spending this money take away from needed improvements to I-35, and how much traffic will be diverted.  And there will still be tolls on all the other tolled roads in Austin.

Loop 1, Texas 45 North and that privately run section of Texas 130 to the south, along with other tollways in the area operated by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, including some not yet built, would continue to have tolls.

It’s not perfect but it’s a better idea then anything else I’ve heard so far.

03.11.15

Twisted In Knots

Posted in 84th Legislature, Taxes at 11:01 am by wcnews

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Christopher Hooks does a good job of describing the wacky tax proposals of the new GOP Lt. Gov., Dan Patrick’s Inexplicable & Contradictory Budget Proposals.

Last week Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did something pretty surprising: He held a press conference with a Democrat and the most moderate Republican left in the Senate, Kevin Eltife of Tyler, to put his stamp of approval on a proposal that would allow the Legislature to use revenue beyond the “spending cap” for tax cuts and debt repayment. The spending cap, a constitutionally enshrined limit on the amount the state budget can grow from biennium to biennium, has been a sacred cow for conservatives for many years. Here was Patrick, elected as a budget hawk, threatening to can the cap while pretending to do the opposite.

This session, budget-writers thinks there’s about $6 billion in revenue above the spending cap, but unless they take a majority vote to lift the cap, they can’t use it. Patrick wanted to bust the cap so he could get his hands on that $6 billion to pay for his beloved tax cuts, and this was a way of squaring the circle. Senate conservatives were mostly silent on the move, but it was loudly panned by commentators like Texas Monthly’s Erica Grieder, who pointed out that Patrick made a name for himself in the Senate in part as a loud opponent of an imaginary legislative spending spree in 2013, but now was looking for a way to bust the spending cap for the sake of political convenience.

But that was last week: Each week of the 84th Legislature brings to us a New Dan, and a New Day for Texas. Today, Patrick took to the same podium with some of the Senate’s most conservative members with a proposal to greatly tighten the spending cap, restricting even further the amount of revenue future legislators will have access to.

What the hell?

If it’s true, as R.G. Ratcliffe says, that “..homeowners believe their property taxes are unfair”, there’s an easy way to fix that. One of the most fair taxes ever invented is sitting in dry dock. And implementing it would automatically reduce property taxes significantly and make taxes more fair. Therefore lower taxes on most low, working, and middle class Texans and their families.

Of course it’s a state income tax. And isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. It’s something Democrats should champion. Until a state income tax is enacted these scams and schemes, with politicians twisting themselves in knots, attempting to find a solution, will continue.

03.10.15

They’re For Local Control As Long As They Control The Locals

Posted in 84th Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Money In Politics at 10:12 am by wcnews

Nanny-State

It’s becoming clear that Texans don’t like the way the GOP is governing our state.  At the local level, where people live, they actually need a government that works for them.  And the GOP at the state level is reacting against that.

And the most interesting part is that those who are making the noise are local elected members of the GOP. Cue GOP Williamson County Judge Dan Gattis. Texas Cities Are Worried Republicans Pushed Tax Cuts Too Far.

Texas’s Williamson County hired hundreds of workers and ran up debt as it became home to two of the 10 fastest-growing U.S. cities. Now, state tax cuts threaten to crimp the revenue it needs to pay for the expansion.

“It scares the fool out of me,” said Dan Gattis, a judge who helps oversee the budget for the county, an area north of Austin where farms gave way to congested roads as the population almost doubled since 2000. “It takes so much money to run county government. We’ve got to have some way to pay the bills.”

[…]

City and county officials said the revenue is needed to make up for lack of money from the state, which ranks 48th in spending per resident, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Localities have borrowed to fill the gap. Of the 10 most-populous states, only New York has more local debt per resident, according to figures from the Texas Bond Review Board. The debt of Texas local governments swelled by 75 percent over the past decade, according to the state’s figures, as officials poured more money into public works.

Williamson County is among them. An influx increased its population by almost 90 percent since 2000 to 471,000. Two of its cities — Cedar Park and Georgetown — were among the 10 fastest growing in 2013, according to the Census Bureau.

Its payroll has swelled 40 percent since 2003 to about 1,500 employees. Jail bookings are up 50 percent. Even the county’s miniature train has seen its ridership increase by more than one third since 2007. In 2013, Williamson County voters approved a $315 million bond for roads and parks.

“The state is not appropriating the money,” said Gattis, the county judge.

With population growth comes the need for more infrastructure, etc.. to support that population. What this shows is that the Texas GOP is perfectly willing to accept all the property and sales taxes those people pay, but they have no desire to meet the needs of the people in this state.

Our state leaders over the last 15 – 20 years have neglected their responsibilities and have left cities and counties not choice but to fend for themselves.

Local governments were anticipating the intrusion from Texas officials. Governor Greg Abbott, a 57-year-old Republican who took office in January, has said cities have gone too far in passing local measures, including bans on plastic bags and cutting trees on private property. He said such developments were threatening to “California-ize” the state with unneeded regulations.

Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said cities should be left to manage their own money.

“Mayors rub elbows with citizens in grocery stores and churches every day,” he said. “They’re closer to the pulse of constituents than any other form of government. That’s the epitome of conservative government right there.”

It appears that using the tools available to them at the local level has made the GOP in The Lege mad, The HB 540 Nanny Bill makes cities ask permission of the state.

The HB 540 Nanny Bill requires home rule cities to ask for the Attorney General’s permission before passing a municipal ordinance. This bill was filed by Rep. Phil King in retaliation of the Denton vote to ban fracking.

The city of Alpine went on record against the GOP Nanny Bill.  Most, if not all, cities in Texas  agree and would rather not have to ask the state for permission before they pass a law.  And they think President Obama’s a tyrant?

The people of Texas need government to be on their side. As their needs go unmet by the state they will look for other ways to get their needs met. Corporate owned Republicans and, unfortunately, some Democrats will have to overreact with bills like HB 540 when their campaign donors wishes are reversed or not met at the local level.

They’re for local control as long as they control the locals.

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