Thursday, October 8, 2015

Patrick releases first round of Interim Charges

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

Earlier today, Lt. Gov. Patrick released his first round of interim charges; if you're a conservative there's a lot on this list to like:

  • Religious Liberty: Examine measures to affirm 1st Amendment religious liberty protections in Texas, along with the relationship between local ordinances and state and federal law. Make recommendations to ensure that the government does not force individuals, organizations or businesses to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.
  • Union Dues: Examine the practice of using public funds and employees for the payment processing of union dues. Make recommendations on whether Texas should end this practice.
    • [Author's Note: If you know the history on this issue, this is a STINGING rebuke of Joe Straus and Byron Cook.]
  • Eminent Domain: Gather and review data on the compensation provided to private property owners for property purchased or taken by entities with eminent domain authority. Examine the variance, if any, between the offers and the fair market values of properties taken through eminent domain. Make recommendations to ensure property owners are fairly compensated.
    • [Author's Note: This is crucial if you ever want to get rid of toll-roads.]
  • Ethics: Review current ethics laws governing public officials and employees and recommend changes necessary to inspire the public’s confidence in a transparent and ethically principled government. Review public officials’ reporting requirements to the Texas Ethics Commission. Examine the categorization of ethics reporting violations and make recommendations to encourage accurate reporting and timely correction to inadvertent clerical errors.
  • State Water Plan: Study and make recommendations on improving the process of developing and executing the State Water Plan.
    • [Author's Note: This a polite way of saying that the Senate wants to monitor closely the Water Slush Fund Straus pushed through two sessions ago.]
Read the whole thing here.

Bottom Line: Issuing interim charges over three hot button issues that Straus killed last session tells you everything you need to know about where Patrick is leading the Texas Senate.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bill Powers' new employer supports Courthouse Bond

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

Following his departure last June, disgraced former UT President Bill Powers was hired by the Dallas-based law firm Jackson-Walker L.L.P:
Former University of Texas President William Powers, Jr. Joins Jackson Walker

(AUSTIN) – Jackson Walker L.L.P. is pleased to announce that former University of Texas at Austin president William Powers, Jr. will join the firm's Austin office as of counsel. A widely published legal scholar, nationally renowned academic leader, respected corporate governance authority, and sought-after consultant to domestic and foreign governments, Mr. Powers brings a wealth of experience to his new role with the firm.
 And, of course, they have questionable contracts with the University:
The agenda book for this week’s two-day meeting of the University of Texas System Board of Regents ran 479 pages. Regent Wallace L. Hall Jr. seems to have reviewed every page in advance.

Among the items that caught his eye were six contracts for legal services, summarized deep in the “consent agenda,” with Jackson Walker LLP, a law firm that recently hired UT-Austin’s former president, Bill Powers, now a law professor.

Hall asked Wednesday whether the contracts involved the UT System, as indicated in the agenda book, or the Austin campus. Daniel Sharphorn, the system’s general counsel, explained that although the contracts are with the system, the work is to be performed for the campus.

It would have been more transparent if the agenda items had made that clear, Hall said. And he questioned the appropriateness of contracting with a firm that employs a former president.
Which makes this item from page 5 of the pro-Travis County Courthouse Bond committee's July 15 campaign finance report very interesting:

Bottom Line: The obscene cost and the lack of accessibility are the primary reasons to make Travis County develop a better alternative, but if we can spite Bill Powers in the process, so much the better.

Travis County Courthouse proposal would create "dead zone" after 5pm

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

This courthouse campaign has been a fascinating process.  While the cost of this bond was what originally caught our attention, we completely agree with the concerns others have expressed regarding parking and access for residents of the east side.  We just learned about another objection to the current proposal we hadn't considered.

According to Austin towers, a local real estate blog, the current proposal would create a "dead zone" in the evening:
During a community forum hosted by AURA in July, Judge Shepperd talked about keeping the space “alive after five.” Keep Austin Wonky indicated that Judge Shepperd said it is a priority.

Hat tip to Judge Shepperd for this comment. Can we now get some specifics?

We need only look to the federal courthouse on any given night. The thing is a mausoleum after the last gavel of the day slams.

At the time, the federal courthouse made sense. It erased a community embarrassment. But a dead building in Austin is not acceptable. Downtown Austin distinguishes our collective piece of dirt from every other post-WW2 American piece of dirt.

I’m pleased by Judge Shepperd’s comments; however, the community deserves more than a Judge voicing his opinion at a community event. The proposal from the Commissioners Court needs to include specific promises, and details on how those promises will be upheld, regarding how it will keep the courthouse “alive after five.”


It would be a shame if the courthouse is approved, only to box in Republic Square Park on another side with another nine-to-five security apparatus and five-to-nine mausoleum.

Lets encourage Judge Eckhardt and Judge Shepperd to start detailing how they will keep this space alive after five, and woven into the community fabric. The vast majority of Central Texans will never step foot into this proposed public building, and for them the missing details – how this proposal really fits with its surroundings – are the most important details of the entire Courthouse proposal.
Bottom Line: It takes a truly AWFUL proposal to create this many reasonable objections...congratulations Travis County!!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Abbott conspicuously silent on U.T. tuition hike

"You are of purer eyes than to behold evil,
And cannot look on wickedness.
Why do You look on those who deal treacherously,
And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours
A person more righteous than he?"
Habakkuk 1:13

Not surprising; we weren't planning to comment on this, but since the Statesman noticed (Reprinted in Full):
Gov. Greg Abbott’s silence on prospect of UT tuition increases could be telling

When Rick Perry was governor, he weighed in publicly twice when the UT System Board of Regents was about to increase tuition and mandatory fees — and in both cases the regents backed off. Some might say that is an appropriate role for the state’s chief executive. Others might call it meddling, as state law puts governing boards of public universities in charge of tuition.

Thus far, Perry’s successor, Greg Abbott, has remained silent, at least publicly, regarding the UT board’s plan to give favorable consideration to 2 percent increases in each of the next two academic years for the system’s 14 campuses. The campuses will also have an opportunity to seek even higher increases if they can show the proceeds would help boost graduation rates and address other high priorities. The regents are expected to take up the matter in February.

In contrast, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — a Republican, like the current and former governors — issued a statement Thursday, a day before the regents met, urging them to hold the line on tuition.

I asked Abbott’s press office for the governor’s view on the UT board’s plan and received no comment. Which actually might say a lot. Abbott’s silence on the matter could suggest that he’s trusting his appointees to the board, as well as those named by his predecessor, to do their jobs as they see fit, even if it entails a tuition increase. Stay tuned.
Yet somehow he finds time to comment on the Cowboys defense.

Also, it's worth noting that all three of Abbott's regents (David Beck, Steve Hicks, and Sarah Tucker) voted for the tuition hike.

Bottom Line: The contrast with Dan Patrick speaks for itself.

Austin ISD's new "School Bus Camera" Swindle

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

We didn't report on the campaign to remove red light cameras earlier this year in Arlington, but one of the key players has just set up shop in Austin:
Austin school buses will soon start recording drivers who pass them illegally.

The school board is contracting with Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions to install cameras on about 300 buses, roughly 60 percent of the fleet. The cameras, which are installed near the stop arms of the buses, start rolling once the bus stops. After a review by Austin school district police, any drivers recorded passing stopped buses will receive a $300 ticket in the mail.

[Author's Note: Emphasis added.]
It gets better:
The Austin school district isn’t paying American Traffic Solutions anything for installing the cameras. The district will give 60 percent of the ticket revenues to American Traffic Solutions, and the district will keep the rest. Hafezizadeh said that the proportions could change, depending on the number of systems installed and whether the district or the vendor will perform certain related services.
But at least it'll be fairly enforced:
Some drivers have complained about the accuracy of the cameras and the fairness of the adjudication process when people want to contest tickets. In San Marcos, drivers contest a camera-enforced ticket with the school bus camera vendor, who makes most of the profit from the tickets. Drivers can appeal the vendor’s decision to a municipal court judge, but they rarely do.


Drivers who violate the law can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,250.
Because we're from the government and we're here to harass you and give your money to our cronies help.


Bottom Line: Austin ISD seems determined to make itself one of this website's top 2016 priorities.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Travis County receives FIERCE pushback on Courthouse

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty (R - Western Travis County)

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

Travis County Commissioners Court -- Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, the only Republican on the Travis County Commissioners court, held a forum with the Travis County Taxpayers Union to discuss the proposed Courthouse bond this afternoon.  Daugherty, who supports the bond, repeated the company line about the current aging Courthouse that no one disputes.  The presentation was, to put it mildly, greeted with skepticism.

Belinda Powell, a county bureaucrat, handled the bulk of the presentation, she was assisted by Matias Segurra, an outside consultant with AECOM.

The most notable claim the county made was that the current proposal is a "design, build" project.  This means that everything we're hearing before the vote is a "concept" but we won't know the final plan until construction begins. Council member Don Zimmerman got the county to admit the ballot language was impossibly vague.  The county attributed that to a need for "flexibility."  Essentially, we have to pass the bond to find out what's in it.

The primary objections dealt with the issue of parking.  Former Austin City Council candidate Bill Worsham got the county admitted the new courthouse won't have sufficient parking to cover peak usage.  Several African-American residents of East Austin bemoaned the cost of parking downtown.  They were unpersuaded by the county's discussion of the bus routes available downtown.  One elderly gentleman explained that it was insulting to expect people who live in the outer reaches of the city to take the bus for two hours (each way) to reach downtown instead of building a facility with adequate parking.

Two of the (Democrat) candidates for the open seat in Precinct 1, Richard Franklin and Arthur Sampson, attended; both oppose the current proposal.

The bonds would have a duration of 20 years and the county currently has $695 million in debt outstanding.

Bottom Line: Today's presentation doesn't change the fact that current Courthouse proposal would produce a traffic nightmare, doesn't have NEARLY enough parking, and would make Austin's affordability issues worse.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

U.T. Politburo picks a fight with Patrick

"Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall."
Proverbs 16:18

They really ARE that arrogant.

Yesterday, in a 7-2 vote (Wallace Hall and Alex Cranberg voting Nay), the University of Texas Board of Regents did the following:
UT institutions get first go-ahead in four years to propose tuition increases
AUSTIN —The UT System Board of Regents authorized UT institutions to present proposals for increases to tuition and fees for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 at a special-called board meeting Friday. 
Most UT System in-state undergraduate students have seen little to no increase in tuition since fall 2012 and no increases in mandatory student fees since 2011. However, Chancellor William H. McRaven said the System’s academic institutions now are facing the need for significant additional resources because of the increase in costs associated with operating a university campus and the decline in per-student state appropriations over the last decade. 
“Maintaining and increasing access to a college education remains one of our guiding missions. It is a mission shared by our legislators, who offered significant additional support for higher education in the last session. But even with this state funding, our institutions – which have done a tremendous job of increasing efficiency and holding the line on costs – have reached a breaking point,” McRaven said. “If we want UT institutions to continue to be nationally competitive against their peers and offer a top-notch education, we have to provide them with more financial flexibility.”
 They did so in direct defiance of Lt. Governor Patrick, who had stated the day before:
"It is my hope, instead of looking at ways to potentially raise tuition in the future, they will look for ways to make college education more affordable for students and families across Texas. I encourage them to remember that we must keep the cost of college tuition at a level that is within reach of all Texans. With the dramatic increase in funding from the legislature this session, I am surprised that they are already looking at ways to raise tuition on students."
They did so at a time when the football team is 1-3 (*).

They did so at a time when the University is middle of the pack (at best) in Academics.

They did so at a time when they've been given historic levels of Funding from the legislature, an additional slush fund, and when they have the second largest endowment in the nation.

It's NEVER enough, because these people's avarice, corruption, and greed knows no limits.

Still, this could be a turning point.

The Texas Senate has TREMENDOUS authority over the state's public universities.  Senator Charles Schwertner's tuition deregulation repeal bill could easily become a priority.  And let's not forget, four of the candidates running for the open seat in SD-24 have already expressed a willingness to vote against Governor Abbott's next round of Regent nominees.

And yes, we did predict this EXACT chain of events back in March.

Bottom Line: It's their funeral.

(*) -- NOTE: This post was written shortly before kickoff of the TCU game today.  It doesn't take it into account.  That being said, if they lose to TCU today (which seems likely), it applies all the more so to a 1-4 team.