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March 20th, 2019:

Precinct analysis: 2018 Congress

The 2018 Congressional races were the most expensive, the most hotly and broadly contested, and by far the most attention-grabbing races in the non-Beto division. We hadn’t seen anything remotely like it since the 2004 DeLay re-redistricting year, but we will see another round of it next year. Let’s break it all down, starting with the two districts where Dems picked up seats.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
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CD07   52.5%   53.3%   45.8%   51.3%   52.3%   51.4%   45.9%
CD32   52.3%   54.9%   46.3%   51.6%   52.8%   51.3%   47.3%

Note that while Lizzie Fletcher had a slightly higher percentage than Colin Allred, Allred had a larger margin of victory, as there was a Libertarian candidate in CD32 who took two percent, thus giving Allred a six-and-a-half point win. As with the State Senate, I don’t believe these districts shift as far as they do in a Democratic direction without a significant number of habitual Republicans voting for Democratic candidates. Turnout was certainly a factor in the overall result, and that was driven by voter registration and relentless GOTV efforts, but these districts were plenty red below the Presidential level in 2016. Republicans other than Trump were still carrying these districts by double digits. And even in 2018, you can see that Republicans that didn’t carry a significant amount of Trump taint still did well. I believe conditions in 2020 will be similar to what they were in 2018 and as such make Fletcher and Allred early favorite to win. Ask me again next year at this time.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
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CD10   46.8%   49.6%   43.9%   47.9%   48.4%   47.7%   44.9%
CD23   48.7%   52.1%   45.7%   49.4%   50.4%   50.3%   48.0%
CD24   47.5%   51.3%   43.7%   48.1%   49.2%   48.1%   44.9%

These are the districts Beto won but Republicans held. As SD08 was the Senate district that got away, so was CD24 for Congress. The difference is that SD08 had a candidate that raised money and had a visible campaign, with SD08 being far enough down the target list that no one really saw it coming as a close race. CD24 should have been on the list after 2016, but for whatever the reason it wasn’t. You just have to wonder what might have been. Mike Siegel did a good job with CD10 and will be back in 2018, hopefully with more help from the beginning. I still don’t know what to make of CD23, which was clearly winnable on paper but wasn’t as Democratic as I thought it would be given the overall conditions. Someone needs to do a deep dive and figure that out, or we’re going to keep pouring in millions of dollars and getting close losses to Will Hurd, who still hasn’t topped fifty percent in any race he’s run. Gina Ortiz Jones seems poised to run again, though I expect she’ll have company in the primary.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
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CD02   45.6%   49.0%   42.7%   47.0%   47.8%   47.2%   43.2%
CD03   44.2%   47.9%   40.5%   45.0%   46.0%   44.5%   41.8%
CD06   45.4%   48.0%   42.2%   46.1%   46.7%   46.0%   43.5%
CD21   47.6%   49.5%   42.8%   46.8%   47.8%   46.9%   43.4%
CD22   46.4%   49.3%   42.9%   46.9%   47.9%   47.9%   44.6%
CD25   44.8%   47.0%   40.6%   45.0%   45.7%   44.6%   41.8%
CD31   47.7%   48.4%   41.5%   45.5%   46.4%   45.3%   42.9%

These were the other competitive districts; each Dem finished within ten points of the Republican winner. CDs 21, 22, and 31 are on the DCCC list for 2020. Honestly, I think all seven of these deserve at least second-tier consideration. Note that MJ Hegar outperformed every Dem other than Beto, while Joe Kopser outperformed them all other than Beto and Justin Nelson. Only Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred can make those claims. If Texas really is winnable by the Democratic Presidential nominee, well, you can imagine the possibilities. Keep an eye on CD02, which I believe will benefit from being in Harris County in a Presidential year, and CD03, where Collin County will have a couple of hot State House races.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
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CD12   33.9%   39.1%   33.5%   37.0%   37.6%   36.7%   34.2%
CD14   39.3%   41.1%   36.8%   40.2%   40.7%   40.6%   38.4%
CD17   41.3%   44.8%   39.3%   43.6%   43.4%   42.9%   40.1%
CD26   39.0%   42.5%   35.8%   39.6%   40.3%   39.2%   36.4%
CD27   36.6%   38.9%   33.0%   38.0%   38.3%   38.5%   36.0%
CD36   27.4%   28.0%   24.5%   28.0%   28.0%   27.8%   25.7%

These are the other races I followed, mostly because the candidates managed to raise a respectable – or, in Dayna Steele’s case, a truly remarkable – amount of money. CD17, which is mostly Brazos and McLennan and a piece of Travis counties, and CD26, which is mostly Denton with a bit of Tarrant, might bear watching in the way that CDs 03 and 25 did last year, if they get energetic and interesting candidates. It would take something truly seismic for more than that to happen.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
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CD15   59.7%   57.4%   51.3%   55.7%   56.8%   56.4%   56.2%
CD28      NA   58.7%   52.7%   57.0%   58.5%   57.8%   56.6%
CD34   60.0%   57.7%   50.1%   55.8%   57.0%   56.8%   55.9%

We’ll see something like this in the State House races as well, but Republicans do have some Democrats to target beyond Fletcher and Allred. I don’t think 2020 is the year for a real challenge, but in a bad year for Team Blue you can see where you’d need to concentrate your concern. Keep your eyes open for shenanigans with these districts when 2021 rolls around and new maps are drawn. I’d call that the real short-term danger.

Inevitably, we come back to a sales tax/property tax swap

It’s an idea we just can’t seem to quit.

Texas lawmakers are considering an infusion of $9 billion to improve public schools and lower property taxes over the next two years. The additional $6.3 billion in the classroom is being billed as a transformational effort to better educate the state’s 5.4 million students, while another $2.7 billion would stem the tide of escalating property taxes for homeowners.

“If we’re going to make some strides on these really big items, it really has to happen this session,” said Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, chairman of the influential Appropriations Committee.

While lawmakers are confident the state’s booming economy will provide big bucks to spend on public schools, they are also pitching a number of plans to increase the state sales tax in the future. The proposals include hiking taxes on items such as sweet snacks, gasoline, e-cigarette fluid and heavy machinery rentals. But the proposal with the most apparent momentum is a tax swap that would allow local governments to charge a higher sales tax in exchange for reducing property tax levies.

Even raising the sales tax by one percent “contributes a lot of money” that school districts, cities and counties could use to offset reductions in property tax revenue, Zerwas said. Some estimates predict such an increase would raise more than $5 billion a year. The statewide sales tax rate is now 6.25 percent a year. Local governments can add up to two percent.

Although Republicans are leading the charge with major tax swap proposals, it’s unclear how they will fare in the GOP-led House and Senate, particularly among lawmakers who narrowly won their reelections as Texas Democrats gain ground.

Financial implications of the bills are shaky. Several tax bills were filed a week ago, just under a deadline, and have yet to be analyzed by the Legislative Budget Board which predicts financial effects.

Increasing reliance on the sales tax troubles Eva DeLuna Castro, a budget and policy expert with the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities. Not only is a sales tax considered regressive for taking more money from low-income people than the rich, but its collections are more susceptible to the ups and downs of the economy, she said.

“You need to find a revenue source that doesn’t all the sudden tank on you. Or if you know that it is going to do that, you need to put most of it away for a rainy day and use it when that rainy day comes,” she said.

[…]

Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, is proposing Texas increase taxes on gasoline and close tax exemptions on items like ice cream, certain baked goods, e-cigarette vapor fluid and over-the-counter medicine.

“I don’t think people realize their ibuprofen is tax-free,” said Springer. In exchange, House Bill 2915 would allow the state to lower the maintenance and operations property tax that funds schools. His bill would also increase the homestead exemption to 50 percent of a home’s value. Texans in a home valued at $274,000 would average $1,400 a year in property tax relief, he said, amounting to $6.2 billion less in property tax collections statewide.

Another bill, House Joint Resolution 3, proposes inching up the sales tax and using money from that increase exclusively for public schools. The resolution is proposed by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, the architect of the House’s $9 billion school finance plan. The measure would require a vote in November to change the state Constitution and increase the statewide sales tax, which is now 6.25 percent. Huberty emphasized that raising the sales tax is just one measure under consideration, and that it’s still too early to pencil in numbers.

“We have to put more money into the system. It’s our responsibility,” Huberty said Thursday at an event hosted by the Texas Tribune.

Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie is proposing the state systematically examine each tax exemption every six years to decide whether it is needed. House Bill 3968 will raise revenue by expiring out-of-date tax “loopholes” over time, he said, and is a good alternative to raising sales taxes.

“It is important to note that Texas already has a high sales tax — 8.25 percent in most areas,” said Turner, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus. “The lower someone’s income, the more it hurts, so an increase in the sales tax will hurt a lot of Texas families.”

This comes up every few years – in 2005, in 2007, in the 2012 and 2014 elections – and each time we confront the fact that swapping property taxes for sales taxes greatly benefits property owners while burdening lower income folks the most. That’s a feature and not a bug, as far as its Republican advocates are concerned. I appreciate that at least this time it’s being proposed in the context of putting more money into schools, which would then have the effect of easing the pressure on local property taxes, but the same problem remains. Rep. Turner’s proposal to evaluate tax breaks also comes up whenever sales-tax-increase bills are filed, and it usually gets quietly ignored as the higher-profile swap bills eventually die. It’s still a good idea, it just never gets any momentum behind it. Rep. Springer’s idea to expand the sales tax to more things also comes up in conjunction with swap bills, and there is merit to this approach as well, though the real money is in taxing services, which is pretty much as big a taboo as an income tax is.

To review: I support requiring a process to scrutinize and sunset every tax break we have on the books, and I support at least exploring the imposition of a sales tax on selected goods and services where it is not currently imposed. If the goal of that is to put more state money into public education, and one result is that it allows local governments to ease up on property tax collections because they are no longer trying to make up for the state’s inadequacies, I would consider that a good outcome. The Trib has more.

Driverless grocery deliveries

Coming soon to Houston.

Some local shoppers soon could see their produce pull up in a Prius in one of the first forays into autonomous vehicles in the Houston area, a move observers said is sure to spur more robot deliveries in the region.

Following its launch in suburban Phoenix, California-based robotics company Nuro will debut automated deliveries at Kroger supermarkets on Buffalo Speedway and South Post Oak, with each store serving two zip codes. Officials did not specify an exact date for deliveries to start, only that the vehicles are in place and operation will start before summer.

“We want to learn as much as possible when we are out there,” said Dave Ferguson, co-founder of Nuro.

The zip codes covered will be 77401 and 77096 at the South Post Oak store, and 77005 and 77025 from the Buffalo Speedway location.

Deliveries will cost a flat fee of $5.95 regardless of delivery size or value, said Matt Thompson, vice president of digital business for Kroger. In Phoenix, delivery is to one zip code around a Fry’s market, a Kroger subsidiary.

“We are really encouraged about the repeat rate we are seeing from the Phoenix area,” Thompson said.

[…]

As Nuro did in Phoenix, deliveries will begin using converted Toyota Prius sedans. Customers will order their groceries online via Kroger and choose delivery instead of pickup. The store, working with Nuro, will load the vehicle and notify the buyer the delivery is on its way. Dispatchers hired by Nuro will monitor the trip from an office in Houston.

Eventually, the sedans will be replaced by Nuro’s own all-electric vehicle, the R1, which is built especially for deliveries. The vehicle, with a top speed of 25 mph, is capable of holding six grocery bags in a compartment, with two compartments per vehicle. The company is working on a second generation vehicle capable of holding ten full grocery bags in each compartment, with refrigeration built into the electric vehicle.

As the story notes, using autonomous cars for deliveries rather than for transporting passengers might be an easier path to optimizing the service and getting widespread acceptance, since deliveries are less time-sensitive and the ride experience is irrelevant. This would be the first implementation of autonomous vehicles in Houston, as Metro’s planned TSU shuttle has been delayed. Multiple cities in Texas have been investigating or piloting autonomous cars since the Lege passed a law in 2017 allowing for it. At this point, there have been a lot of tests or announcements of tests, but I haven’t seen any reporting on how successful they’ve been as yet. We’ll see how this one goes. Would you use a service like this?