Saturday, September 29, 2018

#atxcountil, #TribFest18: Chutzpah, thy name is Adler....

"The hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor,
But through knowledge the righteous will be delivered."
Proverbs 11:9

This morning, on a TribFest panel related to urban issues, Mayor Adler said the legislature needs to "focus on the basics."

He should know.

Consider the following:
  • Banning BBQ
  • Uber
  • Short Term rentals
  • "Sick leave" entitlements
  • Soccer Stadium
  • Convention center expansion.
What do all those things have in common?!?

None of them are related to core functions of city government.

Bottom Line: The city of Austin ought to remove the plank from its own eye before complaining about the specks in the eye of the legislature....

Friday, September 28, 2018

#TXLEGE, #TribFest18: Freedom Caucus outlines plans for next session

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
Joshua 1:9

[Note: We lost our notes from this panel, so this post is written from memory.]

Three members of the Matt caucus (Krause, Rinaldi, Schaefer) discussed next session during a Tribfest panel this afternoon.

On the speaker's race, their "powder is still dry."  No decisions have been made.  This is probably the appropriate course until after November.  That being said, we found it interesting that Travis Clardy attended the panel:

As for priorities, property taxes and a more rational school funding system.  All were open to the idea of more state funding to "buy down" school taxes.  It's a worthwhile idea, although there have to be some conditions.

We asked if it was, realistically speaking, possible to improve the property tax system without first abolishing taxpayer funded lobbying.  All three seem to think it can be done.  Consider us skeptical.

Guns and babies were also discussed.  Schaefer gave a really good answer as to why red flag laws don't solve the problem at hand.  He also spoke eloquently about how the job of government is to protect life.

Bottom Line: It's too soon to make any predictions, but next session is going to be interesting....

#TribFest18: "The Red Team" illustrates how Texas' Congressional Delegation is improving

"When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
But when a wicked man rules, the people groan."
Proverbs 29:2

Open seat Congressional candidates Dan Crenshaw, Chip Roy, Van Taylor, and Ron Wright spoke on a panel this morning.  It was very encouraging.  We only hope they end up serving in the majority.  The candidates covered a wide range of topics, the most interesting were federal spending, border issues, and health care.

Chip Roy was the first to attack spending.  Roy pointed out that, while tax relief/simplification and the resulting economic growth were good things, federal spending remains out-of-control.  Out-of-control spending, naturally, leads to debt.  And debt remains the largest long-term threat to the U.S. economy.  Ron Wright added that "the way we've been funding the federal government is insane."

On border issues, Van Taylor made a very important point: Border security, legal immigration, and illegal immigration are separate issues.  They should all be treated as such.  Trying to solve all three in a "comprehensive" manner is a recipe for disaster.  We've also learned from experience that those sorts of bills are impossible to pass.

Taylor is correct.  The way you solve complex problems is by breaking them into their component parts.  Then you solve the component parts.  Eventually, you end up solving the big, complex, problem.

On health care, Chip Roy finally moved beyond just "repealing Obamacare" to discuss how to actually fix health care.  Obviously, this is a point we've been hammering for months.  While Roy's full remarks deserve a blog post of their own, the short version is that he spoke in favor of reducing costs and price transparency.  Wright added that "we need a system where doctors and patients call the shots."

That being said, the person who was really impressive was Dan Crenshaw.  This was the first we'd ever heard him speak.  He is seriously sharp!  We were impressed with his answers to every single question.  Especially impressive was his discussion of the defense budget.  Crenshaw explained that the military doesn't actually want a lot of that spending.  It's nothing but corporate welfare for defense contractors.  That's not something you often hear from candidates who are veterans.

Bottom Line: The Texas grassroots did a very good job in Congressional races this cycle; it shows....

#atxcouncil, #TribFest 18: Casar admits he's a socialist

"Consider the work of God;
For who can make straight what He has made crooked?"
Ecclesiastes 7:13

It's not a surprise but, at least to this author's knowledge, it's the first time he's admitted it publicly.

This morning, at the Texas Tribune festival, Greg Casar called himself a "proud member" of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Casar's comment came in response to a question from Paul Workman during a panel discussion of the City of Austin's municipal "sick leave" entitlement.  Workman asked Casar, point blank, if he was a socialist.  Casar momentarily hemmed and hawed, before biting the bullet and giving the answer detailed above.

Like we said: It's not like this is a surprise, but it is the first time (at least to our knowledge) he's admitted it publicly.

Otherwise, the panel was what you'd expect.  Rob Henneke of TPPF explained the difference between individual choice and government force.  Some form of sick leave probably is a good idea for many employers and many employees.  But "many" is not the same thing as all.  Government forcing what's good for many onto all is tyranny.  As Henneke said, "[I]t's not the roles of cities to regulate anything and everything."  Amen.

One comment stood out: Ann Beeson of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Austin based think tank, said that the fact that many employers already offered this specific benefit meant that all employers should be forced into this policy.  Obviously, big businesses using the force of government to impose mandatory costs on its smaller competitors is called economic protectionism.  We don't know if Beeson's neglect of this point was due to ignorance or malice.  Neither is acceptible.

Bottom Line: At least he's being honest....

Thursday, September 27, 2018

#TXLEGE: Necessary Guidelines for ANY increase in State Education funding

"Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need."
Ephesians 4:28

There's been a lot of talk recently about increasing state-level education spending in order to "buy down" local school taxes.  This is probably a good idea, and we support it in the abstract.  There are, however, some details we must secure to avoid unintended consequences.
  • (at least) 60% of all state-level funds MUST be spent on Classroom Instruction.

    That number should be a lot higher.  But 60% represents a win worth taking.  Nobody objects to paying teachers fairly, lots of people object to pouring more money into the bureaucracy.
  • No school district can pay its superintendent more than the state of Texas pays the Governor

    This will weed out the educrat careerists.

    There are also probably ways to further incentivize cost savings by coming up with a bonus system that falls outside this cap.
  • No bureaucrat can make more than TWICE the salary of the average teacher in the district

    This will further close the gap between teachers and bureaucrats.
  • BONUS: The Governor's teacher pay proposal

    It's a fantastic idea.  We fully support it. But it'll be very challenging to pass under the current system's incentive structure.  The steps listed above change that structure.
Bottom Line: This is absolutely a discussion worth having.  But details matter.  They matter a lot in this case.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

#TXLEGE: An EXTREMELY Fishy Accusation Against Schwertner

"Let the righteous strike me;
It shall be a kindness.
And let him rebuke me;
It shall be as excellent oil;
Let my head not refuse it.

For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked."
Psalm 141:5

[Note: If anyone reading this has a better idea what's really happening, e-mail us at; confidentiality guaranteed.]

Sssssssssssssssssay what?!?
The University of Texas is investigating an allegation that state Sen. Charles Schwertner sent a sexually explicit image and text message to a graduate student he met at an on-campus event this summer, three senior UT officials with knowledge of the investigation told the American-Statesman.

If the allegation is deemed true, the university would consider banning Schwertner from campus, two of the officials said. The third official said the university is also considering hiring outside legal counsel to investigate further.

Through a spokesman, Schwertner on Tuesday said he “categorically denies any knowledge of the accusations” and plans to cooperate with UT’s investigation.

The student met Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican and a UT alumnus, at an on-campus event to which Schwertner was invited and told him she was interested in working at the Legislature, according to two of the officials. After the event, they exchanged messages on the networking site LinkedIn before moving to text messaging, the two officials said.

During an otherwise professional exchange on networking and career advice, Schwertner abruptly wrote, “I just really want to f—- you,” and sent her an image that appeared to be a picture of his genitals that was taken in the shower, according to a UT official who has seen the exchange and the photo. The image does not include his face, the official said. The Statesman has not seen the photo.

The student told Schwertner that she thought he had acted inappropriately, the officials said, and Schwertner did not respond. The student then reported Schwertner’s behavior to the school, prompting the investigation, they said.

All UT officials interviewed by the Statesman declined to reveal the identity of the student out of respect for her privacy and to honor the promise of confidentiality that the university made to her when she reported the incident. Student privacy laws also prohibit the university from disclosing the student’s name.

The officials, who declined to be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the matter, said that the investigation into Schwertner has not found any potentially criminal misconduct.

Schwertner campaign spokesman Tom Holloway said Tuesday in a statement, “The Senator categorically denies any knowledge of the accusations leveled against him and only became aware of this allegation when contacted by the media late this afternoon. The Senator is eager to cooperate with the University of Texas and hopes to make clear he played no part in the behavior described.”

In a statement, UT spokesman Gary Susswein said the university does not discuss ongoing investigations “in order to protect the integrity of the investigative process.”

[Note: Emphasis added.]
Seriously...Charles Schwertner?!?


Wasn't expecting that one.

Now, look, the Texas Legislature has a VERY serious problem with sketchy sexual behavior among its members.  Among its members, we wouldn't put this sort of behavior past ANY of them (including the ones we like).  But...Charles Schwertner?!?

We suppose it's possible.

But this is the first time we've ever heard Charles Schwertner's name associated with this sort of behavior.

Very few people have been more outspoken than this author about the Texas legislature's need to clean up this behavior (see here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here).  During that time, we've heard unflattering reports about any number of legislators.  We've seen sketchy behavior from several legislators.  But this is the first time Charles Schwertner's name has come up.

We've been working sources since last night.  So far, it's unanimous.  This seems to be the first time anyone, anywhere, has heard any sort of allegation along these lines regarding Schwertner.

Then there's this:

This is not to say it's impossible.  Certainly, none of us participated in the alleged conversation.  But it is to say that, as far as we can tell, this is the first time Charles Schwertner's name has ever come up in association with this sort of behavior.


Which begs a natural follow up question.  Where, pray tell, did this accusation emerge?!?  Glad you asked:
[T]hree senior UT officials
So, the accusation isn't coming from the afflicted party.  It's coming from "three senior UT officials" not speaking on the record.  No doubt laundered through several layers of the UT bureaucracy.

Why does this matter?!?

Because UT has a history with Schwertner.  And UT also has a history of fighting dirty when their financial interests are threatened.  Very dirty.

More than any other Senator, Charles Schwertner has taken the lead against UT's incessant tuition hikes.  Schwertner has also voted against Regent nominees.  Thus, he's a threat.  If you don't think UT is willing to fight this dirty to protect its financial interests, you don't know UT.

Then there's the alleged matter of privacy.  It would not be difficult to redact the accuser's personally identifiable information.  Even if they didn't want to make it public, they could have at least show a copy of the picture to the Statesman.  That they didn't, while hiding behind the cloak of anonymity, is suspicious.

Again, that's not to say it's impossible.  UT could be telling the truth.  But their record of truthfulness, especially where money is concerned leaves a lot to be desired.


That being said, for UT's sake, they better have the goods.

From the Lt. Governor:

It doesn't take a genius to read between those lines.  If UT doesn't have the goods, they just picked a gigantic fight with the Senate and the Lt. Governor.  That suggests UT knows what they're doing.  But the UT politburo's record also suggests they're arrogant enough to try.

Only time will tell.

Last session, the Senate caved on Regents and the higher ed budget.  Efforts on tuition fizzled in the house.  That can change.

But here's where they're really playing with fire: UT's record on Title IX leaves a lot to be desired.  Now they're making an, at best, thinly sourced allegation against a Senator.  Woe unto them if they are wrong.


Even more than Dan Patrick, however, the person to watch is Greg Abbott.  It's not a secret that, both as Governor and as Attorney General, Greg Abbott has run a lot of interference for UT.  Does that continue?!?

There are already signs Abbott is getting sick of UT's nonsense.  Late last year, Abbott's staff started leaking about his displeasure with the University.  And that was after Abbott forced out the Chairman of the Board after he started working to undermine Abbott's legislative agenda.

And now "three senior UT officials" are leaking to the Statesman about this sensitive of a topic.

Does anybody think they gave the Governor's office a head's up?!?


Since this issue re-emerged last year, our biggest fear has been that it would become weaponized for political purposes.  We don't know that that's what happened in this instance.  But it's happened before.

On the other hand, the Senate's reaction to previous allegations has sucked.

If it takes a weak accusation against a Republican for the Senate to get its act together, that might be a silver lining.


Finally: This is exactly why we offered our platform amendment at the convention.  We specifically called on the Legislature to establish a "credible system of due process."  At the time, it was primarily about the known cases.  But imagine if such a system was in place now.

Unfortunately, RPT convention delegates, YOU'RE the ones who voted it down.

The Schwertner situation is a textbook example of why the adopted platform language is dangerous.


Bottom Line: It's a mess.  We'll have to see how it unfolds.  But there's A LOT of history between these two parties.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

#TXLEGE: Conservative Budget Coalition announces Comprehensive List of Fiscal Priorities!!!

"Be diligent to know the state of your flocks,
And attend to your herds;"
Proverbs 27:23

The Conservative Budget coalition is one of the most effective actions Texas conservatives have taken in recent years.  It began in 2014, following the budget debacle of the 83rd legislature.  It sets a top line number for budget growth that would hold per capita state spending constant.  It's the reason why both the 84th and 85th legislatures passed budgets that, while far (especially in the 85th) from perfect, met a minimum threshold of acceptability.

The coalition held a press conference this morning to announce its priorities.  The most important takeaway is that they're asking for more.  In addition to a maximum spending target, they're asking for several other fantastic fiscal reforms.

$234.1 Billion.  That's the top line number for a two-year state budget that will hold state spending constant per Texan.  This still allows for inflation and population growth.  This translates to an 8% budget cycle over budget cycle spending increase.

But the coalition wants to do more.  Instead of acquiescing to an 8% state spending increase, the coalition wants to limit the state to 4%.  The difference will then be directed to a Tax Relief Fund that will be used to "buy down" school district taxes.  This will provide immediate relief to taxpayer and, if followed over time, eventually eliminate the largest component of Texans property tax bill.  This is the TPPF plan we've discussed.

For us, the best part of today's press conference was that it broke down why the TPPF plan and the Governor's plan complement each other.  The TPPF plan is designed to provide immediate relief on the largest part (school districts) of the tax bill.  The Governor's plan is designed to make sure cities, counties, and special purpose districts don't spend the resulting savings.  The reason why you have to treat school districts differently from cities, counties, and special purpose districts is because of Robin Hood (which the TPPF plan also begins to address).

The plan finally calls for various spending limits, eliminating the margins tax, and various transparency measures.  All of these things are good ideas.  We'd support any!

Bottom Line: If the next legislature wants to know how to make the grassroots happy, today's press conference is a good place to start.


Monday, September 24, 2018

Longhorns look like they're starting to turn a SERIOUS corner!!!

"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

Hoo boy!!!

Yesterday afternoon, the Longhorns turned in a dominant performance against TCU, a team that has given them fits for most of this decade.  That follows last week's strong win against USC.  It remains too soon to use the "B"-word, but man do the signs look good.

The defense looks phenomenal.  Especially red zone.  For all of TCU's trips into Longhorn territory, they only managed one touchdown.  USC wasn't much better.  They still give up more yardage than we'd like.  But they get stops when they need them.  And they're starting to get serious turnovers.

The offense isn't far behind.  Sam Ehlinger is emerging.  The running game can chew up yards.  Obviously, that sets up the receivers down field.  And those receivers are getting open.  None of this is rocket science, but it's the first time in awhile that we've seen this level of execution.

The kicking game is a work in progress; we hope it doesn't come back to bite us.

Otherwise, some thoughts:
  • DKR has been electric!!!  We can't remember the last time it was this consistently loud.  Of course, it's been awhile since we've had something to be loud about.
  • Sam Ehlinger's level of poise is improving.  He's starting to give his receivers time to get open.  We still wish he wouldn't run as often as he does.
  • Tre Watson and Keaontay Ingram are an impressive duo in the backfield.
  • For the first time in ages, the receiver rotation makes sense.  For too many years, Texas has had wide receiver A.D.D.  This means nobody can get into a rhythm.  That seems to have changed.
  • Colin Johnson is, straight up, the man.
  • Lil'Jordan Humphery is emerging a perfect complimentary receiver.  His touchdown against USC was pretty impressive.  Helping put the game away yesterday was also pretty solid.
  • Props to the offensive line, who are doing everything we expect.
  • Gary Johnson has been everywhere on defense.
  • The secondary is nasty.
  • Kris Boyd is turning into a serious leader.  Both in terms of his personal performance and how he elevates his teammates.  Really impressive.
  • Davante Davis is turning into a SHUTDOWN cornerback.
  • Similar to Johnson, Brandon Jones is everywhere.
  • That being said: Where's Breckyn Hegar?!?  Besides offside.  If he can get going, it makes this defense that much more fearsome.
Bottom Line: It's been a long time coming.  Still too soon to get carried away.  But so far, so good!!!



#TXSEN: People who live in Glass Houses shouldn't Throw Stones

"Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Matthew 7:5

Took less than 5 seconds on Google.

Shot, from Friday night:
“Dr. Ford’s allegations should be investigated by the FBI. Full stop,” O’Rourke said. “There is precedent for that,” he said, referring to Anita Hill, who accused Justice Clarence Thomas of sexually harassing her when he was her boss at a federal agency.
Chaser, from August:

In other words: The guy going after Brett Kavanaugh over sexual misconduct allegations is doing campaign events with...BORRIS friggin' MILES?!?

We weren't the only one to notice:

In case you forgot:
Lauren*, a Texas legislative intern, was standing underneath the bright blue-and-red neon sign of The Continental Club, a famed Austin bar frequented by schmoozing politicians, lobbyists, and reporters.

That week in May 2013 was filled to the brim with end-of-session (“sine die”) parties, and Lauren was with a group of other interns on South Congress when Democratic state Rep. Borris Miles pulled up.

According to Lauren, Miles leaned out of the carriage he was riding in and pulled out a large roll of money. He handed “maybe $500” to an intern and then looked at Lauren.

“You know how you have the roll of hundreds that you see on TV? It was like that,” Lauren told The Daily Beast.

“I said, ‘Hi Representative, how are you?’ Then he slowly looked me up and down, counted out more money, reached out his hand and said, ‘Bitch, you want to fuck with me tonight?’

“I said ‘No, thank you’ and physically stepped back,” Lauren recalled. “I didn’t want to be rude to him. I remember his intern pacifying him and saying, ‘It’s time to go.’

“Everyone was just shocked that he said that—that he cussed at me and that he was offering me money. It was outrageous,” she continued. “I just remember thinking, ‘I need to go, and I need to not be here anymore.’”
And this:
One time, Chris said, he “witnessed [Miles] catcalling women in Downtown Austin on the way back from a Spurs game, and there had to have been at least 15 or 16 other members that were there because it was a member event.”

The Spurs had played the Lakers that April, and the lawmakers went together to San Antonio to watch one of the games. “As we’re driving back towards the W, he’s hanging out of the open door of the bus and shouting at women,” said Chris.

Chris could not recall the catcalls specifically but said, “It was not something that I would want shouted at anyone.”

Chris’ chief of staff confirmed to The Daily Beast that he heard about the alleged catcalling the next morning.
And this:
Ben*, a former staffer who recently worked in the Capitol and “spent a lot of time with Miles,” said he witnessed the then-state representative “forcibly kiss” at least one woman at the W Hotel.

“He offered to buy her a drink, kept trying to kiss her, and she kept trying to push him away,” said Ben. “He kept laughing about it.

“It was so creepy, and he had this big smile,” said Ben. “Borris loves the W Hotel, and he has a tendency to force himself upon women at bars and kiss them or grope them. He’ll tell them that he is a higher elected official than he actually is.”


“He also has a tendency to call women out of their name when they turn him down,” he said. “‘Bitch,’ ‘ho,’ ‘whore.’ He doesn’t like being told ‘no.’
And this:
When Heather* first covered the Texas Legislature as a journalist in 2011, she was repeatedly targeted by Miles, she told The Daily Beast in a story published last month.

Late one night when the legislature was in session, Heather was reporting on HB 400, which would have scrapped Texas’ law mandating class size ratio. Miles famously used a point of order to defeat the bill, landing him the title of Star of the 2011 Legislative Session by the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.

Heather said she had been trying to get details about the bill negotiations, when that night, around midnight, Miles cornered her in a hallway and forcibly kissed her outside the House chamber.

“It happened quickly,” Heather said, noting that Miles laughed afterward. “I think he thought it was hilarious.”

“He’d said several times already, ‘If you go out to dinner with me, I’d be happy to give you the details,’ and I’d sort of laugh it off but it was weird and obviously gross.”
You can read the full Daily Beast report here.

There you have it.

Obviously, this is not to belittle the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh.  Those accusations are serious and should be investigated in the most judicious manner possible.  Unfortunately, we suspect that the atmosphere has been so poisoned that doing so might now be impossible.

That being said, however one feels about Kavanaugh, it's impossible to deny that the accusations against Miles have significantly better sourcing.

Anybody who knows this author knows there are few things we loathe more than when serious allegations of sexual misconduct are interpreted through the lens of mindless, rank, partisanship.  This website has called for politicians from across the political spectrum [Note: Including Borris Miles!!!] to resign over this garbage.  Thus, we have little patience for grandstanding U.S. Senate candidates who theatrically call for FBI investigations while they're holding campaign events with BORRIS friggin' MILES.

Finally, a political note: We wrote last week about how the Democrats' failure to do the right things with Carlos Uresti cost them his Senate seat.  It would be fitting for them to go through the same thing a second time.  What a STUPID, completely preventable, unforced error!!!

Bottom Line: There are two possibilities.  Bobby Francis didn't know.  Or he didn't care.  Neither one is good.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

#TXSEN: Random Thoughts on Cruz and Bobby Francis' first "debate"

"Because of the transgression of a land, many are its princes;
But by a man of understanding and knowledge
Right will be prolonged."
Proverbs 28:2

We don't feel like organizing them into a long-form write up, but some thoughts:
  • This debate was very similar to the immigration debate between Dan Patrick and Julian Castro in 2014.  Like Castro, Bobby Francis came out strong.  He was high energy (more on that below).  Like Patrick, Cruz took some time to get going.  But, also like Patrick, by the fifteen minute mark, Cruz was firmly in control and he never relinquished it.
  • Also like Castro: By the end of the debate, Bobby Francis was reduced to spouting the same three talking points.
  • Speaking of Bobby Francis: Was he on amphetamines?!?  Whatever the reason, his initial burst of energy turned into a bizarre type of hyperactivity.  What was up with his hands?!?
  • Immigration: Cruz supports securing the border and coming up with a more rational system of legal.  Bobby Francis' for straight-up amnesty.  You do realize this is Texas...right?!?
  • The only thing stupider than discussing the NFL protests in the first place was Bobby Francis comparing them to Selma.
  • Health Care: It's not a secret that we wish Cruz would discuss this topic more.  Cruz listed good principles, though we still wish he would put together his own comprehensive plan.  Bobby Francis, by contrast, supports socialized medicine.  This isn't close.
  • Bobby Francis drinking game: Drink every time he says...
    • "I visited every county in Texas."
    • "I want to work with Trump when I can, and oppose him when I must."
    • "Republicans, Democrats, Independents coming together...."
  • #2A: Cruz badly exposed Bobby Francis ignorance about firearms.  Bobby Francis called AR-15's "weapons of war."  It only takes 10 seconds on Wikipedia.

    That being said, when Bobby Francis says "I support the second amendment," he's lying.  PERIOD.  END OF STORY.
  • Criminal Justice: This was the most interesting section of the debate.  It's not a secret that this author's views on criminal justice don't line up neatly with any faction.  That being said, Cruz was absolutely correct when he pointed out that hateful, over the top, anti-police rhetoric leads to things like the Dallas shooting.  Bobby Francis' obsession with turing everything into a racial issue was sad.
  •  That being said, there was one person who liked Bobby Francis' constant obsession with race:

  • Bobby Francis denigrates prayer.  Wow.  Just wow.
  • Economy: 'Bout dadgum time they got to this.  Cruz strong in discussing how we need to continue path of deregulation [Note: More of this please!!!] and tax relief/simplification.  Bobby Francis' overzealously delivers stale talking points about "tax cuts for the rich" even know...the rich like high taxes.
  • An hour long debate on "domestic issues" and...NOT.  A.  SINGLE.  DAMN.  QUESTION...about Federal SPENDING!!!
Bottom Line:  What you'd expect.  Contrast speaks for itself.  This is Texas.

Friday, September 21, 2018

George P. Bush, David Dewhurst, (shady real estate mechanisms), and YOUR taxes

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

Obscure, complicated, fight over education funding broke out last week:
A fight is brewing between Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Republicans on the State Board of Education over investment funds they manage to generate school funding.

For the first time ever, the School Land Board — a three-person body headed by Bush, a Republican — declined to pass any money from its fund to the education board, instead opting to feed $600 million to schools directly.

In response, education board members say they will have to reduce their own contributions toward school funding. And they’re also calling for this complex investment system to be reformed in the next legislative session.

As each side argues over how to best manage the largest educational endowment in the country, their disagreement could affect funding for Texas schools.

The crux of their fight rests on whose investment portfolio is the most profitable.

Since 2001, the land office and the education board have each managed separate portfolios as part of the $40 billion Permanent School Fund, a massive endowment of land and investments set up to support public schools in the state. That money makes up one piece of a broader school finance system in Texas, which also uses funds from local property taxes, state taxes and federal programs to support public schools.

The land office, which manages the real estate and mineral leases on the fund’s land, passed along millions each year from its fund to the education board’s own fund for securities investments.

In the past eight funding cycles, it had twice contributed $300 million directly into school funding, in addition to giving the SBOE anywhere from $200 million to $500 million.

But for the first time, the School Land Board voted not to pass along any money at all to the education board. Instead, all three of the board’s members voted to put $600 million directly into school funding — the maximum allowed under state law.

“Our dollars are needed more than ever, and this was the most direct way to get the money to the schoolchildren of Texas,” Karina Erickson, a spokesperson for Bush, said.

Bush has insisted that the land office's investment fund is more profitable, and thus where it makes the most financial sense to keep school money.

But state board members have disputed his claims, instead accusing the land commissioner of getting involved in school funding to boost his political profile.
The (extremely) short version of what's happening: George P. Bush is hoarding cash in his own agency.  That gap will have to get made up somewhere.  The most likely places are the legislature or local property taxes.  Either one of those outcomes would likely forestall meaningful property tax reform.

So that's bad, but what's more interesting is how we got into this mess in the first place.

In 2001, back when he was Land Commissioner, David Dewhurst (of all people) got the legislature to pass HB 3558: Relating to the sale, lease, and purchase of interests in real property for the permanent school fund.  Essentially, the bill allowed the land office to act as a landlord/real estate developer in the name of "education funding."  Companies with good lobbyists could get favorable tax treatment.  It's pretty much the most Texas government thing ever!

The state-of-the-art Wal-Mart Distribution Center, located in the Houston Ship Channel area, is the newest and largest Wal-Mart import and distribution facility in the country.


Phase II is another 2 million-square-foot bulk storage facility and distribution warehouse consisting of four attached 500,000-square-foot buildings on a 238.80-acre site. Construction (site preparation) began in August of 2004 and Phase II was completed in May of 2005.

The transaction was a significant public/private venture between Wal-Mart Stores East LP and the Texas Permanent School Fund represented by the Texas General Land Office. This is the biggest real-estate transaction ever for the PSF, a $21 billion investment pool that generates about $800 million a year to help pay for the state's share of public education.

Wal-Mart purchased the land and built the two structures that were under contract for sale to the Permanent School Fund. The agreement also included a leaseback provision that was based on bond lease terms at a blended rate of 6.12 percent of the value of the property for the first five years or $6.12 million annually for that period.

The project transaction was conceived in conjunction with Chambers County officials with help from the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

The collaboration of a public entity, the largest retail organization in the world and a governmental agency on a real estate transaction posed certain challenges not familiar to private sector transactions.

This transaction was the first of its kind for the Texas General Land Office, and the asset management and legal departments had to interpret new legislation that allowed the agency to purchase the property. Working together, both departments and Wal-Mart came up with the creative solutions needed to close this transaction in a relatively short period of time for such a large and complicated deal.

Additionally, Chambers County was instrumental in attracting Wal-Mart to the Cedar Crossing Industrial Park. The county's cooperation facilitated Wal-Mart's decision to make their site selection in Chambers County.
So the legislature created a complicated system of using real estate transactions to "fund schools" and the first thing is was used for...was to give tax breaks to Wal-Mart.

Got it.

Bottom Line: This entire wretched system should probably be abolished (or, at least, significantly reformed).  But, at a minimum, dedicated funds should be used for their intended purpose.  George P. Bush is rapidly turning himself into a liability we can't afford....

Thursday, September 20, 2018

#atxcouncil: What's $75 million between friends?!?

"The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning,"
Revelation 18:9

We didn't feel like going to council today, but a couple items from today's consent agenda stand out.

Item 11:

This is asinine.  They should take this money and use it to lower the hotel occupancy tax.  But they need their corporate welfare!

Item 32:

Ho, hum...just a $61 MILLION contract.

Nothing to see here.

Bottom Line: It's not like it's THEIR money or anything...