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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.

(more…)

No Metro vote this year

One thing that won’t be on your ballot this fall.

Voters will have to wait a few more months to decide Houston’s transit future, as Metro officials said Monday they are taking a more deliberative approach to developing a long-term plan for bus and rail service.

“We really want to get it right,” said Carrin Patman, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority board of directors.

As a result, Patman said she has no intention of placing any bond referendums in front of voters in Harris County and Missouri City in November, a delay from earlier plans for the MetroNEXT process.

[…]

Patman said she wants more analysis of possible modes along certain routes, something that could take staff more time to develop.

“We need to do a more thorough evaluation for each mode along each corridor,” she said. “Before we go to the voters, we need to take our best information back to them.”

Plans for MetroNEXT should be finalized by the end of the year, she said.

It was about this time last year that we learned there would be no Metro vote in 2017. I was hoping we’d get a vote this year, but ultimately I’d rather Metro get all their ducks in a row before they put something out there. We know there’s no such thing as a non-controversial Metro referendum, so best to have all the details nailed down and as much support as possible in place for each item. I am very much looking forward to the finished product.

Dallas Republicans ordered to pay legal costs in their failed ballot access lawsuit

Cue the sad trombone.

The Dallas County Republican Party will have to pay more than $51,000 to Dallas County Democrats for attorney fees incurred in defending the GOP’s attempt to remove dozens of Democrats from election ballots.

In his final order for the case, state District Judge Eric Moyé ordered the plaintiffs to pay Democrats for the work of three lawyers in the case. The bulk of the $51,600 — more than $32,000 — was awarded to the Dallas County Democratic Party to pay its lawyer in the case, Randy Johnston. The action came after Moyé dismissed the case late last month.

“This is totally a self-inflicted wound on the Republican Party,” Johnston said Monday. “I told them from the start this was a fatally flawed, frivolous lawsuit, but no one would listen. They attacked the trial judge, they attacked the Democratic Party Chair, and they attacked 127 qualified candidates. And they lost it all. Totally self-inflicted and they have no one to blame but themselves.”

Elizabeth Alvarez Bingham, the lawyer for the Dallas County GOP, said she had not seen Moyé’s order. She said state law “exempts us from attorney fee awards because we used a public figure” to file the case. Missy Shorey, the Dallas County GOP party chair, was the plaintiff.

Bingham, who earlier argued unsuccessfully that Moyé should be removed from the case because he recused himself on another ballot challenge, said she was told she had until Monday to argue against her client having to pay lawyer fees.

See here for the background. Good luck with those arguments, Dallas GOP, which did file a response and will get a hearing on Monday for the judge to reconsider. I admit it made me sweat for awhile, but this lawsuit was just too clever by half. The people that filed it deserve their fate. The Dallas Observer has more.

Time for an update on that other high speed rail line

It’s been awhile.

TexasOklahomaPassengerRailStudyRoutes

Backers continue to move along on plans to build a bullet-train route between Dallas and Houston, but it’s not the only high-speed passenger rail project on Texas drawing boards.

With a proposal to run between cities such as Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, San Antonio and Laredo, the project recently got a green light for new money to do further study.

“We’re still an embryo,” said Kevin Feldt, a North Central Texas Council of Governments program manager overseeing the high-speed rail project regionally. “We’re still in the first week or two of pregnancy.”

Nobody has begun buying right of way or buying trains, let alone figured out funding and finance — topics that can fire skepticism about the passenger rail’s ability to break even or turn a profit — but there’s now an environmental impact statement, and potential investors have come calling.

“Suffice it to say, there’s interest in developing (from) Fort Worth southward, possibly to Monterrey, Mexico,” Feldt said. “We’ve had the French and Chinese and Spanish come to us and meet with us to talk about it.

“Some wanted to do one piece; we had others who wanted to do everything.”

The proposed line from North Texas cities — Dallas and Arlington included — is part of an 850-mile project called the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Program Corridor.

[…]

Feldt said that whatever comes out of the next round of study, actually building a high-speed passenger rail — not to mention a Hyperloop system — will be “a lot more complex” than the challenges the private company working to roll out the Dallas/Houston passenger train has encountered.

The Dallas/Houston corridor is not only flatter and easier to run a high-speed train across, but less populous.

Still, like Feldt, Bill Meadows, who chairs the Commission for High Speed Rail in the Dallas/Fort Worth Region, noted the interest from Chinese and French rail representatives in discussing a public-private project here.

And, said Meadows, “They like the (Interstate) 35 corridor better than the (Interstate) 45 corridor.”

See here for the last update that I have, from July of 2016. Since then, the Draft Environmental Study has been completed, which “formally identifies seven Selected Alternatives that will serve as the framework for future investment in new and improved conventional and high-speed passenger rail service in three regions between Oklahoma City and South Texas”. The story also mentions the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, for which Texas remains in contention, though it’s not clear to me from the story how it fits in here. There’s lots of other obstacles that will need to be cleared for anything tangible to happen here, from choosing a single route to putting together financing and governance, to overcoming the inevitable political opposition. But things continue to move, and at this stage that’s about all you can ask for.

Abbott approves August flood bond referendum

One more step forward.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday approved Harris County’s request to call a multi-billion-dollar bond election to pay for flood control measures on Aug. 25, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey.

By state law, the county needed Abbott’s permission to call the “emergency special election” in spite of his oft-stated goal of reducing property taxes. The flood control bond package almost certainly will be accompanied by an increase in Harris County’s property tax rate.

Abbott granted the county’s request to put the issue to the voters, affirming his stated belief that responding to Harvey does “qualify as an emergency” and stating that he is “committed to working with Harris County to achieve its goals in the most efficient way possible.”

“As this request for an emergency special election was duly passed by a unanimous vote of the Harris County Commissioners Court, I hereby grant approval as governor of Texas for this emergency special election to be called for bonds to fund flood-related mitigation projects that respond to Hurricane Harvey,” Abbott wrote in a letter accompanying his decision.

[…]

The county plans to launch a public outreach campaign to seek input on what to include in the bond package, as well as drum up support for the measure. [County Judge Ed] Emmett said the focus would be on helping the most people possible.

“The worst thing we can do is say, ‘Just give us money and trust us,’” Emmett said. “It’s got to be a very open, transparent process.”

See here for the background. Commissioners Court still has to officially call the election, which means they have to define what the issue covers and what the wording of the referendum will be. There’s stuff in the story about that, but we’re not really any farther along than the “well, we could have this and we could have that” stage yet. That will all work itself out one way or another.

I’m more interested in the politics of this. What will the county’s strategy be to sell people on this idea and get them to come out at a weird time of year to vote for it? Who will spearhead the effort, and how much money will they spend on it? Who will be on Team Referendum, and who (if anyone) will stand in opposition? As I’ve said before, while city of Houston bonds tend to pass with room to spare, Harris County bonds tend to have less margin for error, and can’t be assumed to be favored even in the absence of organized resistance. They’re going to need to figure out what this thing is quickly so they can start selling it ASAP. Among other things, the difference between an election in August and an election in November is that people expect to vote in the latter. The first part of the sales job is going to be making sure people know that they need to vote at a different time. I’ll be keeping a close watch on this.

November special election in HD62

Because I’m a completist, I bring your attention to news like this.

Rep. Larry Phillips

Gov. Greg Abbott has set a Nov. 6 special election to fill former state Rep. Larry Phillips’ seat in North Texas. That’s the same day voters will head to the polls to cast ballots in statewide, congressional and other state legislative races.

Phillips, a Sherman Republican who chairs the House Insurance Committee, submitted his resignation last week — effective Monday — after previously announcing he would not run for re-election. He is instead running for district judge in Grayson County. He won the Republican primary last month and does not have a Democratic opponent in the fall.

[…]

A race is currently underway to take over the seat for a full term starting next year. Republicans Brent Lawson and Reggie Smith are in a runoff, while Valerie Hefner is the Democratic nominee.

I point this out not because there’s anything interesting about this district that went 75.4% for Trump in 2016 but because this is what I had envisioned for SD06 post-Sylvia Garcia. If Sen. Garcia changes her mind and steps down in the next couple of months – the filing date for the HD62 special election is August 23, which is about the time when counties need to get absentee ballots printed for November, thus basically making that the de facto deadline for anything to be included in November – then even with a December runoff, SD06 will have someone in place when the gavel falls in January. The next Senator in SD06 will be there to vote on the rules for the chamber, and to put their name in for the committee assignments they want. None of those things will happen with a January special election. This needs more attention, because it’s a big deal. The people in SD06 deserve to have a Senator in place on day one. Only Sen. Garcia can ensure that happens.

Santos calls on Skillern-Jones to step down as HISD President

This happened last week. I’ve been waiting to see if there will be anything more to it.

Elizabeth Santos

Houston ISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos on Thursday called for school board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, to “immediately step down” from her position in light of last week’s heated board meeting, which resulted in two arrests and dozens of community members temporarily booted from the district administration building.

In a message shared on Facebook, Santos said Skillern-Jones’s “wholly unjustified” actions at last week’s board meeting have eroded public trust, prompting her call for Skillern-Jones to relinquish her post as board president. Santos did not demand Skillern-Jones resign her position as a trustee. She is the only member of the nine-person board who publicly has called for Skillern-Jones to give up her post, though other trustees have criticized Skillern-Jones’s handling of last week’s meeting.

“Right now, the shame of our actions and inactions at the April 24 board meeting looms over our board,” Santos wrote. “It clouds our decisions and intentions from proper public scrutiny and erodes the trust our community places in us.”

[…]

In a Facebook post the day after last week’s meeting, Skillern-Jones wrote, in part: “I hoped we could calm the tension and return for an orderly meeting. Unfortunately, the situation escalated and subsequently caused many unintended consequences. I’m saddened at this outcome as it was not at all what I wanted. I take responsibility for calling this recess and am regretful it only created more discord.”

Many crowd members who were ordered to leave last week’s meeting have called on Skillern-Jones to step down as board president. Reached by phone Thursday, HISD trustees Wanda Adams, Jolanda Jones and Sue Deigaard did not echo those calls.

“Many may not support her actions and the way it was done, but this doesn’t warrant stepping down as board president,” Adams said. She added that she believes it was “not proper” for Santos to publicly call on Skillern-Jones to step down without talking to the entire board of trustees.

Deigaard said she is listening to many different stakeholders — including parents who have not been vocal at community and board meetings — as she contemplates whether to support Skillern-Jones’ continued leadership of trustees. She called last week’s meeting “a powder keg” that could have been better diffused on all sides.

“I’m a very pensive person. I’m not a reactive person,” Deigaard said. “I’m looking at, long-term, what is the healthiest thing for the governance of our district so that we can focus on kids.”

See here for some background. Santos’ Facebook post, which had been shared 159 times as of this writing, is here; Skillern-Jones’ statement after the meeting mess is here. There’s no defending what happened at that HISD board meeting, and in fact a couple of trustees – Anne Sung and Jolanda Jones in particular – put out statements following that meeting apologizing for what happened. As far as I can tell from scanning Facebook, however, no other trustees have echoed or supported Santos’ call for Skillern-Jones to cede the role of President to someone else.

I am sure that the bylaws of the HISD Board of Trustees includes a provision for removing someone as Board President. If the goal is to get Rhonda Skillern-Jones to step down from that role, then a trustee could follow that route, or could simply get enough members on board with the idea and then approach her with that information so she could step down voluntarily. It doesn’t appear that anything like that has happened here, so I don’t know what comes next. But if it’s going to involve a change in the officers of the HISD Board, it’s going to need to take more than this.

Interview with Mike Siegel

Mike Siegel

Early voting for the primary runoffs begins in a week, running from Monday through Friday, with Tuesday the 22nd being the vote-at-your-precinct-location day. I’ll have more information about that later, but for now I have one more interview to present. Mike Siegel led the field of seven in CD10 in March with 40% of the vote. Sigel is an Assistant City Attorney for the city of Austin, leading their efforts in the litigation against the “sanctuary cities” law. He served in the Teach for America corps out of college and later co-founded two nonprofit education organizations. Here’s what we talked about:

You can still find information about Congressional candidates on my 2018 Congressional webpage. I did not reach out to the other candidate in the runoff, Tawana Cadien, who was the Democratic nominee in CD10 in each of the last three elections, as she has not yet filed a campaign finance report for Q1 2018 and doesn’t appear to be doing much campaigning. I did interview her in 2012 if you’d like to listen to that.

Beto and Ted

¡Dale!

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, has invited U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to participate in six debates with O’Rourke across Texas, two of them in Spanish, during their U.S. Senate race.

O’Rourke campaign manager Jody Casey made the proposal in a letter last week to Cruz’s senior staff, adding that the debates should have “media reach to all twenty markets in the state.”

“I would like to begin direct coordination of the debates with your campaign team between now and May 10th,” Casey wrote to Cruz advisers Bryan English and Eric Hollander in the April 24 letter. “Please advise my best point of contact on the Cruz campaign team.”

Cruz previously suggested he is open to debating O’Rourke. Cruz’s campaign said in response to the letter that it was exploring its options.

[…]

After a campaign event Tuesday afternoon in San Antonio, Cruz admitted to reporters that his Spanish “remains lousy” before offering a sentence in the language: “I understand almost everything, but I can’t speak like I want to.” Cruz, whose father came to America from Cuba, chalked up his shoddy Spanish skills to “the curse of the second-generation immigrant,” adding that he suspects many in the Hispanic community can relate.

“A debate in Spanish would not be very good because my Spanish isn’t good enough, but I look forward to debating Congressman O’Rourke,” Cruz said.

I’m sure Beto would be kind enough to let you use Google Translate during the debates, Ted. I think the world is owed these debates. The entertainment value alone is off the charts. and yes, I know, as does Beto, that Cruz was a champion debater in college. So what? This isn’t to be done in front of speech and debate nerds, for competition. It’s to be done in front of voters, for likability and persuasion. Who do you think might be favored in those departments?

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Senate campaign.

The U.S. Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke is trending into new territory: the war on drugs.

It is a familiar topic for O’Rourke, a Democratic congressman who has earned a national reputation as an advocate for marijuana legalization since his days on the El Paso City Council. Yet it hadn’t become an issue in the Senate contest until now, as Cruz, the Republican incumbent, ramps up his general election crusade to paint O’Rourke as too liberal for Texas.

Cruz opened the new front Tuesday as he seized on a story published by the Daily Caller, a conservative news site, that claimed O’Rourke “once advocated for the legalization of all narcotics.” The story cited an episode on the El Paso City Council in 2009 where O’Rourke successfully — and controversially — amended a resolution about the war on drugs to urge for an “honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.”

[…]

O’Rourke has not made marijuana legalization a major part of his U.S. Senate campaign. But at town halls and other campaign events, he does not shy away from the topic when the discussion turns toward it or when he is directly asked about it.

Such was the case Saturday morning as O’Rourke made a campaign stop in Sonora, a small city on the western edge of the Hill Country. Soon after he slid into a booth with patrons at a donut shop, he was fielding questions for several minutes about marijuana legalization.

“I’m on a bill that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana once and for all,” O’Rourke told them, later lamenting that the United States is “spending on that war on drugs right now when we could put it into the classroom, into teacher pay, into treating an opioid epidemic, a methamphetamine epidemic that I’m seeing through lots of West Texas right now.”

Cruz, for his part, has long maintained marijuana legalization should be left up to the states, though he personally opposes it. He reiterated that position while speaking with reporters Tuesday in San Antonio.

“I don’t support drug legalization,” Cruz said. “I think drug legalization ends up harming people. I think it particularly hurts young people. It traps them in addiction.”

On marijuana, Cruz added: “I’ve always said that should be a question for the states. I think different states can resolve it differently. So in Texas — if we were voting on it in Texas — I would vote against legalizing it. But I think it’s the prerogative of Texans to make that decision, and I think another state like Colorado can make a very different decision.”

You can click that Daily Caller link if you want – as the Trib story notes, it’s based on a misstatement of O’Rourke. I just want to note that being anti-marijuana legalization isn’t necessarily a winning issue for Cruz. It’s hard to know how something like this will play out in a real campaign – who the candidates are, what the electorate looks like, how the issue is portrayed, things like that all matter. The point I’m making is that this isn’t some obviously uncomfortable place for Beto to be, where Cruz is bashing him for a stance that lacks public support. Beto can fight back with more or less the equivalent of “Yeah? So what?” That’s not a bad place to be.

No GOP convention for San Antonio

Wise decision.

The city of San Antonio will not submit a bid to host the 2020 Republican National Convention, a decision announced after council members met Thursday in closed session to discuss the matter.

The cost of pursuing the event — an international spectacle that could draw 40,000 visitors, including 15,000 reporters — outweighs the potential economic impact that could be $200 million, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and most council members agreed.

The host city, through a local committee that would be composed of business leaders, would be expected to raise about $70 million, including about $6 million from public coffers.

“As a whole, the City Council did not feel it was worth it to move forward,” Nirenberg said shortly after concluding the closed-session meeting with his colleagues.

[…]

Though there was no actual vote in the council’s executive session, the mayor said the consensus in the room was not to proceed with a bid for the multi-day convention scheduled for August of 2020. The decision, he said, extends to the Democratic National Convention.

San Antonio has not bid on a national political convention in two decades, Nirenberg said.

The RNC issue has come to the forefront because party leaders specifically asked for a bid from San Antonio, and the GOP representative in charge of site selection visited San Antonio in March to personally ask for leaders here to consider submitting a bid.

See here for the background. Seems to me that the RNC doesn’t exactly have cities beating on their door to host this thing, and given the lead time necessary to raise the money and make the preparations, time is beginning to run short. That’s not San Antonio’s problem, however. There are some people who aren’t happy with Mayor Nirenberg’s decision, and they’ll get their chance to express that next May. I doubt it’s a serious problem for him, but you never know. Good luck finding a sucker city willing to put in a bid, RNC. The Current and the Rivard Report have more.

Weekend link dump for May 6

Up, up and away, in my beautiful space-bound balloon.

“When the last Toys ‘R’ Us store closes its doors once and for all, the company’s top executives will have pocketed some $8.2 million in retention bonuses for sticking around long enough to liquidate the company. Wall Street firms that loaded Toys ‘R’ Us with debt when they bought it in 2005 will have collected millions in fees from the company, even if they ultimately lost the majority of their investment. And employees like Ann Marie Reinhart, who worked as a supervisor at Toys ‘R’ Us for 29 years, will walk away with nothing.”

“People who submit DNA for ancestors testing are unwittingly becoming genetic informants on their innocent family.”

Or, putting it another way, publicly available DNA data can track an awful lot of people down.

Meet Jon McNaughton, the Jack Chick of the Trump era.

One Cosby juror explains why he voted “guilty”.

Maybe now isn’t a good time to abandon fuel efficiency standards.

Easily the best Twitter thread I’ve ever read about covert parrot operations.

“The way to think about Huckabee Sanders is through the lens of her job. That job is to serve as the voice of the Trump administration. She’s survived because she embraces a policy of not telling the truth — one that serves not only a convenient role in a chaotic administration but also an important political purpose.”

“Every time a legal analyst talks about Trump and the courts, I sincerely question their Logical Reasoning score on the LSAT.”

“You would think wealthy, for-profit companies using the public right-of-way should be held to at least the same standards as paleteros selling popsicles in the park. And paleteros, to their credit, don’t rifle through all the data on your iPhone as a major component — if not the major component — of their business model.”

“What’s it like to spend your childhood assuming the world will end, only to have the rug not pulled out from under you?”

Serial lawbreaker Kris Kobach really needs to spend a few days in the pokey so he can think about his wrongdoing ways.

Remember Tom Price? Trump’s former HHS Secretary? He’s now saying that the Republican repeal of the individual mandate from the ACA will make insurance more expensive for millions of people. Oopsie.

Rudy Giuliani, Super Genius.

“We now have serious SDNY public corruption prosecutors and FBI agents in possession of a massive amount of electronic data from his bagman. They likely already have all of his financial records as well. And Rudy has now given them the roadmap for how Trump may have laundered bribes through Cohen as purported legal fees or retainer payments.”

May 5 election results

Martha Castex Tatum

Martha Castex-Tatum is your winner of the District K special election. She dominated in Harris County with over 65% of the vote, and while she finished below fifty percent in Fort Bend County, she had more than enough votes to clear the bar. By my highly unofficial count, she got 59.7% of the vote overall. Congratulations to Martha Castex-Tatum on her victory.

In the HD13 special election, the two Republican candidates will run it off in June for the right to get a bump in seniority over other members of the legislative class of 2018. Cecil Webster appears to be on track to finish a point or so behind his November 2016 percentage, but about seven points ahead of his 2015 special election percentage. Would have been nice to say he ran ahead of the 2016 numbers, but it didn’t happen. Thanks to the contentious primary runoff, there was a lot more money spent on the Republican candidates in this race.

Other races that I mentioned along the way: Dalia Kasseb is headed for a runoff in her Pearland City Council race. She made it to a runoff in a different Council race last year but came up short from there. Daniel Hernandez lost in Pearland ISD, and Monique Rodriguez also lost in her race for Deer Park ISD.

Next up: Primary runoffs. Early voting begins a week from Monday, May 14. I’ll have plenty of info on those races coming up.

Farenthold tells Abbott to go pound sand

Well, what did you expect?

Blake Farenthold

Blake Farenthold — a disgraced former Texas congressman who resigned last month — will not fund the special election to replace himself, he told Gov. Greg Abbott in a letter Wednesday, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Abbott had asked that Farenthold pay for the election, set for June 30, as a form of recompense: Farenthold resigned in April, months after it came to light that he had settled a sexual harassment claim from a former staffer with $84,000 of taxpayer money.

That payment mechanism is allowed under federal law but has nonetheless drawn sharp criticism on both sides of the aisle since it was uncovered last fall. Farenthold had originally pledged to repay that sum to taxpayers, but has yet to do so, claiming he is acting on the advice of his lawyers.

Farenthold, who is worth well over $2 million, according to a recent financial disclosure form, has now said he won’t pay for the election either.

“Since I didn’t call it and I don’t think it’s necessary, I shouldn’t be asked to pay for it,” his letter said.

See here for the background, and here for a longer version of that Chron story. I’m actually kind of glad there isn’t a copy of the letter to share, because the various closings I can imagine him using – “See you in hell”, “Kiss my grits“, “Insincerely yours” – are all way more entertaining to me than what he no doubt actually used. The point here is that just as Congress can’t touch Farenthold for the $84K he swiped, neither can Abbott for the special election that he insisted (quite reasonably, in my opinion) on calling. And Farenthold damn well knows this, which when combined with his utter lack of shame or conscience, is how we got here. See you in hell, indeed.

UPDATE: Okay, fine, you can see the letter here.

A flock of electronic scooters descending on Austin

Not actually one of the signs of the apocalypse, though I’m sure it was annoying.

Scooter!

Seemingly overnight, Austin was buzzing with electric scooters last month. Scooter riders weaved through crowded sidewalks and traffic downtown and zoomed out of drivers’ blind spots near the University of Texas campus, catching motorists and pedestrians alike off guard.

Bird Rides, a dockless scooter company, deployed a fleet of thin, black scooters in April that quickly grew to almost 700. Then came LimeBike, which flooded the streets with their own white and green Lime-S scooter models on April 16.

Then, just as quickly, they disappeared last weekend.

The appearance of rentable scooters across the city briefly threw Austin’s political leaders into a frenzy as city government officials rushed to roll out a plan to regulate the businesses, which had started operating before a city-led pilot program could begin.

“In order to forestall a predictable and unmanageable swamping of our streets with thousands of vehicles, ATD recommends a more nimble response than our previously expressed pilot timeframe,” Robert Spillar, director of the Austin Transportation Department, said in a letter to the mayor and Austin City Council members.

The council worked until after 2 a.m. Friday to change city code and prohibit leaving dockless scooters or bicycles on city sidewalks and streets until a permitting process begins. Violators can have their scooters impounded and face a $200 fine for each seized scooter.

Over the weekend, both California-based companies pulled their vehicles from Austin city streets — but not before the city’s transportation department impounded about 70 of them.

[…]

Both companies placed their scooters on sidewalks and street corners throughout the city. Customers could download a smartphone app that allowed them to see the vehicles’ locations in real time, unlock them and pay the rental fee. Both Bird and Lime-S charge a base fee of one dollar, then 15 cents per minute of use.

Austin initially planned to begin a pilot program for what it calls “dockless mobility” — meaning vehicles that aren’t kept in racks or docking stations — starting May 1, but Bird and LimeBike deployed their scooters before it went into effect.

So the city pivoted to the new permitting process, which will require a $30 fee for each vehicle and cap the initial number of vehicles per licensed operator at 500. The city plans to roll out the new process shortly.

And not a minute too soon: The Austin Transportation Department said it’s coordinating with 15 different dockless mobility companies that have expressed interest in coming to Austin.

If you’re having flashbacks to the early days of Uber in Texas, congratulations. You’re not alone. At least in this case the scooter companies were noticeably less pugilistic in their press releases. But then, both of them had done the same thing in San Francisco; as my old music teacher used to say, once is a mistake and twice is a habit. So be forewarned, Mayor Turner and Houston City Council, because these guys are coming, sooner or later. And that rumbling sound you hear in the distance is the early gestation of a lobbying effort to pass a statewide rideshare bill for scooters in the Lege. Again, don’t be caught off guard. We’ve seen this movie before.

Today is May Election Day

From the inbox:

Saturday, May 5, 2018 is Election Day for voters in Houston Council Member District K. Voters will determine who will fill the vacancy in the southwest Council District. Polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm.

There will be twenty-eight (28) Election Day polling locations for registered voters to cast their ballot in District K. However, each voter must vote at the polling location designated for the voting precinct in which they are registered to vote.

“Harris County polling locations are only available to individuals who are registered to vote in Harris County within Houston’s Council District K,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief election officer of the County, noting that District K registered voters residing in Fort Bend County must contact the Fort Bend County Election Office for information regarding the May 5, Election.

Aside from the City of Houston election, over 70 political entities in Harris County, including school, emergency, and utility districts, are conducting an election on May 5. “While my office is only conducting the City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election, all Harris County registered voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com to determine if they reside in one of the jurisdictions that are holding an election on May 5,” informed Stanart.

For more information about the May 5 City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965. Voters may also visit the website to determine if they are eligible to vote in an upcoming election or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls.

You can look up your polling place here. Basically, this is a normal election in the sense that you would vote at your normal precinct location. If you’re in Fort Bend County, you can look up your precinct location here.

Also on the ballot today is the special election in HD13.

Two Republicans are battling until the end — over everything from endorsements to toll roads — ahead of a special election Saturday to fill a rural Texas House seat east of Austin that will give the winner momentum in the race for a full term.

Former Grimes County Judge Ben Leman and Bellville businesswoman Jill Wolfskill — plus one Democrat, Cecil Webster — are on the ballot Saturday to finish the term of ex-state Rep. Leighton Schubert, R-Caldwell, who resigned in February for a local junior college job after previously announcing he would not seek re-election. Leman and Wolfskill are also in a May 22 runoff for the full term representing House District 13, a solidly Republican district that covers a seven-county region between Austin and Houston, stretching from outside Bryan down toward Victoria.

The winner of the special election will complete the rest of Schubert’s term, which ends in January, while the victor in November will serve the full two-year term that comes next.

That has upped the stakes for the special election, in which a victory could be a boon to a candidate’s fortunes in the contest 17 days later. Yet little is assured in the low-turnout, unpredictable environment of a special election, and Leman and Wolfskill — who finished just 525 votes apart in the five-way March primary — are leaving nothing to chance as they seek to distinguish themselves in the home stretch.

The rest of the story continues to focus on the two Republican candidates, with one more passing mention of Cecil Webster at the very end. It’s all about who has or hasn’t been endorsed by which terrible conservative group. Which all makes sense, since whoever wins the Republican nomination will be the overwhelming favorite to win in November in this 75%+ Trump district. That doesn’t mean Webster can’t make it to the runoff of this election, however. It would take good turnout on the Dem side, and probably an uneven split between the two R’s, but it can happen. I’ve seen a few Facebook ads for Webster this past week, so he’s running a real campaign. I’ve got my fingers crossed. I’ll have the results tomorrow.

We finally have a White/Valdez runoff debate scheduled

About time.

Lupe Valdez

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez has accepted an invitation to debate her runoff opponent, Andrew White, on May 11 in Austin, according to her campaign.

White, who was the runner-up in the March primary, has been pushing to debate Valdez since the beginning of the runoff. Up until now, her campaign has expressed openness to debating White without committing to anything.

Andrew White

The event, which comes three days before early voting starts, will take place at the University of Texas at Austin, according to organizers. It is being put on by a coalition of party groups that includes the State Tejano Democrats, Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, Texas Stonewall Democrats, Texas Young Democrats, Texas College Democrats and the Travis County Democratic Party.

“I look forward to telling my story, and showing how decades of experience delivering progressive solutions and keeping people safe have prepared me to be Texas Governor,” Valdez said in a statement. “I have long known what my values are. I’m a Texas Democrat.”

White added in his own statement: “The debate is on! Democratic voters are looking for the best candidate to beat [Republican Gov.] Greg Abbott, and I welcome the opportunity to convey my message of common sense, sanity, and doing right by Texas.”

I’ve wanted this for awhile. I’m glad it’s finally happening but annoyed it took this long. There was a lot more attention that could have been paid to this race if there had been more events. At least we’ll have this.

I should note, there was a town hall event a few days ago featuring White and Valdez, among others. Among the things that resulted from this is Valdez reckoning with her record on immigration, and White promising to sell his interest in a border security firm if he’s the nominee. That’s why you have events like these, to hash this stuff out and get the candidates where they need to be, while there’s still time to pick the nominee.

Reducing solitary confinement

This is good.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

Almost five years after images surfaced of a mentally ill inmate wallowing in a cell full of human waste and bugs, the Harris County jail has cut in half its use of solitary confinement.

The decrease is due in part to a decision to stop putting rule-breakers in solitary, officials say, and in part to the creation of two rehabilitative mental health units that provide a path out of isolation.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Anthony Graves, a death row exoneree who has spoken out against the use of solitary confinement since his release. “It says that people are now getting serious about criminal justice reform.”

In the fall of 2014, the jail had 240 inmates isolated in so-called administrative separation. By March of this year, that number had plummeted to 122, or just over 1 percent of the jail’s population, according to data from the office of Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

[…]

“There’s a nationwide trend where correctional facilities are moving away from the use of administrative separation and in keeping with best practices and current practices, and also trying to do what’s best for the inmates themselves,” [Sheriff’s Office Major John] Martin said. “There are a lot of studies out there that suggest keeping them confined by themselves might not be best so gradually we started changing a lot of our practices. I think a difficult part is changing mindsets – just getting people to think differently.”

The following year, in an effort to shift mentally ill inmates out of isolation, the jail launched the first of two pilot programs. The 2015 initiative, now known as the Social Learning Program and housed in the 2L unit at the 1200 Baker complex, holds just under two dozen inmates who get 16 hours of out-of-cell time per day.

“They were in the hole — but now they’re not because of the program,” said Major Mike Lee, who oversees the jail’s mental health and diversion programs.

In the 2L unit, arrestees get programming and cognitive behavioral therapy-based groups twice a day. Groups focus on communication skills, medication management and anger management.

“It’s so they won’t resort to the same behaviors when they get out,” said Sean McElroy, the jail’s mental health program administrator through The Harris Center.

But part of the goal is also that, after some time spent in the program, the inmates can be transferred back to general population.

“It’s something we feel is in everybody’s best interest,” Martin said.

Michele Deitch, a criminal-justice expert and senior lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Austin, concurred, adding that mentally ill inmates are often at a higher risk for landing in solitary.

“It’s well-established that solitary confinement is detrimental to the health of people, especially people with mental illness,” she said. “People with mental illness are far more vulnerable than other populations in the jail. They are more likely to be exploited by other inmates, they’re less likely to be able to follow directions, they are more likely to deteriorate under the conditions of confinement in the jail and, because of their frequent inability to conform their behavior to the rules, they are disproportionately likely to end up in solitary.”

This is what I want to see. This change in policy is more humane, will lead to better outcomes, and will ultimately cost the county less money. And it’s just heartening to see the Sheriff’s office staying on top of staying on top of the research and following the best practices. We deserve and should expect nothing less.

Firefighters have their signatures

On to the next act in this drama.

A petition Houston firefighters submitted last summer seeking pay parity with police contains enough valid signatures to trigger a referendum election, City Secretary Anna Russell reported to Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city council Thursday.

Russell finished verifying the signatures a day ahead of a deadline given to the city by a state district judge last month. The judge originally set a deadline of April 27 after the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association sued the city last December, complaining Russell’s office had not validated its referendum petition in time for either the November 2017 or May 2018 ballots. Judge Dan Hinde agreed to give Russell another week after city lawyers said additional staff and overtime had been approved to finish the count.

Russell’s memo to the mayor and council said her office checked 26,708 signatures against Harris County’s list of qualified voters; 20,228 were verified. State law requires 20,000 qualified signatures on a petition to get a referedum on the ballot.

It is unclear when the item will appear before voters. City attorneys argued in court that the Turner administration does not intend to schedule a vote before the next regular municipal election cycle in November 2019, but the mayor, when asked about the petition count Wednesday, said the city council would have to discuss the matter.

[…]

Turner said Wednesday he presumed the petition contained enough names to trigger a vote, but suggested the proposal’s lack of clarity could undermine its validity, noting, for instance, that hundreds more firefighters than police officers carry the rank of “captain.”

“I don’t know what parity means,” Turner said. “Does it mean you scale everything down? If the voters vote on something, the voters need to know what they’re voting (on).”

See here and here for the background. You know how I feel about this, so you know I agree with the Mayor’s assessment of what this means. As to when the election should be held, I suppose there’s an argument for 2019 instead of this November. I’m sure we’ll get to hear that argument from the city when the firefighters file a motion to force the election this year. Council does need to approve putting the item on the ballot, along with the language of it, whether this year or next. We’ll see how that goes.

Greg Abbott, Russian stooge

Heck of a job, Greggie.

A former director of the CIA and NSA said Wednesday that hysteria in Texas over a 2015 U.S. military training exercise called Jade Helm was fueled by Russians wanting to dominate “the information space,” and that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to send the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation gave them proof of the power of such misinformation campaigns.

Michael Hayden, speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe podcast, chalked up peoples’ fear over Jade Helm 15 to “Russian bots and the American alt-right media [that] convinced many Texans [Jade Helm] was an Obama plan to round up political dissidents.”

Abbott ordered the State Guard to monitor the federal exercise soon after news broke of the operation. Hayden said that move gave Russians the go-ahead to continue — and possibly expand — their efforts to spread fear.

“At that point, I’m figuring the Russians are saying, ‘We can go big time,’” Hayden said of Abbott’s response. “At that point, I think they made the decision, ‘We’re going to play in the electoral process.’”

You can read the rest, and you can listen to the Morning Joe podcast – Gen. Hayden was also on The Gist with Mike Pesca on Wednesday, though he wasn’t specifically talking about Jade Helm. I just have two things to add. One is that from now on, any time Greg Abbott criticizes anyone for any reason, the response should be along the lines of “Well, at least [whoever] didn’t fall for Russian propaganda”. And two, from the Observer:

Meanwhile, another Jade Helm-style exercise is planned for San Angelo in June. Oddly enough, now that Trump is president, there’s a notable lack of freaking out this time.

Well, the Russians aren’t trying to goad idiots like Greg Abbott into peeing their pants over it this time. Amazing what a difference that makes. ThinkProgress and the Lone Star Project have more.

Of course Ken Paxton opposes the sick leave ordinance

He wouldn’t be Ken Paxton if he didn’t.

Best mugshot ever

Less than a week after a conservative think tank sued Austin over the city’s paid sick leave ordinance, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has thrown the state’s support behind the suit, calling the ordinance “unlawful.”

According to a statement, Paxton filed court papers with a Texas state district court in Travis County on Tuesday. He argues in the filing that setting the minimum wage, which includes the minimum amount of paid time off, is a decision strictly entrusted to the Texas Legislature.

“The Austin City Council’s disdain and blatant disregard for the rule of law is an attempt to unlawfully and inappropriately usurp the authority of the state lawmakers chosen by Texas voters and must be stopped,” said Paxton, a Republican.

Paxton said the Texas Minimum Wage Act enacted by the Legislature was a “single, uniform policy for the entire state” — and made no requirement of employers to provide paid time off. He also said the law prevents cities from passing a different rule because they disagree with the state law.

See here for the background. Seems to me Paxton’s assertions are matters for the court to decide, but whatever. No one has ever accused Ken Paxton of being a towering legal intellect. The courts are gonna decide what they decide, but if this is a fine point of state law, then I would just note that state law can be changed. That will require a wholesale change of state lawmakers, but it would accomplish the task. Whatever the courts do say, in the end we have the power to make the law say something else. The Observer has more.

Rep. Eric Johnson declares for Speaker

It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

Rep. Eric Johnson

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, filed Wednesday to run for speaker of the Texas House, making him the first Democrat to enter the race to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

In a statement sent to The Texas Tribune, Johnson pointed out that, if elected, he would be the first speaker under the age of 45 since former House Speaker Price Daniel Jr. in 1973 and the first person of color to ever serve as speaker of the Texas House.

Johnson enters a speaker’s race that already includes three Republicans: Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford and John Zerwas of Richmond.

“I’m in it, and I’m in it to win it,” Johnson told the Tribune.

[…]

“I am deeply troubled by the far rightward shift in our state government and the excessive partisanship and the poor legislation this shift has spawned,” Johnson said in a separate statement. “Texas has become a one-party state, and this has been to Texas’s detriment.”

As a Democrat, Johnson would need bipartisan support to be elected speaker in the Republican-dominated House. Ahead of the next regular session, House Republicans agreed to select a speaker in their caucus and then vote as a bloc on the floor — a move that could completely cut out Democrats from picking the chamber’s next leader. Prior to the March 6 primaries, House Republicans pushed incumbents and candidates to sign a form promising to ultimately support the caucus pick. While Parker and King have signed the form, Zerwas has not.

Let’s state up front that Republican members are not going to vote for a Democrat for Speaker, at least not as long as they have a majority in the House. Let’s also state that it is…unlikely…that the Republicans will lose the majority in the Texas House. So, barring something very unexpected, Rep. Eric Johnson will not be the next Speaer of the House.

What could happen is that Republicans fail to coalesce behind a single one of their Speaker candidates, so that none of them can get a majority to become Speaker. In that case, Eric Johnson and his Democratic supporters can make a deal with one of them to push him over the top in return for some concessions. This is a more likely scenario with Democrats numbering in the mid-to-upper sixties (or higher, of course), but it could still happen with something more like the current caucus size. This is not unlike how Joe Straus became Speaker himself in 2009; I trust you will find the irony of that if it happens to be as delicious as I will. Having Johnson file as Speaker should mean that the Dems will be unified behind him, rather than making their own individual deals a la Tom Craddick in 2003.

And that’s the key. Being able to elect a Democratic Speaker would be awesome, of course, but the way the House map is drawn they’d need not just to win the statewide vote, they’d need to win it with some room to spare. That just isn’t going to happen. But being in a position to get a seat at the table, that’s a fine consolation prize. The more seats we do win in November, the closer we can get to that.

The revenue cap and the police

It’s something. Not what I want, but something.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner used his third State of the City speech to call — again — for the city to be able to collect more revenue than allowed by the property tax cap voters imposed 14 years ago, this time floating the idea of collecting extra dollars specifically for public safety.

Turner had taken a similar line during the 2015 campaign, then moved to advocating for a full repeal of the cap during much of his first two years in office. He backed away from placing such a request on last November’s ballot, however, fearing it would imperil the $1 billion bond referendum that was needed to secure the landmark pension reform package he shepherded through the Legislature last year.

The mayor on Tuesday instead highlighted the need to increase staffing in the Houston Police Department, and he suggested the idea of following former Mayor Bill White’s playbook from 2006, when White got voters’ permission to let the city collect $90 million more than the cap otherwise would have allowed for spending on public safety.

It took Houston eight years to exhaust that breathing room and run into the cap for the first time. Amid rising property values, the City Council has been forced to cut the property tax rate every fall since to avoid collecting more revenue than the cap allows. Council cut the tax rate to 58.42 cents per $100 of assessed value last September, the lowest rate since 1988.

The revenue cap limits the annual growth in city property tax revenue to 4.5 percent or the combined rates of inflation and population growth, whichever is lower.

Turner did not commit to White’s approach, to a dollar amount, or to placing an item before voters this November, saying he intends to force a conversation on the need to invest in more officers and in ancillary areas such as cybersecurity protections, adding “the current model is not sustainable.”

“I’m just simply sounding the alarm. We cannot continue to cut and cut and cut and add 500 to 600 more police to our force,” Turner said after his speech to a luncheon hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership. “I did not want to throw out a number because people then tag onto that number and we don’t have a robust conversation on the need and then how we should meet that need.”

Tweets from his official Twitter account, however, were more definitive about taking the matter to voters: “I will move to put an item on the ballot on (sic) this November to make sure Houston continues to be resilient and strong when it comes to protecting innocent people.” said one. Another said, “Our city sorely needs revenue to increase staffing & resources for first responders at Police & Fire Dpartments. But we’re constrained by the #revenuecap. That’s why it’s time to ask voters to lift the cap solely for strengthening public safety & city services.”

[…]

What makes Turner’s Tuesday comments different, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, is that he is focusing solely on public safety.

“There does not exist a strong public appetite for lifting the revenue cap unconditionally,” Jones said. “The only way to really sell it is via public safety. That’s probably the only winning method.”

Turner seemed to acknowledged as much Tuesday, saying in part, “It’s quite clear, it seems to me, people want to maintain the revenue cap. OK, fine. What I’m simply saying is, we need to find a way to generate some additional dollars on top of that revenue cap.”

It’s depressing to me that people have come to believe the BS about this stupid policy, which was imposed on Houston and basically noplace else by the usual gang of governmental nihilists, but propaganda does work. I’d love to see an all-out assault on the revenue cap, marshaling all the arguments about how it undercuts the city’s ability to prosper from economic growth and how it forces budget priorities on us whether we want them or not, but I recognize that this would be a tough fight against a wealthy and motivated opponent, which we could lose. It’s a fight we can engage another day, perhaps when the climate has changed enough. In the meantime, we all know that budgets can be flexible, and money is often fungible. Even earmarking extra revenue in this fashion makes the budget more manageable. If it’s the best we can do, then let’s do it.

Metro will pilot automated vehicle shuttle at TSU

from the inbox:

Texas Southern University students may have another transportation option on campus in the fall semester: an autonomous shuttle. Today, METRO’s Board of Directors gave the nod to the autonomous vehicle (AV) project, a first for the agency.  Although the low speed vehicle will drive itself, an operator will be on board at all times.  The pilot will take place along TSU’s mile-long, famed Tiger Walk. Several members of the public spoke at the meeting in support of the project.

“We are so fortunate to be able to partner with Texas Southern to pilot this autonomous vehicle. The location is ideal and its transportation studies program provides the type of academic expertise needed. It also allows us to explore how this technology can be applied on a greater scale,” said METRO President & CEO Tom Lambert.

Riders will not be charged to use the shuttle, which will be about the size of a minivan, similar to those used in Las Vegas and Arlington at AT&T Stadium.

“Our Texas Southern University family, led by President Dr. Austin Lane and Provost Dr. Kendall Harris,  is thrilled about the METRO decision today. Student, faculty and visitor access will be enhanced, especially for nighttime classes and activities,” said Dr. Carol Lewis, professor and emeritus director of TSU’s Center for Transportation Training & Research.

If successful, the project is designed to eventually extend the AV shuttle route to connect with METRORail and the Eastwood Transit Center.

METRO’s Board approved spending up to $250,000 for the first phase.

“The Board’s action clears the way for us to request proposals from vendors and select a vehicle.  We are excited to begin studying how this could enhance our service overall,” said Kimberly Williams, METRO’s chief innovation officer.

The pilot will help METRO study how autonomous vehicles could be used to improve first and last mile transit connections, as well as other uses in places, such as business parks and medical centers.

Along with METRO, the planning committee for the project includes Texas Southern University, the city of Houston, the Houston-Galveston Area Council and the Houston District of the Texas Department of Transportation.

“Our university transportation research center will work with the partners to assess a myriad of variables associated with AV operation, such as user acceptance, vehicle operation, accessibility for persons with disabilities and electrical utilization and recharging. The university looks forward to contributing to the advancement of technologies for our Houston community,” Dr. Lewis added.

METRO was a key part of the application that helped Texas secure a designation as an AV proving ground by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2016.

This was also reported on the Metro blog, and Swamplot noted an earlier mention of automated vehicles for Metro outside of this pilot. Using this as a way to help conquer the first/last mile problem makes a lot of sense – I’ve advocated a tighter integration with B-Cycle for the same purpose – so I’ll be very interested to see how this goes and what Metro’s vision for this is beyond the TSU campus if this is a success. For what it’s worth, though, as Streetsblog notes, in a different world we’d already have a light rail line in this same place on the TSU campus. What might have been, you know? Anyway, we’ll keep an eye on this because it’s very likely to start showing up elsewhere in the city. KUHF has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 30

The Texas Progressive Alliance reminds you to vote in the May 5 elections if you have them as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

We’ll be voting on flood control bonds in August

Not my first choice, but it is what it is.

Harris County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to seek a special election on Aug. 25 for what likely will be a multi-billion-dollar bond package that, if approved by voters, would be the largest local investment in the region’s flood control system after Hurricane Harvey.

The move comes a month before the start of the 2018 hurricane season and more than seven months after Hurricane Harvey, with the election timed to coincide with the storm’s one-year anniversary. County officials have spent months wrangling over when best to schedule the election, lest the measure fail and scuttle efforts to overhaul the area’s flood control efforts after one of the biggest rain storms in United States history.

“Why August 25?” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said. “It’s the one year anniversary of Harvey. I don’t think we want to go a year and not be able to say we’re doing something. People who care about mitigation, resilience, flood control, they’ll be energized and they’ll want to go out. Will there be somebody who wants to stand in the face of what we went through during Harvey and say ‘I want to be against it’? I kind of dare them to do it.”

It is not clear yet what the bond referendum will include. The court on Tuesday floated a $2.5 billion price tag — a number that could change as a priority list of flood control projects emerges. Emmett said the number of projects would be in the “hundreds” and likely would include the buy-out of all of the county’s high-priority areas at highest-risk of flooding, approximately 5,500 properties.

A huge chunk of funds, between $500 and $700 million officials estimate, could go toward local matches for federal grants and projects. A match could be required for the completion of four bayou widening and straightening projects underway with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers along Hunting, White Oak, Brays Bayou and Clear Creek. Bayou engineering projects on Halls and Greens Bayou — some of the areas in the county most vulnerable to flooding — also likely would be targeted.

Emmett said all of the county’s 22 watersheds would see some sort of investment.

The bond funds also could help finance the construction of an oft-discussed third reservoir northwest of the city to contain storm water from Cypress Creek.

See here for the background. I would have preferred to have this on the November ballot, and from the article most of the Commissioners at least started out with that same preference. County Judge Ed Emmett pushed for the August date, and convinced them to go along. Again, I get the reasoning, but the county is really going to have to sell this. Recent history has shown that even non-controversial bond issues with no organized opposition don’t pass by much. This one will have a big price tag, a (minor) property tax increase, and no obvious benefit for anyone who wasn’t directly affected by Harvey, all wrapped up in a weird election date. This should pass – it’s easy to scratch your head and say “how could it not?” – but do not take it for granted. The county still has to get approval from Greg Abbott, which should be straightforward, then formally call the election. I hope they start gearing up the campaign for this in the meantime.

Paxton sues to end DACA

This guy, I swear.

Best mugshot ever

Following through on a months-old promise, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit Tuesday to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, leading a seven-state coalition against an Obama-era immigration measure that protects hundreds of thousands of immigrants nationwide from deportation, including more than 120,000 in Texas.

Paxton first threatened in June 2017 to sue over the program if President Donald Trump’s administration had not ended it by September. After federal court rulings blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to end the program, Paxton wrote in January that he would consider filing suit if DACA still stood in June.

But a recent ruling in favor of DACA seems to have shifted up Paxton’s timeline. The announcement comes exactly a week after a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ordered the Trump administration to continue the program and reopen it to new applicants. That was the third — and by far the strongest — rebuke of Trump’s efforts to rescind the program. Judges in California and New York had previously ordered the administration to renew work permits for immigrants enrolled in the program.

[…]

Liberal groups and lawmakers quickly condemned Paxton’s lawsuit, with state Rep. Rafael Anchia calling it “not only bad policy, it’s bad politics.”

“Instead of wasting taxpayer funds to pick on these Americans without status, the Attorney General should join the bipartisan chorus calling on Congress to fix a broken immigration system that denies these kids their rightful place at the American table,” said Anchia, a Dallas Democrat who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Ending the program would cost Texas more than 100,000 workers and nearly billions of dollars in GDP losses, MALC said in a press release. Ending DACA will lead to “the separation of countless families,” said Cristina Tzintzun, the founder of Jolt Texas, a new group working to mobilize young Latino voters.

Paxton warned Tuesday that conceding the presidential power to establish a program like DACA sets a dangerous precedent that could allow executives to “ignore the will of the people” and set their own policies on a long list of policy points. Paxton also criticized “activist judges” in federal court for keeping in place an “unconstitutional” law.

See here for some background. There really is no dimension along which destroying DACA is a good idea, not that such things matter to the likes of Paxton. DACA also polls really well, including among Republicans, which may be why Paxton could only round up five co-conspirators this time. And you know, the guy who goes court-shopping for nationwide injunctions against laws he doesn’t like can take that “activist judges” crap and stick it where the sun don’t shine. I never thought I’d want to see someone get convicted of a felony more than I wanted to see Tom DeLay get convicted of a felony, but I really really want to see Ken Paxton get convicted of a felony. The Chron and RG Ratcliffe have more.

Early voting ends for May 5 elections

Go vote Saturday if you haven’t voted yet.

Voters across southwest Houston will head to the polls Saturday to vote on a replacement for late District K Houston City Councilman Larry Green who died unexpectedly from a drug overdose in his home last month.

The special city council election comes amid more than 70 across the county, in which voters will decide on new school trustees, city council members, municipal utility and other special district representatives, as well as a handful of bond issues and at least one property tax increase.

It will be first of two election days in the month of May. Runoffs from the March primaries for Democrats and Republicans will be held May 22.

In Houston’s District K special election, nine candidates are vying to replace Green, who was the only person to ever hold the seat, which was one of two added after the 2010 Census. The district covers a slice of southwest Houston between Almeda Road in the east and Beltway 8 in the west, Brays Bayou in the North and Beltway 8 in the south, with a portion in Fort Bend County.

[…]

Other elections in the Houston area on Saturday include:

Clear Creek ISD
Deer Park ISD
Hedwig Village
Hilshire Village
Humble ISD
Jersey Village
Katy
Katy ISD
La Porte
New Caney ISD
Pearland
Pearland ISD
Spring Branch ISD
Galena Park

See here for previous information about the May 5 election. The two listed above that are in italics were added by me, the others (along with a brief description of each) were in the original story. Here’s the early vote report for District K in Harris County; there’s a piece of the district in Fort Bend, so there have been more votes cast than the 3,427 showing in that report. I don’t know about the other elections that are happening. Are you someone with a vote to cast? Leave a comment and let us know. I’ll report on results on Sunday.

Interview with Sri Preston Kulkarni

Sri Kulkarni

The other contender in the Democratic primary runoff for CD22 is Sri Preston Kulkarni, who led the field in March with just under 32%. A graduate of UT, Kulkarni was commissioned as a Foreign Service Officer after college and served there for 14 years with stints in a variety of countries. He has also served as a foreign policy and defense advisor on Capitol Hill, assisting Senator Kirsten Gillibrand with her work on the Senate Armed Services Committee. As with Gina Ortiz Jones in CD23, Kulkarni is hoping to become the first Asian-American elected to Congress from Texas. We covered a lot of ground in the interview:

You can still find information about Congressional candidates on my 2018 Congressional webpage. I have reached out to some other candidates and will have at least one more of these interviews, for next week. After that it’s more up to them than me at this point.

What might the TEA do with HISD?

They have some options, the best of which is probably to put the decision off for a year.

A.J. Crabill knows what it’s like to close schools.

In 2010, Crabill, then a 30-year-old member of the Kansas City, Missouri, school board, cast a deciding vote to shutter nearly half of the district’s schools, devastating some members of the community.

Eight years later, Crabill is the deputy commissioner of governance for the Texas Education Agency, and he and his boss, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, likely will face a similar quandary with Houston ISD. A new state law is expected to force the agency to shut down several chronically underperforming schools or replace the district’s locally elected school board — with either choice inciting anger across Houston.

“The question becomes: Which actions can be least disruptive to students? And which actions can create the most benefits for students?” Crabill told a Houston gathering last month. “To be clear, there are only hard choices that are left on the table.”

[…]

Some advocates who oppose charter schools and conservative-aligned education policies also have expressed dismay that Morath, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, would have authority to make major decisions impacting HISD.

In addition, several HISD trustees have argued that the district is making progress at its lowest-performing schools, citing its Achieve 180 plans that pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into each campus.

To date, TEA leaders have been relatively tight-lipped about what they will choose for HISD if the district becomes subject to sanctions this year. However, a review of recent TEA actions, comments by Crabill and statements by local leaders shed light on how the coming months could play out.

Crabill, Morath’s top liaison in dealing with HISD the past few months, hinted at last month’s community meeting that school closures are not the best option for solving academic issues. Crabill said he had visited some of the 10 low-performing schools — all of which serve predominately black and Hispanic students in high-poverty neighborhoods — and found their struggles were not due to staff efforts.

“We have to look beyond state-mandated closure as a panacea in this particular instance,” Crabill said. “I don’t say that out of an unwillingness to use that as an option. I say that from someone who’s gone to the campuses and doesn’t see that it actually moves the ball forward for those students.”

[…]

Across the country, states have sought to get more involved in large, urban districts facing serious academic and financial issues. Gary Ritter, a professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas who has analyzed state takeover efforts, said intervention sometimes helps steady troubled districts, but there’s “not much evidence that, systematically, this can lead to clear academic benefits.” He also noted Houston is unique from other districts nationwide because only 10 of its 284 schools have been labeled chronically underperforming.

“That certainly seems like an unhelpful wrinkle in the takeover” threat in Houston, Ritter said. “For the most part, in places like Baltimore, Detroit, Newark, Cleveland (and) Philadelphia, they were done when the school district had been showing either poor performance or financial troubles for several years in a row.”

For that reason, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, wants to see Morath show leniency to HISD. Coleman, whose district includes two of the 10 schools, said HB1842 carries a penalty that is “not appropriate to the circumstance.”

Coleman said he plans to introduce a bill during the 2019 legislative session that would change or repeal the sanctions listed under HB1842, which passed with 85 percent support in the Legislature. He said he believes many lawmakers were not aware of the implications of the bill when it passed.

I think between Harvey, the fact that the schools in question are a tiny part of HISD, the lack of clarity over the intent of the law, and the TEA-approved improvement plan for the ten schools, the case for deferring the decision for a year is compelling. I’d also note that a majority of the HISD Board is new since December of 2016 – Santos, Lira, Deigaard, Sung, Vilaseca – so you can plausibly argue that they should be given a chance to get things fixed before the state comes in and installs a new group of trustees. I’ve also noted before that we now have an all-Democratic board, which may work against them politically when the chips are down. Last week’s chaos, between the seemingly unvetted charter plan and the melee at the Wednesday meeting followed by the vote to do nothing, didn’t do them any favors, either. I hope the schools show enough improvement to satisfy the TEA that things are at least on track, and I hope the TEA is in no rush to do anything drastic.

San Antonio and the 2020 Republican convention

Beware.

The campaign manager for President Donald Trump wants San Antonio to host the 2020 Republican National Convention and has taken to Twitter to voice his frustration at the city’s lack of response to bid for the event.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he had been encouraged by some local business leaders — notably Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager — to submit a bid to host the convention. But the mayor said Wednesday he had gotten some mixed signals about the city’s chances of securing the bid.

He said representatives from the RNC were in San Antonio late last month to meet with political and business leaders about hosting the convention in the summer of 2020. Nirenberg said an RNC staff member told him shortly afterward that Republicans no longer were interested in San Antonio, so he did not raise the issue with the City Council.

In an email to Nirenberg Wednesday, Parscale pressed for a response. “It is very important that I let the group here in DC know that San Antonio is going to pass on this opportunity. Many cities are killing to have this,” Parscale wrote.

[…]

In an email to council members Wednesday, Nirenberg wrote: “Today, I learned that the GOP has renewed its interest in San Antonio and is now actively seeking a convention bid.”

Nirenberg invited council members to a closed-door discussion next week about whether the city should attempt a late bid to host the event, which could be an economic bonanza for San Antonio. He said he has reservations.

“There’s a reason San Antonio has not pursued a national political convention since 2000. The local community has to commit tens of millions of dollars up front, and prudent fiscal stewards have good reason to question whether that expense is worthwhile for the community,” Nirenberg said in an interview.

He remarked: “For all intents and purposes, there was nothing happening on this front until Parscale started blowing up the phones.”

There’s more on this from the Rivard Report here and here. Despite Parscale’s insistence that lots of cities want to have the 2020 GOP convention, the Current notes that only the city of Charlotte has made a bid so far. Both Dallas and Houston have passed, for example. I’ve no doubt that the convention would be good for the hotel business, but I can’t imagine it will do much for San Antonio’s image. The point that Nirenberg has made that a city that’s almost two-thirds Latino would not want to be particularly welcoming to Donald freaking Trump is unassailable. All of this is without taking into account the likelihood of massive protests, and Lord knows what else. Who wants to deal with that? I don’t know what decision Nirenberg and the San Antonio City Council will make, but I know what decision I’d make.

Interview with Letitia Plummer

Letitia Plummer

As you know, I did not do interviews in all of the contested Democratic primaries this year. There were just too many of them, with too many candidates, for me to be able to get to them all in the limited time frame available. I figured for at least some of these races that I could return to them in the runoffs, and so that’s what I’m doing here. I’ll have interviews with candidates in some Democratic Congressional runoffs, starting this week with CD22. Letitia Plummer, who came in second in that field of five, is a Houston native and first-time candidate. She is a dentist who owns two offices in the district, and while there’s not a whole lot of biographical information about her on her campaign website, I found this Forward Times story from early 2016 before she was a candidate and this Reddit post from last year when she was that will give you a lot more about her background. Here’s what she had to say with me:

You can still find information about Congressional candidates on my 2018 Congressional webpage. I hope to have more of these interviews between now and the start of early voting.