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January 30th, 2013:

How about Ellis 2014?

Michael Hurta makes an observation.

The only Democratic legislator in Texas who is not up for reelection in 2014 yet also has seven figures in his campaign bank account is Rodney Ellis. Will we hear any Ellis for Governor rumors before session is done?

Sen. Rodney Ellis

You can see a copy of Sen. Ellis’ January report here. He has just over $2 million cash on hand, which isn’t exactly Greg Abbott territory but isn’t a bad place to start off, either. He has been in the Senate since winning a special election in 1990, but at least since I’ve been paying attention I can’t recall hearing any talk about him eyeing a run for something else. One opportunity he declined to take to move up was in 2004, when the DeLay re-redistricting effort transformed Chris Bell’s CD25 into the African-American majority CD09. Ellis was not up for election in 2004 but did not challenge the first-term Congressman Bell, who was ultimately defeated in the primary by now-Rep. Al Green, who had been a Justice of the Peace until then.

That may just mean he isn’t interested in a federal office. If so, 2014 is an opportunity for him since he would have had to give up his Senate seat to run in any of the three previous state election years. Personally, I have no idea if Sen. Ellis has even given this matter a moment’s thought, but hey, I can pass along out of the blue speculation as well as the next blogger, so there you go. As of now, Julian Castro has declared his non-candidacy for 2014, Sen. Wendy Davis is playing it coy, Henry Cisneros is almost certainly a figment of my imagination, and I have no idea if anyone has talked to Cecile Richards lately. May as well keep talking about possibilities till one of them becomes real. What do you think about this?

The 311 app is here

I’ve been waiting for this.

The brand-new Houston 311 app will allow residents to file a complaint and then track its progress. The program officially goes live Tuesday, city officials said.

Here’s how the 311 app works, city spokesman Chris Newport said:

“Say you see a pothole on your street. Before you even leave for work you can walk over, launch the app and type in ‘pothole,’ ” he said. “You have the option of taking a picture, punching in the address and answering two other questions before you hit send.”

The “really cool thing” about the new app, Newport said, is that the requests aren’t sent to a generic email inbox at the city. Instead, the SmartPhone application “creates a work order that our public works department adds to their list of things to do.”

Houston city officials last August updated the 311 non-emergency website, allowing residents to report a variety of complaints on everything from garbage pickup problems to traffic signal maintenance to water line breaks. The city’s hotline last year also expanded to 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week service. As of Jan. 13, it received an average of 5,311 calls a day for service, Newport said.

“This is just the beginning,” Newport said of the expanded options. “We’re not just launching this app and we’re done,” he said. The city plans to update on a regular basis.

Here’s a presentation that shows how to use the app to submit a report. The revamped 311 homepage, which also goes by the Houston311.org URL, has all the information you need to get the app, which is available for iPhone and Android. I’ve downloaded it onto my phone and will be on the lookout for a chance to use it. More functions are planned for the future, so keep an eye out. Harris County released a similar app in August, so it’s great to see the city follow suit. For more information, see this media guide and the Mayor’s press release.

Yet another report saying we should expand Medicaid in Texas

It’s the fiscally responsible thing to do, in addition to being the morally correct thing to do.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Expanding Medicaid is a “smart, affordable and fair” decision for Texas, according to a report issued by Billy Hamilton, a non-partisan consultant commissioned by Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas and Texas Impact, a statewide interfaith network.

“If politics are set aside, the right decision is obvious,” wrote Hamilton, a former deputy comptroller of public accounts who was once the state’s chief revenue estimator. He argued that for an investment of $15 billion, Texas could draw down $100 billion in federal funds and expand health care coverage to 2 million low-income Texans over 10 years.

One of the most important decisions facing Texas lawmakers in the 83rd legislative session is whether to expand Medicaid to low-income adults, as directed by the federal Affordable Care Act. Despite proclamations from Texas’ Republican leadership — namely Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — that Texas will not expand Medicaid, local government officials and health care providers across the state are pushing lawmakers to realize the benefits of it.

Hamilton’s report, the most thorough fiscal analysis yet on the impact of the Medicaid expansion on Texas, argues that state spending on the expanded Medicaid program would be offset by dramatic savings and that thousands of jobs would be created to boost the economy. Hamilton also says Texas’ uninsured rate — the highest in the nation — would drop by a quarter. He argues the expansion could save the lives of 5,700 adults and 2,900 children annually.

Hamilton was the chief number-cruncher for former Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. He joins economist Ray Perryman in pointing out the obvious, for whatever good it will do. Here’s more on his report from Texas Impact, who co-commissioned it.

The report provides funding estimates and Medicaid enrollment scenarios that rely on population and caseload projections by former Texas State Demographer Steve Murdock, and cost estimates from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The report provides three scenarios-“limited” (based on minimal enrollment), “moderate,” and “enhanced” (based on extremely high enrollment levels). All major findings are based on the “moderate” scenario.

The report compares these funding estimates with spending data from local jurisdictions and charity cost data from mandated, uniform hospital reports. The report explains the interactions between existing low-income health spending at the local level, and state and local fiscal impacts of extending Medicaid under the ACA. Impacts include anticipated increased enrollment by children who are currently eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but not enrolled, and who likely would enroll along with their newly eligible parents. The report also uses econometric modeling to estimate employment and economic impacts of adding low-income adults to Medicaid.

The report includes regional breakouts of caseload, spending and fiscal impacts for each of the state’s 20 Regional Health Partnerships (RHPs). The RHPs are multi-county regions coordinating health care spending and delivery under Texas’ new federal Medicaid Transformation waiver.

Key Findings:

  • The state match required for the Medicaid expansion could be met many times over with funds the state, local jurisdictions and hospitals already spend on health care for low-income adults.
  • The $1.8 billion in new state revenue generated by the expansion could offset about half of the state match required from 2014 through 2017.
  • The economic activity from the infusion of federal funds would boost Texas economic output by $67.9 billion, and add $2.5 billion to local revenues during fiscal 2014-17.
  • The economic activity would generate an estimated 231,000 jobs by 2016.
  • Every region and every county in the state would benefit from the additional federal funds.
  • The new coverage would reduce Texas’ uninsured rate by about 25 percent, insuring up to 2 million people.
  • The new coverage would increase efficiency in state and local health programs by moving currently uninsured adults to managed care.
  • The new coverage would save the lives of an estimated 5,700 adults and 2,700 children every year.
  • Other states are also finding that current spending and new revenue would cover their state match requirements and provide savings.
  • Failing to extend Medicaid would not improve the state’s likelihood of getting a block grant and would likely decrease the amount of funding the state would receive if a block grant were ever to occur.
  • Due to provisions in the ACA, failing to extend Medicaid would leave low-income Texas adults with no access to subsidized insurance and no alternative but to use expensive emergency room treatment for routine care.
  • (Key Findings also available in PDF format)

Overall State Fiscal Impact

For the 2014-15 biennium, Texas would receive $7.7 billion in federal funds for adults and $1.4 billion for children for a state match of $297 million for adults and $889 million for children–a total of $9.1 billion in federal funds for $1.2 billion in state match. For the 2016-17 biennium, Texas would receive $15.2 billion in federal funds for adults and $3.1 billion for children for a state match of $989 million for adults and $1.6 billion for children–a total of $18.3 billion in federal funds for $2.6 billion in state match.

The full report is here, and the executive summary is here. Expanding Medicaid is fiscally smart and will save thousands of lives. Millions of people lack access to health care in Texas. Medicaid expansion, especially in conjunction with comprehensive immigration reform, could do a lot to solve that problem. There’s no good argument against it – it’s all political. If there really is a deal to make it happen, we need to do it. But as long as Rick Perry, or someone like him, is Governor, I don’t see how it does happen. Nothing will change in this state until the government changes.

How would you pay for extra school security?

Would you be willing to tax yourself for it?

Texas school districts could create special taxing districts to fund more security under a proposal unveiled Tuesday by three Houston-area lawmakers.

The Texas School District Security Act would allow school boards to hold elections on whether sales or property taxes should be raised to fund more security at public schools.

“I believe this proposal is a Texas solution that will save lives without sacrificing our freedoms,” said state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who, with Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, is developing the measure.

The three say they still are drafting the bill, but they outlined a few details at a news conference.

Sens. Williams and Whitmire submitted this op-ed that ran in Sunday’s Chron that gave details of the proposal:

Modeled after current law, which allows municipalities to vote to adopt crime control districts, the legislation would do the following:

Allow individual school districts to vote on dedicated funding for enhanced school security measures.

Allow for a dedicated sales tax (if available under the state cap), or a dedicated property tax specifically for enhanced security based on local school district voters. The revenue generated from a local option School District Security Fund would be separate from all other district funding.

Provide transparency and accountability by requiring school districts to hold public hearings on what is to be included in the Texas School District Security Act. Costs will be spelled out and voters will know the estimated amount of the dedicated property or sales tax to cover those costs before holding an election on the issue. The proposal would include a tax cap.

Require a review and renewal election of the Texas School District Security Act every five years.

A repeal petition would allow a community to abolish the Texas School District Security Act before the next renewal election.

The elected and accountable local school board also would serve as the board of the Texas School District Security Act.

On the one hand, if this is what a community wants to do, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be allowed to do it. I can’t imagine voting for such a thing, but I don’t particularly care if some other school district wants to tax itself for this purpose. I think it’s a dumb idea, but I don’t care to stand in their way of adopting it. On the other hand, there may be legal issues with the idea.

If voters approve special taxing districts to fund more school security in Texas, smaller, property-poor districts could wind up relying more on cheaper webcams and less on police officers.

According to the Equity Center, a group that represents underfunded school districts in Texas, the disparity in school funding – the subject of a lawsuit in Austin – again could play out when it comes to capturing more funds for school security by raising local sales or property taxes.

While three Houston-area lawmakers hammer out the details for such a funding option, the Equity Center took a look at how much security a one-cent property tax hike, hypothetically, could raise for a district.

The results were not surprising. Based on the Equity Center’s analysis of 2013 property tax values, Houston ISD could raise $9.5 million; Fort Bend ISD, about $2.35 million; and San Antonio ISD, $1.17 million.

Not too many police officers can be had for that.

“The wealthier will be able to afford better security,” said Ray Freeman, executive deputy director of the Equity Center.

Raise your hand if any of this surprises you. Perhaps the wealthier districts or schools could get around the inequity issue by raising the money via bake sales and whatnot. But really, if this is something worth having, then it’s something everyone should be able to have, and the way to provide that is for the state to do so. But is this something worth having?

Even wealthier districts may have a tough time selling a tax hike to voters already weary of hearing about half-cent or penny tax hikes every time a new need arises.

“It may be a separate taxing district, but it’s money that comes out of the same (voters’) pocket,” said Clay Robison, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association.

Robison likes that lawmakers are looking at something other than arming teachers. The bottom line for his group, however, is the belief that the state is “not paying its fair share” for education. “The state is still passing much of the cost to the local districts,” he said.

In addition to the TSTA, the usual suspects among the right-wing policy enforcers oppose the plan on the grounds that it allows for the possibility of one of them being taxed for something. That may make passing this bill, whenever it gets filed, more of a challenge. But seriously, surely there are better things to spend our money on, aren’t there?