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Multiple cities and states sue over Census citizenship question

Good.

Seventeen states, the District of Columbia, and six major cities sued the Trump administration on Tuesday over the addition of a controversial new question about US citizenship to the 2020 census. This is the third major lawsuit against the administration’s action, after California and the NAACP sued last week, marking a major escalation of the legal and political battle over the census. Civil rights advocates say the question is designed to spark fear in immigrant respondents and will cause many immigrants not to be counted, diminishing the political power and financial resources of the jurisdictions where they live.

“This is a blatant effort to undermine the census and prevent the census from carrying out its Constitutional mandate,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who organized the multi-state lawsuit, at a press conference in lower Manhattan. New York has the third-largest immigrant population in the country, after California and Texas. More than 1 in 5 New York residents are foreign-born. “This is an effort to punish states like New York that welcome immigrants,” Schneiderman said.

The lawsuit says the new question “violates the constitutional mandate to conduct an ‘actual Enumeration’” of the country’s entire population, not just citizens, as well as a provision of the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act barring federal agencies from taking “arbitrary, capricious” actions.

The lawsuit was filed by New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and joined by the cities of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Providence, San Francisco, and Seattle. The bipartisan US Conference of Mayors, which represents the 1,400 cities with a population of 30,000 or more, also joined the suit.

[…]

Past leaders of the Census Bureau and current advisers to the bureau have also blasted the question. Six former bureau directors, who served under Republican and Democratic presidents, told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in January that “an untested question on citizenship status at this late point in the decennial planning process would put the accuracy of the enumeration and success of the census in all communities at grave risk.” Members of the bureau’s Scientific Advisory Committee, who are appointed by the director, blasted the decision at a meeting of the Census Bureau last week.

“I want to say in no uncertain terms that I think this is an absolutely awful decision,” said D. Sunshine Hillygus, a professor of political science at Duke University. “I am dumbfounded that this decision is coming in at such a late date. My view is that this is going to have severe negative implications for data quality and costs.”

She began her PowerPoint presentation at census headquarters with the phrase “W.T.H.,” short for “what the hell.”

The Commerce Department, which oversees the census, said the new question was needed to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, but Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under Barack Obama, told Mother Jones that was “plainly a ruse to collect that data and ultimately to sabotage the census.”

See here for some background. Even with the involvement of the US Conference of Mayors, I say every city of decent size should want to get involved, because it’s their residents who are going to be undercounted as a result of this malevolent policy, and that will cost them in terms of funding, representation, and more. This is a big, serious deal and it needs to be treated as such. Think Progress, which also looks at the effect of this policy on Texas, has more.

This is why you don’t politicize disaster relief, Senator

It’s pretty simple, really. People come before politics.

Not Ted Cruz

Many New Yorkers and New Jerseyans serving in Congress have, for nearly five years now, kept a list of names handy to roll out at a moment’s notice. They call it “the Comeuppance Caucus.”

For some, the list is on a physical paper or bookmarked on a computer. For others, it’s merely tattooed into their brains. It consists of which colleagues voted against Hurricane Sandy funding back in 2013, and it’s chock full of Texas Republicans.

In fact, nearly every Texas Republican who was serving in Congress at the time voted against the $50.5 billion aid bill. And now their own constituents are facing the biggest natural disaster in state history.

“There is deep and lingering resentment by members of Congress who needed help in their districts when Sandy just ravaged their constituents,” said former U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat who represented Long Island until he retired last January. “[U.S. Sen] Ted Cruz and others led the fight against that aid, and a lot of people said there would be a day of reckoning.”

[…]

U.S. Rep Peter King, a Long Island Republican, took the biggest shot at the delegation on Saturday, tweeting, “Ted Cruz & Texas cohorts voted vs NY/NJ aid after Sandy but I’ll vote 4 Harvey aid. NY wont abandon Texas. 1 bad turn doesnt deserve another.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, concurred with her Long Island neighbor an hour later on Twitter.

[…]

Congress returns on Tuesday and will have a whole host of new problems to sort out, on top of a slew of budget deadlines barreling toward the two chambers. Is there a chance that the Sandy vote will come back to haunt Texas?

The bipartisan message blowing in from the Northeast: Congress will deliver the funds to Texas. While there is no interest in punishing fellow Americans, these members do want those in Congress from Texas to know just how personally they took those “no” vote when their own constituents were in trouble four and a half years ago.

“New Yorkers made the argument that when a storm strikes, it’s not striking one region, it’s striking the whole country, and I think my colleagues will be faithful to put their [voting] cards in and pushing the button,” said Israel.

“Until then, I think they’re enjoying making a point.”

Rep. Israel speaks for me. Cruz had, in his typical grandstanding way, railed against what he claimed was “wasteful” spending included in the Sandy relief bill. Which was bullshit, for the reasons articulated above. Any problems he had with the bill could have been dealt with after the immediate issue had been handled. It is to their lasting credit that the delegations from New York and New Jersey recognize this, and to the eternal shame of the Texas Republican caucus (of which, it must be noted, Rep. John Culberson was an honorable exception; he voted for the Sandy relief bill) that they didn’t. Cruz deserves every one of the rhetorical ass-kickings he’s getting. May he remember them all for the rest of his miserable life.

In defense of hyperloops

Eric Holthaus at Grist writes in defense of Elon Musk’s hyperloop idea in general, and the proposal for a New York to Washington, DC hyperloop plan in particular.

Assuming hyperloop costs of $100 million per mile, and tunneling costs of about the same, the 226-mile span between New York and D.C. might cost about $45 billion. And Musk wants to start digging as soon as possible — in months, not years.

Keep in mind that no human has yet ridden in a full-scale functioning hyperloop.

So, yeah. This is a really expensive, really ambitious idea. But just stick with me here.

Put in proper context, the hyperloop actually represents an incredible bargain. Just the proposed transit and airport improvements needed to keep New York City functioning in the coming decades would cost more than Musk’s entire project. That includes renovations to LaGuardia Airport ($4 billion), other regional airport improvements ($6.5 billion), the rest of the Second Avenue Subway line ($17 billion), improved access at Grand Central Station ($10 billion), a new Penn Station ($1.6 billion), a revamped bus station on the city’s west side ($10 billion), and repairs to the Hudson River tunnels damaged in Hurricane Sandy ($23.9 billion).

In California, construction on an eventual Bay Area to Southern California high-speed rail line approved in 2008 was initially expected to cost about $40 billion. (Its top speed would reach about 220 mph, less than one-third of the hyperloop.) A recent report found that the rail project was already about 50 percent over budget and seven years behind schedule.

There’s no reason to expect a hyperloop wouldn’t run into the same sort of cost overruns. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume for a moment that a New York to D.C. hyperloop actually happens, at whatever cost: It would utterly transform the congested East Coast transit corridor.

Musk said a trip between the two cities would take just 29 minutes — less time than an average subway trip from lower Manhattan to the Upper West Side. The ease of long-distance travel along the nation’s most populous corridor would revolutionize transportation as we know it. It would inspire urban planners around the world. And it could be one of the single most-important steps to reduce carbon emissions and curtail global warming in U.S. history.

A functioning hyperloop would cannibalize air travel. It would also be a nearly ideal way to move cargo, greatly reducing the burden on the region’s highways and rails and providing new meaning to just-in-time shipping. Because aviationand shipping are projected to be the fastest-growing sources of new carbon emissions worldwide in the coming decades, the hyperloop — which could be operated entirely on renewable energy — is exactly the kind of technology that’s needed at exactly the right time.

I’m all about the hyperloops, as you know. I am also aware of the high level of skepticism surrounding the idea. Since one of the hyperloop proposals out there is in Texas, I’m more in the dreamers camp than the cynics, because this would be super cool if it happens. There are signs of progress, too. As long as we’re just spending Elon Musk’s money, why not indulge a bit?

Global investors against SB6

From the inbox:

Led by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer and Trillium Asset Management, a group of some of the largest investors in the world, with a combined $11 trillion of assets under management, today spoke out against Texas Senate Bill 6 (or SB6), a “Bathroom Bill,” as well as similar discriminatory legislation. In the wake of hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic activity in North Carolina after HB2 – a similar bill – was signed into law in that state, major investors are standing up against this discriminatory legislation.

The 40 signatories include some of the biggest investors in the world, such as BlackRock, State Street Global Advisors, T. Rowe Price, and AllianceBernstein, as well as New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, California Controller Betty Yee, Connecticut Treasurer Denise L. Nappier, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read, Rhode Island Treasurer Seth Magaziner, and Vermont Treasurer Elizabeth Pearce.

The investors’ letter urges Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Joe Straus to oppose the legislation, which would discriminate against transgender individuals in Texas. This not only makes it more difficult for companies to attract and retain the best talent, but could have real effects on the Texas economy by undermining businesses operating there and delivering extraordinary reputational harm to the Texas business environment. The state could lose hundreds of millions – if not billions – of dollars in economic activity. Tourism dollars, sporting and other entertainment events, and corporate expansions – all are vital to Texas’s economy and could be at risk. As just one indication of the potential impact, organizations including the National Football League and the NCAA have already warned that the siting of future events in Texas would be jeopardized.

The investors’ letter also highlight opposition to SB6 from more than 1,200 companies doing business in Texas, including major firms like American Airlines, Dow Chemical, Southwest Airlines, Texas Instruments, and Waste Management.

“This bill is the 2.0 version of North Carolina’s HB2, and we saw how that bill impacted North Carolina. Not only is SB6 wrong for Texas residents, it also undermines anyone who is invested in companies in that state. SB6 would take Texas in the wrong direction,” New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said. “This group of investors represents a truly extraordinary level of assets, and the market is unquestionably speaking out about the economic consequences of such bills. We hope that message will be heard. I couldn’t be prouder to lead this massive effort to protect not just the interests of New York’s retired firefighters, police officers, and teachers, but also fundamental human rights.”

“The evidence is overwhelming that inclusive corporate and public policy that embraces diversity and equality are essential to strong businesses and financial success. Trillium Asset Management, and the trillions of dollars of assets that support this letter, unequivocally and emphatically urge Texas legislators to maintain a healthy and vibrant climate for business in the State of Texas,” said Trillium Asset Management, CEO Matthew Patsky, CFA. “Senate Bill 6 must be defeated and not allowed to negatively impact the economy of Texas, the second largest in the United States.”

SB6, introduced in early January 2017, is similar to North Carolina’s HB2’s bathroom restrictions, and requires individuals to use the public restroom that aligns with the gender on their birth certificate, discriminating against transgender individuals. The bill also eliminates municipal bathroom access non-discrimination laws, effectively legalizing discrimination against the LGBT community in both public and private accommodations. SB6 allows the Texas Attorney General to impose fines of up to $10,500 a day for violation of bathroom access regulations.

North Carolina has faced significant financial harm since enacting a similar bill, HB2, in March 2016. In the months since the bill was enacted, sporting events, concerts, TV shows, and conventions were canceled and business expansions were halted. By some estimates, the cost to the state reached over $600 million.

To read the investor letter, and see a full list of signatories, click here.

Here’s a Chron story about this letter.

[Trillium CEO Matthew] Patsky told the Chronicle, “We didn’t have this level of support for divestment from South Africa during apartheid.”

[…]

Stringer and others said the state lost more than $600 million in economic activity after passing HB2, with the NBA and NCAA pulling championship games. Given that Texas’ economy is the second largest in the country, Stringer said there is fear that negative economic impact in the state as a result of passing the bathroom bill here could be felt across the nation.

“I’m worried that pension fund investments could suffer,” he said.

Patsky said Trillium Asset Management, which has business ties to Texas, has previously coordinated efforts to get investors to speak out against the North Carolina law. He said it didn’t take much to convince them to speak out against the Texas proposal.

T. Rowe Price and others echoed the concern over an economic backlash.

“Our decision to participate was taken out of concern for the likely adverse economic impact of the proposed legislation and its inconsistency with our commitment to fostering diverse and inclusive communities,” a T. Rowe Price spokeswoman said in a statement.

A representative of BlackRock said the company has previously signed a letter to North Carolina lawmakers in opposition of their law as well as signed an amicus brief in defense of marriage equality when the Supreme Court was reviewing it.

Patsky said passage of the bill also could deter venture investors looking for startup activity in the state or companies that might look to expand here. He also projected municipal bonds could be hurt as investment falls.

He also questioned the rationale behind the bill and said he recalled seeing misleading campaign ads during an effort in Houston a year and a half ago to overturn the city’s equal rights ordinance that guaranteed protections for transgendered people seeking to use the bathroom where they feel most comfortable.

No comment on this from Abbott or Patrick. I guess telling these folks to “stay out of politics and stick to business and finance” would sound weird even to them. It’s certainly possible that as with that TAB study that Stringer and Patsky et al are overstating the possible effects of SB6, but even if they are there’s no question that the effect we will have will be negative. A lot of investing comes down to perception in how things are and belief about where they are going, and the passage of SB6 would negatively change both of those things about Texas, for no real purpose. That is what this debate has always been about.

From the “You can dish it out but you sure can’t take it” files

Poor baby.

RedEquality

After years of Texas trying to lure businesses away from other states, New York has struck back — with an ad that paints the Lone Star State as unwelcoming and discriminatory to the LGBT community.

The two-minute ad released by New York’s chief economic development agency highlights the Empire State’s principles of inclusion and equality, claiming these characteristics make it welcoming for all businesses.

Gov. Greg Abbott disputed the ad and pointed to New York’s taxes and regulations as a hostile business environment.

The ad begins against a backdrop of black-and-white video of the Statue of Liberty and immigrants at Ellis Island. A woman’s voice states, “For hundreds of years, New York state has stood as a beacon — a beacon that arose to welcome those unwelcome in other places.”

New York has opened its doors to the LGBT community when others have not, the ad continues. Headlines from newspapers around the country indicate Texas, North Carolina and Mississippi have pushed for discriminatory policies.

[…]

In 2013, former Gov. Rick Perry launched aggressive campaigns in New York, California and Illinois to attract businesses to Texas. In New York, he spent $1 million on TV advertisements that promoted the Lone Star State’s pro-business approach and strong economy.

Abbott has continued his predecessor’s work, even urging British businesses to declare independence on July 4 by moving to Texas.

You can see the video embedded at the Tribune link. First of all, if you’re going to aggressively market your own state as the best place ever for businesses to move to, then you have no grounds for complaint when another state does that to you. I mean, how wimpy is that? The proper response, if one is going to take this path, is to chuckle dismissively and pat New York on the head for being so adorable as to even try to keep up with us. This? It’s just weak. Or, as one of Greg Abbott’s favorite politicians (who, by the way, is from New York) would put it, SAD!

Also, too, and not to put too fine a point on it, but thanks to Greg Abbott and his Republican Party, there’s a whole lot of merit to this accusation, with more on the way next year. Abbott didn’t bother addressing the issue, because honestly what could he say? If we don’t want states like New York attacking us for being hostile to the LGBT community, then maybe we should try not being hostile to the LGBT community. It’s so crazy it just might work.

The Florida-Trump U plot thickens

Oops.

Florida’s attorney general personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump around the same time her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates

The new disclosure from Attorney General Pam Bondi’s spokesman to The Associated Press on Monday provides additional details around the unusual circumstances of Trump’s $25,000 donation to Bondi. After the money came in, Bondi’s office nixed suing Trump.

The money came from a Trump family foundation in apparent violation of rules surrounding political activities by charities. A political group backing Bondi’s re-election, called And Justice for All, reported receiving the check Sept. 17, 2013 — four days after Bondi publicly announced she was considering joining a New York state probe of Trump University’s activities.

Marc Reichelderfer, a political consultant who worked for Bondi’s re-election effort and fielded questions on the donation at her request, told AP that Bondi spoke with Trump “several weeks” before her office publicly announced it was deliberating whether to join a multi-state lawsuit proposed by New York’s Democratic attorney general. Reichelfelder said Bondi was unaware of dozens of consumer complaints received by her office about Trump University filed before she requested the donation.

“The process took at least several weeks, from the time they spoke to the time they received the contribution,” Reichelderfer told AP.

The timing of the donation by Trump is notable because the now presumptive Republican presidential nominee has said he expected and received favors from politicians to whom he gave money.

“When I want something I get it,” the presumptive Republican nominee said at an Iowa rally in January. “When I call, they kiss my ass. It’s true.”

Now, nowhere in this story is there a mention of Texas. As we have learned, the Texas AG investigation into Trump University was finished in 2010, and Trump wrote a check to Greg Abbott for his gubernatorial campaign in 2013. As far as we know, Texas was not considering joining the lawsuit mentioned in this story – it rather boggles the mind to imagine Greg Abbott signing off on joining a lawsuit led by the Attorney General of New York, on any matter – so the fact of Trump’s contribution is not terribly interesting on its own. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything left to learn about the Trump U story in Texas, and the fact that the AG’s office now seems intent on shutting down any questions about the 2010 investigation leads one to wonder what else there could be lurking out there. The answer may well be that there is nothing – the decision to end the 2010 probe was surely political, but it doesn’t have to be anything more than that. All I’m saying is there’s no reason to take Greg Abbott or Ken Paxton’s word for it. So keep digging. And ask Abbott about Trump and all the horrible things he’s been saying, too. There’s a story for you. Slate and Daily Kos have more.

Yeah, we’re still talking about the Austin rideshare referendum

The tech community was as divided as everyone else.

Uber

Joshua Baer, founder of Capital Factory, the downtown technology incubator, has been a critic of the proposed regulations. He said he believes the vote sent signals that Austin is hostile to startups.

“Losing Uber and Lyft is a major setback to our reputation as an innovative city and technology hub that is already impacting decisions made by venture capitalists and Fortune 500 executives,” Baer said Monday. “It’s critical that the tech community and City Council come together… before our reputation is damaged further.”

But others scoffed at the notion that the Prop 1 vote could do any long-term damage to Austin’s entrepreneurial reputation. Austin economist Brian Kelsey said the vote is unlikely to have negative ripple effects on startups.

“Prop. 1 may be a setback in how the outside world views our seriousness in local policy making, but branding Austin as ‘anti-innovation” is ludicrous,’ ” Kelsey said. ” If the existence of two ride-sharing companies locally has an impact on your business model, then I’d say Prop. 1 should probably be the least of your concerns.”

[…]

Initially, many tech workers and entrepreneurs said they thought the vote would get industry support because of general opposition to more regulation of emerging technology business models.

But they now say Uber and Lyft’s aggressive marketing tactics derailed the discussion.

“I think it backfired in the tech community,” said Austin entrepreneur Richard Bagdonas, who supported the proposition. “I have talked to many people who said ‘I’m pro-Uber and pro-Lyft, but the number of flyers, calls and texts I received pushed me over the edge.’ ”

Lyft

[…]

Turnout for Prop 1 was dominated by “traditional” voters who reliably show up to vote in state and local elections, Littlefield said. Early voting data showed that 70 percent of the Prop 1 voters were these traditional voters, [Baer] said.

“I’ve seen it time and time again,” he said. “There are people who will vote in May elections and there are people that no matter how vitally important the results of the May election are to their own personal interests, they simply do not vote.”

Political experts said Uber and Lyft underestimated whether support for their service translated into votes.

Take David Goss. He’s a 40-year-old systems engineer for EMC Corp. in Austin. He regularly uses Uber when he’s going downtown for drinks and needs a sober ride home. On paper, Goss sounds like he would be for Prop 1.

But Goss said he voted against the measure. “I do love Uber, I use it all the time,” Goss said. But he said he wasn’t in favor with just letting Uber and Lyft write their own regulations.

“I definitely felt that there was some middle ground, we needed to find a way to ensure the rides were safe and make sure the employees were treated fairly,” he said.

Austin marketing veteran and entrepreneur Josh Jones-Dilworth, who opposed the proposition, said he watched as the discussion — and tech workers’ opinions — morphed.

“It started as a safety issue, and then it became an innovation issue, and then evolved into a corporate bullying issue,” Jones-Dilworth said. “It’s a complex issue, and there was never a consensus. I know a lot of people who changed their mind. And I know a lot of people who stayed on the sidelines because they thought this was a no-win situation.”

David Broockman, a business professor at Stanford University and an Austin native, said startups like Uber and Lyft view themselves as the underdog taking on an established industry: taxis.

“In Silicon Valley there is a tendency to view startups as David against Goliath,” he said, but that doesn’t always translate outside the Bay area, he said, where they are viewed instead as the Goliaths.

Hard to be the David when you’re backed by a few billion dollars in market valuation. For all that people like Uber and Lyft’s service, this election has shown us that liking only goes so far. I’d like to think that they will consider whether they should maybe change their approach a bit, to be more conciliatory and open to compromise, but so far there’s no indication of that. Perhaps we’ll see that when the inevitable statewide regulation bill comes up in the Lege. For all the bluster from some Republicans following Saturday’s vote, the passage of such a bill is not a slam dunk. It’s still the case that collaboration gets you farther in the Capitol than a bludgeon.

In the meantime, more players are hitting the scene.

While Uber has grown into a global behemoth by deploying many thousands of independent contractors, many of those drivers aren’t happy. New ride-sharing startup Juno–which has so far only launched in stealth mode in New York City–will try to make those drivers into its secret weapon.

Talmon Marco, former cofounder and CEO of messaging app Viber (which sold to Rakuten for $900 million in 2014), confirmed to FORBES that he is behind Juno, and promised that the new service under development “will have multiple capabilities that will differentiate it from other such services.”

But likely its biggest differentiator will be driver relations. While Uber has demonstrated its willingness to anger drivers by slashing prices and commissions over the last few years, Juno plans to take only a 10% commission from drivers. And it claims to have “reserved” 50% of its founding shares for drivers.

“At the heart of Juno is a belief that it’s time for a ride sharing service that treated drivers right,” Marco tells FORBES. “It’s time for an ethical, socially responsible ride sharing service. And that’s what we are doing.”

Sounds promising. As I said yesterday, the best thing that could come out of the Austin referendum is for multiple new rideshare services to emerge and find purchase. I mean, if part of the problem with traditional cab companies was that they were shielded by regulations from facing a competitive market, then surely we don’t want Uber and Lyft to be the only game in town for rideshare, right? A competitive market implies the need for competitors, after all. There would be a certain justice in all this if Uber and Lyft’s self-imposed departure from Austin helps enable those competitors. Chris Tomlinson, who has a few choice words for how Uber and Lyft treat drivers, and Roy have more.

Reimagining public transportation is hard work

Noted for the record.

Four years ago, Helsinki launched an innovative bus service as part of a long-term plan to make cars irrelevant.

It was called Kutsuplus—Finnish for “call plus.” And it was one of the world’s first attempts to reinvent carpooling for the algorithm age.

The service matched passengers who were headed roughly in the same direction with a minibus driver, allowing them to share a ride that cost more than a regular city bus but less than a taxi. It was a bit like anUber for buses—or more accurately, likeUberPool—except that Kutsuplus was running for nearly two years by the time Uber got into the ride-sharing side of its business.

Operated by the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority, Kutsuplus was the best-known component of Helsinki’s and Finland’s intelligent traffic system. Ridership grew steadily. But late last year, Helsinki authorities shut down Kutsuplus, deeming its cost to taxpayers too high. The blue minibuses picked up their last passengers on December 31.

[…]

For passengers, the system was fairly straightforward. You would log onto a website, top up your account, select the starting and ending points for your journey, and walk to the closest bus stop to wait for the pick up. The average fare in 2014 was around €5—about US$5.50. By comparison, a single ride by bus or metro is €3. Taxi fares start at €6 and can go much higher depending on the distance traveled.

The project had two main targets: assessing technological feasibility and user acceptance. Judged on these goals, it was a success.

“The research proposal tackled a number of different problems and we were able to solve them to a surprising degree,” says Sampo Hietanen, who until recently worked at ITS Finland, a nonprofit that promotes intelligent transport systems. “We made some wild promises, such as predicting arrival times. That’s not really something you can control yourself, because congestion and other circumstances affect it too.”

Riders took to it. The growth rates matched what the researchers had projected: Eventually the system had 21,000 registered users.

[…]

Two things ultimately killed Kutsuplus. First was the need for massive scale to make the economics of ride-sharing really work. Second was the significant public cost of doing that.

The transport authority had big expansion plans for Kutsuplus. From the original 15 buses, the fleet was to grow to 45 vehicles in 2016, 100 vehicles in 2017, and later into the thousands.

Achieving scale with this model is crucial in order to optimize trips across an entire fleet. With a small number of buses and users, it’s more difficult to match up passengers who are going in the same direction around the same time. This explains why Kutsuplus buses were frequently close to empty. The two times my family and I used Kutsuplus, we had the bus to ourselves.

The math looks different if you add lots of riders and lots of buses. Scaling up to 100 vehicles would have increased the efficiency of Kutsuplus threefold, Rissanen says. Hietanen agrees. “There’s a huge difference between mass transit that works in some areas some of the time, and mass transit that works everywhere all the time,” he says.

Scale could not come without funding, however—and in an austere budget environment, that was a problem. Although the €3 million it cost to run Kutsuplus was less than 1 percent of the Transport Authority’s budget, the service was heavily subsidized. The €17 per-trip cost to taxpayers proved controversial.

Rather than investing many millions more into Kutsuplus to bring it to scale, city officials backed away. They let the pilot come to an end. Rissanen wasn’t happy with the decision.

“The minibuses were meant for high-volume usage,” Rissanen says. But the politicians “got scared and didn’t want to invest in it in an economic downturn.”

See here and here for some background on the Kutsuplus service. Thomas highlighted this story in a comment on my post about driverless cars and the future of mass transit, in Houston and elsewhere. Kutsuplus is an awful lot like what Tory Gattis had hypothesized, except that these vehicles still had human drivers. Given the economic factors cited, it may well be that taking those human drivers and their salaries out of the equation would have made this viable, but we’ll have to wait awhile to know that for sure. (Although there are some services like this in other cities, including New York and Washington, DC, so perhaps we’ll have a better idea sooner than that.) A couple of points to note here: One is that the reason this system came about is because Helsinki’s existing mass transit system has a key flaw: its buses run mainly north-south, so taking east-west trips are hard to do. Two, despite the initial success of the Kutsuplus, there’s no evidence to suggest it caused any reduction in driving. To be sure, it may not have lasted long enough for an effect to be seen, and as we know from Christof Spieler, it’s not about getting people who drive now to stop and change what they’re doing. It may be this was a glimpse of our future that was snuffed out before it had a real chance to succeed, and it may be that this was another pie-in-the-sky vision from people who will support any form of transit except the ones we have now.

Some Latino political power trends

The Latino electorate keeps on growing.

The Latino electorate is bigger and better-educated than ever before, according to a new report by Pew Research Center.

It’s also young. Adults age 18-35 make up nearly half of the record 27.3 million Latinos eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election, the report found.

But although the number of Latinos eligible to vote is surging – 40 percent higher than it was just eight years ago – and education levels are rising, the percentage likely to actually cast ballots in November continues to lag behind other major racial and ethnic groups, the report found.

That’s partly because young people don’t vote as consistently as older people do, but also because Latino eligible voters are heavily concentrated in states – including California, Texas and New York – that are not prime election battlegrounds.

[…]

The explosive growth of the Latino electorate is largely driven by young people born in the U.S. Between 2012 and November of this year, about 3.2 million U.S.-citizen Latinos will have turned 18 and become eligible to vote, according to the report’s projections.

Millennials – adults born in 1981 or later – will account for 44 percent of the Latino electorate by November, according to the report. By comparison, millennials will make up only 27 percent of the white electorate.

The number of Latino potential voters is also being driven by immigrants who are in the U.S. legally and decide to become U.S. citizens. Between 2012 and 2016, some 1.2 million will have done so, according to the report.

Although most new voters are not immigrants, a majority of Latino voters have a direct connection to the immigrant experience, the report noted. That’s an important fact in an election cycle that has been dominated by debates over what do with the estimated 11 million immigrants who entered the U.S. without authorization.

The full report is here. One result of the harsh rhetoric on immigration, and the specter of a Donald Trump candidacy, is a greater push for gaining citizenship among those who are eligible to do so but had not before now.

In what campaigners are calling a “naturalization blitz”, workshops are being hosted across the country to facilitate Hispanic immigrants who are legal, permanent residents and will only qualify to vote in the 2016 presidential election if they upgrade their immigration status.

Citizenship clinics will take place in Nevada, Colorado, Texas and California later this month, with other states expected to host classes in February and early March in order to make the citizenship deadline required to vote in November.

The Republican frontrunner’s hostile remarks about Latino immigrants is driving people to the workshops.

[…]

“Our messaging will be very sharply tied to the political moment, urging immigrants and Latinos to respond to hate with political action and power,” said Maria Ponce of iAmerica Action, an immigrant rights campaign sponsored by the Service Employees International Union.

Several labor unions and advocacy groups are collaborating on the project. In Las Vegas, organizers also intend to hold mock caucuses to educate new voters on the state’s complicated primary process. Nevada is the first early voting state to feature a large Latino population, and that group is eager to make itself known.

“This is a big deal,” said Jocelyn Sida of Mi Familia Vota, a partner in the Nevada event. “We as Latinos are always being told that we’re taking jobs or we’re anchor babies, and all these things are very hurtful. It’s getting to the point where folks are frustrated with that type of rhetoric. They realize the only way they can stop this is by getting involved civically.”

Efforts to increase minority participation in swing state elections are nothing new. Nevada’s powerful Culinary Union has been holding such events for its 57,000 members and their families since 2001. Yet never before has there been a galvanizing figure of the bogeyman variety quite like Trump.

At least he’s good for something. Getting more Latinos to vote (and Asians, too – the report also touches on that) is one thing. Getting more of them elected to office is another.

A new report from a nonpartisan organization focused on getting more Asian-American and Latinos elected to state and local offices found that the two groups are facing obstacles as they seek to achieve greater representation to match their fast-growing populations.

The report, by the New American Leaders Project, found that the groups’ numbers have not grown substantially in those offices — fewer than 2 percent of the 500,000 seats nationally in state and local offices are held by Asian-Americans or Hispanics. Those voters make up more than 20 percent of the United States population, the report notes. Both groups of voters are considered key to the emerging Democratic coalition in national races.

Among the barriers members of these groups faced is that they were less likely to come up with the idea of running for office themselves — usually only doing so if the idea was suggested by another person. Hispanic women also were likelier to report being discouraged “by their political party more than any other group,” the report noted.

Th candidates also tended to rely strongly on support from unions and community groups to be successful, and they found fund-raising one of the most difficult hurdles. That was particularly true among Hispanic women, according to the report.

The report is here. A lot of the barriers, as well as the recommended solutions (see page 21), are similar to those that have been long reported for female candidates. We know the answers, we just need to actually apply them.

All of these are background for how I think about this.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

Months after mounting a passive, ultimately unsuccessful Houston mayoral campaign, Adrian Garcia has swiftly taken on the role of attack dog in his bid to oust longtime U.S. Rep. Gene Green from the 29th District in the Democratic primary.

A Garcia press release out Monday morning proclaimed in all caps, “GENE GREEN SHOULD HAVE BEEN FIRED A LONG TIME AGO,” the latest in a series of statements slamming the incumbent’s record on issues ranging from gun safety to the environment.

Political observers said Garcia’s about-face reflects lessons learned from his recent loss and the nature of a quick primary challenge.

“He needs to give folks a reason not to vote for the entrenched incumbent, so he’s trying to create a differentiation based on policy,” Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer said of Garcia.

“If you think you lost last time because you were too passive, this time you’re going to be more aggressive, and I think there’s a certain element of that involved, as well.”

[…]

Over the last three weeks, Garcia has criticized Green’s voting record on gun safety and environmental legislation while tying him to the district’s comparatively high poverty rate and low rate of educational attainment, among other issues.

“When you know that you’ve got one in three children living in poverty, you’re expecting some leadership from that point,” Garcia said after a press conference Monday announcing the backing of several Latino community leaders. “I’m just speaking to the record.”

I don’t know if Adrian Garcia can beat Gene Green. Green has been a skillful member of Congress for a long time, and Democrats tend to value seniority and experience a lot more than Republicans do. He also hasn’t had to run a campaign in 20 years, and it is unquestionable that the Houston area should have had a Latino member of Congress by now, one way or another. Green has done all the things you’d expect him to do in this race, and he has a ton of support from Latino elected officials (though not unanimous support) and an overall strong record. If we’ve learned anything by now, it’s that this isn’t a business-as-usual election year. So who knows? I wish there were some trustworthy polling available for this race, but I suspect we’re going to have to wait till voting starts to get a feel for this one.

The wedding industry is rubbing its hands with glee

Nothing like having your market dramatically expanded overnight.

RedEquality

Within hours after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in Texas and across the country, local wedding businesses and venues already began getting orders and bookings from same-sex couples. Those in the wedding industry said they expect a surge of gay couples who were hoping to marry in Texas.

“The gay wedding business will grow instantly,” said Mariana Lemesoff, owner of AvantGarden, which received three new wedding requests from gay couples on Friday.

One study estimated an economic boost of $181.6 million in Texas during the first three years of legalization through direct wedding spending and spending by out-of-state wedding guests.

Until the high court’s 5-4 ruling, Houston had been missing out on the gay wedding business, said Betsy Gelb, a marketing professor at the University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business.

Competing primarily with Austin, Houston will have an opportunity to attract same-sex wedding business from other Texas towns where people aren’t as comfortable with their union, Gelb said.

“We are, in a sense, behind the curve in cities realizing there is money to be made in LGBT weddings,” she said.

[…]

In some weddings both women wear dresses. Other couples want pantsuits. Either way, [Christine Nokta, public relations director for Impression Bridal] said, the bridal store is expecting an increase in business.

“Two dresses, that’s better than one as far as we’re concerned,” she said.

Indeed. And don’t forget the boon that county coffers will receive by issuing all those marriage licenses, as places like New York City have been doing for years. You may recall that the original anti-gay marriage bill that was taken up in the Lege this year, from Sen. Charles Perry and Rep. Cecil Bell, would have transferred the marriage license business to the Secretary of State’s office. County Clerks raised a huge fuss about that, since that would have been a real financial loss to them. That’s a small amount compared to what this boost in the wedding business will be, however. Just remember, the next time Greg Abbott claims credit for Texas’ economy, SCOTUS and marriage equality will be a part of that. The Huffington Post has more.

Ted Cruz still really dislikes gay people

Though he’s happy to take their money if they’re foolish enough to offer it to him.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

Nobody tell the adoring fans at U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential announcement at Liberty University that he was palling around liberal New York City with well-known gay activists.

On Wednesday, Cruz attended a small New York City event hosted by two “prominent gay hoteliers” who used to be an item, The New York Times reported. According to one of the men, Ian Reisner, the Texas senator said he would love his daughters no less if one came out as a lesbian. That’s good and well and something most parents would understand, but something else happened that night.

A couple of attendees at the event told The Times that Cruz said the states should independently decide whether same-sex couples should be able to wed, his long-time position. When the paper of record followed up, a Cruz aide said the senator is still opposed to same-sex marriage.

[…]

Cruz, an Ivy League-educated lawyer, has long said this issue should be left up to the states, which is a non-starter among the proponents of so-called marriage equality. Just last October, he called for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the federal government from overriding state marriage laws, a sign that even Cruz, a consummate politician, knows which way the wind blows. At the time, he assailed the U.S. Supreme Court for “abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution” after a ruling that he said “permitted lower courts to strike down so many state marriage laws.”

The problem for Cruz and every GOP presidential candidate who opposes a federally-recognized right to marriage, regardless of someone’s sex, is that the question is mostly answered. Even the most cautious court observers cannot argue with the proposition that legal trends point toward full-fledged marriage equality across the country by this summer.

If that’s the case, then, Cruz and his allies really have no reason to shun wealthy gay donors who disagree with him on this specific issue but find his standing on other topics – the Times article specifically mentioned his fervent support of Israel – more agreeable.

You wold think that those wealthy gay donors would have plenty of reasons to shun Cruz, however.

Sen. Ted Cruz really wants to make sure you know he opposes same-sex marriage.

After Cruz attended a Manhattan reception hosted for him by two gay hoteliers–Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass–the senator introduced bills to protect state same-sex marriage bans, according to Bloomberg News.

One bill would amend the Constitution to definitively allow same-sex marriage bans. The other would halt federal court action on the issue until the amendment is enacted. Several district courts have stricken down same-sex marriage bans, and the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on April 28.

Cruz is a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage and believes states should be allowed to ban it. Though the New York reception focused on national security and foreign policy, Cruz–when asked–said he’d still love his daughters if they were gay.

He just wants to treat them like second-class citizens, that’s all. Very simply, what this all boils down to is that Cruz, like most of his fellow Republican Presidential candidates, wants to have it both ways, and hopes everyone is too stupid or distracted by other issues to notice.

Ted Cruz has now responded to the brouhaha over his Manhattan fundraiser hosted by two prominent gay hoteliers. He argues that there’s no contradiction between his opposition to gay marriage and saying that he would love his daughter if one of his two daughters was gay. In truth, there really is not a necessary contradiction. That’s a totally valid point. But that hardly exhausts the issue or the balancing act (to use a generous formulation) that national Republicans are trying to pull off. They have to balance between a base that remains committed to opposing not only gay marriage but what we might call the normalization of gay life under the law, and a general public that has really moved on from this issue and is beginning to see legal inequality as on the par with de jure racial discrimination. As I said yesterday, we’re seeing the rise of a gay rights policy mullet – same old same old when talking to the base, but a very different way of talking about attitudes toward LGBT Americans when talking to the general public – and specifically, super-rich campaign donors.

Back to this point of whether there’s a contradiction. I don’t think there’s necessarily a contradiction. But there is quite a tension, to put it mildly. What’s the tonality? It’s one thing to oppose gay marriage as a legal matter. Quite another to rail against gay ‘activists’ forcing their ‘lifestyle’ on ordinary Americans, like Cruz and his fellow base Republican candidates do.

We’ve already seen how many national Republicans remain opposed to gay marriage but seem, when making the argument, to want to focus on how they believe homosexuality is not a choice, have gay friends and really can’t wait to go to a gay wedding, even though they don’t think there should be any. When Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson tried to find a middle ground on his state’s ‘religious liberty’ bill, he said basically, I’m so meh on this, even my son thinks I’m behind the times.

[…]

In Maggie Haberman’s follow up on Cruz’s Manhattan fundraiser, she notes that Cruz told the guests at the event that he thinks gay marriage should be left to the states. That’s not totally inconsistent with his rhetoric on the campaign trail, since most of his proposed policies focus on protecting anti-gay marriage states from federal interference. But does Cruz really think the federal government should be agnostic on this issue? Does he think married gay couples should get federal benefits like Social Security and so forth as married couples? I doubt very much that’s an argument he’s willing to get behind on the campaign trail.

This is going to be a constant issue going forward through the 2016 campaign – even the candidate who is trying to stand out with his anti-marriage equality cred tries to hem and haw when he’s raising money in New York. In New York, marriage equality is a minor, principled policy disagreement amidst warm feelings about respect and compassion for all Americans; on the campaign trail it’s the beating heart of the rearguard fight in defense of traditional America. You can muscle those two visions into alignment if you really press hard. But they still can’t fit together.

Clearly, the answer to that first question in the penultimate paragraph is no, he does not think the federal government should be agnostic. Quite the opposite, in fact. I think we all know the answer to the second question, too. These questions may indeed be “minor, principled policy disagreements” for people like those two idiot hoteliers (who are now deservedly coming under fire for their tone-deaf actions) who live in places like New York where same sex marriage is legal. (At least until Ted Cruz gets elected President, anyway.) But for many thousands of people in places like Texas where the old laws still apply, it’s real life with real legal and financial consequences. Where’s the compassion for them?

How does a 25 MPH speed limit for downtown Houston grab you?

Christopher Andrews makes the case in Gray Matters:

Does anyone know the speed limit in downtown Houston? Probably not. Casual observation shows speeds there normally range anywhere from gridlock to Gran Prix.

I don’t believe there are any speed-limit signs. But there is a speed limit. And no, it’s not “however fast you can drive between lights.” According to Section 45-91 of the City of Houston Code of Ordinances, in the absence of speed-limit signs, the speed limit is 30 miles per hour, just like any other local street in our city.

Until recently, 30 mph was also the local speed limit in New York City. But on November 7, New York City’s speed limits dropped to 25 mph, unless posted otherwise. This was part of New York’s Vision Zero initiative aimed ending traffic deaths and injuries — including the deaths and injuries of pedestrians.

[…]

It’s easy to make the case that Houston needs to slow down. Recent studies show that among large cities, Houston ranks above average for bicycle and pedestrian deaths, and that our average number of such deaths has risen. As Houston grows denser, and as more people choose to walk or bike here, that danger will naturally grow. Complete Streets — those new-style streets built with pedestrian-friendly wide sidewalks, street trees and other amenities — are great. But they’re not safe when drivers speed right through them.

Andrews’ original post is here. He references this Vox post about New York City’s Vision Zero initiative and the experience of London, which has lowered speed limits in some parts of town and seen a significant drop in accidents and fatalities as a result. This idea of lower municipal speed limits has an advocate in San Antonio, which I noted here. Another idea that has been proposed here for increasing pedestrian and bicyclist safety is Neighborhood Greenways, which aims to leverage side streets as a way of connecting neighborhoods to off-road hike and bike trails. That idea would be a complement to lower speed limits, not an alternative to them, so doing both is an option as well. Yet a third idea is making lane widths narrower. Michael Skelly advocated for that in a recent op-ed.

Every few years, the city of Houston revises its “Infrastructure Design Manual” to make sure it’s up to date. Public Works is reviewing its current standard of 12 foot-wide lanes. It’s time to put to work the free lessons being learned around the country and reduce the standard lane width to 10 feet.

You’d think that there’s not a lot new in road design – but you’d be wrong. Over the past decade, cities have figured out that one of the smartest things we can do is narrow traffic lanes – often from 12 feet to 10 feet. Reducing lane width reduces road fatalities, makes cities more walkable, saves precious real estate and gets us more bang for our limited tax dollars.

Cities like Chicago have figured out that drivers don’t respond to posted speed limits, but rather to conditions around them. The most effective way to influence driver behavior is by modifying those conditions.

When faced with a wide-open road, even if it’s in urban Midtown, drivers hit the gas. When conditions are more complicated, as when other cars are close by, cars are parallel-parked and pedestrians are out and about, studies show that drivers naturally slow down. You can see this difference yourself next time you find yourself driving quickly down Travis through Midtown or easing off the gas on Heights Boulevard. The former is treated like a speedway by most drivers, and the latter has slower, more cautious traffic. Lower speeds mean fewer, less deadly accidents. Speed matters. Pedestrians hit by a car going 30 mph vs. 20 mph are seven to 10 times more likely to die. The severity of automobile accidents increases dramatically with increases in speed.

There is simply no need for outsized 12-foot lanes. The iconic Texas Suburban has actually shrunk from 79.6 inches in width in 1973 to 79.1 inches today. Buses are wide, but cities around the country manage just fine with 10-foot lanes. And let’s not forget that for a bus system to work, we need safe sidewalks and a walkable environment to allow folks to walk safely to the bus stop.

I can’t say that I’d expect any lower speed limit proposal to be popular in Houston, at least at first, but all of these ideas deserve consideration. There’s a petition in support of ten-foot lanes, if you want to sign it. What do you think?

Speed limits and pedestrian fatalities

Here’s a topic that won’t be the least bit controversial, I’m sure.

The New York City Vision Zero goal is simple and precise: to end traffic deaths and injuries on city streets. This is not a mere sound bite in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio launched his Vision Zero initiative before he took office and is moving the transportation safety work started by his predecessors, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn.

Polly Trottenberg, the current New York City Transportation Commissioner, was an opening speaker at the inaugural Vision Zero for Cities Symposium in mid-November where she restated her commitment to safety for all transportation modes, including walking and cycling.

The symposium, organized by Transportation Alternatives, brought together 300 government and non-government participants from dozens of cities across the U.S. and the world. Transportation Alternatives is a grassroots organization that has worked for decades to improve cycling and walking safety in New York City. It reached a major milestone in 2013 when the city adopted the Vision Zero Action Plan. The 10-year plan sets a high bar through better street design and changing road user behavior. The details are as complex and comprehensive as you might expect for a plan that will create sweeping cultural and engineering changes to the nation’s largest city, but it is built on two fundamental principles: Reduce the chance of collisions and reduce injury by reducing speed.

The myths about New York City transportation safety defy the facts. A popular myth is that New York streets are dangerous, but the fact is their streets are far safer than San Antonio’s streets. In 2012, there were 268 deaths from traffic violence in New York City. Of those, 127 pedestrians and cyclists were killed. During the same period, San Antonio traffic fatalities per capita were 297% that of New York City, and pedestrian/cyclist fatalities per capita were 176% greater that of New York City, according to 2012 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration numbers.

New York City outperforms San Antonio, and almost every other city in the nation, in traffic safety. Yet, the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers share San Antonio’s culture of indifference to traffic deaths. However, a growing group of transportation safety activists throughout New York City steadily chipped away at that indifference and in the past 24 months made powerful breakthroughs. First was the adoption of Vision Zero, followed by establishment of Families for Safe Streets. Families for Safe Streets is a coalition of families who lost a child, parent, or spouse in a pedestrian or cycling collision with an automobile. Families for Safe Streets was a powerful, watershed organization, but one that no one wants membership in.

The establishment of Families for Safe Streets was a pivotal step. Their tragic stories, their conviction to ending this culture of indifference compelled the state legislature to pass a bill permitting New York City to set a city-wide default 25-mph speed limit. The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, a taxi trade association, has joined as partners. Major arterials are being converted to 25-mph speed zones. Streets and intersections throughout the city are being redesigned to reduce chaos, instill discipline, and convert automobile lanes to dedicated cycling and pedestrian uses.

It’s the citywide 25 MPH speed limit that I’m sure will give everyone reading this heartburn. Author Kevin Barton discussed that topic in an earlier post in which he notes that on military bases, in San Antonio and around the country, where speed limits in housing areas are 20 MPH and more rigorously enforced, there are essentially zero traffic fatalities. This Wired article goes into some detail:

“I’d estimate that a person is about 74 percent more likely to be killed if they’re struck by vehicles traveling at 30 mph than at 25 mph,” says Brian Tefft, a researcher with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety who wrote a 2011 report on the subject. He looked at 549 vehicle-pedestrian accidents occurring across the US between 1994 and 1998, accounting for factors like vehicle size and pedestrian BMI. The risk of serious injury (defined as likely to result in long-term disability) for a pedestrian hit at 23 mph was about 25 percent. At 39 mph, it jumped to 75 percent. Analyzing his findings, Tefft says, “25 to 35 mph, they’re almost three times as likely to be killed.” 35 mph, he found, was the median impact speed for fatal pedestrian crashes.

A 2010 study in London had similar findings: “In all of the pedestrian datasets, the risk of fatality increases slowly until impact speeds of around 30 mph. Above this speed, risk increases rapidly – the increase is between 3.5 and 5.5 times from 30 mph to 40 mph,” the author, D.C. Richards, writes.

So why doesn’t a 20 percent change in speed just mean a 20 percent change in serious injuries? There are lots of variables at work here (is the car an Escalade or a Fiat? is it a direct hit or a side swipe?), but, it turns out, the 30 mph mark is something of a limit for what our bodies can live through. Above that speed, organs and the skull aren’t necessarily strong enough to withstand the kinetic impact of a bumper and windshield.

“It has to do with fracture forces,” says Dr. Peter Orner, a licensed physician and former engineering professor who consults on injury biomechanics in car crashes. “As velocity increases, you’re crossing thresholds.” Though he’s skeptical of the comprehensiveness of studies like Tefft’s, Orner also says that at higher speeds, “the car is going to scoop them up.” And when you’re talking about cars, what gets scooped up is usually smacked against a windshield or thrown onto the ground. That can easily lead to brain trauma.

This Smart Growth America report on how dangerous various cities are for pedestrians tells us that for the period of 2003 through 2012, there were 1,073 pedestrian fatalities in the Houston-Baytown-Sugar Land MSA. Granting that that’s a large population, it’s still a lot of dead people, and that doesn’t include bicyclists and passengers or drivers of motor vehicles. I feel reasonably sure if you put all that together the total would exceed the equivalent tally for homicides, yet somehow it gets much, much less attention. Lower speed limits in residential areas, combined with tighter enforcement, could have a large effect on that, and I say this as someone whose driving habits would most definitely be affected. It’s a subject that deserves some discussion. Here’s some further information about Vision Zero in New York, and an assessment of how the first year of it has gone. What do you think?

Promote equality, promote the economy

It’s a simple enough formula.

RedEquality

When the courts finally declare Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage illegal, which most people think they will, it could mean a boost for the wedding and hospitality industry as 23,200 couples tie the knot, according to a new interactive by the Williams Insititute at UCLA and Credit Suisse.

Whether or not you agree with same-sex marriage, there is money to be made from weddings.

Gay and lesbian Texans are expected to spend $181.6 million on weddings and receptions within three years of same-sex marriage becoming legal, adding $14.8 million in tax revenue and creating 523 jobs, according to an extrapolation of the experience in states where same-sex marriage is already allowed.

My colleague Lauren McGaughy wrote this in October and how 18,700 children in Texas are being raised by same-sex couples.

California saw 51,319 couples marry in the first three years after the ban there was lifted, and they spent $392.3 million dollars. More than 24,000 couples married in New York since it became legal there in 2013, spending $228.6 million and generating $19.4 million in tax revenue for the state.

The study is here if you want a closer look. This subject has come up before, and New York’s relatively early entry in marriage equality business was definitely good for them. Florida is estimated to have about the same economic benefit in store as Texas, so now that same sex marriage is legal there we should look to them for a good approximation of what we’re missing out on. The longer we take to get around to this, the more likely we’ll see a significant portion of this boon going to other states as Texas’ same-sex couple opt for destination wedding rather than wait it out. But hey, if Greg Abbott and the rest of the Texas GOP are happy to send that business off to California or wherever else, I guess that’s just the way it is. Wonkblog has more.

Just a reminder that “more gambling” does not necessarily mean “more revenue”

If Atlantic City can go bust…

The winning streak has run cold for Atlantic City, N.J.

Earlier this week, the upscale Revel Casino Hotel announced it will close, bringing the total number of casinos in the city expected to close by the end of the year to four. Thousands of workers are confronting unemployment.

The state has long guaranteed Atlantic City a monopoly on gambling within New Jersey’s borders, but gambling revenues there have been declining due to increased competition from new casinos in neighboring states and the lingering effects of the financial crisis. The monthly report from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement issued Wednesday shows that the trend is continuing, as July’s take declined 7.7 percent year over year.

Pennsylvania, which only legalized casino gambling in the past decade, has replaced New Jersey as the state with the second-largest gambling industry. More casinos have been proposed in New York. Yet revenues have been disappointing across the region. In New Jersey, they have declined by around half from a high of $5.2 billion in 2006.

Most disappointing for investors has been the performance of the casinos’ new online gaming businesses. The prospect of online revenues has kept several casinos open despite declining income.

“A lot of these casinos have been unprofitable for quite some time,” said Alex Bumazhny, an analyst at Fitch Ratings.

Online gamblers haven’t anted up, though, and several casinos have folded. Bumazhny estimates that online gaming revenues for New Jersey businesses will total only around $125 million this year. Revel follows The Atlantic Club, which closed in January, and the Showboat and the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, also expected to close this year.

I like to note this sort of news item because as sure as the sun rises, at some point in the fall as the elections get settled and legislators start pre-filing bills, I’m going to get a press release from a pro-gambling expansion group touting the economic benefits of slot machines at horse racing tracks and/or casinos. Said press release and its accompanying economic study will point out the vast number of Texans that are currently gambling in Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and other non-Texas states, and will lament the money that could have been spent and gambled right here. My point is that the casinos and riverboats and what have you in Louisiana and New Mexico and Oklahoma and wherever else won’t simply give up the business those traveling Texans bring them without a fight, and the competition they will bring to hold onto their existing customers as well as lure new ones may possibly have a downward effect on those numbers in those press releases and economic studies. This isn’t about whether one does support or should support expanded gambling in Texas – as you well know by now, I am deeply ambivalent about it. It’s just a reminder to keep a sense of perspective when the issue heats up as it always does every two years.

First wage theft complaints filed in Houston

I hope these workers get the justice they seek.

For three years Erik Lopez and his three brothers say they each often worked 80-hour weeks, building highway ramps and trash landfills for city projects.

Yet they say their employer refused to pay them overtime. Nor did the company provide tax forms, such as a W-2, instead giving them cash or personal checks so the brothers couldn’t pay their taxes – and stayed off the company’s books.

“(My boss) would tell me it didn’t really suit him to pay me overtime,” said Lopez, 30, a native of Guerrero state in Mexico, who came to Houston 14 years ago seeking work. “I worked all the time, but we struggled paying our bills.”

It was not until he heard about Houston’s wage theft ordinance, passed last November, that he realized he had some recourse. With the assistance of the nonprofit Faith and Justice Worker Center, Lopez and 12 others on Tuesday became the first to file a complaint under that law, saying they’re collectively owed more than $200,000 in unpaid wages for work performed for sub-contractors on city-funded sites.

[…]

Yet workers most affected by rogue employers are often those too afraid to complain. Jose Santa Cruz, a 33-year-old father of two from Michoacán, Mexico, said his employer didn’t provide safety equipment and threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement if his workers reported violations.

Finally, when the boss said he might stick employees with the bill for broken heavy machinery, Santa Cruz just didn’t come back.

Now he said his employer owes him more than $900 in wages and he’s yet to find steady work. “I’m counting on some friends to pay the bills,” he said.

About half of all construction workers in Texas are foreign-born, many of them lacking work authorization, according to a 2013 survey led by the Workers Defense Project.

Researchers found more than 20 percent of Texas workers say they were denied payment for their construction work and 50 percent reported not being paid overtime.

See here, here, and here for the background. The city ordinance isn’t about enforcement per se, it’s about barring firms that have had wage theft complaints enforced against them from doing business with the city. The workers themselves are generally left to pursue the complaints. What isn’t discussed is what the penalties are for committing wage theft. These are usually treated as civil offenses, and as Catherine Rampell documents, the problems are widespread and involve much bigger players than construction firms.

In the past few weeks, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman extracted settlements from dozens of McDonald’s and Domino’s locations around the state for off-the-clock work. Last month, workers in California, Michigan and New York filed class-action lawsuits against McDonald’s alleging multiple charges of wage theft. These suits have upped the ante by implicating the McDonald’s corporation, not just individual franchisees, in bad behavior. The plaintiffs allege that McDonald’s corporate office exerts so much control over franchisees — including by monitoring their hourly labor costs through a corporate computer system — that it had to have known what was going on.

“It doesn’t take a company dictating the specific method for violating the law in order to obtain those violations,” Michael Rubin, an attorney with Altshuler Berzon LLP who filed the California suits, told me. “If you keep coming with this directive that labor costs must be lowered, there are only a finite number of ways that can be done, most of which are unlawful. The lawful ways get exhausted quickly.” (McDonald’s said in a statement that it is “undertaking a comprehensive investigation of the allegations.”)

These cases aside, wage theft mostly goes unreported. Workers who do report the stolen wages to authorities — lately, at the urging of national labor campaigns such as Good Jobs Nation — can wait months before an investigation is resolved, even though they probably need the missing money to pay their next electricity bill. (This has been the case with fast-food workers employed by government contractors at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, who filed a wage-theft complaint with the Labor Department last summer.) The consequences for wage theft are rare, small and not particularly deterring. Even when government investigators pursue these complaints, for example, criminal charges are rarely filed.

Harsher penalties, including prison time, should be on the table more often when willful wrongdoing is proved. Thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s home can go to jail; the same should be true for thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s paycheck.

Can you even imagine our Attorney General filing lawsuits and pursuing these complaints against corporations? I know, right? Greg Abbott would be in court arguing that the workers have no right to sue and that the companies are immune to such lawsuits in Texas. Such amusing thoughts aside, it’s a good question why complaints like these aren’t generally punished with jail time. I mean, if someone reached into your bank account and took a week’s pay from you, you’d call that theft and would consider jail time to be a possibility for the thief. How is this any different? It’s a disgrace that this happens to anyone. As a society, we should not tolerate it and we should take all reasonable steps to prevent and punish it.

Uber uber alles

Very interesting.

Uber rolled out a new service in Manhattan [last] Tuesday that foreshadows the five-year-old company’s plans to become much more than a platform for e-hailing taxi and town car rides. Now, with UberRUSH, the company is piloting a bike and ped-courier service designed to move stuff, rather than people.

For at least $15 a trip, Uber wants to dispatch couriers to ferry everything from legal papers to fashion pieces around Manhattan below 110th Street (for now).

The new service signals the company’s expansion beyond local transportation and into the much larger world of urban logistics. And it’s a savvy play for several reasons: The same back-end technology that Uber has built to track drivers and connect them to riders can easily be used to order and follow deliveries. All that changes is the cargo on board and the mode of transportation, a detail around which the company is becoming increasingly agnostic.

These bigger ambitions bolster Uber’s claim that it is not, by definition, simply another kind of cab company. Most importantly, though, Uber foresees — as Amazon and eBay do, too — that the next growth opportunity in a shifting economy isn’t facilitating digital marketplaces: It’s moving physical stuff. It’s figuring out urban logistics in a world where crowded cities will only become more so, where e-commerce is actually making congestion worse, where the rise of “sharing” has created a need for coordinating the mass joint use of cars, tools, tasks and dinner.

[…]

Logistics are the logical companion industry to the sharing economy. As the latter grows, so will need for the former. Logistics also represent the unresolved territory of the digital age. The Internet has solved all kinds of other problems: It’s enabled us to communicate faster, to pay bills more easily, to shop for products that can’t be found in local stores, to open businesses that couldn’t cover the rent on a brick-and-mortar storefront. But for all those interactions that take place in the ether, we still need to move stuff in the real world. Your Airbnb keys can’t be e-mailed. You can rent a drill bit on SnapGoods, but an online platform can’t physically deliver it to you.

I don’t have anything to add to this. Frankly, the whole thing was just an excuse to use that headline. Nonetheless, this is very interesting, and if it’s successful we’ll see when it or something like it comes to Houston. TechCrunch has more.

So where are the jobs he’s been trying to poach?

There’s an obvious question to ask about this story, but I don’t see it being asked.

Where do they make corndogs, anyway?

Where do they make corndogs, anyway?

After a couple of high profile job-poaching trips to California and Illinois, Gov. Rick Perry is planning a new raid — this time on the Big Apple.

And he’s putting big money behind the state’s big mouth: $1 million for a TV advertising campaign promoting the Lone Star State’s pro-business approach and strong economy, officials say.

Perry is scheduled to travel to New York on Sunday, June 16, and also plans a stop in Connecticut during the four-day trip, the governor’s office is announcing Monday. The message will be identical to the one he has taken to other states: Texas wants you — namely your jobs and investment capital.

“The governor’s job recruitment trips are doing exactly what we intended — getting the word out about the low taxes, smart regulations, fair legal system and skilled workforce that have made Texas a beacon for employers,” said Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed. “We have a formula in Texas that has made us the best state in the nation to live, work, raise a family and run a business — and it’s a formula other states and our federal government would do well to replicate.”

The 30-second ads will feature Texans from a variety of professions — from filmmakers to doctors — extolling the virtues of the state’s economy. They will run on CNBC, FOX News, CNN, ESPN and the Discovery Channel, according to the governor’s office. The spots are scheduled to run for a week, and begin airing Monday, aides said.

The New York ad buy, which dwarfs the ones purchased earlier this year in California and Illinois, appears to be the most aggressive campaign yet by the state’s economic development marketing team.

[…]

While marketing a state’s economic climate to businesses in other states and countries isn’t a new concept, Perry has taken it to a new, confrontational level. When he went to California in February, Perry met with business leaders, talked up Texas to reporters and was featured in a radio ad criticizing the Golden State.

“Building a business is tough. But I hear building a business in California is next to impossible,” Perry said in the ad. “See why our low taxes, sensible regulations and fair legal system are just the thing to get your business moving to Texas.”

The swaggering Texas governor ratcheted up the rhetoric in an ad directly appealing to Illinois’ business leaders, telling them their state’s business climate was “designed for you to fail.”

“With rising taxes and government interference on the upswing, your situation is not unlike a burning building on the verge of collapse,” Perry says in the ad, which urges business leaders to take an “escape route” to Texas. The Illinois ad campaign, which included print and radio spots, cost about $80,000, according to published reports.

The recruiting trips have prompted some eye-rolling scorn in the states where he’s conducted them.

After Perry’s trip to California, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown called the state’s $24,000 ad buy targeting the California businesses “barely a fart” and said it would have no impact on the state’s economy. (When a maker of firearms gear, Shield Tactical, announced in May it was relocating operations from California to Texas, Perry attributed it directly to the recruiting trip and ad buy.)

And right there is the critical point that is being overlooked. Shield Tactical, which calls itself a “family business”, is the only business named that has actually paid heed to Perry’s call to come to Texas. How big a business they are I can’t say – neither their website nor Perry’s press release mentioned their size – but the point is that they’re it so far, after two high-profile ad buys and a ton of press coverage of them. If that’s the case, then by any reasonable metric, Perry’s ad campaign has been a miserable failure. Maybe the New York buy will produce better results – they are spending more money there – but if so it will be a big change from the previous ad campaigns. The Trib article says that “no tax dollars are being used in connection with the marketing trip or ad campaign”, and for the sake of simplicity I’ll take that at face value, but clearly there’s a significant part of the story being missed here. Like with most things Rick Perry does, there’s a big splash up front, then little if anything to show for it once the cameras stop rolling.

Well, okay, there is one thing to show for it:

“This kind of strategy in which you use free media has always been a hallmark of Rick Perry’s public profile,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s hard not to see this as an ongoing branding effort for the next stage of Rick Perry’s public career.”

I must admit that by that measure, this has been a success. Any actual businesses lured here would be a bonus. Trail Blazers, Texas Politics, Hair Balls, and BOR, all of which have videos of the ads in question (and may I just say again what an awesome “Democrat” Farouk Shami was and is), have more.

A personal view of judicial elections

I’ve mentioned in this space before that my father Charles A. Kuffner, Jr. was a Supreme Court justice in New York. (Note: The Supreme Court in New York is basically the equivalent of a District Court in Texas. The top court in New York is the Appellate Court.) He was elected to that position in 1982, and lost his re-election bid in 1996. (Yes, they have 14 year terms in New York.) As you might imagine, he has followed my series of posts about judicial elections with interest, and while discussing it in a recent phone conversation, I encouraged him to write about his experience for publication here. Here’s what he sent me:

Is there a best way to select a Judge?

I have had this discussion with my son and many others over the years. Since I have been exposed to both the election of Judges and the selection process for the Judiciary I offer this commentary.

Both systems have their obvious flaws but over all I prefer the election of Judges with some limitations. Let me tell you my experience.

In 1982 the State of New York funded additional Judgeships Statewide with 13 new positions for the 2nd Judicial Department, Brooklyn and Staten Island. The political leaders worked out a formula, 10 Democrats, 3 Republicans, 2 Republicans from Brooklyn and 1 for Staten Island. (Staten Island was included since the Senate Finance Chair was from Staten Island).

A joint committee selected by the politicians interviewed all candidates and if approved the person would run in November dually endorsed by the Brooklyn Democratic Party and the Republicans. You should know that without the Democratic endorsement a person had no chance for election.

12 Republicans interviewed from Staten Island, but for one reason or another consensus could not be reached. I was candidate #13 and interviewed just before the judicial convention. Previously, I was on that screening committee and was not a candidate for the position. I was passed by the joint committee and was elected in 1982, and served from 1983 until 1996.

In 1996 I sought the Democratic dual endorsement, which previously was automatic, but denied that endorsement. I ran as a Republican and was defeated. A little history; I was endorsed by every Bar Association in the district as “Highly” qualified and even a “Highly” qualified rating was obtained by the umbrella group representing the “white shoe” lawyers. Interestingly, I was the only trial court Justice to received the “highly” qualified rating. Even with these credits, along with being President-elect of the Association of Supreme Court Justices, it meant nothing to the straight line Democratic voters in the 2nd judicial district. Add to that was my reversal rate after trial which was about nil.

I then applied to the State and the City for an appointed judicial position. I interviewed at the State level and even though I had an affirmance rate after trial of about 98% I was not recommended to Gov. Pataki. More history; I opposed the Pataki plan to limit judicial discretion in sentencing defendants and was so quoted in the New York Times.

The appointment process for the NYC Criminal Courts mirror that of judicial selection set up I originally went before when I was elected in 1982. I came out of the Mayor’s committee as recommended and was even interviewed by Mayor Giuliani but all for naught. I was not appointed: thus ended my judicial career.

Reality check: there isn’t a major party leader that will give up the power over judicial candidate selection whether by election or appointment. Jobs are the life blood of political parties and judicial patronage appointments mean untold millions of dollars that find their way back to the party in power. From my own experience I can tell you that every mortgage foreclosed meant at least $500 to the lawyers I appointed as referee to sell; for every commercial property that goes into foreclosure, a receiver is appointed to collect rents, etc. That fee is usually 5% of monies collected. For every person in need of guardianship, a lawyer is appointed as an evaluator and is paid a percentage of the estate to be managed; in the Probate courts the amount of patronage paid to politically connected lawyers is staggering. Need I say more?

If I had to recommend a system for appointment of judicial candidates, I would have as a committee membership roster, Court employees who work in the Courts where the vacancy exists; lawyers who routinely practice in that court; former jurors who sat for trials and a psychiatrist/psychologist. Why these folks? Easy, court employees are keen observers and evaluators of courtroom demeanor; lawyers want to practice before a colleague whose work habits and scholarship are known; jurors because they also have 1st hand knowledge of the stresses and strains in a courtroom during trial and lastly mental health professionals who can gauge the all important qualifications of demeanor, temperament and character of the candidate.

Once the candidate or candidates are selected they are appointed and sit for 2 years and then run for a longer term in a non-partisan election on their record.

Pie in the sky? You bet, but if you want to eliminate party politics from the Judiciary radical changes have to me implemented.

So there you have it. The system is a little different in New York, but the parallels are obvious enough. Again, my point is not to defend the status quo but to point out that the question of how best to do this is complex, and we are not well served by simplistic solutions such as eliminating straight-ticket voting for judicial races. More discussion is needed, and I hope I’ve provided some useful items towards that end.

The case against the food trucks

Reggie Coachman, president of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, tries to make a case against giving food trucks freer rein downtown.

Currently there are more than 939 active mobile units permitted in the city of Houston, including 774 trucks and trailers equipped with kitchens. The Mobile Food Unit Coalition primarily represents a small number (less than 50) of those trucks. These trucks are chef-driven, entrepreneurial, comply with city codes and primarily serve the inner-loop community.

The city of Houston has two inspectors and one supervisor for these 939 units. Many of these trucks operate around the clock or during off hours, while the inspectors primarily work normal business hours. With only two inspectors, it is not possible for the city to enforce the existing regulations, much less loosened regulations.

If all food trucks complied with regulations, there would not be as much concern. However, neighborhoods across the 656 square miles of the city have had many problems with food trucks. Some of the trucks rarely move. Some have been witnessed disposing of their grease in city storm sewers. They have patrons that loiter nearby and engage in inappropriate behavior late into the night. Regulations require that a truck be moved and visit a commissary at least once during a 24-hour period. The current regulations were strengthened in recent years to better manage the problems created by quasi-permanent food trucks.

Mobile food units are by the very definition mobile businesses. In most cities, they are banned from having tables and chairs. They serve walk-up customers who are taking their food elsewhere to eat. To allow these vehicles to add tables and chairs in front of their trucks is allowing them to essentially operate a restaurant without complying with full standards required of restaurateurs or paying the accompanying taxes. Again, we do not believe that this is an issue with the proponents of these changes, but we already have serious issues with trucks operating in the parking lots of existing brick-and-mortar restaurants outside of Loop 610.

And to that point, let’s consider the impact to existing businesses. The Chronicle editorial claims that Houston is a foodie city. We agree. It is the existing restaurants that have brought us to this point. Restaurateurs who are strong entrepreneurs, many who started in small shops or as busboys for someone else and then built their own unique spaces, have helped elevate Houston to a food destination. These restaurants pay significant property taxes to the city. In a brick-and-mortar restaurant, sales taxes are tightly regulated and regularly submitted to the state. They hire many workers and add jobs to the economy.

In other words, it all boils down to benighted self-interest. We’ve all got bills to pay, and we’d all like to go about our business without more interference than necessary. I get that, and I don’t hold it against anyone, but that generally doesn’t make for a compelling argument. As Katharine Shilcutt documented at Tuesday’s council meeting where MFU Houston encountered resistance from various Council members and the GHRA, there are actually more inspectors per food truck than there are inspectors per restaurant, and as anyone who has ever watched the local news in this town well knows, brick-and-mortar restaurants have cleanliness issues sometimes, too. All this would be excusable, but then I read this:

New York City, which was mentioned in the editorial, is actually moving food trucks out of the city.

That piqued my curiosity, so I did a little Googling. I found the NYC Food Truck Association, and on their FAQ page, I found this:

Q – Why do NYC food trucks need advocates?
A – Running a food truck in NYC right now is very challenging. The current regulations make it very hard to find parking to vend and to hire staff quickly enough to keep up with seasonal demand. There have been a number of articles documenting these challenges:
Food Trucks Shooed From Midtown, New York Times
The rise and stall of food trucks, Crain’s NY
The NYCFTA is working with the Administration, City Agencies, City Council, Business Improvement Districts, and communities throughout New York City in order to help reinvent food truck vending in a way that is beneficial to the City, food truck entrepreneurs, and New Yorkers.

The key bit in that NYT story about why food trucks are now being ticketed by the cops is as follows:

David Weber, president of the New York City Food Truck Association, which represents 24 vendors, said the police activity is a result of a May 24 ruling by Justice Geoffrey D. Wright in New York State Supreme Court (*). The decision reinforced a city Transportation Department regulation, believed to date from the 1950s, stating that no “vendor, hawker or huckster shall park a vehicle at a metered parking space” to offer “merchandise for sale from the vehicle.”

“Until now this law was very inconsistently enforced,” Mr. Weber said, “but now Judge Wright’s decision is trickling down to the precincts.”

In other words, the change in attitude towards food trucks in New York was not the result of a deliberate policy decision made by Mayor Bloomberg and/or New York’s City Council, but the sudden application of an obscure old city ordinance. Characterizing this as the city “moving the trucks out” – itself a falsehood, as trucks have recently established a presence near downtown – is a total distortion, and makes me much less inclined to take anything the GHRA says on the issue seriously. If there is a case to be made against the food trucks, let’s make it honestly, OK? CultureMap has more from the Council meeting.

One more thing: MFU Houston is asking for access to the Medical Center as well as downtown. Coachman’s piece mentions the Medical Center in passing, but focuses on downtown. Whatever the argument for keeping the current regulations on food trucks for downtown, I don’t see how they apply for the Medical Center, because there are no brick-and-mortar restaurants there. There’s hardly anyplace to eat in the Medical Center. I don’t know where the trucks would park in the Medical Center if allowed there, but their presence is desperately needed.

(*) – In New York, the Supreme Court is more or less the equivalent of a District Court in Texas. The top court in NY is the Appellate Court. My dad was a Supreme Court Justice in NY, so I know these things.

No Medicaid expansion for you!

So much for that.

Texas will not expand Medicaid or establish a health insurance exchange, two major tenets of the federal health reform that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld last month, Gov. Rick Perry said in an early morning announcement.

“I stand proudly with the growing chorus of governors who reject the Obamacare power grab,” he said in a statement. “Neither a ‘state’ exchange nor the expansion of Medicaid under this program would result in better ‘patient protection’ or in more ‘affordable care.’ They would only make Texas a mere appendage of the federal government when it comes to health care.”

Perry’s office said he’s sending a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius [Monday] morning asserting his opposition, both to accepting more than a hundred million federal dollars to put more poor Texas adults onto Medicaid, and to creating an Orbitz-style online insurance marketplace for consumers.

Of course, opting out of creating a state exchange means that the federal government will create one instead. It does not mean there will be no exchange in Texas. This is why some Republican legislators like Rep. John Zerwas tried to pass a bill to create an exchange, so that it would be implemented by Texas instead of the federal government. The rationale for not implementing the state-run exchange confounds me, but I have never been Rick Perry’s intended audience.

As for the refusal to expand Medicaid, just on Friday the Dallas Morning News reported that Perry was still thinking about it.

Gov. Rick Perry won’t say whether Texas should take or reject the federal largesse that could allow the state’s Medicaid program to cover more poor adults.

But a spokeswoman confirmed Friday that his aides have begun canvassing health care provider groups for their opinions about expanding Medicaid and creating a state health-insurance exchange

Though he’s a staunch opponent of President Barack Obama’s federal health care law, Perry’s reluctance to declare immediate opposition to the Medicaid expansion after the Supreme Court’s ruling last week puts him at odds with several other Republican governors. Some, such as Florida’s Rick Scott, have already vowed to keep their states on the sidelines, taking advantage of the court’s ruling that they can do so without jeopardizing the funds they already receive.

Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier played down the calls as routine outreach on a major issue. But several health-care lobbyists and experts said it’s shrewd for Perry to say little because the Supreme Court ruling gives him leverage to negotiate with the Obama administration for tighter Medicaid eligibility rules and leaner benefits before agreeing to the expansion, which would take place starting in 2014.

“It’s smart politics because there’s no need to make a decision at this time, and he and a lot of Republicans are playing for more flexibility within the program,” said Tom Banning, chief executive and executive vice president of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians.

Apparently, he didn’t listen very closely to what the health care providers want, because they have made their preference quite clear.

Getting the Medicaid expansion in place has already become the “number one priority” for the Texas Hospital Association, said John Hawkins, the senior vice president for advocacy and public policy at the organization. “It’s the kind of thing that hits our members right on the margin when they’re trying to digest other payment cuts,” he said.

Twenty-seven percent of working-age Texans, or more than 6.1 million people, were uninsured in 2010, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s the highest rate in the nation and the second-highest number to California’s 7 million people. Under the Medicaid expansion, 2.5 million Texans would qualify, the Urban Institute estimates.

But Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has been a staunch opponent of health care reform and his administration has indicated a willingness to opt out of the Medicaid expansion. For Texas hospitals, which absorbed $4.6 billion in unpaid bills and charity care in 2010, that’s a problem, Hawkins said.

I’m thinking that will provide for some interesting fundraising pitches this fall. My advice to them is to start donating to Democrats now.

So now Rick Perry will take a victory lap on Fox News and bask in the adulation of his cultish supporters. Everyone else will have to deal with the reality of this, starting with county taxpayers.

It's constitutional - deal with it

Unlike many states, Texas does not directly subsidize the cost of caring for the uninsured. Instead, taxpayers in Dallas County and elsewhere help pick up that tab through property taxes that support safety-net hospitals such as Parkland Memorial Hospital.

Last year, Parkland reported that its own cost for delivering uncompensated care was $335 million. Dallas County taxpayers funded $425 million, or 35 percent, of the hospital’s operating budget.

For the average Dallas County homeowner, that created a hospital tax bill of $370.

Some advocates of health reform say the new revenue from Medicaid payments is large enough that hospital districts — whose budgets are controlled by county commissioners — could reduce their tax rates.

[…]

Some experts expect that Texas will eventually accept the Medicaid funding. After all, the federal government would cover the entire cost of the expansion between 2014 and 2016. Hospitals that have struggled to find ways to offset charity care are certain to demand that state lawmakers take the money.

“It really depends on the political pressure they get from the counties and the hospitals that benefit from having these people covered,” said John Holahan, director of the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center. “To leave all this federal money on the table will create an intense debate.”

The hospitals are big losers as well.

Hospitals regularly get stuck with bills that the uninsured cannot afford to pay. Every year, the American Hospital Association adds all those bills up to calculate the total amount of uncompensated care that its members provide. Every year, the number gets bigger and bigger, hitting $39.3 billion in 2010. Here’s a chart I put together with the AHA data:

Under the health reform law, hospitals will see reductions in some of their Medicare reimbursement rates. They will be forced to deliver higher quality or see financial consequences.

All of that was worth it, in hospitals’ eyes, because of the insurance expansion. That would finally put someone on the hook for the medical bills that have, for decades, gone unpaid.

If states opt-out of the Medicaid expansion, that essentially means there’s no one on the hook for some of the poorest patients. And that explains why Bruce Siegel, president of the National Association of Public Hospitals, calls states opting out a “potentially disastrous outcome” and is urging Congress to come up with a fix. For them, the status quo is the worst possible outcome: One where they have accepted cuts to Medicare, and still get stuck with billions in unpaid bills.

Remember, a part of the Affordable Care Act was a reduction in the federal subsidy for uncompensated care costs because it assumed the expansion of Medicaid would greatly reduce the number of uninsured patients. Unfortunately, no one foresaw the SCOTUS decision striking down the provision that states would lose existing Medicaid funding if they didn’t accept the subsidies to expand it, and so here we are. Just as a reminder, states like Texas that have a lot of uninsured people would have benefited greatly from it as a result. It was a simple case of red state/blue state math.

The deal the federal government is offering states on Medicaid is too good to refuse. And that’s particularly true for the red states. If Mitt Romney loses the election and Republicans lose their chance to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they’re going to end up participating in the law. They can’t afford not to.

Medicaid is jointly administered between states and the federal government, and the states are given considerable leeway to set eligibility rules. Texas covers only working adults up to 26 percent of the poverty line. The poverty line for an individual is $11,170. So, you could be a single person making $3,000 a year and you’re still not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid in Texas. That’s part of the reason Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation.

Massachusetts, by contrast, covers working adults up to 133 percent of the poverty line — partly due to a former governor whose name rhymes with Schmitt Schmomney. It’s a big reason it has the lowest uninsured rate in the nation.

The Affordable Care Act wants to make the whole country like Schmitt Schmomney’s Massachusetts. Everyone earning up to 133 percent of the poverty line, which is less than $15,000 for an individual, gets Medicaid. And the way it does that is by telling states the feds will cover 100 percent of the difference between wherever the state is now and where the law wants them to go for the first three years, and 90 percent after 2020.

To get a sense of what an incredibly, astonishingly, unbelievably good deal that is, consider this: The federal government currently pays 57 percent of Medicaid’s costs. States pay the rest. And every state thinks that a sufficiently good deal to participate.

But, somewhat perversely, the states that get the best deal under the law are states like Texas, which have stingy Medicaid programs right now, and where the federal government is thus going to pick up the bill for insuring millions and millions of people. In states like Massachusetts, where the Medicaid program is already generous and the state is shouldering much of the cost, there’s no difference for the federal government to pay.

So if Texas had accepted Medicaid expansion, it would have gotten a vastly better deal than states like New York, California, and Massachusetts. Now that Texas has decided to “send that money back” to Washington, we will subsidizing the Medicaid expansions of New York, California, and Massachusetts, and getting nothing in return. Does that sound like a good idea to you? BOR, Neil, EoW, Juanita, Hair Balls, Ed Kilgore, Sarah Kliff, and Rep. Garnet Coleman have more, and statements from Rep. Jessica Farrar and Sen. Rodney Ellis are beneath the fold.

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Stimulate the economy with marriage equality

​If New York can do it

Helping cities grow their economies since 2011

New York City made quite a bit of money on gay marriage — 200,000 bucks, in fact.

Cash flow into the city’s marriage bureau shot up since August, when same-sex nups got enacted, according to the New York Post.

The office took in $2.26 million — up from $2 million during that same period in 2010, the newspaper reports.

From July 24, 2010 to Feb. 22, 2011 — the city clerk’s measurement period — New York issued 36,913 marriage licenses.

From July 24, 2011 to Feb. 22, 2012, however, the city gave out 41,967.

The five leaders of the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry movement mention the economic argument among other reasons as they make their case in a Chron op-ed.

In Boston, where gay and lesbian couples have been free to marry for more than seven years, it has been an important benefit to the city’s economy. According to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA, the freedom to marry has encouraged same-sex couples to move to the city, in particular young, highly educated individuals – members of what has been called the “creative class” – who are vital to economic development in a post-industrial economy.

In New York, where same-sex couples have only been able to marry for a short time, we have already seen the benefits. Welcoming committed gay couples to the rights and responsibilities of marriage is resulting in an even more diverse, dynamic and forward-looking city.

In San Diego and Los Angeles, our gay and lesbian citizens had the opportunity to marry for four-and-a-half months in 2008 before the passage of Proposition 8, the initiative that amended the California Constitution and banned same-sex marriage. During that brief time, 18,000 couples married in California.

The four cities mentioned happen to be Mayored by four of those five aforementioned leaders. The fifth, of course, is Mayor Parker, who unfortunately cannot make any such boasts about her fair city. Not today, anyway. Five of the other Texas pro-marriage equality Mayors came to Parker’s defense with a press release that I’ve included below, and it’s a positive sign that all of the letters to the editor that the Chron printed about the Riggle crusade were in defense of Mayor Parker, but needless to say there’s a long, long way to go.

Anyway. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that by making marriage available to a wider population, more people got married. All those extra marriage licenses added up to a nice little bit of extra revenue for the city. I’m sure a few of those happy couples came from other states, including Texas, to take advantage of what was not an option for them at home. New York appreciates your business, y’all. Someone should ask Pastor Riggle and Jared Woodfill why they favor exporting all these weddings to other states instead of keeping them here in Texas where they belong.

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Casinos expanding nationally

I have no idea what the political or budgetary climate will be like for the gambling industry here in Texas when the Lege next convenes in 2013, but they have been gaining a lot of ground elsewhere in the country.

You got to know when to hold em...

States have embraced casinos, after years of trepidation about their societal costs, for two simple reasons: a promise of a rich new revenue source, plus the possibility of stimulating tourism.

“They are faced with tough decisions. They are in recession … And we pay taxes far over and above normal taxes,” said Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association.

Last week alone, Genting’s new gambling parlor at Aqueduct, now limited to 4,500 video slot machines and another 500 electronic table games, made nearly $13 million — putting the “racino” on pace to make $676 million per year, with 44 percent of that take going to a state education fund.

And that total is nothing compared to the $1.4 to $2 billion per year Genting predicts it would bring in at the huge complex it is planning in Miami.

Some experts, however, have questioned whether revenue bonanzas that large are realistic, and say states should be cautious about giving up too much to lure these projects. Competition for a limited pool of gambling and tourism dollars is already fierce, and recent years haven’t been kind to casinos.

Nevada’s larger casinos lost $4 billion in 2011, according to a report released this month by the state’s Gaming Control Board, as the state continued to feel the effects of the global economic slump.

As gambling options have increased in the East, revenue has slid substantially at the pair of Indian tribe-owned casinos in Connecticut and declined by a dramatic 30 percent in Atlantic City, which has lost customers in droves to the new casinos in nearby Philadelphia, according to David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Other than that one mention of Nevada, the story is entirely East Coast-focused, so I can’t say what kind of action there may be in these parts. No question, Texas is a big prize, and I’m sure there will be yet another large push for casinos, slot machines at racetracks, or both. There’s also been a push for online gambling of late, which may add a new wrinkle to the usual legislative battle. As always, worth keeping an eye on.

A step forward for online gambling

Interesting.

The Justice Department has reversed its long-held opposition to many forms of Internet gambling, removing a big legal obstacle for states that want to sanction online gambling to help fix their budget deficits.

The legal opinion, issued by the department’s office of legal counsel in September but made public on Friday, came in response to requests by New York and Illinois to clarify whether the Wire Act of 1961, which prohibits wagering over telecommunications systems that cross state or national borders, prevented those states from using the Internet to sell lottery tickets to adults within their own borders.

Although the opinion dealt specifically with lottery tickets, it opened the door for states to allow Internet poker and other forms of online betting that do not involve sports. Many states are interested in online gambling as a way to raise tax revenue.

New York has offered an online subscription service since 2005 that allows state residents to enter a string of Lotto or Mega Millions drawings.

See here for some background. I don’t really expect anything to come of this here in Texas, but I won’t be too surprised if it’s part of the legislative conversation in 2013. If nothing else, I have to figure the Texas Lottery Commission would like to add online subscriptions to its bag of tricks. Worther keeping an eye on, in any event.

Bike sharing comes to New York

You’d have thought – or at least, I’d have thought – that New York City would have been a very early adopter of bike sharing. Turns out they’re just getting started now.

At a press conference [last Wednesday] afternoon, the Department of Transportation announced that it has selected Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share, which runs similar programs in Boston and Washington D.C.

New York is kind of late to the bike-share game — European cities have been on this tip forever, and U.S. cities from Boston and D.C. to Madison, Minneapolis, and Chicago already have programs in place.

But New York will be the biggest bike-share yet. When it makes its debut next summer, New York City Bike Share will include 10,000 new bicycles at 600 locations, more than any other program in the world.

The rental stands will be placed about three blocks apart, throughout Manhattan below 79th Street and in the nearer reaches of Brooklyn.

Mindful of the recent grumblings about its ambitious bike-lane expansions, the Department of Transportation is promising to solicit lots of input before it selects locations for the rental stands.

Last week the DOT promised City Council it will consult the Council and hold public hearings as it goes forward. New Yorkers can also give their own suggestions for a bike-share location on the program’s web site.

There’s a video at the story that explains the basics. Speaking as a native Staten Islander, all I can say is that I hope they expand this beyond “Manhattan below 79th Street and in the nearer reaches of Brooklyn”. Oddly enough, the streets of Manhattan are crowded enough that I don’t know how they’ll be to an influx of presumably novice bicyclists. I also wonder if the effect will be more to reduce bus and subway ridership rather than to take cars off the street. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Also fixing to hop on board the bike sharing bandwagon – Dallas.

Absolutely, says the city’s top bicycle planner, Max Kalhammer.

The 2011 Dallas Bike Plan, approved in June by the Dallas City Council to mixed reviews, calls for just such a program, with a half-dozen bike centers located in downtown, he said. Private firms willing to operate a bike share program have already visited him, and interest is strong.

But first, he said, Dallas has to implement the first stages of the bike plan — which would add hundreds of miles of bike lanes — so that those who want to use the bikes, or use their own, can do so safely and have plenty of places to go.

“We have to really have the bicycle infrastructure in place before we can offer that program of bicycle sharing,” Kalhammer said. “One has to come before the other.”

Most importantly, the city is looking for about $500,000 in grant money to complete the Central Core Connector, a series of on-street improvements central Dallas that planners hope will make bicycling easier and safer for residents and tourists from Uptown to Deep Ellum, downtown and Oak Cliff.

[…]

How would the city’s bike share program work?

The bike plan envisions two possible scenarios. One would involve bringing in a firm, as New York has done, to manage the program in return for the right to collect fees from users. The monthly fee — pledged in NYC to be less than a monthly transit pass — would cover unlimited 24/7 access to, in New York’s case, the 10,000 bikes stationed throughout the city.

In Dallas, though, the program would start smaller, perhaps with about a half-dozen bike stations in downtown, though the plans call for expanding service to Deep Ellum and Oak Cliff over time.

The other scenario would involve the city managing the program.

Good for them. With San Antonio leading the way, and Houston and Austin to follow, our state’s on its way to being a lot more bike friendly.

Speaking of Houston, I was hoping to give an update on its Bike Share rollout, since it’s supposed to be up and running this fall. As it happens, Laura Spanjian was on vacation when the story about New York’s bike share program came out, and I have not been able to connect with her to ask for a status update. I will note that neither the Houston Bike Share Facebook page nor the Bike Share Houston webpage has been updated in recent months. When I hear something, I will let you know.

States looking at online gambling

Until the economy returns to the point where states aren’t completely strapped for revenue, I expect them to look at all possible sources of new money.

It’s an idea gaining currency around the country: virtual gambling as part of the antidote to local budget woes. The District of Columbia is the first to legalize it, while Iowa is studying it, and bills are pending in places like California and Massachusetts.

But the states may run into trouble with the Justice Department, which has been cracking down on all forms of Internet gambling. And their efforts have given rise to critics who say legalized online gambling will promote addictive wagering and lead to personal debt troubles.

The states say they will put safeguards in place to deal with the potential social ills. And they say they need the money from online play, which will supplement the taxes they already receive from gambling at horse tracks, poker houses and brick-and-mortar casinos.

“States had looked at this haphazardly and not very energetically until the Great Recession hit, but now they’re desperate for money,” said I. Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School, where he specializes in gambling issues.

When it comes to taxing gambling, he said, “the thing they have left is the Internet.”

I don’t really expect this to come up in the Texas Lege in 2013, because casino and horse racing interests have too much at stake to let it happen. While I am not an advocate of expanded gambling myself, if it ever does happen in Texas I would prefer it to be in the form of real casinos and/or slot machines at racetracks, on the grounds that they would provide more jobs than online gambling. Having said that, once this is up and running somewhere, it’s not really clear to me how you could prevent someone in Texas, or anywhere else, from playing.

There are other ways that a state could leverage the Internet to feed its own gambling habit:

Some states, including New York and North Dakota, already sell lottery subscriptions online. Since 2005, New York has offered a subscription service that allows people in the state to enter a string of Lotto or Mega Millions drawings. The state says 100,000 people subscribe.

New York is exploring whether to allow people to draw from an escrow account when they decide to buy into a single drawing — say, when the jackpot reaches alluring levels.

Again, I can’t recall hearing of anything like this in Texas. Unlike the virtual casinos, I could imagine something like this being implemented by the Texas Lottery Commission, without direct input from the Lege. I wonder if they haven’t thought of it, or if they think it’s illegal for them to try it. Anyone know anything about that?

Hey, Houston! Steal this idea!

Something like this needs to happen here in Houston.

The BigApps competition, in which [New York City] made its data available to developers so they could make apps out of them that would be helpful to citizens, and offered prizes to the best entries, closed last night with a ceremony and the announcement of three grand prize winners, a popular favorite chosen by the public, and six honorable mentions. Some of them are available already on iTunes, and we expect the others will be soon.

The key to all this was New York making its data available so the apps creators could do their thing. I feel confident that if Houston did the same, and made sure that fact was known, our own app development community would jump on it. Even without a contest and a cash prize – though of course those things couldn’t hurt – we’d likely see some cool and useful stuff. But it all starts with making the data available, and making sure people know that it’s available.

If we’re looking for revenue to help deal with that budget gap…

We could always follow the lead of many other states and adopt our own climate plan.

Already, ten states in the Northeast have put their electric utilities under a cap-and-trade system known as RGGI. Eleven Western states and Canadian provinces are now laying the groundwork for their own cap-and-trade system, known as the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), which would begin in 2012 and could well expand further. Right now, there’s a lot of cooperation between RGGI and WCI, [Terry Tamminen, who advised California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on that state’s climate policy] said—so that in the future they could be linked up, possibly with Europe’s system, and possible with offset projects in, say, China and India. (Relatedly, Schwarzenegger is putting together an “R-20” for various subnational governments, modeled after the G-20, to get together and coordinate these sorts of regional efforts.)

Okay, but what sorts of cuts are we really talking about? The WCI, after all, includes some hefty states and provinces—California, Ontario, Washington, Arizona—but it doesn’t include some of the heaviest polluters, like Alberta and Texas. Unfortunately, no one’s done a full tally of the total impact on U.S. emissions—it’s still too early for that. But, Tamminen notes, when you add state efforts to the hundreds of cities that have pledged to reduce their emissions, suddenly we’re talking about a big swath of the United States. “Eighty percent of the country’s emissions come from cities and industrial areas that are often located near those cities.”

And, Tamminen adds, other states will have plenty of incentive to buy into these climate plans. For instance, some of the RGGI states have used revenue from selling carbon permits to help fill in their budget shortfalls ($100 million in New York’s case)—an option that may increasingly look attractive to many governors around the country. It’s a move that has a certain logic too it. “When you think about a coal-fired power plant,” says Tamminen, “it’s not just the greenhouse gases—there are all sorts of other pollutants causing asthma and so forth, and that ends up costing states in medical bills. So it’s totally appropriate for states to offset those costs by forcing polluters to internalize them, through a price on carbon.”

A hundred million bucks is still a relatively small amount in the context of our budget and its currently projected shortfall, but it’s still a hundred million bucks, and I’d bet Texas has a lot more revenue potential there than New York does. Yeah, I know, this is about as likely to happen as a tax on concealed weapons. But just take a minute and imagine what it might be like if we provided incentives to not pollute, instead of the other way around.

Uncle Dan wins re-election

For some more pleasant election-related news, I’m happy to note that my uncle Dan Kuffner was re-elected to the Dutchess County (New York) Legislature.

In District 7, Legislator Dan Kuffner, D-Hyde Park, beat Republican Yancy McArthur.

[…]

On Nov. 3, Kuffner led by only 44 votes. After 118 paper ballots were counted Friday, Kuffner had 1,325 votes and McArthur had 1,283, a difference of 42 votes, according to unofficial results.

Kuffner, 62, said, “I got into this job because I enjoy service. I’m thrilled that the people are asking me to continue the job.”

He was elected in 2007 after a long career as an elementary school teacher; he had also been the president of the local teachers’ union. This was a bad year in Dutchess County for his fellow Democrats, as they went from a 13-12 majority to being down 18-6, plus an independent. But he won after a tough campaign. Congats again, Uncle Dan!

Friday random ten: It’s a helluva town

I don’t really have anything new or original to say about this anniversary of 9/11. What I published back in 2002 is as meaningful as anything I could say today. What I can do is give you some music in honor of my hometown, which is always in my thoughts no matter how long it’s been since I lived there.

1. Autumn In New York – Harry Connick, Jr
2. Fairytale of New York – The Priestess and The Fool
3. A Heart In New York – Art Garfunkel
4. My Love Is In New York – Black 47
5. New York City Serenade – Bruce Springsteen
6. New York State of Mind – Billy Joel
7. New York State of Mind – Mel Torme
8. Road to New York – Jim Malcolm
9. New York, New York – Frank Sinatra
10. New York, New York – from “On the Town”

Here’s to you, New York.

Good times and bad for museums

Nice to hear that a couple of local museums are thriving in these hard times. Sadly, they’re very much the exception.

On the heels of the March 14 opening of a seven-gallery addition to its Hermann Park-area building, the [Children’s Museum of Houston] this week announced plans to add 25 positions to its 177-member workforce.

The $35 million expansion almost doubles the museum’s size to 90,000 square feet. Plans call for boosting programs targeting low-income or bilingual families.

Meanwhile, the [Houston Museum of Natural Science], which this year marks its centennial, is moving forward with a campaign to raise $85 million for construction of a 194,000-square-foot addition that will help it cope with millions of visitors who pour through its doors annually.

Museum President Joel Bartsch said $61 million has been raised and a summer groundbreaking is scheduled.

“We’re fairly fortunate in that we have a lot of rocks and seashells — and a town full of geologists and universities,” said Bartsch, who noted attendance, membership and revenues all have increased over the past year.

I’ve heard many good things about the Children’s Museum expansion, which we plan to experience soon for ourselves. The HMNS expansion sounds exciting, too – Olivia has been a big fan of dinosaurs for awhile now, so I’m sure she’ll love this. The BeyondBONES blog has been giving regular updates on their centennial celebration.

Unfortunately, as noted, for most museums it’s been the opposite experience.

“Overall, the state of non-profits right now is very, very difficult,” said Ford Bell, president of the American Association of Museums. “They are laying off staff. We hear a lot of stories about capital campaigns postponed. Nationally, museum attendance is up … unfortunately, admissions don’t pay the bills.”

As foundations and private donors see the value of their portfolios dwindle, he said, donations drop. Profitable museum memberships, Bell said, also are declining.

Earlier this month, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art announced it would lay off one-fourth of its merchandising staff and cut its total workforce by 10 percent by summer.

The New York Times reported the museum, whose endowment lost $800 million, or 28 percent of its value, since last summer, has halted hiring and curtailed merit raises and staff travel.

Museums in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis and Los Angeles also have cut staff, the newspaper reported.

The Museum of Fine Arts-Houston has cut workers’ salaries up to 4 percent, and the Contemporary Art Museum imposed a hiring freeze and reduced its budget by 10 percent. By the end of last year, said MFA spokeswoman Mary Haus, the value of the art museum’s endowment had dropped 28 percent. CAM spokeswoman Connie McAllister said the museum fell short of its fall fundraising goal.

That’s really sad. I just hope things turn around soon for them.

Houston Have Your Say 2.0

So last year I got to serve as an on-the-spot blogger for KUHF’s production of Houston Have Your Say, which was about immigration. I blogged some of it at Kuff’s World and some of it at a blog that was set up for the show. Tonight I’ll be back in the KUHF studios along with my compatriot from the last time, Ree-C Murphy of Lone Star Times and Chronically Right, and the topic will be growth. There’s a new blog for the occasion, which you can find here – expect to see our output there this evening.

That blog already has a few entries on it, from some of the guests who will be on the program to discuss the issues. One such entry is here, from Tory Gattis of Houston Strategies. In the spirit of kicking things off, I’m going to pick a nit about his case for why we shouldn’t fear growth, a thesis with which I otherwise concur.

Houston has a pedestrian-hostile tropical climate five months of the year. While northern transit-based cities benefit from a personal warming technology – the coat – the only personal cooling technology that exists for southern cities is an air-conditioned vehicle.

All due respect, but as someone who grew up in a northern transit-based city and spent ten years of his life walking or taking public transit to get to school, it’s cities like New York that are pedestrian-hostile for five months of the year; essentially, November through March. It’s true one can wear that magical personal warming technology Tory refers to when it’s cold, but up north we also have what’s known as “snow”, which turns into “slush”, and trust me on this – your coat only helps so much in those conditions. I’ve seen snow as early as Halloween and as late as Easter – in fact, the last snow day I recall as a student was on Good Friday, in the first week of April. Some day, when I tell my daughters that I often went to school in a foot or more of snow, I won’t be exaggerating. (The bit about it being uphill both ways will admittedly be a stretch.) You want weather that’s not fit for walking, or for waiting for a bus? Let me introduce you to the concept of the “wind chill factor”. That’s my idea of an I’d-rather-be-driving climate.

As for Houston, well, I may be more heat tolerant than some, but for the most part outside of July and August, I’ll take our weather over theirs. And you know, in a well-designed transit-oriented city, they do have a remarkable pedestrian-cooling technology available. It’s called “trees”, which when planted along sidewalks can make a big difference in the ambient temperature. You may recall a big argument over the redevelopment on Kirby Drive regarding the dispensation of its trees. And though it may not provide as much relief, unlike your car’s technology, a tree canopy won’t break down on you and require a costly repair.

Anyway. Like I say, Tory has some really smart ideas, but to me at least, the suggestion that Houston has worse walking weather than New York or Boston or Detroit is frankly ludicrous and in need of some pushback. For more on being a pedestrian in Houston, I’ll refer you back to Andrew Burleson’s recent post about walking as well as this earlier one about urban corridors and the need to value sidewalks and walking as much as we do cars and driving. May we have a lively and informative debate on all these topics tonight.