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August 18th, 2017:

Friday random ten – Back to back, part one

I’m baaaaaaaaaack…

1. Back Door Santa – Bon Jovi
2. Back Home Again In Indiana – Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins & Stan Getz
3. Back In Baby’s Arms – Patsy Cline
4. Back In Love Again – LTD
5. Back In My Arms Again – The Supremes
6. Back In The Day – Blues Traveler
7. Back In The High Life – Steve Winwood
8. Back In The Saddle – Aerosmith
9. Back In The USSR – Billy Joel
10. Back In Time – Huey Lewis & The News

Billy Joel’s “Back In The USSR” is of course from his live concert album in Russia. “Back In Time” is the other Huey Lewis single from Back To The Future. I think the only other artist besides Bon Jovi likely to produce a song called “Back Door Santa” is Sammy Hagar. Surely he has a cover version of this somewhere. Back next week with part 2.

Bond issue set for November

Should be pretty straightforward, though I suppose you never know.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

November’s ballot will feature $495 million in public improvement bonds after City Council agreed Wednesday to send the package to Houston voters.

The general bonds, which would not require a tax hike, would fund improvements to libraries and parks, as well as items like new police and fire trucks. They will appear alongside $1 billion in pension obligation bonds.

“Many of our police officers are driving in vehicles that are 10 to 11 years old, if not longer. Same thing for firefighters,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “Solid waste – driving in trucks that are stopping while they’re out collecting trash. So the public safety issue is important.”

In all, the bond package before voters asks for authorization to issue $159 million in public safety bonds, $104 million for parks, $109 million for general government improvements and $123 million for libraries.

[…]

The general bond measure before voters simply would authorize Houston to issue additional bonds. It would not obligate the city to further spending without City Council approval.

If voters agree, the pension obligation bonds set to appear alongside the improvement bonds would complete the mayor’s pension reform deal by infusing Houston’s underfunded police and municipal pensions with $1 billion.

See here for some background. The last bond elections we had in Houston were in 2012. All five passed, four with over 60% of the vote and the fifth with 55%, with turnout in the neighborhood of 400K. Suffice it to say, turnout will be lower this time around. My guess for the baseline is in the 50-75K range, with the possibility of a bit more if the firefighters’ pay parity proposal is on the ballot and there’s a lot of money spent on it one way or the other. I don’t think this lower level of turnout affects the odds of passage in either direction. I do think the type of person who is likely to show up for this kind of issue is also the kind of person who probably supports bond issues; whether that gets us into 2012 range or not I couldn’t say. I also expect to take any polling for this with an enormous amount of salt. What do you think?

RK Sandill for State Supreme Court

Very good news, from the inbox:

Judge RK Sandill

The Supreme Court of Texas is elected to serve all of the nearly 28 million residents of our great state. Yet, after more than two decades of one-party rule, today’s Court is increasingly out of touch with the needs of everyday Texans.

On issues from public school finance to equal protection under the law, our state Supreme Court is ignoring its duties and instead catering to an extreme, special interest agenda.

It is time for a change.

I want you to know I’m running for the Supreme Court of Texas, Place 4, to restore an independent voice to our state’s highest judicial body and to focus on the rule of law, rather than a fringe ideological agenda.

I am a Texan — the proud son of immigrants — who grew up in a military family that knows the meaning of service. I have been a district court judge in our state’s largest county for nearly nine years. I am a husband, dad and cancer survivor. And I am running to serve all Texans.

I know this race won’t be easy. Texas is a big state and changing the status quo will be a challenge. I’m ready for the fight. Will you join me?

It is time our state’s highest court got back to working on behalf of everyday Texans.

I know Judge Sandill personally, and will attest he’s a super guy. He was elected in the 2008 Harris County Democratic wave, and won re-election in 2012 and 2016; he’s not on the ballot next year, so he does not have to decide between running again for the same position and trying to move up. His opponent is the execrable John Devine, who was the one Supreme Court justice to dissent when that court originally declined to take up the appeal of the Houston spousal benefits lawsuit. Devine isn’t qualified to be a district court judge, but there he is on the top bench in the state. Almost anyone would be an improvement, but Judge Sandill would be a vastly better jurist. Here’s his website and Facebook page. Get to know him if you don’t already, and give him some support.

Texas Central picks builders

Noted for the record.

Backers of a Texas bullet train are moving to the next stop, selecting a team to build the Houston-to-Dallas line, despite not having a clear shot – yet – at construction.

Texas Central on Monday morning announced it reached agreement with Irving-based Fluor Enterprises and The Lane Construction Corporation, based in Connecticut, for further refinement and study of the proposed route. Once financing for the project, expected to cost at least $12 billion, is secured and federal approvals are obtained, the companies would then be the primary design-builders of the line.

[…]

Texas Central, which despite some opposition emerged from the state legislative session unscathed, is also awaiting a federal environmental process necessary to proceed. Company officials are also lining up financing for the project. Any construction will have to wait for those outcomes.

In 2014, officials predicted work would start by 2017. Based on typical timelines for federal review, the earliest construction could start on the line would be late 2018, meaning a 2023 completion, according to Texas Central’s previous timelines.

The company also continues to face opposition, especially in rural areas of Texas where some landowners remain steadfast in not selling their land, and local elected officials have said the project provides little benefit.

I post this not because it’s particularly interesting but to put a pin in where we stand today. Texas Central survived the legislative session without anything bad happening to them, and if all goes more or less as they say, they will have started construction on the line by the time the 2019 Lege gavels in. Will that be sufficient insurance against further legislative meddling? Maybe, I don’t know. On the one hand, a project in progress ought to be harder to kill, but on the other hand since this project will necessarily involve some taking of land, that may just amp up the urgency. Ask me again in January of 2019.

Assuming the legislative field is clear for now, the remaining hurdles are as noted the draft environmental impact statement, and the ongoing legal skirmishes regarding whether or not Texas Central qualifies as a “railroad” and thus can exercise eminent domain. I don’t expect anything weird from the DEIS though one never knows. What I really don’t know is what happens if individual landowners can keep TCR away from their property. If they don’t have any legal leverage, I’m not sure how this thing gets built. I’m sure TCR has its best people working on that, so we’ll just have to see how it plays out.