Friday, March 31, 2017

$175 BILLION company to seek City of Austin tax incentives!!!


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

Oh hellllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll no:
Merck, the global pharmaceutical and health care firm, is considering Austin for a new technology center that could create up to 600 jobs and serve as a major anchor for the innovation district emerging around the Dell Medical School.

According to city fillings made public this morning, Merck will request $856,000 from the city in performance-based incentives over a 10-year period. In exchange, the company would provide the new jobs, which pay an average annual salary of $84,586, the city’s economic development department said in a release.

According to a draft economic development proposal, the company also would invest almost $29 million in facilities and equipment by 2023.
Read the whole thing here.

Merck's market capitalization at the time of publication:


Bottom Line: A new technology center as part of the innovation district at the Dell Medical school sounds like a lovely idea, one which Merck can pay for out of their $175 billion market cap without tapping out vulnerable taxpayers.

#TXLEGE: Senate hearing bill to restrict LOCAL TAX carve outs tuesday!!!


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

"Tax increment financing" is a particularly obnoxious form of subsidized 'redevelopment' that we've discussed previously (Note: The 2016 Austin Transportation bond was full of this nonsense).  Essentially, they tax all property owners in a given jurisdiction, then give subsidies to politically favored developers for "blight removal."  On top of that, local governments are essentially allowed to pursue these agreements in secret.

This coming Tuesday, the Senate Natural Resources/Economic Development committee will hear SB 650 (Bettencourt), which would begin to reign-in this practice.

Section 1 of the bill tightens the definition of the type of property that qualifies for this designation.

But the most important part is section 4, which we will let speak for itself:
SECTION 4.  Section 311.015, Tax Code, is amended by adding
Subsections (m) and (n) to read as follows:
       (m)  Not later than the seventh day before the date of the
meeting at which the governing body of the municipality will vote on
an ordinance to issue tax increment bonds or notes, the
municipality must provide notice of the date, time, and place of the
meeting by delivering the notice by mail to:
             (1)  each property owner in the municipality;
             (2)  the commissioners court of each county in which a
portion of the reinvestment zone is located; and
             (3)  each state senator and representative whose
district includes territory in a county in which a portion of the
reinvestment zone is located.
       (n)  At the time a municipality submits tax increment bonds
and the record of proceedings relating to the authorization of the
bonds to the attorney general under Section 1202.003, Government
Code, the municipality must deliver notice of the submission by
mail to:
             (1)  the commissioners court of each county in which a
portion of the reinvestment zone is located; and
             (2)  each state senator and representative whose
district includes territory in a county in which a portion of the
reinvestment zone is located.
Honestly, it's astonishing they didn't already do that.

Bottom Line: Local governments pull this garbage all the time; while "tax increment financing" should be eliminated entirely, Senator Bettencourt's bill represents a significant step in the right direction.

TPPF offers timely reminder on local debt


"The rich rules over the poor,
And the borrower is servant to the lender."
Proverbs 22:7

[Author's Note: This is yet another, problem that will NEVER get addressed until you abolish taxpayer funded lobbying.]

The legislature continues to ignore the problem (to appease the taxpayer funded lobbyists), the voters continue to approve the bonds, and the numbers continue to get worse:



Bottom Line: Texas has obvious macroeconomic storms on the horizon.  The first is the property tax system, and the second is local government debt (there are a couple others, but they're more manageable at the moment).  Don't be surprised when this bites us in the backside....

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Adler tries to promote thing HE TRIED TO BAN less than two years ago....


"Therefore by their fruits you will know them."
Matthew 7:20

Soo...this happened on Facebook this morning:


But, when council tried to ban BBQ less than two years ago, where was the mayor?!?

From the April 2, 2015 Austin City Council Agenda:


Bottom Line: Can't make this stuff up.

-----

More history below:

Paxton judge re-invents case as campaign issue....


"You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous."
Deuteronomy 16:19

With the case collapsing, the judge in the Paxton case threw the prosecutors a major bone:
The judge in the securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has ruled that the trial should be moved out of Collin County and delayed.

The ruling to change venue is a major victory for prosecutors, who had argued Paxton and his allies had tainted the jury pool in Collin County, where he lives. Hours after the ruling, Paxton's lawyers asked Judge George Gallagher to reconsider, suggesting the decision had been based on a "misdirection ploy" by the prosecutors.

Gallagher said the trial, initially scheduled for May 1, will now be postponed until a new venue is determined.
While we're on the subject, consider the sixth amendment to the United States Constitution:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

[Author's Note: Emphasis added.]
Bottom Line: The only purpose of this delay is to have the trial dominate headlines during the fall...right as campaign season kicks off.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Huberty again attempts to bury "School Finance" during controversial day....


"For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil."
Ecclesiastes 12:14

Remember, earlier this month, when Dan Huberty attempted to bury coverage of his plan to completely re-write one third of the state budget in the controversy of the privacy act?!?

He did it again.

Check out what he did while the House was hearing Constitutional carry yesterday:
After weeks of debating how to prevent school districts from becoming financial losers, the House Public Education Committee voted 10-1 on Tuesday to adopt its leading school finance bill, which would inject an extra $1.6 billion into the state public education system.

Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, the author of House Bill 21, praised the committee for building legislation that would boost per-student funding for almost every school district and charter in the state. He also acknowledged the losses some school districts would have to face: “I know that we didn’t help everybody. And we tried.”

HB 21 is now eligible to be considered by the full House. The House Appropriations Committee is expected to pass its budget this week, with a full House vote likely next week.

....

HB 21 would increase the base funding the state doles out to districts per student, in part by increasing funding the state gives to schools with bilingual and dyslexic students. Members voted on a substitute version of the bill, which more fully addresses how to tide over school districts losing money. This version does not yet have a fiscal note.
Read the whole thing here.

Bottom Line: MOAR MONEY for socialized education; so popular we need to bury it behind controversial bills!!!

Bonnen belatedly considers Margins tax; still hears (at least) 10 special interest carve outs (33 for session)....


"He who trusts in his own heart is a fool,
But whoever walks wisely will be delivered."
Proverbs 28:26

The (mildly) good news from this morning's Ways and Means committee agenda: They heard four bills related to eliminating the margins tax.  To be certain, the Senate heard their version of this bill a month ago and voted it out of the full chamber last week.  But still, Bonnen is hearing margins tax bills early enough for something to make it to the Governor's desk, and that's worth noting.

Even so, check out some of the other bills Ways and Means heard this morning:

  • HB 926        Murr
    Relating to the authority of certain counties to impose a hotel occupancy tax.
  • HB 1300       Springer
    Relating to the collection and use of municipal hotel occupancy taxes.
  • HB 1325       Nevárez
    Relating to the application of the sales and use tax to certain services involving real property.
  • HB 1529       Lambert | et al.
    Relating to the authority of certain municipalities to pledge certain tax revenue for the payment of obligations related to hotel projects.
  • HB 1896       Bohac
    Relating to the application of and use of revenue from hotel occupancy taxes imposed by municipalities and counties.
  • HB 2126       Button
    Relating to the franchise tax rate applicable to certain taxable entities that sell telephone prepaid calling cards.
  • HB 2277       Darby
    Relating to fixing the median cost of high-cost gas wells.
  • HB 2281       Darby
    Relating to miscellaneous gross receipts taxes on utility companies.
  • HB 2690       Morrison, Geanie W.   
    Relating to the allocation of certain state hotel occupancy tax revenue.
  • HB 2999       Bonnen, Dennis        
    Relating to the exemption from ad valorem taxation of property owned by certain medical centers in certain counties.
Bottom Line: Even when he does something kinda decent, Dennis Bonnen seems unable to help himself from mixing it in with a whole bunch of awful....

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

#TXLEGE: House hears Weirdly Promising day of Gun Bills....


Lone Star Gun Rights/National Association for Gun Rights present constitutional carry petition.

"Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me."
Nehemiah 4:18

[Note: The Constitutional carry hearing is ongoing here.  We've signed up to testify but won't be able to return to the Capitol until 8pm or so.  The gun free zone hearing has moved onto other issues, but the full hearing will be archived here.]

One of the weird dynamics of this session is that the House is actually pursuing much stronger gun bills than the Senate (Note: Yeah, you read that correctly).  That dynamic was continued today.  Jonathan Stickland's constitutional carry bill (HB 375) is currently being heard in the Public Safety Committee while the Civil Jurisprudence earlier heard several bills related to removing legal liability for businesses that permit legal carrying on their premises.

During his gun layout, Stickland discussed how he's only filed four bills this session because of the attention he wants to devote to constitutional carry.  He outlined the "dirty, racist," history of gun control laws.  Furthermore, he pointed out that the CHL system represents a "barrier to entry" for law abiding citizens to engage in armed self defense.

In response to Stickland's point about barriers to entry hurting low income citizens the most, the infamous Poncho Nevarez (yeah, that Poncho) proposed creating a bureaucratic workaround for the indigent.  Of course, creating yet another bureaucratic process does nothing to address the underlying issue of government barriers to entry hurting the poor the most.  Beyond that, Poncho's been engaging in lawyer semantics this entire hearing.

The Democrats have also been arguing, and Stickland has confirmed, that HB 375 (in it's current form) could lower the age at which citizens could legally carry on college campuses to 18.  This might get changed in a future version of the bill, but in the event that it doesn't that's all the more reason to pass this bill.  That'll be a fun UT Board meeting....



On the legal liability bills, the civil jurisprudence committee heard several that would prohibit frivolous lawsuits against business owners that allow firearms on their premises.  All of the bills would be a meaningful step forward.  What we really need are the gun-free zone bills like the one under consideration in Florida, but the bills considered today are worth moving forward.

Here's the thing: If we're Joe Straus, and we're going to kill the privacy act, then it makes a certain amount of sense to let constitutional carry through.  He has to let something through and national trends are moving in a way that means he won't be able to kill it indefinitely.  Furthermore, given the Senate's well documented discomfort with this issue, passing constitutional carry could be a really interesting way for Straus to put Patrick in an uncomfortable position.

Bottom Line: These bills are in play.

Monday, March 27, 2017

#TXLEGE: Senate state affairs hears taxpayer funded lobbying DISCLOSURE bill....


"And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.
John 21:25

[Note: You can see our testimony at approximately the 75 minute mark here.]

This morning, the Senate State Affairs committee heard SB 445 (Burton), which would require political subdivisions to disclose the contracts they use to hire lobbyists at the Capitol.  It would also require a public, recorded, vote of the relevant governing body before they could hire a lobbyist.  Honestly, it's astonishing they weren't already required to do so.

Taxpayer funded lobbying is a wicked and pernicious practice that should be banned entirely.  It's anti-taxpayer.  It's anti-property rights.  And it's anti-School child.  It enables a corrupt shell game that benefits all kinds of special interests at the local level.

Thus, the bill considered today doesn't go nearly far enough, but it is constitute a meaningful step in the right direction.

And sometimes, at the Capitol, you just need to accept that legislators are only comfortable going so far at any particular time; in the latter part of a session, you can't let the perfect be the enemy of the significantly better.

We listed the Bible verse above because, in many ways, the metaphor of the world not being able to contain the books that could be written sums up our feelings about the evils of this practice.  In preparing to testify, the challenge was how to sum it up in two minutes.  Thus, we'll stick with the 50,000 foot overview.

By holding this hearing, the Senate has already done more to address this issue than any legislature ever has before.  This bill is significantly better than the status quo, and if this is where you can get 19 votes, then the legislature should pass it.  But the practice needs to be banned entirely, and we will continue to advocate in that direction.

Bottom Line: Thank you to Senator Burton for raising the profile of this issue and thank you to the committee for giving this issue more attention than it's ever received in any previous session; #ONWARD....

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bonnen hears (at least) NINE (more) special interest carve out bills (23 for session)....


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

It's that time of week when we check on the latest from Dennis Bonnen and the Texas House Ways and Means committee:
  •  HB 382        Murphy | et al.
    Relating to the exemption from ad valorem taxation of real property leased to and used by certain schools.
  • HB 589        Bohac                  
    Relating to a sales tax exemption for certain items sold during a limited period.
  •  HB 595        Workman | et al.       
    Relating to a franchise tax credit for entities that employ certain students in certain paid internship or similar programs. 
  • HB 755        Parker                 
    Relating to the use by certain tax-exempt organizations of certain payments made in connection with real property transfers to provide educational activities through certain schools.
  •  HB 1127       Raymond | et al.       
    Relating to a franchise tax credit pilot program for taxable entities that employ certain apprentices.
  • HB 1351       Wray                   
    Relating to the prohibition of local motor fuel taxes on compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas. 
  •  HB 2028       Goldman                
    Relating to the procedure for canceling a deferral or abatement of collection of ad valorem taxes on the residence homestead of an elderly person.
  •  HB 2381       Frullo                 
    Relating to the applicability of the sales and use tax to certain insurance services.
  •  HJR 52        Turner                 
    Proposing a constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation a portion of the assessed value of certain real property used to provide housing to certain individuals with disabilities.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

anti-Innovation, anti-Startup, pro-incumbent Protection Racket hires Jim Keffer....


"He who walks with wise men will be wise,
But the companion of fools will be destroyed."
Proverbs 13:20

Jim Keffer is a former Straus lieutenant who retired in the face of a primary everybody knew he'd lose after the last legislative session.  He also joined a left-wing think tank last October...on national coming out day!!!  Likewise, the Texas Association of Business is an anti-innovation, anti-startup, pro-incumbent protection racket who we're made to look foolish in the Texas Senate two weeks ago.

They're made for each other:

TAB Keffer by Cahnman on Scribd


Fun Fact I: Keffer was also the bully who got busted hurling personal insults at a colleague last session.

Fun Fact II:  Jim Keffer was the original driving force behind the Texas "Ethics" Commissions's haf decade jihad against Empower Texans; speaking of Empower Texans, they have more here.

Bottom Line: Truly, they deserve each other.

Tuition Day in Texas Senate's Higher Ed Committee!!!


"Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord."
Colossians 3:20

[Note: Our testimony can be viewed just after the 1:36 mark here; we'll try to get it up on our YouTube page in the next few days.]

Yesterday morning, the Texas Senate's higher education committee heard five bills related to reigning in university tuition increases.  The hearing was in an unusual format where all five bills were laid out then testimony was taken on all five.  Due to misreading the Senate schedule (we thought the hearing began at 9 when it began at 8), we arrived late to the hearing, but we've watched the remainder of the hearing online and did make it in time to testify FOR SB 19 (Seliger) and SB 250 (Schwertner).

Seliger's bill would impose a hard tuition freeze for four years, while Schwertner's would impose a long term cap on tuition at the rate of inflation.

For the most part, testimony was the predictable litany of 'sky will fall' nonsense in the event public universities were required to show mild discipline in containing costs; lots of hysteria about "workforce" and "economic" development.

Chancellor McRaven, however, used his testimony as an opportunity for chutzpah about the UT board being "conservative" with tuition hikes over the past half decade, considering that he came on board at the end of that time and one of his first acts as chancellor was to push a tuition hike.  McRaven cited 2011 tuition data even though he was only hired in 2015.  Also, for the record, Wallace Hall was on all of those boards 5 and 6 years ago.  Beyond that, the Chancellor spoke in cliches about "being competitive," "excellence," and "investing in student success."  The Chancellor did not refer to his military service at any time during testimony.

As it relates to Senator Seliger's bill, we testified that colleges and universities love to build expensive buildings and hire lots of bureaucrats at six figure salaries and that forcing them to take a time out on tuition hikes would begin to curtail that process. [Note: It's also worth pointing out that it could be VERY hard for the House to kill (or Abbott to veto) a full tuition freeze...like it or not, suburban parents vote.]  On Schwertner's bill, we testified that if Boards of Regents are going to continue defying the legislature then the time has come to begin removing various authorities from them.

Finally, we urged the committee to take a very hard look at UTIMCO's $37 billion in assets as it debates higher ed. funding moving forward.

Bottom Line: An encouraging hearing, we'll have to see what happens moving forward.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

BYRON COOK orders citizen ARRESTED for Filming....


"No weapon formed against you shall prosper,
And every tongue which rises against you in judgment
You shall condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
And their righteousness is from Me,”
Says the Lord."
Isaiah 54:17

[Update: Practical Politicking has more here.]

Amy Hedtke is a North Texas activist who frequently broadcasts political events on Facebook (using an iphone).  For those who are unaware, the Texas House's 'house rules' only allows citizens to film committee meetings "at the discretion of the chair" (even though that's illegal under state law).  Looks like Amy chose to put the 'House rules' to the legal test they've always deserved in Byron Cook's State Affairs committee hearing this afternoon:

[Note: The interaction with House staff and law enforcement begins at the 50:40 mark.]




The next video pretty much speaks for itself:

[Note: There's a full explanation of the day's events in the final minute of this one.]



Bottom Line:  Sometimes you pray for Rosa Parks, and God sends you Amy Hedtke....

-----

DPS: (512) 463-6481.
Chairman Byron Cook: (512) 463-0730.
Governor Greg Abbott: (512) 463-2000.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Abbott's strangely timed comments on local pre-emption

See if you can spot the irony in this photo.
"But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment."
Matthew 12:36

Hmm...at first, this sounds really good:
CORPUS CHRISTI — As local control battles rage at the Texas Capitol, Gov. Greg Abbott is voicing support for a much more sweeping approach to the issues that have captured headlines.

"As opposed to the state having to take multiple rifle-shot approaches at overriding local regulations, I think a broad-based law by the state of Texas that says across the board, the state is going to pre-empt local regulations, is a superior approach," Abbott said Tuesday during a Q&A session hosted by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, an Austin-based think tank.

Such an approach, Abbott added, "makes it more simple, more elegant, but more importantly, provides greater advance notice to businesses and to individuals that you’re going to have the certainty to run your lives."
But then you start thinking about the current legislative session...and you realize that the bill filing deadline was 12 days ago.

Then you consider that Abbott has been governor for two and a half years, during which time this issue has kept bubbling up in various forms, and you realize that he's never actually done anything about it.

Instead, consider some of the items Abbott has declared "emergencies" ahead of local government accountability:

  • Pre-K.
  • University Faculty recruitment.
  • CPS reform.
  • Article V Convention.
  • Note: In fairness to Abbott, he's also announced some worthwhile priorities (Ethics reform and the border stuff), but it doesn't changed the fact that he's put a bunch of crap seemingly less important issues in front of a systematic approach to local government accountability.
Of course, we would never accuse Greg Abbott of cynically making an inflammatory headline generating comment less than a year out from his re-election secure in the knowledge that the average voter won't realize it's too late for him to do anything about it...he would never do that!

Bottom Line: At this point, when it comes to Governor FoxNews, actions speak SO much louder than words; if he wants to impress us, he should threaten a special session.

#TXLEGE SB 822: A TERRIBLE Bill for Austin's Housing Costs....


"Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?"
Matthew 20:15

[Author's Note: The Statesman has a good write up this morning's hearing here.]

There's a bill we've been keeping an eye on for several weeks about which we have yet to comment, but considering that it got a hearing this morning, now is a good time.

SB 822 is a weird attempt to get the legislature involved in a West Austin land dispute that's been simmering for at least a decade.  To be honest, we have no idea why the legislature chose to but in this session.  While we have no specific knowledge, considering the neighborhood involved, we suspect there's a lobbyist who's also a participant in the land dispute.

At the heart of the issue is a tract of land (sidenote: What else is new in Texas?!?) on which is currently situated the Lions Golf Course.  The golf course is operated by the city of Austin while the land is owned by the University of Texas system.  That being said, given its proximity to downtown and various other popular locations, this tract is a prime candidate for residential construction in a city that needs to build 150,000 units of new housing over the next decade.


Because it's such a prime location for housing construction, from time to time UT has looked into selling (or long term ground leasing) the property to various developers...which of course doesn't sit well with the anti-growthers at the Austin Neighborhoods Council.  This has led to the disingenuous and tiresome "Save Muny" campaign in West Austin.  With UT's lease with the city set to expire in 2019, ANC is clearly trying to pre-empt a public discussion of the property.

Which brings us to Estes' bill.  SB 822 would transfer the property from the UT system (who might eventually allow hosing (in our city that needs to build 150,000 new units)) to the state of Texas' Parks and Wildlife department.  The P&W department could be expected to keep the property as a municipally run golf course for the indefinite future.

And, of course, keeping the property as a municipally run golf course will permanently remove almost a 150 acres of prime real estate from the housing stock.

Bottom Line: For this website to come down on the same side as UT on an issue before the legislature should tell you a lot about the unusual nature of this situation, but leaving the status quo in place is the best possible outcome for everyone except a few vocal anti-growthers in West Austin.

-----

Note I: We didn't want to dilute the arguments on the merits above with an ideological tangent, but it's also worth pointing out that no city has any business running any golf course at any time.

-----

Note II: Where the heck are the Texas Exes on this one?!?  For as much as they loved to play the "the legislature shouldn't micromanage universities" card  during discussions of any attempts to hold Bill Powers accountable for all his misdeeds over the years, this actual attempt to micromanage the university's real estate doesn't seem to elicit a peep.  They're the one group that could probably kill this thing if they got involved...so we hope they do.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sampling issues over which House leadership has prioritized Minimum Wage HIKES.....


"I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel,"
Galatians 1:6

[Author's Note : The list of issues below is not meant to be exhaustive, it's just a collection of issues (not all of which we support) that are more worthy of discussion that the minimum wage.]

It's not a secret that the House heard nine minimum wage bills today; but consider some issues that have yet to receive a committee hearing in the House:
  • Ethics reform (Gov. priority)
  • Article V Convention (RPT/Gov. priority)
  • Anything pro-life (RPT/Lite Guv. priority)
  • Constitutional carry (RPT priority)
    • Note: To be fair, that one is coming next week, but it's still revealing that they heard minimum wage first.
  • School Choice (RPT/Lite Guv Priority)
  • Anything related to property taxes (RPT priority)
  • Local government debt.
  • Short Term rentals.
  • Annexation reform.
  • Any number of other measures related to local government accountability.
  • Anything related to occupational licensing.
  • Abolishing taxpayer funded lobbying.
  • Anything related to preventing university tuition increases.
  • Privacy Act (Lite Guv priority)
  • List [Your favorite issue] in the comment section below.
Bottom Line: Yet, somehow, they've already managed to hear nine minimum wage bills.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Stickland announces CONSTITUTIONAL CARRY HEARING!!!


"Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me."
Nehemiah 4:18

Boom:

Friday, March 17, 2017

Straus' Priorities: Minimum Wage Hikes and Rainy Day Fund Raids!!!


"I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel,"
Galatians 1:6

One of the interesting dynamics of this session is the degree to which House leadership is being open about their left wing priorities; this past week saw two humdingers.

First the budget:
The institutions that we entrust with our future are facing serious setbacks that would harm our entire state. Our economic success begins in our schools, colleges and universities. In order to compete, we need a well-educated workforce with diverse skills.

And the cuts would hardly be limited to education. Across Texas, state mental hospitals are crumbling. Without significant repairs, for example, the Rusk State Hospital in East Texas will remain a public health hazard. Nursing homes could be forced to reduce their staffs.

And perhaps nobody should watch this debate closer than the retired teachers who put so many of us on the path to success. There is a $1 billion shortfall in the health care program for retired school employees. Without an injection of hundreds of millions of dollars to address that shortfall, retired teachers could face massive increases in their health insurance deductibles and very sizable increases in monthly premiums.

....

Another idea is to combine spending reductions with a modest withdrawal from the state's Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the rainy day fund.

[Author's Note: Emphasis added.]
Read the whole thing here...but, honestly, what would you expect from a guy who uses identical language as Barack Obama to describe the economy?!?

Then there's this:
In a stunning move, the Texas House voted overwhelmingly to support Democrat efforts to hamstring the state’s economy by raising the minimum wage.

Earlier today, State Rep. Hugh Shine (R–Belton) moved to suspend the rules and fast track a proposed constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage by almost 50 percent.

Authored by the chairman of the House Democrat caucus, State Rep. Chris Turner of Arlington’s HJR 56 would amend the Texas Constitution to raise the minimum wage in the State of Texas from the federally required $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.

Loyal to the Democrat-coalition that governs the Texas House, Shine serves as the Vice Chair of the Committee on Business & Industry and likely made the motion at the behest of his committee chairman State Rep. René Oliveira (D–Brownsville).

And he succeeded.

Despite the Texas Republican Party Platform’s call for a complete abolition of the minimum wage and a long history of free market rhetoric, Republican members voted overwhelmingly in favor of Shine’s motion, with only 21 members voting against the motion to suspend the rules.

That vote was sharply condemned by conservative State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park) who is serving his first term in the Legislature after dispatching a liberal Republican.
The minimum wage hike won't pass, but it will be used to waste time late in the session.

And there will be nine minimum wage related bills getting hearings on Monday; in other words, whatever your legislative priority, nine minimum wage related bills are going to get hearings first.

Priorities indeed.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

#TXLEGE: Zaffirini votes FOR Dismemberment Abortion Ban!!!


"Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
When it is in the power of your hand to do so."
Proverbs 3:27

We don't bring it up often, but we are actually a resident of Judy Zaffirini's district and, as such, this tidbit from Texas Right to Life caught our eye:
Today, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 415, the Dismemberment Abortion Ban, on second reading. The bill was preliminarily approved by the Senate on a bipartisan 22-8 vote. In addition to every Republican of the Senate supporting the measure, two Democrats – Senators Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) and Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) – voted for the life-saving measure. Senate Bill 415 and House Bill 844, the Dismemberment Abortion Ban, outlaw the barbaric and inhumane procedure that ends the life of a living, conscious preborn child by tearing her limb from limb.

[Author's Note: Emphasis added.]
Bottom Line: It's not often we say this, but as a constituent of Judy Zaffirini's we commend her.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Bonnen hears (at least) SEVEN (more) special interest carve out bills (14 for session)....


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

It's that time of week when we check on the latest from Dennis Bonnen and the Texas House Ways and Means committee. Yesterday, the Texas Senate took a tangible step towards meaningful property tax reform (even if it doesn't go far enough).  How did the House follow up today?!?

  • HB 170        Lucio III | et al.      
    Relating to exempting books purchased, used, or consumed by university and college students from the sales and use tax for limited periods.
  • HB 242        Hernandez | et al.     
    Relating to exempting textbooks purchased, used, or consumed by university and college students from the sales and use tax for limited periods.
  • HB 350        Canales                
    Relating to exempting textbooks purchased, used, or consumed by university and college students from the sales and use tax for limited periods.
  • HB 359        Cyrier                 
    Relating to the motor vehicle sales tax imposed on the purchase, rental, or use of certain emergency services vehicles.
  • HB 1127       Raymond | et al.       
    Relating to a franchise tax credit pilot program for taxable entities that employ certain apprentices.
  • HB 1199       Rodriguez, Justin      
    Relating to the sale or assignment of tax credits for the certified rehabilitation of certified historic structures.
  • HB 1332       Parker | et al.        
    Relating to the exemption of certain entities that operate ambulances from certain motor fuel taxes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Thoughts on (#TROXROX) Local Government Accountability Day (#TROXROX) in the Texas Senate (#TROXROX)


"Through wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;"
Proverbs 24:3

We've been in a holding pattern for several hours as the Senate debates the privacy act; this seems like as good a time as any to post our thoughts on this hearings this morning about property taxes, ridesharing, and short-term rentals in the Texas Senate:

[Author's Note: Points about property taxes will be listed in blue; points about Ridesharing and STR's will be listed in green.]
  • We've never seen a day when this many issues related to local government accountability were heard in a day; this is new.
  • In terms of obvious storms on the macroeconomic horizion, the property tax system in Texas (alongside local government debt) is the equivalent of the national debt in term of predictable problems on the short to medium term horizon.  Texans currently pay the highest property taxes of any state without an income tax.  This is a high priority mess that needs to be addressed before it bites us in the backside.
  • On the TNC issue, Don Huffines' bill (SB 113) is the only bill up today that will pre-empt the next round of regulatory challenges related to ground transportation and new technology.  That's why we testified in favor of it.  Nevertheless, we can count votes and Charles Schwertner's bill represents a significant step forward from the status quo.
  • Additionally, the property tax system as it currently exists is the mother's milk that feeds all sorts of other corruption in the legislature.
  • As we have previously discussed; Senator Bettencourt confessed to several good reasons why SB 2 (the property tax relief bill) doesn't go nearly far enough.  Under questioning from other Senators, he repeatedly admitted that the bill does not amount to a revenue cap, and he also admits local jurisdictions will still be able to raise taxes close to 10% without an election.  Nevertheless, this is a significant step in the right direction and see our previous comment about counting votes.
  • Bettencourt's bill would rename the effective tax rate the "no new taxes" rate; this can only simplify things for the average taxpayer.
  • Bettencourt -- Taxpayers in Harris county often pay 10 taxing jurisdictions at a time.
  • Bettencourt too frequently talks in policy wonk language and goes over people's heads.
  • Actually, Bettencourt straight up talks too much.
  • Paul Bettencourt: We love you, and we agree with you, but shut up.
  • #TROXROX -- Texas less desirable place to invest because of Austin Ridesharing debacle.
  • Schwertner: Restricting mobility options is just wrong.
  • Kelly Hancock goes full trial lawyer on Ann Kitchen.
  • Committee took the black market that emerged in Austin after council kicked out Uber and Lyft to the cleaners.
  • Samsung's largest physical plant in the world is located in NE Austin.
    • Even with the incentives they receive, Texas' property tax system still isn't competitive.
      • Note: That's quite a remarkable statement coming from a big business.
    • Whitmire goes full Elizabeth Warren.
  • #TROXROX -- Rates should go down as appraisals go up.
    • Austin had an additional $50 million to spend last year even at "no new taxes" rate.
    • Austin budgets have consistently grown 7 to 10% even without counting 'exemptions.'
    • SB 2: "A critical tool that must be adopted."
    • First thing to cut would be new vehicles every three years.
    • Voted against bailing out library.
    • Kel Seliger tried to throw her under the bus and she threw it back.
    • No reason you can't hold cities and counties accountable alongside school districts.
  • #TROXROX: Several activists from outside the local area who'd never seen Ellen Troxclair in action before spoke positively about the degree to which she refuses to take crap (especially re: the exchange with Seliger).
  • They laid out but have yet to take testimony on the short term rental bill, but the short version is as follows: the degree to which the Austin anti-STR ordinance creates new police powers out of thin air is creepy.
Bottom Line: We'll include links to testimony and deeper thoughts at a later time, but the short version is that after decades of atrophy the Texas Senate is beginning to rehab their constitutional muscles as it relates to local government accountability.

Monday, March 13, 2017

anti-Innovation, anti-Startup, pro-Incumbent Texas Association of Business broadcasts Willful Economic Blindness....


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

The Texas Association of Business exists for one purpose: to protect incumbent industries from startups.  They have a long history of preaching virtue signaling claptrap as a cover for self-interested cronyism.  That being said, the degree of economic illiteracy they displayed under questioning from Senators Kelly Hancock and Paul Bettencourt during last week's hearing over the privacy act was a sight to behold:



Highlights:

  • Hancock: Did your [TAB's] board see this legislation before or after TAB took a position?!?
    • TAB dodges question: Our board took a position back in September.
  • Hancock: Did you take a position before or after this legislation was filed?!?
    • TAB answers with platitude.
    • Blah, blah, "workforce recruitment"....
  • Hancock: So you took a position without reading anything?!?
    • TAB: "Yessir, September."
  • Hancock: Do you often take positions on legislation without reading it?!?
    • TAB: Something, something "Yes, actually, every September prior to every legislative session...."
    • Author's Note: You can't start pre-filing legislation prior to mid-November.
    • Hancock: So the legislation itself doesn't matter?!?
  • Hancock: Can you tell me what the GDP of Texas is?!?
    • TAB: "I don't know off the top of my head."
    • Hancock: "Oh, come on, you're TAB...give it a wild guess Chris [Wallace]."
    • TAB: "I don't know the exact number."
    • Hancock: "Do you want me to google it for you?!?"
  • Hancock: "You're claiming you speak on behalf of the businesses of Texas, surely you know ballpart what the GDP is."
  • Hancock: "Can you divide [$85 billion] by [$1.4 trillion] and...tell me what it gets you?!?"
    • Bettencourt: "The right number is $1.7 [trillion]...but go ahead."
    • TAB: "My phone's off."
    • [CROSSTALK]
    • Hancock: "Dude, if I'm representing businesses, I hope my math skills would be better."
    • TAB: "One half of one percent."
    • Hancock: .005%
  • TAB reverts to talking points; something, something "keep Texas open for business."
  • Bettencourt: "Did you read this study before you quoted from it on December the sixth of 2016...did your board read and approve this study for use?!?"
    • TAB: "The board was never asked to approve this study..."
  • Bettencourt: First two 'laws' you cite weren't actually passed in their respective states.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

2017 #TXLEGE Tesla Bills look MUCH Stronger!!!


"And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”
Mark 2:22

Yes, thank you:
Instead of looking to create any kind of carve-out that favors the high-end electric car maker, legislation filed Friday would simply allow any vehicle manufacturer to sell directly to Texans — bypassing the middleman dealers — in Tesla's biggest challenge yet to a longstanding state ban on the practice.

The proposal "will allow manufacturers of vehicles any weight, class, size or shape to sell direct to consumers," said state Rep. Jason Isaac, the Dripping Springs Republican who filed the legislation in the House. "It’s a simple, free-market bill to allow that to happen."

State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, is carrying the legislation in the upper chamber. He and Isaac filed their bills, Senate Bill 2093 and House Bill 4236, on Friday with hours to go until the deadline to submit legislation for the biennial session.

....

This time around, Tesla is hopeful the legislation is written in a way that assuages concerns that it is giving preferential treatment to the company.

"There are no carve-outs, incentives, subsidies, breaks or deals for any manufacturers here," tweeted David White, who has previously served as a spokesman for Tesla in Texas. "This is all about the consumer and it’s the direct sales model Texans have been asking for."

....

For Isaac, the issue goes beyond Tesla. He recalled having something of an epiphany after recently touring an Amazon facility in Texas and seeing robots zip around with pallets: What if similar technology could one day be used to haul containers up and down the state's highways?

"I really believe in the next 10 to 20 years we are going to see a complete change in our transportation system," Isaac said, "and the last thing I want is any barrier to that technology being available."
We read the bill here, and we can't find anything to dislike; read the full Trib piece here.

Bottom Line: Sometimes, when you have to wait a session or two you just end up with a stronger final product (Note: Something similar might be in the process over parental educational choice).  It might not be necessary, or right, but it's also reality as long as the roster looks the way it does.  This might be one of those cases.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Did Charlie Geren just do something...good?!?


"And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins."
Mark 2:22

Whoa, whoa, whoa...wait a second...what?!?
State Rep. Charlie Geren isn’t about to let Texas get left in the dust when driverless vehicles start easing their way into everyday life. Especially since car manufacturers need somewhere to test them and could one day need someplace to mass produce them.

“I don’t want General Motors, or Ford, or Volkswagen, or Uber or anybody going anywhere else because Texas isn’t quite ready for this yet,” Geren told The Texas Tribune late Thursday.

The Fort Worth Republican this week filed House Bill 3475, which seeks to lay the framework for driving autonomous vehicles on Texas roads. Geren’s under no impression that the technology is well tested — or well trusted — enough that Texans are going to be walking into dealerships and buying driverless cars anytime soon. But he wants to get the ball rolling so car companies can expand testing of the technology in the state.
The article goes on to detail objections from Google, who believe Geren's bill might slow the development of autonomous vehicles.  Then, of course, there's the fact that this is coming from Geren.  So trust is, putting it mildly, minimal.

So we decided to read the bill.  It's a simple, two page, bill that's not written in lawyer language.  Soo...it seems like a good start.

Also, we must confess that we LOVE this provision:
(c) A political subdivision of this state may not impose a local fee, registration requirement, franchise, or other regulation related to an automated motor vehicle or automated driving system.
In other words, Geren is pre-empting another shakedown from the Austin City Council "burdensome over-regulation" at the local level.

Some might object to the $10 million insurance requirement, and any insurance mandate would be less than 100% free market.  But, realistically speaking, it's difficult to see how a bill like this could pass without some form of insurance requirement.  All things considered, it's a surmountable hurdle.

Bottom Line: If it stays close to its current form (admittedly a big if) then Charlie Geren's autonomous vehicle bill seems like a meaningful step forward.

-----

Read the full Trib article here; read the bill here.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

#TXLEGE: In typical Straus move, Sarah FRIGGIN' Davis to oversee abortion related budget subcommittee....


"Who plan evil things in their hearts;
They continually gather together for war."
Psalm 140:2

Joe Straus' commitment to defending preborn babies has always been...suspect.  While he's muddied the waters, and there's a stronger case to make against him on other issues, that discussion has never gone away.  This can only revive it:
Article II of the state budget appropriates state funds for various health divisions (i.e. the Department of Aging and Disability Services, Department of Family and Protective Services, Department of State Health Services, and the Health and Human Services Commission). From these funding streams, Texas Right to Life was able to identify and remove $62 million from abortion organizations, adopt strict funding rules, and increase funding to the Alternatives to Abortion program.

This legislative session, Pro-Life Texans must be even more diligent in watching potential funding of the abortion industry due to the person tapped to chair the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article II, State Representative Sarah Davis (R-West University Place). Davis is the only Republican who is openly anti-Life and endorsed by Planned Parenthood.

Appointed to chair the subcommittee on Article II by Speaker Joe Straus, not only does Representative Davis have an abysmal record on Pro-Life issues, she also scores poorly on all fiscal indexes. In fact, last Session Davis passed an amendment in the same subcommittee to undo Pro-Life language the Senate had written to ensure that Planned Parenthood did not receive state funding through the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program. Such a record clearly indicates she is not the best Republican, out of 94 Republican members, to be chairing a committee tasked with overseeing Texas tax dollars.

Last week’s meeting in the Article II subcommittee showed a glimpse into Davis’ intent to secure funding for additional pet projects undermining the Pro-Life values of Texans. After testimony from a doctor praised the family planning program in Texas, Rep. Davis asked the witness about an exaggerated study attempting to blame Texas’ maternal mortality and morbidity rate (MMR) on the state’s efforts to stop state funds from going to Planned Parenthood. The study and Representative Davis’ position, seek to correlate decreased taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood to the study’s alleged maternal death rate.

The MMR study has been shown to be flawed in many aspects, including failing to take into account that states and countries throughout the world do not have a standard reporting apparatus. The MMR study also failed to parse how many maternal deaths, defined as death within one year of giving birth, were attributed to heart disease, drug use, and hypertension – the three leading causes of death for Texas women. However, such facts do not fit neatly into the abortion left’s deceptive talking points.

Davis’ interest and reliance on such a misplaced “study” further shows Texans she is bent on restoring taxpayer funding of the abortion industry in Texas.
Read the whole thing here.

It was bad enough that Straus appointed a pro-Obamacare spendaholic to chair the Appropriations committee; now that same spendaholic (whose own commitment to life is questionable at best) appoints the only Republican endorsed by Planned Parenthood to oversee the subcommittee that oversees Planned Parenthood's state funding (and no, the State of Texas has not defunded them).

Bottom Line: We've seen this movie before, but good grief...

Adler commits to "transparent and available" transportation bond implementation process...


"The end of a thing is better than its beginning;
The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit."
Ecclesiastes 7:8

Confession: Given his recent support for Ellen Troxclair's "affordability road map," Mayor Adler is on our good side at the moment.  That being said, we asked him about a recent report about the implementation of the 2016 transportation bond at this morning's trib event.  Our question begins at the 42:00 minute mark of the video.

On a separate note, we thought this was the best performance we've seen from Evan Smith in awhile; he hammered the Mayor on ridesharing and short rentals.

Most of the rest of the discussion was standard company line:



Highlights:

  • Gives company line on Uber/Lyft.
    • "Competitive market"
    • Blah, blah "innovation."
    • Same old discredited spin about fingerprinting in NYC and Houston.
    • New companies "don't have the same reach."
      • Author's Note: No [REDACTED] Sherlock
    • Government and companies "need to work together."
    • "Innovative validator badge."
    • Blah, blah: "Innovating too fast"....
  • Claims innovative companies want to be here because of council policies.
    • Council policies = "Spirit and soul" of community.
  • Same tiresome "local control" argument we hear over and over again.
  • Long discussion of privacy act.
  • Long discussion of school finance.
  • Long discussion of sanctuary cities.
    • "City will follow the law" if it passes lege.
Q&A:
  • Gives company line on 2016 transportation bond.
  • Dodges question re: potential 2018 transportation bond.
  • 2016 bond implementation will be most transparent implementation ever.
    • Author's Note I: We shall see.
    • Author's Note II: If they want to come back with another ask in November 2018, they better have something tangible to show for what they already got by June of that year.
  • Gives company line on Short Term Rentals.
    • Evan calls BS on distinction between short and long term rentals.
  • CodeNext: Need more people living along corridors.
    • Need other population centers besides downtown.
    • Author's Note: See his 97% quote here.