Saturday, September 30, 2017

Everything you need to know about Austin's incessant cost overruns

"There is desirable treasure,
And oil in the dwelling of the wise,
But a foolish man squanders it."
Proverbs 21:20

Austin officials initially priced the Shoal Creek storm drain improvement project at about $1 million. But when the final bill was paid, the project actually cost Austin taxpayers about $7 million.
The renovations to City Hall and the City Council Chambers to make room for the larger, 11-member council that took office in 2015 was originally priced at $1.4 million. The costs soared to $6.4 million.
Those two projects were just a few in an audit of Austin’s Public Works Department released last week that found almost one-third — 29 percent — of the 48 projects it reviewed had costs balloon at least 50 percent higher than the staff’s original estimates.
Read the whole thing here.

Friday, September 29, 2017

#atxcouncil roundup: the Good, the better than expected, and the Terrible

"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

As promised here's what happened on the big three items yesterday.

 First, item #103 (the good):

[Note: We discussed item #99 yesterday.]

As we said in our testimony, we were shocked when we learned that Austin had this policy on the books.  The "juvenile curfew" was a legacy of 1990's era "tough on crime" hysteria.  The policy allowed police to arrest or fine minors who weren't doing anything wrong except being out on the street at a time of day of which the government didn't approve.  Obviously, we have plenty [Note: actually waaay too many] of criminal statues already on the books to deal with any actual criminal activity.  Council correctly repealed this policy and we applaud them for so doing.

Second, item #52 (the better than expected):
Approve a resolution directing the City Manager to explore funding options such as public improvement districts, tax increment financing, public-private partnerships, and increases in hotel occupancy taxes to fund improvements to downtown Austin, to address homelessness in downtown Austin, to support the local music industry, and to fund park, civic, and historic facilities and districts including expansion of the Convention Center.

This is Mayor Adler's so-called "downtown puzzle" we first discussed last month.  As introduced, it was a needlessly complicated real estate scheme allegedly designed to 'solve' a number of alleged 'problems' related to downtown (including expanding the convention center).  We have a number of issues with the proposal, but as we stated in our testimony our biggest concerns are with the nature of the tax increases and complicated corporate welfare mechanisms being used to finance large components.

The good news is that they didn't take any action, but instead returned the question to staff.  To be honest, we left City Hall to watch the football game for several hours during dias discussion. [Note: Mayor Adler in response to a request from this author, put the game on in a side room at City Hall.  We didn't see it and thus watched it off-site.  But we want to mention that Mayor Adler kept his word and we thank him for doing so.]  The Austin Monitor has a good roundup of everything we missed here.

That being said, what happened last night was at least a step in the right direction as far as process.  Instead of trying to force something through that clearly wasn't ready for prime time (a la last year's transportation bond), returning the issue to staff at least gives them a chance to come back with a much more workable proposal.  In what's becoming an oddly recurring experience, we once again found ourselves in total agreement with several points Kathie Tovo made related to this subject.

Finally, unfortunately, item #55 (the Terrible):
Approve a resolution directing the City Manager to convene a stakeholder process to gain feedback on elements of a paid sick days policy for private employers in Austin.

This is the "paid sick leave" mandate we discussed three weeks ago.  Obviously, it passed.  The good news is that this is just the beginning of the process, so there are still opportunities to stop it.

But there needs to be a backlash, we can't do this one alone.

Finally, while we forgot to mention this during our testimony, it's highly dubious whether or not the City of Austin has this authority in the first place under state law; we need to get an attorney general opinion on this topic.

Bottom Line: One good thing got done, and neither of the bad things is a done deal at this point.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Today's #atxcouncil Agenda: The merely modestly bad....

"Prepare your outside work,
Make it fit for yourself in the field;
And afterward build your house."
Proverbs 24:27

[Note: You can view the full agenda here.]

We're about to head in to tonight's dumpster fire of a council meeting.  Today's agenda has one modestly good item [item 100], two awful items [item 52 and 55], and four additional items that are bad but not super consequential.  We'll have a longer write up of the first three items tomorrow, but here's a rundown of the modestly bad:


This would pour more money into the status quo with the firefighters union; keep in mind, this is the same firefighters union that is getting the city sued due to illegal subsidies in the current contract.

This is a bad idea for the same reason that subsidized housing is always a bad idea: Subsidized housing always and forever raises the cost of housing for eveyone who doesn't get a subsidized unit and that's the vast majority of people.


Remember, 5 weeks ago, when "development services" got $122 million for a new building?!?  Well, now they're getting a seven year extension of the status quo.  Either the city didn't level with us about the building they approved last month, or our longstanding complaint about the city's inability to complete projects in a remotely timely manner applies; most likely both, but neither is good.


We discussed this issue in relation to a bill the legislature considered in April.  This item would weaken the existing protections for property owners, but wouldn't gut them entirely.  Still, not good.

Bottom Line: Honestly, we need a hug.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Turner attempts "Hurricane recovery" shakedown; Abbott responds with important point about Corporate Welfare

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

The other day, Houston mayor Sylvester Turner attempted to hold Hurricane Harvey recovery hostage to unrelated grow-government histrionics; Governor Abbott's response is spot on:
I will be paying every city of Houston invoice they submit to us within approximately 10 days. Now that said, I did see the mayor’s letter where he’s asking for certain payments by the state of Texas to the city which are unprecedented, this never happened before in the state of Texas, and it raises a concern that the mayor seems to be using this as hostage to raise taxes, when in reality, the city of Houston is sitting on hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that he’s not tapping into.

"Those hundreds of millions of dollars are siloed in TIRZ programs. Either the mayor could use those hundreds of millions of dollars to pay those expenses that cost a fraction of that, or the state legislature, during the next session, can and will modify the TIRZ statutes to ensure that the reserves, by TIRZ, can be used, by cities, to respond to disasters. So he has all the money that he needs, including the money that I provided to him, including the money that taxpayers have provided to him. He just needs to tap into it.”
Abbott is absolutely correct on this.  "Tax Increment Financing" and "Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones" are an abominable public policy practice that should be abolished in their entirety.  In the meantime, those funds should absolutely be tapped before asking overstretched taxpayers to pony up more.

[Note: Learn more about "Tax Increment Financing" and "Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones" here.  Learn about our thoughts about the practice at the state level here.  Learn about a specific application of this terrible policy at the municipal level in Austin here.]

[Note II: Ironically enough, we intend to testify against this very policy at tomorrow's #atxcouncil meeting.]

Bottom Line: It's not a secret that this website has its issues with Governor Abbott, but he's spot on here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

As district launches bond campaign, Austin ISD's Enrollment Declines further....

And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”
Revelation 14:8

But they TOTALLY need another billion dollars:
Preliminary enrollment numbers show more than a 1,600-student drop in the Austin district, which would be the biggest loss of students in a single year since the district’s attendance peaked in 2012.

There is time for a rebound. Unofficial student enrollment numbers taken from the third week of school show enrollment at 81,427, down 1,640 students from last year. But enrollment from the same day last year shows a smaller decline of 1,176 students.


The 2017-18 school year losses would mark the fifth consecutive drop and the district’s lowest point in more than a decade. Two years ago, Austin lost its position among the top five largest districts in the state.
Read the whole thing here.

Paxton case remains as FARCICAL as ever....

"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

The indefatigable Jon Cassidy summarizes the latest:
[W]e’re now in year three of the Paxton prosecution, and those attorneys have yet to introduce or even hint at the existence of any evidence at all that Paxton ever misled anybody. We’ve got a fraud case, in other words, with no fraud.

Ostensibly, the case is about a group of investors who put money into a startup that flopped, and then got mad at Paxton when they learned he hadn’t put any money into the company he had recommended. But those investors admitted to law enforcement, in records I’ve reported on, that they had just assumed Paxton was investing in the company. The fraud, such as it were, is that Paxton failed to disabuse them of a mistaken assumption that they never discussed with him by, I don’t know, using the Force or something. For that, the state is trying to imprison him for 99 years, the Securities and Exchange Commission brought a civil action over the same matter, and a federal judge tossed it at the first opportunity, finding that the SEC’s idea of law-breaking was flat wrong even if all their factual allegations could be proven correct.

Last month, National Review and the Wall Street Journal editorial board both denounced the case, correctly identifying it as yet another example of a 25-year trend in Texas of criminalizing politics. Most of these political prosecutions have originated from the District Attorney’s office in heavily Democratic Travis County, which until recently had jurisdiction over public corruption cases involving state officials.

This one, however, comes out of Collin County, a Republican stronghold just north of Dallas. That’s the part, I think, that gave outsiders pause. Why would a Republican judge in a Republican county try to have a Republican official indicted in bad faith?


The Dallas Observer has chronicled how one powerful Collin County district attorney turned his office and the grand jury system against defense attorneys, clerks, even judges who didn’t do his bidding. My own interviews with county officials and attorneys have convinced me that those intra-party factions are still very real.

The Observer described the dynamic a few years ago:
The conservative Republican electorate gives so much deference to those upholding the law that prosecutors start believing they can use their power to investigate and accuse to settle scores with no political risk.

In that atmosphere, what one lawyer called “chicken-s*** offenses” can be blown up to felonies and enemies run over by the heavy wheels of criminal indictment, even if a conviction never results.
This crew tried to an indict a sitting judge on corruption charges by alleging, without a shred of evidence, that his willingness to appoint defense attorneys for defendants was actually an enrichment scheme. They got another judge convicted on a quid pro quo bribery charge, later reversed on the grounds that the judge had neither received any benefit nor done any favor for the other party. Small detail.

This is the machine that grabbed ahold of Paxton.
Read the whole thing here.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Would Joe Straus really switch parties and run against Abbott?!?

"He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck,
Will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
Proverbs 29:1

[Update: See more here.]

This morning, Michael Quinn Sullivan posted a Facebook video where he speculated about Joe Straus switching parties and running for Governor against Greg Abbott as a Democrat:

[Note: Sullivan's video is a half hour long, so we're not going to post a bullet point list of highlights, but we suggest you watch the whole thing yourself.]

About an hour ago, we sat down to write a blog post arguing why this would never happen.  But the more we think about it, the less sure we become.  Let's put it this way: Probably not (and certainly not if he has any sense)...but Joe Straus is so dadgum arrogant that we can't put it past him.

With all due respect to Michael Quinn Sullivan, he wasn't in that room on Saturday.  This author was.  And we think Straus is running for another term as speaker.

Start with the fact that that's what Straus said he was doing on Saturday.  Furthermore, in response to our own question on Saturday, Straus went to extended lengths to remind this author of the fact that he won house district 121 by 32 points in 2016.  As it relates to the question about running for Governor, while it's absolutely true that Straus didn't shut the door, as someone who was in the room we must point out that that question was asked in the context of a) an eventual open seat whenever Abbott retires and b) running as a Republican.

It doesn't take a genius to see how Straus comes back.  It's the same playbook they've used the past few cycles.  Your most toxic incumbents [eg. Byron Cook, Dan Flynn, and Dan Huberty] retire.  You have the local chamber recruit some faceless hack with low self-esteem to run in the open seat [eg. John Wray, Ernest Bailes].  Then you combine the fact that the new guy doesn't have a record with a significant spending advantage, and you hold on to enough open seats that the basic outlines of your coalition remain intact.  Like we said, that's what they've done the past few cycles.

We're not convinced the caucus is done with Straus.  We'd love that to be the case, but we've gotten burned predicting that in the past.  Arguing "this time is different" remains perilous.

If you're Joe Straus, and you're smart, your goal is to stop major conservative priories from being enacted.  If that's your goal, then you've actually been pretty successful the last few years.  Why mess with what, from your perspective, seems to be working?!?

Then there's the fact that running against Abbott would be a suicide mission for Straus.  Joe Straus might face an uncertain future with the house republican caucus, but no Democrat is getting elected statewide anytime soon.  Joe Straus has to know this...right?!?

If Straus switches parties to run against Abbott, such a move would instantly turn the race into a national story.  And if Straus turns this race into a major national story, he turns the fact that the Texas house has been run by liberals for the past decade into a major national story.  And if Straus turns the leadership style of the Texas house into a major national story, when Straus inevitably loses the jig will finally be up.

So that's why we think Straus won't switch parties.  That's certainly why he shouldn't if he has any sense.  But, that being said, we can't eliminate the possibility that Joe Straus is so arrogant that he gets seduced into running.

Here's how the narrative would work: Blah, blah bathroom bill.  Blah, blah economy.  Never mind the fact that nothing of the sort happened in either Houston or North Carolina.

Of course, if Joe Straus were to attempt to portray himself as some sort of savior for the state's economy, the next point to raise is obvious: Joe Straus is the primary reason why the Texas Legislature failed to address property taxes last session.  During both the regular session and the special session, the Senate passed bills that were tangible steps in the right direction, and both times the house refused to negotiate in good faith before the house watered them down into meaninglessness.  Good luck running a campaign based upon "the economy" with your pro-high property taxes record.

Bottom Line: If he has any sense, Straus isn't running; but if he's arrogant enough to try then, to paraphrase Dirty Harry, he's welcome to make our day.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

#TXLEGE: Straus throws RPT Platform Under Bus

"He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck,
Will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
Proverbs 29:1

[Note: The Trib has more here.]

'When I take the oath of office at the beginning of the legislative session, I take an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Texas constitution; I don't take an oath to a political party platform.'

That was Joe Straus' response when we asked him his reaction to the no-confidence resolutions over 50 Republican county party executive committees have passed related to his leadership when we asked him this morning at TribFest.  We weren't taking notes, so we can't promise that the above quote is a perfect transcription of his exact words, but it's an accurate representation of its spirit.  He also made a bunch of excuses related to passage of the resolution in his home county that were previously debunked.

In response to a separate audience question, Straus claimed the current leadership of the Texas House doesn't play fast and loose with parliamentary procedure.  Obviously, that was a bald faced lie.  See here and here for examples.

Basically, Straus was as arrogant and smug as we've ever seen him.

Straus also made several references to the wide margin of victory he achieved in his last election in reference to how the voters in his district feel about the Republican party platform [Note: Spending seven million dollars in that campaign probably didn't hurt either].  That might be true, as far as his personal district goes.  But we suspect that's going to be a much more difficult sell in the districts of his committee chairs.

Finally, in response to a question from Texas Right to Life, Straus pretended to be unfamiliar with the Texas Advance Directives Act.  He then attempted to obfuscate by misrepresenting the DNR bill that was passed during the recently concluded special session as the TADA.  Once again, this was another bald faced lie.

Bottom Line: Joe Straus doesn't care about the RPT platform, he said so himself this morning.

Friday, September 22, 2017

UT Communists Vandalize Private Property...AGAIN!!! (Fenves, Board of Regents, and Abbott STILL SILENT)

"As for the prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, the prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has truly sent."
Jeremiah 28:9

On Wednesday, we reported on the communist inspired vandalism against a widely respected right of center student organization that has been active in Texas politics for four decades.

It happened again.

From a campus source:

At this point, the following must happen:
  • President Greg Fenves needs to take all necessary steps to ensure that the free speech rights of all students on campus are protected from violent political intimidation.
    • Note: Considering that this is the same Greg Fenves who hasn't done a damn thing about two on campus murders in 13 months, consider us skeptical that this step will occur.
  • If President Greg Fenves fails to fulfill his responsibility to maintain a campus free from violent political intimidation, then the Board of Regents needs to fire him and replace him with someone who will.
  • If President Greg Fenves fails to fulfill his responsibility to maintain a campus free from violent political intimidation, and the Board of Regents fails to fire him, then the allegedly conservative Governor who has appointed a majority of the currently seated Regents (and who, just this past Monday, had his handpicked choice elected to chair the Board) needs to explain to the public why he is allowing a culture of violent political intimidation to fester on the state's flagship public university campus.
    • Note: Keep in mind, this is the Governor who once bragged about giving "marching orders" to his university Regent appointments.
Bottom Line: The festering culture of violent political intimidation on Texas' flagship university campus cannot continue.


President Greg Fenves:
(512) 471-1232

Board of Regents:
(512) 499-4402

Governor Greg Abbott:
(512) 463-2000

Thursday, September 21, 2017

#atxcouncil: About this Cheap, Tawdry, SMEAR CAMPAIGN against Jimmy Flannigan

"He who is slow to wrath has great understanding,
But he who is impulsive exalts folly."
Proverbs 14:29

By now, we assume you've heard about the unflattering pictures that have been circulating around the internet for the past week.  If you haven't, you're welcome to search for them yourself.  No link here.

Unfortunately, the controversy refuses to die, and Flannigan was forced to issue a statement yesterday:
“For the last few days, I’ve been subjected to an online harassment campaign which include private photos of me,” Flannigan said. “These photos were taken before I became a public official. While I regret taking them, they were private. At no time were they publicly shared by me. They only became public through an anonymous twitter post. It is troubling that this private and personal matter is now being used for political purposes.”
That's fine; until we are given a good reason to do otherwise, we take Council Member Flannigan at his word.

We can think of three circumstances under which this incident could potentially be relevant to Flannigan's role as a public official:

  • He sent the picture to someone who didn't want to receive it.
  • He sent the picture to someone underage.
  • He sent the picture on city time.
As far as we can tell, none of those conditions have been met.  In the event new information emerges, we reserve the right to change that view.  But that seems unlikely at this time.

Now, look, we have our issues with Jimmy Flannigan.  Jimmy Flannigan is a big fan of corporate welfare.  Jimmy Flannigan voted for the disgraceful MERCK deal the city passed in April.  Just last week, Jimmy Flannigan doubled down on support for the Domain subsidies.  We can only imagine what kind of godawful 'incentive' package [note: pun not intended] Jimmy Flannigan is going to push to attempt to lure Amazon.

But, unless and until one of the three conditions we listed above is violated, this website remains as uninterested in Council member Flannigan's personal life as we've always been.

Finally, we want to address the chatter we've been hearing about a recall election: This is one of the dumbest ideas we've heard in a long time.  Unless or until new information emerges, the voters won't care and such an effort would be a guaranteed loss.  This website will not participate in a fools errand over a single tacky photograph.

Bottom Line: This whole 'controversy' is stupid and we hope this is the last time we have to address it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Speaking of Greg Abbott's ownership of UT....

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

Yesterday, we discussed how the UT board just elected Abbott's hand picked choice as chair; we suppose when it rains it pours:
AUSTIN, Texas — Two-time Texas Ex and state Capitol veteran Jay Dyer is returning to The University of Texas at Austin to oversee the flagship campus’s government relations office. Dyer, who most recently served as legislative director for Gov. Greg Abbott, will be UT’s deputy to the president for government relations beginning Oct. 16.

“Jay brings tremendous knowledge and experience in state government as well as a deep commitment to The University of Texas,” said President Gregory L. Fenves. “As the state’s flagship university, our future depends on having the trust of the Texas Legislature and state leadership, being accessible and affordable for students and their families, and providing value to the entire state. Jay will help us accomplish these goals.”

An Austin native, Dyer earned a B.A. in government from the College of Liberal Arts in 1995 and a J.D. from the School of Law in 1998. After holding several positions in the private sector, he served as general counsel to the Texas secretary of state from 2006 to 2008; deputy attorney general for intergovernmental relations and special assistant/senior counsel to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott between 2008 and 2014; and deputy legislative director and then legislative director to Gov. Abbott between 2015 and 2017. He served in the governor’s office through two regular legislative sessions and one special session.

In his new role, Dyer will oversee the university’s interactions with the Legislature and state agencies on all issues including those related to funding, research and student support.

“It was an honor and privilege to serve the state of Texas as a part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration,” Dyer said. “I very much appreciate the opportunity to return to The University of Texas, and I look forward to helping UT build upon its well-established commitment to excellence.”

Violent UT Communists Vandalize Conservative Students' Property

"As for the prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, the prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has truly sent."
Jeremiah 28:9

Remember, back in June, when we observed that violent communists were recruiting at the University of Texas' flagship campus and that it would lead to some very bad incidents this fall?!?

Yeah, about that:

A campus source sent the following pictures:

The original sign
How the sign was discovered.

We also received video of one of the RSF vandals fleeing after being caught:

And all this, literally, on the day after Abbott's hand picked candidate is elected to chair the Board of Regents.

Obviously, President Fenves and (to a lesser degree) Chancellor McRaven are the ones who should take the lead rooting out this nonsense.  If history is any guide, they won't.  Assuming Fenves and McRaven refuse to do their jobs, the Board of Regents (which Abbott controls) should fire BOTH.

Bottom Line: Greg Abbott owns this.  It's his Board of Regents and his hand picked board chair.  If Fenves, McRaven, and the Board refuse to act that's where the blame lies.


President Greg Fenves:
(512) 471-1232

Board of Regents:
(512) 499-4402

Governor Greg Abbott:
(512) 463-2000

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Abbott quietly asserts further ownership over the University of Texas

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

[Note: The most interesting aspect of Sarah Martinez Tucker's background can be found here.]

Another very interesting tidbit from yesterday's special UT board meeting:
AUSTIN—Regent Sara Martinez Tuckerappointed in 2015 by Governor Greg Abbott to a six-year term on The University of Texas System Board of Regents, was unanimously elected chairman of the board at a special called meeting Monday.
Tucker was nominated by Chairman Paul Foster, and the motion was seconded by Vice Chairman Steve Hicks.

Sara Martinez Tucker photo
Chairman Sara Martinez Tucker

“It has been an immense honor to serve as chairman of the board these last four years, but it was time to pass the gavel to a new leader,” Foster said. “It was a pleasure to nominate Regent Tucker, who has brought great insight and guidance to the Board over the last two years. The UT System and all of its institutions are going to benefit greatly under her very capable leadership.”
Prior to her appointment as regent, Tucker, a native of Laredo and resident of Dallas, served as the nation’s top higher education official as under secretary of the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush. There, she oversaw all policies, programs, and activities related to postsecondary education, vocational and adult education, and federal student aid.
Tucker also served as the CEO and president of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, where she pursued an aggressive goal to double the rate of Hispanics earning college degrees. Prior to her work in the nonprofit sector, she was a long-time executive at AT&T.
Tucker currently serves as chairman of the Regents’ academic affairs committee, in addition to serving on the health affairs, finance and planning, and audit, compliance and risk management committees.
“Sara Martinez Tucker is going to be an incredibly effective chairman, and I know that I and everyone at the UT System is looking forward to working with her in her new capacity,” Chancellor William McRaven said. “She gives tremendous time and energy to the UT System, and she is extremely knowledgeable and cares very deeply about higher education. We could not ask for a better leader to guide us forward.”
Tucker earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in business administration from UT Austin. Tucker has been named as an Outstanding Young Texas Ex and a Distinguished Alumna at UT Austin and among many honors has received honorary doctorates from the University of Notre Dame, Boston College, and the University of Maryland University College.
“I am honored and humbled by this great privilege, and I am grateful to my colleagues for entrusting me with this responsibility. Having the opportunity to work with extraordinary board members, system administration leaders and visionary university presidents to ensure that UT students and patients have access to the best possible outcomes is and will always be my top priority,” said Chairman Tucker, following her appointment.
LOL, as the Statesman's Ralph Haurwitz explains:
Although by outward appearances the regents select their own leader, in actual practice the governor’s office signals the choice and the regents follow suit.
In other words, the UT Board now not only contains a majority of Abbott appointees, but it's now led by Abbott's hand picked chairwoman.

Given that the Board of Regents is now led by Abbott's hand picked chair, let's consider several incidents that have occurred since May 1st of this year (the Board has jurisdiction over all of these):

[Note: Even we didn't realize that there had been 12 separate terrible incidents in the past 4.5 months and we follow this stuff closely.]

Bottom Line: Anytime you wonder how the University of Texas consistently gets away with terrible behavior, and what can be done about it, remember that the Governor's office controls the Board of Regents.

Details emerge on University of Texas' pursuit of nuclear weapons

And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
Genesis 11:4

[Note: You can read our longer explanation of why allowing the current UT leadership anywhere near nuclear weapons is a terrible idea here.]

Given that they were discussing the Los Alamos bid, we intended to attend yesterday's special meeting of the UT board.  Unfortunately, a very late arriving bus made that impossible.  Fortunately, the Statesman had it covered:
The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Monday authorized spending up to $4.5 million to prepare a bid to operate Los Alamos National Laboratory, a key part of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex.


The spending vote was not a surprise, as the board encouraged its staff last month to explore development of a bid. The regents still would have to vote again before submitting a proposal to the federal government to operate Los Alamos, which is tucked into the mountains of northern New Mexico.

The UT System, partnering with Lockheed Martin Corp., lost a bid to operate Los Alamos in 2005. The system later joined with the Texas A&M University System, the University of New Mexico, the Boeing Co. and Battelle Memorial Institute in a failed bid to run Sandia National Laboratories, also based in New Mexico.

Sandia and Los Alamos are part of the Energy Department, whose current secretary, Rick Perry, is a former Texas governor [Note: Considering the history, that's why this fool's errand is HILARIOUS].

A bid to run Los Alamos, which has 11,200 employees and a $2.5 billion budget, would be a quest for the prestige, the opportunity for national service and the legacy that attach to the institution charged with ensuring that the nation’s nuclear weapons would work as intended, without actually detonating them.

Running the lab wouldn’t necessarily be pure glory, though, because mistakes could damage the UT System’s reputation [Note: Gee...ya think?!?].

Industry partners, and perhaps academic partners, would be part of the UT System team, and UT-Austin would have a key role, officials have said. But unlike the previous bids involving the UT System for Los Alamos and Sandia, the system would be the lead player if it goes forward with the initiative.
Read the whole thing here.

A tale of two Texas politicos with ties to 9/11

"A man’s pride will bring him low,
But the humble in spirit will retain honor."
Proverbs 29:23

Obviously, the anniversary of 9/11 was last week.  On this year's anniversary we realized something we've been meaning to discuss.  We want to commit this to writing before more time passes.

Senator Brian Birdwell and Chancellor Bill McRaven are both veterans.  During their military service, both were involved in incidents with direct ties to the 9/11 attacks.  But the contrast between how each discusses those experiences is striking.

On September 11, 2001, Brian Birdwell was stationed at the Pentagon.  Not only was he stationed at the Pentagon, but he was stationed in the section of the Pentagon where the plane struck.  The only reason he survived was because he had left his office to go to the bathroom.

Birdwell was burned on over 60% of his body and a plurality of those burns were third degree.  His full recovery took several years.  Nevertheless, he persisted to a full recovery before retiring from the military.

In 2010, Birdwell won a special election to the Texas Senate.  Since then, he's served as a faithful conservative in that body.  During that time, he's focused on the issues in front of him rather than looking backwards.

While Birdwell doesn't hide from his 9/11 experience, he rarely discusses it unless he's asked.  We've never heard him discuss it in a political context except when it's directly relevant to the issue at hand.  Indeed, this author didn't realize the Brian Birdwell from 9/11 and the Brian Birdwell in the Texas Senate were the same person until a couple years ago.

Bill McRaven, by contrast, was appointed by Obama to head special forces.  As such, he was involved with the raid that killed Usama bin Laden.  While McRaven likes to present himself as a crucial participant in that mission, numerous special forces sources (at least five) have told this author that McRaven was a bit player who has embellished his role to advance his career.

[Note: Direct quote from a Navy SEAL with whom we spoke approximately two years ago, "McRaven's story of his role in the bin Laden raid is the biggest horse shit political fairy tale I've ever heard in my life."]

Three months after the bin Laden raid, SEAL Team 6 was shot down while performing a mission in Afghanistan.  This tragedy highlighted many shortcomings of U.S. policy in Afghanistan and was thus politically embarrassing to the Obama administration.  To avoid said political embarrassment, Bill McRaven ran point on the Obama administration's cover-up.

Furthermore, Birdwell only brings up his 9/11 experience when he's asked or it's directly relevant to the situation.  McRaven, on the other hand, never shuts up about having once been in the military.  It's become a running joke at the Capitol and among UT Board watchers that you could turn McRaven's incessant references to his former military employment into a drinking game.

Bottom Line: It's a very revealing contrast.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Citizen Activists catch government with pants down; Government backs off....

"A faithful witness does not lie,
But a false witness will utter lies."
Proverbs 14:5

[Note: Pressley has more on today's hearing here.]

We caught the tail end of a public Secretary of State hearing this morning that illustrates both bureaucratic mendacity and the ability of an engaged citizenry to get the bureaucracy in question to back down.

This past spring, election integrity activist (and former #atxcouncil candidate) Laura Pressley joined with a voting machine vendor to ask the Texas Secretary of State's office (which oversees elections) to permit county election officials to purchase voting machines that would leave create a verifiable paper trail.

When the proposed rule was announced in July, it included a provision that would have significantly weakened provisions requiring 'audit logs' for electronic voting machines.  This would have had the effect of gutting the effort to create a verifiable paper trail for future elections.  Fortunately, Pressley caught the proposed change while reviewing the Texas register (where proposed regulatory changes are first announced to the public).

The bureaucrats in the Secretary of State's office claimed that the petition they received from a different group of bureaucrats elsewhere in the Sec'y of States office was requesting the rule change under consideration; both Pressley and the vendor disputed that account and stated that they only requested the paper trail provision.  At best, it appears that one group of bureaucrats in the Secretary of State's office isn't communicating with a second group of bureaucrats in the Secretary of State's office.  Fortunately, the Secretary of State's office backed down and agreed to drop the 'audit log' provision.

We haven't been in particularly close contact with Pressley (outside of seeing her at occasional social functions) for about a year.  Thus we walked into today's hearing cold, with no knowledge of the specific issue that led to today's hearing.  Furthermore, we were 40 minutes late today.

Coming into today's hearing cold led us to observe body language and vocal tone much more closely than we would normally.  We were struck by the amount of passive-aggressive lawyer talk used by the bureaucrats, while they attempted to shift blame to other folks in the Secretary of State's office.  Pressley, by contrast, had a calm and reasonable demeanor throughout.

Bottom Line: The good guys won one!!!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Left Wing UT Student assaults Student Reporter

Do horses run on rocks?
Does one plow there with oxen?
Yet you have turned justice into gall,
And the fruit of righteousness into wormwood,
Amos 6:12

Remember, back in June, when we pointed out that violent communists were recruiting on campus and that it would bear poisionous fruit this fall?!?

Well, apparently we missed this incident from two weeks ago, but about that:
University of Texas Police arrested a protester on charges of assault and bodily injury at 11:45 Friday morning after a Daily Texan reporter was hit, drawing blood and requiring stitches for the injury.

The protester was Latin American studies graduate student Eric Nava-Perez, who joined fellow students Friday morning to protest anti-sanctuary city legislation and support immigrant rights. Journalism sophomore Chase Karacostas was covering the protest when he was struck at around 11:30 a.m., just as the protesters began marching to the Texas Capitol.
Police arrested Nava-Perez on Speedway in front of the Blanton Museum. University spokeswoman Cindy Posey said Nava-Perez was booked into the Travis County Jail shortly after.

Roughly 25 protesters gathered that morning in opposition of Senate Bill 4, a piece of Texas legislation requiring cities to comply with federal immigration authorities and authorizing local law enforcement to question a person’s immigration status during routine stops. A federal judge temporarily blocked the legislation last week.

Fifteen minutes after the incident occurred, Nava-Perez was arrested while marching to the Texas Capitol building with roughly 25 other student protesters.

Many of the protesters did not know any violence had taken place. After Nava-Perez was escorted from the scene, protesters chanted, “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”


Students from social justice campus organizations such as Sanctuary UT and Solidarity 6.04 attended the event, as well as unaffiliated students who joined for personal reasons.

(h/t Student Press Law Center)
You'll notice that Presidet Fenves, Chancellor McRaven, and the Board of Regents haven't said a word.

Bottom Line: Following two on-campus murders in 13 months, the University of Texas began the current school year with a politically motivated assault.  Unfortunately, we expect more of this until someone cracks down.  Have we mentioned that a majority of the Board of Regents have been appointed by Governor Abbott?!?

Why #CodeNext ABSOLUTELY should be subject to voter approval

"I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings."
Jeremiah 17:10

Yesterday, a group of activists from across the political spectrum held a press conference at city hall:
if approved by voters this proposition would require both a waiting period and voter approval before CodeNEXT or any subsequent comprehensive revisions of the City’s land development laws becomes legally effective.

In addition, no land development entitlements would be granted or vested under such new laws until June 1st following the next regularly scheduled council elections after the City Council adopts CodeNEXT or the comprehensive revisions.

Council members serve four-year staggered terms, and council elections are held every two years in November.

The purpose of the waiting period is to ensure that voters have the opportunity to learn about the proposed changes and elect council members who then have sufficient time to amend or reject the prior council’s adopted changes before they go into effect.

After the waiting period, the changes would not go into effect until Austin voters approve the laws at the next available municipal election.

Should voters not approve the new laws then the existing land development laws would remain in effect.
The group is also circulating a second petition that would make it significantly easier for voters to reverse policies enacted by council.

And it's here that we need to make a disclosure: While we had nothing to do with the planning of this campaign or yesterday's event, this author was LITERALLY the first person in the entire city to sign the CodeNext petition (we were the second person on the other one).

Here's why: Based on everything we've seen to this point, it appears to us that CodeNext is headed towards a last minute cram down in the spring.  We don't think anything good can come from that process.  And that's why we want the city to take the final draft to the voters.

Right now, it appears that CodeNext is being drafted by a tight circle consisting primarily of the consultants, the city bureaucracy, and the Mayor's office.  We don't trust any of those groups.  Thus, we want the voters to have the final say.

Obviously, we have our opinion about what we'd like to see out of CodeNext.  But this petition drive isn't about the specific contents of the final draft.  In the event that this petition drive is successful, it's virtually guaranteed that's its various organizers will end up on the opposite side of the resulting referendum.

It's been argued by those with whom we are in closer alignment over the final outcome that this petition campaign is a smokescreen to kill the whole thing.  It isn't; it's an accountability measure to make sure ensure the final draft actually serves the public.  That being said, if the final draft does little more than serve the usual suspect special interests...then you're dadgum right we want to be able to kill the whole thing at the end.

Put differently, we would prefer to avoid this situation.

Former city council candidate Ed English had some other thoughts with which we concur:

Those who are interested can learn more about, and sign, the petition here. [Note: You have to print the petition and mail it in, you can't sign it online; sorry, that's the law in Texas.]

Bottom Line: Only a crazy person would trust the current council to come up with something good without this additional accountability mechanism.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

#TROXROX: Predictably terrible budget passes...but Troxclair KILLS SxSW SUBSIDIES!!!

"There is desirable treasure,
And oil in the dwelling of the wise,
But a foolish man squanders it.
Proverbs 21:20

Good for Ellen:

  • $1 BILLION General Fund this year.
  • "Taxpayers might be given the short end of the stick."
    • Note: That's the understatement of a lifetime.
  • Troxclair: At the rate city property taxes are going up, the average bill will double in nine years..."it's ABSOLUTELY unsustainable."
  • Troxclair: "People's #1 complaint is the skyrocketing cost of living."
  • Troxclair: Travis county has adopted the effective tax rate for the past three years.
    • "That's exactly where the city of Austin should start."
  • Troxclair: "When we're talking about gentrification and being economically segregated, this is one reason why; people who have lived in Austin for years cannot afford to keep paying the increases in their property taxes."
  • Council only gets to determine $5 million out of the entire $4 BILLION budget.
More from this morning's Statesman:
Austin leaders on Wednesday night passed a $3.9 billion 2018 budget — a new record for the growing city — after days and months of City Council frustration over wanting to add social services money and feeling hemmed in by previous spending commitments.

The budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 includes a $1 billion general fund, which covers most city operations, plus self-sustaining funds for things like electricity, water and aviation. It raises tax revenue 7.9 percent, just under the 8 percent limit that could trigger a rollback election, for a tax rate of 44.48 cents per $100 of property value.

An owner of a median valued home of $305,510 will see a $151 increase in city taxes and other fees.

Both the budget and the tax rate passed 8-3, with Council Members Ellen Troxclair, Jimmy Flannigan and Ora Houston opposed. Those three raised concerns that the city was dipping into its 12 percent reserve fund buffer, even if only slightly, and they wanted to slightly lessen the tax increase.

The budget does not increase the city’s 8 percent homestead exemption — that ship sailed in July — but the city’s homestead exemption for senior and disabled residents to bumped up from $82,500 to $85,500. The exemption lowers the value of a home for taxation purposes.


Some tensions flared when Troxclair led a successful vote to have $1.2 million in hotel tax revenue pay for security at festivals, intending to follow that with a request to put the corresponding savings from the general fund toward tax relief. But Council Member Greg Casar preempted her with a motion to put $580,000 of it to various social services. That measure passed 7-4, with Troxclair, Flannigan, Houston and Alison Alter opposed.


The 2018 budget built in cost increases for things already approved, like $1.9 million and nine new employees to staff the new Central Library, set to open next month, and 2.5 percent pay increases for civilian city employees.
 From the Monitor:
Council also voted unanimously to use $1.2 million of Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue to cover security-related costs at South by Southwest, therefore liberating that much money from the General Fund for other uses.

Troxclair, who led the effort to free up those HOT funds by reducing funding for the Austin Convention Center and Visit Austin (formerly known as the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau), celebrated the moment by thanking her colleagues and city staff for making the effort possible. “This is a big moment. This didn’t come easy,” she said, referencing a policy decision that Mayor Steve Adler had at first vigorously opposed.

Troxclair’s delight quickly turned to outrage, however, after Adler recognized Casar, who introduced a motion to use $580,000 of that money to boost funding to many of the same programs that his previous motion had reduced funding for.

The mayor, said Troxclair, had told her that he was going to allow her to offer a motion to return the $1.2 million to taxpayers. Adler replied that she still could – after the vote on Casar’s motion. “If this passes I won’t have the opportunity to do that,” she argued, asking if she could offer a substitute motion. Adler denied her request, saying that the motion was not germane to what Casar was proposing.

The heated procedural debate between Adler and Troxclair became even more complex when Council Member Alison Alter chimed in from the other end of the dais with her own substitute motion to put the $580,000 in the city’s budget reserve. “Your difficulty is with what now?” asked the flummoxed mayor, who also rejected Alter’s motion.

After further back-and-forth over procedure, Council voted to approve Casar’s motion, with Troxclair, Alter, Flannigan and Houston in dissent.

Troxclair then motioned to essentially undo some of the prior committed spending and instead put $1 million toward reducing the property tax rate and $200,000 toward increasing the senior exemption.

Adler said that he wanted to keep taxes low but could not support the level that Troxclair proposed. Troxclair ridiculed the notion that $1 million out of a $1 billion budget was too much. “This is the absolute very least we can do,” she said, before she was joined by Flannigan, Houston, Alter and Council Member Ann Kitchen in support of her defeated motion.
TPPF also released a statement:
“Austin city government continues to make Central Texas’ affordability problem worse,” said James Quintero, who leads the Think Local Liberty project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “The city’s mammoth $3.9 billion budget significantly increases taxes and fees for the average Austinite, making it that much more difficult for struggling families and businesses to make ends meet. It’s disingenuous for city officials to talk about Austin’s affordability problem while endlessly growing the burden of government.”
  • You GO Ellen Troxclair!!!
  • Of the new members: Flannigan votes no while Alter votes yes.
    • Once again, we find ourselves missing Sherri Gallo (also, lesson learned).
  • Adler and Casar doing something shady together...imagine that.
  • "$151 increase in city taxes and other fees...."
    • One top of the increase last year, and the year before that, and the year before that....
  • Even if Adler and Casar had to do something cute on re-allocating the money, for Troxclair to successfully kill the SxSW subsidy remains pretty huge!!!
  • So, in the end, Adler faked 14% to make 8% sound reasonable; it still doesn't sound reasonable.
Bottom Line: We've been resigned to this happening for awhile.  But there's going to be some very interesting coalition opportunities in the coming months.  To quote Jonathan Stickland, #onward....