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July 24th, 2008:

More flagships

This is a step in the right direction.

Lawmakers on Wednesday took one step closer to anointing a third public flagship by inviting leaders of Texas’ seven “emerging” research institutions to pitch a case for why they should become the state’s next tier one research university, and how much it would cost the state.

“We think we can do it, but we have to be really strategic,” said Renu Khator, chancellor of the University of Houston System. “It’s all about vision. Nobody invests in whining.”

“Why do we deserve to be the next one? Because we have momentum,” UTSA president Ricardo Romo told a Senate subcommittee led by Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

Adding just one tier one university would cost the state about $70 million annually, $140 million for two and $210 million for three, said David Daniel, president of the University of Texas at Dallas. And it would have to be stable from year to year, like the oil profit endowment that feeds UT-Austin and Texas A&M.


Bill Powers, president of UT-Austin, warned lawmakers not to spread the money too thin. “Could it be two? Probably. I think there won’t be funding for more than that,” Powers said. “These are very hard decisions, but someone has to make them.”

Back in May, the Legislative Study Group came out with a report (PDF) that said we could add four flagships for $188 million, which is considerably less than what UTD’s Daniel says. It suggests we could make all seven of these schools flagships for $405 million. On a per-population basis, we really should have at least six such schools – California has ten Tier Ones, New York has eight. Getting two more, to bring the total to four, is certainly an improvement over what we have now. But it’s not enough, and we really need to think bigger. This should be a priority. BOR has more.

Obama’s Latino outreach

Julia Pippert was on a conference call yesterday with the Obama campaign, which had to do with their Latino outreach strategy. The good news is that they have one:

Congressman Xavier Becerra (D-CA) [hosted the call and] unveiled the new Spanish language radio ad entitled Bootstraps.

The ad will be rolled out in Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and Nevada, key battleground states with Hispanic populations.

The bad news, as you can tell from that list, is that neither Texas nor California, the two states with the largest numbers of Latinos in them, will not be part of the initial ad buy. Julie wanted to know what was up with that:

I called the Obama campaign to ask about it.

Shannon Gilson, who is in charge of communication and coordination for the Southwest states in the Obama 50 state reach out program, immediately replied to me with information about the Obama campaign strategy for Hispanic voters, “The Spanish-language ad is currently running in key battleground states. Our advertising buy will evolve in the coming weeks as we continue to aggressively reach out to Hispanic communities across the country.”

That sounds promising.

Mmm. I’ll feel better when they actually make the buy. Now I’m concerned that we’re just going to get more of the same hands-off “strategy” we’ve gotten in recent years. I hope all that talk about understanding the importance of Texas isn’t just smoke. And I hope we get real campaigning, by real people, and not just media buys. Our votes matter too, you know.

I’m not one who cares much about the National Popular Vote reform. I can take or leave the Electoral College idea, but there’s maybe a hundred things I want to see done before that becomes a priority to me. On the other hand, if “winning” Texas were no longer a necessity, I bet we’d start to see some actual Presidential campaigns here every four years. It was great to have them in March. It’d be even better to have them in November. I hope I don’t have to take on another cause to see that happen.

Metro gets another approval from the feds

Haven’t seen this in the papers, but according to Metro, they have received final federal approval for the Southeast line.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) granted its final approval of the Southeast Corridor Supplemental Final Environmental Statement (SFEIS) through a document known as a Record of Decision (ROD).

The FTA made its decision in part because the project would be a permanent investment, and therefore “this new transit system has the potential to positively influence economic development in the Southeast Corridor consistent with community plans.”

Earlier this month the FTA granted a ROD for the North Corridor light-rail project. The RODs are a key step toward obtaining federal funding, as they establish that these two projects satisfy the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and other legal requirements. The RODs also documents the many opportunities afforded to the community to voice their concerns.

METRO is seeking federal funds for three of the five light-rail expansion lines. In addition to the North and Southeast Corridors, the agency will seek federal funds for the University Corridor. The University Corridor light-rail project is still in the environmental process.

These three lines, together with the Uptown and East End lines, are scheduled to be completed in 2012. Construction is already underway in the East End. Now that METRO has obtained the two RODs, METRO can resume the purchase of property for the right-of-way. Groundbreaking for the North and Southeast lines is expected this Fall.

Ground has already been broken on the East End/Harrisburg line. The Uptown line, which will be paid for entirely by Metro, is dependent on the Universities line, so we won’t hear anything more about it till the U-line has its funding secured. As Tory and Christof have both observed, the new Commuter Rail proposal will be heavily dependent on the light rail network if it’s to be done right. So, lots of rail action going on right now, with even more to come soon.

The new Examiner

Check out the new look at the West U Examiner, which debuted this past week. It’s much slicker, with user comments in stories, and apparently will have more frequent updates – see, for example, this story about the ongoing Kirby trees saga. Their opinion page is now the home for the print stylings of KTRK reporter/blogger Miya Shay, who’ll be filling in for Chris Bell while he runs for State Senate. Here’s Miya’s take on CD07 challenger Michael Skelly. Nice to see that her voice for blogging carries over to the more traditional format.

(By the way, if you haven’t seen the video Miya got of President Bush’s speech at the Pete Olson fundraiser, I don’t know how you’ve managed to miss it. Go check it out, it’s for stuff like this that the word “flabbergasted” was coined.)

The costs and effects of mass imprisonment

Here’s a long, detailed article that summarizes the current research on crime and imprisonment and the costs of the latter on society. There’s way to much to try to encapsulate here, but I do want to highlight these three paragraphs, since I think they’re at the heart of the debate here in Harris County and Texas:

Skeptics may concede that mass incarceration injured social justice, but surely, they would contend, it contributed to the tremendous decline in crime through the 1990s. Indeed, the crime decline of the ’90s produced a great improvement in public safety. From 1993 to 2001, the violent crime rate fell considerably, murder rates in big cities like New York and Los Angeles dropped by half or more, and this progress in social wellbeing was recorded by rich and poor alike. Yet, when I analyzed crime rates in this period, I found that rising prison populations did not reduce crime by much. The growth in state imprisonment accounted for 2-5 percent of the decline in serious crime–one-tenth of the crime drop from 1993 to 2001. The remaining nine-tenths was due to factors like the increasing size of local police forces, the pacification of the drug trade following the crack epidemic of the early 1990s, and the role of local circumstances that resist a general explanation.

So a modest decline in serious crime over an eight year period was purchased for $53 billion in additional correctional spending and half a million new prison inmates: a large price to pay for a small reduction. If we add the lost earnings of prisoners to the family disruption and community instability produced by mass incarceration, we cannot but acknowledge that a steep price was paid for a small improvement in public safety. Several examples further demonstrate that the boom may have been a waste because crime can be controlled without large increases in imprisonment. Violent crime in Canada, for example, also declined greatly through the 1990s, but Canadian incarceration rates actually fell from 1991 to 1999. New York maintained particularly low crime rates through the 2000s, but has been one of the few states to cut its prison population in recent years.

More importantly, perhaps, the reduction in crime was accompanied by an array of new problems associated with mass incarceration. Those states that have sought reduced crime through mass incarceration find themselves faced with an array of problems associated with overreliance on imprisonment. How can poor communities with few resources absorb the return of 700,000 prisoners each year? How can states pay for their prisons while responding to the competing demands of higher education, Medicaid, and K-12 schools? How can we address the social costs–the broken homes, unemployment, and crime–that can follow from imprisonment? Questions such as these lead us to a more fundamental concern: how can mass imprisonment be reversed and American citizenship repaired?

Here again, this is why I refuse to vote for jail bonds. We’re spending tons of money to incarcerate people who don’t need to be locked up, and not only is that having a negligible effect on the crime rate, it costs us in many other ways and prevents us from spending money on other urgent needs. Yet people who would call themselves “fiscally conservative” are perfectly happy to spend these ever-increasing sums, without any honest accounting of the results we get for them. It’s tragic and wasteful and I want to see it stopped.

As I said, there’s much more in this article, including a look at what a saner alternative approach might be, and how some of those approaches are working in the real world. Take a look in particular at what Brooklyn District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes is doing. Link via Crooked Timber.