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June 21st, 2010:

Harris County CIP will ignore Hempstead managed lanes

Earlier this month, I blogged about the status of the US 290 expansion, for which TxDOT’s plan rested on the assumption that the Harris County Toll Road Authority would go forth with the construction of managed lanes along Hempstead Highway. Well, Commissioners Court will be voting on their capital improvement plan (CIP) tomorrow, and the word is that the Hempstead lanes are out, and the Grand Parkway Segment E is in. From the CTC press release:

Harris County will vote Tuesday to drop funding for Hempstead Managed Lanes, pursue Grand Parkway development project instead


Citizens will ask for 290 traffic relief through Hempstead project

US-290 commuters who want relief must head downtown Tuesday morning to demand alternatives to increased congestion. Harris County Commissioners’ agenda includes a public hearing on the 2010/11 – 2014/15 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP):

9:00 am  Consideration of capital improvements for Harris County, Harris County Flood Control District, Port of Houston Authority of Harris County, and the Harris County Hospital District.

On Tuesday, Harris County residents will urge Commissioners not to waste resources on the speculative Grand Parkway real estate project while 250,000 US-290 commuters need the relief of the Hempstead Managed Lanes as soon as possible.

What:  Citizens urge Harris County Commissioners to fund Hempstead Managed Lanes before the speculative Grand Parkway

Who: Citizens’ Transportation Coalition http://ctchouston.org, and
Houston Tomorrow http://houstontomorrow.org

Where: 1001 Preston at Main St., 9th floor chamber, downtown Houston, 77002 (map)

When: Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 9:00 am

Visuals: Harris County Court chamber, grassroots leaders

Background
trafficOn US-290 each workday, 250,000 commuters sit in traffic. US-290 is widely-recognized as the most-congested highway in the Houston region.

In 2007, TxDOT and Harris County released draft improvement plans for the US-290 corridor. These expansion plans include constructing new managed lanes, like the IH-10 Katy managed lanes, along Hempstead Highway from IH-610 out to Cypress and beyond. The plans repeatedly claim to the public that the Hempstead project will be constructed first, to give commuters new options, before TxDOT tears up US-290. The final plans, released in April 2010, still claim that the Hempstead lanes will come first.

Also in 2007, Harris County fought TxDOT for rights to develop the Hempstead project. With SB 792, the Texas Legislature granted the County exclusive rights to Hempstead. Only Harris County can build the Hempstead Managed Lanes.

Since then, TxDOT has designed $2.4 billion of improvements to US-290, but has no budget. Beyond reconstructing the US-290/IH-610 interchange, TxDOT has no funds on hand to add capacity to US-290 anytime soon.

In contrast, the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) is flush with cash. According to the County Auditor’s revenue estimate, HCTRA expects to collect $470 million in tolls in 2010/11 and is sitting on another $423 million in cash. HCTRA has  $324 million for capital projectsbudgeted for 2010/11. They should be well-positioned to tackle the $2.2 billion Hempstead project.

Grand Parkway land for saleUnfortunately, it looks like 290 commuters won’t get any help from HCTRA, either. HCTRA’s capital plan includes no funds for the Hempstead relief project, but will spend $125 million for the Grand Parkway, a speculative toll road that will run through mostly-vacant and environmentally-sensitive areas of far northwest Harris County.

In fact, according to the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) Harris County intends to spend $2.01 billion on Grand Parkway in the next four year, as reported in the draft 2011-2014 Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP). That’s nearly enough to complete the entire $2.2 billion Hempstead Managed Lanes project.

The County’s priorities are absurd when you consider that 384,000 people live in the US-290 corridor. In contrast, less than 15,000 live along segment E of the proposed Grand Parkway. It seems that Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and the Commissioners choose to subsidize developers of proposed new far-flung subdivisions rather than provide real mobility relief to current Harris County taxpayers. They obviously aren’t spending our money where the people are. To add insult to injury, new suburban development that follows the Grand Parkway will only make traffic worse on US-290.

The next time I hear some blowhard like Randal O’Toole yammer on about the evils of urban planning, I’d like to ask him what he’d call this. Be there and make your voice heard if you can.

Rick Perry and the Latino vote, part 3

Having looked at the 2002 election last week, I turn my attention now to 2006. This presents a number of challenges, thanks to the bizarre four-way contest that was the Governor’s race. In all my previous work on the 2006 elections, I’ve generally skipped over the Governor’s race because the numbers are so different from all the other races. Today it can’t be helped.

Let’s start with the basics. Here’s how the four candidates did in the 29 State Rep Districts (SRDs) in which the Spanish surname voter registration (SSRV) percentage was at least 50. Note that these are not the exact same SRDs as in 2002. SRD78 was a smidge over 50% in SSRV in 2002, but not in 2006, while SRD140 did not meet the threshhold in 2002 but did do so in 2006. All other SRDs are the same.

HD Perry Bell Kinky Strayhorn ======================================= 31 3,094 8,896 717 1,567 33 9,595 8,996 3,831 5,212 34 9,781 9,354 3,458 4,664 35 9,867 10,337 4,156 6,615 36 3,845 5,766 533 1,812 37 4,054 5,503 828 3,179 38 6,298 6,191 1,009 4,240 39 3,505 5,112 503 2,096 40 2,309 4,545 483 1,747 41 6,370 4,981 1,125 2,748 42 3,741 7,308 1,019 2,699 43 7,176 6,236 1,561 3,721 74 9,812 8,194 3,436 5,269 75 5,223 5,996 1,527 3,278 76 3,502 7,769 1,209 2,953 77 3,840 6,572 1,555 2,741 79 5,534 5,361 1,625 3,577 80 7,595 8,168 2,713 5,030 104 2,347 6,142 1,088 1,409 116 5,178 7,828 2,615 4,044 117 7,357 7,366 2,848 4,932 118 6,561 8,160 2,974 5,482 119 5,318 7,931 2,679 4,836 123 8,114 5,436 3,164 3,983 124 6,257 7,834 2,493 5,165 125 7,498 8,894 3,244 5,584 140 2,168 4,055 871 956 143 2,284 4,273 1,097 1,020 145 2,649 4,904 1,308 1,243 160,872 198,108 55,669 101,802 HD Perry% Bell% Kinky% CKS% ====================================== 31 21.68% 62.32% 5.02% 10.98% 33 34.72% 32.55% 13.86% 18.86% 34 35.88% 34.32% 12.69% 17.11% 35 31.85% 33.37% 13.42% 21.36% 36 32.16% 48.23% 4.46% 15.16% 37 29.89% 40.57% 6.10% 23.44% 38 35.51% 34.90% 5.69% 23.90% 39 31.25% 45.58% 4.48% 18.69% 40 25.42% 50.03% 5.32% 19.23% 41 41.84% 32.72% 7.39% 18.05% 42 25.33% 49.49% 6.90% 18.28% 43 38.39% 33.36% 8.35% 19.90% 74 36.73% 30.68% 12.86% 19.73% 75 32.59% 37.42% 9.53% 20.46% 76 22.69% 50.34% 7.83% 19.13% 77 26.11% 44.68% 10.57% 18.64% 79 34.38% 33.30% 10.10% 22.22% 80 32.31% 34.75% 11.54% 21.40% 104 21.36% 55.91% 9.90% 12.83% 116 26.33% 39.81% 13.30% 20.56% 117 32.69% 32.73% 12.66% 21.92% 118 28.31% 35.21% 12.83% 23.65% 119 25.61% 38.20% 12.90% 23.29% 123 39.20% 26.26% 15.29% 19.24% 124 28.77% 36.02% 11.46% 23.75% 125 29.73% 35.27% 12.86% 22.14% 140 26.93% 50.37% 10.82% 11.88% 143 26.33% 49.26% 12.65% 11.76% 145 26.22% 48.54% 12.95% 12.30% 31.15% 38.36% 10.78% 19.71%

Perry’s percentage drops a bit from 2002, while Bell’s percentage is dramatically lower than Sanchez’s. I’ll get into the details of that in a minute, but if you look carefully, you’ll see that there were two SRDs in which Perry received more votes in 2006 than in 2002, even though his overall total in these districts declined from 232,177 to 160,872. Those districts were SRDs 31 and 42, both of which include Sanchez’s home base of Webb County and which were easily his best-performing SRDs. They’re also the SRDs with the highest (SRD 31, 91.2%) and third-highest (SRD 42, 85.9%) SSRV. In the district with the second-highest SSRV (SRD40, 88%), Perry’s 2006 vote total was 81.6% of what it was in 2002, but given that his overall vote total was only 69.2% of what it was in 2002, that’s not bad at all.

As with 2002, I then compared Perry’s performance with four other Republican candidates. As before, I used the Senate and Lt. Gov. races, but this time I looked at the Agriculture Commissioner and Railroad Commissioner races for the other two, as the downballot races were where Democrats did the best. Here’s how that looked:

Race Candidate Votes Pct Ratio ================================================ Senate Hutchison 2,661,789 63.12 0.62 Lt. Governor Dewhurst 2,513,530 60.85 0.65 Ag Commish Staples 2,307,406 56.72 0.69 RR Commish Ames Jones 2,269,743 56.42 0.70 Governor Perry 1,716,792 39.37 1.00 Race Candidate Votes Pct Ratio State ======================================================= Senate Hutchison 243,158 49.20 0.63 0.62 Lt. Governor Dewhurst 211.977 43.28 0.72 0.65 Ag Commish Staples 187,330 39.39 0.79 0.69 RR Commish Ames Jones 188,359 40.68 0.77 0.70 Governor Perry 160,872 31.15 1.00 1.00

Unlike 2002, Perry performed better relative to other Republicans across the board in 2006. Since it would not necessarily be the case that Bell’s relative performance would be the inverse of Perry’s, I checked that as well:

Race Candidate Votes Pct Ratio ================================================ Senate Radnofsky 1,555,202 36.88 0.81 Lt. Governor Alvarado 1,617,490 39.15 0.77 Ag Commish Gilbert 1,760,402 43.28 0.69 RR Commish Henry 1,752,947 43.58 0.69 Governor Bell 1,310,337 29.97 1.00 Race Candidate Votes Pct Ratio State ======================================================= Senate Radnofsky 251,022 50.80 0.76 0.81 Lt. Governor Alvarado 277,788 56.72 0.72 0.77 Ag Commish Gilbert 288,303 60.61 0.63 0.69 RR Commish Henry 274,721 59.32 0.65 0.69 Governor Bell 198,108 38.36 1.00 1.00

Indeed, Bell did do worse relative to other Democrats. This suggests to me that he was hurt more by the presence of Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Rylander in these districts than Perry was. My guess is that the reverse may be true in red areas, but that’s a post for another time.

Finally, we have to consider turnout here, and the effect that the overall lesser turnout may have had on each side. I took the four non-Governor’s races from each year and compared the totals in each of the common SRDs:

HD R Tot D Tot R Avg D Avg 2002 R% 2002 D% 31 9,680 61,788 2,420 15,447 13.54% 86.46% 33 50,184 62,661 12,546 15,665 44.47% 55.53% 34 54,074 57,600 13,519 14,400 48.42% 51.58% 35 59,829 67,349 14,957 16,837 47.04% 52.96% 36 17,447 51,982 4,362 12,996 25.13% 74.87% 37 17,562 39,030 4,391 9,758 31.03% 68.97% 38 27,565 44,873 6,891 11,218 38.05% 61.95% 39 19,088 44,219 4,772 11,055 30.15% 69.85% 40 10,571 42,410 2,643 10,603 19.95% 80.05% 41 35,185 39,008 8,796 9,752 47.42% 52.58% 42 22,601 90,335 5,650 22,584 20.01% 79.99% 43 36,529 57,211 9,132 14,303 38.97% 61.03% 74 53,337 60,369 13,334 15,092 46.91% 53.09% 75 22,776 43,592 5,694 10,898 34.32% 65.68% 76 15,391 61,788 3,848 15,447 19.94% 80.06% 77 18,797 47,873 4,699 11,968 28.19% 71.81% 79 27,140 40,596 6,785 10,149 40.07% 59.93% 80 42,063 58,150 10,516 14,538 41.97% 58.03% 104 15,605 37,932 3,901 9,483 29.15% 70.85% 116 36,438 48,683 9,110 12,171 42.81% 57.19% 117 39,691 40,307 9,923 10,077 49.61% 50.39% 118 39,867 45,324 9,967 11,331 46.80% 53.20% 119 35,600 49,944 8,900 12,486 41.62% 58.38% 123 39,940 51,019 9,985 12,755 43.91% 56.09% 124 37,774 47,238 9,444 11,810 44.43% 55.57% 125 48,220 53,471 12,055 13,368 47.42% 52.58% 143 15,890 33,709 3,973 8,427 32.04% 67.96% 145 19,341 34,858 4,835 8,715 35.69% 64.31% 868,185 1,413,319 217,046 353,330 38.05% 61.95% HD R Tot D Tot R Avg D Avg 2006 R% 2006 D% 31 9,408 43,773 2,352 10,943 17.69% 82.31% 32 50,671 51,515 12,668 12,879 49.59% 50.41% 34 52,947 49,150 13,237 12,288 51.86% 48.14% 35 60,151 55,072 15,038 13,768 52.20% 47.80% 36 15,498 29,340 3,875 7,335 34.56% 65.44% 37 17,958 31,196 4,490 7,799 36.53% 63.47% 38 27,804 36,470 6,951 9,118 43.26% 56.74% 39 15,390 26,989 3,848 6,747 36.32% 63.68% 40 10,023 24,290 2,506 6,073 29.21% 70.79% 41 30,067 27,416 7,517 6,854 52.31% 47.69% 42 16,658 38,631 4,165 9,658 30.13% 69.87% 43 33,073 35,885 8,268 8,971 47.96% 52.04% 74 51,648 45,024 12,912 11,256 53.43% 46.57% 75 24,952 35,500 6,238 8,875 41.28% 58.72% 76 15,442 42,765 3,861 10,691 26.53% 73.47% 77 17,947 36,841 4,487 9,210 32.76% 67.24% 79 26,924 33,351 6,731 8,338 44.67% 55.33% 80 42,838 43,873 10,710 10,968 49.40% 50.60% 104 12,019 29,325 3,005 7,331 29.07% 70.93% 116 30,992 42,673 7,748 10,668 42.07% 57.93% 117 43,302 40,557 10,826 10,139 51.64% 48.36% 118 41,429 44,839 10,357 11,210 48.02% 51.98% 119 32,761 44,731 8,190 11,183 42.28% 57.72% 123 32,767 44,169 8,192 11,042 42.59% 57.41% 124 37,005 44,844 9,251 11,211 45.21% 54.79% 125 44,754 49,759 11,189 12,440 47.35% 52.65% 143 11,597 20,667 2,899 5,167 35.94% 64.06% 145 13,781 23,991 3,445 5,998 36.48% 63.52% 819,806 1,072,636 204,952 268,159 43.32% 56.68%

The third and fourth columns are the average vote totals in the four examined races for each SRD. Republicans did better overall in 2006 than in 2002. What’s clear is that the decrease in turnout from 2002 to 2006, which we have discussed before, affected Democrats more than it affected Republicans. The Democrats’ task in these areas isn’t as much persuasion as it is base turnout. If these folks come out to the ballot box, they’ll vote Democratic in large numbers. It’s just that they may or may not show up. The job for Bill White and every other Democrat on the ticket is to give them a reason to participate.

It’s also important to note that while Perry held onto a larger share of the vote in these SRDs than Bell did, it’s still the case that his support declined. Again, we can’t say for certain what proportion of the vote in these SRDs is Latino Perry voters, but it’s clear he didn’t get 35% in 2006, and if he didn’t do that in these SRDs, he didn’t do it overall, either. He has his work cut out for him just to match the 37% he rung up in 2002.

I have one more post for this series. I hope you’ve found it useful. Let me know if you have any questions.

Bilingual budget amendment controversy

Given the budget situation we’re in, there’s been a surprising lack of overt controversy about how to deal with it. Council members submitted their budget amendments last week, and one of them has generated a stir. KUHF reported on the amendment in question, which would eliminate a stipend given to bilingual city employees, proposed by CM Anne Clutterbuck.

Clutterbuck says the city absolutely needs bilingual employees, but paying a stipend is unnecessary.

“The City of Houston, of course, is amazingly diverse and we need people available to be able to speak and communicate. But I don’t think that we should be paying extra for it. It should be part of the original job description.”

There’s no aptitude test required to get the stipend. Clutterbuck says it’s given to anyone who fills out the bilingual pay form, even if their job duties don’t require a second language.

“It’s kind of an honor system. There’s a one-page form that every individual fills out. In my office, I’ve had two employees that have completed the form and asked me to sign it and I did so, but in the District C office there’s not necessarily the need to speak more than one language.”

About 1,400 non-classified civilian employees get bilingual pay, costing the city an extra $1 million a year. Clutterbuck’s amendment would eliminate the stipend. She says if other councilmembers aren’t willing to eliminate it altogether, the city should at least require a proficiency test and only give bilingual pay to those whose job duties require it.

The Harris County Tejano Democrats have put out a press release criticizing this amendment, with a press conference set for today to protest it.

Harris County Tejano Democrats (HCTD) advises Council Member Clutterbuck to rescind her amendment. “In an attempt to score political points in an anti-immigrant climate, Council Member Clutterbuck’s misguided amendment will lead to a reduction of basic city services to taxpayers with limited English proficiency,” said Frumencio Reyes, Jr., HCTD Legal Advisor. “We ask Mayor Parker to join us in opposing this amendment. It’s a bad idea and Council Member Clutterbuck should pull it immediately.”

WHO: Harris County Tejano Democrats, community and labor leaders

WHEN: Monday, June 21, 2010

WHERE: Houston City Hall, South Steps (in front of the Reflection Pool)

TIME: 12:00 pm

The amount of money is fairly small in context of the full budget, but the politics of this are clearly large. I have not seen any responses from anyone yet, so I can’t say how this may play out. My guess is that the amendment will not go through as is, but something like the proficiency test could happen. We’ll see. Mary Benton has more.

UPDATE: Here’s a report from the press conference.

Whether it was in Spanish or in English, the message at City Hall was clear.

State Representative Ana Hernandez said, “This is an international city, an international city that prides itself on the businesses we’re able to attract. Well, this sends the wrong message. It sends the message that we only do business in English.”

[…]

Frumencio Reyes of the Harris County Tejano Democrats said, “I see this as an affront to us as a community and certainly based on the Republican platform, she’s falling right into it.”

As the story notes, CM Clutterbuck has amended her amendment.

After hearing concerns from the public and administration, Clutterbuck has offered substitute language to her amendment that reads: Eliminate bilingual pay for all non-classified employees unless the employee is in direct contact with the public, demonstrates proficiency and there is a reasonable expectation that the language will be used in the normal course of their job duties.

Clutterbuck says she was simply trying to save taxpayers more than $1 Million annually when she proposed making the change.

Meanwhile Mayor Parker has also issued a statement:

“We met with the council member. She clarified her intent and that intent is accurately reflected in the substitute language. It addresses her budgetary concerns without hindering our ability to adequately meet the needs of our diverse population, and it reflects what has been long-standing city policy. I anticipate the council member will offer the substitute at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Stace is not impressed.

I mean, c’mon, how many of us bilingual folks get called in to translate on a moment’s notice–even if it’s not in our job description just because we’re the Mexican in the room?

Perhaps a Human Resource audit is needed to determine exactly who are these employees that would be targeted before a vote is taken by council. In addition, perhaps they can also determine what is meant by proficiency because whether someone can pass a standardized test or not, an attempt at Spanish is still better than the usual way that non-Spanish speakers would communicate with those constituents: IN LOUDER ENGLISH.

The argument is that this could save over $1,000,000; however, during a time in which the economy continues to hit all employees, taking away pay is that last thing that should be on Council’s agenda, much like furloughs and lay-offs. And there would definitely be questions of fairness if one “type” of employee is targeted over another.

Those are good points. I’d just add, are there any other types of “special skills” pay that the city offers, and if so are they being reviewed in the same fashion? Or is this something that is unique?

Republicans for White

I’ve said before that Rick Perry can win, or at least he believes he can win, on Republican voters alone. Bill White needs to draw crossover support. With 49 percent of Republican primary voters choosing someone other than Perry, that certainly can happen. This is anecdotal evidence of that, and as such to be taken lightly, but it’s still evidence.

Wales Madden Jr., an Amarillo attorney and civic leader, cast his first Republican vote in 1948, for almost-President Thomas E. Dewey. Although he admits to voting for Democrats in the 1950s and 1960s, when Texas Republicans were a rare breed, he has voted almost exclusively GOP since Democrat-turned-Republican John Connally asked him to be the statewide party chairman for his presidential bid in 1976.

When his candidate for governor, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, fell to Gov. Rick Perry, he switched his support to Democrat Bill White.

Madden is one of a number of former Hutchison supporters who have crossed parties to support the former Houston mayor, including Houstonians Matt Simmons, CEO of Simmons & Co. International, and James Flores, CEO of Plains Exploration & Production Co.

In a Republican-red state like Texas, White has to lure crossover voters, big-ticket and otherwise, if he is to have any chance at all of defeating the longest-serving governor in Texas history, although wooing Republicans and independents remains a challenge for the party.

“Having worked pretty well with local Republicans, White has a pretty good chance to make some inroads,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said, “but it’s hard to bring these voters around.”

I can’t really say I’ve seen any sign of this in the polling data we have so far, but since the bulk of that is Rasmussen, it’s basically an open question at this point. One place to look for clues will be in the campaign finance reports that will come out in July. If White has picked up a significant number of Hutchison supporters, or just people with a history of giving to Republicans, that will be something. If not, it may mean they’re biding their time.

Other former Hutchison supporters now with White remain in the closet, so to speak, according to a prominent political fundraiser who works primarily for Republicans and who wishes to remain anonymous himself.

These voters, the fund-raiser noted, have been twice burned by Hutchison – first, in her 2006 flirtation with the governor’s office and then in her recent, less-than-spectacular governor’s race. Although they cannot support their party’s nominee, they worry about his long memory. They are inclined to lay low until they can determine whether White gains traction.

A strong poll result would be helpful, as would a strong showing on the fundraising report. Everybody likes backing the winning horse.

Speaking of polls, Rasmussen has its June result out, and after last month’s attempt at narrative-setting, it’s back in line with earlier numbers at 48-40. I look forward to hearing the explanations for White’s “comeback” from everyone who groped for one last month to explain Perry’s “surge”.

Woodlands regional crime lab

I’m glad to see that there’s a new regional crime lab being opened up in Montgomery County to assist numerous law enforcement agencies in the area. But I’m especially pleased to see this tidbit in the story about it:

Local law enforcement agencies that have had to wait six months or longer for forensic test results from overworked crime labs will soon be able to turn to a new crime lab in The Woodlands for help solving cases.

The federally funded Sam Houston State University Regional Crime Lab opened this year to help alleviate chronic case backlogs. It won’t begin taking cases until the end of the year, when it’s expected to receive accreditation.

The lab, which is part of the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University, will handle up to 6,000 cases a year from as many as 200 law enforcement agencies in Southeast Texas.

“Instead of having to endure long backlogs at labs in Houston and Dallas, our local law enforcement agencies will be able to get their tests performed and analyzed more timely,” said U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, who began pushing for funding to create the new facility about three years ago. “Saving taxpayer money and precious time means more efficient law enforcement,” Brady said.

Emphasis mine. Yes, those evil, filthy federal funds, doing good while costing less. I guess as long as it’s being used on apprehending criminals, and not helping sick people get health care, it’s okay. Just so long as we’re all clear on the fact that those criminals were apprehended through the benificence of that over-reaching, tyrannical federal government.