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Paul Hobby

Pressure on the Greater Houston Partnership to oppose voter suppression

Good.

A group of Greater Houston Partnership members is urging the region’s largest chamber of commerce to oppose voting bills in the Texas Legislature that critics say will make casting a ballot more difficult in Harris County, especially for residents of color.

The dispute comes weeks after several major Texas corporations denounced the proposed legislation and nearly a year after the GHP committed to fighting racial inequality in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police.

The 10 business leaders sent a letter to GHP President Bob Harvey and Board Chair Amy Chronis on Monday morning with a proposed statement condemning Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6 as currently written.

“New election legislation in Texas should expand, instead of limit, options for civic participation,” the statement reads in part. “Certain provisions of these bills are contrary to these objectives and should be eliminated or modified. We stand ready to work constructively to effect necessary changes in these bills.”

Harvey said in a statement that “we should be working towards an election system that offers every Texan unfettered access to the polls and instills confidence in everyone that the system is fair.” He declined to comment about ongoing discussions about the voting bills.

The letter’s signatories — Tony Chase, Paul Hobby, Carrin Patman, Gerald Smith, Donna Sims Wilson, Mia Mends, Wayne McConnell, Jim Postl, Claudia Aguirre and Ann Stern — declined to comment beyond the letter or did not respond.

You can see a copy of the letter here. This should be the sort of civic-engagement, good-government stuff that a group like the GHP is made for, but of course this is a partisan matter and they’ll be attacked for Taking A Side, which is why it’s necessary to remind them that not taking a side is in fact a choice that has consequences. I’m sure it was easier to be the Greater Houston Partnership when Republicans all looked and sounded like Ed Emmett, but those days are over. Being non-partisan doesn’t mean anything if it requires you to shy away from values you’ve claimed to hold dear in the past. What do you stand for, GHP? One way or another, you’re going to tell us.

Once again, I spoke too soon about the Ethics Commission and Ken Paxton

I’ll be damned.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Ethics Commission declined to pass an opinion that would have said it was okay for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to accept out-of-state gifts from donors to help pay the legal costs for his indictment.

At a meeting on Monday, the Texas Ethics Commission voted 4-3 on an opinion that would have interpreted state law to say that public employees in the attorney general’s office can accept out-of-state gifts from donors as long as the donors have no ties to Texas or the attorney general’s office. Five votes are required to approve an opinion on the Texas Ethics Commission, so the opinion failed to pass.

Texas Ethics Commission Chairman Paul Hobby said the process worked and he would not entertain another motion to pass the opinion.

Paxton could still seek out-of-state donors to help pay his legal fees. The opinion would not have settled the debate once and for all. Opinions from the Texas Ethics Commission are merely interruptions of state law and a defense from prosecution.

[…]

Hobby said banning an attorney general employee from taking out-of-state gifts would go beyond the authority of the Texas Ethics Commission.

“The legislature has prohibited certain things. In the premise of free society, all things are legal till they are not,” Hobby said. “For us to amend the statute and add those words where they don’t exist…that is beyond interpretation.”

See here for the origin story. This is the second time that the TEC has backed off issuing an opinion that would have suggested that out of state donors could contribute to a legal defense fund for Paxton, each time coming on the heels of a draft opinion to that effect. As noted, these opinions don’t carry the weight of law, and Paxton can go ahead and solicit donations to pay his lawyers anyway, but now if a complaint is filed he can’t point to the TEC and say “hey, they think it’s legal”. The best answer is for the Lege to pass a bill clarifying the existing laws and closing this loophole. If Greg Abbott cares as much about ethics reform as he claims to, he should support that. I look forward to someone filing a bill to that effect and seeing what happens. The Trib has more.

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.