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Archive for April 28th, 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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