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May 11th, 2007:

Exporting our bad ideas

Remember Rick Perry’s grand idea to sell the Lottery? Perhaps you’ve forgotten, since the last I can recall hearing about it was in February, and as far as I can tell it’s deader than Generalissimo Franco. But just to prove that no idea in politics is too stupid to be universally rejected, here comes California with the same dollar signs dancing around their heads.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is poised to call for privatizing the state lottery, a move that would bring California a cash infusion of as much as $37 billion to help solve pressing budget problems but also could sacrifice a major revenue source for decades to come.

The lottery would be leased to a private company for up to 40 years in exchange for a lump-sum payment or series of payments, according to documents from the governor’s budget office that were provided to legislative staff and obtained by The Times. If lawmakers were to sign off on such a plan, California could become the first state to privatize its lottery.

Schwarzenegger will issue a revised budget proposal Monday that is expected to contain the lottery plan.

Adam Mendelsohn, Schwarzenegger’s communications director, confirmed that the governor’s staff had been working with investment banks on the plan. He said private companies could do a better job of running the lottery than the state, resulting in more Californians playing and the largest possible cash infusion.

“California has one of the lowest-performing lotteries in the country,” he said. “Taxpayers could see two to three times more money go into state coffers.”

[…]

The plan is certain to be controversial, with opposition likely from activists who are seeking to stop further expansion of gaming in the state, as well as fiscal conservatives who are uneasy with trading off future revenue for easy cash now. But it also is likely to entice both Democrats and Republicans desperate to find funding for programs they support without having to resort to a tax hike.

The easy way out is always a popular choice, isn’t it? Learn from Texas, fellas (no, I can’t believe I just said that, either). Handing off your problems to future generations is not a flattering quality to have. Link via Kevin Drum.

(Yes, I see that Illinois’ Democratic Governor has the same idea as well. At least he has a specific immediate need for the cash infusion – fixing the state’s pension fund. That doesn’t make this not a bad idea, however.)

City to SOBs: Move it or lose it

The long-awaited crackdown on sexually oriented businesses is officially underway, and it’s aggressive.

The city has ordered more than 100 adult cabarets, bookstores and other so-called sexually oriented businesses to close down their operations or face criminal and civil penalties, according to warning letters obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

City Attorney Arturo Michel’s office mailed the certified letters on Thursday, stating that the businesses were violating an ordinance prohibiting them from operating within 1,500 feet of schools, parks, churches and other “sensitive” locations in the city.

The cease-and-desist letters mean that employees and owners of the businesses face arrest “soon” if they fail to heed the city’s notice, said Capt. Steve Jett, who commands the Houston Police Department’s vice unit.

“They need to close up,” he said. “We wanted to give them fair warning.”

Matt Stiles has a link to a list of the businesses that received the letter. There are a few curiosities on it, so it’s probably not gospel, but close enough. If you’re looking for one last fling at your favorite strip club, for old times’ sake, better not wait too long.

Club owners and attorneys reached late Thursday declined to comment out of fear they could jeopardize their employees and businesses first. Some also have notified [federal judge Nancy] Atlas’ court that they intend to appeal her ruling.

A manager at one establishment said he was disappointed to hear of the city’s crackdown.

“It’s hard to legislate morality,” said Thomas Venza, a manager at Centerfolds Adult Entertainment, in the 6100 block of Richmond. “If you don’t agree with it, don’t go.”

At least nine businesses have filed new lawsuits in state courts here in recent weeks, challenging the ordinance’s provision for “amortization,” a process by which the city could let clubs operate for a period after the law takes effect so owners can recoup their investments before moving or closing.

I’m not sure how much juice there is left in the legal wrangling aspect of this. As you know, I think this is a bad ordinance, and I hate the ruling, but I don’t see how it gets overturned. I also wonder, if this law were to be put up for a vote how it would fare. Not that it matters, I suppose. I’m just pondering.

Privately, industry officials said they think the city’s crackdown is unfair, noting that they are lawful businesses that contribute millions of dollars to the local economy through employment and sales taxes.

Some also decry that all such businesses are linked together in one ordinance.

They see a distinction between adult cabaret clubs, which require multiple permits because their businesses depend on liquor and food sales, from modeling studios and spas, some of which police say are nothing more than fronts for prostitution.

Those distinctions have not been important to elected officials and police, who plan to begin enforcement as soon as next week.

I don’t think there’s anything “private” about how “industry officials” feel about this law. They’re getting screwed, and they’ve put ten years of courtroom fighting into preventing it. For what it’s worth, I think their view is largely correct. I just don’t think it’s any big secret.

As before, I wouldn’t consider the comments to be particularly indicative of public opinion, but one comment, on page two (I can’t link to it directly, as far as I can tell), is intriguing:

The current plan is for all of the clubs to turn into “bikini bars.” All will be the same, except for no truly topless dancers. When this happens, and the dancers are “clothed” all bets are off for rules about touching customers, etc. They can no longer be regulated by Vice & TABC as Sexually Oriented Businesses. In other words… anything goes!

While I think that would keep some clubs in business, my guess is most of them would still fold, though perhaps not right away. I dimly recall a TV news story shortly after the original ordinance was passed that informed us that the male-stripper club La Bare was not technically an SOB because the dancers were sufficiently covered. Maybe Treasures et al can ask them for a few pointers about that.

UPDATE: Do the Rockets Power Dancers have anything to worry about? Get me Captain Jett on the line!

Care to revise and extend your turnout estimate?

Remember when the Harris County Clerk’s office projected eight percent turnout for tomorrow’s election? How optimistic they were.

A turnout of 5 percent to 6 percent is expected for Saturday’s joint election based on the number of people who voted early.

Only about 1.5 percent of registered voters took part in the early voting that ended on Tuesday, said David Beirne, spokesman for the Harris County Clerk’s Office.

“There is nothing on the ballot that is drawing in voters,” Beirne said.

In Houston, a special election is being held to fill the City Council seat vacated by Shelley Sekula-Gibbs. Eleven candidates are running.

Fewer than 13,000 city residents cast ballots during early voting, indicating the council race hasn’t sparked great interest, Beirne said.

Which means that my own projection of five percent turnout was also way too sunny. I’m now putting the over/under line at three percent. That would make this slightly less robust than the 2005 City Council runoff (PDF) between Sue Lovell and Jay Aiyer. It also means that you’ll be voting for the equivalent of at least 30 people, not just 20. Which in turn means it’s time for this again:

Last chance to vote is tomorrow. You don’t even want to think about how low turnout in a runoff would be, so do your best to avoid it and vote for Melissa Noriega. Polls will be open from 7 AM to 7 PM.

Metro “lawsuit” hearing on Tuesday

Via my comments and my email, it looks like there will be a hearing for the Section 202 petition against Metro that anti-rail crusader Daphne Scarbrough filed recently. The details, as I understand them:

Cause No. 2007-22066
Case link: http://apps.jims.hctx.net/courts/CaseInquiry.do?casenum=200722066
215th Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas
Judge Levi Benton
Judge link: http://www.justex.net/Courts/Civil/CivilCourt.aspx?crt=17

Plaintiff rep: William A. “Andy” Taylor

Tues May 15, 2007 at 8:30 am
Case status = “active”
Case type = “depositions before suit (rule 202)”

Harris County Civil Court House, 13th Floor
201 Caroline, between Franklin and Congress
Map link: http://www.justex.net/DowntownMap.aspx
713 368-6330

Doors open at 8:00 am
Public allowed to attend and take notes
No photos during hearing

I have no idea what to expect. We’ll see what happens.

CHIP administrative issues

State Rep. Garnet Coleman explains why legislative policies aren’t the only reason why CHIP enrollment drops.

Administrative directives are policies that govern the administration of CHIP. These policies are not state laws, which must be established by the Texas Legislature, and they are not commission rules, which must be officially adopted by the commission. These policies may be created or changed at any time by the direction of HHSC Commissioner Albert Hawkins or other high-ranking administrators.

Policy changes made by the HHSC can happen at any time without notice to the Legislature — it really can be done as easily as you turn a faucet on or off. Those changes are also issued with minimum notice to CHIP recipients; in fact, only two days’ notice was given to many of the thousands of families whose children lost CHIP coverage this month. What happens to the children who had doctor appointments this week? How can they be expected to find new health coverage in two days time?

We must encourage HHSC to adopt policies and issue administrative directives that are inclusive, and not exclusive, for providing CHIP coverage for our children.

Remember, CHIP isn’t an entitlement. It’s an insurance program. Eligible families pay for CHIP coverage. Would you stand for this kind of administrative runaround from your health insurance provider? Eligibility for, and availability of, CHIP shouldn’t be jerked around. It’s neither compassionate nor prudent to operate this way.

Burka on SB1317

Paul Burka delves into the politics of anti-clean air bill SB1317 and how it wound up in the wrong committee in the House.

The bill addresses a legitimate issue, which is how far cities should be able to extend their jurisdiction. But this bill is not just about a fine point of law. It is about politics–2010 gubernatorial politics. [Lt. Gov. David] Dewhurst expects to be the Republican nominee, and his opponent is likely to be none other than Bill White. Here’s what I don’t get: Why does Dewhurst think it’s good politics for him to be for this bill? This is going to be a TV spot for White! It is going to saturate the airwaves in Houston. “When Houston was trying to protect the public from toxic air pollution, where was David Dewhurst? He was protecting the polluters.” What’s Dewhurst going to say? “My opponent has it all wrong. Houston was abusing its authority at the expense of these good corporate citizens.” Yeah, right. Dewhurst doesn’t get it. This is not 2003. Clean air has become a huge issue in this state in the Republican suburbs, which is where the votes are.

Emphasis in the original. We ought to get a good preview of how this will play out in 2008, when bill sponsor Sen. Mike Jackson runs for re-election (assuming he doesn’t retire; there have been rumors to that effect). Jackson’s opponent, Joe Jaworski is already banging this drum, and he’s sure to have the resources to run ads hammering Jackson for this bill. Jackson’s district was modestly purple in 2006, slightly redder than the state as a whole but not by much. If Jaworski gets traction on this issue in SD11 next year, then watch out in 2010.

Burka also points the finger at Eddie Lucio, and prints a letter from a disgruntled now-former Republican. Matt Stiles has more from Mayor White’s perspective. Check it out.