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March 1st, 2011:

Bradley’s confirmation delayed


In a bid to diffuse a partisan showdown, the name of Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley was temporarily stricken this morning from a list of nominees to be submitted to the full Senate for confirmation.


Nominations Committee Chairman Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, said [earlier] that he plans to submit the list of Monday’s nominees to the Senate for approval — possibly as early as tomorrow — but without Bradley’s name.

“I’m pulling him off the list for now, yes,” Deuell said. “I want to let things settle down, and then see where we are. If we put him out there now, they (Democrats) would sever him (from the rest of the nominees) and block him.

“There’s no reason to let that happen right now.”

Though pulled off of the current list sent to the Senate, Deuell said Bradley’s name could be submitted for confirmation at any time. Three other nominees to the Forensic Science Commission that were approved by the committee on Monday will be forwarded on for Senate confirmation now, Deuell said.

More here. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst is lobbying for Bradley, but there’s not enough lipstick in the world for this pig. Block away, Democrats. Burka has more.

HISD meeting to discuss budget

Mark your calendars for this Thursday, March 3, at the Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center, 4400 West 18th Street, at 6PM for an HISD board meeting that will include a discussion of the 2011-2012 budget as well as a “first reading” of the new magnet school policy. Here’s a map to the location where the meeting will be held. Here’s some more information about what will be on the agenda, sent to me via email:

The HISD administration presented the recommendations, which are intended to strengthen Houston’s portfolio of school choice options, to the Board last week. Proposals for the school board’s consideration address three general areas: student application, selection and admission process; magnet program funding; and measures of success and accountability. More details on the proposals can be found online at

Board trustees are also scheduled to discuss policies related to school closures, which may become necessary because of proposed drastic cuts to state education funding that would take effect in the 2011-2012 school year.

School closures are among many options being considered for offsetting what HISD officials expect will be a $170 million shortfall. Administrators have already identified about $50 million in potential budget cuts that, for the most part, do not directly impact classrooms. One of the proposals on the table is to end the practice of giving extra funding to some unique schools. This leaves about $120 million in additional spending cuts that would likely result in teacher layoffs and the elimination of popular programs.

The Board is not scheduled to take any votes on Thursday, and residents are encouraged to speak on any topic listed on the agenda. Those wishing to speak must submit the speaker registration form by noon Thursday. That form can be found online at Forms are also available in the Board Services office at the Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center. Completed forms may be faxed to 713-556-6115. For additional information on registering to speak, call 713-556-6121.

Let’s hope the proceedings are slightly less grim than they were in Austin yesterday. Be there if you can. Read on for a message sent out via email by Save Our Schools Houston to all concerned parents and other individuals.


Fantasy Map 2.0

Here’s Greg’s most recent attempt at drawing new City Council lines. We’ll get an idea of what the Planning Department has in mind shortly – speaking of which, here are the demographics of the current districts, taken from their data – but this ought to tide you over until then. Check it out.

Another thing that everybody should be doing in the meantime is give some thought to what kind of Council district you would like to see your own neighborhood be placed in. In my neck of the woods, there’s a group calling itself One Heights, One District, which is advocating as follows:

As the City goes through the redistricting process, it’s important that the Mayor and City Council know that we want the Heights to be in one single member district. It just makes sense. But just because it makes sense doesn’t mean it’ll get done, unless we ask for it.

If history is the judge of success, it takes a vocal group at every community forum in order to be successful. It need not be large, but we do need a group at every meeting to state our case: we want the Heights kept together as one in whichever district it ends up in.

They are looking for volunteers to show up at one or more of these community forums and other public meetings to express that viewpoint. If you are interested, go here and fill out the form. You can’t get what you want if no one knows that you want it, so if you have a preference, now is the time to speak up about it.

Pitts endorses using at least some of the Rainy Day Fund

It’s a start.

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, the House’s lead budget writer, today filed bill that would draw down nearly $4.3 billion of rainy-day money to cover the state’s deficit in the current two-year cycle.

Pitts’ plan would tap a fund composed mostly of oil and natural gas tax revenues, though general revenue fund surpluses also make some contribution to the rainy day fund. Under a 1987 constitutional amendment, tapping the fund to plug holes in a current budget requires three-fifths approval of those present in each chamber. If everyone votes, that means at least 90 House members and 19 senators would have to consent. It’s only in writing the next two year budget that the higher threshold of two-thirds in each house is required.

If you look at House Bill 275, you see a proposed draw-down of $4,273,557,000 — the very same number Comptroller Susan Combs used last month in estimating the 2010-2011 deficit.

That number may wind up being smaller for the 2010-11 deficit, depending on the effect of earlier cuts and possible upward revisions in sales tax revenue. If so, it’ll be all the more to be available for the current biennium. Still not nearly enough, but every little bit less horrible helps.

Pitts’ bill for this is HB 275, which will require supermajority votes in each chamber. That would be a challenge under any circumstance, and will be even more of one given the teabaggers’ insistence on inflicting as much damage as possible on the state’s economy. Pitts hopes he has the votes, but I won’t be too sure till they’ve been cast. More rational folks like Scott McCown have pushed back on this, though I doubt his words will have much effect on those who believe that taking money out of the economy is good for it. Abby Rapoport has more.

Credit where credit is due

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson calls on the Lege to protect legal aid funding.

The budget crisis threatens to leave the state’s neediest without legal representation, Jefferson said, and even now “the courthouse door is closed to many who have lost their jobs, veterans and women who struggle with physical abuse.” As he asked the Legislature to appropriate $20 million in general revenue dollars for basic civil legal services, he said 6 million Texans currently eligible for legal aid have been turned away because of a lack of funding.

He also emphasized the importance of rehabilitation, psychiatric care and vocational training for juvenile offenders.”Let us endeavor to give these kids a chance at life before sending them into the criminal justice system,” he said.

He said these remarks during his State of the Judiciary address, which you can read here (PDF); he also had praise for Sen. Rodney Ellis’ innocence efforts. I’m glad to hear him say these things, and I hope the Lege listens to him.

Also of interest to me is a subject that has come up before:

Echoing his 2009 address, Jefferson also strongly criticized the state’s system of electing judges on a partisan basis. “A justice system based on Democratic or Republican judging is a system that cannot be trusted,” he said.

Possible solutions? A constitutional amendment for the merit selection of judges or, at the very least, the elimination of straight-ticket voting for judges, which he said results in judges losing elections not for “poor work or poor ethics or controversial or courageous decisions” but because of partisan tides.

I criticized Justice Jefferson about this back in 2009, when it was easy to suspect partisan motives in the wake of widespread Democratic success, so I must give him credit for bringing this up again in the aftermath of 2010. (Far as I can tell, I can’t give the same credit to Big John Cornyn, not that this surprises me.) While I’m happy to note Jefferson’s admirable consistency on this issue, I still think his proposed solutions are inadequate and don’t address the real problem at all, which is the effect of big donors in judicial races. The Supreme Court is basically a wholly owned subsidiary of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which is now a far greater offender in this area than the trial lawyers that TLR was formed to oppose ever was. When Justice Jefferson gets around to that, then we can have a real conversation about how to make the system better. Abby Rapoport has more.

TxDOT gets Grand Parkway approval

Another step in the march of the inevitable.

The state Transportation Commission on Thursday granted the Texas Department of Transportation authority to begin design work and negotiating contracts to build a key segment of the Grand Parkway.

The unanimous vote did not, however, authorize funds to start work on Segment E of the tollway, which would link the Katy Freeway to the Northwest Freeway, just west of Fairfield.

“The Grand Parkway project is an important project for our region and our state,” said state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands. “Having a loop that passes around Houston, whether it’s the third or fourth loop depending on where you start counting them, … will help reduce congestion and facilitate economic development.”

Williams, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, called the parkway one of his highest priorities.

TxDOT spokesman Mark Cross said the agency estimates it will cost about $350 million to build the 15 miles of toll road linking Interstate 10 to U.S. 290. He said the agency has no construction time frame, but the Transportation Commission wants work under way as soon as possible.

When completed, the parkway would be about 180 miles in circumference – running as far north as Tomball and New Caney, as far south as League City, as far west as Katy, and as far east as Baytown. The total price tag for the project is expected to exceed $6 billion.

I don’t care to re-litigate all of this, because I know you know where I stand, but the Grand Parkway sure ain’t going to help alleviate any congestion I encounter. Beyond that, all I really want to know is where we’re getting the money for this, and what projects TxDOT will not be doing while it engages in this elaborate and unnecessary bit of exurban planning.