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June 14th, 2013:

Friday random ten: The city never sleeps, part 9

Time for a quick visit back to my old hometown for this week’s musical geography.

1. Snow In Austin – Ellis Paul
2. Staten Island Hornpipe – Flying Fish Sailors
3. St. Louis Blues March – Glenn Miller
4. Staten Island Baby – Black 47
5. Streets of Bakersfield – Beau Jennings
6. Streets of Laredo – Johnny Cash
7. Summer, Highland Falls – Billy Joel
8. Sweet Old Chicago – Roosevelt Sykes
9. TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) – MFSB Featuring The Three Degrees
10. Tupelo Honey – Gordian Knot

Who knew there was even one song about Staten Island, let alone two? It’s not even technically a city – well, it was before 1898, but that’s another story – but still. Staten Island, represent! Do you have a favorite song about your hometown?

Even Rick Perry thinks the slash and burn crowd is nuts

Insert pithy quote about reaping and sowing here.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Our corndog spending is under control

Gov. Rick Perry shot back Monday at conservative critics who say the state budget is growing too fast, offering the clearest signal yet that he plans to sign the two-year, $197 billion appropriations bill into law.

The governor noted that he is still analyzing the legislation and wouldn’t commit to officially approving it, but he said the Legislature is meeting the challenges of a growing state in a fiscally responsible way.

“I did read some of the criticism, and I’m not sure that those who were making that criticism have a really good handle on the Texas budgeting process,” Perry told reporters. “Frankly I don’t understand their math.”

[…]

The budget plan, which passed a Legislature firmly in the hands of the GOP, has drawn fire from conservative voices in recent days. The director of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, former state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, called the budget “an unwelcome departure from the guiding principles of fiscal responsibility.”

And The Wall Street Journal, in a weekend editorial titled “Texas Goes Sacramento,” called the budget reckless and urged Perry to veto most or all of it — or risk being compared to profligate California and Washington, D.C. Perry has line-item veto authority, so he still has time to pare down the spending before his weekend deadline to sign or reject legislation.

“Now Austin is borrowing from Washington’s playbook as the Lone Star State embarks on its biggest spending spree in memory,” the newspaper said.

Perry said detractors should not be counting the supplemental spending bill as part of the budgetary growth, because that legislation paid for billions of dollars in health care costs that had not been taken care of in the 2011 session.

Several Texas Republicans also defend one-time expenditures from the Rainy Day Fund. Legislators voted to take $4 billion from the account, largely to pay for water infrastructure upgrades and to phase out accounting tricks used in previous budgets.

“This state is growing and we’re growing fast, and we’re putting great pressure on infrastructure, both transportation, water, schools, and we have been meeting that challenge rather well,” Perry said.

The anti-spending zealots don’t care what the spending is on. There is only one budget category as far as they’re concerned, and that category is Spending. They want less of it, full stop. Rick Perry is well aware of this, and has freely used that language when the purpose has suited him. The fact that he is now at cross purposes with these marauders just shows how far out they are.

Also outraged, and with much greater justification since they did much of the heavy lifting, were Rep. Jim Pitts and Sen. Tommy Williams, the chairs of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees. I love this bit:

Williams said he and House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, sent a letter to the Journal disputing the facts behind the paper’s editorial. The Journal is expected to publish the letter in the coming days, according to Williams’ spokesman, Gary Scharrer.

The editorial claimed lawmakers increased spending 26 percent from the previous session, citing figures from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an influential conservative group. Lawmakers have described TPPF’s figures as misleading and manipulative.

“I’ve got a bellyful of people that are using their organization to criticize the work that we do here so they can raise money to pay their own salaries,” Williams said, referring to TPPF.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board, lawmakers approved a two-year budget that increases total spending by $7 billion, or 3.7 percent. State spending would increase $7.2 billion, or 8.3 percent.

Yes, the TPPF are a bunch of lying hacks – film at 11. Williams’ zinger is dead on. There’s no other organization in the state that funnels so much money to so many people with so little talent and so few useful skills. (Marc Levin, who does criminal justice policy for the TPPF, is an honorable exception.) You have to wonder how many of them could survive in the real world.

And then there’s this:

“We stand by our numbers, and are happy to explain them in-depth to anyone who wishes,” TPPF spokesman Joshua Treviño said Wednesday.

Josh, old buddy. How are things in Malaysia these days. If he tells you that two plus two is four, I’d advise asking him who’s paying him to say that.

Anyway. It’s hilarious seeing Perry getting slapped by these clowns, who are usually his bros – it’s basically the wingnut version of “Heathers”. It’s just a shame anyone takes them seriously in the first place. Texas Politics and EoW have more.

Budget time in Houston

Houston City Council has begun the process of debating Mayor Parker’s budget for the next fiscal year by proposing 60 amendments to it.

BagOfMoney

Parker’s budget would spend $4.5 billion, including fee-supported enterprise funds such as the aviation department and utility systems, and is a 6.4 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The proposed general fund budget, supported chiefly by property and sales taxes, is $2.2 billion, an increase of 4.9 percent over the current budget, but just 2.4 percent over projected spending for the current year.

The council is expected to begin hashing out the budget next week.

The big-ticket proposals related to property tax relief for seniors, with council members Andrew Burks, C.O. Bradford and Helena Brown each offering at least one idea on the topic. Most of their amendments sought to raise Houston’s $70,862 residential property tax exemption to match Harris County’s $160,000. Affected homeowners would save $569 annually under Bradford’s most aggressive proposal, and up to $58 under his most modest.

Brown’s proposal, which would hike the city exemption in steps to match the county’s by 2019, would cost $5.7 million next year and $102 million cumulatively by 2019, City Finance Department director Kelly Dowe estimated. Those numbers likely are understated, he said, because they are based on 2012 tax data and assume no growth in appraised values.

CM Brown’s proposal would therefore cost the city an average of $16 million per year through 2019 under current appraisals. The single year total would be higher than that in 2019, probably $22 or $23 million, and would be at least that much going forward. That’s a lot of money, and though it isn’t “spending” in the way that a new program or an expansion of services is, it’s still millions of dollars being diverted from the budget. Maybe it’s a good idea, and maybe it’s something the city should do, but if you’re one of those people that likes to focus on the city’s financial situation, implementing this kind of tax cut would have a significant effect on the bottom line. I just want to make sure we’re all clear on that. By way of contrast, the most expensive new spending proposal was $3 million per year, for a summer jobs program for youth.

For a lot more detail on the budget, in particular the details of various city departments’ budgets, see the recent coverage in Houston Politics here, here, here, and here. Can anyone explain to me why none of this stuff made it into the print version of the paper, or even the houstonchronicle.com website, as far as I can tell? This is what you really need to know if you want to understand the budget.

MBIA appeals lawsuit dismissal

Here’s the brief that MBIA has filed with the First District Court of Appeals to overturn the dismissal of their lawsuit against the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation. The issues presented for review are pretty straightforward:

1. The Sports Authority was authorized to waive its purported governmental immunity by the Texas State Legislature in Texas Government Code Section 1371.059(c), and it clearly and unambiguously waived any such claim of immunity in the operative deal documents.

2. The Sports Authority also waived its governmental immunity to suit, as provided in Texas Local Government Code Section 271.152, by entering into contracts for goods or services relating to the issuance of approximately $1 billion in bonds.

3. The Sports Authority, a joint creation of the City of Houston and Harris County, had no right to governmental immunity when it issued bonds in its proprietary capacity after a public vote by the citizens of Houston.

4. The Sports Corporation waived its governmental immunity to suit, as provided in Texas Local Government Code Section 271.152, by entering into contracts for goods or services.

I’ll leave it to the lawyers to evaluate their chances. Typically, it will be months, if not more than a year, to get an answer on this. In the meantime, I came across this link about the Sports Authority’s bond rating. The improving economy has the ratings services optimistic about its revenues in the near term. Take a look if you’re into that sort of thing.

Here are the Texas Monthly Ten Best and Ten Worst lists for 2013

This came out Wednesday, but the full story will not be published till next week.

BEST:
Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen)

Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth)

Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock)

Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth)

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen)

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D- San Antonio)

Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie)

Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio)

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio)

Sen. Tommy Wiliams (R-The Woodlands)

WORST:
Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth)

Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas)

Comptroller Susan Combs (R-Austin)

Rep. Naomi Gonzalez (D-El Paso)

Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills)

Rep. Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrville)

Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston)

Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston)

Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City)

Rep. Van Taylor (R-Plano)

BULL OF THE BRAZOS:
Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston)

As Burka’s former running mate Patricia Kilday Hart noted, the “Bull of the Brazos” goes to “a lawmaker who demonstrates brilliance, tenacity and unpredictable temper in equal parts”. That’s close enough to a Best in my book. I must say, I did a pretty decent job guessing who would be included. I should have called Reynolds, he was a layup and I blew it. I’m a little surprised by Dan Patrick’s inclusion – for all his preening and posturing, he did get stuff done, and I can think of several worse offenders than him. I’m more than a little surprised that Sarah Davis didn’t make the cut for Ten Best; perhaps she’ll be an Honorable Mention. Susan Combs richly deserves her inclusion as a Worst – frankly, Burka should go back and edit the 2011 list to include her there retroactively. Joe Straus’ inclusion as a Best, which I did contemplate, is an illustration of how things can turn on a dime in the dying days of a session. I mean, just before Memorial Day Burka was calling Straus a choker because the budget deal was perennially close to falling apart. For them and all the others, I look forward to seeing the full writeup. In the meantime, the Trib has a video of a panel discussion with the Best & Worst authors that explore all of these and others in some detail – the discussion of Patrick was especially interesting – and it’s worth the 40 minutes of your time to watch it.