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December 26th, 2012:

Trib overview of SD06 special election

For all the delays in getting this called, the special election in SD06 is one month from today. The Trib takes a look.

Sylvia Garcia

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat and former Harris County commissioner, are vying to replace state Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston. Gallegos, the first Hispanic senator to represent Harris County, died Oct. 16 of complications associated with a 2007 liver transplant. Also in the race is R.W. Bray, a Republican who was defeated by Gallegos during the general election.


Alvarado said her experience in the House should sway voters.

Rep. Carol Alvarado

“I can talk about specifics because I have had two sessions,” she said.

Garcia, the former president of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, also served as the comptroller for the city of Houston. She said that if legislative experience were essential to serving in the Senate, it would be required.

“If you’re trying to suggest that I don’t have experience because I am not a House member, well neither did Sens. Dan Patrick, Joan Huffman and a couple of others,” she said. “Neither did Barbara Jordan, but does that mean they weren’t qualified to be in the state Senate? Of course not.”

Alvarado, a two-term Texas House member and former member of the Houston city council, has the support of Gallegos’ family and of state House Black Caucus lawmakers, including Representatives Harold Dutton, Borris L. Miles and Senfronia Thompson. Senators Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, have also backed Alvarado.

Garcia’s support comes from key Hispanic Democrats in the Houston delegation, including Rep. Jessica Farrar, the House Democratic Caucus leader, and Reps. Ana Hernandez Luna and Armando Walle.

Note to story author Julian Aguilar and the Texas Trib editors: It’s Houston Controller, not comptroller. I don’t know what the difference is, either, but it’s there.

The filing deadline for this race is tomorrow at 5 PM. While the story says that RW Bray is in, as he has previously said he would be, as of Monday morning he had not yet filed. According to the Garcia campaign, the only candidates who had filed as of then are Garcia, Alvarado, and perennial candidate Dorothy Olmos. Other potential candidates besides Bray whose names I have heard include HCC Trustee Yolanda Navarro Flores, who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Gallegos in the 2004 primary; Maria Selva, the Green Party candidate in CD29 this year; an unnamed Libertarian; and Susan Delgado, Gallegos’ former mistress, who ran against him as a write-in in 2004 and a Libertarian in 2008. Wouldn’t that be special?

As of this publication, the 30 day finance reports are not up, so we don’t know yet how the two main competitors are doing on that front. I was unaware that Alvarado had secured the endorsements listed above for her – Garcia got a big splash early on when Reps. Farrar, Hernandez Luna, and Walle endorsed her. Basically, this is a Democratic primary, with all of the usual drama and family feuding that entails. I have interviews with Garcia and Alvarado that will be published the week of January 7, which is when early voting begins. If this remains a three-candidate race we could get a clear winner on January 26. The more candidates that do file, the more likely that this will go into overtime. We’ll know the answer to the first part of that soon enough.

When is a surplus not a surplus?

When any extra money you might have is already accounted for, due to unaddressed needs, accounting shenanigans, and shortsighted cuts.

Some lawmakers and budget experts expect to have as much as $8 billion to $9 billion more in general revenue in this fiscal period, which ends Aug. 31. Some are guessing lower. Combs will give her new revenue estimate on the eve of the legislative session.

The unanticipated tax revenue is on top of some $8.1 billion projected to be in the rainy day fund at the end of this fiscal cycle, plus any revenue growth in the next two-year cycle.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said that due to disappointing news from the comptroller in past sessions, “I’m not counting on anything until we get the official update.”

Dale Craymer, president of the business-based Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, said, “The state is heading towards a near-record surplus, but there are claims against that.”

Claims include an estimated $4.7 billion in Medicaid expenses due this year that aren’t accounted for in the budget. In addition, some leaders want to quickly undo an accounting maneuver used to balance the current budget, in which they delayed a $2 billion payment to schools.

Looking ahead, it’s estimated Medicaid will take $7.8 billion more in 2014-15 than was allocated last year.

At the same time, the push to restore education cuts is fierce in light of the improving economic picture. Public education got $5.4 billion less in state money than it would have received under previous funding formulas.

“We’re going to need to fund enrollment growth” in public schools in the next two-year period, at about $2 billion, Straus said. But any additional investment may be complicated by a lawsuit over school funding, since lawmakers who have faced repeated litigation like to wait for cases to work their way up to a Texas Supreme Court ruling, so they can see what they are required to do.

That’s all on top of the need to do something about the state’s long-term water usage, and the fact that we currently have no way to pay for any new transportation projects, not to mention the fact that our tax system is antiquated and inadequate and in need of serious overhaul lest we run into these same problems every two years forever. Even if we figure all this out, we’re still going to wind up spending less than we would have to in order to provide the same level of services before the 2011 budget cuts. So yeah, let’s not talk about having a “surplus”. If we’re very lucky, we’ll have enough to do a not-completely-inadequate job of meeting the most pressing needs, while hoping like hell that the economy continues to improve and that the idiotic politics of Rick Perry don’t sabotage everything.

The Houston Food Bank could use your help

Times are tough, y’all.

Despite a growing demand, food banks, charities and pantries face a dwindling supply of products to distribute to Houston’s hungry this holiday season.

Food banks in Houston and across the country have less to give away because the federal government is purchasing fewer excess farm products to stabilize agricultural prices. At the same time, high agricultural prices due to a historic drought have exacerbated shortages, experts said.

“We are trying to do a better job and we just get kicked in the shins with this drop,” said Brian Greene, Houston Food Bank president and CEO. “We now have to take two steps back.”

The Houston Food Bank has seen a 38 percent drop in government food donations this year, which Greene said translates to about 5 million meals. Government donations account for about 20 percent of the food issued by the Houston Food Bank, which feeds 137,000 people each week through 500 agencies in southeast Texas.

From 2010 to 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s purchases through the Emergency Food Assistance Program declined 27 percent. As a result, in 2012 at least 181 food banks saw declines in government donations, more than half of which saw drops of 40 percent or more.

This decrease forced food banks to spend millions of dollars purchasing food items, according to data from Feeding America.

National hunger relief advocates say that although the USDA has announced commodity purchases in August and December 2012 that will help relieve some of the shortage, that food will not be delivered until early to mid-2013.

“We live in a shortage world and are doing our best,” said Greene.

He said 66,000 people go hungry in Houston every day despite their best efforts.

Now would be an excellent time to do what you can to help.

Keep Houston hip

Y’all ready for this?

Hipper than I am, not that this is difficult

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the GHCVB and the fifth anniversary of the MyHouston campaign, which according to vice president of marketing Holly Clapham, is “the most successful image campaign in Houston’s history.”

As part of the second iteration of MyHouston, the GHCVB has created a series of five print ads that provide visual representations of Houston culture.

To represent the city’s burgeoning culinary scene, the GHCVB created an advertisement under the tagline “Houston is Tasty.” For the performing arts, the slogan is “Houston is Inspired.” But Clapham told CultureMap in a phone interview that a fifth ad was needed to represent “a menagerie of different assets that the city has to offer, from music to sports to retail to style.”

Thus, the idea for “Houston is Hip” was born.


Expect the finalized version of the Houston is Hip ad, along with the four other new print pieces, to debut in January via the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. According to Clapham, we can expect 2013 to be “a banner year for our city.”

I look forward to seeing it. If you can identify everyone in the embedded photo without clicking it or the CultureMap link, you are unquestionably hipper than I am. (For the record, I’d have been able to ID three of them, and would have guessed two others with a bit of prompting.) After you’ve finished reading the CultureMap story, go read this little blast from the past and wish the GHVCB better luck than their predecessors had.