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March 26th, 2016:

Saturday video break: I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry

The Cowboy Junkies take on Hank Williams:

I love the ethereal quality of Margo Timmins’ voice. Her singing just floats over the music. Not everyone can make that work, but she does.

And for the opposite end of the vocal spectrum, here’s Johnny Cash:

Cash is joined by Nick Cave, which is eminently suitable for this. What I can say about this is basically what I’ve said before about Cash’s version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – you just believe him when he sings these lyrics, because you just know he’s been there and lived it. His voice permeates the music, and you feel every word of it.

We’re still growing

The collapse of the oil boom has not slowed down Texas’ rapid population growth.

The Houston area added more people last year than any metropolitan region in the country, continuing its exceptional growth of the last decade and a half, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday.

Combined, the greater Houston metropolitan area, which includes Houston, The Woodlands and Sugar Land, grew by about 160,000 people between July 2014 and July 2015. Even in a year when the region was rocked by falling oil prices, the population gain was still bigger than the two previous years, when the boom appeared never-ending.

As a whole, the so-called Texas Triangle of Houston, Austin/San Antonio, and Dallas-Fort Worthadded more people last year than any other state in the country, growing by more than 400,000 residents, or roughly the population of Minneapolis. Harris County alone added nearly 90,500 residents.

“Our growth has been so exceptional that we are out-competing” the rest of the nation, said Steve Murdock, a former Census Bureau director who heads the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University.

Not only has the region grown more in absolute numbers than the rest of the country – it is also growing at a faster rate.

Of the country’s 20 fastest-growing counties, eight were in Texas, including Fort Bend County, which added nearly 29,500 people last year and expanded by more than 4 percent. Of the nation’s 20 fastest-growing metro areas, Houston is by far the biggest city on the list, with growth of 2.4 percent.

The reason people keep flocking here: Jobs, lots of them, and a cheap cost of living. But even within the period measured by the Census – which started at the beginning of oil’s decline and ended before prices bottomed out last month – there were signs that growth was slowing, though just slightly. Oil prices peaked in June 2014 at about $105 a barrel and have tumbled more than 50 percent since.

“We’re starting to feel the impact,” said Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research for the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development organization.

He said the Houston metro area created 57,300 jobs during the period tracked by the Census, compared with 97,500 new jobs the year before. About 22,000 new jobs are forecast for this year, a significant drop.

Although the number of people moving to Harris County from other cities and states had been surging upward for years, it dropped by 20 percent in the period covered by the Census. The greater metro area saw a more gradual decline of 6 percent, to about 62,000.

“The word is getting out there nationally and internationally that we’re not booming like we used to,” Jankowski said. “We’re still going to have people moving here, but not at the rate when the economy was booming.”

Still, he noted that the Houston region has added nearly 737,000 people since the 2010 census – growth of about 12 percent – while many other cities like Chicago are losing residents en masse.

“As far as absolute numbers, we’ve added more population than New York, more than Los Angeles, more than Dallas in the last five years,” he said. “That’s the sort of numbers other places would kill to have.”

The slight cooling “gives us a chance to catch our breath,” he added.

The Houston area also has a fair amount of growth from natural causes, which is to say more people being born than people dying. It will be interesting to see what these numbers look like in another two years, especially if oil and gas prices remain low. I don’t expect the area to lose population, but there’s a lot of room still for its growth to decelerate.

There’s a map embedded in the story that shows the growth of each county. Every major metro area, including places like Tyler (Smith County), San Angelo (Tom Green County), and Abilene (Taylor and Jones counties) grew. The one sort-of exception was Amarillo, which is split between Randall (grew by 1,575) and Potter (lost 474) counties. Some grew more than others – El Paso, which has 835,593 people, only added 48 more. The only counties of any size I could find that didn’t grow were Coryell (population 75,503; lost 4 people) and Wichita (population 131,705; lost 1,250). Wichita, home of Wichita Falls, was the only county in Texas to lose more than 1,000 people. And if you’ve ever wondered why traffic on I-35 is as bad as it is, every county along I-35 from Bexar to Bell grew by at least 5,000 people. So there you have it. The official Census Bureau press release is here, and Texas Monthly, Reuters, Bloomberg, CultureMap, the DMN, and the Trib have more.

On vacant lots and city/county cooperation

I just have one question about this.

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Houston residents living in neighborhoods afflicted with blight could see twice as much money poured into boarding up abandoned houses and mowing overgrown yards under a partnership city and county leaders trumpeted Tuesday.

Harris County Commissioner Gene Locke plans to invest $750,000 to $1 million in mowing lawns, boarding up broken windows and removing trash, discarded tires and other debris from properties in his Precinct 1, which covers much of urban Houston.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner joined Locke for the announcement in Turner’s native Acres Homes neighborhood, as the pair cheered what they called an unprecedented effort. Typically, such initiatives within Houston’s limits are conducted by the cash-strapped city government.

“When you’re dealing with minimum resources, you’ve got to stretch your resources as much as possible,” said Turner, who must close a budget gap of up to $160 million by July. “For people that live in this community, live next door, this is a tremendous advance.”

The city and county have collaborated before. The two governments are building a voter-approved joint inmate processing center and have begun operating a shared radio facility for their public safety fleets.

But elected officials have recently put an increased emphasis on partnership. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett pushed city-county ventures in his State of the County address last month, and Turner campaigned for mayor last year partly on a vow of increased collaboration.

Why is it that this sort of thing hasn’t been done before? I’ve wondered about this before, and I’m still wondering. The vast majority of Precinct 1 residents are City of Houston residents. Why haven’t we been the beneficiary of this kind of county investment before? I get that this is one part Commissioner Locke making a case to get the nomination for November, one part Mayor Turner following through on a campaign promise, and one part Judge Emmett’s emphasis on city-county cooperation. I also get that the most likely answer to my question is “because we’ve always done it that way, and no one thought to do it any differently”. I’m glad that’s no longer the case, and I suppose there’s not much value in looking back, but I just can’t help but marvel at how we’ve all accepted this as normal for as long as we have.

Paxton’s pal’s firm fined again

A bigger penalty this time, though he’s still in business.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Mowery Capital Management, a McKinney-based investment firm with ties to indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton, has been fined $90,000 for violating state securities laws by providing false documents to Texas investigators and misleading clients about a past bankruptcy, state filings show.

The cease-and-desist order by Securities Commissioner John Morgan was issued late Friday, officials said.

The order requires Mowery Capital and its head, Frederick “Fritz” Mowery, to “immediately cease and desist from engaging in any fraudulent conduct enumerated herein in connection with rendering services as an investment adviser,” according to the 24-page order that cited six specific violations of state securities law.

The charges paralleled ones recommended by two administrative law judges last August against the firm and Mowery, a longtime Paxton friend and business associate. But the order did not levy harsher punishments that could have included revocation of their state licenses or higher fines ordered for similar violations in other cases.

[…]

According to the order, Mowery violated securities laws by making misrepresentations in required disclosure documents and failing to properly disclose business ties to clients, among other actions.

Securities Board investigators had earlier alleged that Mowery backdated documents to try to show that his firm made required disclosures of a finder’s fee arrangement, apparently involving Paxton.

One allegation was that Mowery provided false testimony by denying to board employees that he had lifted and put on his firm’s website for eight years entire passages written by economist and television commentator Larry Kudlow, without crediting Kudlow.

Other allegations: That Mowery and his firm falsely represented in a client brochure that they had used a “discount broker,” when they were using a more costly firm, and that Mowery had not been in bankruptcy proceedings, even though he had declared bankruptcy in 2005.

See here and here for the background on Mowery, and here and here for his last trip to see the State Securities Board. The cost for that previous trip was $60,000 in fines. It’s not clear to me why there was a separate set of charges, and there’s no mention of the appeal by the Board of the other judges’ decision to leave Mowery’s license intact. What is clear is that the closer you are to Ken Paxton, the more likely you are to be in trouble of some sort. Trail Blazers has more.

It’ll be 2020 before you know it

The Census is coming to town.

The U.S. Census Bureau kicked off a Census test in Harris County on Monday, surveying 225,000 households as part of its preparation for the 2020 review, the first of its kind to rely primarily on the Internet.

People will be encouraged to answer the questionnaire via the Internet or smart phone apps, though paper and telephone responses will remain available as in the past.

The bureau has already conducted seven tests across the country between 2012 and 2015 that studied topics ranging from race and ethnicity in its run-up to the mandatory once-a-decade headcount. Its eighth and ninth test in Houston and Los Angeles will allow the bureau to try out new designs, methods and technology to collect and process responses to the Census. The two areas were chosen because they are both large and demographically diverse metropolitan areas in which multiple languages are spoken and with a wide spectrum of Internet usage.

The main focus of the test,which runs through August, is refining the process for visiting households that do not respond to the Census, said Deirdre Bishop, chief of the decennial census management division for the Census Bureau.

“What will be really important is using smartphones to collect information from non-responding housing units,” she said. “If we can’t get a response, we’ll be refining how to get that information from what was already given to the government, such as from the U.S. Postal Service, the Internal Revenue Service, or the Social Security Administration.”

Here’s all the information you need about this test. It’s going on now, so participate if you can.