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May 16th, 2013:

It sure is nice to budget when you have money

Mayor Parker has released her FY2014 budget, and it’s great news for those of you that have been waiting for their single-stream recycling bin.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

More than 100,000 Houston homes will be added to the city’s single-stream recycling program by this fall, doubling the number of households receiving the 96-gallon green bins.

About 35,000 homes will receive single-stream service via the wheeled containers in July, allowing curbside recycling of glass, newspapers, magazines, cans, cardboard and plastic. Another 70,000 homes will be added in October.

Today, 28 percent of Houston homes have single-stream, and 26 percent use 18-gallon tubs, in which glass is not allowed. Another 46 percent do not have curbside recycling. The $7.8 million plan would expand single-stream service to about 55 percent of the city’s households, Mayor Annise Parker said. Of the initial 35,000 homes, a Solid Waste Department spokeswoman said, 15,000 will be first-time recyclers and 20,000 will upgrade from the 18-gallon tubs.

“To be a little more than halfway there is a great milestone,” Solid Waste Management Director Harry Hayes said, adding he anticipates a $500,000 savings in waste diverted from landfills.

The announcement came as Mayor Annise Parker rolled out her budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which starts July 1. The proposed budget, which must be approved by City Council, is $4.5 billion, including enterprise funds such as the aviation department and utility systems, and represents a 6.4 percent increase over the current fiscal year.

The proposed general fund budget, supported chiefly by property and sales taxes, is $2.2 billion, an increase of 4.9 percent over the current budget, but just 2.4 percent over projected spending for the current year.

Most of the spending increases – 51 percent – are driven by contracts with the city municipal, police and fire unions and each group’s pension board. Another 8.4 percent will go to rising health care costs.

The Mayor’s press release on the budget is here. Expanded recycling is the big deal, but there are a lot of other goodies in there as well. Some highlights include the completion of the rape kit backlog; $2.2 million to fund operations of the city’s new public safety radio project, which is about harmonizing communications with Harris County and other entities; the creation of the Forensic Transition Special Fund to keep separate and account for costs related to the Houston Forensic Science LGC; an extra $693K for BARC; and for the first time ever, a line item for infrastructure maintenance, renewal and replacement. The release also notes that all services that were cut two years ago will be restored if they have not already been. Like I said, ain’t it great to have the money for the things you need?

UPDATE: From the Texas Campaign for the Environment and my inbox:


May 15, 2013

Contact: Tyson Sowell (713) 337-4192 (office) or (217) 418-9415 (cell)

Environmentalists Applaud Recycling Expansion But Opposed to City’s “Recycling Scheme”

HOUSTON–Environmentalists applaud Mayor Parker’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Proposal that would expand curbside recycling to 100,000 households, while also urging her office to let curbside recycling work before adopting unproven waste schemes. The proposed expansion of single-stream recycling, separation of recyclables in one cart and garbage in another cart, is the single largest expansion of curbside recycling in the City of Houston’s history.

“We are very happy to hear a renewed commitment to the expansion of single-stream recycling,” Tyson Sowell, Program Director for Texas Campaign for the Environment said. “Over the previous years, the city has said that they cannot expand curbside recycling due to budget constraints. We’re glad to see that they have decided to make recycling a priority.”

The proposed curbside expansion comes on the heels of recent negative public reaction towards the Mayor’s proposal to build a “dirty MRF (materials recovery facility)”.

The “dirty MRF” would cost an estimated $100 million, and would sort recyclables and garbage that have been combined or sorted by residents and collected in one truck. Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE) says that similar facilities in other communities and have failed to achieve high recycling rates.

“Houstonians want to recycle and we want real recycling. The announced expansion is a direct result of thousands of letters written by Houstonians to the mayor and city council members asking for real recycling, not some magic system that will not work,” Mr. Sowell said. “Houstonians get it. They understand that dirty MRFs do not work because of contamination issues. They understand that paper is ruined when you place your coffee grounds on top of it. Hopefully this is a sign that the City of Houston understands this now, as well, and will allow real recycling to work.”

Currently, the city services 375,000 households with garbage collection services. Of those 375,000 households, 170,000 households do not have curbside recycling available to them. The proposed expansion would cut the number to those without curbside recycling to 135,000 households at the start of fiscal year 2014 and cut it again to 70,000 by the end of fiscal year 2014.

Mr. Sowell says that the next step is for the city to commit to similar expansions of recycling for the next two fiscal years so that everyone will have single-stream curbside recycling by 2016 and for the city to abandon the “dirty MRF” idea.

Dark money

It’s a small step, if it’s allowed to be taken, but the bill to require donor disclosure on so-called “dark money” is a step in the right direction.


Senate Bill 346 takes direct aim at the cloak of anonymity that currently shields so-called “dark money” groups – those tax-exempt organizations whose donors drop big bucks to influence elections and ballot measures but have not been required to reveal who is behind the spending.

Under the proposal, non-profits set up under section 501(c)4 of the federal tax code would be required to publicly disclose contributors who pony up more than $1,000 to any “dark money” group that spends $25,000 or more on politicking. Labor unions are exempt.

SB 346 by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, passed on a 99-46 vote.


A Perry spokeswoman said Monday that the governor will review the final bill if it hits his desk. However, the House lawmaker shepherding the proposal through the lower chamber speculated Monday that its fate could be all but sealed once it leaves the House.

“They’re staying real quiet on it,” Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said after Monday’s vote. “But they’ll veto it.”

The issue has been a political lightning rod since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v the Federal Election Commission. That decision paved a path for outside groups like super PACs and 501(c)4s to raise and spend unlimited sums from corporations, labor groups and deep pocketed individual donors.

And while both 501(c)4s and super PACs can accept unlimited sums of cash, only super PACs are required to identify donors.

As a result, super PACs tend to set up sister outfits in the form of a 501(c)4s to funnel money anonymously to candidates or to fund attack ads. That’s how they got the ominous title “dark money” groups.

According to Texas Redistricting, the vote in favor on second reading was actually 95-50, but that’s a nitpick. The bill has now been approved on third reading by a 95-52 margin, and since it was not amended – which is what the real fight in the House was about – it’s on it’s way to Rick Perry. It’s amazing this bill got to a vote at all considering what it went through on the way to the House. The Trib touches on that.

The bill, which would affect major political givers on both sides of the aisle, originally passed the Senate 23-6; a day later, led by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, senators voted 21-10 to reverse themselves, some saying they hadn’t understood what the bill required. Seliger said at the time that his colleagues had faced heavy lobbying by major political donors to change their votes.

The Senate’s effort was too late; the measure was already in the custody of the House. State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, the bill’s House sponsor, has been shepherding the measure through the lower chamber, working to get it passed without amendments so it doesn’t have to return to the Senate.

“Certain groups keep scorecards and continuously bombard the internet. All that’s fine, it’s what this process is about,” Geren said. “The problem occurs when these groups wade deep into the political process … and use a loophole that keeps their donors secret.”

See here and here for more on the history of SB346. Among the fascinating things about this is the fact that it’s happening against the backdrop of the revelation that the IRS targeted some conservative 501(c)(4) groups for investigation. While the national media is saying that no progressive groups were similarly targeted, there is reporting from 2012 that indicates otherwise, and the IRS did the same thing to liberal groups when George Bush was President. It would be nice if Congress tightened the language governing who does and doesn’t qualify for 501(c)4 status so that the decision isn’t simply left up to IRS agents to determine, but we all know how this will play out.

Be all that as it may, you may wonder why legislative Republicans are taking this action. Simply put, they have more to fear from 501(c)(4) groups than Democrats do in this state, with the likes of Empower Texas and other slash-and-burn groups spending copious amounts of money in Republican primaries. Geren in particular has survived numerous such challenges, as has Speaker Straus at this point. The peril will even out as Democrats gain more footing, but as Democrats have more ideological reasons to support legislation like this, there was enough of a coalition to get it passed. I’ll be shocked if Rick Perry doesn’t veto it, as Geren and Seliger expect he will, but at least they made the statement. The Observer and the TSTA have more.

Reed for AG?

This is one of the stranger “draft somebody” movements I’ve seen.

Susan Reed

A movement has been building among local Republicans over the past few months to encourage Susan Reed to run for state attorney general in 2014.

Reed, the hard-nosed, four-term Bexar County district attorney, would be the first female AG in the state’s history, a historic point that some of her supporters have used to coax her to run, according to GOP sources.

Reed concedes that she’s been getting phone calls about the attorney general’s race, including a couple from “leading [Republican] party elected people.” While she declined to name the officials, one source told me that Reed backers have enlisted U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to persuade Reed.

This under-the-radar draft-Reed effort has been operating on two tracks, with a shared objective but differing motives.

The dominant group is composed of ardent Reed fans, who think her reputation as a prosecutorial pit bull would make her a dynamic AG candidate.

A smaller group has tired of Reed’s act and would like her to seek higher office at least partly because it would give new candidates an opening for the office that she has controlled for nearly a generation.

Whatever works, I guess. Reed, understandably, isn’t committing to anything as yet. She’s not going to run against Greg Abbott, she’ll only consider it if Abbott leaves to run for Governor or something else. Of course, she’s not the only person who would consider it – State Rep. Dan Branch, who had eyed the office in 2010, has already expressed his interest in it this time. While Reed would have history on her side, Branch has a more tangible advantage: As of January, he had over $2.5 million in the bank, compared to $126K for Reed. The battle doesn’t always go to the strong nor the race to the better funded, but that’s usually the safe bet.

One more thing to note is that Reed would be up for re-election in 2014, so this is an either-or choice for her. Here are the percentages for her previous four elections:

2010 53.84%
2006 60.57%
2002 unopposed
1998 57.18%

She easily outpaced the field in 2006 but was just slightly above average for Republicans in Bexar County in 2010. It’s not out of the question she could lose a bid for a fifth term, given the partisan trends in Bexar County. I doubt that will factor much into her consideration, but there it is anyway. Texpatriate has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of May 13

The Texas Progressive Alliance is thankful for the mothers in their lives as it brings you this week’s roundup.