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April 22nd, 2020:

Did we mention that the next city budget is gonna suck?

Because it is, in case we hadn’t mentioned it before.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday that the coronavirus crisis will impact “every facet of city governance” and require furloughs of city workers, though he declined to say how many employees would be forced to take unpaid leave.

Even before U.S. oil reached a lowpoint of minus-$40 a barrel Monday, city officials were preparing for Houston’s tightest budget ever, thanks to a precipitous drop in sales tax revenue and an already sharp plummet in oil prices.

The fresh collapse of the oil market prompted Turner for the first time to acknowledge that city employees would be furloughed, and the city would defer a number of payments, for the fiscal year that begins in July.

“It’s not any more unique than what other cities are facing across the country. But it’s real in the city of Houston,” Turner said. “I’m not trying to hide it. These are the realities. This will be the worst budget that the city will deal with in its history.”

Turner declined to provide further details about the scale of the furloughs or what level of budget cuts he expects city departments to undergo. He did say cadet classes would be deferred due to the economic crisis but did not specify whether he was referring to fire cadets, police cadets or both.

Houston Controller Chris Brown said the city’s budget situation likely will prove “equal to or worse than” the Great Recession in the late 2000s. In the fiscal year that began in July 2011, then-mayor Annise Parker laid off 764 city employees to close a $100 million budget gap.

We’ve known this is coming. We won’t have a starting point for exactly how bad it is until the Comptroller releases the March sales tax data, but I think we can all agree that it will be Very Bad. We need sufficient testing so we can begin to reopen things in a safe manner, but the only way out of the hole we’re in is going to be help from the federal government. Which, if we learned anything from the 2009 recession, should be obvious, in that the resulting deep cuts to state and local governments in the years following the initial downturn acted as a huge drag on the economic recovery, offsetting stimulus efforts to a large degree. There’s still hope for that to happen in another round of coronavirus response money, if only because keeping the economy from completely capsizing is in the Republicans’ interests in a way it wasn’t in 2009-2010. But until then, expect there to be a whole lot of doom and gloom.

“There are more important things than living”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, everybody.

After facing intense criticism for suggesting on Fox News last month that he’d rather perish from the new coronavirus than see instability in the state’s economic system, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said last night that he’s thankful Texas is beginning the process of reopening its economy because the restrictions are currently “crushing small businesses” and the economic market.

“I’m sorry to say that I was right on this and I’m thankful that now we are now finally beginning to open up Texas and other states because it’s been long overdue,” he told interview host Tucker Carlson.

“What I said when I was with you that night is there are more important things than living. And that’s saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us,” Patrick said. “I don’t want to die, nobody wants to die, but man we’ve got to take some risks and get back in the game and get this country back up and running.”

During his latest interview on Fox News, Patrick said that, in Texas, the death toll wasn’t high enough to warrant shutting down the entire state. According to the latest data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, 19,458 Texans have been sickened from the virus, while 495 have died.

“Let’s face reality of where we are: In Texas, we have 29 million people. We’ve lost 495 and every life is valuable, but 500 people out of 29 million and we’re locked down,” Patrick said.

So just to clarify his earlier remarks, Dan doesn’t want to die, but if the price of “reopening the economy” is that you have to die, well, that’s the way it goes. Every life is valuable, but obviously some are more valuable than others. I’m sure he can’t believe he has to explain that to you.

The politics of social distancing

Not really a surprise.

People in parts of the country that voted for President Donald Trump have worried less about COVID-19, especially as the new coronavirus was first emerging in the U.S., a new study out of Rice University found.

[…]

“Even when — objectively speaking — death is on the line, partisan bias still colors beliefs about facts,” the study said. “Relying solely on compliance with voluntary suggested measures in the presence of different political views on the crisis may have limited effectiveness; instead, enforcement may be required to successfully flatten the curve.”

Counties with the most Trump voters saw far fewer Google searches about the virus, and social distancing was 40 percent less prevalent in those areas than in other counties, according to Rice Business professor Yael Hochberg, who co-authored the study.

The study used internet search data, as well as smartphone data to analyze average daily travel distance and visits to non-essential businesses over the last several weeks. It found that searches were low and travel was common in Trump country, especially in the early weeks of the outbreak.

Even as states began to issue stay-at-home mandates, the study found that counties that went for Trump in 2016 were slow to begin social distancing. Daily travel distance in those counties dropped by less than 7 percent, compared to a more than 9-percent drop in daily travel in counties with fewer Trump voters.

“Only when the federal order to ‘slow the spread’ arrived from the White House do high Trump counties begin to catch up,” the study said.

I’ve searched all around and I can’t find even a news release about this study, so I can’t give any judgment on its merits. I’m sure we’re all inclined to believe it, and there’s plenty of anecdotal data in the news in support of the general concept, but that’s as far as I can go at this time. Make of this what you will.