Williamson County Election Results

Posted in Elections, Williamson County at 10:29 pm by wcnews

Prop 1 is cruising with 90+ % in Williamson County.

Link to all the results here.


Toll Road Compromise? Not Yet

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Around The State at 11:16 pm by wcnews

All of the sudden Perry, Krusee and Carona want to compromise on a toll road moratorium. They seem to be the only ones. Now they know what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. Maybe compromise is just what happens at the end of session, right? Everybody wants to make nice before they leave town. Here’s the latest.

Startlegram, Compromise would slow private toll roads.

State Sen. John Carona, the Dallas Republican who is chairman of the Senate transportation committee, said lawmakers have been working most of the week to send Perry a new version of the bill that will address his concerns. And Carona made clear that any updated initiative will not compromise the Legislature’s desire to slow down the drive toward private toll roads.

“I think we’re close. I think we’re very close,” said Carona, expressing hope that they can avoid a special session. “I can’t guarantee a settlement. I can’t predict what the governor’s staff will do. I can’t predict what the governor himself will do.”

Texas Observer, Slouching Toward a Special Session.

Sources say that Tricky Ricky, as the folks back home in Haskell County call him, would like to avoid a potentially embarrassing show-down with the Lege by signing SB 1267, a no-frills moratorium bill introduced by Sen. Robert Nichols that has been bottled up in committee.

AAS, Governor, lawmakers try to work out agreeable toll road legislation.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, a member of the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, said Texans should not be hurried into a world of private toll roads.

A former member of the Texas Transportation Commission, Nichols called the correspondence from the Federal Highway Administration a scare tactic for concessions the Legislature should not be willing to accept.

“If it takes a special session to get this right,” Nichols said, “I’m all for it.”

HChron, Highlights Thursday from the Texas Legislature.

“We are very close, however we’ve been close before,” said state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock. Asked if thought the deal could be completed before the session ends on May 28, he said: “It’s 50-50.”

A lot of talk about how close they are and reasons to cut a deal, but there’s no deal yet.


Demand Full Restoration Of CHIP

Posted in The Budget, Health Care, 80th Legislature, Had Enough Yet?, Commentary, Around The State at 3:57 pm by wcnews

Today Rep. Garnet Coleman (D- Houston) penned an editorial, We must close all loopholes that deny CHIP to children. In it he tells us that the bill (HB 109) that’s currently making it’s way through the legislature will make things better but does not fully restore CHIP.

At the hearing, families and CHIP activists came together to advocate for the full restoration of CHIP. The dozens of bills we authored were heard, and our legislation — after being compromised to overcome the unfortunate political barriers — passed out of committee and out of the Texas House in the form of Rep. Sylvester Turner’s HB 109.

The legislation that finally passed the House — which Dewhurst partially supports — is good because it fixes some of the statutory barriers. However, it fails to address all of the restrictive barriers to the program. Most importantly, it doesn’t address the administrative barriers — the ones Devante and others faced — that unfairly deny children CHIP coverage.

Let me tell you why.

Administrative directives are policies that govern the administration of CHIP. These policies are not state laws, which must be established by the Texas Legislature, and they are not commission rules, which must be officially adopted by the commission. These policies may be created or changed at any time by the direction of HHSC Commissioner Albert Hawkins or other high-ranking administrators.

Policy changes made by the HHSC can happen at any time without notice to the Legislature — it really can be done as easily as you turn a faucet on or off. Those changes are also issued with minimum notice to CHIP recipients; in fact, only two days’ notice was given to many of the thousands of families whose children lost CHIP coverage this month. What happens to the children who had doctor appointments this week? How can they be expected to find new health coverage in two days time?

We must encourage HHSC to adopt policies and issue administrative directives that are inclusive, and not exclusive, for providing CHIP coverage for our children.

Later he talks of how “the default policy is to kick a child off CHIP instead of keeping them on”. That becomes apparent when you read this HChron Op-Ed from earlier in the week from a Mother whose child was one of those children that lost CHIP because of a loophole, Medicaid and CHIP can mean child’s life or death.

I don’t want to think my son died in vain.

I urge legislators to reform CHIP and Medicaid so that instead of reapplying every six months, families apply once a year, just as we file taxes once a year. Children should also be able to receive coverage immediately without having to wait 90 days.

The delays and errors in the government’s application process and the requirement of reapplying every six months cost me my child’s life.

If Devante had 12-month continuous eligibility, he would not have gone four months without coverage and suffered the way he did.

Only parents who have had to watch their kids sit on the sidelines of normal childhood life or see the fear in their child’s eyes as he or she is dying can understand my pain.

But I ask all of you to listen to my plea, stand up, and demand full restoration of CHIP and Medicaid with 12 months continuous eligibility.

It is too late for my son, but millions of Texas children will have a chance at a healthy future if we stand up now for children’s health care.

That makes me want to say a bunch of bad things, but I won’t. As a matter of human dignity it’s time to do the right thing and demand full restoration of CHIP, I do!

Leininger-esque Attack On Republican Senator Fails Miserably

Posted in Vouchers, Public Schools, Had Enough Yet?, Around The State at 12:12 pm by wcnews

A group supported by “wing-nuts” and business interests started a smear campaign against Sen. Kevin Eltife (R - Tyler) this week in an attempt to coerce him to allow SB 1643 to be debated in the Senate. The bill is another attempt from the right to attack teacher’s unions, under the guise of “accountability”.

As Burka reports the smear was so bad that it blew up in the groups face and scuttled a compromise that had been worked out between Sen. Eltife and Sen. Shapiro, the bills author.

Then he woke up Tuesday to the radio ads. “It’s bizarre,” Eltife said. “When somebody pushes me that hard, it makes me leery of what’s in the bill.”

Before Shapiro agreed to his amendment, Eltife said, the bill “set up a whole system that takes away local control — the TEA will tell districts who they have to fire. I’m not buying that.”


Late Wednesday, Eltife and Shapiro sounded as though they were moving on to other battles — though Shapiro said she would be vigilant for House bills that could serve as vehicles for her proposal. Eltife joked that the ads actually made him a hero in his district: “You run an ad against me in my district saying I’m standing up to the leadership in Austin? That’s positive thing.”

Sen. Eltife seems to be a Senator like his predecessor, Republican Senator and former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, who was good at working out compromises on education in the legislature. He is now the Chairman of the Board of Raise Your Hand Texas. A more broad-based and diverse group - business, academia, educators, etc.. - and a statewide, regional, Advisory Council that includes regular people. Be sure and check out their legislative agenda.

Hopefully stunts like this will continue to show these idiotic and mean-spirited attacks from he “wing-nuts” no longer work. I wouldn’t count on it because as long as these folks have money burning a hole in their pockets there’ll be someone willing to take it for smear campaigns like this. Who knows, maybe someone like Sen. Shapiro will go to groups like this and tell them they’re not helping or, even, stop taking their money.

The Gas Tax

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Around The State at 10:16 am by wcnews

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer’s gas tax holiday is getting ripped by editorial boards. It was his idea but his colleagues in the Lege - never one’s to be against a tax cut, no matter how inane (see last year’s property tax cut) - were mostly right there with him. Here’s an excerpt from the DMN editorial, Legislature ignoring our transportation needs.

The only-too-obvious source of new cash is a boost in the motor-fuels tax, which has been at 20 cents a gallon since 1992. After close study, both the House and Senate transportation chairmen, including Dallas Sen. John Carona, have called for at least an indexed increase that would rise with inflation.

Not only have lawmakers ignored that solution, House members overwhelming voted this week to declare a three-month gas-tax holiday – a politically motivated giveback that’s dumbfounded on two counts.

You’ll have to click the link for the dumbfindings. This is great to see, especially a “conservative” editorial board like that of the DMN. Some of us - ahem, Eye On Williamson, ahem - have been talking about the need to use the gas tax and not corporate tolls, for quite some time. Next we have this from the SAEN, Plan to repeal gas tax irresponsible pandering.

Martinez Fisher isn’t the first to call dibs on the presumed surplus. Lawmakers have already set aside $4 billion for additional property tax cuts. Gov. Rick Perry wants even more. So in this sense, the gas tax amendment only makes a bad situation worse.

But the House vote is especially irresponsible considering the deplorable state of financing for public roadways. The Legislature already is filching from a tax intended for highway improvements to pay for public education. A reality-based Legislature should be talking about raising revenue for highway construction, not eliminating it.

And another. Newspapers around the state, now acknowledging, with editorials, and reporting, the neglect of our transportation infrastructure by our elected officials is needed and welcomed. (As an aside, just think of all the money we’ve lost because the gas tax hasn’t been raised in almost 20 years and the roads that money could have built.)

Now that Perry is threatening a veto and a special session to follow on transportation if his veto is overridden, and editorial boards blaring across the state the need for the gas tax to be raised and indexed, this could allow something meaningful to get done. And maybe this can lend some courage and sense to legislators that make ignorant statements like this:

“We’re already at three bucks and going north,” said Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland. “I just don’t feel it’s a time to go forward with this.”

What Rep. Keffer, and elected officials like him, don’t seem to understand is that tolls are taxes too, and much, much more expensive than a gas tax increase, especially on a corporate toll road, where they will continue to rise with inflation.

Maybe a special session to allow our state’s elected officials to focus solely on transportation is what we need. What we also need is more editorials like these two and more reporting about what sham corporate toll roads are and the need to raise and index the gas tax as the most sane and economical way to pay for the work that’s needed on our transportations infrastructure in Texas.

Hmm…if we actually had a special session and something meaningful like that was accomplished that might make people think that government can help solve problems? Then maybe we could have session on other pressing issues to the people like health care, public education, higher education and insurance reform.


Rep. Krusee’s Latest Scheme, Transportation Reinvestment Zones, Goes Down In Flames

Posted in 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Around The State, Williamson County at 4:43 pm by wcnews

A so called, transportation reinvestment zone (TRZ), appears to be a variation on tax increment financing (TIF). TIF’s were created as a tax abatement tool to use to revitalize “blighted” areas and, of course, with this crew they’d like to try them on transportation. They didn’t work for that very well. For a debunking of TIF’s go here, here and here. There’s also this great article from Fort Bend Now, The Politics Of Tax Breaks And Land Development, that describes Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZ) that helps explain the concept. Best I can tell, so far, is TRZ’s are basically a scheme, to fund local road projects, by banking on future property valuation increases as a result of the development. And once the project is completed, using the future tax income to pay off the debt.

QR (again) has the story. With Krusee’s trust gone, and his power fading as fast as the Speakers, his old nemesis Rep. Joe Pickett (D - El Paso) got an amendment adopted to the bill which Krusee sponsored, SB 1266, that, for all intents a purposes, killed it.

Gimmick, after gimmick, after gimmick has been tried to find a way to get around raising and indexing the gas tax to fund our transportation needs in this state. And we’re still in the same mess. This is what almost 20 years of neglect have got us. Maybe that will be the silver lining if HB 1892 is vetoed and then overridden. Maybe, it will finally force legislators in Texas to get serious and do what’s right to fund transportation in Texas. Enough with the gimmicks already.

NOTE: Speaking of local roads, Consultant Mike Weaver says more are on the way, County prepares to spend more than half of road bond money.

Improvements to Chandler and Westinghouse roads are the most expensive of 20 proposed projects that could consume about 60 percent of the $228 million road bond package that voters approved in November. That’s based on a report that transportation consultant Mike Weaver presented to county commissioners last month. Details of the proposed projects could change slightly before commissioners offer final approval, but they had few suggestions after the presentation, county spokeswoman Connie Watson said.

For information on Krusee crony Mike Weaver click here.

Perry Threatens Special Session On Transportation - UPDATED

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Around The State at 3:01 pm by wcnews

QR reporting.


Perry not as concerned about the moratorium as all the other issues in the bill

A very reliable source close to the big three reports that at their weekly breakfast this morning, Governor Perry told Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Speaker Tom Craddick to plan on a special session if some of the issues in HB1892 are not resolved by sine die.

[UPDATE]: More on this story from Ben Wear at the AAS, HB 1892: Isn’t that special?. We learn that Perry has recommended his staff get travel insurance if the book a summer vacation, intended for the masses and the media to make him look serious. But their trying to frame this as a regional fight.

The two-year ban on most private toll road contracts added to the bill in its late stages is not the primary problem. Rather, Black said, the governor is troubled by a number of measures that give local toll road agencies such as the Harris County Toll Road Authority priority over building tollways in that area. And the bill, filed by state Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, at the behest of the county, stipulates that the state could not charge the county for highway right of way it already owns that the county might use for a toll road.

The bill has at least one problem specific to the Dallas-Fort Worth area that even supporters acknowledge is a mistake, and efforts have been underway for a couple of days to attach repair language to other legislation. Black said the governor’s office is working with legislators on fixes to the governor’s liking as well.

Perry has until May 18 to sign or veto the bill, or let it become law without his signature. HB 1892 passed in the Senate 27-4 and 139-1 in the Houston, vote counts that if they held would be well above the two-thirds needed to override a veto.

So, will a weary Legislature be moved by the threat of a lost summer? State Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, the only House member to vote against HB 1892, said the prospect has been the subject of much discussion today.

“They’d rather not have to come back in the summer in order to address a Houston problem,” Krusee said.

Good one Mike. AAS also has Carona’s thoughts on a special session and the new compromise he’s says he’s trying to hammer out, FWIW.

[UPDATE II]: More from Capitol Letters, What Could Possibly Be Special About It?

(Perry) is apparently poised to veto it, but the bill passed by overwhelming majorities, so his office is negotiating. Part of what the governor would like to see is that his veto is upheld on this bill, and then he could entertain provisions he considers less odious in other highway legislation that are still in the pipeline.

Of course, if Perry does veto HB 1892, and the Legislature does override it, then I’m not sure what the governor could accomplish by forcing them back into session. He cannot make the Legislature undo something they want done. And if they return for a special session and do nothing, well I guess that has happened at least five times before on his watch.

That’s funny.

Mad House Wrap-Up

Posted in 80th Legislature, Commentary, The Lege at 11:31 am by wcnews

There’s buzz of a vote to vacate the chair for Speaker in the Texas House, but don’t get your hopes up, it’s not likely. While a majority of members might now be willing to vote Craddick out, it’s doubtful that anyone on the GOP side would want to be on record doing it, because it would probably kill their chance of ascending the dais. Not to mention make the party look bad.

Wrap-ups analysis from Monday Night’s action are here:

Burka thinks Craddick will survive the session, House Erupts in Protest Over Craddick Ruling.

Where does this leave Craddick? As I see it, the mob has stormed the Bastille and liberated the prisoners, but they have let the king keep his head. For now. It’s clear that there is a growing body of Republican elders that no longer supports Tom Craddick in the way he runs the House. It is also clear that they respect the institution too much, and Craddick as well, for all that he has done over the years, to take the drastic step of moving to vacate the chair. There will be no public beheading in the Place de la Concorde. At some point a delegation of elders may call on the speaker in private and ask him not to seek another term.

Kuff agrees, but wouldn’t mind if he didn’t, More on the anti-Craddick revolt.

I want to believe the former (vote to vacate), but unfortunately I think Burka is more likely to be right. Show me a candidate, and get back to me after the 2008 election.

DMN has this from Karen Brooks, Some say Craddick on shaky ground. The excerpt below clearly shows Craddick’s lack of leadership skills, the “iron fist” is all he’s got:

Some lawmakers say that Mr. Craddick may have overcorrected, that he pulled too far back and stopped giving the members direction. Others, like House Insurance Committee Chairman John Smithee, R-Amarillo, say he’s walking a tightrope, evidenced by a testy chamber willing to revolt.

“There is not this reluctance to challenge the [speaker] that we’ve seen in the past,” said Mr. Smithee. “Some of that’s a good thing, but if you get too much of that, you get a mob.”

QR says Craddick just thinks members are still bitter from the Speaker’s race:

Craddick added that he believed he has followed through on promises earlier this session to give committee chairmen more freedom with the allowance that he always thought that he had given them large amounts of freedom. In the end, it was “just bitterness carrying over” from the failed Speaker’s challenge that led to the move to overrule, he said.

But it’s the last paragraph in this Clary Robison piece, Technical setback loosens Craddick’s iron grip, that caught my eye:

The outcome of next year’s legislative elections also may affect Craddick’s future. The Republicans hold an 81-69 edge in the House. Some Democrats believe Craddick couldn’t survive if Democrats pick up enough seats to close that gap significantly.

There’s quite a bit in that sentence. That’s 6 seats to tie, 7 to take the majority. How many seats, out of 7 let’s say, do these “some Democrats” think would be enough to be “significant”? Hopefully the new reality is, that what this session should make clear to every Democrat, is that if there is a choice similar to the one that presented itself at the beginning of this session, to elect a better Speaker, then Craddick is not an option. And even if the gap isn’t significantly closed, which I believe it will be, it’s time for a change. Hear that Craddick D’s?

While most, except Craddick and his closest allies believe we’ll have a new Speaker come ‘09. That does seem likely right now, but January 2009 is a long way off.

Gas Tax Band-Aid, Not This Time

Posted in The Budget, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Commentary, Around The State at 9:44 am by wcnews

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer has an admirable goal, to bring some relief to Texans gas bills over the Summer, but it’s a too little at a time when we need sweeping change. Like peeing in the ocean. The amendment to to add a 3 month, 20 cent/gallon, gas tax holiday to to SB 1886 (RV# 1065) passed with near unanimous support. The vote was 118 - 16, Alan Ritter and Mark Strama were the only Democrats voting against.

Last year when REp. Martinez Fischer put this forward I posted on it. I had reservations, but after listening in on a conference call, decided it was worth a shot. Not anymore. Some of the issues with this is that it’s a Democrat reinforcing a Republican theme that tax cuts make the world go ’round. Another is that it would be nice to have this now but then in September, as the kids go back to school, we’ll get hit with that 20 cent increase. Also hopefully the pain of the higher price will drive down demand, and the price soon after. Also check out what Whos Playin? had to say about it last year. That said the bill doesn’t even guarantee the money has to be passed down to the customer, from this DMN article, House favors gas tax break.

The bill would make it a Class B misdemeanor ($2,000 fine and/or up to 180 days in jail) for gasoline dealers to fail to pass on the tax savings, and the attorney general would be empowered to investigate any complaints along those lines and seek charges.

I’m sure the AG will be chasing down these crimes in that three month window.

Another part of the DMN article was that Rep. Mike Krusee tried to add an amendment to to the bill (SB 1886) to index the gas tax, which is what really needs to happen, and it failed.

Just before approving Mr. Martinez Fischer’s measure, House members left little doubt where they stand on fuel taxes, overwhelmingly rejecting a measure that would have allowed the gas tax to rise according to an index that mirrors the inflation rate.

Rep. Mike Krusee, the House’s Transportation Committee chairman, pointed out that the gas tax has been stuck at 20 cents a gallon since 1991. He argued that with the Legislature poised to approve a two-year ban on private toll-road agreements, Texas needs to find other ways to pay for roads to accommodate the state’s rapid growth.

“There aren’t many tools left,” said Mr. Krusee, R-Round Rock. “This is about all there is. This is our traditional method of financing roads.”

But House members were in no mood to raise the gas tax, even if only to keep up with inflation. They rebuffed Mr. Krusee’s measure, 122-19.

“We’re already at three bucks and going north,” said Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland. “I just don’t feel it’s a time to go forward with this.”

Now I’m sure Rep. Krusee did that so he can say, “Look I tried”. Which is another reason this is bad. An anti-tax, pro-corporate toll representative, is only doing this to reinforce his point that tolls are the only option we have to build roads because the legislature it too scared to vote to index the gas tax.

Which leads us back to everything that’s wrong with how we fund and build, or don’t fund and build, our transportation infrastructure in this state. We need comprehensive reform in this area and band-aids like this will do nothing to help in that regard. I’ll give Rep. Martinez Fischer credit for trying something to help the average folk, but this just ain’t worth it.


TDP On Protests At T. Don Hutto

Posted in Criminal Justice, Privatization, T. Don Hutto, Williamson County at 11:29 pm by wcnews

The Taylor Daily Press has a news reporter, Tessa Moll, and here’s her first article on TDH, it’s a good one - Protesters visit Taylor despite cancellation of UN envoy’s tour. She was out amongst the protesters getting quotes and snapping pictures. I like this quote the best:

“How can we demand that other countries allow UN inspectors, while we won’t?” asked Anita Lopez, a member of The Galleons Organization, an Hispanic advocacy group. Lopez joined a group of protesters outside the immigration detention facility and held a sign that read “No child left behind bars.”

Later there’s this on the Rep. Rodriguez sponsored resolution (HCR 64) currently in the legislature:

Jina Gayton, a San Antonio resident, gathered signatures at the vigil to urge Texas legislators to discuss HCR 64, a house concurrent resolution to seek more humane alternatives for those currently in ICE custody.

The resolution, authored by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, is currently awaiting a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee. The committee chair, state Rep. David Swinford, R-Amarillo, must bring the issue to the committee, but a spokeswoman from Swinford’s office said he has no intention to do so.

Welcome to Williamson County Tessa you’re off to a great start.

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