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March 25th, 2011:

City caves on drainage fee for churches

From the inbox:

Mayor Parker Announces New Rebuild Houston Funding Plan with Exemptions and Assistance for Low Income

Mayor Annise Parker today announced that she will ask City Council next week to approve a new Rebuild Houston funding plan that includes exemptions for churches and schools. In addition to the exemptions, the City will set aside half a million dollars that will be available to assist the disabled, senior citizens and low-income residents who cannot afford the drainage charge.

“I presented the draft Rebuild Houston Ordinance on February 6, 2011,” said Mayor Parker. “It was exactly as I promised voters, with no exemptions and everyone paying their fair share. After 10 town hall meetings, two public hearings, and discussions with council members, I believe this new plan properly balances community needs. I promised Houston homeowners this would cost them about $5 a month. The calculations indicate we can keep that promise while still helping our cash-strapped schools and our churches, and providing assistance to those who can’t afford the fee.”

Mayor Parker wanted to work this out here at home, not at the state capitol, and appreciates the patience of her colleagues in Austin, especially State Representative Harold Dutton. She calls this is an example of local control that accomplishes the goals she set at the beginning of this process.

The city charter amendment approved by Houston voters last fall mandates the imposition of a new drainage fee to raise a minimum of $125 million annually for a dedicated, pay-as-you-go, street and drainage improvement program. Monies raised from the fee must be placed in a lock box and cannot be used for other city needs.

For efficiency and cost-savings, the city intends to bill property owners, when possible, by including the fee on city water bills. Billing is scheduled to begin in July.

Houston City Council will be briefed on details of the new fee, assistance plan and enforcement mechanism at a committee meeting at 2:30 p.m. Monday, March 28, 2011. City Council will be asked to vote on the plan Wednesday.

In other words, Dan Patrick’s legislative blackmail worked as intended. I can’t say I blame the city for wanting to avoid this kind of hassle, but I can’t say I’m happy about it, either. But what’s done is done. Let’s get this wrapped up and move on to the next item on the agenda.

Friday random ten: The 1950s

The 1950s. Poodle skirts, greasy kid stuff, James Dean, and some pretty good music.

1. Walkin’ Blues – Muddy Waters (1950)
2. All The Things You Are – Dizzy Gillespie (1953)
3. Rock Around The Clock – Bill Haley and The Comets (1954)
4. I Got A Woman – Ray Charles (1954)
5. Angel Band – The Stanley Brothers (1955)
6. Brilliant Corners – Thelonious Monk (1956)
7. Blue Moon of Kentucky – Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys (1956)
8. Tom Dooley – Kingston Trio (1958)
9. Mack The Knife – Bobby Darin (1959)
10. Blue Rondo A La Turk – Dave Brubeck Quartet (1959)

I think this sums up the 1950s for those of us who didn’t live through it but who do remember the ubiquitous 1950s nostalgia from the 1970s:

Sit on it, nerds.

Entire song list report: Started with “Walk Humbly, Son” by Eddie From Ohio. The last song was “The Way She Walks”, by Trish and Darin, song #5847, for another 62 this week. I’m within 500 tunes of the end and the rewind through songs that were missed the first time. Woo hoo!

Center Street recycling center for sale?

Looks to be that way.

Seen at the Center Street recycling center

Back in 2009, the city contemplated selling the site to Admiral Linen next door, and opening a new recycling center on Spring Street in the First Ward. See here, here, and here for background. The move was opposed by First Ward residents on the grounds that the area was becoming too residential for such a facility, and Super Neighborhood 22 residents, who wanted the city to consider other options for the Center Street site such as a city-owned parking lot. I presume this has come up now because the city will need revenue to close a large budget shortfall for the next fiscal year. Arguably, with the success of the single stream recycling program, this center isn’t needed as much any more. I know I haven’t been there since we got our big wheely bin and could get glass and cardboard picked up along with everything else. I don’t know anything more about this beyond the fact that I spotted that sign on the site the other day, so I’m just throwing this out there. Anyone else know something about this?

Eversole rests his case without presenting one

You have to admire the guts, if nothing else.

In a move even his attorneys acknowledged was risky, Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole’s defense team rested Wednesday without calling a single witness after prosecutors ended more than two weeks of testimony alleging that he took bribes to steer real estate contracts to a developer.


“They’ve never shown any connection between the things Jerry and Michael Surface did together and any of Jerry’s official actions,” said defense lawyer Rusty Hardin. “The issue has always been: Did the people have a pre-existing relationship before the thing of value was given and the answer with Jerry and Mike Surface is that, clearly, they did.”

Hardin said it was the first time in his 37-year career that he has rested without putting on any defense.

“It’s the measure of two things: One is how much I hope I’m right and haven’t messed up, and the other is how certain I am they haven’t proved a case,” Hardin said. “If we’re wrong, we’ll find out when the jury comes back.”

Jurors are expected to return Friday for closing arguments. To find Eversole guilty, they will have to decide he intended to take the gifts as a bribe.

The gifts in question often ran into five figures. We should all have friends like Mike Surface. I have no clue how this will turn out, I’m just looking forward to seeing it.

The Lege’s job killing budget

Do you think this is what all those people who came out to vote last November had in mind?

The Legislative Budget Board, a nonpartisan state agency that helps lawmakers with budget numbers, predicts that House version of the 2012-2013 state budget would result in 272,000 fewer jobs in Texas the first year and 335,000 fewer in 2013.

The projected loss includes eliminating 117,000 private sector jobs in 2012 and 146,000 in 2013. An amendment to the House rules by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, directed the LBB, which is overseen by the House speaker, lieutenant governor and other state leaders, to produce the Dynamic Economic Impact Statement.

“The voters did not elect us to eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs. We have to be smarter than this,” Villareal said. “We can’t grow the Texas economy with a budget that destroys jobs, hurts neighborhood schools and makes college more expensive.”

Villarreal has more here. The report doesn’t say directly that this many jobs will be lost, just that Texas will have this many fewer jobs than it would have under a baseline budget scenario. If you have a basic understanding of economics, there’s nothing surprising about this. Cutting government spending is taking money out of the economy. Firing government workers adds to unemployment. Any other conclusion by the LBB would have been shocking. What I expect to happen, if the Republicans are forced to acknowledge this report, is that they will begin attacking the LBB in much the same way that Congressional Republicans have attacked the CBO when it tells them something they don’t want to hear. So far, it’s mostly just whining, as seen in this Statesman story, but give it time. And pay heed to what this guy says:

The projections do not come as a surprise to Bernard Weinstein, an economist at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University.

Weinstein said he had not examined the analysis but that it appeared to be “a government agency in the state of Texas saying, ‘Before you start slashing right and left, remember there are going to be consequences.'”

Weinstein said it was obvious that proposed budget cuts would have an effect on the state’s job market.

“Jobs creation results from spending by both the private sector and the public sector. So now you have what economists call the negative multiplier,” Weinstein said. “By cutting the budget here and cutting the budget there, there will be at least for some time a negative economic impact on income, employment and tax revenue. By cutting state spending, you are cutting state revenues, because the recipients of that spending will not be paying taxes on that.”

Weinstein said the effect is illustrated by the possibility of thousands of teachers being laid off statewide as part of the budget crunch.

“Where are they going to find employment quickly?” he said. “The answer is: nowhere.”

All I can say is that I’m glad to see some kind of counterweight to the overly optimistic forecasts of job growth in Texas. I think we have tougher times ahead than a lot of people expect. If I’m right about that, who do you suppose will get blamed for it this time? Burka, Postcards, Texas Politics, and the CPPP have more, and see also this article in The Economist for a broader view of Texas’ economic situation.

Today’s the day for the TIP

That postponed Transportation Policy Council meeting to determine how to allocate unprogrammed federal transportation funds happens today.

A proposal before the regional Transportation Policy Council last month could have clawed back $12.8 million in funding set aside for bicycle and pedestrian projects and directed those dollars to road and freight rail work. At the urging of advocacy groups, the proposal was tabled to allow for more discussion.

The TPC — an appointed body of mostly elected officials that directs federal transportation funding in the eight-county region — will take up the issue at its meeting Friday.

“I’m hoping we can reach a compromise to where all of the (bike and pedestrian) funding is not lost, yet certainly understanding the need for roadway and rail funding,” said Houston City Councilwoman Sue Lovell, a TPC member.


In its 2011-14 transportation plan, the council has direct discretion over just $346 million in federal funds, $266 million of which already is allocated.

Some TPC members have proposed setting percentage guidelines on how the remaining $80 million should be spent: 1 percent on planning studies, 9 percent to 13 percent for alternative modes such as biking, walking and mass transit, and for air-quality projects, and the remaining 75 percent to 82 percent on roads and rail.

“I think there are going to be a lot of people in the broader community who aren’t in a particular interest group who say, ‘Wait a minute, of course, we ought to be giving 80 percent of mobility funds to actual mobility projects,’ as opposed to sidewalks or hike-and-bike trails,” [Harris County Judge Ed] Emmett said.


Advocacy group Houston Tomorrow has suggested spending 55 percent of the funds on roads and rail, and 34 percent on alternative modes.

They lay out their case here, with David Crossley adding more here. The meeting is this morning at the TPC’s office at 3555 Timmons, 2nd floor, room A. It’s open to the public, and the public comment period begins at 9:30, though there will be a TPC workshop beginning at 8:45 that you can also attend but not participate in. I look forward to seeing what happens.