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January 30th, 2011:

Weekend link dump for January 30

Personally, I think A Very Special Episode Of Blossom would make an awesome band name, but maybe that’s just me.

If only Little Red Riding Hood had had Creed on her iPod, she could have avoided all that trouble.

“Doctor! Doctor! It hurts when I do this!” The solution is left as an exercise for the reader.

For all the talk about “toning down” the political rhetoric lately, there’s still a lot of violent language being used on the right.

It would be nice if Supreme Court justices obeyed the law themselves. Heck, I’d settle for them not making excuses that assume we’re all stupid, if that’s not too much to ask.

You can always achieve consensus if you define what “consensus” is properly.

RIP, Jack LaLanne.

Tort “reform” is a scam, and a very hurtful one at that.

Tweet carefully, or else.

There are many things that should be taken into account when trying to improve the economy, but the fragile fee-fees of businessmen should not be among them.

“Oh, Lord, please send us another tech bubble. We promise not to piss this one away.”

I miss Norbizness, too.

You want high deductible health insurance policies, you can have them.

For most people, a choice between pr0n and Mitt Romney would be a no-brainer.

The world’s hottest chile is apparently too hot to actually eat. Which kind of defeats the purpose, if you ask me.

Ah, the good old days of computing. How I don’t miss them at all.

It always fascinates me how some people who would claim that people should be held accountable for their actions will absolutely refuse to hold prosecutors accountable for theirs when they wrong someone.

Calling all haters, this show is for you.

Nobody is surprised by this, right?

I’m so old, I can remember when Mean Jean Schmidt was considered the craziest member of Congress.

All Mondays in January are Blue Mondays to me. It’s just that time of the year.

You’d never run your household or your business by ignoring investment. Unless, of course, you’re a Republican.

The US Chamber of Commerce is in it for itself, not for the local chambers.

Visiting the alternate universe in which Mitt Romney was elected President in 2008.

When in doubt, read Ta-Nehisi.

Being disingenuous is always a good rhetorical technique.

Remembering the Challenger disaster, 25 years later.

Fly, ankylosaurus, fly!

Some reactions to Wal-Mart’s announcement of its new, healthier foods initiative.

Yeah, where have all the “Baby On Board” signs gone?

Atlas Scammed.

Coming soon to an empty lot near me

Some neighborhood news from Swamplot.

Details on the 6-story mixed-use building being planned for the corner of Studewood and 11th 1/2 St. in the Heights will be announced “very soon,” a representative of the new property owner promises Swamplot.

[…]

They’re planning a cast-in-place concrete structure with an all- or mostly masonry exterior, containing apartments or condos and “some retail.” Also included: some multi-level parking and some “really cool green space.” Car entrances will be on both Studewood and 11th 1/2. The architect is from San Antonio; a local historical consultant is working to make sure the design is what the developer considers “period appropriate.” The long-vacant site is the former home of the Globe Laundry; the new project is registered under TCEQ’s Dry Cleaner Remediation Program, which the developer says doesn’t appear to require any solvent cleanup on the site. Vita Nuova plans to put a sign up soon announcing more details in the next 30 days.

Pictures and more discussion are there and at The Heights Life, which was first to note the activity. As with the other Heights highrise in the works for White Oak, I’m basically OK with this. Viula thinks six stories is a bit too tall for the area, but I don’t. I wouldn’t want to go much taller than that, but I think it’ll be all right. I’m not too worried about the traffic impact – the Starbucks drive-thru that one of the Swamplot commenters is rooting for would be much worse for traffic, as anyone who’s gotten caught in the snarls at the drive-thru on Shepherd just north of Westheimer can attest – though I do wonder how they’ll fit enough parking in. I also wonder if the ground floor retail will include a restaurant, as they are all the rage these days as development anchors. All in all, I think this will be fine and I look forward to seeing what they build.

By the way, we found out recently that the developer behind the White Oak highrise is an old neighborhood friend of Tiffany’s. Houston is such a small town sometimes.

What the funding cuts to public education will mean to your school district

Read this and see.

Summary of HB 1 (Public Education Reductions)

The House introduced its initial version of the General Appropriations Act (House Bill 1) for the 2012-13 biennium on Wednesday, January 19. While it is the first draft of the state budget with many hearings and floor debates to come, it does indicate that substantial budget reductions to public education are likely.

In addition to eliminating almost all discretionary grant programs ($1.3 billion in General Revenue over the biennium) in this first draft, HB 1, as filed, reduces the Foundation School Program by $10 billion below what was requested by the Texas Education Agency. Some of the grant programs that were eliminated in the 2012-13 biennium include: the technology allotment ($270.9 million), New IFA ($52 million), property value decline protections, ADA decline provisions ($22 million), DAEP funding, the Reading, Mathematics, and Science Initiatives ($16.1 million), the Early High School Scholarship Program ($43.2 million), the Pre-Kindergarten Grant Program ($223.3 million) , all of the grant programs funded under the Student Success Initiative ($293.2 million) , the High School Completion and Success Initiative ($86 million), the LEP Student Success Initiative ($19,4 million), the DATE program ($385.1 million), science lab grants ($35 million), middle school PE grants ($20 million), virtual school network ($20.3 million), the steroid testing program ($2 million), school bus seat belt program ($10 million), the optional extended year program ($14.1 million), teen parenting ($19.7 million), and the AP Incentive Program ($28.4 million).

I confess, I don’t know what a lot of that alphabet soup means, but it doesn’t matter. After the brief intro, which lays out three different possible ways that the $10 billion reduction might be distributed, is a table of each school district, listed by county, and the amount that it would lose under each scenario. As daunting as $10 billion sounds, seeing the individual reductions for each ISD makes it even scarier. The firm that put this together is the source of that 100,000 teacher layoff figure I keep harping on. As you see stories like these two appear over and over across the state, you’ll know where they’re coming from.

Harris County braces for state budget cuts

More joy to look forward to.

Proposed state budget cuts could cost Harris County government nearly $50 million a year, according to a legislative analyst’s rough estimates, rolling back or eliminating state allowances for dozens of programs that include mental health services, auto theft prevention, alternatives to jail and a school for juvenile offenders.

The starting-point House budget introduced in in Austin last week would possibly take a $13 million chunk out of money the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County uses to treat adults and children.

[…]

If the state cuts come to pass, the sheriff’s unit dedicated to auto theft would be halved and a camp for youth offenders would have to turn away kids who need its intensive counseling to prevent them from becoming career criminals, county officials said.

In other cases, the state cuts would transfer the burden onto a county government already contemplating hundreds of layoffs.

For example, the state mandates that the county run a school for children expelled from their neighborhood schools for weapons and serious drug offenses. But the starting-point budget would take away $3 million of the $12 million the state sends to cover the cost of busing, educating and counseling kids from all over the county at a school near Reliant Park.

Tom Brooks, the county’s juvenile probation director, said the school would be “crippled” by the proposed cut and that he would ask the state to lift the mandate if the proposed spending plan is what emerges from Austin this year.

[…]

Sheriff Adrian Garcia, County Judge Ed Emmett and MHMRA executive director Stephen Schnee have been saying for months that such drastic state cuts will transfer the bill to county agencies as people who could have benefited from treatment in community centers end up in emergency rooms and jail cells.

“Harris County will pick up the tab for them to be staying in jail and the mental health care they receive in jail, which is much more expensive than in the free world,” sheriff’s spokesman Alan Bernstein said Wednesday.

The state budget in its current form would eliminate the entire $1 million in state money spent on auto theft prevention and detection in Harris County. The Houston area accounts for about 30 percent of the state’s stolen cars, according to the sheriff’s office. Sheriff’s spokespeople were particularly puzzled by the auto theft cut, since the money comes from a surcharge in motorists’ auto insurance premiums and not from taxes.

So expect there to be more firings and more crime, not to mention higher local taxes in many places as the state sloughs its responsibilities off on cities and counties. Oh, and quite possibly your insurance rates, too.

Budget drafts call for a 10 percent reduction in payments to Medicaid providers and deep cuts in health and human services spending, including mental-health programs.

[…]

Proponents of the reductions call them necessary to control spending on the state’s Medicaid program, which cost a total of $24.7 billion in fiscal 2011. The federal government picks up $16.6 billion of that.

More than $7 billion a year in Medicaid money is paid to the state’s 500 hospitals.

Texas hospitals have protested the reductions, saying they will further strain hospitals’ resources and lead more providers to drop Medicaid. The program now covers only about 60 percent of a provider’s cost for treating a patient. Less Medicaid coverage would lead more patients to seek help in emergency rooms, where care is far more expensive, hospitals say.

An effort to shift more Medicaid patients into managed-care programs could exacerbate the financial pain for providers, according to the Texas Hospital Association.

“Reductions of this magnitude will seriously jeopardize access to healthcare and shift more healthcare costs to local governments and insured Texans,” said Dan Stultz, association president, in a statement.

Funny thing, just because the state refuses to pay for a need doesn’t make that need go away. It just means some other entity winds up paying for it. In many cases, they wind up paying more than what the state would have paid. In the end, of course, it all comes out of our pockets. But hey, at least we balanced the state budget.

District representation in Austin

I have to admit, it hadn’t occurred to me that there were any large cities in Texas that didn’t have City Council districts, but Austin is such a place, at least for now.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell will soon propose sweeping changes to Austin’s elections and governing structure, including creating districts for City Council representation, an idea voters have rebuffed before.

The aim of the changes, Leffingwell said, is to compel more people to vote in council elections, which have a history of abysmal turnout.

Currently, the mayor and six council members represent the entire city of nearly 800,000 people. Leffingwell wants to replace that with a hybrid system, in which six council members would represent smaller districts and two council members and the mayor would represent the whole city.

The mayor also wants to increase the maximum amount people can donate to city campaigns (currently $350 per donor) and move city elections from May to November of odd -numbered years, which would involve increasing council members’ terms from three to four years.

Austin voters have rejected district plans six times since 1973 , most recently in 2002 .

“Even though it has failed before, I sense a different mood out there,” said Leffingwell, who will detail his plans in his State of the City speech Feb. 25 . He will also host a Feb. 28 public forum with former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros and former Houston Mayor Bill White to talk about the district idea and other subjects.

Apparently, previous attempts at this failed because the plan was put to a vote before there was a map of the proposed districts, and because the size of Council would have been doubled. With Census data coming soon, the former should not be an obstacle, and the current proposal has an increase of only two seats. So maybe this time there’s hope.

One obstacle still remains, however:

Another past hurdle that’s likely to resurface this year is the drawing of a district that has a large concentration of African American residents and that would give black voters a fair chance to elect candidates they favor.

Since the 1970s, an unwritten rule has reserved one Austin council seat for a Hispanic person and one for an African American. Some say that so-called “gentleman’s agreement” is arcane.

“The idea of holding a seat for a particular race empowers the old Austin fathers,” said Nelson Linder , president of the Austin NAACP. “It’s time for a new model that’s more competitive and inclusive and that empowers everybody.”

Because blacks are dispersed across Austin and make up only about 8 percent of Austin’s population, the city would have to draw at least 14 districts with equal populations to form just one with a majority of black residents, city demographer Ryan Robinson said.

Council Member Sheryl Cole , the council’s only black member, said she would support putting a hybrid system to a vote but questions whether the Justice Department would approve a map that includes no district with an African American majority.

A six-district map would probably have one district in Southeast Austin and one in North-Central or Northeast Austin with a majority of Hispanic residents , and one district stretching from Central East to Northeast Austin that has more black than Hispanic or white residents but not a majority, Robinson said.

Houston had a similar tradition for the At Large #5 seat, but then Chris Bell filed for it and won in a 1997 special election, and Michael Berry did the same in 2003 after abandoning his Mayoral campaign. The problem with unwritten rules is that they’re unenforceable. As for the question of drawing a Council district that an African-American could win, I will simply note that Travis County, which has six legislative districts, has counted Dawnna Dukes among its delegation for more than a decade now. According to the Texas Redistricting webpage Dukes’ district (HD46) is 27.1% black by population, 26.1% by voting age population (VAP), while the numbers for Anglos are 27.9 and 32.6, and the numbers for Hispanics are 42.1 and 37.9. Surely a suitable district can be drawn within Austin.