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March 27th, 2011:

Weekend link dump for March 27

Spring is here, spring is here, life is skittles and life is beer…

All talk, and no action, that’s our Republican Congress.

The only quibble I have with this is that it needed to give more hate to people who hit “reply to all” unnecessarily.

Feeling hungry? Read this and you’ll feel full. Probably a little queasy, too.

Maybe time travel is impossible, but I know where (when) I want to go when and if it becomes available.

The main thing I wish Google would do differently is give you a way to sort your mail by size, so you can easily delete old mails with big honking attachments.

The Republican war on the poor is proceeding apace.

That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.

So much for competition in the wireless market. Get ready to get bent, T-Mobile customers!

Hey, at least you can still access my content for free, no matter where you come from.

Yes, the downside of March Madness is definitely having to watch all those ads.

Relatively speaking, NPR is a bargain.

How many children will die as a result of a Republican-sponsored budget cut of vaccination funding?

How dumb are we? Or, putting it another way, how many people that leave illiterate comments on newspaper stories and blog posts about “illegals” could pass the US citizenship test? Not too damn many, if you ask me. And for the record, I got all 20 questions right.

Keep those kiddos facing the rear of your vehicle until they’re two.

Maybe letting go of all the journalists wasn’t such a hot idea after all.

How do you explain health care reform to people who have mostly been misinformed about it?

You want to keep government out of health care? Then this government intrusion into health care should outrage you.

We need another corporate tax break like we need a collective hole in the head.

From the “A word means precisely what I want it to mean” department.

Why Liyba 2011 and Iraq 2003 are not the same thing.

Apparently, campaigning as a moderate, then governing as a radical conservative isn’t something voters like.

What Leonard Pitts said.

Why do we use barrel-wearing as a signifier of poverty, anyway?

This may be the greatest search engine referral my blog has ever received.

Page not found. Really, really, really not found.

Wisconsin’s new junior Senator has no idea what he’s talking about.

Child obesity and policies to deal with it is a sad example of the bizarre ways that Obama hatred manifests itself.

Of sonograms and airport scanners.

I am here. You probably are, too.

“When we Congressional Republicans speak of the Constitution, it means just what we choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

Roger Ebert eulogizes Elizabeth Taylor.

Fiscal conservatism, Mississippi-style.

It was the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire this year.

RIP, Geraldine Ferraro.

More on the drainage fee exemptions

Here’s the Chron story about the Mayor’s change in direction to exempt churches and schools from the new drainage fee.

Under previous numbers published by the administration, exempting those institutions would raise the monthly fee on other property owners by about 7.6 percent. But on Friday, Parker said city officials had “refined our estimates” and found that they could include the exemptions without raising the rates on home and business owners.

“The average homeowner in the city of Houston will still pay that $5 on a curb-and-gutter street and $4.06 per month on an open-ditch street, and still accommodate what I heard over and over again — particularly for the school districts – that they needed relief considering what was going on in Austin,” Parker said.


Parker campaigned in the fall in favor of an ordinance with no exemptions and continued that stance in the months since city voters passed Proposition 1 last November, which calls for a monthly surcharge on property owners to raise $125 million a year for drainage and street improvements, starting in July.

Her rhetoric softened in recent weeks as she faced a divided council, a coalition of church and school leaders clamoring for relief from the fee and a push in Austin to impose exemptions through state legislation. Her council allies on the issue also are using the language of compromise.

“I will vote for exemptions if this is the kind of thing that’s necessary to move it forward. A principled no-exemptions position is not something I’m going to go to the mat on,” said Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck, whose District C voted overwhelmingly in favor of Proposition 1.

We’ll get the specifics on Monday, and I’ll get to those revised estimates in a minute. It must be noted that while this is a big victory for the churches, they’re still not satisfied.

“We are thankful that due to massive public pressure and outcry the mayor has finally reversed her position and is supporting exemptions for churches and schools. If she is sincere, she will instruct the city’s lobbyists to support SB 714 in the state Senate,” the Houston Area Pastor Council said in a release. “Moreover, our basic position is that due to the election results being challenged in court and major ethical issues unresolved, the City Council should not act on any ordinance at this time with or without exemptions.”

Councilman C.O. Bradford said he agrees with the group, adding, “Today, I would be a no vote, pending discussion.”

You may recall that the Houston Area Pastor’s Council was the first group to bring the anti-gay hate during the 2009 election. I can’t tell you how sick it makes me to give these jerks anything. Shame on you for abetting them, CM Bradford.

As for the refined estimates, a few weeks ago Don Sumners, the county’s crazy uncle in the Tax Assessor’s office, alleged that the city’s planned fee structure would bring in more revenue than they claimed it would. He made his charges in this presentation, which was based on the city’s presentation of the way the fee was calculated. I sent an inquiry to the Mayor’s office about this, and they responded with this document. There were two critical adjustments the city made, which account for the lower revenue figure they project:

1. The estimate of total impervious acreage was based on aerial images. The city validated its estimates by taking actual measurements of a sample of properties. Based on that, they concluded that the real total acreage was somewhat less, so the amount billed would be less than what Sumners’ calculations showed. They also assumed that a few people would successfully protest their acreage assessment, and would thus reduce the total amount billed further.

2. Sumners’ revenue figure is based on everyone paying in full. In real life, that doesn’t happen. The city’s revenue figure takes into account the fact that some bills, for water service and for sewer service (most people get billed for both in Houston, but some only get billed for sewer) go uncollected. Guess this never occurred to Sumners.

Put the two together, and you get the lower revenue numbers the city cited. I’m not exactly sure how this relates to the revelation about not needing to charge more if churches and schools are exempted, and the matter of county buildings is still up in the air as far as I can tell, but I’d still prefer they got included. Not gonna happen, unfortunately. We’ll see how the rest goes on Monday.

School district reserves

Rick Perry sure does like the idea of spending other people’s money.

Pressed on using the Rainy Day Fund to help close of the state’s massive budget shortfall and avoid dramatic cuts, particularly to school funding, Gov. Rick Perry earlier this month pointed to another source of money he believes should be tapped first: the reserves held by many Texas school districts.

“It’s about $12 billion in reserve accounts in our independent school districts, so should the state spend their Rainy Day Fund before those are accessed?” Perry said. “It’s a good debate to have. My answer is no, I don’t think so.”

According to spreadsheets prepared for the governor and provided to the Tribune, the state’s 1,030 school districts have — in total — $10.2 billion in reserves and another $2.1 billion in unspent federal stimulus money. Facing a reduction in state education spending of between $4 billion and $10 billion, many school districts have said they will be forced to lay off teachers and other staff and even close schools. Can they use their reserve funds to avoid such draconian cutbacks? The answer is not as simple as the governor’s statement would imply.

Hard to believe that Perry could be oversimplifying, isn’t it? For one thing, the state requires school districts to maintain a cash reserve, which is supposed to be enough for them to operate for 60 days. As the story goes on to note, the districts collectively have only about $430 million above the amount recommended by the state. One reason they need such a cushion is because a standard accounting trick the state employs when it needs a little slack to balance its budget is delaying payments to other entities – like, for instance, school districts – for a day. Nice work if you can get it, right?

It’s also the case that while districts together have some excess reserves, not all of them do individually, and no mechanism exists to transfer such funds from one ISD to another. Even if one did exist, as Rep. Rob Eissler points out, it would be perverse to make them do so.

Eissler, a former school board member who now heads the House’s Public Education Committee, says it “would be a strong reach” to try to get the school districts to throw their money into the pot to make the state budget work. He doesn’t think it would be a smart thing to do. It’s not the state’s money, for one thing, and the districts aren’t all in the same financial shape.

“Let’s say School District A really watched their money and really got good results and has a healthy fund balance, and we’re going to penalize them because School District B just spent everything they had and didn’t pay attention to their finances and they’re in the hole?” he says. “We’re trying to reward productivity. That would not.”

Not that Rick Perry cares. He has a point to make. On a related note, Abby Rapoport observes that Senate Republicans are dangling the “local control” carrot in front of school districts, which in this case means “we’ll relieve you of some responsibilities as we take away all your money”. Given a real choice, I don’t know how many school districts would choose a deal like that.

St. Joseph’s Hospital on the auction block

Another ownership change is coming for the venerable hospital.

St. Joseph Medical Center, Houston’s oldest hospital, will be put up for auction next month, five years after its then-Catholic owners sold majority shares to a North Carolina-based for-profit company.

Hospital Partners of America invested heavily in the hospital but declared bankruptcy 2½ years ago and is initiating the sale as part of its Chapter 7 process. The downtown hospital is financially healthy.

“St. Joseph has been caring for the people of Houston for nearly 125 years, and there are no plans for that to change,” Chief Executive Officer Patrick Mathews said in a statement. “At the end of this process, 30 to 45 days from now, St. Joseph will still be the great institution that’s served Houston all these years. The only difference will be that our physician partners will have a new majority owner.”

St. Joseph doctors hold a nearly 22 percent interest in the hospital.

Iasis Healthcare of Tennessee signed an agreement to buy the remaining 78.2 percent interest Friday, after the bankruptcy trustee conducting the sale selected its bid as the best among 11. Another bidder could still top it at the auction April 15.

The purchase price will be based upon an “enterprise value” of $165 million, an Iasis press release said. The release noted that St. Joseph’s annual net revenue is roughly $245 million.

I’m just glad the hospital, which is where both my girls were born, is in good financial shape. That wasn’t the case a few years ago, when it looked like the place might be forced to close. May it continue to be a part of Houston’s landscape for years to come.

New judge in DeLay associates’ case

Meet the new judge, fourth in a series:

The co-defendants of Tom DeLay, who was convicted last fall of conspiring to launder corporate money into political donations, will be tried before state District Judge David Crain, according to a court order filed Wednesday.

Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield, the presiding judge of the Central Texas region, tapped Crain after defense lawyers for Jim Ellis and John Colyandro claimed visiting Judge Pat Priest of San Antonio was biased against their clients. Priest, who sentenced to DeLay to three years in prison, stepped aside earlier this month.

Stubblefield said under the law the Ellis and Colyandro cases automatically return to the 331st District Court, where the felony charges against them originated.

Judge Crain succeeded Judge Bob Perkins in the 331st. Perkins, of course, was the original judge in the DeLay case, before he was removed via a motion to recuse him from the defense. I feel a song coming on:

What the hell, this case has been around since the earth’s crust cooled. Let’s have another song:

I think I’m done now. More here.