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July 9th, 2010:

Friday random ten: Three cheers for the red, white, and blue, part 3

We’ve had red, we’ve had white, and now we’ve got blue:

1. Blue Angel – Squirrel Nut Zippers
2. Blue Baiao – Susanna Sharpe and the Samba Police
3. Blue Jeans – Eddie from Ohio
4. Blue Light – David Gilmour
5. Blue Lou – Benny Carter
6. Blue Moon – The Marcels
7. Blue Moon of Kentucky – Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys
8. Blue Rondo a la Turk – Dave Brubeck Quartet
9. Blue Shadows on the Trail – Syd Straw
10. Blue State Girl – Michael Clem

Note that these are “blue” songs and not “blues” songs. Hold that thought for another time. Note also that the second word in song #2 is spelled correctly and has nothing to do with this guy. What’s blue with you this week?

Entire song list report: Started with “Italian Leather Sofa”, by CAKE. Finished with “Johnny’s Room”, by the Lager Rhythms, song #2597. Only 48 songs this week – hey, there was a holiday, you know? The last I song was the one right after the song I started with, “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe”, by Jason Ringenberg. The first J song was “J.M.’s Question”, by John Mellencamp, or if you’re a purist, “Jack Can’t Cook”, by Eddie from Ohio.

Ripping vinyl report: The Ripping Vinyl Report is still off in its hideaway. It won’t be back next week, but it may be back the week after that.

Will the racetracks and the casinos work together?

At the very end of this Trib story about more legislative hearings on gambling expansion comes this tidbit:

The Win for Texas group — which includes current racetrack owners who’d like to add slot machines and other games to their facilities — is touting that updated study on the “Economic and Tax Revenue Impact of Slot Machines at Racetracks in Texas.” The Texas Gaming Association — those are the folks who want to legalize and build resort casinos around the state — will update their economic studies and polling closer to the legislative session, according to Chris Shields, the group’s chief lobbyist. Their previous work has promised larger revenue numbers for both the state government and for the economy. And the rivalry between the various gaming factions has been the secret weapon of gambling opponents. Casinos vs. tracks has been a losing proposition in recent sessions.

“It’s different this year because of the situation with the budget,” Shields says. “What hasn’t changed, but I think will change, is the willingness of the gaming interests to work together. I don’t think there’s any way for a bill to pass without that — and everybody wants a bill to pass.”

I’ve noted the racetrack/casino rivalry a few times myself. If they really are going to work together to get a bill passed, that changes things considerably. The question is, what does it mean for them to work together? Since it isn’t in the interests of one group for there to be legislation that would only allow for the other – indeed, such legislation might close the door on them for years to come – what this suggests to me is that they’ll jointly push for a multifaceted expansion. The question then is will that be too much for some legislators, or does the budget situation make this just the right time to reach for the brass ring? I don’t know how this will play out, but it will definitely be worth watching.

By the way, you can see the study mentioned in that last paragraph here (PDF). I blogged about a similar study I got from this group last year, which was sent to me in response to a previous post that had asked questions about the economic impact of expanded gambling. This study is an update to that one, as noted in their press release. The Trib also has a from the hearing.

Water rate rebate passes Council

Back in April, Council approved a water rate hike. There were some complaints from apartment owners at the time about the size of the rate increase that would apply to them, and the city agreed to make some changes to accommodate them. The first of those changes was approved on Wednesday.

The first part, a two-year, $10 million conservation rebate program, will be used to give water rate rebates to owners of federally-financed, rent-restricted apartment complexes.

To qualify this fiscal year for the rebate, which will reduce the effective rate increase from 30.1 percent to 12.5 percent, apartment owners must coordinate a water conservation education program for tenants. To qualify in the second year, they must demonstrate water conservation of at least 5 percent. That would reduce the rate increase from 30.1 percent to 21.03 percent.

Mayor Annise Parker said the program was designed to help those owners because federal guidelines don’t allow them to pass on water rate increases to their tenants.

This is supposed to phase out after apartment owners have had a chance to adjust rents. The second part of this, about which I’m a bit unclear, will be taken up in the coming months.

Beware the false moderates

Marsha Farney, the Republican running to succeed super wingnut Cynthia Dunbar in SBOE 10, was considered the more moderate candidate in the GOP primary runoff for that nomination. When compared to Dunbar, or to her hand-picked successor, Brian Russell, Farney clearly came across as the more sensible and less crazy choice. But as Martha keeps reminding us, that doesn’t actually make her a moderate. Let’s face it, being less crazy than Cynthia Dunbar isn’t a high bar to clear. The thing to remember is that there really is a sensible, moderate candidate running in SBOE 10, Democrat Judy Jennings. We have a chance to substantially improve the SBOE. We shouldn’t settle for anything less.

Let’s call it what it is

I do not understand the resistance to renaming the Texas Railroad Commission to reflect what it actually does.

The Railroad Commission is the state’s chief regulator of oil and gas production. The agency no longer deals with railroads yet still regularly receives calls from Texans about train schedules.

In 2005, when its last shred of authority over railroads was transferred to another agency, the Texas Railroad Commission’s name became a misnomer.

The commission, with the support of all three elected commissioners, is pushing the Legislature to rename the agency the Texas Energy Commission. Despite apparent widespread agreement that the current name is confusing at best, misleading at worst, the effort may fail.

Over the last five years, multiple efforts have stalled and always at the same place: the House Energy Resources Committee.

The roadblock has been former Speaker Tom Craddick, who as Speaker and then again as a regular member has managed to block bills that would effect this change. I don’t know what his reasons are; he didn’t comment for the story. I guess it’s good to know that Craddick can always be counted on to oppose anything sensible or beneficial, but that doesn’t really get us anywhere. I can at least understand this objection:

[Myra Crownover, R-Denton, vice chairwoman of the House Energy Committee] said her opposition was for financial concerns. The Railroad Commission estimated the costs of changing its name — putting up new signs and redoing forms and publications — at $100,000. Crownover wanted the agency to hire more pipeline safety inspectors for the Barnett Shale area.

“I feel strongly that the Railroad Commission needs every dollar in their budget to ensure the safe and effective regulation of the oil and gas industry,” Crownover said in a statement.

Well okay, but $100K is literally nothing in the context of the state budget. The amount is too trivial to be held hostage to an either-or question like the one Crownover raises. There’s really no good reason not to do this.