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- You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.
POSSIBLE TOPICS: Voting info; ‘Nationally-known’ water bottling company backs out of Conroe deal; Missouri City City Council gives initial go-ahead for employee pay increases; Heights-area residents give feedback on rapid bus route coming to I-10; More than ever, Harris County home appraisals draw protests; Texas’ larger cities would face financial penalties for cutting police budgets under bill approved by House; Medicaid expansion for uninsured Texans had bipartisan support, but lawmakers won’t pass it this session; Texas lawmakers propose electricity market bailout after winter storm; Protesters who obstruct emergency vehicles could face felony charges under bill passed by Texas House; Redistricting is boring, and that’s why it’s hazardous to voters; The Real-Life Victims of Democrats’ Irrational Deficit Paranoia; Is Slow Growth and a Sluggish Economy the New Normal? Ask College Grads. More
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- Make sure you are registered to vote! VoteTexas.GOV – Texas Voter InformationTEXAS SoS VOTE-BY-MAIL BALLOT APPLICATION (ALL TEXAS COUNTIES) HarrisVotes.com – Countywide Voting Centers, (Election Information Line (713) 755-6965), Harris County Clerk
- Harris County “Vote-By-Mail’ Application for 2021
- Fort bend County Elections/Voter Registration Machine takes you to the proper link
- GalvestonVotes.org (Galveston County, TX)
- Liberty County Elections (Liberty County, TX) <– UPDATED LINK
- Montgomery County (TX) Elections
- Brazoria County (TX) Clerk Election Information
- Waller County (TX) Elections
- Chambers County (TX) Elections
- For personalized, nonpartisan voter guides and information, Consider visiting Vote.ORG. Ballotpedia.com and Texas League of Women Voters are also good places to get election info.
- If you are denied your right to vote any place at any time at any polling place for any reason, ask for (or demand) a provisional ballot rather than lose your vote.
- HarrisVotes.com – Countywide Voting CentersHARRIS COUNTY – IDENTIFICATION REQUIRED FOR VOTING: Do not possess and cannot reasonably obtain one of these IDs?
- Fill out a declaration at the polls describing a reasonable impediment to obtaining it, and show a copy or original of one of the following supporting forms of ID:
- A government document that shows your name and an address, including your voter registration certificate
- Current utility bill
- Bank statement
- Government check
- A certified domestic (from a U.S. state or territory) birth certificate or (b) a document confirming birth admissible in a court of law which establishes your identity (which may include a foreign birth document)
- You may vote early by-mail if:You are registered to vote and meet one of the following criteria:
- Away from the county of residence on Election Day and during the early voting period;
- Sick or disabled;
- 65 years of age or older on Election Day; or
- Confined in jail, but eligible to vote.
- Make sure you are registered:
- Ann Harris Bennett, Tax Assessor-Collector & Voter Registrar
- CHECK REGISTRATION STATUS HERE
- CLICK How to register to vote in Texas
- Outside Texas, try Vote.org.
- ‘Nationally-known’ water bottling company backs out of Conroe deal; By Eva Vigh | COMMUNITYIMPACT.COM | 2:31 PM May 7, 2021 CDT, Updated 2:31 PM May 7, 2021 CDT
- A “nationally-known” water bottling company that purchased a tract of land in Conroe Park North has backed out, city officials said.
- The company was not officially named but is believed to have been Niagara Bottling, according to previous reporting from Community Impact Newspaper. …
- Although it is not clear why the company withdrew, the proposal—which was dubbed Project Hydrate—had drawn concern from residents and some city officials who were worried about the potential effects on the region’s groundwater resources and upcoming regulatory decisions. The company would have pumped 650,000 gallons a day with the possibility of eventually reaching 1.95 million gallons per day.
- Council members had deferred making a decision on approving the lease at an April 22 city council meeting to allow more time to make a decision.
- “I think this is wrong for Conroe,” Council member Duke Coon said April 22. “I hope this will be brought back immediately to council and killed right in its tracks.”
- The proposal was dropped before the next council sessions, which are slated for May 12 and 13.
- Missouri City City Council gives initial go-ahead for employee pay increases; By Claire Shoop | COMMUNITYIMPACT.COM | 3:43 PM May 4, 2021 CDT | Updated 3:42 PM May 4, 2021 CDT
- City employees, including fire and police personnel, will receive a 3.5% salary adjustment to accommodate for the rising cost of living, according to the proposed ordinance. The annual cost for this 3.5% increase is estimated at $895,000 with a prorated cost of $465,000 for fiscal year 2020-21, city documents show.
- “This is long overdue,” Council Member Jeffrey Boney said. “Our staff should have been paid an increase months ago. We are here now, and I believe this is the right thing to do for our employees.”
- Additionally, employees whose salary is more than 10% below the market median for similar positions at comparable cities will be brought into alignment. Financial Services Director Allena Portis said it will cost the city approximately $178,000 annually to bring the 28 individuals who fall into this “severely misaligned” category up to the market median.
- If given final approval, the ordinance will go into effect retroactively beginning March 28.
- Heights-area residents give feedback on rapid bus route coming to I-10; By Shawn Arrajj | COMMUNITYIMPACT.COM | 6:12 PM Apr 29, 2021 CDT | Updated 6:12 PM Apr 29, 2021 CDT
- Residents in neighborhoods around the Heights, Lazybrook and Timbergrove got a chance to learn about and give feedback on a bus rapid transit route in the early planning stages that will run along a segment of I-10 in Houston’s inner loop.
- A virtual presentation was given April 27 by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, which is implementing the project. …
- The initial phase of the project—known as the METRORapid Inner Katy Project—involves developing a high-capacity bus rapid transit line from the Northwest Transit Center in uptown to downtown Houston, including the Theater District, Central Station and Convention District. The tie to the Northwest Transit Center means the project is poised to benefit residents who use METRO Park & Ride stations and transit centers in northwest and west Houston as well, said Amma Cobbinah, a senior transportation planner with METRO. …
- The project is still early in the planning stages, and many details are to be determined, Cobbinah said. A general alignment has been set, but it is still unclear exactly what properties may be affected and how close the project could get to homes. …
- More than ever, Harris County home appraisals draw protests; By Hunter Marrow | COMMUNITYIMPACT.COM |11:55 AM, May 1, 2021 CDT | Updated 11:55 AM May 1, 2021 CDT
- … “The county doesn’t explain how they arrive at their value number. Instead the burden of proof is on us, rather than the other way around,” [said Alex Younes, a First Ward resident for six years]. “It’s mysterious and arbitrary.” …
- While protesting is becoming increasingly popular, results are mixed; the process frustrates some homeowners; and some neighborhoods appear to be more successful than others. For example, more than two-thirds of protests in the Bellaire, Meyerland and West University area are successful, but some areas such as Independence Heights and Near Northside have success rates below 50%. …
- Protests offer homeowners one tool to reduce their tax burdens. Meanwhile, some state lawmakers are pushing for additional reforms to the property tax system that was overhauled in 2019 with Senate Bill 2, including calls for new caps on appraisal increases. …
- Each spring, the Harris County Appraisal District—which is an independent entity separate from the county government—begins mailing property owners their market and appraised values for the tax year. The appraised value takes into account any exemptions a property owner might have, such as a homestead exemption. …
- … “Property taxes are what support critical local services, primarily education but also police, fire, road maintenance, parks, libraries, all of those things that make a community more desirable to live in.”
- Appraisal districts use a process called mass appraisal, which looks at comparable properties within an area to determine a base level of market value, but on a house-by-house level, this approach can result in inconsistencies. …
- Since the county includes land values along with structures, a property value can also increase year over year as the area becomes more attractive. …
- The protest deadline typically falls May 15 with the county accepting both paper forms or online submissions through its iFile system. …
- In 2019, reforms largely targeted taxing entities—cities, counties and school districts, for example—imposing a 3.5% cap on annual revenue increases and offering an infusion of state funds to allow for school property taxes to drop slightly. ••That was a good step, Vasut said, but it only addressed one side of the equation because an individual’s tax bill is largely shaped by the value assigned by the appraisal district.
- In the meantime, taxpayers continue to have the protest process to try to bring their own tax obligations down each year.
- Texas’ larger cities would face financial penalties for cutting police budgets under bill approved by House; Previously, the Senate approved a bill that would ask for an election if cities decide to reduce law enforcement budgets. by Jolie McCullough and Juan Pablo Garnham | TEXASTRIBUNE.ORG | May 6, 2021 Updated: May 7, 2021
- The Texas House on Friday passed a bill to financially penalize the state’s largest cities if they cut their police budgets. The measure was sent to the Senate after two days of heated debate and emotional speeches, with the bill authors calling to “back the blue” and the opposition decrying the bill as political propaganda.
- House Bill 1900 comes after a year of civil rights advocates calling on cities to reduce what they spend on policing and to reform police behavior. Those calls were spurred by high-profile deaths at the hands of police like George Floyd’s in Minneapolis and Mike Ramos’ in Austin.
- Among Texas’ largest cities, only Austin cut its law enforcement funding last year, though almost all of that decrease came from an accounting shift of money that still allows traditional police duties to remain funded, but potentially in different city departments. Still, the city’s response to some activists’ calls to “defund the police” prompted harsh and immediate backlash from Republican state leaders, who have pointed to fast-rising homicide rates throughout the state and country as a reason to maintain police funding levels.
- Greg Abbott became laser-focused on Austin’s budget and “backing the blue,” making legislation to punish cities that decrease police funding one of his emergency items this year.
- After initial passage Thursday, HB 1900 was finally approved on a 90-49 vote Friday and sent to the upper chamber. The Senate’s related bill, which would require an election before cities could decrease police funding, passed out of the upper chamber last month. It’s unclear how either chamber will react to their counterpart’s proposal. …
- The bill does allow cities to cut police department budgets if such a decrease is proportionally equal to an overall city budget decrease. Cities can also get approval to cut police budgets if expenses for one year were higher because of capital expenditures or disaster response. The bill would also let neighborhoods annexed in the last 30 years to vote to de-annex themselves from a city that has decreased funding to its police department. …
- State Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, however, argued that lawmakers speaking about the bill had failed to address “the elephant in the room.”
- “This summer we saw protests in the streets, we also saw elected officials decide to make decisions because of police brutality,” she cried. “We refuse to improve policing in this state. Instead, we attack those who are trying to take care of our citizens.”
- She denounced the Legislature for failing to move the Texas George Floyd Act, a sweeping set of reforms on police behavior and accountability which has stalled. The House and Senate have each passed standalone bills on individual proposals within the omnibus bill, like restricting police chokeholds and barring arrests for fine-only traffic offenses. …
- Leaders from some of Texas’ biggest cities have declared that they are against the bills, including Austin interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon. He said there are instances where local governments need to increase funding on other services or initiatives and that won’t always negatively impact police departments.
- “These decisions must be made at the local level by our community when and to the degree needed to help build and maintain trust,” Chacon said at the bill’s committee hearing.
- Medicaid expansion for uninsured Texans had bipartisan support, but lawmakers won’t pass it this session; Nothing is truly dead until the session ends. But committee chairs in both chambers have blocked bills from getting hearings, and supporters have dim hopes that Republican leaders will revive it in time. by Karen Brooks Harper | TEXASTRIBUNE.ORG | May 7, 20215 AM Central
- … Medicaid expansion “appears extremely unlikely to move this session,” said state Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, author of Senate Bill 117, a plan that had bipartisan support among House members but not in his own chamber. “It appears that for purposes of this session, lingering misinformation and political intransigence are still too large to overcome.”
- Its demise means the state leaves on the table billions of dollars in federal incentives that supporters say would not only pay for the expansion but add money to state coffers and lower costs for hospitals that care for large numbers of uninsured patients.
- Texas has the largest number of uninsured residents in the nation, many of them working adults who can’t afford private or subsidized insurance but don’t qualify for Medicaid because they earn too much. Roughly 20% of the state’s population lacks health insurance — a number health officials say has grown since more than a million Texans lost jobs and, in many cases, health coverage because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Committee chairs in both the House and Senate have blocked bills from getting hearings, effectively running down the clock with only three weeks left in the session.
- Opponents of expanding Medicaid to an estimated 1.4 million adult Texans who would qualify under the Affordable Care Act of 2010 argue that the program is poorly managed and financially unsustainable, and that expansion encourages government dependence, delivers poor health outcomes, and crowds out children and people with disabilities who need it the most.
- “The new reality is that Medicaid expansion isn’t just dead for now, it should be dead-dead,” said David Balat, director of the Right on Healthcare initiative at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. “There’s no longer any rational justification for expanding Medicaid to help the uninsured.” …
- “Opposing Medicaid expansion is not just as simple as opposing big government or more spending,” Balat said. “It’s the first step in refusing to double down on a decade of failed health care policy, and forging a new, better path.”
- It is unclear how long the Biden incentives will be on the table, supporters of Medicaid expansion say, and there is also the uncertain future of the 1115 waiver, a temporary agreement to reimburse hospitals for uncompensated health care costs. It was meant to help Texas transition to Medicaid expansion before the state chose not to do it.
- The waiver is set to expire in 18 months if Texas can’t convince federal health officials to extend it.
- Texas lawmakers propose electricity market bailout after winter storm; Lawmakers argue that spreading costs through the whole market — which will get passed through to consumers’ bills — is necessary to stabilize the state’s electricity market and prevent even higher costs. By Erin Douglas | TEXASTRIBUNE.ORG | May 6, 20215 PM Central
- An approximately $2.5 billion plan to bail out Texas’ distressed electricity market from the financial crisis caused by Winter Storm Uri in February was approved by the Texas House Thursday.
- The legislation would impose a fee — likely for the next decade or longer — on electricity companies, which would then get passed on to residential and business customers in their power bills. Lawmakers on Wednesday said they could not yet estimate how much it would impact Texans’ electricity bills. …
- Several companies are nearing default on their bills to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the grid that covers most of the state and facilitates financial transactions in it.
- Rural electric cooperatives were especially hard hit; Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, which supplies electricity to 1.5 million customers, filed for bankruptcy citing a $1.8 billion debt to ERCOT. …
- Still, some lawmakers are concerned with how they will win public support for bills to bail out the state’s electricity market.
- “I have to go back to Laredo and say, ‘I know you didn’t have electricity for several days, but now I’m going to make you pay a little more for the next 20 years,’” state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, said during an early April discussion on the plan in the House State Affairs Committee. He said he voted for the bill because it’s in the best interest of the state.
- Protesters who obstruct emergency vehicles could face felony charges under bill passed by Texas House; The bill is in response to nationwide protests against police brutality last year. by Jolie McCullough | TEXASTRIBUNE.ORG | May 5, 2021 Updated: May 6, 2021
- [T]he Texas House on Thursday passed a bill to raise criminal penalties and require jail time for people who obstruct a roadway if it prevents the passage of an emergency vehicle or blocks a hospital entrance. …
- The in-custody murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year sparked protests across the country against police brutality and racial injustice. In Texas, recent high-profile police killings of Black and Hispanic people fueled demonstrations as well. As protests erupted across the state, some demonstrators were arrested after allegedly throwing rocks or damaging property and hundreds more were arrested for blocking highways.
- After an unruly protest at the Texas Capitol in May, the Texas Department of Public Safety spent months on an intensive investigation to identify and track down more than a dozen protesters accused of things like spray painting the building or throwing water bottles. Many of the criminal cases have since been rejected by prosecutors. …
- In Texas, HB 9 would make blocking a roadway a state jail felony if the offense also prevented the passage of an emergency vehicle or blocked a hospital entrance. Currently, the offense is a misdemeanor that could result in up to six months in jail. A state jail felony carries a punishment of up to two years in the Texas prison system plus a lifelong brand as a felon, making it harder to get a job and secure housing. The bill would also require those convicted to spend at least 10 days in jail, even if they are sentenced to probation.
- “In an emergency, seconds matter,” state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, said last week when first presenting HB 9. “We all have a constitutional right to peaceably assemble under the First Amendment, but what we don’t have is a right to prevent authorized emergency vehicles that can provide life saving care.”
- The House’s priority legislation is a reaction to a protest in California last September. After two deputies were shot in their patrol car, the sheriff’s office said anti-police protesters blocked the emergency room entrance to admit them.
- State Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat and co-chair of the House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus, said the bill sets itself apart from any other Texas law on mandatory minimums by requiring at least 10 days in jail even if the person had no criminal history.
- “We are reacting to one case out of California and changing the law in Texas because of it,” he said on the House floor last week. “And we’re doing it in a way that does not sync up with what we’ve been doing for years on criminal justice reform.”
- Redistricting is boring, and that’s why it’s hazardous to voters; Most voters don’t pay a lot of attention to the redrawing of political maps every 10 years. That’s just the way legislators like it. [OPINION]by Ross Ramsey | TEXASTRIBUNE.ORG | April 29, 20215 AM Central
- … Redrawing political maps to fit government to the population every 10 years is a swirl of tedium, ambition, power and law. It comes with a slew of public hearings and debates, on one hand, and countless backroom and private negotiations on the other. It starts with census numbers — that happened this week — zips through the Texas Legislature, and then ends up in the courts, where the litigation never seems to end. …
- Bored voters don’t pay attention. And inattention is an ally of any burglar entering the Texas Capitol to pilfer political power.
- Statewide officials are elected by all of the Texans who vote, so there’s no district-drawing there. But members of the U.S. House — there will be 38 on the ballot next year, where there had been 36 — have to serve in districts that are exactly the same size, or as close to that as possible. …
- Districts are shaped to fit the new population numbers, to suit current politics and the whims of the friends or foes drawing the maps. Some incumbents will be paired to run against fellow incumbents. Some will find themselves in districts almost impossible to lose.
- The total population of the state isn’t enough to determine what the districts will look like, or whether the Legislature will draw districts that reflect the explosive growth among people of color. That’ll come when detailed population numbers are released in September. That’s when that swirl of legislation and litigation and political power plays will really start. …
- It will determine the shape of the maps that will be used for elections until 2030. …
- [T]his dull issue is important, and the winners will be the ones who pay attention.
- The Real-Life Victims of Democrats’ Irrational Deficit Paranoia; How moderates’ fear of the Congressional Budget Office screws students and shrinks ambitious policy, all to protect the fabled “taxpayer”. By Alex Pareene | NEWREPUBLIC.COM | May 5, 2021
- Last week, The Wall Street Journal ran a story by reporter Josh Mitchell, with a headline asking an alarming question: “Is the U.S. Student Loan Program Facing a $500 Billion Hole? One Banker Thinks So.”
- That’s a large and worrisome number. Surely a hole that large is exactly the sort of thing we don’t want our government to be facing, and if a banker is concerned it must be very serious indeed.
- The banker in question, a former JPMorgan executive brought in by Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, had examined the federal student loan program and determined that the government was making overly rosy assumptions about future repayment. He found “a growing gap between what the books said and what the loans were actually worth, requiring cash infusions from the Treasury to the Education Department long after budgets had been approved and fiscal years had ended,” and warned that the department faced “potentially hundreds of billions in losses.”
- “The federal budget assumes the government will recover 96 cents of every dollar borrowers default on,” Mitchell wrote. This banker, Jeff Courtney, put that figure closer to just 51 to 63 cents. …
- [So] the government might not collect some debt, even if it currently pretends, for budgetary reasons, that it definitely will, and, as a result, the deficit may rise to levels higher than the current estimates predict. For a committed conservative, such as DeVos, that situation is inherently scandalous. For everyone else, that could only ever become a problem in the future, and only if that future deficit has some negative effect on the overall economy, which is not very likely considering the entire recent history of federal deficits and economic growth.
- Andrew’s Summary:
- The article uses federal student loans as an example of how the federal government’s attempts to offset new spending with new revenue in an effort to minimize the federal deficit often mean directly harming citizens financially and scaling down social programs and infrastructure projects that then can’t help everyone who needs help.
- The author says that some new revenue can be generated to help offset spending, but that said revenue must come from the wealthy, rather than the middle and working classes.
- However, doing this is difficult, because many of the politicians who reduced taxes on the wealthy are still in power, and they are resistant to restoring taxes they reduced, to say nothing of adding new taxes. The unwillingness to raise taxes on the wealthy combined with the compulsion to offset new spending with new revenue combine to target the middle and working classes with new taxes and other revenue-generating schemes, up to and past their breaking point.
- Is Slow Growth and a Sluggish Economy the New Normal? Ask College Grads. By Mike Honig | December 12, 2011
- College debt (i.e., student loans) will be THE long-term drag on the economy for the next generation.
- Think about it.
- Home building is one of the largest economic drivers in our country. Home building is driven largely by the formation of young families. Young families have to take on a large piece of very long-term debt to buy that first house. Their credit worthiness (and therefore their ability to get a mortgage) is tied to an income debt ratio.
- Many of these young families are made up of high school grads, with some college or none at all. These days, these families likely have two wage earners (if they’re lucky) with a combined household income of maybe $30-60k per year. These families may qualify for a loan large enough to buy a small starter home, but they would be living on the edge, financially speaking. Most likely, these families will rent for a large proportion of their adult lives. As renters, they’ll buy fewer and smaller appliances, less furniture, and generally be less help to the overall economy.
- College grads, on the other hand, used to be anticipated as high future wage earners with significant disposable income available at young ages. They would form families, buy nice homes, acquire material goods, and help the economy grow.
- Have you figured out the flaw in this old picture for today’s economy? If not, allow me to share: These young grads already have ‘mortgages’ in the form of college loans. Many of them owe more than the debt necessary to buy their first starter home. If they bought a home, the equivalent mortgage debt would be payable over 30 years.
- These kids are just out of school, and many are already burdened with the equivalent of 30 year mortgages! Oh, and did I mention that if they’re lucky enough to find decent jobs, most of them will be getting entry-level salaries of $25-35k per year?
- Do the math. If nothing changes, given all the above plus a lower ratio of young people to retirees, this could be a mighty long recession.