Archive for April, 2017

Voting Your District

I know, I know, we are not done with April but Dallas Keuchel leads the team pitching staff with 4 wins and no losses. Which ‘Stro pitcher has the most losses?

Commentary got a robocall yesterday asking me to press 1 if I support HISD Prop 1 or 2 if I oppose.

Early Voting in Person turnout on Day 4 for the HISD Prop 1 race is in the books and here is what we have to date in some select locales.   After four days, West Gray had 466, West Loop 169, Palm Center 167, Sunnyside 125, Northeast 123, Hiram Clarke 96, Tracy Gee 99, Bayland 205, Ripley 31, HCC 37, Hardy 45 and Moody 70.

Pasadena is sitting at 1,236.

Commentary said this yesterday about GOP State Rep. Sara Davis’ yes vote on SB 4:

To my fellow Dems who are A-Okay with GOP State Rep. Sara Davis because she may be good on some of your issues, she voted this morning for SB 4 and against the interests of H-Town’s largest population group – Latinos.

She represents a district that voted for the Dem nominee for president with 55% of the vote.   Commentary is trying to figure out which neighborhoods in District 134 were urging her to support SB 4. West U? Bellaire? Timbergrove? Rice Military?

Racial profiling here we come!

Here is a response I got:

Agree, Dems and organizations that support progressive causes should not be supporting Sara Davis, and should challenger her more often, but especially at the polls. – JC

I don’t think I said Dems should not support her.   You know the phrase elected officials use about “voting your district?” I will say that I don’t think she voted her district. I don’t even think she voted her primary.

Bill King put out an email supporting HISD Prop 1. Here it is:

Vote “FOR” on HISD Proposition

The only thing that I know in the public policy arena that is more complicated than pensions is school finance.  The state has concocted the most absurdly complex system imaginable.

One of the features of this system is that, in some cases, school districts with more property tax revenue must share some of that with districts with less.  Recently HISD became one of the district that is required to “share” some of it property taxes.  In reality that is not exactly the way it works because not all of the “recaptured” revenue actually makes it out of Austin and to the poorer districts.  But that is another issue for a different day.

If a district that is required to share its property tax revenue refuses, the state “detaches” properties from that district and assigns them to a “poor” district to tax.  So, in our case, the Galleria might be paying taxes to a school district in South Texas.   This is a disaster on many different levels.  It is far preferable just to write the check and deal with reforming this broken system later.

That is the choice before HISD voters in the May 6 referendum.  A “FOR” vote means that you want to just send Austin a check as opposed to having some of HISD’s properties detached and assigned to another district.

If all of this sounds familiar it is because we voted on exactly the same proposition last years.  Unfortunately, some of our elected officials led a “Vote No” campaign on the misguided theory that it would force the Legislature to reform school finance.  Whoever cooked up the idea that the Texas Legislature would come to rescue of HISD was sadly misinformed about that body.  In any event, it didn’t and we are now left with this mess.

Fortunately, the Texas Education Agency found some technicality that allowed us a “do-over.”  So we are voting on this proposition again on May 6.

This time I strongly encourage you to vote “FOR.” 

A couple or so days ago I put out the letter to the editor to the Chron from the fella who used to advise the City of H-Town on pensions. The fella opposes the latest pension plan. Well I got this response:

Craig Mason is wrong, his efforts to secure employment since Houston no longer required his services coloring his perspective. The existing pension proposal lowers benefits, reduces risk to taxpayers, and reigns in the growing liabilities threatening to sink the city that started on his watch. Part of the deal is to stop under funding current expenses, another part removes recalculating the funding period into infinity too, the true cost of the proposal able to be broken into two parts; one part funding benefits and the other part paying down the established debt.

So a cost of 30% of payroll is not out of line with paying off billions in debt while continuing to pay for the lowered benefits. If the city were to move new employees to a new defined contribution system, it would require additional funds the city doesn’t have that no one proposing that amendment wants to recognize. Given the benefit cuts are going to cost many employees a whole lot of money, I assure you that they are not happy with the deal but most recognize the changes will lead to sustainable pensions moving forward. – SH

Got it?

Now Bill King sent this out a few minutes ago:

Arnold Foundation Report Calls for New Employees to be Placed in Defined Contribution Plans

As the Legislative session grinds to a close, the Arnold Foundation has issued a report on Turner’s pension plan.  It tracks much of what I have said in my emails to you on this subject, including the recommendation that all new employees should be placed in defined contribution plans to prevent the accumulation of new pension debt. 

Its assessment of the efficacy of the so-called corridor is more optimistic than mine, but the report does highlight that if the investment returns continue at their current levels, employee contributions will skyrocket to unsustainable levels.  This is something that I pointed out several weeks ago, and to me is the fatal defect in the so-called corridor mechanism.  It also ignores that the firefighter pension board intends to immediately file suit if it is included in the corridor to have it declared unconstitutional, which could collapse the entire plan. 

Phasing out defined benefit plans in favor of defined contribution plans for new employees is favored by 70% of Houston voters, over 300 grassroots leaders and organizations, Houston’s entire business community, including 150 financial professionals and executives and now, formally, the Arnold Foundation.  

Sen. Paul Bettencourt has an amendment to Turner’s bill which is being carried by Sen. Joan Huffman that would force the City to honor the referendum we are likely to have on moving new employees to defined contribution plans this November.  Turner has already said if the referendum passes he will file litigation to have it declared invalid and ignore the will of the voters. 

Why should we go through years of litigation on whether the will of Houston voters should be honored?  What conceivable reason is there to not include a provision in the bill that settles this question?

The answer is “none.” 

Let the people vote!

Commentary put out a tweet yesterday on the Chron front page story about Exxon Mobil getting fined $20 million by a federal judge. It had to do with the refinery in Baytown that I know all too well. My parents live four blocks from the facility and I drive right by it every time I go visit them which is a bunch these days. That is where I grew up. We also own property right across the street from the refinery.

Here is how the Chron story starts:

A federal judge in Houston has ordered Exxon Mobil to pay a civil penalty of nearly $20 million for releasing 10 million pounds of pollutants into the air from its Baytown refining and chemical complex over the course of eight years.

In a ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge David Hittner said evidence showed that the Texas oil company’s emissions from 2005 to 2013 put it in violation of the Clean Air Act 16,386 times.

The environmental groups Sierra Club and Environment Texas Citizen Lobby filed suit against Exxon in 2010, but the district court ruled in the company’s favor four years later. Last year, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated Hittner’s original decision and ordered him to reconsider various aspects of the case, including the number of violations by Exxon.

Here is the entire read: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/article/Exxon-ordered-to-pay-20M-in-air-pollution-suit-11101992.php.

Just because the folks who run the Texans traded up and picked a top rated QB doesn’t mean they are smarter than us. It just means if they hadn’t picked a top rated QB, their arses would have been run out of H-Town.

Charlie Morton of course is 1-2 but it is still early.

We split the roadie. We are 7-4 on the road and 7-4 at The Yard. We host the A’s for a weekend series so I hope to see you out there!

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On Sara

Next time you hear the phrase “the great state of Texas”, yeah, remind them about SB 4.

To my fellow Dems who are A-Okay with GOP State Rep. Sara Davis because she may be good on some of your issues, she voted this morning for SB 4 and against the interests of H-Town’s largest population group – Latinos.

She represents a district that voted for the Dem nominee for president with 55% of the vote.   Commentary is trying to figure out which neighborhoods in District 134 were urging her to support SB 4. West U? Bellaire? Timbergrove? Rice Military?

Racial profiling here we come!

Early Voting in Person turnout on Day 3 for the HISD Prop 1 race is in the books and here is what he have to date in some select locales   After three days, West Gray had 314, Palm Center 105, Sunnyside 88, Northeast 77, Tracy Gee 73, Bayland 145, Ripley 17, HCC 28, Hardy 29 and Moody 56.

Pasadena is sitting at 618.

I’m skipping everything MLB today.


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More on Prop 1

Nice job, Rockets!  Keep basketball alive in H-Town!

I saw a pro-Prop 1 ad on Channel 11 last night.

Early Voting in Person turnout on Day 2 for the HISD Prop 1 race didn’t really get any better over Day 1. West Gray had 109 (84 the day before), Palm Center 32 (35), Sunnyside 30 (34), Northeast 24 (31), Tracy Gee 26 (14), Bayland 42 (390, Ripley 6 (5), HCC 7 (8), Hardy 9 (4) and Moody 20 (21). Once again it looks like the Latino voter is unaware that an election is going on. Maybe if we would have called it “deporting” instead “detachment” Latino voters might have gotten interested.

In today’s Chron, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg urges a yes vote on Prop 1.  Here is a part:

This same question came before voters in November. And this same columnist told voters, albeit late in the game, to vote “for” the proposition, which approved writing the check. But this is why more people should read newspapers. The message didn’t get out.

Voters rejected the proposition, and chose to give Houston’s most valuable properties away. With no foreseeable hope of getting them back – along with all their future value, and future tax dollars.

Now, in voters’ defense, it was a confusing issue then as well. You had Mayor Sylvester Turner telling voters to reject Prop 1. You had HISD subtly suggesting the same thing in mailers.

The strategy, it seemed, was to test fate, but also to send a strong message to lawmakers to find a fairer way to equalize funding. The Robin Hood law was never intended for big urban districts like HISD – with nearly 80 percent of students economically disadvantaged and a third learning English.

So the message was sent. It was apparently heard. And hey, maybe it even did a little good. The state education commissioner agreed to adjust the way HISD’s homestead exemptions are factored, which helped reduce the district’s first recapture payment from $162 million to about $77.5 million.

Of course, he may have done that anyway. But even board Trustee Anna Eastman, who disagreed with those urging a “no” vote last time, acknowledges that route may have ultimately tipped the scales in the district’s favor.

Plus, she said, “we are seeing more productive conversations around school finance this session than we ever have.”

Still, there’s no school finance reform on the horizon. Lawmakers are battling over a tight budget, foster care reforms and, well, lesser priorities such as bathrooms.

The Robin Hood law is still the law. HISD is still rich in the state’s eyes. And the bill is still coming due. So, here we are with a Prop 1 redo.

Eastman is still urging voters to approve the measure. So is a coalition of businesses represented by the Greater Houston Partnership. The mayor is staying silent. And HISD is eerily neutral.

As for me, I still think it’s a clear choice. Vote for Prop 1, now or on May 6. Write the check. Keep Houston’s valuable property. But don’t stop fighting in Austin for a better way to fund public schools.

There is a vocal group of opponents – it’s not clear how big or influential – who urge rejecting the measure again. Among them is board Trustee Jolanda Jones. In an editorial published Tuesday in the Chronicle, she argued the votes cast last year deserve respect, and that the current situation – “deal,” as she calls it – is worse than the original.

But some of her claims – that the reduction of the first recapture payment will result in higher payday loan-style payments later – aren’t grounded in reality. The homestead exemption change was permanent. She also argues recapture will hurt our neediest students, forcing HISD to cut early childhood education, mental health resources, college counseling and other programs.

“I believe that’s pure speculation on her part,” said Jones’ board colleague, Eastman. “We have never been told that, and we have never discussed it.”

Here is the entire Falkenberg column: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/columnists/falkenberg/article/Houston-voters-get-a-second-chance-to-do-the-11098863.php.

If Anna and Lisa are voting yes, then that is all you need to know. Folks should have listened to them last fall.

Pasadena voted 285 yesterday, down from 380 on Monday.

Dallas Keuchel racked up his 11th complete game of his career last night. Among active MLB pitchers, name the one with the most complete games in his career?

So, Commentary said this yesterday:

Donald Trump’s daughter was booed and hissed today in Berlin. That is A-Okay by me. Keep it up and make my day!

So, Chris Cillizza of CNN wrote a piece sort of pooh poohing the folks that booed Trump’s kid.

Here is how the story ends:

You can hate Donald Trump’s views on and treatment of women — and lots of people do! But, to expect Ivanka Trump to publicly condemn her father or his record on women’s issues is a bridge too far. It’s impossible for us to know what Ivanka Trump does (or doesn’t do) to influence her father’s views behind the scenes. And, because of that — and the fact that she is his daughter! — booing her for defending her dad is poor form.

Here is the headline from his CNN.com piece:

In defense of Ivanka Trump after she was hissed at in Germany

Here is the entire article: http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/25/politics/ivanka-trump-boos-hisses/index.html.

I totally disagree. She went out and campaigned and lied about her father last year and now she works for him helping to promote his sorry arse agenda. She is fair game in my book. She doesn’t get a pass.

Remember when Cillizza tweeted this three months ago:

Chris Cillizza‏Verified account@CillizzaCNN Jan 20

Ivanka is a such a boss

This what he has under his avatar on his twitter account:

“One of the dumber and least respected of the political pundits.” — Donald Trump

I kind of have to agree with Trump on this one. Why did CNN hire this guy? What did I miss?

I was wondering about the early start times in Cleveland then Blummer tweeted this:

Geoff Blum‏Verified account@blummer27 4m4 minutes ago

NEWS: @astros fans wondering about the early 6:10pm EST start time here in CLE, they are accommodating families on school nights & weather

Got it.

CC Sabathia has 38 complete games in his career which is the most of any active MLB pitcher of course.

The ‘Stros and the Nationals are tied for the best record in MLB at 14-6. Now are you thinking about heading to The Yard this weekend?


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HISD Votes

Donald Trump’s daughter was booed and hissed today in Berlin. That is A-Okay by me. Keep it up and make my day!

Among active pitchers currently wearing an MLB uniform, name the pitcher who has given up the most dingers in their career to opposing batters?

As expected, not very many folks showed up to vote on the first day of Early Voting in Person for the HISD Proposition 1 ballot measure. 84 at West Gray, 34 for Sunnyside, 35 at Palm Center, 39 at Bayland, 14 for Tracy Gee, 21 at Moody, 8 at HCC, 5 at Ripley and 4 at Hardy.   Somebody needs to tell Latino voters that we have an election happening. Other than that, you can’t really say anything about the first day of turnout.

Bethany and Commentary voted yesterday for the HISD Proposition I measure at Moody. Bethany took little Hayes with her when she voted but he slept through it. I am glad I finally got to meet the little fella. He is a cutie for sure.

At Moody, the pro-Prop 1 effort had a bunch of signs up. Nothing from the anti-folks.

380 showed up to vote early in Pasadena.

HISD Trustee Jolanda Jones has an Op-Ed in today’s Chron opposing HISD Prop 1. Here is how it starts:

Anyone who cares about public education should vote against HISD Proposition 1. Here’s why:

Our votes deserve respect. Last November, HISD voters were smart enough to vote against the recapture proposition, which applies to school districts that experience rapid growth in property value. At a certain point, according to state school funding formulas, these districts face unsavory choices, including sending some of their property tax revenue to the state or having some of their property tax base detached. Either scenario then funnels that local tax money to property-poor districts. HISD voters in November said no. Now, state bureaucrats have dressed up the same proposition and are selling it to the district, and thus, to voters, as a new, improved deal. It’s not.

The new deal is worse than the first. Yes, the new deal reduces the recapture payments for the first year; but it tacks them back onto future years. And HISD – like the victim of an unscrupulous payday loan company – ends up paying more, not less.

Lawmakers are still hiding behind the same trick question. The politicians who wrote the ballot language knew from the start that recapture was a bad deal. That’s why they say it’s about “attendance credits.” But it’s not. It’s about shutting down public schools.

Here is the entire Op-Ed: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/outlook/article/Jones-HISD-Proposition-1-is-still-a-bad-deal-11095416.php.

Some H-Town business groups came out in support of Prop 1. Here is from the Chron:

The Greater Houston Partnership and other local organizations whose members own some of the city’s priciest commercial real estate have come out in support of a ballot measure over whether the Houston Independent School District should pay its share of property taxes to the state as part of the so-called Robin Hood system of school finance.

The business coalition, which also includes Central Houston, the Houston Building Owners and Management Association, Uptown Houston, the Houston Business Realty Coalition and the “C” Club, said the school district should pay the $77.5 million it owes to the state.

If not, it faces having $8 billion of the city’s highest-valued commercial properties permanently reassigned to another school district, a process referred to as “detachment.”

The detachment process would affect more than 80 commercial properties in the Galleria, Greenway Plaza, and downtown Houston, the coalition said in a statement Monday afternoon. While the value of commercial property slated for detachment this year is $8 billion, HISD estimates it would climb to $22 billion in 2018.

“No one in our community wins under detachment,” Greater Houston Partnership president and CEO Bob Harvey said in the statement. “We are encouraging a vote in support of Proposition 1 so that Houston businesses can continue to help fund Houston’s public schools and its future leaders.”

Here is the entire article: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/real-estate/article/Houston-business-group-urges-HISD-voters-to-11095304.php.

Commentary gets emails from the GOP congressman (Culberson) from Texas CD7. Here is part of what he sent me yesterday:

The next general election is more than a year and a half away, yet the Democrat National Congressional Committee is already targeting me for defeat. They have zeroed in on District 7 because Hillary Clinton carried our district in November.

That’s right, a New York liberal won our district just five months ago.


We can’t let them win. I am working night and day to advance a conservative agenda in Congress. But I need your help.

So, he wants to advance a conservative agenda for a congressional district that was won by a New York liberal. That makes complete sense to me. I guess some moderation on his part is out of the question.

Bartolo Colon, currently with The ATL, has given up 382 dingers in his career to opposing batters to lead all active MLB pitchers of course.

The team sent me this yesterday:

Cheer on the Astros from the Lexus Field Club this Sunday, as they take on Division rival, the Oakland A’s!

For this Sunday’s game only, the Lexus Field Club will be available to a limited number of fans for only $75!

Besides a field level view of the game, the Lexus Field Club features a variety of amenities, including food, non-alcoholic beverages and access to a premium cash bar.

Our fans have been asking about this very unique game day experience.

Now is your opportunity to check out this great new space that provides fans with a one-of-a-kind experience.

Tickets for this Sunday are limited, so get yours today!

Please note that this area is a general admission, communal gathering space that includes a mix of standing room and limited seating.

Your ticket grants you access to this area, but there is no assigned seating and no guarantee that seats will be available. 

I can’t make it, drats!

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Votes and Pensions

Early Vote in Person starts today for the HISD Proposition 1 election and the Bingo Lodge on Beall Street in the Heights won’t be open. Oh, well! Back to Moody Park.

Ok, quickly! The ‘Stros are 13-6. Is our won/loss record better at home or on the road?

Happy 40th Birthday to Carlos Beltran! Enjoy the off day!

The Chron’s Mike Morris had an article that came out this past weekend on a possible ballot measure on pensions for H-Town voters to consider this November. Here is how the Morris article starts:

Voters soon could decide whether to close Houston’s traditional pension plans to new employees after political activists submitted a petition to City Hall to force a referendum this November.

The petition further complicates Mayor Sylvester Turner’s efforts to pass a pension reform bill, which already had hit a hurdle in the state Senate this week on precisely the same issue of whether new hires should be put into “defined contribution” plans similar to 401(k)s instead of one of the city’s three employee pension systems.

The petition, which began circulating at college campuses, grocery stores and elsewhere in February, calls for a public vote to require a shift to defined contribution plans for all city workers hired after the start of 2018.

Here is more from the article:

Houston Republican Sen. Joan Huffman ended weeks of negotiations with city officials, union leaders and conservatives over whether and how to incorporate defined contributions plans by releasing a new draft of the pension bill Wednesday. It said the city and workers could agree to move to a defined contribution plan, but did not require that change.

In response, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, another Houston Republican, said he would propose an amendment to ensure the result of any city charter change to defined contribution plans would be binding. That wording is necessary, he and others said, because some lawyers say amending the city charter alone would be insufficient, since Houston’s pensions are controlled by state statute.

“I’m just trying to stay on a public policy position I’ve had for over a decade,” Bettencourt said, adding that he is not working with Megaphone or Texans for Local Control and that he already had filed a separate bill mirroring the language of his amendment.

The Houston reform bill had been expected to reach a Senate vote Thursday, but Bettencourt’s amendment created an impasse: some bill supporters, led by the chamber’s Democrats, were unwilling to let the item come to a vote, fearing they lacked the votes to torpedo Bettencourt’s proposal.

“If he brings it up, (Huffman) says she won’t accept it, but she’s going to need about five or six Republicans to go with us to block it,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. “That’s a tough vote for them.”

Turner accused Bettencourt of seeking to kill the pension reform proposal for political gain.

“Quite frankly, what he wants is not a pension resolution. It seems like he’s asking for a re-vote of the mayoral race in 2015, and that’s unfortunate because he’s not putting Houston first,” Turner said. Bettencourt in 2015 supported mayoral runner-up Bill King, who has spent months publicly criticizing Turner’s pension reform plan and calling for a switch to defined contribution plans for new city workers.

“I don’t care whether you’re Democrat, Republican, conservative or liberal, what’s in the best interest of Houstonians is the pension reform solution that we’ve put forth that has a strong consensus,” Turner said.

Bettencourt said his stance is about policy, not politics, and said there were votes aligned against Turner’s pension proposal before he started pushing his amendment.

Conservative activists reinforce the partisanship of the issue.

The Kingwood Tea Party, for instance, last week called for an “emphatic no” on Huffman’s latest draft, saying GOP senators who support the measure would be funding the “Houston Democrat Political Machine.” The ultra-conservative Empower Texans group also views the bill as too “union friendly.”

Huffman said she sees no easy fix for the standoff in the Senate, with just five weeks left in the legislative session.

“I’ll continue to try to get something out of here that’s a good bill,” she said, “but it’s going to be kind of a wait and see situation – until we run out of time.”

Here is the entire Morris read: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/politics/houston/article/Group-submits-petitions-calling-for-charter-vote-11090668.php?cmpid=btfpm

A few takes on this from Commentary.   Expect the folks over at City Hall to do their best to make sure the signatures are legit if you know what I mean.   Also expect some legal maneuvering on behalf of the employee groups on the issue of voters like you and me having the right to determine employee benefits.

Even though this ballot measure only covers new hires, the employee groups will oppose. Folks will then start asking questions like how many of the employees actually live in the city and get to cast a ballot.

The Mayor’s legislative strategy was to get a pension reform deal with the employee groups and take it to the legislature and voila. It hasn’t turned out that way – yet. Do you think there might a compromise of sorts out there to explore?

As far as a revote of the 2015 race goes, I don’t know if I would bring that up.   There are a number of “extremist” Ted Cruz allies in both the state senate and state house that you don’t want to get worked up.

Here is what Kuffer said today about the Morris article:

I found this story so annoying that I had a hard time putting my thoughts together about it. So I’m just going to say these four things for now:

  1. We have already had an election on this question, in 2015 when Sylvester Turner won the Mayor’s race. A lot of people, led by Mayor Turner, have put in a ton of work, including political work, to put forth a workable solution for the city’s pension issues. You can feel however you want about the Mayor’s proposal – the firefighters are certainly not very happy about it – but it represents a Houston solution to a Houston problem, which the voters have already had a say on. These efforts to undermine it are the opposite of that, and the people pushing it are doing so because they don’t like the solution Houston and Mayor Turner have crafted for its problem. They would rather see the whole effort fail, and that is what they are working for.
  2. You have to admire the shamelessness in calling this group that has come out of nowhere and is in no way complementary to the Turner plan “Texans for Local Control”. Who wants to bet that it’s funded by a bunch of rich conservative activists who are mostly not from Houston and will go to court to keep their identities secret?
  3. The story quotes HPOU President Ray Hunt as saying the petition collection effort is a “sham” and that they have evidence of people signing the petitions multiple times. You’d think that would be a big deal, but then you remember that the Supreme Court ruled in the mandamus that forced the HERO vote in 2015 that the city secretary could only check that a signature belonged to a registered voter. It’s OK if it’s forged – the city secretary is not empowered to check that – as long as the forgery in question belongs to a valid voter.
  4. There sure could be a lot of referenda on the ballot this November.

I think it is kind of unrealistic to think folks would sit on the sidelines during this pension reform debate. That is not how it ever works. Stay tuned for sure!

The fella who used to advise the city on pensions is opposed to the current pension deal. Here is a part of his letter to the Chron that was published yesterday:

Regarding “City’s pension solution is economic justice issue” (Page A17, Wednesday), first, the so called “pension solution” is not a solution at all. The assertion that “this compromise proposal will bring sustainable change to the city of Houston’s budget …” is obviously false. In fact, there is no change to the city of Houston’s unsustainable budget for pension expense. To be specific, the budgeted pension expense prior to Mayor Sylvester Turner’s proposal was in excess of 30 percent of payroll, which was deemed to be unsustainable by various knowledgeable financial analysts. The city’s budgeted pension expense after the mayor’s proposal remains in excess of 30 percent of payroll. How can 30-plus percent of payroll suddenly become sustainable?

Real pension reform and economic justice can be achieved if the city’s budgeted pension expense were reduced to no more than 20 percent of payroll and the city’s taxpayers were not subjected to the financial risks being imposed on them by politicians who are not accountable for those financial risks and who are unduly influenced by the pension plan beneficiaries with an inherent incentive to capture maximum reward for themselves without regard to the financial risk borne by the taxpayers.

Craig Mason, The Woodlands, former chief pension executive, city of Houston

I don’t think this fella is revoting the 2015 election.

Pasadena voters are also voting today and yesterday the Chron E-Board made an endorsement in the Pasadena mayoral contest. I can’t recall when was the last time the Chron endorsed in a Pasadena mayoral race. Here is from the E-Board:

Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell, about three years ago, had police officers boot from chambers a councilmember in the middle of her speech excoriating an unconstitutional redistricting scheme.

Voters can serve up a healthy dose of poetic justice by replacing Isbell with that councilmember – Pat Van Houte.


Of the five candidates who met with the Chronicle editorial board – two declined – only Van Houte was willing to bluntly and accurately diagnose the challenges facing Harris County’s second-largest city. Legacies of favoritism, opacity and, yes, discrimination continue to hamper progress at Pasadena’s City Hall. A petrochemical boom is driving growth all across east Harris County, yet Pasadena remains constrained by a political leadership that, as Judge Lee H. Rosenthal wrote in her recent opinion, has denied equal opportunity to all of its citizens.

Plenty of Pasadena residents certainly won’t enjoy reading Rosenthal’s words. Every other mayoral candidate preferred to pick up the pom-poms and cheer on the city’s blue-skies future. But discrimination is like a cancer that can fester beneath the friendly surface of civil society, from a road plan that ignores Hispanic neighborhoods to a redistricting scheme intentionally designed to disenfranchise Hispanic voters. Structural discrimination won’t go away by ignoring it. Pasadena needs a mayor who is willing to confront these challenges. Chemotherapy is never pleasant.

Here is the entire endorsement: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/For-Pasadena-mayor-11090719.php.

On the HISD Proposition 1, the E-Board now wants you to vote yes and not no like they recommended last fall – got it?   I don’t know why they didn’t listen to HISD Trustee Anna Eastman back then. The E-Board also endorsed Prop 1 yesterday and here is how they start out their take:

We don’t like going back on our word – it’s all we’ve got, and we do our best to give it to you straight. But new circumstances surrounding school finance in Texas, particularly as they apply to the Houston Independent School District, require us to take back an earlier recommendation we made to allow HISD to “purchase attendance credits.”

The arcane ballot language may have you already scratching your head. It sheds little light on the issue, but bear with us. This issue is important to Houston’s students and your tax bill.

In November, we urged HISD voters to cast ballots AGAINST purchasing attendance credits, and voters agreed.

Now, HISD voters are being asked to come back to the polls on May 6 to respond to the same question, and no doubt are wondering why.

The answer is dizzyingly complex, but the choice is simple. In November we urged you to hold your nose and vote AGAINST on Proposition 1. On May 6, we urge you to hold your nose and vote FOR. Early voting begins Monday and ends May 2.

Here is the entire take: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/Vote-FOR-Prop-1-11090717.php.

Commentary has said before that the folks who run the Texans are not smarter than the rest of us. Here is what the Chron’s John McClain put out this past weekend:

Despite the local and national buzz about the Texans possibly selecting a quarterback in the first round, general manager Rick Smith said there is a chance they might not draft one at all.

And he said it with a straight face.

Sort of.

In his annual state-of-the-Texans predraft news conference, Smith admitted they would acquire a third quarterback behind Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden but didn’t disclosed by what route – free agent, trade or undrafted free agent.

“I think it’s a good quarterback class,” Smith said. “I don’t feel any pressure (to draft one). At some point, we’re going to add a quarterback.”

The Texans have the 25th overall pick.

Oh yeah! Sure buddy! We are set at the QB position, don’t you think?

The ‘Stros are 7-4 at The Yard and 6-2 on the road of course.

Let me thank those who are getting out to The Yard to support the team. If you haven’t been out to a game yet, you are missing out on watching a team that is living up to the preseason expectations.   Think about checking out the A’s this weekend and for sure the Rangers next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

We have the day off.

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For those of us who care, today is San Jacinto Day. The Chron E-Board cares because they have a San Jacinto Day take today so go pick up your Chron and check it out. Just to remind you, it was 181 years ago today.

Commentary has mentioned before that growing up in Baytown in the 1950s and 1960s, you kind of were reminded regularly of your Texas history and San Jacinto battle significance.   It is kind of fitting that Chron.com today has a photo essay of sorts of Baytown history. The photos I can relate to are the oak tree on Texas Avenue, riding down Texas Avenue, the Jack In The Box, which was our first fast food joint, and the old Baytown Tunnel. Pretty cool. Here is the essay:   http://www.chron.com/neighborhood/bayarea/article/A-photographic-history-of-Baytown-11078843.php.

And on this San Jacinto Day, some of us celebrate the latest federal court ruling where the Texas Legislature violated the voting rights of its African American and Latino citizens in the 2011 redistricting. Thanks, Texas and have a happy San Jacinto Day, 181 years and you are still screwing over folks, be proud!

This former MLBer played 15 years in the bigs including 10 seasons as a ‘Stro. He is no longer with us and was born 54 years ago today. Who am I talking about?

It is good to see my good friend and client State Rep. Carol Alvarado become a player in the higher education debate in Texas. Here is from the Texas Tribune:

There might be no more dangerous place for a university official this year than a Texas Capitol committee room.

On several occasions in recent months, a chancellor, university president or regent has sat down at a hearing and been chewed out by lawmakers who were frustrated about rising tuition rates, expensive land purchases or new programs being pursued against the wishes of elected officials.

But left out of those complaints about schools run amok has been a key detail about how that happened in the first place: Just a few years earlier, the Legislature willingly gave Texas universities more freedom.

In 2003, lawmakers opted to give schools full control of their tuition — a move that has been frequently discussed and often lamented in recent years. Ten years later, they made a less prominent but still important decision to defang the state agency that had overseen the universities.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board had the power to block schools from taking on expensive new construction projects, or force them to get rid of degree programs that the board found wasteful. The Legislature erased those powers in 2013, essentially shifting the board’s role from a regulatory agency to a collaborator and data collector.

The idea was that university leaders — and their governing boards of regents — were in the best position to know what’s best for their students and institutions.

Now, lawmakers are having second thoughts. A series of bills are making their way through the Legislature that would restore some of the coordinating board’s power — or create new powers the board never previously held.

“There have been some situations arise that made us question” those past decisions, said Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, during a recent hearing on one such bill. “We are trying to strike a balance. How do we have some measures in place, some oversight, making sure we are not misusing state money?”

Here is the entire Trib piece:  https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/21/lawmakers-want-rein-texas-universities-theyre-who-set-schools-free/.

This is going to get interesting. Hang in there, Carol!

Ken Caminiti of course was born 54 years ago today and he left us way too early.

We are 11-5 and still have three game lead and are in St. Pete for three.


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Anna’s Message

Finally! A very bad person is no longer on TV – for now. Finally, it caught up to him. Bye, bye Bill O’Reilly. You are very bad person. Your sorry arse will not be missed!

Commentary tries to stay out of the debate on bike riding in H-Town. I will say this. The other day I was pulling out of the Kroger parking lot and some bicyclist nearly plowed into my ride. I didn’t see him because he was riding on the sidewalk and he had the nerve to yell at me.   He was a full-fledged adult riding on the sidewalk! What is he doing zooming down the sidewalk?

In the Chron’s community supplement yesterday, there is an article on the Critical Mass folks. Here is the article: http://www.chron.com/neighborhood/heights/article/As-tensions-rise-with-drivers-cyclists-ask-for-11081412.php.

These fellas just plow through red lights and stop signs by the hundreds. What is up with that? What is the point? That isn’t right if you ask Commentary.

And in our 15th game last night, Josh Reddick racked up the team’s first triple. How many three baggers did we have last season?

Hey HISD voters! We can start voting early in person next Monday on the HISD Proposition 1. My good friend HISD Trustee Anna Eastman is working hard for passage of the proposition. Here is the note she sent to her friends yesterday:

Dear friends,

I am writing a personal note regarding HISD’s upcoming May 6 special election on Proposition 1. I am personally urging you to vote FOR Proposition 1. Simply, HISD is required by state law to pay into the Robin Hood system because of our property wealth. We can either write a check through “purchasing attendance credits” – FOR or have our most valuable commercial properties detached. “Purchasing Credits” is achieved by writing the state a check. “Detachment” is achieved by attaching commercial properties (for taxing purposes) to another district. With “Detachment” we not only lose the money we would have written a check for, but also the revenue we use to pay our bond debts. When commercial property owners aren’t contributing to those debt payments, they fall on the homeowners left in the district. “Detachment” means more money out of our pockets for the same stuff, or less for the kids in our schools. Period. 

Please feel free to email me with questions or if you’d like a yard sign. You can read and forward the articles below for more detail. There is also a sample letter attached for you to send out to your networks. 

As always, thank you for your support,


Here is fact sheet Anna sent out:

RE: HISD Emergency Election

On May 6, HISD will hold an emergency election on Proposition 1 and we need everyone to vote ”YES”!

Why Are We Here

Under the statewide school funding law, commonly known as Robin Hood, HISD has been classified as a property-rich school district. Therefore, we as HISD voters must choose between recapture or detachment. Voting for Prop 1, recapture – will allow the school district to write a check to the Texas Education Agency to be used to equalize funding across the state. Voting against Prop 1 would put HISD into detachment, forcing the TEA to remove commercial property from HISD’s tax rolls and give the tax revenues from valuable business properties to another school district. Either way, under current law, HISD owes the obligation to the state. Voting “NO” does NOT mean that HISD gets to keep the money.

Because detachment is so severe and permanent, every school district faced with this decision has chosen to make recapture payments. 

We Cannot Afford to Lose

In November, voters angry over the $162 million due in recapture fees, voted overwhelmingly against Prop. 1. Since then, the HISD Board of Trustees has worked with state officials to reduce the recapture payment owed to $77 million and called for an emergency election on May 6th.  

The simple-truth.   Supporting Prop 1 keeps Houston ISD in control of our public schools and more importantly will give us the leverage needed to fix the broken school funding laws that have put us in this position.

Opposing Prop 1 takes control away from Houston voters and worse, gives billions of our business property to another school district. Detachment also costs HISD more, leaving our kids at severely underfunded schools while we pay higher property taxes.

Because the cost of detachment is so high and the damage done is so permanent, community and business leaders have joined a bipartisan group of our elected representatives to come together to support Prop 1.

We Need Your Help to Pass Prop 1

This fight is critical to our future and we need you on our team today!

You can do the following to help spread the word:

  1. Forward this email to your networks.
  2. Visit the website and sign up as a supporter.
  3. Use email and social media to get the word out with the videos provided.  
  4. Tell your family and friends to vote for Prop 1 on May 6th, or during Early Voting, which runs from April 24th through May 2nd.

Just do what Anna says and vote YES!

Commentary received a response yesterday on the Georgia Sixth Congressional District Special:

Spending over $10 million for a congressional race, in a district he didn’t live in, to come up short is hardly a victory. Are Anti-Trumpers going to spend an additional $5-$10 million for the run-off? What if he loses big? Are the Democrats going to spend $10+ million for every congressional race they think they might flip from Republicans? What if the Republicans focus on Dems who are in states Hillary abandoned, to poach a few from your side?—-R

Bring it on!

Last season, the ‘Stros had 29 three baggers of course.

We are 10-5 and have a three game lead. Not bad at all!


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A top notch piece by the Chron’s Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg on the Texas Tribune’s Jay Root here: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Here-s-to-a-journalist-who-kept-tabs-on-state-11082175.php.

Nice job, Lisa! Nice job, Jay!

Commentary mentioned the other day that the ‘Stros have not hit a triple yet. There are three other teams on the non-triple list. Name them, please!

Commentary will take 48.1% over 19.78% in an 18-person race with a 54,397 vote margin anytime so bring it on!

There is a new book out on the 2016 election titled “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign.” There were a number of articles that have been written about the book in recent days and if you are a Dem the book is sure to p__s you off. I plan on getting the book and I am sure it will p__s me off.

Here is from Amazon:

It was never supposed to be this close. And of course she was supposed to win. How Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election to Donald Trump is the tragic story of a sure thing gone off the rails. For every Comey revelation or hindsight acknowledgment about the electorate, no explanation of defeat can begin with anything other than the core problem of Hillary’s campaign–the candidate herself. Through deep access to insiders from the top to the bottom of the campaign, political writers Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes have reconstructed the key decisions and unseized opportunities, the well-intentioned misfires and the hidden thorns that turned a winnable contest into a devastating loss. Drawing on the authors’ deep knowledge of Hillary from their previous book, the acclaimed biography HRC, Shattered will offer an object lesson in how Hillary herself made victory an uphill battle, how her difficulty articulating a vision irreparably hobbled her impact with voters, and how the campaign failed to internalize the lessons of populist fury from the hard-fought primary against Bernie Sanders. Moving blow-by-blow from the campaign’s difficult birth through the bewildering terror of election night, Shattered tells an unforgettable story with urgent lessons both political and personal, filled with revelations that will change the way readers understand just what happened to America on November 8, 2016.

B’More, the Nationals, and the Royals are also on the no triples list of course.

Albert Pujols did it to us again last night.

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Pretty Simple

What happened at the Astrodome 51 years ago today?

Let’s hope Dem voters show up in record breaking numbers today in Georgia.

It is pretty simple if you ask Commentary and of course, they are not going to ask Commentary. I am talking about building a new multi-service center in Sunnyside on the site of a former landfill. The folks don’t want it there because of contamination. If the Sunnyside folks don’t want it there, why shove it down their throats? It is a pretty simple call to me. What is the harm in going back to the drawing board?   Here is from the Chron:

Mayor Sylvester Turner faced an edgy crowd Monday night at the Sunnyside Multi-Service Center during a boisterous town hall about plans to move the facility and a city clinic to Sunnyside Park beside a former dump.

The defunct Bellfort Landfill sits on 300 acres bounded by Bellfort, Texas 288, Reed Road and Comal. Sunnyside Park is in the northwest corner of those boundaries. The existing multi-service center is less than two miles away on Cullen at Wilmington.

An increasingly vocal and organized opposition troubled about potential contamination at the proposed site has formed over the last few months, with community leaders airing their concerns at city council meetings. The red-and-white signs of that group were planted Monday evening along the perimeter of the center prior to the two-hour meeting attended by about 200 people.

Monday was the first time city officials visited the community to address the center upgrade with information from a current environmental assessment. The latest study was completed and released this month on Sunnyside Park. Prior assessments tested the landfill property in 2004 and 2010.

Here is the entire read: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Mayor-Turner-faces-edgy-crowd-over-plan-to-move-11079555.php.

I think folks know their community better than H-Town City Hall does. That’s a no-brainer.

Here is a response on the Bill King pension take I put out yesterday:

I’m not at all surprised that Mr. King, who still pursues a fantasy to be Houston’s first tea party mayor, did not include who signed the paychecks of those on his list of supporters. I smell stinky bias from big business and managers who have an aversion to public employees getting any benefits. What Mr. King proposes is to substitute a stable and guaranteed retirement for the common worker, for a plan that makes the worker’s retirement subject to the whims of the stock market and economy. It’s not surprising that the movement lords don’t care if the workers’ pensions are wiped out. Why should they? They will have theirs, no matter what. And, to them, that is ALL that matters.

From TB

Jay Root and the Trib put out great investigative reporting on TABC that now has some heads rolling. State government failed us again. Always remember that state government has been led by the GOP for over the past two decades. It is their corruption.

Texas Monthly has a great take on the ‘Stros season to date. Here it is:

Prepared For Takeoff

The Houston Astros won their fifth-straight game on Monday, propelling the team to a 9-4 record to start the 2017 season, tying the mark for the best start in franchise history, according to the Houston Chronicle. Pretty much everything is clicking for the Astros right now. As of Tuesday, they’re tied for the best record in baseball among teams that have also played thirteen games (the Orioles, 8-3, are the only team with a better winning percentage, but they’ve played two fewer games). They’re currently sitting atop ESPN’s MLB power rankings. They’re among the American League leaders in team batting average, ERA, and strikeouts, led by Jose Altuve (.320 average) and a resurgent Dallas Keuchel, who is 2-0 with a sparkling 0.86 ERA through 21 innings. To top it off, some of Houston’s bigger bats haven’t really gotten going yet—star shortstop Carlos Correa is hitting just .234 and Cuban third baseman Yuli Gurriel is hitting .243—so you know better days are on the horizon for that lineup. It’s only the second week of the season, but it seems like the Astros might finally be able to put it all together this year.

51 years ago today, at the Astrodome, the ‘Stros and the Dodger played the first game ever on Astro-Turf of course.

Only 23,501 showed up last night at The Yard. We can do better.

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Through two weeks, there have been around 60 triples hit in MLB thus far this season so, how many of the 60 have the ‘Stros hit?

Bill King sent out an email on pension reform this past Friday and here is his take:

150 Financial Professionals & Executives Ask Legislature to Include Defined Contribution Plans for New City Employees

In the last few days we have heard more of the same old tired, debunked rhetoric from the Turner administration that the City cannot make the transition to defined contribution plans from the defined benefits plans that have driven it into insolvency.

Well, 150 of Houston’s top financial professionals and executives disagree.  They recently sent a letter to the Legislature asking it to include moving all new employees to defined contribution plans. [Click here to read letter.] *

These individuals represent some of the finest financial minds in our City.  The educational pedigrees include advanced degrees from universities such as Rice, Stanford, Harvard and Wharton, to name a few.  Combined they have over 4,000 years of financial experience in some of Houston’s leading financial institutions and professional practices.

It should be noted that their letter acknowledges that Turner’s plans represents a significant incremental improvement in the overall pension quagmire.  But they also conclude it does not go far enough in two critical regards.  First, they believe that all new employees should only be offered defined contributions plans and that the voters should approve the issuance of any pension bonds to provide a check on the imprudent use of those risky financial instruments.  These are hardly radical ideas.

The Turner administration has tried to make the case to the business community that his plan’s “corridor” eliminates the need to begin phasing out of the defined benefit systems.  But there are several reasons to be skeptical about the efficacy of the corridor.  First and foremost, it is hideously complex and its provisions are ambiguous.  In my experience, complexity and ambiguity normally leads to litigation.  But the truth is that no one knows how it might work because it has never been tried before. 

But even if the plan works as advertised, its basic enforcement mechanism is to increase employee contributions if the plans do not make the new investment goal of 7% annually.  Even a small miss on the investment goal would subject the City employees to crippling contribution increases that could not possibly be enforced. 

To make matters worse, the fire fighters pension board’s attorney has opined that the corridor is unconstitutional and vowed to immediately file suit if it is enacted.  So it seems inevitable that we will be tied up in litigation for years, which will also mean that the bonds used to secure the benefit reductions will be as well.

Because of all of this complexity and uncertainty surrounding the corridor it is completely reasonable to provide for a back-up plan to control costs in the future, one that we know works.  And that back-up is to begin moving new employees to defined contribution plans.  We know that plan will ultimately work because the private sector has proved it works.

During the Senate negotiations on Turner’s plan, it was suggested that a “trigger” mechanism be added to force the conversion to defined contribution plans if the corridor did not work.  The suggestion was that if any of the plans fell below a 65% funding rate (a dangerously low level by anyone’s standard) new employees would automatically be put in defined contribution plans.  It was a reasonable compromise, but the Turner administration rejected it out of hand.

This should make everyone even more suspicious of the efficacy of the corridor.  If Turner is worried that the corridor will not even maintain a 65% funded ratio for the plans, he obviously has serious doubts it will work as he has claimed.

Everyone agrees that we need to deal with the Houston pension crisis in this session and not wait until 2019 to try again.  But Turner’s “it is my plan or nothing,” is a false dilemma.  There is no reason that his plan cannot be supplemented to add something we know works.

The Legislature should adopt Turner’s plan but (i) remove the fire fighters from the corridor to reduce the litigation risk, (ii) add a provision to phase out the old defined benefit plans with defined contribution plans for new employees, (iii) require voter approval on any new pension bonds and (iv) exempt older employees with lower benefits from the COLA elimination.  That would be real pension reform we could count on.

Then Kris Banks sent this out soon after:

Kris Banks‏@KrisBanks Apr 14

Bill King spent 4 months trying to get 300 people to sign his letter against the Mayor’s pension plan. He got less than half that #txlege

I get that for sure. But it is still less than half which is more than nothing.

Now the Trib has a piece on pensions today and here is a part:

Bill King, who opposed Turner in the 2015 Houston mayoral race, is among that group of Houston leaders at odds with Turner on this issue. They also want any pension fix to require that future employees be given defined contribution plans akin to 401ks instead of defined benefit plans like pensions.

King said pensions are throwbacks to a time when interest rates were higher and life expectancy was shorter. He said there are too many variables for any pension entity to accurately know how much money it’s going to need now to pay retirement benefits for the next four or five decades.

“That model just doesn’t work anymore,” King said. “The private sector figured that out two, three decades ago and got out of it.”

Here is the entire piece: https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/17/spin-debates-escalating-dallas-houston-pension-woes-fester/.

Like I said, stay tuned!

Of the 60 or so triples hit in MLB thus far, zero belong to the ‘Stros hitters of course.

We start a four game homie with the Angels this evening as we hold a two and half game lead in the AL West.


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