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May 30th, 2014:

Friday random ten: B sides

Continuing the Name Of The Artist Game with the letter B:

1. Telephone Song – B.B. King
2. Dance This Mess Around – The B-52’s
3. Venus – Bananarama
4. Walk Like An Egyptian – The Bangles
5. Alternative Girlfriend – Barenaked Ladies
6. Daniel – Bat For Lashes
7. Human Thing – The Be Good Tanyas
8. Be True To Your School – Beach Boys
9. Help Me Make It Through The Night – Big Daddy
10. Billie’s Blues – Billie Holliday

And as with the letter A, I managed to create this list without resorting to the two artists for whom I have the most songs, in this case Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen. Variety! Of course, the fact that I had ten artists before I reached either of them alphabetically helped some, too.

Post HERO, watch for the petition drives

Here’s the full Chron story about the passage of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. I’m going to skip ahead in the story and focus on what the haters are saying and planning to do.

Opponent Dave Welch, of the Houston Area Pastors Council, said his group will begin gathering signatures against the ordinance to trigger a referendum seeking its repeal this November. The group would need to gather roughly 17,000 signatures – or 10 percent of turnout in last fall’s mayoral race – in the next 30 days.

“Once we correct this grievous act through the ballot this fall,” Welch said in a statement, “we will then remind those members that patronizing a tiny interest group and outgoing mayor instead of serving the people leads to a short political career.”

[…]

Houston voters twice have rejected protections or benefits for gays, in 1985 and in 2001.

The most recent vote was spearheaded by Houston Community College trustee and longtime anti-gay advocate Dave Wilson, who said he plans to gather signatures to seek a recall election against “three or four” council members who voted yes.

Only the number of signatures equivalent to one-quarter of the votes cast for mayor in a given council district are required, which Wilson said makes some districts with poor turnout particularly ripe targets.

The signatures must be gathered within a 30-day period and a recall petition must list grounds related to “incompetence, misconduct, malfeasance or unfitness for office.” The target of such a petition could then object, triggering a vote of the City Council on whether the grounds are sufficient. City Attorney David Feldman said the city’s 100-year-old recall process has never been used, and added a single ordinance vote would not be valid grounds.

“Some people say it’s intimidation, et cetera, but I look at it as accountability,” Wilson said, adding he views Feldman as a biased source. “People are elected to represent their district. They’re not up there to propagate their own personal views.”

Wilson said he also is gathering the signatures needed to seek a charter amendment banning a biological man from using a women’s restroom. The ordinance passed Wednesday offers such a protection for transgender residents citywide, as does an executive order Parker signed in 2010 applying to city facilities.

The earliest a charter vote could appear would be May 2015, but Feldman said such an effort may be too relevant to the ordinance passed Wednesday, meaning the signatures gathered would need to fall within the 30-day window.

A petition to repeal the ordinance would require fewer than half the signatures needed to mount a recall effort against Mayor Parker. That’s a more attainable target, but we’ll see how it goes. As I said before, I don’t fear any of this. It’ll be a fight, but we have the numbers, we have the will, and we have the pleasure of being in the right.

It seems clear that anything other than a straight repeal effort within the 30 day time frame will generate a court fight. I rally don’t know how much weight to put on the wording of the petition versus the lack of any mention of grounds for recall elsewhere in the charter. I’d hate to have it come down to a judge’s ruling on that.

By the way, you know who’s an unsung hero in all this? Ben Hall, that’s who. Thanks to Ben Hall, Mayor Parker took the 2013 election a bit more seriously than the 2011 election, and drove up turnout to near-2009 levels as a result. If turnout in 2013 had been the same as in 2011, the haters would only need about 27,000 signatures to get the recall process started instead of the 42,500 they need now, and they’d need fewer than 11,000 sigs to force the repeal referendum instead of 17,000. So thanks, Ben Hall! You did something good with your campaign! Hair Balls, Juanita, BOR, Texas Leftist, Free Press Houston, and TransGriot have more.

Where are all the ladies?

Christy Hoppe of the DMN notices something missing on the Republican side of the 2014 ballot.

Rep. Kay Granger

The Texas Republican Party has a girl problem.

A glance down the list of GOP nominees set after Tuesday’s runoffs makes it look as if U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth has signed up for shop class.

She is the lone woman among the 50 congressional, statewide and top judicial Republican candidates.

In a year when the marquee races for governor and lieutenant governor will feature Democrats Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, the Grand Old Party looks like it’s going stag.

Candidate Lisa Fritsch warned during the primaries of “the party of all these men and the same old recycled candidates.”

And Fritsch is a staunch conservative who was challenging Greg Abbott for the nomination for governor.

State party chairman Steve Munisteri said he’s noticed.

“I would tell you I’ve had discussions with elected officials and party leaders about this very issue,” he said Tuesday. “Frankly, it is a concern.”

He said he is placing women in high-profile jobs and hoping to recruit more women to run for office.

The story has gone national, but it should be noted that Rep. Granger isn’t quite as lonely as Hoppe says. There is one more Republican lady among the statewide and Congressional candidates – there is also Susan Narvaiz, who is running for CD35 against Rep. Lloyd Doggett. And it’s not like there were a bunch of viable female candidates that filed but couldn’t make it through the primaries. The only serious contender for a statewide office on the R side was Debra Medina, who finished third for Comptroller with 19% of the vote despite that crappy Trib poll that I’m still not tired of mocking that showed her leading, and the only serious contender for a Congressional seat was Katrina Pierson, who was defeated easily by Rep. Pete Sessions despite having Ted Cruz as her overlord. The lack of Republican ladies on the ballot was a problem that one could see coming from a good ways away.

To be fair, there’s not an overabundance of ladies on the Democratic side, but there are three women running statewide. Two of them you’ve probably heard of, plus Justice Gina Benavides of the 13th Court of Appeals, who is running for Supreme Court. There are also two Congressional incumbents – Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Berniece Johnson – plus two more Congressional candidates, Shirley McKellar and Tawana Cadien. That’s two Democratic incumbents to one Republican incumbent even though Republican incumbents overall outnumber Dems in this group by more than three to one, and seven Democratic candidates to two for the GOP. I’d have liked for there to be more female candidates on our ballot – I did vote for Maxey Scherr in the Senate primary, after all – but given the historic nature of the Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte candidacies – the first time ever that a party has nominated women for both of the top two slots – it’s still something we Ds can be proud of. Better luck next time, Republicans.

We’ve got some budget challenges coming

Some chickens are coming home to roost.

BagOfMoney

Beginning next summer with fiscal year 2016, Houston will face a projected $142 million gap between expected revenues and expenses in its general fund, which is fed chiefly by property and sales taxes and funds most basic city services. That exceeds the $137 million budget gap Houston had to close during the economic recession, when Mayor Annise Parker laid off 776 workers in making numerous cuts in 2011.

And the projected gap will widen in the years to follow. By fiscal year 2018, the budget deficit is expected to top out at a projected $205 million.

The calculations resulting in those projected deficits assume no raises for city workers or added investments in vehicles and technology that cannot be put off forever, said Councilman Stephen Costello, meaning the actual deficits could be higher.

“There’s still not enough attention directed toward the next four years, which is really the problem that we have,” said Costello, who chairs the council’s budget committee. “We need to start looking long-term.”

[…]

About 51 percent of the increase in the proposed budget is driven by employee contracts, 18 percent represents dollars transferred to specific funds and not available for spending, and another 17 percent is an increase in debt service, Dowe said.

The revenue cap cannot alone be blamed for the looming crisis. The cap will allow revenues to rise, after all, but they will rise at the combined rates of inflation and population increase, not at the breakneck pace of property appraisals many homeowners have seen this year.

Driving the problem are soaring pension payments and a spike over the next four years in the cost of servicing debt.

The single largest expense increasing in the proposed 2015 general fund budget is a 21 percent hike paid into the city’s three pension funds, to $261 million. That’s more than what is spent on libraries, parks, trash pickup and municipal courts combined.

And pension payments are only projected to increase. Next year, Dowe said, the city expects to cough up $50 million on top of its scheduled payment to the police pension thanks to a contractual trigger that requires the account to maintain a funding level of at least 80 percent.

In refinancing debt, Dowe added, past mayors put off principal payments for future leaders to pay, creating a debt bubble that now is coming due. General obligation debt payments will jump from $297 million this fiscal year to $355 million by fiscal 2018, before falling.

The good news is that the debt service cost is a four-year speed bump, so it’s at least a temporary situation. The pension issues are ongoing, and no matter how many columns Bill King writes about it, I don’t see it getting resolved in a way that satisfies, or at least doesn’t completely alienate, everyone involved any time soon. While ridding ourselves of that stupid revenue cap may not be a whole solution to this, it would still at least minimize the problem. To me, priority one is working to repeal the revenue cap, and priority two is coming to grips with the fact that no matter how much we gripe about pensions, the fact remains that public safety is by far the largest budget item. If we want to, as CM Bradford put it, define what our core services are, then we need to do that exercise for all of the budget. If 65% of the budget is off limits for considerations about efficiencies and savings, then we’re kidding ourselves. If any member of City Council is unwilling to do that, I will thank them to spare me the usual talk about “making tough decisions”.

Eat ’em all up

It sure would be nice to think that we could solve our invasive species problems by eating them all, but we probably can’t.

Would you want this for dinner?

It seems like a simple proposition: American lakes, rivers and offshore waters are filling up with destructive fish and crustaceans originally from other parts of the world, many of them potential sources of food.

So why not control these invasive populations by getting people to eat them?

The idea has gained momentum recently from the lionfish, which invaded the Gulf of Mexico but was successfully marketed to restaurants and today appears to be in decline.

But businesses and scientists have struggled to repeat this apparent triumph with other species. Some, such as Asian carp, are not appetizing to Americans. Others, like feral hogs, reproduce too quickly to make a dent. And then there’s the question of whether turning them into sought-after cuisine undermines the larger goal of eliminating them.

“Eating invasive species is not a silver bullet,” said Laura Huffman, the Nature Conservancy’s director in Texas. But it can still be “a way to get people engaged in the topic and in the solution.”

The lionfish, a striped saltwater species with a flowing mane of venomous spines, is native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean and was first spotted in parts of the Gulf and off the East Coast a little more than 10 years ago. The skilled predators damage reefs and devour native fish, and they are eaten only by sharks — or larger lionfish.

People soon learned that beneath the lionfish’s spiky skin lies a buttery, flaky meat that is perfect for ceviche, taco filler or as an alternative to lobster. After a few years of intense fishing and brisk fillet sales, the population is dropping.

But similar efforts targeting feral hogs, Asian carp and the Himalayan blackberry have been far less successful.

This subject comes up a lot, mostly in the context of feral hogs. Indeed, two years ago Texas Monthly proposed a culinary solution to our invasive species problem. It’s worked pretty well for lionfish and giant prawns, but some invasives just aren’t that appetizing, while the aforementioned hogs just reproduce too much to make an appreciable dent in their population that way. Plus, as the story notes, turning invasive species into a cash crop provides for some perverse economic incentives, and likely isn’t a net winner. Make some lemonade if you can, but don’t expect it to be more than that.