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June 17th, 2008:

Houston Votes! kickoff fundraiser

After you put the TexBlog PAC fundraiser on your calendar, put this one on next:

Houston Votes!
Benefitting voter registration in Houston
July 1, 2008
The Continental Club
3700 Main Street
6-8 p.m.
$20
Catering: Ragin’ Cajun
Entertainment: Zydeco Joseph and the H-Town Players

Host Committee: Collin Cox, Cris Feldman, Jim George, Kenny Friedman, Seth Kretzer, Todd Litton, Rita Lucido, Keir Murray, Pete Schenkkan, Alfred Stanley, Keith Wade, Emillee Whitehurst, Marlen Whitley

Campus Alliance for Progess
Equality Texas
NARAL Pro-Choice Texas
People for the American Way Fnd.
Sierra Club
Texans Together Education Fund
Texas Freedom Network

RSVP: joy @ TexansTogether.org

I’d advise taking the train to get there if at all possible – the Continental Club is a great venue, but parking can be a pain. And be sure to stop at Tacos a Go Go next door for an after-fundraiser snack before you head home.

Council to vote on K-Mart settlement payments

And we’re one step closer to officially putting all the lawsuits that stemmed from the K-Mart Kiddie Roundup into the books for good.

[Houston City Council] on Wednesday will consider whether to settle one lawsuit brought by 59 people who were arrested that night. The full settlement amount is $474,117. According to the settlement, each plaintiff will get $4,000, except for one who will get $5,000. Their four lawyers will split $237,117.

The other lawsuit had 43 plaintiffs. The proposed settlement is for $257,500. Each plaintiff will get $2,500 or $3,500. Their attorney, Paul Rosen, will get $125,000.

Eight other lawsuits stemming from the Kmart raid already have been settled. Four others were dismissed. The total cost to the city for all the settlements is $840,117. Senior Assistant City Attorney Robert Cambrice estimated that an additional $60,000 was spent on outside lawyers who helped defend HPD and worked to expunge the arrest records of those caught up in the sweep.

“We came in at less than $1 million,” Cambrice said. “Some people said how many tens of millions this would cost the city. I would say justice was served, and the public purse was appropriately protected.”

Randall Kallinen was one of the attorneys in the suit that may be settled for $474,117.

“The Kmart raid represented one of the most egregious mass civil rights violations in Houston history,” Kallinen said Monday. “I believe it is a reasonable settlement under the circumstances, and all the clients will get some payment for the suffering they went through.”

Well, it is less money than the Ibarra lawsuit, I’ll say that much for it. The original agreement was reached in April, and if this subsequent story is still accurate, then there’s still some action pending for Judge Nancy Atlas, which should be completed in another month. And then, that’s all she wrote. Miya has more.

Interview with Ernie Casbeer

Next up on the interview list is Ernie Casbeer, who came out of nowhere to get 44.5% of the vote in a district (PDF) where no other Democrat topped 40% – Bill Moody scored 39.7% in HD59, with most other Dems running seven or more points worse than they did statewide. Casbeer is a veteran teacher, with 39 years’ experience, and a self-described “conservative Democrat”. We had a good conversation, which you can listen to here. As always, feedback is appreciated.

PREVIOUSLY:

State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97.
Wendy Davis, SD10.
Robert Miklos, HD101.
Chris Turner, HD96.
Joe Moody, HD78.

Good poll news in CD10

CD10 candidate Larry Joe Doherty has released a poll memo (PDF) with some good and interesting news.

This district may have been gerrymandered to be a safe Republican seat, but it certainly does not look like one any longer. In the initial trial heat, [incumbent Rep. Mike] McCaul gets 43% of the vote to Doherty’s 34% a scant nine percentage point lead that shows McCaul starting out well short of the 50% mark – and as the incumbent, he should be starting this race at or above the winning percentage. In addition, in a generic trial heat that just asks voter preference on voting for a Democrat or Republican for Congress, the generic Democrat gets 41% of the vote, and the Republican garners 45%, only a 4-point difference.

That’s in line with an earlier IVR poll that showed McCaul with a 6 point lead. We knew from the 2006 result that this district was trending purple, so none of this should be a big surprise. And if you presume, not too unreasonably, that the Democratic part of the district, in Travis County, is more enthusiastic about voting than the Republican part in Harris County, it becomes easy to see how the gap can narrow further.

McCaul has failed to capitalize on the biggest advantages of incumbency: despite serving two terms in Congress, nearly half of all likely voters do not even recognize his name (47% don’t recognize), the most basic measure of a politician’s strength. His job rating is utterly anemic at 28% positive, 29% negative, and 42% unsure – and this is when McCaul is identified as their current Congressman.

This district encompasses some fast-growing areas in Harris and Travis Counties, so by its very nature there are a lot of people in CD10 who have never voted for Mike McCaul. It’s amusing to think that this so-carefully-drawn district, which was thought to be so red in 2004 that no Democrat bothered to file for the primary, has changed so much from the original Tom DeLay vision of it.

Voters are moving to the center and more receptive to Democratic solutions to the nation’s problems at the same time that McCaul has aligned himself solidly with a failed President. Bush’s job rating is 70% negative here (in Texas) and 69% of C.D. 10 voters think the country is seriously off on the wrong track. Furthermore, the data shows that many of the tired, traditional attacks on a Democratic candidate will work no better in this district than they did in Mississippi or Louisiana. In addition, the economy and high food and gas prices, tough issues for incumbents, are increasingly the top concerns for voters.

We may not have much information about Bush’s statewide approval rating, but if he’s doing that poorly in CD10, you have to figure he’s not doing too much better overall. Perhaps someone should notify Tina Benkiser of this fact.

BOR has more. Larry Joe is also a Blue America candidate, and you can learn more about him at his Firedoglake chat or my interview with him from the primary.

Coming attractions on the business tax

From last week, the Chron’s Alan Bernstein notes a problem the Republicans will be have to deal with for November and beyond:

[Thursday], across Discovery Green from the downtown convention, two Democratic state House members and Democratic candidates for the state House used a news conference to bash the state margins tax on businesses — the tax pushed by Gov. Perry and adopted by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Rep. Scott Hochberg, for instance, said the tax was supposed to a fair levy, but that in the end, “if you didn’t have a lobbyist in the room, you didn’t get your deal.” He said the tax burden falls too heavily on small businesses. And many Republicans agree with him.

Dave Mann of the Texas Observer homes in on that:

The party platform, finalized yesterday, calls for repeal of what one delegate termed “Perry’s unconstitutional business tax.” Many believe the business tax is a de facto income tax and thus violates the Texas Constitution. “Gov. Perry and the Legislature broke their promise on taxes,” said another delegate. “It’s the largest tax increase in the history of the state.”

Eye on Williamson provides some context:

If we can for a second hearken back to the special session(s) of 2006, it may help a little. Texas’ GOP controlled government had to do something, no matter how bad the “fix” was, or schools wouldn’t open on time. Because of a judge’s ruling that a new funding mechanism had to be in place by June 1st of 2006, they were boxed. The margins tax was the best the fractured GOP legislature and a besieged governor – with three challengers nipping at his heals – could come up with. If schools didn’t open on time that could have fatally damaged Perry’s reelection and they may have had even deeper losses in the legislature. That many in the Texas GOP are now trying to run away from their plan, and put it in Perry’s lap, is not surprising. Responsibility and accountability is not in the GOP’s DNA after all. This was a short-term political solution, not a permanent long-term fix to the school finance problem, and they knew that back then. Shortly after it was passed the Lt. Gov. was already talking about “tweaking” it.

“We’re going to look at tweaking, re-examining the tax,” said Dewhurst, who holds out hope that instituting technical corrections in the tax package could solve imbalances without having to adjust tax rates. Unfortunately, long-running controversies involving school finance and tax reform in the state have shown that painless solutions are few and far between.

Put in proper context it’s now easy to see how this is going to be Exhibit A against Perry by all his GOP cohorts that will try to unseat him in 2010 – Dewhurst, Hutchison, Patrick. This GOP-invented tax has become anathema to the GOP base. This new tax is hitting businesses, in particular small businesses, especially hard and the Republicans are responsible for it. Heading into the 2008 general election that’s really bad timing and it’s tarnishing the GOP brand even further.

There were then, and still are now, other ways to fix this problem, permanently. But that would take leadership, which is lacking in Texas right now. At this point and time if we want to lower property taxes, permanently, and do away with the worthless tax swap of 2006, then we have two options. Jack up the state sales tax, which would increase the already large tax burden on the poor and middle class, or institute a modest progressive state income tax, which would reduce the tax burden on the poor and middle class, and increase tax fairness across the board.

I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure to repeal the business tax and raise the sales tax to cover the lost revenue, rather fixing the problem with the business tax, which is that it hits smaller businesses much harder than big ones. While the opportunities to bash Governor Perry and the Republicans for this tax will be plentiful, Democrats are going to need to exercise some care in how they do it, lest they wind up making the case for a sales tax hike for Perry and Speaker Craddick, who has wanted to swap property taxes for sales taxes all along. Watch how the issue gets framed – see the extended entry for the full statement from Rep. Hochberg and his colleagues for a good example – and get ready for a fight in 2009.

Finally, it should be noted that yesterday was, at long last, the first day that the new business tax needed to be paid. Sherrie Matula put out a press release that made some sobering observations:

Small business owners in House District 129 have come to me, expressing their concern about this new business tax because of the increased tax burden they are facing. The owners of a Seabrook company that provides products for offshore drilling is seeing an increase in their business tax from $350 in 2007 to $3500 in 2008. An anchor company in Nassau Bay is facing an increase from $1800 to $38,000. A school architecture firm is seeing their business tax bill rise nearly $115,000 this year. A space industry firm is facing an increase of over $30,000.

Yeah, that sounds like a problem to me. Today’s Chron has more:

The tax is bad news for thousands of business owners, said Will Newton, executive director of the Texas office of the National Federation of Independent Business.

A survey by the group, he said, found that 84 percent of small-business owners saw their tax bills increase by more than 100 percent under the new levy. Many of the respondents didn’t have to pay the old franchise tax, which the new tax replaced.

The new tax is 0.5 percent or 1 percent — depending on the type of business — of a company’s gross receipts for 2007 minus certain deductions.

All sole proprietorships are exempt.

An estimated 900,000 partnerships and other businesses are subject to it, but businesses with gross receipts of less than $300,000 or a tax liability of less than $1,000 don’t have to pay. According to some projections, only about one-third of the affected businesses actually had to pay the tax.

“Today, on the day this tax is being collected from hundreds of thousands of business owners, our state officials still don’t know how much this tax will bring in, which sectors of the Texas economy will be hit the hardest, how many jobs will be lost or how many businesses will be forced to close,” Newton said.

His organization wants Gov. Rick Perry, who lobbied for the new tax in the face of a Texas Supreme Court order for school finance changes, to call a special legislative session to revise it.

Spokeswoman Allison Castle said Perry wants to wait for the regular legislative session to convene in January before considering any changes.

“If this tax brings in more revenue than anticipated, then it may be tweaked,” she said.

You can tweak all you want, but that’s not going to fix the underlying problem. Have fun with that.

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Texas blog roundup for the week of June 16

I’m still basking in the glow of seeing my Yankees win a pair of games with my dad, so I don’t have a snappy intro to this week’s Texas Progressive Alliance blog roundup handy. So pretend I had something amusing to say and click on to read the highlights.

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