Wednesday, May 27, 2020

#TXLEGE: Republicans "Shocked" to find local officials Exploiting Loopholes (That THEY Created)

"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap."
Galatians 6:7

DALLAS - Home and property owners in Dallas may pay for the pandemic with higher taxes.

The Dallas City Council is considering an increase of up to 8%.

That would make up for the loss of millions in sales tax revenue this year and next year, especially after many businesses shut down.

The state law that limits property tax increases has an exception for emergencies like natural disasters.
[Note: They've yet to make it official, but Austin is widely expected to follow.]

The Galveston County judge is calling on the governor to freeze 2020 property appraisals at 2019 levels because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mark Henry, the county judge, wrote Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday requesting the property assessment freeze “so local families don’t get hit with an additional economic burden” during the global pandemic. Galveston County Central Appraisal District officials said the vast majority of county properties saw an increase in value in 2020, which would lead to higher property taxes.
Of course, this is "outrageous." And you should be "outraged." Just like Texas' statewide GOP "leadership" is outraged:

Lest we forget:
County Judge Mark Henry, who recently asked Gov. Greg Abbott to use his disaster powers to freeze property values at 2019 levels, was quoted in the Galveston County Daily News as saying Bonnen has been “hiding behind his keyboard.” Henry added that he’s glad the speaker chose to not seek reelection. That was after Bonnen said Judge Henry’s property values proposal is a “horrible idea.”

There’s apparently been bad blood between the two of them for some time, which shouldn’t surprise anyone given the escalating tensions between state and local governments. Bonnen, as quoted in the Daily News, said “My valuation doesn’t cost me one penny in property tax, his tax rate does.”
To be fair, the Dallas and Galveston county stories are kinda/sorta different.  What ties them together is that local officials are raising taxes within the bounds of state law as currently written.  Like it or not, the law is on the locals side.

This is especially true in the case of what Dallas is doing:

[Note: The phrase "in the manner provided for a special taxing unit" is the part that permits them to go up to 8 percent.]

Both of these situations were completely preventable.  Abbott, Patrick, and Bonnen chose to not prevent them.  To hear the Texas GOP caterwauling now, however, does remind us of a movie reference:

Bottom Line: They have nobody to blame except themselves.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Bush's Revealing Choice in Memorial Day Company

Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”
1 Corinthians 15:33

At 10 a.m. Monday, there will be a livestream of a ceremony at Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, near Fort Hood. Bush will speak, with retired Navy admiral William McRaven giving the keynote address.

McRaven retired as a four-star admiral and is credited with organizing and overseeing Operation Neptune Spear, the raid in May 2011 that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. He was the ninth commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, from August 2011 to August 2014. He served as chancellor of The University of Texas system from 2015-18.

Bush is the eldest son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and is a former Navy Reserve officer. He has served as land commissioner since January 2014.
There isn't much to add.  We spent several years of our life detailing how Bill McRaven is an aggressive partisan who weaponizes his military service to silence critics.  It's just a shame so many of Texas' allegedly Republican elected officials were cowed by the Admiral's stars for so long.

One of the odder unintended consequences of Trump's presidency has been the degree to which Republicans have gotten wise to Bill McRaven.  We'll leave the federal stuff to others, except to say that most Republicans no longer see Bill McRaven as politically advantageous.  Except, apparently, George P. Bush.

Bottom Line:  Don't you dare interpret this cynically...why do you hate veterans?!?

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Real Austin Experience

"Even in laughter the heart may sorrow,
And the end of mirth may be grief."
Proverbs 14:13

From Alexander Strenger (the Former Mayoral Candidate):

Bottom Line; Honestly, it speaks for itself....

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Harris County MESS a Textbook Example why the Public Doesn't Trust Elections

"Do not remove the ancient landmark
Which your fathers have set."
Proverbs 22:28

A Texas Democrat Party official is now in charge of administering elections in Texas’ most populous county.

On Tuesday, Harris County appointed Chris Hollins, a personal injury attorney and vice chair of finance for the Texas Democrats, as county clerk—the county’s chief election official.

In addition to qualms about his official party connections, residents have raised questions about potential conflicts of interest involving lucrative contracts Hollins has with the county.

Hollins steps into the position June 1, just weeks before early voting in the July 14 primary runoff begins on June 29, and with little time to learn the ropes before November’s high-turnout presidential contest. Harris is home to over 2.2 million registered voters.

Hollins takes over from Diane Trautman, who announced May 9 she was resigning after less than 18 months in office, citing “personal health concerns.”

We don't follow Harris County particularly closely. We'd by lying if we said we were intimately familiar with the specific details of this specific case. We do know, however, that between last year's municipal elections and this year's primary the Harris County clerk has recently had...rather significant issues.

Add the news story quoted above to performance of the office during the last two elections, and it doesn't take a genius to see why people assume the worst.

We've seen chatter on social media about the GOP taking a serious run at this seat.  That might be appropriate (it probably is).  But, even if it's the least bad realistic solution, nobody should pretend that putting a different set of partisans in charge will actually fix the problem.

Remember: It was the GOP counting the votes during last year's debacle in Midland.

Bottom Line: We don't blame the public for their lack of confidence.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Facing Record Unemployment, Abbott Misdirects to Football

"Good and upright is the Lord;
Therefore He teaches sinners in the way."
Psalm 25:8

At first glance, this looks really good:
Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday that Texas is working to have the college football season start on time, with at least some fans in attendance, as the state continues to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Abbott, speaking during a TV interview, said there are still a few factors that remain to be seen, such as stadium capacity, the availability of medical treatment for the virus and the overall status of the outbreak in Texas. Abbott said he expects to know more about those issues around mid-July.
Until you realize:
The state’s April jobless rate was 12.8% — Texas’ worst monthly tally on record.

That number, included in the Labor Department’s monthly report released Friday, is the government’s clearest and most comprehensive look at the economic devastation in Texas since the coronavirus pandemic first swept the state in March.

Previously, the state’s worst-ever monthly unemployment rate was 9.2% in November 1986, as Texas reeled from the last big oil bust. Now, with more than 2 million Texans who have filed for unemployment during the outbreak, the contracting oil industry is only part of the state’s economic problems.
Abbott could have made that announcement about football at any point in the past few weeks.  Yet, he waited.  Gee, we wonder why.

Could it have had anything to do with the fact that Abbott knew today's unemployment numbers were going to be really bad...and that he wanted to change the subject?!?

Nah, too cynical.

Bottom Line:  Nobody wants a somewhat normal college football season more than this author.  That's certainly welcome.  But let's not kid ourselves about the real news today.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

#TXLEGE: Royce West a Textbook Example of Petty Legislative Enrichment

"Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord,
But a just weight is His delight."
Proverbs 11:1

There was a story a few months back that we meant to highlight.  Not so much because of it's own merits, but because it was a great vignette into how the lege operates.  Unfortunately, we didn't have time.  Well, now it looks like the same player is back on a different story.
Next week, Dallas’ city council will vote on a special development deal for the son of a Democrat U.S. Senate candidate and state senator. City staff keeping elected officials in the dark, as well as questions about the developer’s competency, were among the issues raised during a meeting on Monday—further heightening similarities with Fort Worth’s Panther Island boondoggle.

Interstate 345, located in southeast Dallas in the Deep Ellum district, is a stretch of highway constructed in 1973 that has been blamed for the decades-long economic downturn of the area.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) owns the land but has leased it to the City of Dallas with an agreement that they can use it to build parking lots. As previously reported, there are two proposals for the future of I-345; one calls for tearing it down to allow for new economic development, and the other calls for Roddrick West—son of Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate and Texas State Sen. Royce West (DeSoto)—to build soccer fields beneath it. Texas Scorecard received the plans for the fields as part of a response to an open records request sent to TxDOT.

On Monday, the City of Dallas’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee discussed amending the agreement with TxDOT to allow West’s soccer fields to be built, whereby the city would surrender control of the area to TxDOT. West told the committee he could have the project up and running in three to four months, and the fields won’t be full size and will be for recreation only—despite the claims of one state bureaucrat who talked about the World Cup coming to Dallas.

Emails secured by Texas Scorecard reveal that, in an attempt to push through the agreement, a swap has been proposed where TxDOT will not stand in the way of Dallas redeveloping Carpenter Park. Critics say tying the soccer field with other deals is a classic tactic used to make projects harder to oppose. When asked at Monday’s meeting why development for Carpenter Park has been put together with West’s soccer field, Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry replied, “For the benefit of consolidating everything.” He also said council could separate the projects if they wished.

“We strongly support moving forward with additional parking,” said Matt Tranchin, president of Coalition for a New Dallas, which supports tearing down I-345. He also said West should not have the contract awarded to him without first having to compete against other bidders. “Let’s have Roddrick compete with world-class institutions.”

“How did you get this contract?” District 9 Councilwoman Paula Blackmon asked.

“There’s no open bid,” West replied. “I can’t speak to [TxDOT’s] process.”

“We polled and talked to a hundred different stakeholders involved,” said Jon Hetzel, president of the Deep Ellum Foundation, which has continuously opposed West’s soccer fields. “Nowhere on that strategic plan did people bring up that we don’t have enough soccer facilities … in the neighborhood.”
On its own, this may or may not be a big deal. It certainly looks shady. But, if this is a one off deal, who knows.

However, as this Texas Tribune story from last year (which we had meant to discuss at the time) makes clear, this isn't a one off deal:
For years, state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) has raked in millions in legal fees representing governmental entities such as the Dallas and Houston independent school districts, metropolitan transportation agencies and major Texas cities, sparking criticism that he is using his influence as a state lawmaker to score business deals average citizens can’t get.

Until now, it was nearly impossible for voters to quantify the number of governmental contracting deals or estimate how much he’s personally making from his private business interests.

But because he’s running for the U.S. Senate, a federal office that requires far more robust disclosure than the state of Texas, the Dallas Democrat is finally pulling back the curtain on his considerable wealth. A recently implemented tweak to state ethics rules also requires him to provide more detail than ever about his government contracts.

In a U.S. Senate campaign disclosure filed last month, which includes all of 2018 and this year through mid-August, West reported that he made over $1 million in earned income, and that he’ll be eligible to draw a state pension exceeding $80,000 a year — or more, depending on when he retires.


West lists contracts between his law firm and seven public entities: the public school districts of Houston, Dallas and Crowley; the cities of Houston and Fort Worth; Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority; and the Sunbelt Freshwater Supply District in Houston.

He also reports serving, via his law firm, as bond counsel for multiple governmental entities, including Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas County Community College, the North Texas Tollway Authority and several school districts and cities.
There you have it.

Like we said, we had actually intended to discuss this story months ago.  Royce West is a great example of the various ways legislators (in either party) can skim off the top.  A little bit here, and a little bit there, and all of a sudden you're talking real money.

And that's before your family members get in on the scam.

To be fair, Royce West is hardly the only legislator who does this.  Royce West is just the guy who chose to run for office at the Federal level (thus triggering more robust disclosure).  But lots of legislators do similar things.

Bottom Line: If you want to understand why things in the lege are the way that they are, Royce West (and family's) personal finances are a good place to start.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Texas GOP Reaping Predictable Consequences of Multi-Decade State/Federal Election Law FAILURES

"The princes of Judah are like those who remove a landmark;
I will pour out My wrath on them like water.
Hosea 5:10

As Democrats across the nation use fear of the Chinese coronavirus as a pretext to push for more mail-ballot voting, a process ripe for fraud, Texas is fighting back to preserve the state’s voting laws and election integrity.

Since March, the Texas Democrat Party has been pursuing two separate lawsuits targeting vote-by-mail limits set by the legislature—one in state court and one federal.

They aim to force county election officials to disregard state statutes and accept every mail-ballot application marked “disability” for the remainder of 2020, and possibly beyond.

The Texas lawsuits are part of a nationwide litigation strategy by Democrats using courts and the coronavirus crisis to push universal vote-by-mail and other election policies they sought well before COVID-19 emerged but weren’t able to win in state legislatures.
We recommend reading the whole thing...but you get the point.

Here's the real question: Why should anyone expect anything different?!?

Because it's not like the Texas GOP has ever made tightening our election laws a real  priority.

The state level failures are well documented.  Likewise, this website has been castigating Texas' Congressional Delegation for years.  At both levels, the core problem is that the relevant laws are poorly written and vague.  Poorly written, vague, laws invite creative lawyering.

Now, lo' and behold, we have a whole new round of lawsuits at both levels.

To be fair, the coronavirus offers a new set of circumstances.  And new circumstances offer their own inducements to creative lawyering.  Nevertheless, those new circumstances occur on top of laws that are poorly written and vague.

The only reason why those laws are that way is because the Texas GOP has failed to change them.

Bottom Line: Actions have consequences.  Likewise, lack of action.  Current circumstances are a tangible example.