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June 26th, 2008:

Good news for Noriega

Good news – Rick Noriega was the winner of the PAC For A Change contest, which will bring him some much-appreciated fundraising help.

In just one week, over 25,000 PAC for a Change community members voted in our “Choose a Challenger” contest. We’re pleased to announce that Rick Noriega, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Texas, won the contest with 30% of the vote — narrowly edging out Al Franken, who finished second with 24%.

My thanks to everyone who participated – he certainly couldn’t have won without you.

Elsewhere, there’s another positive poll result, this one from the Texas Lyceum (PDF).

Republican John McCain would beat Democrat Barack Obama in Texas if the race were held now. But a significant number of Texans said they haven’t picked a favorite yet. Among likely voters, McCain had the support of 43% of those polled to 38% for Obama. Libertarian Bob Barr and independent Ralph Nader had about 1% each. One of every six voters — 17% — said they haven’t decided who will get their vote in November.

Freshman U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, leads Democratic challenger Rick Noriega in the poll, but the margin is slim and a large number of voters haven’t made up their minds. Cornyn had the support of 38% of the likely voters in the survey, to Noriega’s 36%, with 24% saying they’re not committed to either candidate.

Those are pretty good numbers, with a lot of growth potential. It’s shocking to imagine Republican statewide candidates polling so poorly, and it’s a little strange to see so many undecideds – I’d figure on “party ID” alone, the values would be higher.

Speaking of those party ID numbers, the reported totals are not what I’d expect:

We interviewed Texas adults during the June 12-20 period, talking to 1,000 adults, half of them male, half of them female. Eight out of ten said they are registered to vote.

The highly contested presidential contest apparently has Texans more tuned into politics than they were a year ago. Half identify themselves as voters in “every” or “almost every” election, and 85% consider themselves “extremely interested” or “somewhat interested” in politics and public affairs.

The respondents come from a variety of places, 42% suburban, 28% urban, and 27% rural. Most — 59% — are married, and 43% have one or more college degrees. Most — 54% — identify themselves as White; 32% as Hispanic; and 11% as African-American. The party splits are 32% Republican and 44% Democrat — but the ideological splits go the other way, with 42% calling themselves conservative, 34% saying they are moderate, and 19% identifying themselves as liberals.

I don’t know what to make of that. I’ve been arguing that the Baselice poll results have been overstating the Republican advantage, but I would not have claimed that said advantage had disappeared, let alone reversed itself. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that, yet the conservative/moderate/liberal splits seem right on. Maybe there’s just a whole lot of people who don’t call themselves Republicans any more, but still mostly vote like Republicans. Much as I’d like to believe this, I’ll need to see at least one confirming result before I put too much stock in it.

Interestingly, Burka mostly nods his head at this poll.

The presidential poll seems credible to me. In fact, McCain by six points is exactly the number that a prominent McCain booster told me recently he thought that the actual outcome would be. Noriega [trailing] by two is more problematic, but overall, these numbers, with the people who have made up their mind in both parties representing about three-fourths of the respondents and the rest being undecided, seem a lot more credible to me than the earlier polls that showed over 90% of the electorate committed (48%-44%).

He didn’t comment on the party or racial/ethnic splits, which is too bad. I’ll just say that a final result of McCain by six – that is, something like 53-47 – would put Obama comfortably above the bonanza line, and might well mean Democratic wins in places we’re not currently expecting. That makes his strategy for Texas, which we talked about at the TexBlog PAC event, loom even larger. BOR, Trail Blazers, and Texas Kaos have more.

Business tax revenues falling short of projections

Unless something changes in the next few months, this is going to present an unpleasant surprise for the next Legislature.

Texas’ new business tax has brought in $4.2 billion so far, raising questions about whether it will hit the $5.9 billion in collections projected for this fiscal year.

State Comptroller Susan Combs’ office, which Wednesday announced the total collected since the June 16 deadline, cautioned final figures won’t be available until November since businesses could file for an extension.

“I guess for a brand-new tax … that’s pretty good,” said Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. “It’s pretty well on target.”

But Dale Craymer, chief economist for the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association who has worked for a comptroller, two governors and the Texas House, said, “I think it’s unlikely we’re going to hit the first-year target of $5.9 billion. It’s too early to say how big a miss it is.”

Still, Craymer said, Texas has billions unspent so even if the new tax is a bit short, “the state still has plenty of money to cover its needs.” He predicted problems would be smoothed over as the tax is in place longer.

[…]

An estimated 500,000 returns have been filed so far, Combs spokesman R.J. DeSilva said. Some returns cover groups of businesses, so it’s unclear how many entities are represented by the returns, he said.

Of those that filed, 133,000 made payments, including 46,000 that made a required payment in asking for an extension to pay whatever else they may owe.

Am I reading this right? Nearly three-quarters of the returns are for businesses that didn’t have to pay anything? Help me out here, because that just sounds wrong.

Some lawmakers noted that state leaders, including GOP Gov. Rick Perry, said they expected the expanded business tax to bring in more money than projected, an idea they said appears unlikely given the numbers released Wednesday.

“They were telling us what they wanted people to believe so they wouldn’t get upset about a massive cut in the amount of money available to fund the schools and other state priorities,” said Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston.

He and others expressed particular concern since the money needed to subsidize the cut in local school property tax rates is far more than the amount that will be brought in by the expanded business tax and a higher cigarette tax, both meant to help offset property tax relief.

Lawmakers last year approved a $14.2 billion property-tax relief package. About $8.3 billion of that was to be covered by new state taxes, leaving about $6 billion to be covered by other funds in the budget. Of the $5.9 billion that’s been projected to be brought in by the expanded business tax in fiscal year 2008, which ends Aug. 31, $2.8 billion is projected to go this year for general revenue and $3.1 billion to offset local school property tax relief.

The bottom line is that at this point, up to another $1.7 billion will have to be found to cover the gap between what the business tax was supposed to pay for, and what it actually is paying for. And before you say the word “surplus”, bear in mind that most of what constitutes said surplus is already accounted for. So we can either pray for more revenue from those business tax extension filers, or we can start thinking about what to do to make up for this shortfall. Have fun with that.

Interview with Eric Roberson

I had the chance to meet Eric Roberson, who is running for CD32 up in Dallas, while I was in Austin for the Democratic convention, but due to my short stay our schedules didn’t allow for an interview. Fortunately, he was going to be coming to Houston shortly afterwards, and I took advantage of that to rectify the omission. Roberson is an attorney and Navy flight officer, and a veteran of Operation Desert Shield. A recent poll in the district, using the actual turnout data from 2006 as its model, showed him trailing incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions by only nine points; basically, this district is less Republican than it used to be, and could be within reach given the nature of this year’s election. My conversation with Eric Roberson is here, as always in MP3 format. I’m working on gettting a few more interviews with candidates from other parts of the state, and will begin doing Harris County hopefuls shortly.

PREVIOUSLY:

State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97.
Wendy Davis, SD10.
Robert Miklos, HD101.
Chris Turner, HD96.
Joe Moody, HD78.
Ernie Casbeer, HD59.
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32.

Final reminder: TexBlog PAC fundraiser tonight

Today is the big day!

Please join host Mustafa Tameez

and sponsors:
State Representatives Ellen Cohen, Jessica Farrar, and Ana Hernandez
Houston City Controller Annise Parker
Democratic Candidate for U.S. Congress Michael Skelly
Democratic Candidate for State Senate Joe Jaworski
Democratic Candidates for State Representative Carol Alvarado, Sherrie Matula, Joel Redmond and John McClelland, Kristi Thibaut, and Armano Walle
Houston area bloggers Martha Griffin, Stace Medellin, and Charles Kuffner
and and James Hernandez, Casey Jones, Jay Aiyer

as we come together to take back the Texas House
and announce another TexBlog PAC endorsement

Join the

TexBlog PAC

with special guest

State Representative Garnet Coleman

Thursday, June 26, 2008

5:30 to 7:30 pm

Rice Lofts, Room 203

909 Texas Avenue

$25 Contribution Suggested

Sponsorships available at the following levels:

$500 $250 $125 $50

Please make all checks payable to:

TexBlog PAC

501 E. Stassney Lane, Ste 1010, Austin TX, 78745

or contribute online by visiting:

http://actblue.com/entity/fundraisers/18185

We endorsed candidate Chris Turner on Tuesday – he thanked us in this BOR diary – we’ll endorse another candidate at this event, and if all goes as hoped, we’ll be in a position to endorse candidate #4 shortly thereafter. The original goal was six candidates; I’m very hopeful we’ll be able to surpass that. We greatly appreciate all the help we’ve received in achieving those goals, and I hope to be able to thank many of you for that support at this event. See you then!

More on the Heights highrise

Farther down in that HAIF thread about the Heights highrise is this entry from someone who appears to have inside knowledge:

A few notes of clarification on the building being discussed:

a. The structure, as currently envisioned, will include first floor retail and parking, probably two floors of parking and six to seven floors of office/studio lease space. The top floor of the garage will be designed for an art gallery, or similar space, with the roof of the garage as outdoor terrace areas.

b. The project is in a very, very early design stage and will be a Class-A “green” structure with early 20th-century details. Equivalent-scaled structures might be the Lancaster downtown or The Plaza in Montrose.

c. Target tenants will be neighborhood small businesses and individuals currently doing business in homes, garages, guest rooms, etc…within walking or biking distance and not wanting a heavy commute routine.

d. Project is in commercial district and would only “border” the residential district of the Heights.

e. Since it is primarily an office building there are considerations for the parking to be utilized after-hours by the nighttime oriented businesses nearby for off-street parking which would limit the intrusion of parking into residential areas.

f. This is the only information available at this time. Further postings will come in the near future.

This sounds a lot better than what was being speculated based on the sign’s picture. It’s still a bit taller than I think is best for the area, but it’s not ridiculous. Ground floor retail is good. I’m a little surprised there’s that much projected demand for office/studio space in that area, but I’ve no complaint about it. Sharing their parking facilities with neighboring businesses during off-hour times would definitely be welcome.

Basically, if what’s described here is what we get, I’ll probably be okay with it, though I expect the folks closer by will have concerns. As this poster suggests, a public information meeting by the developer about the project would be appreciated. It’d be nice to get some sidewalk improvements along White Oak to complement this development, but I suppose that’s a separate battle to fight. It would also be nice, if we’re going to get dense development, to get some more transit options for the area, as right now there isn’t much. That’s the key to making density work, right? Those are matters for the city, of course, but I’d like to see a discussion on that get started, so that as more of this sort of thing comes along, those of us who already live here can take full advantage of it as well.

Sexism and sports writing

My friend Stephanie Stradley discusses matters relating to sexism and sports writing in a piece about Will Leitch’s to-be-named successor at Deadspin.

Are Female Sports Bloggers Held to a Different Standard?

On this I can offer an emphatic Yes. Whoever replaces Leitch will face a lot of scrutiny. A female offered that position would face additional pressures. To take an example from TV: if people don’t like Skip Bayless, they call him annoying. If people don’t like Kelly Tilghman, they may call her an annoying unqualified woman, disqualified either by her gender or an imagined affirmative action policy that supposedly placed her above more qualified men.

From my own experience: if I screw up, I know there are people who will attribute that screw up to the fact that I’m a chick. Even if I don’t screw up, some cretins still leave repulsive sexist comments when they disagree with me.

When I do well, readers give me that feedback too but it usually has nothing to do my being a woman. (Rare exceptions include marriage proposals and female readers who appreciate how I represent female sports fans.)

I believe that anyone who wants to excel at a job that is typically not performed by people of their background often feels the need to do additional things. Deadspin has an enlightened readership, but I don’t see any reason the usual dynamics wouldn’t play out.

Good stuff, so check it out.