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February 15th, 2017:

Castro will let his Senate plans be known soon

Allow six to eight weeks for delivery.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said Saturday that he will decide in eight weeks whether to run in 2018 for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Sen. Ted Cruz.

Castro set the date for a decision in a Q&A session with reporters before speaking to crowd of about 300 supporters on a warm night in the courtyard at the Historic Scoot Inn in East Austin, which exploded in cheers and chants when, in answer to a direct question on the subject, he declared, “I am looking at the Senate race against Ted Cruz.”

“Ted Cruz has not spent a single day working for the people of Texas,” said Castro, who will also travel to Houston and Dallas as he makes up his mind about a race. “Ted Cruz tunes out most of Texas.”

[…]

Last week, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke told students at the University of Texas that he was likely to run for Cruz’s seat because, “if no one else is going to do it, I sure as hell am going to do it because, 2018, two years of Trump, six years of Cruz … if we don’t do this now, when the hell are we going to do it?”

Castro said of O’Rourke: “Beto and I are good friends in the Congress, and he’s a sharp, very passionate congressman, who does a great job for the people he represents.”

See here for the background. Someone mentioned in a thread on Facebook that no one is going to announce for Senate or one of the hot Congressional seats until after April 1, as that puts them into the next campaign finance reporting period and avoids having to file a report with basically no money raised. Needless to say, eight weeks puts us into April, so this is consistent with that. I don’t know what Rep. O’Rourke’s plans are, but I continue to believe that only one of them (at most) will actually run for Senate next year. One way or another, they’ll work that out. And if it is Rep. Castro running, he’s already picked up an endorsement, from Rep. Filemon Vela, who says he’ll also be happy to support Rep. O’Rourke if he’s the candidate. Figure it out, fellas, and let us know when you’ve decided.

Turns out a little budget flexibility is a good thing

Some lessons have to be learned the hard way.

More than a year after Texas voters approved routing billions in state sales taxes to roads and bridges, some lawmakers are questioning whether the first payment of $5 billion should move forward as planned.

Texans voted in 2015 to boost funding for state’s public roadways and bridges, which have strained under the state’s growing population. Proposition 7 — loudly cheered by top Texas leaders and supported by 83 percent of voters — changed the constitution to route some taxes collected on car sales to the State Highway Fund.

But in an unusually tightfisted legislative session, some Texas lawmakers are raising the prospect of reducing that initial cash infusion to the State Highway Fund scheduled for this year to free up money for other state programs.

No one has publicly backed such a move, but key budget writers have privately discussed the option. And at a Senate Finance Committee hearing Monday, Sens. Kirk Watson of Austin and Charles Schwertner of Georgetown asked Legislative Budget Board staffers about how it might work.

It turns out that the enabling legislation for that referendum included an escape hatch, in which a two-thirds vote can be used to divert some of that $5 billion for other purposes. That probably won’t happen, though I presume it’s no less likely than a vote to tap the Rainy Day Fund to get through this session and hope that things will be better in 2019. We can certainly debate whether it should happen or not, but my reason for highlighting this is that it’s yet another example of why artificial budget constraints are so often a bad idea, whose main effect is to force budget writers to come up with creative ways around said constraints. I say it’s more honest to just let them have the flexibility to figure it out rather than be forced into certain choices, but that’s not how we do things.

Artists against SB6

I’m glad to see this, but I have some questions.

More than 135 musicians and artists are joining the chorus of opposition against Texas’ so-called “bathroom bill.”

Singers and other artists including Lady Gaga, Cyndi Lauper, Alicia Keys have signed onto an open letter asking Texas lawmakers to stand down from passing Senate Bill 6 and other anti-LGBT legislation under consideration by the state legislature. The letter was also signed by actors including Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, Jimmy Kimmel, Ewan McGregor, George Takei, and Amy Poehler.

“Please know that the creative community is watching Texas, with love for all of its people and for its contributions to music, art and culture,” the letter reads. “We are deeply troubled by the current legislation that would target the LGBTQ community in Texas.”

The letter singles out Senate Bill 6 — which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools and government building based on “biological sex” and would override local laws that allow transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity — and a similar measure, House Bill 1362. But it also mentions other legislation that advocates have flagged as discriminatory or harmful toward LGBT residents.

The letter is here, and it is being actively circulated so more names will be added to it. There are links from there to donate to Equality Texas and send an email to a legislator, both of which are fine though we know by now that calling is a much more effective tactic, at least if you can get through. There’s no indication that the people who signed are promising to take any action beyond “watching” if SB6 passes; the Trib story notes that some of the musicians have Texas tour dates on their calendars, but that’s about it. Perhaps it’s a bit premature to talk about specific actions, but others have done so already. I would have liked to have heard something more direct about future plans; maybe that will come later.

The email I received with the announcement of the letter included the note that “Signatories with Texas roots include Sarah Jaffe, Girl In A Coma, Natalie Maines, St. Vincent, FEA, and Guster”. I would hope that other Texas artists – many of them – will step up and include themselves as well. If they live here, they can vote here, and that would be the most powerful action they can take. The Chron has more.

The border tax effect on your food

You’re gonna pay more. Any questions?

The idea of a tariff on Mexican imports or a radical change to the North American Free Trade Agreement — another Trump promise — worries many Texas agriculture industry leaders, who say it is in the state’s best interest to continue fostering a positive trade relationship with Mexico rather than imposing tariffs on their imports.

Mexico is the state’s largest trade partner, overshadowing its two closest competitors, China and Canada, by billions of dollars. According to U.S. Census data, in 2015 Mexico imported more than $92 billion worth of goods from Texas, while Texas imported more $84 billion worth of goods from Mexico.

Luis Ribera, an associate professor at Texas A&M University’s Center for North American Studies, said any large-scale tariff on Mexican goods would hurt American consumers more than anyone else by making everything from avocados to tomatoes more expensive for Americans — or compelling Mexico to buy Texas-produced staples like wheat, beef and corn from other countries.

“We’re going to lose that market or (if we don’t) lose it, we’re going to get tariffs on the products that we send to Mexico,” Ribera said. “So it’s going to make our products less competitive when we compete with the rest of the world.”

Steelee Fischbacher, director of policy and marketing at the Texas Wheat Producers Board and Association, said a potential Mexican tax worries the Texas wheat industry because Mexico is the largest importer of hard red winter wheat, the top class of wheat produced in the state. In 2011, the U.S. exported 2.4 million metric tons of hard wheat to Mexico, according to a Texas A&M study.

“Being our number one customer, it’s a very critical market for us, especially in a time where we have low wheat prices,” she said, adding that Mexico has plenty of other potential trading partners for wheat such as Argentina, Canada and Australia.

This is Econ 101 stuff here, simple enough for even a bad high school student to grasp. And given his support for Dear Leader, it’s another way in which Dan Patrick is bad for Texas business and Texas’ economy. How much more evidence do you need, Texas Association of Business?