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May 1st, 2007:

HB626 stalls, HB218 advances

Apparently, HB626, in its original or “compromise” form, didn’t make it to the House floor yesterday. In this comment to his post that announced the “compromise”, Burka says the Secretary of State is “balking at the burdens the compromise would place on them”. Just a guess here, but I’d say that means they’re saying “we’d need a buttload more money to be able to implement this”. Which, if true, would mean the budget would have to be jiggled to take that money from somewhere else, since the budget rules adopted by the Republicans say just exactly that. At this point, I have no idea what will happen with this bill. When I hear something, I’ll post an update.

Speaking of the Secretary of State, maybe asking them to check everyone’s citizenship isn’t such a good idea even if they get the funding they’d need.

The state acknowledged today that computer backlogs in a new state database has caused problems for some people who showed up on the first day of early voting and discovered their names were not on the roster.

Among those whose names did not appear today were the city of Prairie View’s mayor and mayor pro-tem.

Scott Haywood, a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, said the agency has received complaints from about 17 jurisdictions that did not get a complete report of registered voters for the May 12 elections.

Haywood attributed the problems to technical setbacks in the Texas Election Administration Management System, a new state database that makes it easier to track people moving around Texas. He said the agency has made improvements to the system and all counties should receive a completed list today.

I hope nobody in my audience was affected by this.

Meanwhile, the voter ID bill HB218 passed out of committee in the Senate, with some differences from the House version.

Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, tweaked the House-approved proposal by not exempting any voters from the identification requirement. His version also stipulates that the ID mandate not affect voters until January, four months later than the House-adopted take.

So they decided it’s better to disenfranchise Royal Masset’s mother than allow for a potential equality-under-the-law claim in the future lawsuit against this sucker. Glad we cleared that up. Next up, Rodney Ellis and the Senate Eleven (we hope!) versus David Dewhurst. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Vince has more.

Early voting in New Braunfels

In addition to Houston and Farmer’s Branch, there’s an election of interest going on in New Braunfels, where irate tubers are attempting to recall New Braunfels City Council Member Ken Valentine, who has been the driving force behind most of the new river regulations. This recent story has an update on that effort.

The effort to recall Councilman Ken Valentine in the May 12 city election is being seen by many as a referendum on the strict new rules on tubing the Comal and Guadalupe rivers, which Valentine championed.

The group KeepNBNB insists, however, that Valentine’s positions on river issues is just one example of his “divisiveness” and failure to represent his entire district by focusing only on river-related issues that affect just him and his immediate riverfront neighbors.

“We had an opportunity to do a bunch of things everyone could agree on,” recall spokesman Kevin Webb said, claiming there is broad consensus to improve streets and drainage and beef up the police department. “But he decided to do the one thing no one could agree on.”

In the last two years, Valentine led successful efforts to enact bans on Jello shots and beer bongs and to enforce one of the nation’s toughest noise ordinances on the river. This year the council put in new restrictions on the size and number of floatation devices people can bring on the river and, most controversially, limited people to one 16-quart cooler per person.

“He’s never won a contested election in his district,” Webb said. “But he is setting the agenda in our city. I don’t know where he thinks his mandate came from.”

Valentine said that while controlling the huge crowds, litter and drunken behavior on the rivers is obviously an important issue, he has spent a lot of time on drainage, streets, parks, youth sports, public safety and beautification issues. He provided a list of 28 issues he has worked on since he was re-elected in 2005.

“This whole thing is solely about river issues,” he said of the recall group. “I know it’s a divisive issue, but if you don’t address the thorny issues, the community is not going to make progress.”

Valentine’s website is here. Apparently, Big Tubing is out to get him. On the other side, the KeepNBNB folks are excited about voting. I can’t wait to see how this one turns out. It may come with its own sequel, too:

If Valentine loses the recall election he will be kicked out of office as soon as the rest of the council certifies results. The council would call a special election to fill the vacancy, and Valentine said he would run again.

Meanwhile, there’s an open City Council seat in New Braunfels that’s also on the ballot. Something tells me that race hasn’t gotten as much publicity.

We got a robocall from the Harris County GOP this afternoon, but it was just informational – it said there’s an election going on, make sure you vote, visit our website to see candidate responses, and that’s about it. The more Republicans that vote, the more likely that there will be a runoff. The best thing you can do about that is make sure you get out and vote for Melissa Noriega, and that you tell everyone you know to do so, too.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention, the brief candidate bios that weren’t in Sunday’s paper are now on the City Hall blog.

State Auditor busts TxDOT

Didn’t get to this yesterday, but Eye on Williamson was on it: The State Auditor released a report on TxDOT’s claimed funding gap. To sum it up, the way they calculate their much-trumpeted $86 billion shortfall is baloney.

The accuracy of the estimated costs for metropolitan and urban regions cannot be determined because of the lack of supporting documentation.

The methodology the Department used to calculate the amount of the funding gap provides a general assessment of the statewide need for additional mobility funding; however, it may not be reliable for making policy or funding decisions. To calculate the funding gap, the Department collaborated with the eight largest metropolitan planning organizations to obtain cost estimates, and it used those estimates to determine the funding gap for metropolitan regions. The Department provided some guidance to the metropolitan planning organizations. The data the Department used were cost estimates that were self-reported by the metropolitan planning organizations. The cost for urban regions was estimated by the Department based on broad and generalized assumptions. For the estimated costs in rural regions, the Department relied on cost estimates for the Texas Trunk System (a project developed in 1990 to connect the rural regions of the state with a statewide system).

The Department and metropolitan planning organizations also asserted that the main benefit from funding gap estimates was the increased communication and shared responsibility between the entities to address mobility and funding challenges. The Department stated that it plans to update the funding gap estimate every two years and make improvements to the reporting methodology.

We’ve known for nearly a year that TxDOT was using inflated numbers. More recently, the Texas Transportation Institute study that was done for the Governor’s own Business Council suggested the total was overstated by thirty billion dollars. Now it looks like the exaggeration is even greater than that.

That $86 billion figure has been cited repeatedly by Texas Department of Transportation officials and some legislators as a major reason for the state’s increasing need for new toll roads. The number is a compilation of estimates from local transportation planning agencies around the state that were produced at the behest of the Transportation Department.

The report said those estimates include mathematical errors and that another $36.9 billion needed for projects in metropolitan and urban regions was “undocumented” and that $8.6 billion of the overall total should not have been included because of mathematical errors and other flaws in the estimates.

In other words, more than half of that claimed $86 billion deficit is phony. Is there any wonder why nobody trusts TxDOT any more?

The circle of life in Lobbyist Land

Behold how the world works.

The House’s second most powerful member inserted a provision in the budget last month that would all but guarantee a state contract for a company run by a former state official.

The lawmaker, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum, acted at the request of a former House colleague who is now a lobbyist for the company.

Former Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth brought him the proposal, and she acknowledged that it would probably steer a technology contract to GHT Development, owned by former Deputy Health and Human Services Commissioner Gregg Phillips.

“I was trying to advantage my client,” said Ms. Wohlgemuth, a Burleson Republican who wielded vast influence on social services policy in the 2003 Legislature and is now a health-care lobbyist.

Yes, that’s Arlene “Queen of CHIP Cuts” Wohlgemuth, and that Gregg Phillips. Who wouldn’t trust those two, right? As always, the real scandal is that everything here is perfectly legal. Read it and weep.

Where all the draftees are pretty, and every class is above average

I just have one question regarding the weekend’s NFL draft: What do you have to do to earn a failing grade from John McClain? I mean, look at his recap of the AFC and NFC teams. I mean, I can believe that everyone did more or less okay – this isn’t a zero-sum game, every team has its own needs, yadda yadda – but even if he’s not grading on a curve, what exactly is McClain’s criteria for a “good” draft versus a “so-so draft”. Look at what he wrote for the Bengals, for instance:

Outlook: CB Leon Hall will start immediately. RB Kenny Irons should give them a second effective runner. QB Jeff Rowe was underrated.

Sounds pretty good. Now compare this to what he wrote for the Falcons:

Outlook: In the first three rounds, GM Rich McKay drafted players who should start and fill needs. DE Jamaal Anderson replaces Patrick Kerney. G Justin Blalock also could start at tackle. CB Chris Houston could start opposite DeAngelo Hall.

Also pretty good. So how is it that the Bengals got a C and the Falcons an A? I don’t see an obvious difference in their outlooks. What made one better than the other?

Looking through the rest, you can see some hint of objective methodology. Not having as many picks as other teams is a mark against you. Not filling a clear need is another, and presumably drafting a player who’s a “reach” is as well. But what’s really important? What’s the measuring stick? Compare, for example, to the USA Today report card, which gives a description of its ratings as well as a few failing grades. Was that so hard?

Maybe I’m just a cranky stathead who needs numbers to give my life meaning. And yeah, it’s all subjective anyway. But surely I can’t be the only person who read this and wondered where McClain got some of his letter grades from. Can I?

UPDATE: Just to pile on a little, note that USA Today gives both the Bengals and the Falcons three stars. Make of that what you will.