Wednesday, November 22, 2017

UT Board to Discuss McRaven's future (and Los Alamos) on Monday (behind closed doors)


"For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,"
2 Timothy 3:2

Holy afternoon before a major holiday document dump Batman; from the Inbox:

UT System Regents to meet Monday.

From the Agendabook:



#atxcouncil: Principles for the next City Manager


"It is a joy for the just to do justice,
But destruction will come to the workers of iniquity."
Proverbs 21:15

Big announcement yesterday afternoon:



The Statesman has a good round up about the finalists; suffice to say we don't share the Mayor's rosy assessment.

On that note, here are the principles we'd like to see guide the end of this process:
  • No Long Term Contracts -- If there's one lesson sports has taught during the past half decade, it's how the back end of long term contracts can bite you in the backside.  Nobody knows how the world will look in 6 or 7 years, and it's important to have the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances.  The same principle applies to local government.

    Thus, no commitments longer than three years.

    Personally, we'd like to see a one year deal with a council option for a second.
  • Avoid Sticker Shock -- There's a difference between a genuinely competitive compensation offer and one that disguises lavish opulence under that label; stick with the former.
  • Transparency in Compensation -- If necessary, we intend to file an open records request for "all compensation related documents" whenever a finalist is announced; that being said, it'd sure be nice to have the city release this information on their own before a final decision is made.
  • The City Manager works for the Elected Council, NOT VICE VERSA: The City Manager is the hired employee.  The elected city council is the boss.  This chain of command must be explicit.
Bottom Line: This is an opportunity for the city to rebuild trust.  They probably won't.  But they could....

WillCo RINO who opposed #TXLEGE property tax reform caught PERSONALLY Profiting from Property Tax Foreclosures


"For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed."
John 3:20

[Note: H/T to Empower Texans, we suggest you read their whole piece.]

There are few political hypocrites more loathsome than Williamson County "Republicans" who use a thin veneer of Austin-bashing to misdirect from their own crony capitalist misadventures; via KXAN:



You owe it to yourself to watch the full six minute report, but we'll excerpt the gist:
When Ken Tuck walked out to his Creek Ridge Lane mailbox last month, he didn’t know it, but he was walking right into some costly legal trouble.

He pulled an envelope from the box and the first thing he noticed was a law firm’s name in the top left corner: McCreary, Veselka, Bragg & Allen, P.C. The letter made it clear what this was about.

"NOTICE OF INTENT TO FILE FORECLOSURE LAWSUIT" was written across the top. Williamson County, Round Rock, Round Rock Independent School District all wanted tax dollars Tuck owed them. The total 2016 tax bill was $2,312.58.

....

He also didn’t know his mayor was the man behind the tax collection efforts, which led to the letter he was holding. That is, until we told him about it.

....

In 2013, the Round Rock City Council gave MVBA the right to do whatever it takes—legally—to collect millions of dollars from Round Rock businesses and city taxpayers. Since then, the law firm has collected nearly $622,000 in past due library fines, court fines and property taxes, according to city and Williamson County records.

The MVBA website shows, Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan heads one of the most lucrative arms of the law firm—the one responsible for Williamson County and Round Rock tax collections.
The KXAN report goes on to detail three separate contracts Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan's law firm received related to collection activity for various governmental entities in Williamson county; the TL,DR version:
The city told KXAN it did not put any of the three contracts out for competitive bidding, citing a state law that allows professional service contracts to be handed out without a bid process. That means a competing law firm would have had no way to know the contracts the city gave MVBA were up for grabs.

The city provided invoicing to KXAN showing $520,947.68 paid to MVBA between 2013 and August 2017 for municipal court and library collections. Williamson County tax office records show another $101,031.37 paid to MVBA on property tax collections.

Round Rock has a total of $2.2 million in delinquent taxes as of this report. If MVBA collected all outstanding Round Rock delinquent taxes, the firm would pocket $335,485. MVBA could earn $1.8 million if it collected all outstanding WIlliamson County taxes today.
This could be a local story of political corruption in Williamson County, except for one recent tidbit.

In late June, well-respected local activist Jeremy Story announced his campaign for HD-52.  HD-52 includes Round Rock.  At the time, Story was launching a primary challenge to Larry Gonzales, though Gonzales' subsequent retirement has re-classified this as an open seat race.



And how, pray tell, did Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan react to Jeremy's announcement?!?





In other words, it turns out that a local official who "doth protested too much" during the legislative debate over property taxes earlier this year was personally drawing income from property tax foreclosures.

Bottom Line:  We don't have time to lead it, but he deserves a recall campaign.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

LAWLESS FARCE masquerading as Paxton "Prosecution" grows ever more DISGRACEFUL


"Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place."
2 Corinthians 2:14

Direct Action Texas recently obtained a court document related to the Paxton case that George Gallagher (the second corrupt judge in the case) tried to seal.  In it, we learn several new pieces of the information about the depths to which the special prosecutors and Chris Oldner (the first corrupt judge) plumed to create their "indictment."  Lowlights include:
  • The special Prosecutors lied about the date one of their alleged "offenses" occurred because the statute of limitations had expired.
  • Lying about the definition of the term "investment advisor representative"
  • Allowing Chris Oldner to bully grand jurors during a time when their deliberations are supposed to be secret.
It's worth the 15 minutes it will take you to read the whole thing:



Bottom Line: This case needs to be dismissed...yesterday.

Monday, November 20, 2017

UT politburo moves forward on the tuition hike we predicted....


"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
Matthew 6:24

This happened a week ago, but is still worth noting:
The University is collecting student input on a possible 2 percent tuition increase until Thursday.

The preliminary recommendations to increase tuition for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 academic years were announced by UT’s Tuition Policy Advisory Committee last Wednesday in an email that included an online feedback survey.

Under the recommendations, tuition would increase in both the 2018 and 2019 fall semesters by about $100 for in-state undergraduates and by about $370 for non-resident undergraduates. In-state graduate students would pay about $90 more both years, while tuition for out-of-state graduate students would increase by about $180 both years.

Executive Vice President Maurie McInnis, who co-chairs UT’s tuition committee, said the tuition increases are necessary because the University is implementing a $20 million budget cut due to decreased state funding.

“Even with a tuition increase, we are behind the amount needed just to keep doing everything that we are doing,” McInnis said. “It’s not new money and it doesn’t even make up for everything that we were cut. It just makes that cut less intense.”

The tuition increases are projected to bring an additional $10 million to the University, according to UT’s tuition webpage. Funding from the increases would go towards financial aid as well as operational and inflation costs, McInnis said.

....

After the survey closes Thursday, the committee will help UT President Gregory Fenves draft an official tuition proposal to be approved by the UT System Board of Regents (*) in February.

[Author's note: Emphasis added.]
* -- This is an extraordinary statement.  Note that they said "to be approved" not "subject to approval.  NEWSFLASH: Greg Fenves works for the Board of Regents, NOT the other way around.

 A few thoughts:

  • That it took us a week to address this story points to why there's a very good chance UT gets away with this: There are so many major stories constantly breaking that it's going to be difficult for any outside groups to put sustained pressure on the university.
  • That being said, there are signs this proposal is wildly unpopular on campus.  We suspect that if on-campus groups were to fight the tuition hike, they could win.  At a minimum, they could make it very embarrassing politically.
  • Dan Patrick has been remarkably silent on this subject compared to the last time UT pulled this stunt two years ago.
  • Political correctness on college campuses is the natural result of them having more money than they know what to do with; step 1 is to eliminate their ability to raise tuition at will.
Bottom Line: This was so predicable (which is why we predicted it).

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Longhorns Snag Upset they've needed ALL SEASON!!!


"And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart."
Galatians 6:9

Say what you will about this season...but we're going to a bowl game!!!

Reasonably healthy for the first time in a month, the Longhorns went into West Virgina this afternoon and snagged their first upset of the season after near-misses against USC, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State.  With the win, the Longhorns clinched a bowl appearance for the first time in three years.  An eight win season is now in the realm of the possible.

On offense, Sam Ehlinger, Toneil Carter, and Connor Williams all returned from injuries.  The result was an offense that finally came off of life support against a halfway decent team [Note: Baylor and Kansas don't count].  We'll take it.

The defense looked phenomenal.  They only gave up one touchdown all game (W. Va's first touchdown was a pick 6).  If the seniors return and they stay healthy (admittedly, two BIG "if's"), this unit could be scary good next year.

That being said, there was an ABSURD "targeting" call against Breckyn Hegar that led to his ejection.  The replay clearly showed that Hegar's momentum carried him into the quarterback (to say nothing of the fact that Hegar's facemask was grabbed on the same play).  Making matters that much more insulting, Hegar won't be eligible to play during the first half next week.

But today was good.

Bottom Line: Tom Herman has officially shown progress in his first season.  Injuries and the second toughest schedule in the country are now explanations, not excuses.  We'll see what happens in the final two games.

Friday, November 17, 2017

#TXLEGE: STRAUS DONOR launches challenge to Donna Campbell from Left



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

Sometimes, you just happen to be on Twitter at the right time:



You can view McClendon's website for yourself here, but it's nothing more than generic Republican rhetoric.

But, we wonder, who is this "Shannon Mcclendon" lady?!?

SHOT (Courtesy of 30 Seconds on Google):

Chaser (Courtesy of 2 minutes on the Texas "Ethics" commission's website):


[Note: Jeff Wentworth was the pro-Abortion Senator Donna Campbell replaced in 2012.]

Furthermore, you'll notice on the Straus donation, that it came on June 30th OF THIS YEAR; that means she supports Straus after his actions this past session.

Honestly, it took longer to capture and format the screenshots than it did to find this information.

Bottom Line: Donna Campbell might not be perfect, but she's light years better than this hack.

Cornyn's "Background Check" Bill is dumbest Federal Overreaction since post-9/11 "Intelligence reform"


"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."
2 Timothy 1:7

By now, we're sure you've heard about John Cornyn's latest anti-Second Amendment gambit.  We had originally intended to write a political post about how this was the final nail in his 2020 coffin.  But that point is obvious by now.

Instead, let's consider the stupidity of Cornyn's proposal:
The Texas Republican’s bill, known as the Fix NICS Act, tries to ensure federal and state authorities accurately report relevant information, including criminal history, to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

“For years, agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” Cornyn said in a statement.

The NICS database is maintained by the FBI and used to determine if a prospective gun buyer has a criminal record or is ineligible to purchase a firearm. The database became the focus of national attention earlier this month after a man fired an assault rifle at a small church during Sunday morning services, killing 26 people and injuring scores others. After the shooting, the U.S. Air Force disclosed that it failed to report the gunman’s history of domestic assault to the database, which should have prohibited him from purchasing a firearm.

Cornyn’s bill requires federal agencies and states to draft plans for how to better report background information to NICS thoroughly and accurately. It also includes a provision to allocate resources to states to help them report felony and domestic abuse charges.

....

To hold agencies accountable, Cornyn's office said the bill sets up a system of incentives for agencies that comply and penalties for those that fail to.

[Note: Emphasis added.]
Translation:
  • "Draft plans"= hiring bureaucrats.
  • "Allocate Resources" = spending money.
  • "Sets up a system of incentives" = hiring bureaucrats AND spending money.
In other words, Cornyn proposes to reward bureaucratic failure by giving the bureaucrats that just failed more employees and a bigger budget.




In 2004, George W. Bush signed the "Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act."  The law's stated purpose was to get U.S. intelligence agencies "to share intelliegence" after 9/11.  Specifically, the law created the new Office of National Intelligence.

You can learn more about the Office of National Intelligence's subsequent performance here and here.

Just like Dubya in 2004, John Cornyn in 2017 claims to "solve" a problem that was caused by too much bureaucracy by creating yet another bureaucracy.

Bottom Line: Cornyn's proposal is stupid.  When government bureaucracies fail, they should be eliminated, not expanded.  But at least politicians can go on TV and grandstand about how they're "doing something" (with other people's money)....

------

Senator John Cornyn: (512) 469-6034

Thursday, November 16, 2017

#TXLEGE: Sports Welfare Bill explains recent past; points way forward....


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

[Note: We didn't realize this until we sat down to write this blog post, but apparently the Governor's office has three separate programs related to "major events."  We had originally thought there was only one.  That just makes everything else we have to say that much more important.]

The Texas Association of Crony Capitalism "Business" released their 2017 legislative rankings this week.  Empower Texans has a good summary of that farce here.  But one details stands out.

The Major Events "Reimbursement" Program is a politically driven enterprise that allows the State of Texas to "reimburse" alleged "costs" for public spectacles such as the Super Bowl [note: LOL, more NFL subsidies], various NBA/NHL/MLS activities [note: LOL, guess who wants to move to Austin], and the not at all corrupt annual Formula 1 race outside Austin.

This past legislative session, HB 3294 would have expanded the Major Events "Reimbursement" Program to include NASCAR races.  You can read the bill for yourself here.  Empower Texans created a good summary earlier this year:



Here's what's fascinating: The Texas Association of Crony Capitalism "Business" scored a vote for HB 3294 POSITIVELY.  By contrast, Empower Texans scored the same vote NEGATIVELY.  And that fact tells you everything you need to know about those respective organizations.

But, beyond this immediate insight, the various "Major Event" slush funds controlled by the Governor's office points to a deeper truth.

Yesterday's "economic competitiveness" fiasco made clear that several professional sports teams are wedded to crony capitalism and left wing social policy.  The Dallas Mavericks and the Dallas Stars BOTH testified in favor of thinly disguised cultural marxism.  Shortly thereafter, the Mayor of Frisco bragged about how the Dallas Cowboys are ripping off his own taxpayers.  Given this development...why give them subsidies?!?

One of the most godawful euphemisms around the Capitol is to "have a conversation."  Maybe the time has come to "have a conversation" about the three 'Major Event' slush funds.  Do we need it?!?  Taxing average Texans to subsidize billionaire team owners is never good economic policy.  But when those same billionaire team owners grow so entitled that they demand cultural marxism and taxpayer rip-offs in the name of "economic competitiveness," it raises the profile of the issue.  Texas' professional sports teams have a nice, little, crony capitalist operation going on there.  It'd be a shame if anything happened to it.

Bottom Line: LOL, let's "have a conversation"....

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

#TXLEGE: Straus' loathsome "economic competitiveness" dog and pony show: Lawlessness, Crony Capitalism, and Spending....


"Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame."
1 Corinthians 15:34

[Note: You can view the hearing yourself here.]

Team Straus' disgraceful effort to grandstand over "economic competitiveness" held it's first (of two) hearings today.  It began with a textbook example of the lawlessness that has plagued the House the past couple sessions.  Check out what happened to Matt Rinaldi:
The House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness, chaired by retiring State Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), told State Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) that he was not allowed to ask any questions or testify during today’s committee hearing.

“Clearly they aren’t confident in their ability to defend their position,” Rinaldi said in response.
“Being told by a committee that my district would not be extended the basic courtesy of a voice in this process is disappointing, but not unexpected, given the past practices of House leadership. I tried to give this committee the benefit of the doubt, but it is clear that they already know what their findings will be, and there is no intention of deliberation or a pursuit of the facts.

“I wish we had a real opportunity to discuss all perspectives on important economic drivers for our state, but this committee has made it clear that a diversity of views is not welcome. They have the result planned, now it’s just a matter of putting on a show to publish those results.”
-------

As to the hearing itself, it was a mix of the usual cliches and rent-seeking that you hear at these types of events.  Lots of talk about crony capitalism ("incentives!") and spending ("education!").  And, of course, plenty of fraudulent fear mongering over the Texas privacy act.

The most astounding aspect of the whole thing was the number of representatives they had bragging about the alleged economic benefit of professional sports.  This in spite of the fact that the national NFL protests have re-ignited a national discussion of the various subsidies the industry receives.  This seems slightly...tone deaf at best.

Dallas ?!? owner Mark Cuban proclaimed the need to spend prodigious sums on the education status quo.  Cuban would include pre-K "without question."  Cuban also spouted the usual cliches about economic doom and gloom from the Texas Privacy act.

The CEO of the Dallas Stars, a lifelong sports executive, tried to claim that "over 500 million" people have attended events at arenas he has managed without a bathroom assault. In the next sentence, he admitted that major public events at large arenas have above average security on hand. He also claimed "sports plays an oversized role" in how a community is percieved for economic purposes. Actually, it doesn't, but that was still a very revealing statement about ego.  At this point, we simply need to ask: how's pushing left-wing social policies working out for the NFL?!?

The mayor of Frisco bragged about having 6 sports team having office or practice space in the city.  He explained "you can't put a dollar figure" on having the Dallas Cowboys practice facility.  Actually, you can:
The site features a unique partnership among the Cowboys, the city of Frisco and Frisco ISD. They are sharing the costs on 20 acres for The Ford Center at The Star. The 12,000-seat indoor stadium will hold team practices as well as high school football games and other city and school events.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that the city and the school district "bought into our vision of joining at the hip."

The stadium -- along with two outdoor practice fields for the Cowboys and an underground parking garage -- make up the city-owned portion of the development. And while the city retains ownership, the Cowboys will handle all the maintenance and operations at the site.

On Tuesday, the price tag for that city-owned portion climbed to $261.6 million with approval by the Frisco City Council. The city's contribution in The Star is capped at $60 million while the school district put in $30 million.
Beyond the fixation on the exaggerated economic impact of professional sports, the most notable discussion surrounded incentives.  Committee chairman Byron Cook, the soon-to-be-former state representative [Note: Doesn't that feel good to type.], seemed determined to prove that "incentive" packages aren't corporate welfare.  Several witnesses claimed incentives would be unnecessary in a perfect world, but "in the real world" we've got to have them or else other states will take away all of Texas' rent-seeking crony capitalists.

That being said, Ross Perot Jr. (who is apparently a big deal in Dallas crony capitalist circles) unintentionally made a strong case against the policy.  Perot spoke of the need for "flexibility" in incentive packages because "these industries are changing so fast."  That's actually a fantastic reason for the government not engage this activity in the first place.

A few more observations:
  • Apparently, the Republican Governor's Association is meeting in town today. Obviously, that means today's hearing was deliberately timed to embarrass Governor Abbott while the Vice President is in town.  This website's issues with Governor Abbott aren't a secret, but we appreciate his response:

  • Lots of cliches about "education" and "workforce development" which is code for dramatic increases in spending.
Bottom Line: Barf bag.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Abbott's "Veteran" initiatives rife with Unintended Consequences


"And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death."
Romans 7:10

WARNING: DANGER AHEAD....
In a Veterans Day appearance at the American Legion-Charles Johnson House in West Austin, Gov. Greg Abbott Saturday unveiled a series of proposals to boost economic opportunities and health care outcomes for Texas veterans.

....

To encourage hiring of veterans, Abbott proposed that a local option be provided for commercial property tax exemptions for each full-time, newly-hired veteran. He also proposed a local option property tax exemption of up to $30,000 for veteran entrepreneurs starting a business.

Abbott also said that, “Texas should accept licenses that are earned by military spouses in other states and waive license fees they already qualify for.”

Abbott called on the Texas Veterans Commission “to collaborate with businesses and non-profits to assist homeless veterans with housing, with employment, with better health and with substance abuse counseling.”

“I am proposing a commercial property tax exemption for entities that provide reduced-cost housing or substance abuse and mental health residential treatment programs to our veterans,” Abbott said.

[Note: Emphasis added.]
In other words, Greg Abbott is arguing for preferential tax treatment and government "collaboration" with businesses and non-profit all in the name of "helping veterans"; it doesn't take a genius to how this would backfire.

90%+ of the benefits would flow to politically connected 'veterans' who can afford the best lobbyists and the best access to politicians and bureaucrats.  As a result, everyone else pays higher tax rates.  In this case, everyone else includes the overwhelming majority of veterans.

One persistent local rumor is that various City of Austin veteran related programs are full of corruption.  We've never looked into those allegations, so we cast no specific stones, but it seems plausible.  It seems unwise to give these folks a new vehicle through the state of Texas.

Furthermore, how does Abbott plan to define the term "veteran"?!?  While the term implies someone who led a platoon in Anbar or Helmand provinces, frequently 'veterans' programs define the term so broadly that anyone who spent 10 minutes on an Army base 30 years ago can qualify.  You'll notice, specifically, that Abbott didn't use the phrase "combat veteran."

Bottom Line: The best way to help the average veteran (just like the best way to help anyone) is to keep central planners out of their way; creating new vehicles for scammers and crony capitalists only helps the politically connected.

Monday, November 13, 2017

#TXLEGE: Lying drunk files for re-election....


"Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
That they may follow intoxicating drink;
Who continue until night, till wine inflames them!"
Isaiah 5:11

Well, that answers that question:
Perhaps the biggest news of the day was that state Rep. Dan Huberty, the Houston Republican who chairs the House Public Education Committee, filed for re-election after months of uncertainty over whether he would run for another term. He faces a primary challenge from Kyle Stephenson.
As to the claims in the headline.

Dan Huberty is a liar because during this past legislative session he pushed a "school finance" bill that he claimed was about property tax relief.  But Huberty's bill wouldn't have provided a dime of property tax relief, it simply poured a couple Billion more dollars from the state into the socialized education status quo without any offsetting restraints at the local level.  While it's possible to write a school fiance bill that provides tax relief at the local level, Huberty's bill did not do that.

As to Dan Huberty being a drunk:



Bottom Line: Between the terrible bills he promotes and his wretched personal conduct, Dan Huberty is awful on many levels.

Abbott goes 1 for 2 in first #TXLEGE endorsement round


"This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success."
Joshua 1:8

First off, the FANTASTIC news:



This is fantastic. Sarah Davis is a wretched legislator and an even worse human being.  In a world where we're starting to reconsider our longstanding policy of not focusing on personal conduct, Sarah Davis' combination of disgraceful personal conduct and a willingness to play the feminist card whenever someone calls her out politically is a level of hypocrisy that makes her a VERY tempting target.

Furthermore, there's a political angle here that's interesting regardless: Because this is Greg Abbott we're talking about, you know he polled Davis' district for both the primary and the general.  For Abbott to move forward here means that his polling said the narrative that "only a moderate can hold this district in the general" is BS.  Obviously, someone said that two years ago.

So good on Abbott, and good riddance to Sarah Davis.

But from the Trib article on the Davis announcement, this tidbit:
Abbott made his first endorsement in the 2018 House primaries last week, backing state Rep. Paul Workman, an Austin Republican who authored legislation for Abbott's special session agenda. Workman faces a primary challenger from his right, Jay Wiley.
Seriously?!?  Paul Workman?!?

As we wrote about Paul last month:
This isn't new. Paul Workman has now served four sessions. After that time, the Austin City Council remains as out of control as ever.
That Workman worked with the Governor on a couple of bills that went nowhere (because of the leadership Paul Workman voted for) doesn't offset the fact that the city of Austin now feels safer than ever to thumb their noses at the legislature.

Sigh.

Bottom Line:  This is such a typical Abbott thing to do.  On the one hand, getting rid of Sarah Davis is a public service for which the Governor deserves commendation.  But then he has to go and endorse Paul Workman....

Saturday, November 11, 2017

UT Board discusses several interesting items IN SECRET this week....


"For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light."
Luke 8:17

With the busy week this week, we're only getting to the agenda book from Wednesday/Thursday's UT Board meeting today, but it certainly looks like they had some interesting "executive session" discussions.

McRaven's future:


[Note: They're actually going to have to make an announcement pretty soon.]

MUNY Golf Course:


[Note: Sell it to a private party = good; give it to another state agency = bad.]

Whatever this means:


Their foolish pursuit of nuclear weapons:

Statesman: University of Texas System regents on Thursday unexpectedly postponed a vote on submitting a proposal to manage and operate Los Alamos National Laboratory, birthplace of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

Regents’ Chairwoman Sara Martinez Tucker gave no reason for the delay, simply saying that the matter was being postponed until Nov. 27. Other than her brief comment, the regents did not discuss Los Alamos in public, although it was part of their closed-door discussion earlier in the day.

The postponement was surprising because the regents’ agenda called for “discussion and appropriate action regarding development of a bid for management” of the lab. In September, the regents authorized the system to spend up to $4.5 million to prepare a bid to run the storied lab in the mountains of northern New Mexico, where physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer led development of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan during World War II.

Proposals are due on Dec. 11 at the National Nuclear Security Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Asked whether the regents had questions that couldn’t be answered at this point, Deputy Chancellor David Daniel told reporters, “No, I would just say this is a continuing process. We’re developing more information, and because the board is going to meet again, as it turns out, we’ll have an opportunity to discuss it with them then.”

Asked whether he expects the board to authorize a bid, Daniel, the system’s point person on the project, replied, “I’m not going to try to speculate what the board’s going to do. We’ll wait and see what the board decides to do.”
Given that we haven't recieved any press releases and haven't seen any media reports, we suspect that no action was taken on any of these items.

Furthermore, this now marks the third regularly scheduled board meeting (to say nothing of the seven special called meetings) since the second on campus murder in 13 months last May without a public discussion of on-campus security.

Bottom Line: Why does the public need to hear important policy discussions at the wealthiest public university in the world?!?

Friday, November 10, 2017

#atxcouncil Greases Skids for Shady Real Estate Deal by Entitled Crony Capitalists (what else is new in this town?!?)....


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

Wait a second.  WHAT happened last night?!?  Via Deadspin:
While the Columbus Crew are gearing up for an Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the formidable Toronto FC, their carpetbagging owner Anthony Precourt is continuing his efforts to move the Crew out of Ohio and resettle them in Austin. Last night, the Austin city council voted to look into the viability of building an MLS stadium in the city, which is a boring way to say that they’re happily playing along with Precourt and seem to be serious about this whole MLS business. MLS czar Don Garber has been silent on the matter, even though all of it stands in direct contradiction with the supposed MLS expansion and franchising model. But that, I suppose, is business.

The entire matter still has months to go before it shakes out, and at this juncture it’s still entirely possible that Precourt is simply using Austin as leverage in order to extort Columbus for more public money. Either way, the battle for hearts and minds continues apace. Precourt hired an Austin-based PR firm to sell his plan to the public, which brings us to MLS2ATX, a grassroots organization billing itself as “a community of supporters working together to bring Major League Soccer to Austin, TX.” If you checked out their Facebook page, they might seem to be exactly that.

They are not. MLS2ATX is owned and operated by Precourt Sports Ventures, a fact which they don’t even try to hide. None of their tactics are, say, actively nefarious, it’s just that everything the Precourt group is doing to astroturf the everliving shit out of their move is tacky and cynical.
More from the Statesman:
The resolution, which Tovo’s office drafted, directs city staff to begin an analysis of city-owned land, including underutilized parkland, for possible location of an “urban core” stadium and a large training facility that could be located anywhere in the city.
At this point, an apology: We did not know this particular act of larceny was being fast tracked.  If we had, we would have been at Council yesterday.  Unfortunately, between the unlikely school bond results and the bombshell revelations at the legislature, Council fell off our radar screen.

So, we're sorry.

The spin coming out this morning is that any potential Major League Soccer stadium will be "privately financed."  That could be an improvement over how these deals have traditionally been done.  But just because there isn't a direct payment from the public purse does not mean there aren't other taxpayer financed subsidies.

Off the top of our head:

  • Would any land for a potential stadium site be sold to the team at full market value?!?  If the answer to the above question is yes, then what party would make that appraisal?!?
  • Would a potential stadium receive preferential tax treatment in the form of property tax abatements?!?
  • Tax increment financing?!?
Keep in mind, this is coming from the same people who are refusing to release details of their Amazon pitch to the public.

But here's the genuinely astounding thing about this entire discussion: WE ALREADY HAVE A 20,000 SEAT SOCCER STADIUM IN THE "URBAN CORE" OF AUSTIN.





So we already have a venue that would fulfill the stated needs.  Furthermore, the venue in question happens to be located in a super convenient location for most Austinites.  Furthermore still, the traffic in that part of town is already bad enough that adding the occasional soccer game to the mix would make any difference one way or the other.

The only thing that would need to transpire would be to have the team owner reach an agreement with the University of Texas (and we all know how the University of Texas likes to make money).

But no, we're going to give away valuable publicly owned land to a politically connected crony capitalist team owner to build a superfluous second stadium?!?

Makes total sense.

Bottom Line: Austin Texas already has a 20,000 seat soccer stadium in the urban core; we don't need a second.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

#TXLEGE: Yeah, about that Daily Beast article....


"However, he would not heed her voice; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her."
2 Samuel 13:14

By now, we suspect you've seen the Daily Beast report that came out Tuesday about grotesque acts of sexual harassment in the Texas legislature:
For years before the document existed online, this type of information “just kind of lived in whisper circles,” said Rebecca*, who started the list in the fall of 2016.

Rebecca told The Daily Beast that she worked in Texas politics for about two years before giving up and leaving the state because the political environment was “toxic and horrible.”

Sexism in the Texas state legislature is well-documented, in both vague and explicit terms.
You really should read the entire thing.  Furthermore, you should also read this primer from four years ago.  We warn you that you'll want to take a shower when you're done.

To be honest, we've been thinking about this topic ever since the original Texas Observer report in 2013.  We've been tempted to make it a priority to expose this garbage, but have never done so because it felt salacious and tawdry.  The public policy that comes out of the legislature (especially on the house side) tends to be so awful that there's plenty of room to go after these assholes on substance without turning to personal conduct.

In our personal experience, we've never seen anything we would characterize as worse than 'tacky.'  The worst thing we've ever experienced happened in 2015 when Charlie Geren told us a grotesquely sexualized joke about a well known female conservative pundit.  Geren refused to apologize when we mentioned that we were friends with the media figure in question...and her husband.

But we hear a lot of rumors around the Capitol.  And we believe almost all of them.  Even if we can't prove anything, committee chairmen often have the worst reputations.

With an open race for Speaker, now is actually a good time to raise the profile of this issue.  The next speaker needs to eliminate this behavior, and we have every right to demand they present a plan to do so before the vote next session.  Furthermore, all parties should agree that any sort of past behavior along these lines should be an absolute dealbraker for the next speaker.

It might also be a good idea to amend house rules next session to create sanctions for members who engage in this sort of behavior.  Specific sanctions could include anything from loss of committee chairmanships to expulsion from the legislature.  The biggest challenge would be to create a system with enough due process that people don't make false accusations for political purposed.

Furthermore, this shouldn't be political.  For as horrific as their respective stories might be, the one silver lining of having both the Baylor university AND the Harvey Weinstein stories come out in the past year is that we can safely put to rest the notion that any set of political beliefs is exempt from this sort of depravity.  It's pretty much impossible to find two institutions that have more different political beliefs than Baylor university and Harvey Weinstein's organizations, yet it happened in both places.

Bottom Line: This must stop.  We've open to suggestion over how that can be most effectively achieved.  But enough is enough....

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Travis County sees second highest constitutional election "turnout" in recent history....


"And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:15

Obviously, yesterday's election results for the Austin ISD bond seem...off.

We think we've found the "culprit":


According to Travis County, over 97,000 people voted countywide.  This would be the second highest "turnout" in Travis County for a constitutional amendment election since 1997 (Travis county doesn't have records past that on their website; going back further would require open records requests).  The only time turnout for a constitutional amendment election was higher was 2005, when the Texas Marriage Amendment was on the ballot.

In 2015, by contrast, the turnout was a smidge over 75k.  In 2013, WITH a special legislative election on the ballot, turnout was around 85k. In general, over the past decade, constitutional amendment elections have seen turnout in the mid-70k's (Note: It would be too time consuming to post the individual links, but you can see the information for yourself here).

So, we're expected to believe that this year's constitutional amendment election saw higher public participation than any other constitutional amendment election that didn't include the massively controversial marriage question...ever.  This despite the fact that previous elections (most notably 2013) have also seen issues on the ballot that were equally controversial as last night's bond.  We suppose that's not impossible, but neither does it seem entirely likely.

Moving onto the Austin ISD bond specifically, some interesting tidbits:


Travis county is claiming that over 40,000 people voted in Austin ISD yesterday.  That seems inconsistent with our personal observations.  We worked one of the consistently busiest polling places in the county all afternoon yesterday and we doubt more than 3 or 400 people voted during that entire time (and even the 400 figure is us bending over backwards to give them the benefit of the doubt).

[Note: What we know for a fact is that we started with 200 flyers and didn't go through them.]

But, for the sake of discussion, let's give them the 400 figure.  Furthermore, let's assume that 1500 total people voted at that location yesterday (to account for the hours we weren't at the polling location).  Even granting them those very generous assumptions, that still means over 38,000 people voted at historically less busy locations yesterday.

Again, that might not be impossible, but neither does it seem exactly likely.

So, what could have happened?!?

Travis county saw a massive surge in voter registrations for the 2016 presidential elections.  We suppose it's possible that 10 to 20,000 of those first time presidential general election voters discovered a new love for civic activism and showed up to vote for the constitutional amendments.  That being said, first time Presidential voters don't historically tend to be the type of person who participates in obscure state/local questions.

If that's the case, it shouldn't be too difficult to find the voter files of the folks who registered last year who subsequently voted yesterday.

Of course, if these unlikely events didn't happen, there's another possibility.

Bottom Line: Sometimes, unlikely events happen.  But the reason that they're unlikely is that they don't happen often.  More investigation is needed.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

7 Reasons for YOU to VOTE AGAINST the Austin ISD tax increase!!!


"The horse is prepared for the day of battle,
But deliverance is of the Lord."
Proverbs 21:31
  • From TPPF:

    In the bond summary, AISD indicates urgently needed repairs in schools across the district. Such repairs include roofing system replacement, HVAC improvements, plumbing and drainage improvements, and electrical system improvements. These are all items that could justify a bond asking for taxpayer money.

    However, funding to correct these “Critical Facility Deficiencies” makes up only 19% of the entire bond package. The district is not simply asking for the $196,116,000 needed to make these critical improvements.

    The bond also includes items such as $6 million to improve the press box, concessions, and restrooms at House Park; $23 million for new athletic spaces (and some academic renovation) at a single school (Austin High—the new elementary schools in the bond cost $31-36 million each); and $5 million for “undesignated furniture improvements.” While such upgrades may be desirable, the wisdom of going into hundreds of millions of additional debt to finance these kinds of improvement is debatable.

    ....

    There are schools that are overcrowded, such as Maplewood Elementary, operating at 141% capacity. Inversely, only one mile away is Campbell Elementary, which is severely under-enrolled, operating at only 37% capacity. This is a trend found at elementary, middle, and high school levels across the district. The issue facing the district is not a lack of seats. In fact, there are 1,456 elementary, 910 middle, and 2,479 high school seats currently vacant. If the school board were to redraw attendance boundaries in an effort to distribute students more equitably, it could potentially save taxpayers up to $600 million by avoiding the construction of new facilities.

    ....

    AISD claims that the “$1.05 billion bond would not raise property tax rates.” Their carefully selected wording is correct, but it attempts to obscure the truth. Former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire recently noted, “No one in their right mind should believe AISD can borrow $1 billion plus interest and not have a property tax increase as a result." In Austin’s current property market, stable property tax rates mean steady increases in property tax bills year over year. In fact, the AISD website confirms that they are assuming “anticipated increases in taxable assessed values,” in their bond planning and taxpayers should not expect their bills to remain the same.

    ....

    As these kinds of tax increases occur not only within the school district but also in city, county, and special district taxes, it is no wonder that Austinites can no longer afford their homes.

    In sum, the number that most impacts taxpayer’s pocketbooks is not the tax rate, but the tax bill. Rising tax bills, however, are a poor slogan; they do not soothe taxpayers into voting for a bond trying to appear revenue-neutral.

    Furthermore, AISD cannot guarantee that tax rates will not be raised. This bond is a proposal, not a contract. The ballot language states that “the board [shall] be authorized to levy, pledge, assess and collect, annual ad valorem taxes on all taxable property in the district sufficient, without limit as to rate or amount, to pay the principal of and interest on the bonds, and the costs of any credit agreements.” Even if the bond passes, Austin ISD still has the option to raise tax rates in the future. AISD does not have to keep any of its campaign promises, but taxpayers are beholden to the $1.05 billion in debt.
  • From Forbes Magazine:

    "The Austin Independent School District (AISD) in Central Texas serves a city that has consistently been one of America's fastest growing large metropolitan areas for a decade. Yet, in spite of being in the heart of this thriving city that has grown by more than 100,000 people in the past five years, AISD has lost 5 percent of its student enrollment since 2012, shrinking by some 4,200 children.

    AISD has taken steps recently to reverse declining student enrollment. One would hope the effort would focus on improving academic excellence, increasing educational options and opportunity, and stretching taxpayer dollars to make the budget leaner and more efficient.

    Sadly, no. Instead, officials felt they just needed better PR.

    So to stem the loss of students, AISD spent $850,000 on advertising and public relations consultants, in addition to the $1.5 million on in-house communications staff.
  • From Texas Monitor:

    Poor planning and a hurried decision by Austin Independent School District Superintendent Paul Cruz has potentially saddled taxpayers with an additional $30 million in bond payments, records obtained by The Texas Monitor show.

    District emails show that school officials had options of rehabbing Austin’s T.A. Brown Elementary, which Cruz shuttered in November 2016.

    Those options for fixing Brown, which opened in 1957, were not explored until after the superintendent declared the building closed forever.

    And now it’s too late for any fixes. Demolition of the building has already begun.

    The trouble centered on cracks in a crawl space at Brown, indicating wear and tear had given way to a serious weakening of floors throughout the building.

    In the days after the building was declared closed forever, a team of consultants hammered out possible fixes for the defects and came forward with possibly cheaper remedies at Brown.

    Officials now say Brown Elementary was a neighborhood school rife with engineering problems. Decrepit flooring showed structural defects that endangered anyone in the school, they said.
  • From Save East Austin Schools:

    A group of district volunteers, parents and Latino community leaders fighting against possible closures of East Austin schools are creating a political action committee and threatening to oppose the Austin school district’s $1.1 billion bond package that will go before voters in November.

    About 30 plan to rally at 6:30 p.m. tonight outside of the Austin school board meeting at district headquarters, 1111 W. 6th St. and announce the formation of Save East Austin Schools political action committee.

    Group members have called on the school board to make changes to a 25-year comprehensive facilities master plan, as well as the bond projects. The concerns also include displacing Eastside Memorial High School from its current facility to a $70 million facility and moving the nationally-ranked Liberal Arts and Science Academy to the current Eastside campus.

    ....

    Group organizers said current Eastside students won’t benefit from the move and new facility, which is years away, and want LASA students to co-locate with Eastside students on the current campus. They also said more resources in the facilities master plan and the bond need to be allocated to the district’s east side campuses, which historically have been underserved.
  • Austin ISD is the largest landowner in Central Texas.  Late last year, Austin ISD formally proposed selling a number of their properties, including multiple prime lots downtown.  This would be both a win for taxpayers AND it would help with housing supply.

    Passing this bond can only slow that process down.

    Also, in the event this bond does fail, reviving this proposal should be the next step.
  • From KXAN last April:

    The Austin Independent School District chief of police says his department mishandled a possible sexual assault case of a Boone Elementary School Pre-K student.

    The case was first opened on Feb. 7 when attorney Paul Guinn says the parents of the 4-year-old girl noticed traumatic injuries on her body after she came home from school.

    “Something very bad seems to have happened to this young girl and we are without answers,” said Guinn.

    According to Guinn, the child’s mother dressed her daughter and took her to school that morning at 8 a.m. and then picked her up from school three hours later.

    Once they got home, the mother says she heard the child screaming while using the bathroom, and found blood and horrible bruising on her body.

    “The daughter’s father came home from work and took a look and said ‘we need to go to the hospital with this — this looks very serious,'” said Guinn.

    He says a trauma surgeon at Dell Children’s Medical Center had to operate on the lacerations, and diagnosed the injuries as sexual assault by bodily force.

    The attorney says AISD police were at the hospital and met with her parents, the doctors and interviewed the student. The girl’s teacher was placed on administrative leave. Two weeks later, on Feb. 22, AISD police decided to close the case and said the allegations were unfounded.

    It turns out, the detective never got a copy of the child’s medical records. “Frankly, I am mystified at how this diagnosis of a sexual assault was missed by the AISD PD,” said Guinn.
Bottom Line: If we had unlimited time, we could list 25 reasons why this monstrosity deserves to go down in flames; whatever your reason, get out and VOTE AGAINST the Austin ISD bond proposal.

Monday, November 6, 2017

#atxcouncil: Open Records Requests begin to reveal (a few) details of "Austin's" Amazon Bid....


"For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light."
Luke 8:17

Following our post a couple weeks ago about the Amazon deal, we put in the following open records request to Mayor Adler's office:
All correspondence between the office of the Mayor and the Austin Chamber of commerce related to Amazon.com's HQ2.
The city replied late last week and we reviewed the documents on Saturday.  For the most part, they're punting to the AG's office (note: But that AG letter is actually fascinating).  Still, some questions were answered.

We'll list what we learned here, then provide the full documents below:

  • Nothing that has occurred to this point in the process is legally binding on anyone.
  • The City of Austin is working with other political subdivisions, but the identity of those political subdivisions remains unknown.
    • Note: If we had unlimited time, we'd put in the same open records request to Travis County, WillCo, Cedar Park, Round Rock, Hays Co, and Buda.
  • The City has a contract with the chamber for "economic development."
    • Note: Excuse you?!?
  • LOL: The Austin Chronicle requested the same information we did.
To which we have to say: What's the point of this process if it's not legally binding?!?  We're going to engage in this long secretive process, then we're going to follow it up with an open and transparent public process?!?  That seems...far fetched.




Information they released:



Bottom Line:  We had been neutral on this project leaning towards "No" based on the secrecy.  We suppose the information contained in these documents brings us back to neutral.  But the optics surrounding this process stink.