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May 10th, 2018:

Turner’s 2019 budget

Here’s the plan for making ends meet for next fiscal year.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts in July would close a shortfall of $114 million without employee layoffs by drawing down the city’s reserves, transferring money from special accounts to the general fund and cutting spending.

In a proposal unveiled Tuesday, Turner plans to spend $2.5 billion from the general fund, which is supported primarily by property and sales taxes and funds most core services, such as the police and fire departments, parks, libraries and trash pickup.

That is $83 million, or 3.5 percent, more than the current budget. The increase chiefly is driven by a $42 million increase in debt service, related mostly to the issuance last year of $1 billion in pension obligation bonds as part of the mayor’s pension reform package. Also driving the increase is $14 million in previously agreed to raises for police.

“This is a very, very tight budget,” Turner said. “I have scrubbed this budget, every line item that exists. I invite anyone to take a look underneath the hood. Because there are two departments that will always drive this budget: Police and fire.”

About 57 percent of the general fund, or $1.4 billion, goes to public safety – the police and fire departments, the municipal courts and emergency operations. Another $400 million goes to debt service. Parks, libraries, health services, trash pickup and most other city functions get the rest, about $672 million.

[…]

Turner acknowledged two key developments helped prevent layoffs in the proposed budget, providing most of the $84 million the mayor intends to pull from the city’s reserves to spend in the upcoming budget.

First, the city settled a lawsuit it had filed against Towers Watson, an actuarial firm it blamed for contributing to the city’s pension crisis, saying city officials’ reliance on the firm’s advice led them to boost benefits in 2001 and saddle taxpayers with unaffordable pensions costs. That settlement, which was approved by city council last month, injected $29 million into the general fund.

The city also, as it routinely does, conservatively estimated the sales tax revenues it would receive in the current budget year. As a result, the city collected an “extra” $28 million that will be available for the upcoming budget year.

Yeah, that pension projection lawsuit settlement sure came in handy. I don’t know what rabbits there will be to pull out of next year’s hat, however. We’ll see what Council makes of this when it comes to them for a vote.

The crossover question

From G. Elliott Morris, reviewing the recent AZ-08 special Congressional election:

The second thing to learn from AZ-08 helps explain the first: if Democrats aren’t winning because of differential turnout (or, not solely because of differential turnout), why are they? The only explanation is that Republicans are crossing over to vote for Democrats](https://twitter.com/geoffreyvs/status/988982464524750853). This is clear as day in the early voting numbers from Arizona’s 8th.

Here are the data: In the 155,000 early/absentee mail-in ballots cast in last night’s contest, Republicans ran a 21-point margin in party registration. One would assume (perhaps naively, as candidates from one party aren’t wed to that candidate) that this would give them a 21-point margin in actual ballots cast for either ticket. As I explained on my blog this assumption could go wrong for many reasons:

Early voting data are not “real results,” per se, despite what some analysts would have you believe, since partisanship does not equal vote choice. Though they are very correlated in modern America it is not a safe bet to assume all GOP ballots are for GOP candidates, and vice versa for Democratic voters and candidates. Such assumptions would have led us quite astray in the Texas primaries where Democrats cast more early votes than Republicans for the first time since 2010, but cast just 40% of total votes in the D or R primaries.

Indeed, the early vote did mislead. Debbie Lesko won these “R+21” early votes by just a 6-point margin, meaning there was enough persuasion of Republicans to Tipirneni’s side to move the needle fifteen points. That is certainly (or, at the very least, it ought to be) enough to make many Republican elected officials shake in their boots.

There is an extra point to be made here: even in a contest where 75% of ballots are cast early, our analysis of those results can often go wrong. Stick (though not exclusively) to the polls, folks; Emerson College pegged Lesko’s lead at 6 points. She won by 6.

Hold that thought, because Harry Enten was thinking along similar lines.

Republicans turned out in this election. The relative difference between Democrats and Republicans in registration among those who voted was about equal to overall registration figures. The number of people who voted in the special is fairly close to the number who voted in the the district during the last midterm election, in 2014. That’s not surprising because it is easy to vote early and by mail in Arizona. This allowed Republicans, who perhaps might have be been uninspired, to cast ballots without too much hassle.

It also means, however, that poor turnout is not an excuse for Republicans in this race. One common reason to be cautious of the special election results so far has been low turnout. Yet this election, like Pennsylvania 18 last month, saw turnout close to or exceeding 2014 levels, and Republicans trailed greatly behind the partisan baseline of these districts.

Finally, Republicans had a good candidate in Lesko. She had no major scandals and raised plenty of money. One of the excuses in previous elections that Republicans lost like Alabama US Senate (with Republican Roy Moore) and Pennsylvania 18 (with Republican Rick Saccone) was that the Republican was either scandal plagued or didn’t know how to raise funds. Lesko wasn’t either of those, and there was still a significant shift to the left.

Martin Longman and Ed Kilgore also discuss this evidence from the special elections that some non-trivial number of people who had identified (or registered, in the states that do that) as Republicans have not been voting for Republican candidates. Kilgore notes that national polling indicates that independents are pretty heavily negative on Donald Trump, which I will note is in line with that Quinnipiac Texas poll that had some people loudly complaining.

Now as always, it’s hard to say how much the national atmosphere applies to Texas, though it’s pretty clear that the state was an accurate reflection of said mood in 2006 and 2010 and 2014. To the extent that Democrats have a shot at winning races here that they haven’t won before, the formula starts with a boost in base turnout, because being outvoted by a million people statewide is not a good recipe for success. But if more Democrats showing up can put certain candidates in range, then a sufficient number of crossovers could put them the rest of the way over the top. To cite two recent examples, about 300,000 people who otherwise voted Republican voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and for Bill White in 2010. Neither candidate won, but in a context where base Democratic voting was higher, they could have.

How much of this happens this November, statewide and in the various specific districts of interest, is anyone’s guess right now, but may become clearer as we get more polling results. The point I’m making here is that there is evidence of it happening with Republicans elsewhere, and that this has been a part of the Democratic improvement in recent elections. In the absence of more polls like that Q-pac poll we can’t assume it’s happening here, but in the absence of more polls that aren’t like that Q-pac poll we can’t assume it’s not happening, either.

MS Houston

Meet our new technical overlords.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Microsoft will provide STEM education at schools, teach computer literacy skills to adults and transform Houston into a “Smart City” as part of a new partnership announced Friday.

“These sort of efforts become infectious and contagious,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Because of their presence, and the strength of their presence … I would venture to say that others will be motivated to do the same.”

Microsoft’s educational efforts will help boost the existing workforce while fostering the next generation of technology innovators. The Smart Cities element will look at improving city functions by adding sensors, collecting data and finding more efficient solutions.

Sensors, for instance, could be used to track buses and find more optimal routes that would have less congestion while being convenient for more people. It could also be used to determine if a bus is being driven too aggressively and consuming more gasoline than it otherwise would, said Cameron Carr, director of Internet of Things and Solutions for Microsoft.

After events like Hurricane Harvey, drones could be used to find people needing assistance or to determine areas that are flooded and impassible.

“We are right on the edge of creating this bold new world,” Carr said.

The Microsoft announcement is the latest in a string of technology developments as Houston seeks to become a hub for high-tech startups and venture capital.

Here’s the Mayor’s press release, which contains a few more details. It’s a little hard to say what this means right now – more specifically, it’s a little hard to say how long it will take for much of this to get rolled out – but I’m sure we’ll be seeing announcements soon. Putting my professional hat on for a moment, I hope this agreement includes security monitoring and incident response for all these IoT devices. Dwight Silverman has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of May 7

The Texas Progressive Alliance stands with Michelle Wolf as it brings you this week’s First Amendment-loving roundup.

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