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April, 2006:

Colbert at the correspondents’ dinner

In case you managed to not see it, here’s video and a transcript of Stephen Colbert’s brilliant performance at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner last night. And here’s the press not getting the joke.

Harris and Radnofsky

David Harris writes about immigration policy as a national security issue, while Eric from Wampum adds some perspective from a Native American viewpoint.

Meanwhile, Barbara Radnofsky is writing again on Capitol Annex, this time on the subject of funding for NASA. Check them both out.

It’s still Mario

Boy, I’ll bet that Texans draft day party was a hoot.

The Texans threw a draft-day party at Reliant Stadium on Saturday in anticipation of celebrating their selections with the fans.

But the party changed into a Texans roast as thousands packed Reliant Park on Saturday morning still upset from Friday night’s news that the team was going to use the No. 1 overall pick on North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams instead of the fan favorite, Southern Cal running back Reggie Bush.

The chants from the fans and season-ticket holders inside Reliant Park included, “Reg-gie! Reg-gie! Reg-gie! Reg-gie!” and “Bob is dumber than Bud! Bob is dumber than Bud!” in reference to Houston owners present and past.

Reminds me of Opening Day at Yankee Stadium in 1982. The Yanks had let Reggie Jackson sign as a free agent with the California Angels, much the the displeasure of the fans. The Angels were the opposing team that day, and naturally, Jackson hit a home run as his team won the game. The fans, who did their trademark “Reg-gie, Reg-gie” cheer every time he came to bat, broke into a loud chorus of “Steinbrenner sucks!” as Mister October circled the bases. I recall there was a camera shot of Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner while this was happening; the look on his face was priceless.

1982 was the start of a dark era for the Yanks, while Jackson helped lead the Angels to a division title. That said, the decision to cut him loose was clearly correct – that first season with the new team was Jackson’s swan song, something that was entirely predictable for a 36-year-old coming off his worst season ever.

I point that out to say that whatever people may think of the Texans’ choice yesterday, we won’t know how dumb or smart they were for a few years. Apparently, the rest of their draft went pretty well, which is nice. I don’t think you can make up for that kind of lost opportunity by saying “hey, we got a couple of good O-linemen later on”, however. This one stands or falls on Mario Williams. Either he makes people forget about Reggie Bush and Vince Young or he doesn’t. End of story.

More thoughts from Tory, Lair, and Kevin.

A little love for Metro

The headline to this story more or less says it all: “Group is kind to Metro”.

Representatives from the Metropolitan Transit Authority weren’t derailed by stinging criticism or adverse comments on April 20, when they met with members of the Museum District Business Alliance at the group’s regular monthly meeting.

“The MDBA is pro-University Corridor. We see it as a significant asset to the city,” group president Claude Wynn said. “It’s one that will tie activity centers of Montrose to those in the rest of the city and (is) vital to Houston’s growth into the 21st century.”

About 50 members of the nonprofit organization gathered at the Italian Cultural and Community Center, 1101 Milford.

The group sets its sights on improving the public enjoyment and profile of the Montrose area and combating deterioration in the neighborhood.

Members listened to more of Metro’s continuing outreach commentary regarding those individuals whose homes and businesses will be affected by the ultimate location of the future light rail line.

“There’s been a lot of discussion, a lot of stirring in our neighborhoods regarding where the light rail will go,” Wynn said. “We want to know what the facts look like and while we may not always agree with Metro, we will respect the process.”

Respecting the process – what a concept. We could use a little more of that, especially if the recent trends in overall ridership are more than just a blip.

Senate committee passes HB3 as is

Not much drama in the Senate yesterday.

A Senate committee passed the House business tax bill without making any changes Friday, greatly increasing the likelihood that it will become law.

“This is an attempt to make sure that House Bill 3 doesn’t get killed and we have another failed session,” said Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan.

Sounds awfully similar to the House’s reasoning. I think it’s pretty valid, but that’s because I don’t think the anti-taxers who are currently squawking about HB3 are going to follow through on their threats by taking action in November. I don’t believe they will sit it out or vote non-Republican, and as such, I don’t think the likes of Rick Perry have much to fear from them. Some state reps may have to sweat out a primary in 2008, but that’s a long way and a regular legislative session off. These guys have made their calculations, and I can’t say I disagree with them. There may well be vulnerabilities on other aspects of the legislation now being passed, in particular how much money actually winds up going to schools and teachers, but I think the Steven Hotze/Dan Patrick crowd is full of hot air, even if they are sending out attack mailers right now, and I think Perry and the Lege are confident enough in that to call them on it.

The business tax could be debated by the full Senate early next week. A Senate rule prevents amendments from being offered on the floor if they have not been discussed in committee. Unless that rule is suspended with a two-thirds vote, the Senate would vote up or down on the tax bill. If passed, HB 3 could be on Perry’s desk sometime next week.

The action by the Finance Committee took many lobbyists by surprise. Major legislation almost always is changed when it moves from one chamber to another, and then is finalized by a joint House and Senate conference committee.


Ogden said that keeping the business tax bill free of amendments would give opponents fewer opportunities to kill the bill. It also prevents the business tax from getting “hung up in negotiations over other issues” such as teacher pay or education reforms, he said.

But Ogden’s action ruffled Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso. Shapleigh, who is not a member of the Finance Committee, had several amendments he was hoping to have discussed.

Shapleigh said he had been told that he had until 5 p.m. Friday to file his amendments. But the committee took its vote at 3 p.m., passing the bill 9-4. Four of the five Democrats, including Whitmire of Houston, voted no.

As Eye on Williamson says, this is a lot of times Dems have been promised that the things they want can be discussed later. Color me skeptical on this.

The Finance Committee also passed HB 4, which applies stricter rules to sales taxes on used vehicles. Instead of paying a tax on the sale price, the buyer would pay a tax based on at least 80 percent of the vehicle’s “blue book” value.

The committee approved HB 2, which dedicates revenue from the business tax and other new taxes to property tax relief. The bill was different from the version passed Monday by the House, which dedicates all the tax revenue to lowering property taxes.

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said under his version all new tax revenue would go to lowering the basic school tax rate from $1.50 per $100 valuation to $1. After that, two-thirds would go to continued lowering of property taxes and one-third to new spending on public schools.

When the school tax rate drops to 75 cents, any revenue beyond what it takes to make up for lost property taxes would be dedicated to education.

That’s a change to the House version of HB2, one which I suspect is a result of the continued pounding on the idea that no new money is going to the schools. This isn’t much better, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.

Also, a late in the day amendment to HB4 was omitted in the Senate version. Dallas Blog has the scoop.

Elsewhere, the Quorum Report lists the criteria for getting four teachers’ groups to support what the Lege is doing:

1. $3,000 pay increase. Increase should be in state minimum salary schedule. It should include counselors, nurses and librarians and is flowed through the funding formulas

2. Retention of the salary escalator that is in current law

3. Deletion of language granting commissioner authority to use factors other than experience to determine minimum state salary schedule

4. Retention of $1,000 health insurance supplement (not converted to salary) for all employees incentive pay.

The rest of the story is beneath the QR paywall, so I’m not sure what the financials are of this, or what reaction it has garnered. But at least now we know what the teachers want.

Finally, RGV Politics looks at the politics of a property tax freeze in Edinburg.

Mario who?

I can’t really claim to be a Texans fan, so I don’t have emotional investment in their rather curious draft choice. But judging from the reactions of others, Mario Williams had better be all that and a bag of chips to make up for whatever Reggie Bush and Vince Young eventually do in the NFL. Richard Justice may be an idiot, but he’s also correctly identified the problem with this selection:

Perhaps more than anyone, [quarterback David] Carr is the biggest loser in this deal. An offseason that was supposed to be about giving him a chance to succeed spun off the road on Friday.

Maybe this will be the right choice. Tom puts the best face on it for the Texans. Even Justice admits Williams is a stud, so whatever the other guys do he shouldn’t be a flop. And there’s likely to still be some good RBs at the thirty-third slot, and maybe an offensive lineman or two later on. Still, though, if the reason for bypassing Reggie Bush was that he was too expensive for Bob McNair’s blood (as Justice claims), then this really is a dumb decision. I’m generally unsympathetic to owners in this kind of contract dispute to begin with; after all the money the citizens of Harris County threw at McNair for the building of Reliant Stadium, I never want to hear that excuse, ever.

Like I say, I don’t really care all that much. I just hope those that do wind up feeling better about this some day.

Why you should never say “How could it get any worse?”

With every lousy poll that comes out for the Republican Congress, you have to think that some of them have asked themselves if it were possible for things to get any worse. If so, I have bad news for them. How does a prostitution scandal grab you?

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether two contractors implicated in the bribery of former Rep. Randall “Duke” Cunningham supplied him with prostitutes and free use of a limousine and hotel suites, pursuing evidence that could broaden their long-running inquiry.

Besides scrutinizing the prostitution scheme for evidence that might implicate contractor Brent Wilkes, investigators are focusing on whether any other members of Congress, or their staffs, may also have used the same free services, though it isn’t clear whether investigators have turned up anything to implicate others.

In recent weeks, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have fanned out across Washington, interviewing women from escort services, potential witnesses and others who may have been involved in the arrangement. In an interview, the assistant general manager of the Watergate Hotel confirmed that federal investigators had requested, and been given, records relating to the investigation and rooms in the hotel. But he declined to disclose what the records show. A spokeswoman for Starwood Inc., Westin’s parent company, said she wasn’t immediately able to get information on whether the Westin Grand had been contacted by investigators.

Wow. Kos’ Georgia10 and the TPM Muckraker have more. I can’t wait to see how this plays out.

I have been assimilated

As you can see from the sidebar, I’m now a two-fisted blogger. As of today, I’m the third political type to write for the Houston Chronicle’s reader blogs section. It’s called Kuff’s World, and it joins Texas Sparkle and Polimom, Too in the politics niche over there.

Before anyone asks, the new site is not a replacement for this one. It’s a complement. I intend to do about the same amount of blogging, I’m just going to put some of what I’d be doing anyway over there. I plan to link to whatever I write there from here, so if you don’t feel like adding yet another damned blog to your feeds, you can still see what’s there. Here are my first three posts:

Please allow me to introduce myself

Two views of CD22

Poll watching: SurveyUSA on the Governor’s race

As for the name, Dwight Silverman, who recruited me for this project, wanted to keep the Kuff in the name, but wanted a different name. After trying and failing to come up with a play on the word that didn’t suck (we both emphatically rejected “Kuff Links”), I started down the usually reliable path of movie sequels. Unfortunately, “The Kuff Strikes Back” and “The Wrath of Kuff” weren’t quite what I was looking for, and the less said about “Kuff 2: Electric Boogaloo”, the better. So Kuff’s World it was.

So there you have it. A mere four-plus years after I start blogging, I’ve been swallowed up by Big Media. I promise not to change, at least once I figure out how to disable the implants.

Free WiFi goes live in Austin

I mentioned before that a free WiFi network, to be put in place for the World Congress of Information Technology, was set to go live in Austin. Well, today’s the day.

Starting today, Austinites can get a free high-speed wireless link to the Internet throughout part of downtown.

The free city Wi-Fi network is up and running in time for next week’s World Congress on Information Technology, which is bringing more than 2,100 delegates from 81 countries to Austin.

Cisco Systems Inc., one of the event’s corporate sponsors, is donating $700,000 in equipment for the network.

The network is expected to provide wireless Internet service during the event at the Austin Convention Center and after hours at downtown hotels and restaurants.

When the conference is finished May 5, the wireless network will remain as the WCIT’s gift to the city.


The downtown part of the network covers most of the area from Town Lake to Sixth Street and from Lamar Boulevard to Interstate 35.

Within a few months, the City of Austin is expected to complete the remaining two segments of the network, covering part of East Austin and much of Zilker Park.

That’s so cool, I just can’t stand it. And for those of you who worry about how commercial Internet providers can compete with this, take note:

Preliminary testing on the downtown network shows that it is delivering Internet access at a speed of about 600 kilobits per second, said Peter Collins, the city’s chief information officer. That’s about 12 times as fast as dial-up Internet access but somewhat slower than paid broadband access that is available over telephone lines or through cable modems.


Austin’s Wayport Inc., which delivers paid Internet access to hotels and McDonald’s restaurants, said the free network complements, but doesn’t compete with, its service.

“If people are at Zilker Park and need to get connected, they can do so with the Austin network,” said Michele Fanning, Wayport’s director of marketing. “For in-building connectivity, such as at a McDonald’s restaurant, the best connection will more than likely be the one that’s installed at that location.”

Houston’s eventual WiFi network will be low-cost instead of free, but I’ll bet there will be some ways in which a smart provider can offer something worth paying extra for. To my way of thinking, this will spur competition, not hinder it. Thanks to the elated Kimberly for the link.

Call for contribution caps

A bill to limit campaign contributions to $100,000 per individual for state races has been filed.

At a morning news conference flanked by a dozen or so of his colleagues, including five Republicans, House Bill 110 co-author Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, spoke about his plan.

He said it represented a first step in limiting the influence of a handful of wealthy individuals whose power stems not from “the virtue of their ideals or the strength of their grassroots network but because they spend million of dollars.”

I forget where I read it, but it’s my understanding that the five Republicans standing with Rep. Villarreal were the five incumbents targeted by James Leininger – Tommy Merritt, Carter Casteel, Delwin Jones, Roy Blake, and Charlie Geren. El Paso Rep. Pat Haggerty also endorsed the effort; he too was targeted by Leininger, though at a lower financial level.

Standing behind Villarreal was outgoing Rep. Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels, one of two incumbents who lost to Leininger-funded candidates. She said that as a schoolteacher, she taught her students that the Legislature was not for sale

Now, sadly, she said she realized maybe she’d been wrong.

“I never dreamed that in my Texas, a person would spend $1 million for a legislative seat,” she said.

According to the Quorum Report (link via PinkDome), Casteel “asked her party to pay as much attention to transparency in campaign donations as it does to transparency in the operation of public schools.” I think that’s a fantastic way to frame the issue, and it’s one that I hope gets used in 2007 when Casteel isn’t there to repeat it.

Eighty-seven individuals or couples gave $100,000 or more in contributions for statewide offices in 2003 and 2004, for a total of $28.8 million, according to the Austin-based watchdog group Texans for Public Justice. That represents about 9 percent of all political money raised during that two-year election cycle.

That’s about $331,000 per individual. Institute the cap, and their grand total is $8.7 million instead of $28.8 million; no one can exactly claim to be silenced by this. Some 37 states have contribution caps, so I don’t believe there’s a constitutional issue at play.

Advocates of campaign spending limits acknowledge that this plan, which caps contributions regardless of the number of candidates being supported, faces an uphill battle. Gov. Rick Perry opposes campaign limits and supports the state’s current disclosure law. His approval is needed for legislation to be added to the current special session.

Also, an almost identical bill died last year without leaving committee.

For sure, there’s no way this gets added to the special session call. I have some hope for the next regular session, however, even if Perry gets re-elected. I believe Leininger’s efforts have changed some minds, and I believe the movement is in the reform direction. Mary Denny’s retirement doesn’t hurt, either. I still wouldn’t bet on a bill passing, but the issue will come up, and I believe we’ll see progress being made.

Two weeks ago, the Express-News ran a four-part series on Texas lobbyists that identified the role wealthy special interests play in shaping policies affecting businesses, consumers and children in need of health care. Austin insiders expressed skepticism that a reform could pass.

Links to those articles are here. More reporting on the story is here.

Dear Lite Guv

Matt has a copy of a letter, now circulating the Senate, signed by about a dozen citizens’ and teachers’ groups, that call on the Senate to reject the House’s approach and take positive action on school reform. In particular:

Together, we represent the interests of millions of Texans, hard-working families. On their behalf, we urge you to:

  • Eliminate the provisions contained in HB 2, an anti-education measure which prohibits future revenue growth in business taxes from being spent on education, or anything else but property tax reduction. This effectively slams the door on future education funding.
  • Maintain full equity by flowing any new funds for education improvement through current equity-based funding formulas. Equity funding protects the great majority of our middle class students, especially those in rural areas, as well as those living in property-poor districts.
  • Raise annual teacher pay at least $3,000 and reverse the deep cut in the teacher health-care stipend.
  • Keep the promise to invest $1.8 billion in education that is contained in the current budget. That money disappears under the provisions of HB 1. Now that the state has an unprecedented budget surplus, that promise must not be forgotten. Restore the $1.8 billion.

The one group that didn’t sign this that might have is the Texas Parent PAC. I wonder if there’s anything to that. I don’t expect Dewhurst to adopt these recommendations, though by his public statements he’s already inclined to do some of it. We’ll see.

Emergency paper ballots to be used in Bexar County

Some more grist for the electronic voting machine mill: Bexar County will be forced to use emergency paper ballots for early voting in the May 13 municipal and school board elections, because their voting machine vendor cannot deliver a promised software upgrade in a timely manner.

County officials say they have no guarantee from Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software that it’ll have the touch-screen voting machines ready by [election day, May 13].

And the hassles don’t stop there: The company also hasn’t delivered programming for the county’s hand-held optical scanners, which could mean counting votes by hand.

“It sure is exasperating,” County Judge Nelson Wolff said. “We are looking at avenues to hold them responsible for this.”

Bexar County isn’t alone; the company left many other Texas counties in a similar predicament.

Scott Haywood, spokesman for the Texas secretary of state’s office, said ES&S has contracts with more than 140 counties, and most will be affected by the company’s apparent breakdown.

“They made their priorities, and I think Texas certainly wasn’t one of them,” Wolff said.


ES&S spokeswoman Amanda Brown said the company is working to deliver the software in time for election day.

“We’re doing everything we can to meet that goal,” Brown said.

But county officials say they haven’t heard anything definitive from the company about its ability to deliver.

“We have commitments from them for this election that they failed to live up to,” said Ed Schweninger, chief of the Bexar County district attorney’s civil division. “We hear that ES&S is going to try (to deliver software for election day), but I’m not hearing any more than that.”

Brown blamed the company’s delivery troubles on this year’s implementation of the Help America Vote Act, which became law in 2002 and requires every polling site to have at least one electronic voting machine available to voters.

“It’s been a challenging year with the implementation of HAVA,” she said. “It’s been challenging for everyone – for all the vendors” and elections officials.

Jacque Callanen, the county’s elections administrator, said it’s too soon to estimate how much the 11th-hour switch to paper ballots will cost. Nevertheless, Schweninger said the county would look to recover any extra expense from ES&S, either through a voluntary settlement or in court.

The E-N article says this is ES&S’s first major hiccup in Bexar County since their machines were implemented in 2003, but according to this op-ed piece, other counties suffered from glitches earlier this year.

Jefferson county purchased iVotronic machines in order to comply with federal law by the first primary election of the year. On March 7, the iVotronics were in place, but the system was not. Database components were missing. The programming was flawed. There were equipment failures. County Clerk Carolyn Guidry stated tabulation errors led to votes being counted twice. She added that the ES&S personnel were ill-informed. The Jefferson County Commissioner’s Court reviewed what happened on March 7 and concluded that ES&S was not fulfilling its contractual obligations. They decided to withhold payment until ES&S held up their end of the bargain. This is a standard practice; when homeowners or businesses hire a contractor, they do not pay the entire sum in advance but pay a portion when work begins. The remainder is paid when work is satisfactorily completed. Even though the March 7th election was problematic and far from satisfactory, ES&S demanded payment. The company stated that they would not provide programming and technical support for the run-off election until they were paid $1.95 million.

County officials knew they could not conduct the run-off election on iVotronics unless they had ES&S support. Assistant District Attorney Tom Rugg told the Beaumont Enterprise, “They are refusing to do things only they can do. Without ES&S programming, “the system they say they’ve sold to us is essentially worthless.”

JeffCo wound up paying for it anyway, since the alternative was violating HAVA and facing federal sanctions. Looking back at Steven Smith’s statement about double-counted ballots in the Republican primary, he did include a complaint about Jefferson County and ES&S machines elsewhere in the state.

As you know, I’m not an advocate of the notion that paper ballots are a panacea for voting woes on their own. I believe they’re required for system redundancy and sanity checking, but I believe they belong with the electronic machines, not as a replacement for them. I have to say, though, if the vendors can’t guarantee that their products will be ready to go for every election, then there’s not much to recommend them. ES&S needs to be held accountable for this mess. Thanks to Dan Wallach for the tip.

Coleman on HB5

One of the five bills relating to the tax overhaul failed to make it through the House on Monday. That was HB5, which was responsible for raising the cigarette tax. All I knew was that it had been killed by a point of order by Rep. Garnet Coleman. As the issue that initial sent HB5 back to committee was fixed, and the bill was approved by the House today, I asked Rep. Coleman to give me a statement about it. Here’s what his chief of staff sent me:

The tobacco tax bill, HB5, passed out of the House today. It was pulled down on a point of order by Rep. Coleman on Monday because the committee substitute contained provisions relating to bonding and a fee to pay for debt service that were not germane to the original bill. Those provisions were subsequently removed from the bill. There was another valid point of order on the bill today, but the House voted to suspend the procedural rule that was violated so the point was never raised.

The bill passed out of the House raises the cigarette tax by a dollar immediately upon effect. An amendment by Rep. Warren Chisum to raise the tax by 65 cents instead of $1 was soundly defeated both by members voting to maximize the shock value of moving immediately to $1 for public health reasons and by members who wanted to maximize the revenue generated by the tax increase because it is all dedicated to buying down property taxes.

Rep. Coleman had an amendment to the bill that would have instead dedicated the revenue to the general fund for the purpose of improving public health. That amendment, and numerous other Democratic amendments that would have dedicated the funds to state needs like a teacher pay raise, tobacco cessation programs, etc., were ruled non-germane to the bill and were not permitted to be offered.

Rep. Coleman voted against the bill because, as with all of these Republican tax bills, HB5 would increase taxes without providing one new dime for public education or any other priority of his constituents. Any revenue generated from an increase in the cigarette tax in particular should be dedicated to dealing with the public health effects of smoking as is done in so many other states.

At this point, barring an addition to the session’s call, I believe the House is more or less finished with its work until the Senate does its thing, at which point a joint committee will be named to hammer out the differences. The fun resumes tomorrow, so stay tuned.

Another day, another roundup on HB3

While we wait for the Senate Finance Committee to start work tomorrow, here’s a roundup of what’s being said about the current state of things.

Chron: Perry sure, Dewhurst not so much

Gov. Rick Perry said Wednesday he is confident the Legislature will reduce local school operating taxes by about one-third, despite Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s reservations about digging too deeply into the state budgetary surplus to help pay for the cuts.

“I’m very comfortable that the Senate and the House will get to that appropriate level,” Perry said, challenging the Senate to approve a new, expanded business tax and related legislation approved by the House.

“I’m quite comfortable that these projections (for continued revenue growth) will hold up,” he added.


Most of the lost revenue would be covered by the new business tax, which the House approved on Monday, and a $1-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax, which the House will debate today. The governor also would use as much as $2 billion of an $8.2 billion budgetary surplus to meet his property tax-cut goal.

But Dewhurst said much of the surplus is needed for other things, including hurricane relief, health care, a teacher pay raise of at least $2,000 a year and other school improvements. He said Perry’s tax proposal would raise about $4.3 billion a year, enough to cut school property taxes by only 33 cents to 35 cents per $100 valuation, not the 50 cents the governor is seeking.

He said the Senate will have to decide whether to cut school taxes less, take longer to phase in the tax reductions or raise additional revenue.

Looks like another chance for Dewhurst to go toe-to-toe with House Speaker Tom Craddick. We’ve all seen that movie before. Remember, kids: the reason one bangs one’s head against a wall is because it feels so good when you finally stop.

Statesman: Larry the Cable Guy and a bunch of bidness interest lobbyists. If that’s not Rick Perry in a nutshell, I don’t know what is. One side point to highlight:

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, poised to insert a teacher pay raise into the House-approved package, said lawmakers could finish work well before the special session’s 30 days expire May 16.

The Texas Supreme Court has set a June 1 deadline for fixing a school finance system overly dependent on property taxes that districts have little discretion in setting.

“It’s a lovefest,” said Shapiro, crediting widespread business support for the tax plan and close communication between senators and House members as well as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, and House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland. “I hope what it is is good public policy.”

Hey, maybe this time really will be different than every single other time. All I know is, it’s always Dewhurst or a Senate proxy for him that gets quoted in this fashion whenever these stories are written. If Craddick gets asked, his spokeswoman replies with a non sequitur. There’s a reason I remain skeptical.

Express News: Risks and rewards for Perry

Houston radio show host Dan Patrick, a GOP state Senate nominee, said he tried to persuade Perry to abandon the plan.

“I shared with him I understood the dilemma he was in – that no matter what decision he made, his opponents would find a reason to criticize him – but that if he used the surplus and increased taxes on business, not only would they criticize him, but he would risk losing his base,” Patrick said.

“For him to win in November in a four-person race, he must keep the base,” said Patrick, who still plans to support Perry in November.


GOP consultant Royal Masset said Perry’s stand for the plan “helps him immensely. He’s being kind of his own man.

“The only way Perry can lose is if nothing comes out of this special session,” Masset said.

Political scientist Bruce Buchanan of the University of Texas at Austin said, “There will be some unhappy conservatives. But the fact that he could point to a resolution that he could justify in terms of tough choices and necessary compromise is likely to please more people than it irritates.

“A lot of people are going to conclude if this thing passes, Perry is going to be hard to stop,” Buchanan said.

But [Texas Eagle Forum President Cathie] Adams said if the Legislature doesn’t pass a plan that conservatives can embrace and that provides meaningful property-tax relief, she’s worried about the effect on GOP turnout.

“I think conservatives would be frustrated. They’re already frustrated with the president because of immigration and government growth. If we don’t get a meaningful property-tax reduction, then in November … what they’ll do is not something crazy, like go and vote for the other party,” she said. “I do see them sitting at home and folding their hands.”

I think Masset and Buchanan are right. Perry may lose some conservative base support if his plan passes, but honestly, where are they going to go? Both Strayhorn and Bell want to spend more on education, and while Friedman has talked about “returning” the surplus, he’s also on record supporting gay marriage (however jokingly). I can’t see the Cathie Adamses of the world embracing him, given that.

Adams herself, of course, will stand by her man regardless. They make a mighty tasty pitcher of Kool Aid in the Eagle Forum, you know. In the end, that’s what I expect to happen among most other base Republicans, so Perry ends up with a net gain. Like it or not, the TTRC plan is a tangible result that Perry can point to. The implementation is screwed up, thanks to HB2, but passing it means no more do-nothing special sessions. That’s what Rick Perry needs more than anything.

Star Telegram: Not as much property tax reduction as you might have thought. Okay, there are still some risks for Perry, depending on what your expectations were and what your standards are.

[L]egislation now winding its way through the Texas Legislature would reduce property taxes for school operations by less than 12 percent – and local school districts could still push them back up again. It provides for further cuts in later years, but provides neither the mechanism to do so nor the money to pay for the promised decrease.

“I think it’s troubling,” said Peggy Venable, director of the Americans for Prosperity, which advocates for smaller government. “We want significant tax relief, and we want it to be meaningful and substantial. … We’ve heard a lot of promises and we have a lot of numbers out there … but if there are no real taxpayer protections, it’ll end up being a tax increase.”

By “taxpayer protections”, I’m sure she means “appraisal caps”, which have been a (failed) Perry agenda item for some time. I’ll bet Perry starts talking them up again once the TTRC plan has been passed.

DMN: On to other items. This is about how Perry is now “open” to an increase in teacher pay (as if he wants the ParentPAC on his hindquarters this fall), but my favorite bit is at the end, on a different topic:

Meanwhile, some health care providers grumbled that the deal they struck with the governor to support the legislation turned out to be worth less once the House finished with the bill.

The House-passed bill lets physicians, hospitals and other caregivers deduct from their gross receipts the payments they receive from government health insurance programs for the poor. But it doesn’t have as big a deduction as Mr. Perry promised.

Several health care lobbyists said the Texas Medical Association erred by negotiating with the governor, not legislative leaders.

All together now:

D-Day: Hey, quit your blubberin’. When I get through with this baby you won’t even recognize it.
Otter: Flounder, you can’t spend your whole life worrying about your mistakes! You f’ed up – you trusted us! Hey, make the best of it! Maybe we can help.
Flounder: [crying] That’s easy for you to say! What am I going to tell Fred?
Otter: I’ll tell you what. We’ll tell Fred you were doing a great job taking care of his car, but you parked it out back last night and in the morning, it was gone. We report it to the police, D-Day takes care of the wreck, the insurance company buys your brother a new car.
Flounder: Will that work?
Otter: Hey, it’s gotta work better than the truth.
Bluto: [thrusting six-pack into Flounder’s hands] My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.
Otter: Better listen to him, Flounder, he’s in pre-med.
D-Day: [firing up blow-torch] There you go now, just leave everything to me.

Let that be a lesson to you, TMA.

Finally, some feedback from a couple of candidates. First, from Dot Nelson-Turnier, as quoted by Stace:

I don’t think using a one time surplus for a tax cut is a good idea. It’s like quitting your job and using your savings to pay the rent. What do you do when your savings run out? It’s not a permanent solution. It’s just not fiscally sound.

There’s more, I just clipped the end. Next is from Diane Trautman:

Yesterday, the House passed a series of legislative proposals known as House Bills 1, 2, 3 and 4. Here’s a rundown of what Members considered and how each bill turned out:

  • House Bill 1: Spends $2.4 billion of the $9.3 billion state surplus. Money is spent on lowering the statewide property tax rate to 88.7% of current local property tax rate — local rates vary to school district to school district, but this cut is roughly 17 cents/$100 property valuation for most property tax payers.
  • House Bill 2: Created a Property Tax Relief Fund, to which all proceeds from the new business tax, used car sales tax and cigarette tax are dedicated permanently. Under HB 2, the state revenue from these new taxes can never be used to pay for a teacher pay raise, new textbooks, etc.
  • House Bill 3: Replaces the current state franchise tax system with a new “margins tax” on business’ gross receipts. The tax is 1% for most businesses and .5% for wholesalers and retailers. Businesses can deduct employee compensation such as salary, health care and retirement. The plan is full of loopholes – under the current system 1 of 16 businesses pay the franchise tax. Under the new system, this number rises to only 2 in 16. Oil companies, insurance companies and big businesses that own lots of property will now pay less than their fair share, while small and medium businesses will see their taxes increase dramatically. Further, HB 3, coupled with 1 and 2 is an $11.4 billion hot-check over 5 years. The new taxes in HB 3 will never be enough to make up for the taxes cut in HB 1. Additionally, with the passage of HB 2, the funds generated in HB 3 can never be used to pay for teacher pay, new textbooks, etc.
  • House Bill 4: A new tax on used car sales. Buyers must pay sales tax based on the at least 20% of the “blue-book” value of the car, and not the sale price.
  • House Bill 5: A new $1/pack tax on cigarettes. Consideration of this bill has been postponed due to a technical error in the bill. The bill does not include an immediate $1 tax. Instead the tax is phased-in: 50 cents, then 25, then 25 again. Studies have shown that this method does not actually reduce smoking. For this reason, most anti-smoking groups oppose the bill in its current form.

Next week it’s the Senate’s turn. Stay tuned.

Noriega on HB3

In addition to my conversation with Rep. Mike Villarreal, I also spoke to Rep. Rick Noriega about HB3 and the reasons why (unlike Rep. Villarreal) he opposed it. The highlights:

– While he believes it’s not a bad idea to spread the tax burden more broadly, he believes the implementation as spelled out in HB3 is bad. Because the revenues generated by the TTRC plan cannot maintain the desired property tax cut, it makes for bad public policy.

– He reiterated what he’d said on Dan Patrick’s radio show Tuesday (I was a first-time listener to Patrick’s show because of his appearance, which I heard about just in time) that there’s no good reason to vote for “the biggest tax hike in state history” when the budget is in surplus and none of the money raised by the new tax goes to the public schools.

– He thinks the Senate will choose to use HB1 as the basis for its legislation, not HB3. He also thinks that after they’re done adding on to it all of the things that they’re talking about, the final product may be too unpalatable for the House to pass. He believes an anti-tax backlash from conservative activists, including talk radio, will put a lot of pressure on the Senate, which from his perspective may wind up making their final effort worse.

– While some parts of HB3 may get rolled into the Senate version of HB1, he does not think Lt. Gov. Dewhurst wants to let John Sharp get the credit for what the Senate does pass. He cited Dewhurst’s recent cutting remark about Sharp’s prognostication skills as evidence for this, as well as Dewhurst’s recently launched radio ad campaign, which touts lower property taxes, a teacher pay raise, plus some reform, all of which he’s calling the Dewhurst plan.

– When I asked him what he thought the best case scenario was, he cited a minimalist approach: Do enough to meet the court’s ruling, buy down property taxes, don’t use too much of the surplus, and give the teachers a pay raise. He believes it’s better not to get too bogged down in controversial agenda items at this point in an election cycle.

– “Getting money to the schools should be the top priority,” he says.

– Finally, he says that the whole exercise in school finance has been a demonstration of why it’s a lot easier to campaign than it is to govern. “When you’re out of power, it’s easy to go around saying two plus two equals five. Once you’re in charge and you have the responsibility to make it all work, you start to realize that two plus two still equals four, no matter what you may have said before.”

Villarreal on HB3

State Rep. Mike Villarreal is a member of the Ways and Means committee, and one of eight Democrats in the House to vote in favor of HB3 on Monday. (A full list of who voted for what can be found at the invaluable Capitol Annex.) I wanted to understand his reasons for supporting HB3, so I called him to talk about it. Here’s an outline of what he told me:

– He believes that HB3, which implements the TTRC business tax plan, fundamentally “heals our broken tax system”. He sees this as an asset that can be used going forward, that puts the state on a firmer financial foundation, and that as such this was something that has to be supported. Getting something like this in place was the key, because once it’s there, it’s generally there forever.

– While HB3 accomplishes some immediate goals for the Republican Party, he sees it as being a long-term benefit for the Democrats. “This allows a future Democratic legislative majority to have a better system to work with to implement its priorities,” he told me. He stresses, though, that this is just the beginning of some much-needed reform.

– He believes that only a Republican-controlled Legislature could have gotten this bill across the finish line, because they were in a position to sell it to their constituencies that would normally oppose it (I dragged out the Nixon-goes-to-China cliche before he could bring it up). He noted the seeming absurdity of Republicans arguing in favor of an increased tax on businesses, while Democrats argued against it. Given this unusual dynamic, he believes it was best to take the long view.

– While he voted against HB2, which limited funds raised from HB3 to property tax cuts only, he believes that without it, there would not have been enough Republican support to pass HB3.

– When I asked about what vehicle there will be to fund schools in the future, he pointed out that all it will take to make any changes in what HB2 set up for the business tax is a simple majority in the Lege. This isn’t a Constitutional amendment, and it isn’t a lock box (though it’s being spun as one by some Republicans). The next Lege will not be bound by this when it writes a budget if it chooses to use funds from the business tax for other purposes. He cited other funds, created by past legislatures for a specific purpose, that are now used for other things. Two examples he named were the Texas Infrastructure Fund, and a fund to help poor people keep their electricity running, both of which now go to general revenue.

– He disagrees with the argument that HB3 will be more burdensome to small businesses than large ones. He said the $400,000 exemption on a firm’s revenues is sufficient to take care of smaller businesses.

– He points out that Scott McCown and Dick Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities testified in committee in support of HB 3; also, the Texas Federation of Teachers has decided not to oppose HB 3. “These groups who are advocates for poor and working class Texans understand HB 3 represents good policy,” he said.

– Finally, he sees what the Senate is doing with their modifications to HB1 – in particular, the teacher pay raise – as a start at making a meaningful investment in our children’s education. He believes the Lege must also restore the cuts in education made during the 2003 legislative session and restore the health care stipend for school employees. He said that while state revenues rise and fall over time, they tend to fall back to a higher point than where they started (this was a point that John Sharp made during the TTRC process as well), and that with the new business tax in place, revenue growth will be more stable over time.

Henley campaign headquarters opening

Jim Henley, Democratic candidate for Congress in CD07, is having a grand opening of his campaign headquarters this weekend.

Volunteers and Supporters:

Please join us at the opening of the Henley for Congress Campaign Headquarters in Rice Village!

When: Sunday, April 30th, 2 – 5 p.m.

Where: 2482 Bolsover Street at the corner of Bolsover and Kelvin (just across from Walgreens).

Come and talk with fellow supporters, and find out how you can help our grassroots campaign!

One very positive aspect of the Henley campaign has been energizing the next generation of voters. If you want to see that in action, go visit the campaign on Sunday.

Bell asks Earle to investigate Perry

Chris Bell has asked Travis County DA Ronnie Earle to investigate “whether Texans for Taxpayer Relief’s radio ads constitute an in-kind officeholder contribution illegally paid for by corporate funds that Rick Perry and his representatives appear to have helped raise.”

In a letter faxed to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office today, Bell also questioned whether the ads constituted an illegal corporate contribution because they appear coordinated with Rick Perry. The letter cited many apparent examples of coordination, including, but not limited to, an email sent out by a lobbyist claiming that Rick Perry invited lobbyists to hear a pitch by Texans for Taxpayer Relief, which was, according to the email, “formed at the request of the Governor.”

This DMN story has some background on Texans for Taxpayer Relief. This would seem to be the key graf:

Texans for Taxpayer Relief is a dormant political committee out of San Antonio that was recently revived to rally support for the governor’s plan. Various business groups, especially those who benefit under the tax swap or who dodged a significant tax increase, have donated $220,000 to the committee so far.

As always with groups like these, the key question is who donated and how much they gave.

A campaign organized to support Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s school finance tax plan has voluntarily released the identities of its donors after coming under fire from Perry’s political opponents.

Texans for Taxpayer Relief also is releasing the amounts of contributions received and deposited so far, though organizers say it isn’t required under Texas law.

The organization made the announcements Tuesday as it launched two 60-second radio ads in Houston.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell and independent candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn had criticized the school plan ad campaign, saying it was funded by secret donations that would benefit Perry in his re-election bid.

Candidates for state office are required to disclose direct donations to their campaigns in reports to the Texas Ethics Commission.


[Governor Perry’s] spokeswoman, Kathy Walt, later said Perry was not involved in creating Texans for Taxpayer Relief and that he hasn’t raised money for it.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle said when a complaint is filed by a political opponent his policy is to “monitor the situation” but not take any action until after the election, unless there are extraordinary circumstances.

To date, Texans for Taxpayer Relief said it has received $30,000 from the Texas Apartment Association and $30,000 from the Texas Beer Alliance. Other donors include the Texas Association of Builders, $25,000; Texas Credit Union League, $25,000; Maxxam, $50,000; Texas Motor Transportation Association, $50,000; and Texas Restaurant Association, $10,000.

At least now we know who’s behind it, which frankly we should have from the beginning. Until someone gets nailed for disrespecting the disclosure laws, this is business as usual.

“This is why we need ethics reform now,” said Bell. “Rick Perry is raising corporate money to sell a school finance plan that has no new money for schools.”

You can add it to the list of reasons why we need ethics reform. The specifics are particular to this occurrance, but the underlying principle is the same. The Red State has more.

Progress on Net Neutrality

The Agonist has bad news and good news on the Net Neutrality front.

The Markey Amendment failed in committee 22-34. Democrats Rush, Green, Gonzalez, Towns, and Wynn all voted no on the amendment and betrayed the netroots. The rest of the committee Democrats voted for the amendment.

Action now moves to the Senate.

However, today was a victory as a few key players on the full committee changed their votes. Important action is required heading into the Senate but we have created significant momentum and the telco cartel is very afraid of us now.

This is not how they wanted it to go down. They wanted this amendment to fail quietly, so the Senate would not take it up.

As one staffer on the Hill today told The Agonist:

They wanted this to pass in the dead of night. Instead, people are going to be energized, and the Senate is really going to matter.

We changed the rules today. Great work.

MyDD has more, including more on the five committee Dems who voted to pass the bill. San Antonio Rep. Charlie Gonzales comes in for some extra scorn for proposing a bizarre amendment that was said to be about “regulating search engines”. Vince examines Gonzales’ actions in more detail.

I think the point to take away here is that the more attention we pay to this, the more likely we are to get a favorable outcome. So, if you haven’t done it yet:

Read Save the Internet.
Sign the MoveOn petition.
If you’re a MySpace person, go here.

And be sure to let your congressperson know how you feel about this. Let him or her know this vote is important to you.

Inaugural College Baseball Hall of Fame class announced

Here’s your first set of inductees to the College Baseball Hall of Fame, currently under construction in Lubbock.

Former USC head baseball coach Rod Dedeaux has been elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame, the College Baseball Foundation announced today.

He is one of 10 members who will comprise the first-ever induction class for the Hall of Fame located in Lubbock, Texas. Other members of the class include coaches Bobby Winkles of Arizona State, Skip Bertman of LSU, Ron Fraser of Miami and Cliff Gustafson of Texas, in addition to former players Bob Horner of Arizona State, Robin Ventura of Oklahoma State, Dave Winfield of Minnesota, Will Clark of Mississippi State and Brooks Kieschnick of Texas.

Dedeaux, who passed away on Jan. 5 at the age of 91, coached USC to 11 national championships, including an NCAA-record five consecutive titles from 1970-74. In his 45-year tenure at USC (1942-86), Dedeaux also posted an overall record of 1,332-571-11 (.699) while recording 28 conference titles. At his retirement, he had won more games than any other college baseball coach (he currently ranks seventh among Division I coaches). He coached 59 former players who played in the major leagues, including Tom Seaver, Mark McGwire, Randy Johnson, Fred Lynn, Dave Kingman, Roy Smalley, Don Buford, Ron Fairly, Rich Dauer, Steve Busby, Jim Barr and Steve Kemp.


The 2006 HOF class will be inducted as part of a two-day celebration to be held July 3-4 in Lubbock. Several events during the celebration will be carried nationally by Fox Sports Network, as well as the Fox College Sports Networks (Atlantic, Central and Pacific).

“The excitement has been building within the college baseball community since this project was first announced two years ago,” said CBF Chairman/CEO John Askins. “Our entire community is thrilled to honor this outstanding group of individuals, whose accomplishments will withstand the test of time.”

According to the official press release (PDF) of the College Baseball Foundation, two of the pre-1947 nominees will be enshrined later this fall. Bios and stats for the five players inducted are here, the same for the coaches is here. The list of 46 original nominees seems to have disappeared for some reason – at least, I can’t find it.

Oh, well. Despite the grumblings of the last commenter in my previous post, I think this is a good list. You can never pick a top five without leaving someone worthy off. I’m sure Pete Incaviglia will be in there by 2008 or shortly thereafter.

Photo oops

First noted over the weekend, the story of Rep. John Carter getting his picture taken in Iraq with the son of Mary Beth Harrell, his opponent in November, made it to the Washington Post on Wednesday.

Vast numbers of lawmakers have signed on to the congressional delegation shuttle to Baghdad. And nary a one has failed to ensure that troops from the home district – who, of course, have nothing better to do – are rounded up to have lunch and talk to their representative.

These chats – and the fine photos they produce – pay handsome dividends. Obviously there are the bragging rights: “Well, I’ve been over there talking with our troops, with Jimmy Jones and Sally Smith – whose parents are here today – and with others, and let me tell you . . .”

More ominously, the lawmaker might even return from these forays thinking he or she actually knows what’s going on over there. A truly frightening thought.

But it’s the photos with the brass, Iraqi leaders and especially the troops – suitable for signing, for newsletters and for campaign literature – that are the key benefit, though some photos don’t quite work out.

For example, here’s a very nice shot of Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.), whose district includes Fort Hood and its 4th Infantry Division. As always, some troops from home were selected to meet with the congressman.

Apparently somebody had a sense of humor. Carter found out afterward that this warm “grip ‘n’ grin” shot was with Sgt. 1st Class Rob Harrell, whose mother, Mary Beth Harrell, a lawyer in Killeen, Tex., will be Carter’s Democratic opponent in November. The challenger’s husband, we’re told, is retired military. Another son, also on active duty, is to be deployed in Iraq this summer.

You can see the picture here. There’s also a good Kos diary on the topic. I love this quote from that diary:

Yet another classic case of a Republican trying to look tough, and running into a Democrat who is.

Ouch. As Eye on Williamson notes, Carter was not happy about being caught unprepared like this. Harrell has been campaigning pretty hard on her military connections, so one of his staffers really ought to have known about this. Underdog campaigns literally can’t buy this kind of publicity.

In fairness to Carter, he was gracious enough to call Harrell upon his return and tell her that her son was doing fine. Good on him for that.

Net neutrality update

Just a quick update on the fight over Net neutrality. Sean-Paul has a good roundup of links and other information here. If you want a more technical description of the issues at hand, check out Kevin Drum, Crooked Timber, and Unrequited Narcissism (link via Ezra. I agree with his bottom line summary of the argument:

[S]top looking for nuance. It’s simpler than you’re making it out to be. Here, let’s let AT&T chairman Ed Whitacre explain:

“They don’t have any fiber out there. They don’t have any wires… They use my lines for free – and that’s bull… For a Google or a Yahoo or a Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes for free is nuts!”

But of course, they don’t use them for free. They pay a broadband wholesaler. You pay the Ed Whitacres of the world for your home connection. And Ed and the broadband wholesalers (he’s one, too) have complicated agreements governing how they exchange traffic equitably. Everything’s paid for; nobody’s getting away with anything.

It’s as simple as this: Mr. Whitacre and the other ISP stakeholders have convinced themselves that when someone isn’t paying them money, it constitutes an injustice. They’re wrong – really wrong. Don’t give an inch, don’t give equal time, don’t pretend there’s more to it than this. There isn’t.

Pretty much. Another simple way of looking at this: How can you be wrong if Alyssa Milano is on your side?

What is the sound of one party debating?

This really annoys me. One could read this Chron piece on how HB3 was passed and come away with the impression that the only debate over the bill was between conservatives who wanted to cut property taxes by raiding the surplus and conservatives who wanted to cut property taxes by swapping them for the TTRC business tax plan. No other possible reason for opposing HB3 is mentioned, let alone explored, even though the crux of a big swath of HB3’s opposition is right here:

In addition to the surplus spending bill, the House also passed a bill dedicating all future new business tax revenue to property tax cuts and one that raises an estimated $60 million a year through better collection of sales taxes on used vehicles. A bill to raise $700 million through higher cigarette taxes is scheduled for House debate Thursday.

Emphasis mine. This is what united the Democrats in opposition to HB3, and what has them grumbling about the ten who broke off to support it. (The 2008 version of Al Edwards can be found at the top of the list on the right sidebar of the Chron story.) In a vacuum, HB3 has its merits. It’s not adequate, to be sure, but it’s at least a semi-decent starting point for finally fixing the laughable franchise tax. HB4 and HB5 have things to recommend them, too. But once HB2 passed, once the business tax was essentially severed from school finance, none of that mattered. That’s what the Democrats were fighting about, and it’s an argument that deserves to be heard. Apparently, since Janet Elliott and Clay Robison didn’t bother to collect any quotes from anyone making that argument, it’s up to the likes of me to make it audible. Thanks, guys.

For what it’s worth, the Statesman has a very similar story, though they at least managed to quote one Democrat. The DMN, Express News and Star Telegram have all moved on to the Senate.

UPDATE: If the comments in this DallasBlog post are any indication, HB3 is not very popular among Republicans. Again, their reason for not liking it is not the same as mine, and I’m still cheesed at the Chron for so blatantly short-shrifting the Democratic perspective, but this is nonetheless worth reading.

Where we stand after Monday

In writing about what I think of the legislative action on Monday, I’m going to start with a long quote from Rep. Garnet Coleman, which I take from this useful Capitol Annex post that gives an overview of how everyone voted on everything.

I oppose CSHB 1 because, at this point in the process, I cannot support legislation that only addresses property tax reduction and does nothing to improve our children’s schools. If, at a later date in the session, a bill is presented to this legislature that would increase our state’s investment in public education, I will support CSHB 1 or its equivalent.

I support property tax reduction and recognize that it is a worthy policy goal. Obviously, we must address the issue of an unconstitutional property tax system in order to comply with the supreme court ruling. Although CSHB 1 addresses the property tax issue, my constituents and a majority of Texans believe we are in special session to increase the state’s investment in our public schools because that is their highest priority.

Unfortunately, instead of placing equal importance on property tax cuts and our children’s schools, CSHB 1 fails to provide a single additional dollar for our public education. Even worse, CSHB 1 would actually take money away from Texas schoolchildren by deleting a rider that was intended to provide $1.8 billion in new money for our public schools. Additionally, CSHB 1 would make it more difficult for local school districts to raise funds for local enrichment. It also establishes unsound budget policy by requiring a property tax reduction without a corresponding funding source to cover the cost of the cut – a move that could certainly lead to an increase in the state sales tax and other consumption taxes that are disproportionately harmful to my constituents.

I stand ready to vote for a school finance solution that would provide both meaningful school property tax reduction and increased investment in our children’s schools. CSHB 1 fails that test, and for the foregoing reasons, I must oppose it. – Coleman

The problem with Monday’s votes is pretty neatly summed up by Matt, and it reiterates what Coleman is saying. It’s not that this special session has done nothing to fix school finance – as that is not yet on the call, we knew going into the session that it would wait, perhaps till next year. It’s that thanks to HB2, nothing that comes out of this session, or any other barring a change, will do anything to fix school finance. Whatever the merits of the TTRC plan are, it was sold to the public as a way to put school finance on more solid footing, while also providing for property tax relief. You’ll get the latter, but not the former, not now and not in the future. That’s what HB2 did.

It’s possible we’ll eventually get some money thrown at the schools this session. The Senate is already talking about adding a teacher pay raise plus some other miscellaneous spending to their version of HB1. That would come out of the existing surplus. Any future salary increases for teachers, or other extra money to pay for things like the continued rapid growth in enrollment, will have to come from somewhere other than the new business tax. I suppose we should all start hoping that Brooke Rollins is a visionary and not a hack, because we’re going to need endless surpluses from here on out.

One of the things that this suggests to me is that we may wind up revisiting the issue of adequacy a lot sooner than perhaps the State Supreme Court thought we would. How can you claim that the system will be adequate when you’re enshrining in law a cap on how much revenue for schools there can be? Any new money that the TTRC plan generates goes to buying down property taxes, period. Where’s the mechanism to keep up with enrollment growth, let alone state and federal mandates or the need to educate in an increasingly complex and technology-oriented world? The more affluent school districts will have the option of raising their school taxes a few more pennies to make up any shortfall they perceive. The less so will be right back where they started, unable to keep up. Do we really want to go through this again so soon?

I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusion about HB3 equaling an income tax, but Rep. Gary Elkins, no one’s idea of a tax-and-spend type, gets this right (also quoting from that Capitol Annex post from above):

Many supporters of HB3 have argued that this new tax actually reflects a tax shift, shifting the tax burden from property owners to businesses that are currently not paying the franchise tax. I agree that this bill creates a tax shift, not a shift from property owners to businesses, but a shift from big business to thousands of small businesses. The governor’s own policy advisor has informed members of the house that the average small service sector business will pay more in taxes and in most cases double, triple, or even quadruple what they are currently paying under the current franchise tax system.

This new tax is bad public policy and is harmful to most of our small businesses. More importantly, my constituents can see through this subterfuge and recognize this tax to be what it actually is, a state income tax. For the cited
reasons, I must respectfully oppose this measure. – Elkins

Yep, it’s a tax shift. Perry and Craddick tried and failed to swap sales taxes for property taxes last year, and this year they succeeded with the TTRC tax. Anyone want to guess where the inevitable shortfall for school finance will be made up down the line? I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with “Tales Max”.

At this point, all I can do is hope that the Senate changes directions, and that either causes everything to fall apart or somehow, miraculously, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst doesn’t get taken to the woodshed by Craddick again. (I suppose one bright spot in all this is that it’s given In the Pink the opportunity to quote from Meg Ryan movies again.) Maybe a little pressure can be applied to some of the wayward Dems for when these bills come up for final votes. All I can say right now is that given a choice between HBs 2 and 3, and the Get Out Of Dodge plan, I’d have picked the former as the lesser evil. At least then when we did have to start all over again, we wouldn’t be doing so from a worse position than we’re in now.

Finally, on a not-really-related note, I have to recognize State Rep. Joaquin Castro for pulling off this stunt. How that made it through is a mystery to me. I suppose anything really can happen during those long Legislative nights. Nicely played, sir.

Play the “Lost” game

The powers that be behind Lost have a new trick up their sleeve: An international, interactive game that will offer some information about the show.

It will begin May 2 in the United Kingdom, May 3 in the U.S. and May 6 in Australia. There is no winning prize, but the experience will offer clues that could unlock some of the island’s many secrets.

“It’s like a giant, worldwide mysterious jigsaw puzzle that will come to life for all the world to solve,” Mike Benson, senior vice president of marketing for ABC Entertainment, said in a statement.

What is known about the challenge is that it includes the introduction of new characters and the mysterious Hanso Foundation. The first clue requires finding a toll-free number that will be released during the show or commercial breaks.

Clues will vary by continent, so participants will benefit from coordinating their information. ABC said the game is designed to appeal to both fans and people unfamiliar with Lost.

Pretty cool. Add this to the Bad Twin book (which you can pick up on Amazon) and you can see how good these guys are at publicity. Is this a new paradigm for TV, or are they just outliers on the curve? I don’t know, but I’ll be interested to see what they come up with next.

The East End BRT line

Christof takes a look at the Harrisburg/East End LRT/BRT lines and the ongoing process to determine where they should go. Not too surprisingly, it’s a lot less politically charged than the Universities line. Check it out.

Rick Perry, record breaker

I’ve got to hand it to the Lone Star Project. They do come up with some original angles on current events.

It has been more than 100 years since a Congressional District has been left without a Congressman for longer than 130 Days. However, under the scheme hatched by Texas Governor Rick Perry and surrendering former House Republican Leader Tom DeLay, citizens in the 22nd District of Texas will be left without any Member of Congress representing them for at least 130 days, from June 30, 2006 until November 7, 2006. This gap in representation could be even longer if DeLay resigns earlier in June or if a run-off results from a November 7th special election, leaving the seat open another 30 days.

This assumes that there will be a double-barrelled election for CD22 in November – the regular between Nick Lampson, the Chosen One, independent Steve Stockman, and Libertarian Bob Smither; and a special, featuring God knows who for the right to serve from November through December, when Congress will likely be on recess much of the time anyway. We won’t know for sure if this is what Perry has in mind until he is forced to do something by DeLay’s departure. All I know is that I continue to fail to see the point of such a beast. Do it now, when it matters, or don’t do it at all.

Anyway. Some entertaining history and other useful information follows, so check it out.

The municipal WiFi shakedown cruise

Dwight points to this article about some of the issues that the cities who have pioneered municipal WiFi service have encountered.

Joe Lusardi’s friends back in New York couldn’t believe it when he told them he’d have free Internet access through this city’s new Wi-Fi network. It’s free all right, but residents are, to some extent, getting what they pay for.

More than a month after St. Cloud launched what analysts say is the country’s first free citywide Wi-Fi network, Lusardi and others in this 28,000-person Orlando suburb are still paying to use their own Internet service providers as dead spots and weak signals keep some residents offline and force engineers to retool the free system.

“Everybody’s happy they were going to have it, but I don’t know if they’re happy right now,” said Lusardi, a 66-year-old retired New York City transit worker.


At first, a desktop computer in Lusardi’s house could use the Wi-Fi network with no problem, but his laptop would only work outdoors. Even then it was too slow and unreliable, so he kept his $20 per month Sprint DSL service.

Now the desktop doesn’t even work, and he’s completely abandoned the idea of dropping his pay service and using the network.

“It’s just total frustration,” Lusardi said. “I’m going to stay with the DSL and just forget it, because I don’t think it’s going to work. Very few people are going to use it, and they’re going to say it’s underutilized and they’re going to shut it down.”

Lusardi didn’t shell out the money for a signal-boosting device St. Cloud recommends for those having trouble connecting – City Hall sells them for $170.

[Glenn Fleishman, who runs a Web site called Wi-Fi Networking News,] said the fact that others share Lusardi’s frustration is a crucial technical and public relations problem for the vanguard project. He said residents should understand many won’t be able to use the free network without additional equipment to strengthen the signal.

“It’s very large and it’s very ambitious, so they’re going to hit some of these problems before some of the marketing and technology is out there,” he said. “Products have to catch up to this new market.”

Fleishman said other cities would likely have the same problems – in bigger cities, even larger ones – if they didn’t fully inform the public of necessary equipment and network limits.

I’m not too worried about what this may mean for Houston’s project. For one thing, actual deployment is still a ways off, and there will be plenty of time for the bidders in Houston to learn from other cities’ experiences. For another, technology in this area is evolving fairly rapidly, so some of the problems that have been seen may be mooted by imminent changes in the tools that are available. Finally, I expect that the users of the downtown pilot will put the system through its paces and thus identify weaknesses early on. Houston may be on the leading edge here, but it’s at the back of that edge. We’ll have some bumps along the way, but not as many as the real trailblazers will have had.

HB3 passes

Ultimately, the new business tax plan, written into HB3, passed the House on first reading last night. There’s still another round of approval for it before it goes to the Senate, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s been approved by the House.

Let’s look at the coverage, starting with the Chron.

The $3 billion measure will now go to the Senate, with supporters hoping the two chambers will finally be able to agree on a tax overhaul. Four previous efforts in the past two years failed.

“The (tax) system is broken. It’s time to fix it. This is a fair bill,” said Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, a co-sponsor of the measure that passed 80-68.

But Democrats attacked it as underfunded and complained that it wouldn’t raise any additional funding for the public schools.

“It is the largest tax bill in Texas history, and it doesn’t give one penny to the public schools,” said Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco.


Several dozen amendments, many proposing special tax breaks for an assortment of industries, were offered to the business tax bill. Most were withdrawn or defeated, but one amendment, an accounting provision designed to soften the financial blow for current payers of the franchise tax, could cost as much as $40 million in tax collections in the first year.

Altogether, Speaker Tom Craddick said, amendments that were adopted cut $58 million from the $3.45 billion that the bill, as approved by the House Ways and Means Committee, would have raised for the governor’s proposed property tax buy-down.


The House adopted 141-1 an amendment to prohibit companies from deducting the costs of hiring undocumented immigrants from their taxable income. The provision also would give the state comptroller the authority to enforce the restriction.

Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, the amendment’s sponsor and the son of immigrants, said he was attempting to crack down on the “thousands and thousands” of Texas businesses that hire illegal workers.

“Without a demand, there’s really no supply,” he said.

“I’m tired of hearing the demagoguery out in the marketplace,” he said, referring to the current political debate over immigration. “Unfortunately, it’s Texas business that is breaking the law on a daily basis.”

Otto questioned how effectively the state would be able to enforce the provision, but only Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, voted against it.


The House adopted an amendment by Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, that would remove the tax liability from any company owing less than $1,000 in taxes a year.

Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Tomball, won approval of a provision that would require Texas voters to approve any subsequent increase in the new business tax rate.

In addition, a “safety net” provision that would allow schools to remain open if all else failed passed by a 146-2 margin. Other bills representing other parts of the Perry plan were brought to the floor as well. The Star Telegram runs them down:

Lawmakers also adopted House Bill 2, which requires any extra revenue that comes from revamping the state tax system go to lowering property taxes — and not to increasing spending on education.

The bill passed on a largely party-line vote, with the Republicans prevailing 81-65. Among the local delegation, only state Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, bucked party leadership.

Late Monday, lawmakers also adopted House Bill 4 that revamps sales taxes for used cars.

Near midnight, House Bill 5, the last piece of the legislative package, was rejected on a technical point of order. The fate of the bill was unclear. Under it, the state would have phased in an additional $1.05-per-pack tax on cigarettes over three years. The original proposal by Perry’s commission would have immediately increased the cigarette tax by $1 per pack.

Aaron Pena has a few more details.

I admit, I’m a bit surprised at how quickly all this got passed. Matt quotes from the Quorum Report that the status of HB3 was in doubt early on Monday, which is why debate on it was delayed. QR:

In post-recess comments, [House Speaker Tom] Craddick confirmed that support for HB 3, the revamped business tax, had slipped to 60 votes by Monday morning. It took a concerted effort by the leadership to get the total back up to 80 votes, he said.

How did they do that? I believe the DMN story answers that question.

Sponsors of the business tax were unsure whether they had secured enough votes to pass the measure as debate began.

On Monday morning, Mr. Perry’s staff and sponsors on both sides of the aisle were still polling members who had not committed their votes.

Thought to be wavering were some conservative Republicans concerned that they could pay a political price for enacting new taxes when the state has a robust surplus.

But supporters of the plan, trying to bring more votes on board, argued that it could have a political benefit.

If the bill passes, Mr. Perry “will run for re-election based on the tax cuts made possible by this bill,” said Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock. “People who vote against making the business tax fair are obstructing property tax cuts.”

Presumably, the argument was that it would be easier to explain action than inaction. Dissent on HB3 was broad but not focused, with Democrats and conservative Republicans having different problems with it. I expect that wavering members eventually bought into the idea that passing HB3 can be spun positively if needed, while yet another failed special session could not be explained away in any fashion. If I were in their place, I’d probably find that compelling, too.

I assume the problems with HB5, the tobacco tax bill, will be fixed and the bill will be passed. Enough money has leaked out via various loopholes and exceptions already. The loss of that revenue would put a big hole in Perry’s shaky-from-the-start claims that the total TTRC package balances out the property tax cuts.

More media coverage is here and here; more blog coverage is here, here, and here. I’m still thinking about the implications of all this, and will write more when I’ve collected my thoughts. I believe the next action is scheduled for Thursday, so we may be able to catch our breath for a moment or two. As always, stay tuned.

75 things to love about Texas

Via Norbizness comes this Texas Monthly list of 75 Things To Love About Texas, there for the usual limited time. It’s a good idea, I think, to pause occasionally while the Lege is busy doing Lord knows what with school finance and remember why we care in the first place. All lists like these are subjective, and for sure there are things that they did not include that you or I might have (my list would include such things as the Schlitterbahn, the Marching Owl Band, the Art Car Parade, and the David Adickes statue of Sam Houston up in Huntsville, in case you’re curious), but this is a fine starting point for discussion and/or trip planning. Check it out.

Save the Internet

Let me add my voice to those calling out for the preservation of Net Neutrality (I have posted on this in the past). What you need to know is here and here. The players in this drama are described here. If there’s one thing I’m totally not shocked about, it’s that a leader among the bad guys is Smokey Joe Barton. The man can’t help himself. (One of the ways you can help is by supporting David Harris in his race against Smokey Joe.)

Anyway. Read Save the Internet. Sign the MoveOn petition. If you’re a MySpace person, go here. And be sure to let your congressperson know how you feel about this.

Once again with a la carte cable

Once again, the concept of a la carte pricing for cable television is in the news (see here and here for background). Pretty much everything you need to know about the debate is in the following paragraphs.

In a preemptive move in this regard, Time Warner and other cable companies recently introduced a “family friendly” tier of 16 G-rated channels.

The tier contained no sports or movie networks, nor such offerings as History Channel or Cartoon Network, because there’s no guarantee those channels won’t cross the G-rated line. (Indeed, Cartoon Network offers adult programming during late-night hours.)

Cable companies also claim that they have made it possible for digital subscribers to set parental controls and have spent millions in advertising that capability. Still, fewer than 4 percent of their customers make use of it.

[Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin] Martin said he has “legitimate concerns” about the “family friendly” tiers that were offered. He has the backing of the Parents Television Council and other conservative groups.

“We believe the family tier is a product that’s designed to fail,” said Dan Isett, PTC’s director of corporate and government affairs. “It does nothing to solve the problem, which is that families are not free to decide for themselves what constitutes a family tier.”

Whether or not the Time-Warner family-friendly offering is designed to fail is irrelevant. From where I sit, it’s highly unlikely that any such package would be successful. That’s because whatever the TWCs of the world put in or left out, some vocal group would complain about it. Sports channels? They glorify gambling by showing all that poker. Cartoon channels? Three words: “Beavis and Butthead”. Or “South Park”. Or “Adult Swim”. You get the picture. The History Channel? All Nazis, all the time. And on and on.

Which is a point in favor of the arguments put forward by the Parents Television Council. Let us make the choice, they say, and don’t make us pay for anything we don’t want.

Seems reasonable until you ask why cable providers are being forced by government intervention to modify their businesses in a way that they say will be unprofitable. Whatever happened to the free market? If the demand for family-friendly-only programming were truly there, what’s to stop a Pat Robertson or a Rupert Murdoch from starting up a satellite company that would offer those services to PTCers? Why patronize Time Warner at all if they’re not giving you what you want? If that’s more damaging to their bottom line than the a la carte option that they’re fighting, either they’ll change their ways or a competitor will step in and take that market away from them. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?

Of course, future technology – near future, mind you – may obviate all of this.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to push a la carte because in various ways it’s going to happen as we see many more ways of distributing video,” says Michael Rogers.

Rogers, former head of the Washington Post Company’s new media division and currently a columnist on, believes the proliferation of platforms – cell phones, iTunes and especially the Internet – has already made a la carte a nonissue.

But Time Warner’s McMillan thinks the same issues will linger because of the cable industry’s business structure.

“The next step is something called ‘switch digital,’ ” he says of a plan that joins television and the Internet. “But even then I don’t think we’re going to be able to set aside the contracts we’ve got with all of our suppliers and say (to the consumer), ‘You’re going to be able to buy this a la carte.’ You would have to renegotiate all those contracts.

“And if I own Speed Channel (an auto racing network), what do you think I’m going to ask for that programming on an a la carte basis versus a broadcast basis as part of a tier? They’re going to ask for more money. The reason: They’re going to be taking a bigger risk because that channel won’t be grouped with other channels. (The smaller channels) believe, and I concur, this would hurt their ability to draw advertising.”

It’s just a matter of time before any content you want will be available for a price via Internet download. We’re almost there already. Once that happens, who needs a cable or satellite plan at all? I rather think that this debate is going to fade away before it gets fully resolved.

And while all this may be bad news for niche channels under the current structure, who’s to say they won’t re-emerge as lower-cost online programmers? There’s already some entertaining stuff out there. That old adage about closing doors and opening windows applies here. I’m not ready to weep for anyone just yet.

(For what it’s worth, the brother-in-law of one of my best friends is a producer of that last site. Just in case anyone asks.)

What is the Lege up to now?

As I understand it, the debate on HB3 will be going till midnight or so. That’s past my bedtime, so I’ll do a link roundup now and figure out the news in the morning. Here’s what we know so far.

The first thing you need to know is that HB1, the Get Out Of Dodge plan, has passed out of the House by a near-unanimous margin.

The House approved an 11 percent cut in school property taxes Monday that proponents said would ensure schools stay open this year.

“We can go home and tell the people that we have reduced the property taxes, that the schools will stay open in June,” said Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa.


House Bill 1 passed 139-5.

The idea behind it is that the state will give school districts more than $2 billion from the state’s surplus, and the districts will use that money to lower their tax rates to provide some breathing room between themselves and the maximum rate. Then, the districts can exercise their newfound discretion and inch their tax rates back up.

This is presumably for the worst-case scenario (at least, worst from some perspectives) that nothing else gets done. One assumes no one wants to face the voters if the schools are not open. As I’ve said before, however, wait until the West Orange-Cove plaintiffs make their next move before you breathe any sighs of relief. More on this here, here (on recapture), here, and (much more) here.

The most blatantly political thing to happen today was this.

The House version of Gov. Rick Perry’s tax overhaul says that the secretary of state – an office that has little involvement in tax policy – will write a letter and send it to county tax assessor-collectors so they can send it out to taxpayers around Oct. 1. The letter would tell voters, er, taxpayers about the property-tax reductions that, presumably, the Legislature will have just passed.

Some lawmakers said this is simply a government-funded political advertisement a month before an election. “When we tax people and we charge them a tax, we don’t ever send them a notice,” said Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston.

Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, tried to change the proposal so the comptroller, who deals very much with tax policy, would write the letter. Initially an effort to kill her amendment was defeated. But then some lawmakers’ “machines malfunctioned.” Here’s what that usually means: They either saw how the vote came out and didn’t want to make anyone important mad by siding with the wrong side, or they were asked nicely by House leaders to change their votes. When the dust settled, Hernandez’s amendment failed.

Something else to keep in mind: the comptroller is a woman named Carole Keeton Strayhorn who is running against GOP Gov. Rick Perry. She has called Perry’s tax proposal, in part, a “hot check.” Her letter indeed would have been interesting.

Instead it will be written by Perry’s appointed secretary of state.

“It’s for transparency, it’s to make sure everyone is aware of what we have done,” said Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, a proponent of sending a letter authored by the secretary of state.

Seems pretty transparent, indeed.

No freaking kidding. If the Democrats in this state had any money, you could make a nice attack ad out of this. Hell, maybe Strayhorn will – for sure she won’t be quiet about it. Go for it, Carole, this is exactly the sort of thing you really excel at. Kudos to Rep. Ana Hernandez, in her first session, for nearly giving this turkey the shiv it deserved. More here and here. Some tidbits on the current status of opposition to HB3 is here. Aaron Pena still thinks it will pass, albeit narrowly.

That’s about it for now. Other coverage can be found via Matt, In the Pink, and here. If you haven’t bookmarked Capitol Annex yet, do it – Vince has been glued to the live feeds, and is transcribing up a storm. More tomorrow when the dailies do their thing.

Meet Ellen Cohen Wednesday night

If you’ve got the time for only one political event this week in Houston, this is the one to go to:

The Houston Democratic Forum invites you to a General Meeting and Discussion with special guest

Ellen Cohen
Candidate for the Texas House of Representatives
District 134

Wednesday, April 26th, 6pm to 8pm

Quattro Lounge at the Four Seasons Hotel
1300 Lamar, Downtown Houston

Cash Bar
Valet parking is only $3 with validation, and there is ample self-parking in area

RSVP: [email protected] or 713.885.0697

The guest speaker will be Ellen Cohen, who is running against Rep. Martha Wong for the Texas Legislature, State House District 134. For the last 15 years, she has been President and CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center. For more on Ellen and the campaign, please check We ask that all HDF members and friends come out on the 26th and meet the woman who will defeat Rep. Wong. District 134 includes Bellaire, West University, River Oaks and parts of Meyerland and Montrose.

I’m Mister Mom this week (Tiffany is off on a business trip), so I unfortunately cannot make it to this. If you can, though, I encourage you to go. HDF meetings are always fun, and Ellen’s an awesome candidate.