Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

May 31st, 2007:

The new trash fees

Trash has been in the news quite a bit lately, from the solid waste management task force (whose report is here) to the new pickup schedules. The initial report called for a $3.50/month trash fee to cover things like enhanced recycling and dumping enforcement. Now there’s a story about a another fee proposal, which I must say is confusing me a bit.

Houston households could see a new charge on their monthly water bills starting this fall — a $2.25 fee to help the city adopt more environment-friendly waste practices — but payment would be optional.

City officials estimate the fee, which is included in the mayor’s 2008 budget but requires a separate ordinance for approval, would bring in about $4.8 million next fiscal year to enhance recycling and composting programs and enforce illegal-dumping laws.

See, that’s exactly what the $3.50 fee was supposed to be about. Does this represent a reduction in that proposal, or a new fee for something else? It’s not clear in this story.

The charge would appear on water bills for all households except those who ask to opt out of the program, said Judy Gray Johnson, the city’s finance and administration director. It was unclear Wednesday what steps residents would take to decline participation.

Officials estimate about half of Houston households would pay the $27 yearly fee. But “we will have no idea until it happens,” Johnson said.

So what would we get for that $2.25 a month? I have no objection to this if it does something useful, but I need more information. And is the city going to try to sell the idea of this to civic-minded folks, or is it just going to assume that most people won’t notice it or won’t bother trying to opt out? Lots of questions to be answered here.

The fee first was proposed nearly two months ago by a mayoral task force as a $3.50 mandatory monthly charge. That would have generated as much as $19 million a year, officials said.

Residents who pay the fee would not receive any special services that wouldn’t be available to those who don’t pay, Johnson said. But the entire community would benefit from payment because certain solid-waste programs would be enhanced, she said. For example, curbside recycling could be offered to more homes and illegal-dumping laws would be better enforced in neighborhoods.

That sound you hear is my head spinning. Can we please get a follow up on this, either a story or a blog post, so that whatever this is can be a little clearer? Thank you.

No! Don’t come back!

Listen to me carefully here, people. Be very careful what you wish for.

Consumer groups are calling on Gov. Rick Perry to order the state Legislature back into session to make changes to Texas’ competitive electricity markets.

AARP Texas and Texas ACORN, which advocates for low-income families, said a bill that died in the final hours of the legislative session on Monday fell short of making the kinds of changes they wanted to see, but would have been better than nothing.

A spokeswoman for the governor said he has not yet decided to whether to call a special session.

Bonnie Mathis, an ACORN board member in Dallas, said in a prepared statement that the group was glad $170 million was returned to the Systems Benefit Fund designed to give some low-income customers some relief.

“But that’s not enough to solve the utility crisis we face in Texas,” she said. ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, wants rate reductions and protection from electricity shutoffs for the elderly and low income who fall behind on their bills during the summer, Mathis said.

AARP Texas State Director Robert Jackson said in a letter to the governor that he wanted legislation in a special session to provide a 20 percent rate reduction for customers and to address a wholesale pricing system that he said inflates rates across the board.

I didn’t follow the saga of SB482, the bill that was supposed to help with electric rates but got killed at the end by a point of order. Maybe it was a good bill, maybe it wasn’t – you’ll have to forgive me for not giving anything sponsored by Phil King the benefit of the doubt. If we could have a special session that did nothing but reconsider SB482, I’d have no qualm with that. But we don’t live in that world. We live in a world where the Governor sets the agenda for a special session, and as sure you’re reading this one of the items on the agenda for a special session would be voter ID legislation, which by the way is something that the AARP and ACORN both oppose, for good reason. Is the benefit of one – and again, forgive me for having my doubts about whatever would get passed here – worth the cost of the other? I for one say no, and while I respect the right of AARP and ACORN to think otherwise, I sure hope they’re taking the full cost of what they’re requesting into account here.

More on Turner for Speaker

Burka thinks the Turner for Speaker campaign is a stalking horse.

There’s no way for Sylvester to win. Republicans can’t vote for a Democrat for speaker. The best Turner can hope for is to hold the Craddick Ds (who may not be as solid as they were before the blowups) and to add some of the WD-40s and some of the more independent Ds like Strama. Let’s say he can get to 25-30 supporters. That gives him a chance to be kingmaker, but not king–and we know who he’ll be kingmaker for. More likely, this is not a play for speaker at all. It is a play to protect the Craddick Ds from a primary challenge. Turner’s candidacy gives the Craddick Ds the opportunity to pledge to a Democrat. This removes the main argument that can be used against the Craddick Ds in the primary. Then, safely reelected, they can deliver their votes to Craddick in January 09.

Much to think about in there. One point I want to make is that of all the Craddick Ds, I think Turner is the least vulnerable to a primary challenge. Unlike some of his Craddick-crat colleagues, Turner has a real record of accomplishment (think HB109, for starters), and is very well liked in his district. He’s not an apostate like Ron Wilson was. He’s not an out-of-touch relic like Al Edwards was. Mounting a primary challenge against him would be very difficult. While I can see him laying down cover for some of his colleagues who’ll need the help, like Kevin Bailey and Dawnna Dukes, I seriously doubt he himself has anything to worry about. As such, I reject the notion that he’s doing this to protect himself next March.

On a side note, be sure to check out this video at BOR that compiles editorial reactions to Tom Craddick’s power grab. Good stuff.

UPDATE: Two points from the Chron story, which I didn’t get to earlier. One is further evidence that it won’t be Sylvester Turner unifying Democrats in his Speaker’s bid:

“Mr. Turner has worked against the interest of Democrats by propping up Mr. Craddick. That is not something that is forgotten,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.

Coleman, who has had differences with Turner, said he doesn’t believe Turner can win. It takes 76 votes to win in the 150-member chamber. The current makeup of the House is 81 Republicans and 69 Democrats.

“It’s not because Sylvester isn’t smart and has the tenure. It’s because he’s made bad choices,” Coleman said, adding that “if Sylvester is a serious candidate, Craddick is dead. He is defeated now.”

From your lips to God’s ears, Garnet. Until somebody else actually gets elected Speaker, I’m going to assume that Tom Craddick isn’t really dead but merely comic book dead. It’s too risky to think otherwise.

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, Appropriations Committee chairman, said he’ll support Craddick if he runs for re-election as speaker but that he hadn’t heard from Craddick about his plans.

He also said it’s possible that a Democrat could be elected to the top spot in the House, noting the group trying to unseat Craddick came from both parties. He said he believes there are Republicans who would vote for a Democrat for speaker.

So Chisum disagrees with Burka about Republicans voting for a Democrat for Speaker. We’ll see who’s right. For what it’s worth, I can’t speak for Republican primary voters, but to revisit the cases of Ron Wilson and Al Edwards again, it wasn’t their support of Tom Craddick that galvanized the opposition that eventually ousted them. Wilson was a huge enabler of the 2003 re-redistricting, and basically spent that entire year openly pissing on the Democratic Party and his colleagues. The campaign ads against him wrote themselves. Edwards made some bad votes in 2005, but the real clincher was the Sexy Cheerleading bill, which turned him into a national laughingstock. Point I’m making is simply that one’s vote for Speaker, at least historically, has not been that big a deal in and of itself. Admittedly, things are different now (thanks again, Tom!), and given where we are today I’d probably consider a vote for Craddick in 2009 to be an unforgivable sin for a Democrat. Whether the Republicans see it the same way from their perspective, I couldn’t say.

600 Sq Mi deadline tomorrow

Houstonist reminds us that the deadline for submitting entries for the 600 Sq Mi photo show is tomorrow (Friday), June 1, at 11:59 PM CDT.

600 sq mi is a juried exhibition of photos from Houston. We’re leaving it up to you guys to figure out what that means: skyscrapers, trees, people, neighborhoods, art, freeways, music, food, the sky (or smog) — as long as it’s Houston, it’s fair game. For a low, low $10 entry fee, you get to submit up to three photos, from which a panel of professional artists/photographers/curators will pick enough to fill the walls of M2 Gallery in the Heights. The show will be up through the month of September, with an opening reception set for Saturday, Sept. 8.

Enter now, or forever wonder what might have been.

Why do they call you “Hot Tub Tom”, Hot Tub Tom?

For those of you who have not yet read Jeffrey Goldberg’s New Yorker article on the current unpleasantness within the Republican Party, let me nudge you towards it, as it’s a fine read. I’ll outsource the Tom DeLay-related snarkery to my friend Juanita (and again) and will simply address the following amusing tidbit:

“Bush was never a conservative, but Tom DeLay was one of us and he betrayed us,” Richard Viguerie, a founder of the modern conservative movement, says. “He’s like a lot of these guys. They campaign against the cesspool. ‘I’ll clean up the cesspool of government,’ but after a while they all say, ‘I made a mistake–it wasn’t a cesspool, it was a hot tub.’ That’s what they called him, you know, Hot Tub Tom.”

I’m not sure if Viguerie is simply connecting DeLay to his current meme about how “conservatism” has been betrayed, or if he’s creating a just so story about DeLay’s old nickname, but as we all know around here, DeLay earned the moniker “Hot Tub Tom” back when he was in the Texas Lege, and it had to do with his party animal proclivities. See, for example, this WaPo profile from 2001:

Tom DeLay was always a top student, an athlete and popular with his peers, but also did his share of drinking and carousing. After two years as a pre-med student, DeLay was asked to leave Baylor University for behavior that was partly fueled by booze and that thwarted his chance of fulfilling his father’s ambition for him. (He eventually got a degree in biology at the University of Houston.) Later, as a Texas state legislator from 1978 to 1984, DeLay had a reputation in Austin less as a lawmaker than as a partyer and playboy known as “Hot Tub Tom.” He roomed with other fun-loving male legislators at a condo they dubbed “Macho Manor.”

Here’s a CNN transcript that says basically the same thing. This isn’t to say that Viguerie’s formulation isn’t clever, just that it isn’t true. So please don’t be misled.

How to speak to global warming skeptics

I’d recommend that you read Grist’s How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic page, but be warned that the weight of evidence they bring is depressing. File it away for future reference in any event, as you’ll be sure to need it some day. And while you’re at it, bookmark the Talk.Origins FAQ as well, since I daresay there’s a lot of overlap between the two groups of disbelievers. Thanks to Ezra for the link.

Henry Cisneros to buy Carol Burnett’s house

Sort of.

A local organization led by former U.S. housing secretary Henry Cisneros has committed to raise enough money to save the childhood home of comedian Carol Burnett.

American Sunrise, a nonprofit housing and education program, said it will raise the $75,000 to $100,000 needed to move the century-old house from its current location in San Antonio. The Bill Miller Bar-B-Q restaurant chain wants to use the site for a parking lot.

Cisneros said the house will become a part of the American Sunrise campus in San Antonio.

American Sunrise was founded by Cisneros, a former San Antonio mayor, and his wife, Mary Alice Cisneros, who was elected to the City Council this month.

Burnett lived in the folk Victorian home until she was 7. She has often spoken of her memories of the house, including cold enchiladas for breakfast, donated used girls clothes and roller-skating on the hardwood floors.

In May 2006, the gray house with red-and-white trim was listed for $225,000.

Anybody know where in San Antonio this house currently is? I’m wondering if I’d ever driven past it without realizing what it was.