Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

April 4th, 2014:

Friday random ten: Presidenting is hard work, part 1

For no particular reason, I got it in my head to see what kind of song lists I could make by using artists with the same name as the Presidents. Turns out I could make two lists’ worth. Here’s the first one:

1. Mad About The Boy – Dinah Washington
2. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me – Oleta Adams
3. Volunteers Of America – Jefferson Airplane
4. Blue Moon Of Kentucky – Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys
5. Two – Ryan Adams
6. Another World – Joe Jackson
7. Cloud 9 – George Harrison
8. All Too Well – Taylor Swift
9. SOS – Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep
10. Belle Banana Pancakes – Jack Johnson

You get the idea. Some names get repeated, for obvious reasons. I’ll have the second list next week. Can you fill in some of the blanks I had to leave?

Collier’s sales tax criticism of Hegar makes the news

That’s how you do it.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Democrat Mike Collier, a certified public accountant from Houston, will start airing television ads criticizing opponent Glenn Hegar, a Republican state senator from Katy, for his support to phase out property taxes and increase state sales taxes.

Collier and Hegar are vying to replace outgoing Comptroller Susan Combs, a Republican.

The 30-second ad, which will air in Houston, uses video of Hegar touting his position at a January meeting of We The People-Longview Tea Party.

“I don’t like the property tax, never have,” Hegar says in the video. “I think we should replace it. The best thing to replace it with is a consumption-type tax, a sales tax per se.”

Later in the ad, a male announcer says, “Mike Collier has a better plan: Forecast revenues accurately. Invest in our schools. And, hold the line on taxes.”

[…]

Local property taxes account for roughly 47 percent of tax revenue in Texas, according to a 2012 report from the comptroller’s office. State and local sales taxes make up 32 percent of revenue.

Another 2012 study – written by former deputy comptroller Billy Hamilton and published by a Republican group called Texas Tax Truth – said consumers would have to pay up to 25 percent in state sales tax to make up for the approximate $45 billion in lost revenue caused by abolishing property taxes.

“There’s no way that Hegar can make a sensible convincing policy point that we should get rid of the property tax in favor of a broader, larger sales tax,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientistat Southern Methodist University.

And, the shift from property taxes would deprive local governments, school districts and other entities of their primary method of revenue collection, said John Kennedy, an analyst at Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. That would mean municipalities would have to rely primarily on the state to finance their operations.

See here for the background. Via TrailBlazers, here’s the ad in question:

Can I just say how excellent it is to have a competent Democratic candidate running for Comptroller? Here’s who we had in the past three elections:

2010: Nobody
2006: Fred Head
2002: Marty Akins

Arguably, that’s in descending order of effectiveness. I could be persuaded to swap Head and Akins. Basically, Collier is the first serious Comptroller candidate we’ve had since Paul Hobby. It’s a beautiful thing.

But, Collier’s line of attack isn’t guaranteed to stick, Jillson said. The Nov. 4 election is seven months away and voters may not remember a fight over taxes from April, he said.

Jason Stanford, a consultant working on the Collier campaign, said the Democrat’s team plans to maintain this line of attack through the November election.

“We can’t play this race according to the old rule book,” Stanford said. “We have to make this race about actual ideas and competence.”

The thing is, Collier could keep up this line of attack all the way through November without ever repeating himself, because there’s so many ways Hegar’s tax swap is attackable. Consider:

– Local taxing entities – counties, cities, school districts – would essentially cede all taxing authority to the state. Do you want local control over your city and school district budgets, or do you want to hand all that to Austin?

– Do you want to start paying $25,000 for a $20,000 car? With Glenn Hegar’s tax plan, you will.

– Unless you own a million dollar home, your taxes are going up. Unless you live in a place with a lot of retail activity, your city and your schools are going to get screwed.

– Can you imagine the black market that will spring up with a 25% sales tax? The Comptroller’s office will have to become an arm of the IRS to ensure adequate collections.

And on and on. Collier will still have to raise the money to get that message out, but having that message will likely make it easier to raise the dough. There’s no downside here. Burka and EoW have more.

The rideshare battles continue

From Houston:

The issue came up at yesterday’s council meeting and Mayor Annise Parker said that undercover Houston police sting operations have resulted in 26 citations for Uber and Lyft drivers. They were likely, misdemeanor violations for operating an illegal taxi.

The mayor’s remark was in reply to testimony from Duane Kamins, a partner, along with his brothers in Houston’s second largest cab company, Houston Transportation Services. He’s also a lawyer and filed an affidavit with the state revealing his findings during his own undercover operation where he was charged some dollars for trips to the pharmacy and thereabouts.

“We clearly have two rogue operators in the city of houston today, uber and lyft who are operating in clear violation of Chapeter 46 of the [city] code,” he said.

In his affidavit, which you can view below, Kamins describes getting charged $4.70 for a short trip from an Uber driver with the handle Abdessamad. He also details a $13 trip with Lyft driver Ballagio. And later, a $12 trip with a Lyft driver named Sebastian whom he knocks for relying too much on his GPS to get around.

Kamins, who obviously has a major stake in not wanting to add more competition to the local cabbie game, asked the council to take action against the companies. His beef is that someone is getting compensated for provided commercial transportation services on city streets.

You can click over and see the affidavit; I have not read through it myself. I can say that the statement at the end of the story that “Another taxi study is expected to be presented to the city council next week” is inaccurate. According to Christopher Newport, the Mayor’s office has arranged for two of the consultants that worked up the Houston Taxicab Study to make a presentation to City Council at a joint Texas Transportation Institute-Public Safety committee meeting on April 9th at 2 pm. There’s no new work being presented, just a discussion about the study and a chance for Council to ask questions.

Meanwhile, here’s an update from San Antonio:

The battle over the ability of ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber to operate in San Antonio reached City Council members Wednesday, as officials heard from dozens of cabdrivers who fiercely argued those companies should play by the existing city rules or get out of town.

Police Chief William McManus told the council’s Public Safety Committee meeting that the city will continue to enforce its vehicle-for-hire ordinance, which for now prohibits ride-sharing services from operating, while his department spends the next 30 days researching how other cities have dealt with these companies.

He agreed to come back to the committee with an update next month.

[…]

The chief’s comments were met with applause from taxi and limo drivers who crowded the room.

Earlier in the meeting, dozens of them spoke passionately and forcefully, urging the city to enforce its vehicle-for-hire ordinance, which currently does not allow ride-sharing services to operate.

They lobbed criticism after criticism at the companies, questioning their safety, their regulations and their intentions.

They held signs saying, “Support your local cabdriver.” Some compared companies like Lyft and Uber to barbarians, carpetbaggers or cockroaches who have invaded the market.

Both Uber and Lyft officials said they will continue to operate but won’t charge passengers for now. Police have said a violation of the vehicle-for-hire ordinance occurs when a financial transaction takes place.

Lyft calls its fares “donations.” Passengers also can give drivers “increased” donations.

For now, Lyft is operating the Lyft Pioneer program in San Antonio, which means they don’t charge passengers for an initial period after the customer first signs up with the company. Lyft spokeswoman Katie Dally said in an email that the company still doesn’t know when the Pioneer program will end.

The Rivard Report adds a few more details:

The committee, chaired by District 7 Councilman Chris Medina includes District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, District 9 Councilman Joe Krier, and District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher, will review the matter at May 7 meeting when McManus, in collaboration with the Transportation Advisory Board, will present a proposal for going forward.

How the ordinance will be enforced until then will be kept a “secret” for now as a part of normal SAPD operations, McManus said, provoking a round of laughter after nearly revealing how police intend to catch offending drivers after Viagran posed the question.

See here for the background. My thinking on this really hasn’t changed that much since I first heard about Lyft and Uber. It doesn’t make sense to me to not allow them to operate in Houston, or any other city. It should be possible to change existing regulations to allow them entry while still keeping it fair for legacy taxi services and ensuring that drivers and passengers are sufficiently covered by insurance. I don’t know what Council is going to do with this once they get it – I mean, in the end I do expect Lyft and Uber to be granted entry, at least in some form – but I am ready for them to get on with it. Whatever action Council ultimately takes, I think they need to see it as a start and not as the end. Services like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, whether you call them “ridesharing” or “transportation network companies”, are brand new. We can talk all we want about innovation and serving the public, but nobody knows what the medium to long term effect of these companies will be. Randy Bear notes that San Francisco is reviewing the economic effect of the newcomers and discussing whether they need their own regulations in addition to what the California Public Utilities Commission adopted. This is a process, and I don’t think we should expect to get it right the first time, given that we have so little experience to guide us. My understanding at this time is that Council should have this on their agenda by the end of the month. Let’s make an honest effort and be prepared to revisit it in another six or twelve months.

It’s called “social media”, Ted

Ted Cruz is shocked, shocked to learn that his silly little Facebook poll got shared with some people who weren’t supposed to answer it.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

An old maxim about the law – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s chosen profession – holds that courtroom litigators don’t ask questions if they don’t already have the answers.

But in the chaotic world of social media, as the Texas Republican found out, all bets are off.

An impassioned Facebook clash involving tens of thousands of posterserupted this week in response to Cruz’s informal online survey marking the fourth anniversary of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

“Quick poll,” the survey began, “Obamacare was signed into law four years ago yesterday. Are you better off now than you were then? Comment with YES or NO!”

More than 53,000 responses had been logged as of Tuesday, dominated in recent days by Cruz opponents eager to defend a health care law that the tea party favorite had tried to repeal last fall through a government shutdown.

A surge of “yes” and “absolutely” comments overwhelmed an initial wave of anti-Obamacare posts, leaving Cruz’s staff with the clear impression that something was amiss.

“This is very clearly a manufactured, concerted effort from the left,” said Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier. “Maybe a better use of their time would be advocating for an Obamacare website that actually works.”

That’s so precious. So much so that I can’t quite put my reaction to that into words, so I’ll just do this:

Like that, yeah. Back to the story:

Dave Kapell, a small-business owner in Minneapolis, also voted yes, noting that a plan he found on Minnesota’s insurance exchange was saving him $200 a month. Kapell said nobody solicited his participation in the poll. “It just popped up on my Facebook page,” he said in an interview. “I think somebody I know reposted it.”

Amazing how that works. That Facebook sure is something, isn’t it? Someone ought to figure out how to leverage it for use in a campaign. I bet it’d work really well for that.

Anyway. BOR has some screenshots. Go look and have a good laugh at Cruz’s cluelessness.

The Mayors opine for high speed rail

They pen an editorial in its favor.

We are proud to be mayors of three of the largest and fastest-growing cities in America. Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston have weathered the recent economic downturn and are now the engines powering our state’s tremendous job growth. While we celebrate the individual successes of our respective cities, we also recognize how important Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston are to each other.

With the bounty of economic growth comes the challenge of thousands of new people relocating to our cities, as well as increased commerce in the form of trucks on our highways. Moreover, many Texans are surprised to learn that over 50,000 “super-commuters” travel between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston more than once a week. Additionally, millions of our respective residents have friends and family separated by the 240-mile stretch of Interstate 45. These factors create congestion and place a massive and growing strain on our infrastructure.

[…]

One of the reasons high-speed rail projects in the United States have been unsuccessful thus far is that they have relied solely on government funding for completion. We hope that Texas Central Railway can succeed because its approach to this project is unique. For the first time, we are seeing a market-driven approach to high-speed rail led by private investment. We applaud the way in which Texas Central brought a much-needed project, an innovative approach and its checkbook to Texas.

Countries across Europe and Asia have enjoyed high-speed rail service for decades, but the United States is not yet home to the kind of rail line proposed by Texas Central. As Texans, we take great pride in blazing a path for the rest of the country to follow. This effort will do just that.

High-speed rail will provide a travel alternative that will help alleviate congestion on I-45, create thousands of quality jobs and may help Texas travelers reduce their carbon footprint. We look forward to the day when the residents of Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth can travel on a high-speed rail between our two metropolitan areas in fewer than 90 minutes.

See here for the background. The same op-ed ran in the Chron on Monday as well. I would quibble with the wording of that first sentence in the third from last paragraph – as with anything related to government funding, politics is always the bigger issue than the funding itself. Be that as it may, as the TCR folks will readily tell you, the Houston-Dallas corridor is uniquely well-suited for their project – two huge urban centers a workable distance apart, separated by a lot of flat and empty land with existing freight rail rights of way to leverage. I absolutely hope TCR will be a big success that will serve as a catalyst for other rail projects, beginning with the completion of the Texas Triangle, with a Houston-Austin connection and extensions to Galveston, Oklahoma City, and Laredo/Monterrey, but I don’t know that I’d expect subsequent projects to follow the same business model. It’s entirely reasonable to me that some greater form of government involvement, perhaps a public-private partnership, may be needed for future lines. Or maybe this will be so successful it will demonstrate that somewhat less optimal alignments can still make money. It’s way too early to tell.

Anyway. Since the op-ed mentioned supercommuters, I thought I’d refer back to this blog post about them, because we have quite a few in Texas. While the TCR line will undoubtedly make life easier for these hardy folks, I don’t think that will directly affect traffic much – I figure the bi-metro types either fly or do their driving on weekends and other non-prime times. Getting them off the road will still be a big win environmentally, of course. There’s just a lot to like about this.