Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

March 18th, 2017:

Saturday video break: Out Of The Blue

Here’s Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour playing a tune from his 1984 solo album About Face:

I love finding concert footage like this on YouTube. The sound quality isn’t always this good, but seeing musicians like Gilmour in their prime just thrills me. I love how good his live version of this song is. Some acts are best off never leaving the studio, if you know what I mean. Gilmour knows how to bring it. Do yourself a favor and check out all of About Face, it’s one of my faves. Now here’s another live video, featuring Roxy Music:

When was the last time you saw someone play an oboe in a rock band? And a translucent electric violin, too. Gotta love 70s art rock.

House considers a bigger ask from the Rainy Day Fund

Needs must, as they say.

The proposal from state Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican and the House’s chief budget writer, would withdraw about $2.4 billion from the Rainy Day Fund as part of a supplemental budget to pay bills coming due for programs like Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled, and to pay for repairs to state-run institutions including mental hospitals and the School for the Deaf.

Previously, Zerwas advocated spending about $1.4 billion from the fund, which holds about $10 billion currently. He updated his proposal at Thursday’s meeting of the House Appropriations Committee, saying that without making a “modest withdrawal” from the savings fund, budget writers would be forced to make draconian cuts to public programs.

Entities that face budget cuts absent a cash infusion include the state’s public education system, pensions for retired teachers, and the Texas child welfare and foster care system charged with protecting vulnerable children from abuse and neglect, Zerwas said.

“Some members of our body have said publicly that our situation isn’t really that bad,” he said. “I can’t disagree more with that.”

Most legislative sessions, the Texas Legislature does not fully fund the cost of state programs, so lawmakers must typically pass a supplemental bill to cover the rest. Zerwas’ proposal would net some matching federal dollars, bringing the total value of the bill to $5.2 billion, officials said. About $3 billion would plug funding holes left by lawmakers in 2015, mostly in Medicaid and in a health care program for the state prison system.

The rest would go toward current needs, such as “deferred maintenance” costs at state-run institutions including mental hospitals, many of which are in disrepair.

See here for the background. I approve of Zerwas’ approach and appreciate what he is saying, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that a big part of the problem he is trying to solve is self-inflicted. As the story notes, tax cuts passed in the last session, at a time when oil and gas prices were low and the state’s economy wasn’t doing so well, cost $4 billion this biennium, while the referendum to dedicate a portion of sales tax revenue to the state highway fund has taken $5 billion out of the general fund. Zerwas had to file a separate bill to claw some of that money back. These were choices made by the leadership and the Legislature, the former because tax cuts are Republican crack, and the latter because we absolutely, positively refuse to consider raising the gas tax to meet our road needs. Budget gimmicks are just that, and whatever they purport to do, there’s always another gimmick to undo it. As a certain former President once said, reality has a way of asserting itself.

Steve Stockman gets busted

Well, lookie here.

Steve Stockman

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, has been charged with violating federal election law.

Stockman conspired with former congressional employees to funnel money intended for a charity to his campaign, according to a sworn statement from an FBI agent unsealed Thursday. He is also accused of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission.

The allegations center on a $350,000 donation Stockman solicited from an unnamed businessman shortly after taking office in 2013, according to the statement. The money was supposed to go to a Las Vegas-based nonprofit called Life Without Limits, but Stockman instead “secretly diverted the funds to pay for a variety of personal expenses and to fund illegal contributions to Stockman’s campaigns for public office,” the statement said.

See here for my extensive Stockman archives. Here’s a longer story from the Chron:

Stockman said after the hearing that he had been targeted for speaking out against the Internal Revenue Service, and cited the right-wing conspiracy theory that contends bureaucrats are secretly running the U.S. government.

“This is part of a deep state that’s continuing to progress,” he said.

[…]

In court documents filed with the criminal complaint, the FBI agent said that shortly after Stockman took office for the second time in January 2013, he solicited a $350,000 donation from an unidentified “wealthy businessman” from Chicago on behalf of a Las Vegas-based nonprofit, Life Without Limits, which had been set up to help people through traumatic events.

The donation ostensibly was for renovation of a so-called Freedom House to serve as a meeting and training facility in Washington, D.C. The businessman’s charitable organization issued a check the same day.

Instead of going to the house project, however, the check was deposited six few days later in a Webster bank account set up by Stockman doing business as Life Without Limits – an account that had a balance of only $33.48 at the time, according to the agent.

“Beginning shortly after the $350,000 charitable donation was deposited into his Life Without Limits account, rather than spending the money on the ‘Freedom House,’ Stockman secretly diverted the funds to pay for a variety of personal expenses and to fund illegal contributions to Stockman’s campaigns for public office,” the agent stated.

Records show he made no “significant” contributions toward the renovations and that the Freedom House never opened.

According to the agent, some of the funds were funneled directly into the campaign through “conduit contributors,” who received cash from the Life Without Limits account and then made contributions to Stockman’s campaign.

Outside of court on Friday, Stockman said the amount in dispute is $15,000 – not the $350,000 described in court. He did not explain the higher dollar amount.

He said he has been investigated by at least three grand juries over the past three years after he tried to have Lois Lerner of the IRS arrested for contempt of congress in July 2014.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from a nonprofit group that wanted to sue Lerner and other individual IRS officials for allegedly harassing tea party groups that applied for tax-exempt status with burdensome scrutiny in 2014.

As trouble follows Steve Stockman like flies follow a garbage truck, Stockman was investigated for ethical issues in 2014, during his one-term return to Congress after winning a multi-candidate primary for the new CD36. By the end of his term, he and three of his staffers had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury, which is what I presume led to this. There were also investigations by the House Ethics Committee, the Office of Congressional Ethics, and the Federal Elections Commission, which is an impressive amount of activity for one otherwise inconsequential single-term Congressperson. I’ll say again, he remains one of the most brilliant and underrated political performance artists of our time. We may never see his like again, though we may see his ass in jail by the time this is all said and done. Click2Houston, ThinkProgress, the Press, and Juanita have more.

Senate committee hears rideshare bills

One of these, in some form, is likely to become law.

Senate Bill 176, by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, and Senate Bill 361 by state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, received a joint hearing after [Senate Business & Commerce Committee] chairman Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, noted their similarities. Both bills establish a statewide framework to regulate ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft and undo local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models.

A majority of about 30 witnesses supported the bills at Tuesday’s hearing, including representatives with Uber and Lyft. Austin councilwoman Ellen Troxclair, who opposed the city’s ride-hailing rules last year, testified in favor of a state law that would override them. Troxclair said the departure of both ride-hailing companies hurt Austin businesses and led to a rise of a transportation black market.

“A Facebook group with over 40,000 members offers to connect people, anybody who wants a ride or anybody who’s willing to give one, regardless of an affiliation to a ride-sharing platform or a background check required,” she said.

Critics of the bills included the Texas Municipal League and Austin City Council member Ann Kitchen. Kitchen, the City Council member who introduced the rules establishing the Austin fingerprinting requirements that prompted Lyft and Uber to leave the city, defended the city’s fingerprinting requirement, and said that the city has fingerprinted 8,000 drivers. At the time the city adopted the rules, she said, the city’s police chief, Art Acevedo, told the council that fingerprinting increased security.

“Fingerprinting is the most effective means to make sure the person you are checking is the person who they say they are,” she said.

See here for some background. Both bills were left pending, but as noted I expect one of them to get a floor vote and to pass. There’s a very similar bill to these two in the House, authored by Rep. Chris Paddie. Any of them could wind up crossing the finish line, and I’ll be surprised if that doesn’t happen.

And on a somewhat tangential note:

Uber and Lyft ramped up their Texas lobby expenditures after Austin voters invited the ride-hailing giants to leave their hi-tech city in 2016 if they refused to comply with a local law requiring them to fingerprint their drivers.

With Texas lawmakers [Tuesday] considering several bills to block cities from regulating such ride companies,1 Uber has increased its state lobby spending 23 percent over last year. It now is spending up to $1.6 million on 26 lobbyists. Lyft meanwhile boosted its lobby spending 88 percent, to pay 14 lobbyists up to $760,000. Together, the two San Francisco-based
companies are spending up to $2.3 million to preempt the powers of local Texas governments.

The two ride giants handed out a total of $40,500 in corporate contributions in 2016 to Texas’ two dominant political parties and to several legislative caucuses.

[Tuesday] the Senate Business and Commerce Committee also is hearing proposals to prevent local governments from curtailing the use of plastic grocery bags or to regulate short-term property rentals.

You can think whatever you want about these bills, but you can’t argue that they don’t come cheap. The Austin Chronicle has more.