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March 21st, 2005:

That does not make sense

Here’s a little science for your Monday: thirteen things which do not make sense. Feel free to add your own items in the comments. Via Milk River.

Senate will spend more

The first cut of a Senate budget is out.

Senate budget writers today approved a $139 billion two-year budget that restores some cuts made to health and human services programs two years ago, increases salaries for state workers and state troopers and gives more money to higher education.

The Senate Finance Committee also boosted funding for the troubled Child Protective Services agency and approved more money for probation and alternatives to incarceration to slow prison population growth.

The spending plan for 2006-2007 is a 10 percent increase over the current two-year budget cycle and includes $66.2 billion in state funds. The rest comes from federal funds.

Budget writers did not face as tight of a money pinch this year as they did two years ago when they drafted the 2004-2005 budget while facing a nearly $10 billion shortfall.

“This is a good budget,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden. “It’s well thought out. There is bipartisan support.”

Finance Committee member Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, was the only lawmaker to voice some opposition when he voted present not voting on the plan.

[…]

On education, state lawmakers allocated $1.5 billion to fund enrollment growth, but school funding likely does not end with this budget proposal. Aside from the budget, lawmakers are working to put together a new funding plan to pay for Texas schools, and they have pledged that schools will get additional money.

Funding for higher education would grow by 8 percent, or about $800 million, under the Senate plan. A provision in the budget takes away some state funds from colleges that raise their tuition too high. Lawmakers last legislative session gave universities the authority to set their own tuition rates and since then, tuition has increased about 16 percent.

Also included in the budget are pay raises for state employees of about 9 percent over the next two years. And Department of Public Safety troopers’ salaries would increase to the state average for police officers in large Texas cities.

It’s not clear to me where they plan on getting the money for all this, though I suppose we’ll find out when they present their own verion of HB3. They’ve already pooh-poohed the House’s payroll tax, and I can’t say it would shock me if they revive the concept of a broader sales tax on services. Whether this will engender more opposition in the House or will be seen as a welcome relief is also not clear to me.

A wildcard in all this is the various proposals for expanded gambling, all of which continue to lurk in the background like stalkers. The bulk of the pro-gambling bills have been filed by Democrats, which Hotshot Casey thinks is a tactical error.

One perceptive Democratic operative summed it up well:
“A Democrat-backed gambling initiative will allow Perry, Craddick and (Lt. Gov. David) Dewhurst to take credit for balancing the budget, funding schools and not raising taxes.

Democrats will continue to be demonized as morally bankrupt, for carrying water for gaming interests and would take the blame for all the ills that gambling is likely to bring to the state.”

His solution is for a coalition of Democratic leaders to take the lead in opposing gambling and force Republican leaders to make the difficult choice: “Take gambling off the table and find another source of revenue to fund schools or provide Republican support for gambling and split their base.”

Will the Democratic leadership, if there is such a thing, do something so smart?

If I were a betting man, I don’t think I’d put my money on the donkey.

Unfortunately, I fear he’s right. I can understand why Rep. Kino Flores is pushing a bill, since his South Texas district would be a direct beneficiary. Rep. Sylvester Turner says he had a change of heart, and I guess I can accept that. God only knows what Sen. Ken Armbrister’s angle is. Maybe none of these bills stand a chance, and maybe the Senate will deal honestly with the budget issues and drag the House along with them. Maybe. I think the Republicans have painted themselves into a corner here, and I don’t see any reason to throw them a dropcloth.

(Casey column also noted by Stace.)

Bell campaign posts on Kos

Continuing my weekend catchup, we have the first of what will likely be several diary entries on Daily Kos by Chris Bell‘s Operations Manager Tim McCann. I believe we’re going to see more of this kind of direct interaction between now and 2006, and I think as that happens, the bar is going to get raised a bit. By that I mean in order to impress the target audience, more will be expected of the candidates themselves and less from intermediaries, such as doing their own writing and taking some time in order to respond to comments. Or maybe this will all be a fad and no one will understand why any candidate would want to get involved like that in a year’s time. But I don’t think that will be the case.

Chron on Castro

I took a bit of a breather this weekend – the days were too nice, the baby was too active, and the NCAA opening round games were too interesting to spend too much time on the computer. So please indulge me as I catch up on a couple of stories.

From the Sunday Chron, an overview of the San Antonio Mayoral race. Not much here that I hadn’t seen before from reviewing Express News stories, but certainly useful if you hadn’t done that. Couple of things to comment on:

In a nonpartisan election with an unpredictable turnout, the city is choosing a replacement for Mayor Ed Garza, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits.

Similarly, Castro and Schubert must vacate their council seats after four years in office.

[…]

The candidates are trying to distinguish themselves on a slew of issues, including strained city services, rambunctious suburban development and the ever-tenuous water supply. And then there are potholes, chronic flooding in some neighborhoods, traffic jams and struggling small businesses in need of city help.

Schubert, 57, the lone Republican among the three major contenders, vows to stick to “essential” city services. Castro, 30, speaks in visionary terms of improving city life and government. Hardberger, 70, plays the outsider role as he pledges to restore credibility to City Hall. But all their promises are tempered by one reality: The new mayor will have only two or four years to accomplish anything.

Yes, the title of Stupidest Term Limits Law does not go to Houston but to San Antonio. Seems to me that under a setup like that all they ever do is choose their next bungee boss, but whatever. I also recall from my bright college days that San Antonio operated under a weak-mayor system, with the real power residing in the City Manager‘s office. I don’t know if that’s still the case, however.

Four other candidates, none with significant resources or name recognition — they’re routinely excluded from candidate forums — will also be on the May ballot.

Maybe that dismissal sounds harsh to you. All I can say is that I attended a candidates’ forum in 2003 which featured two no-name candidates (both of whom eventually dropped out of the race), and let me tell you, they added nothing, absolutely nothing to the event. One of them started and ended her pre-debate spiel by trying to engage the crowd in a chant of “Let’s do it, Houston!” or something equally trivial. Excluding them from the event would have been a net positive, since it would have given the real candidates (and at that time that included Michael “Boy Wonder” Berry) more time to answer questions.

Vigorous campaigning has been under way since January, and a series of polls, with varying degrees of reliability, have consistently listed Castro as the leader, though short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff.

Hardberger usually runs second in those polls.

Neither of his opponents sees Castro’s apparent advantage as insurmountable.

For what it’s worth, I attended a Trinity alumni event late last week at which the featured guest was history prof Char Miller. I asked him what he thought of the mayoral race, and he predicted a Castro win in a runoff. Make of that what you will.

RIP, John DeLorean

John DeLorean dies at age 80.

John Z. DeLorean, an automotive innovator who left General Motors Corp. to develop a radically futuristic sports car only to see that venture crash spectacularly as he fought federal drug charges, has died of complications from a stroke. He was 80.

While apt to be remembered popularly as the man behind the car modified for time travel in the Back to the Future movies, DeLorean left a powerful imprint in automaking built on unique, souped-up cars.

Say it with me now:

Marty McFly: Wait a minute, Doc. Ah… Are you telling me you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?

Dr. Emmett Brown: The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?

Indeed. Rest in peace, John DeLorean.