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June 1st, 2010:

What’s going on with US 290?

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Last week, I wrote about the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that TxDOT has filed for its proposed expansion of US 290. This is a huge proposal, with a price tag of $4.6 billion if all of it gets done, and it’s one that has a number of unanswered questions, as the Citizens Transportation Coalition has documented. I had the opportunity later in the week to hear CTC Chair Robin Holzer give a presentation on the status of this project and the issues that they have raised, and it was quite enlightening. There’s a lot going on with this project that I wasn’t really aware of, having to do with things like the Hempstead managed lanes, grade separations, and commuter rail, and I feel like there hasn’t been that much in the news about it. So I figured I’d try to do my part by interviewing Holzer about the project. Here it is:

Download the MP3 file

The CTC has a useful overview page that summarizes the issues and questions that remain about the 290 project. It also includes the CTC presentation (large PDF) that I heard Holzer give. If you want to get up to speed on all this, check it out.

What people who (mostly) don’t have kids in the schools think about the schools

In addition to their horse race survey, the UT/Texas Trib poll asked some questions about the state of public education in Texas. There’s a lot in the poll, ranging from confidence levels in the public schools (not so good) to opinions about curriculum and the SBOE to questions about what the biggest problems the schools face are. But way at the end was this bit of information:

Answering questions about themselves, 67 percent of those polled say they don’t have children at home. The next biggest group — 28 percent — say their offspring attend public schools, while the rest attend private schools or are schooled at home.

So the majority of respondents likely had little or no connection to or stake in public schools, other than as taxpayers. I inquired with James Henson about the crosstabs of this poll, and unfortunately they did not break things down by who did or did not have children in a public school. We do have quite a bit of other crosstab information, though, which you can see here. For example, scroll down to pages 120 and 166 for the confidence-in-the-schools question. (This is in two pieces because it was a split sample, with the question being asked to half of the people before some other questions, and half after, to see if there was a difference in the responses; there was not.)

I was initially suspicious that the sample would be older, whiter, and more conservative than perhaps would be representative, and that this in turn might skew questions like that. Those suspicions were partially borne out, in that some 63% of respondents were white, with about 12% African-American and 19% Latino. That’s a fairly accurate picture of the likely voting population, but based on everything we know about Texas demography, it’s nowhere close to a reflection of the public school population. Having said that, and with the caveat that the subsamples are too small for any firm conclusions to be drawn, the confidence levels in the public schools were pretty close to the same across racial lines. As such, I cannot say that a sample that’s more representative of the public school population would have answered this question any differently.

That doesn’t mean there were no differences. One place where I found some was in the question about funding level for schools. African-Americans (74.0%) and Latinos (62.9%) were much more likely to call funding for schools a “major problem” than whites (46.8%) were. (Those numbers are on page 190). The same disparities show up in their seven-point ideological and partisan spectra. 54% of people from “Extremely liberal” to “In the middle” called funding a “major problem”, while only 43% of those to the right of the middle did so, which frankly is more than I would have expected. Similarly, funding was a major problem for 53% of Democrats but only 44% of Republicans, which again is more than I would have expected. Too bad these Republicans don’t vote for more candidates who actually want to address that problem.

Anyway. Regardless of whether or not there’s a difference in perception of the public schools between those who have kids in them and those who don’t, the numbers here represent what voters tend to think, and some of their answers present a political problem for those who want to improve the schools. Funding is identified as a problem by a fairly decent number of people, but there’s far from a consensus on what to do about it. That’s a scenario for stopgaps, patches, and kicking the can down the road. If finding a real fix to the funding problem is not a priority for the voters, it won’t be one for the Lege. Well, at least not until the courts force the issue again.

Active hurricane season predicted

Hurricane season officially begins today, and it looks like it will be a busy one.

As we have previously discussed, there’s ample reason to expect a very active hurricane season this year.

And so it wasn’t too surprising this morning when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the parent agency of the National Hurricane Center, released an especially bullish forecast. They’re predicting:

• 14-23 Named Storms

• 8-14 Hurricanes

• 3-7 Major Hurricanes

• An ACE range of 155%-270% of the median.

Heretofore the general consensus has been around 15 named storms, however NOAA has significantly upped the ante with what is essentially a prediction of 18.5 named storms. That’s an incredibly active year considering, over the long-term, the Atlantic basin sees about 10 named storms a year.

It may have been a cold winter here, but it was pretty darned warm everywhere else, so this should not be a surprise. Don’t count on a repeat of last year. And while you’re stocking up on bottled water and batteries and whatnot, now would also be a good time to review your insurance. Better to know what you’ve got before you need it.

Perry appoints Lehrmann

No surprise at all.

Gov. Rick Perry has appointed Judge Debra Lehrmann to the Place 3 seat that Harriet O’Neill will soon vacate on the Texas Supreme Court. Lehrmann, a Fort Worth District Court judge, won the Republican nomination for that seat in a runoff against former state Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs.

This is exactly what I expected when Justice O’Neill announced she was stepping down. Any other outcome would have been a huge upset.