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July 23rd, 2014:

Ivy Taylor named interim SA Mayor

Congratulations, Madam Mayor.

Mayor Ivy Taylor

The City Council appointed Councilwoman Ivy Taylor to become San Antonio’s next mayor.

She did not win a majority of the council vote, as her colleagues split 5-3 over her and Councilman Ray Lopez.

Lopez then withdrew from consideration, saying that it was important for the city to move forward.

Mayor Julián Castro then submitted his official letter of resignation, reading it aloud in council chambers.

He then congratulated Taylor for becoming the city’s new mayor. She is the first African-American woman to hold the seat.

She pledged to “work with everyone” to make San Antonio a great city. She thanked her family from traveling to San Antonio for Tuesday’s meeting and her husband and daughter for their support.

See here and here for some background. I’ve expressed some reservations about Taylor based on her vote against San Antonio’s expanded non-discrimination ordinance, but clearly she was able to overcome any reservations her fellow Council members had. She addressed the issue afterward.

When Taylor began her speech at the beginning of the process, she ran down a list of accomplishments and said she would like to serve in the interim role to continue moving Castro’s vision forward. Taylor mentioned the streetcar, balancing the city budget, working toward a resolution to police and fire health benefits, and rebuilding relationships with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community following her vote against the revised non-discrimination ordinance passed last September.

Members of the community, including those from the LGBT community, spoke at the special council meeting before votes were cast, telling the council who their interim mayor of choice is and why. From the podium, Daniel Graney told the council that he feels passionate about the new mayor embodying the core principle that everyone in the city should be treated equally and fairly.

“We need a face that is a welcoming one that embraces fairness and equality,” Graney said. “I therefore respectfully implore you to appoint an interim mayor who championed and voted for including LGBT protections in the NDO last year and is committed to furthering its implementation expansion.”

Following the council meeting, Taylor answered questions about repairing those relationships.

“I’ve always been committed to working with everyone in our community, even though we may not always agree on every issue,” said Taylor. “I’ve talked with them about some of the things they’d like to see moving forward as far as implementation and I pledged that I’d be willing to work on that.”

Other members of the LGBT community said there is a trust issue because Taylor said she would vote in favor of the NDO but then voted against it.

Q San Antonio addressed that issue as well.

Many in the LGBT community lobbied actively against Taylor because she voted against the nondiscrimination ordinance and because of remarks she made prior to her vote against the ordinance. (See related links below.) However, she did have a handful of LGBT supporters who felt she should not be denied the position because of that one vote.

In remarks posted on Facebook, Chad Reumann, a governor for the local chapter of the Human Rights Campaign said, “I hope we as a community can regroup and now focus on how we can work with Mayor Taylor. I had hoped for something else. Yet I know now we must try and work together.”

Local blogger Randy Bear, who supported Taylor’s appointment, posted, “So here’s my suggestion to CAUSA. Take time to work through your anger, but then start working with Mayor Ivy Taylor to get the NDO implemented. She has committed to it and you can make this a success for the community by taking her up on that commitment.”

I wish Mayor Taylor, who becomes the first African-American Mayor of San Antonio, all the best. I hope she follows through on that commitment and that her critics now will look back on her time in office as a success. Randy Bear, the Rivard Report, the SA Current, Equality Texas, and Texas Leftist have more.

Don’t sweat that court ruling on Obamacare tax credits just yet

It’s too soon to say what effect, if any will be felt in Texas.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Opposing rulings from two federal courts Tuesday left unclear the future prospects of federal financial aid to Texans who qualify for assistance to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the ACA legislation made federal subsidies available only to individuals who purchased insurance through state-run exchanges. That would make federal subsidies illegal in the 36 states, including Texas, that use the federally facilitated insurance marketplace.

That announcement was followed by a decision from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia, which ruled that individuals who enroll using federally facilitated exchanges are eligible to receive subsidies.

Texas, like dozens of other states with Republican leaders, declined to create its own state-based insurance exchange under the ACA. Instead, Texas relies on a federally managed marketplace. More than 730,000 Texans enrolled for health coverage through the federal marketplace during the first period of open enrollment.

[…]

Individuals whose annual incomes range from one to four times the federal poverty level — $11,490 to $45,960 for an individual and $23,550 to $94,200 for a family of four — typically qualify for the subsidies.

Christine Sinatra, state spokeswoman for Enroll America, which has worked to enroll individuals in the federal marketplace, said the availability of financial assistance was “obviously a big factor” for that encouraged many in Texas to get insurance.

“What’s most important at this stage is for consumers to know that no one will lose their coverage or their financial help while this judicial process plays out,” Sinatra said. “And today’s decision isn’t making anyone newly uninsured.”

As noted in the story, some 734K people signed up for insurance via the federal exchange, and they generally got a good deal when they did. Put that aside for now, because as Josh Marshall suggests, the en banc reviews are likely to result in both courts agreeing, in which case there’s no dispute for the Supreme Court to resolve. But they could still take the case, or maybe something goes sideways with the en banc reviews. What happens if the adverse ruling is ultimately upheld? Kevin Drum suggests one possibility.

The key point here is that people respond much more strongly to losing things than they do to not getting them in the first place. For example, there are lots of poor people in red states who currently aren’t receiving Medicaid benefits thanks to their states’ refusal to participate in Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. This hasn’t caused a revolt because nothing was taken away. They just never got Medicaid in the first place.

The subsidies would be a different story. You’d have roughly 6 million people who would suddenly lose a benefit that they’ve come to value highly. This would cause a huge backlash. It’s hard to say if this would be enough to move Congress to action, but I think this is nonetheless the basic lay of the land. Obamacare wouldn’t be destroyed, it would merely be taken away from a lot of people who are currently benefiting from it. They’d fight to get it back, and that changes the political calculus.

Six million people nationwide, 734,000 in Texas. Remember, while it would take Congress to fix the national problem if it comes to that, there’s nothing stopping Texas or any other state from setting up their own exchange, as the law (as interpreted by two federal judges in Washington, DC) says. State Rep. John Zerwas tried to pass a bill in 2011 to establish an exchange in Texas, on the very reasonable grounds that a state-run exchange would be a better fit than a national one would. Sadly, though not surprisingly, it went nowhere, thanks in large part to Rick Perry’s fanatical opposition. My point is that if Drum is right then any pressure on Congress to fix this would also translate to the state Legislature. Who knows what effect that might have in 2016, or even 2018? Or for that matter, how about this year, too? Seven hundred thousand people losing something that they now have, that sure is a lot. Surely there’s something we can do with that.

Southeast and Harrisburg rail line openings pushed back

Well, at least it’s still in 2014.

THERE’S STILL “some uncertainty” over the exact schedule, but all the pieces needed to allow Metro to open Houston’s second and third light-rail lines won’t be in place until late December, according to reports delivered to a committee of the transportation organization’s board of directors last Friday. Previously, an opening date sometime this fall had been projected for the Southeast and East End lines (though the far eastern end of the East End line won’t come on line until a newly planned overpass is built under over the Union Pacific East Belt freight rail line between the future Altic and Cesar Chavez stations). Delays in the delivery of trains aren’t the sole reason for the late openings, however.

The contractor building the lines won’t be ready to turn over the completed tracks until September 30th to Metro, which will then need approximately 60 days to prepare for their operation. Other factors affecting the schedule: delivery of hundreds of newly redesigned axle counters to monitor train traffic on the rail lines, and construction of Houston First’s new Marriott Marquis hotel next to the downtown convention center.

I suppose the optimistic way to look at this is to observe that hopefully this renders the rail car shortage problem moot. And technically, if the opening is on or before December 20, it’s still “sometime this fall”. Right?

If officials can resolve a handful of remaining issues, the Metropolitan Transit Authority will open its two new rail lines in December, according to a revised schedule. It’s a delay from the fall 2014 estimate officials provided earlier this year.

“It is scheduled as of now to open Christmas week,” Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia said. “It is going to open before the end of the year.”

Missed it by that much. Look, just get it done this year, OK? Thanks.

Wonkblog on Texas cities’ efforts to combat payday lenders

It’s always nice when the national media notices something positive happening in Texas instead of the usual.

The number of payday and auto title loan outlets has skyrocketed since 2005. (Texas Appleseed)

Four years ago, ACE Cash Express was the company that turned Dallas Council member Jerry Allen into the payday loan industry’s worst enemy.

The day before he was about to celebrate the launch of the Bank On Dallas program, which helps people get bank accounts, Allen got a call from a lobbyist asking if he would meet with the ACE’s executives. He didn’t have time, and declined. But the next day, along with regular council business, it became apparent that two council members had taken the meeting: They made a proclamation declaring ACE a model corporate citizen, after it donated $100,000 to relief efforts in Haiti. “It irritated me that these guys thought they could play that game,” Allen said. “It was game on.”

Texas has been a gold mine for payday lenders since 2005, when a court ruling sanctioned a loophole in usury laws that allowed them to charge whatever interest they pleased. Storefronts proliferated to the point where, according to a 2012 report by Texas Appleseed, the state accounted for 60 percent of the four biggest publicly traded firms’ profits. A major push by religious and community groups to pass restrictions in the state legislature failed in its last biannual session, in 2013; they only managed to require that borrowers be provided with certain disclosures when they took out loans.

Allen, however, had already started pushing on a different front. In 2011, he got an ordinance passed that limited the number of installments on a loan to four, each of which must pay down 25 percent of the loan principal, and can’t exceed 20 percent of a borrower’s paycheck. On top of that, the council passed zoning restrictions that prevented new shops from opening within certain distances from highways, residential areas, and other payday lenders.

It’s not really an aggressive set of rules. Because municipalities aren’t allowed to legislate much on top of an area already regulated by the state, Dallas didn’t limit the actual interest or fees the lenders could charge, so as to remain safe from legal challenges. Still, Allen says, not one single new “credit service organization,” as they’re called in the state, has applied to set up shop in Dallas since it passed. And meanwhile, 17 other cities — including most of the largest, besides Fort Worth — have passed similar rules. That’s left advocates, especially Allen, feeling triumphant.

“You can run, but you better run fast, because we’ve got jets on,” Allen says. “Go down your rabbit holes, because we’re going to put concrete in ’em. We’ve got ’em on the run, and we’re shooting ’em in the back.”

Allen doesn’t hold out much hope that Texas’ next legislative session will significantly strengthen or standardize the ordinances that cities have been adopting on their own; he’s just hoping the conservative House won’t overrule them. In the mean time, he’s waiting for the CFPB’s expected rulemaking in the fall, which could include national requirements for a borrower’s ability to pay back loans, even though the agency can’t cap the interest rates outright. And importantly, he’s working to develop alternative banking services, so people don’t find themselves in Gail Rowland’s shoes in the first place — a common critique of the industry, which says people will just seek out even worse options if they can’t borrow against their next paycheck.

One possible substitute: Community loan centers, like this one in Brownsville, Tex., which offer more affordable small-dollar loans. They’ll have an easier time expanding once payday lenders retreat, as they have in most places that place serious limits on their operations.

“If there’s a situation where people don’t have access,” Allen says, “well then dad gummit, we’ve got to get it to them.”

The “go where the customers are” approach of Select Federal Credit Union (SFCU) in San Antonio is another possible substitute. I’m glad to see people paying some attention to that, because it undercuts the one argument that the payday lenders have for themselves, and I strongly suspect they will not be able to handle this kind of competition. I had forgotten about the zoning restrictions in the Dallas ordinance. The Houston ordinance doesn’t have anything like that. Not because of the Z-word – we have no problem restricting where bars, liquor stores, and strip clubs can operate; there should be no reason we couldn’t do the same with payday lenders. That’s something I’d like to see considered as an extension of our ordinance down the line, maybe next year. I understand CM Allen’s pessimism about state action on payday lenders, but do keep in mind that one candidate for Governor has helped lead the fight against payday lenders, while the other candidate greatly enabled their expanded presence. Just look at that chart above to see the effect. You want to improve the odds of state action, or at least greatly reduce the odds of any attempt to claw back what the cities have done, you know who to vote for this fall.