Texas is an Ass

Just this week, Governor Abbott vetoed what many consider a key mental health provision, and given many of the continuing gun massacres are blamed on mental health issues, add that to guns in Texas, and a lot of people are upset with Abbott.

This post isn’t about guns, or mental health, or bashing Republicans. It doesn’t really matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, Texas pride aside. The Governor and Legislator are increasingly making Texas look like an ass.

I’m not talking about all the seemingly dumb laws on the books, or, the way and process the Governor has vetoed many key bills, or line items; or the fact the former Governor is still under indictment; or the way the current Attorney General is also facing potential federal charges. Nope, all that stuff can be passed off by one side or the other as “politically motivated”.

Nope, Texas is an ass because the world is changing, events happen at increasing velocity; social media is changing everything, and the Texas Legislature meets once every two years, passes a bunch of bills and then gets the hell out of dodge. The New York Times wrote this article about it back in 2010, nothing has changed.

Texas, like many states, has a constitution, written back in the 1876 has the legislature come to the capital every two years. Most states have moved away from that now. But here in Texas they spend 140-days prioritizing, bullying and cajoling their bills to the governors desk, assuming they can even get time to get their bills drafted and debated. Once they are done, the constitution gives them ample time to get back on their horses, in their buggys, or onto the stage coach to get back to their districts to converse with the people that elected them, before it’s time for a do-over.

As a reminder, Texas is bigger than Germany; bigger than France + large part of Spain and has almost as many people.

In a world where you can place a video call to almost anywhere, in a State where you can fly to a airport anywhere in the state in less than a day. With a legislature that raise significant amounts of money for election, don’t Texans deserve a legislative process that is on the ball, addressing issues as they arise, taking the appropriate steps to review, update and changes laws as Texas needs?

Instead what we have is an election, and then a rushed legislature that brings forward bills that pander towards just getting elected next time. As we’ve seen both from Governor Abbots ethics cry, and his veto pen, very few serious bills make it through. I get it, politics is hard, but Texans deserve more than this.

Sadly. as the New York Times report from 2010 says

The citizens of Texas inherently don’t trust government,” said Kip Averitt, who until recently served as a Republican state senator from Waco. He added, “I don’t think the public perceives it as a problem.

Who can blame them, given the problems highlighted above, and the fact that the general consensus is that the Old Boy network and pay to play are the two biggest problems with Texas Politics, perhaps if the legislature actually showed up and made a full time job out of crafting legislation, working to get traction, people would have more faith in their government?

No more riding into town, working on legislation that will get you elected next time and then leaving. Texas is an ass if they allow that to continue.

Huffman Discloses Husband’s Financial Holdings

Not exactly the mea culpa no one expected anyway, but rule #5 in the list of excuses when you get caught with you hand in the jar. #5 “For every action, there should be a reaction” > Justify your loophole by blaming another law for over reaching, that’s a typical GOP tactic, claim something is overreach and then hide something when undoing it, mostly because, like a cheap magician you’ve used slight of hand to distract.

The Texas Tribune has details, Huffman Discloses Husband’s Financial Holdings.

In full disclosure, I am a donor and member of the Texas Tribune and a principal sponsor of their livestreaming kickstarter.

Abbott Vetoes Spousal Loophole

Law_Enforcement_Ethics_3920_TCOLE_TCLEOSE_OSS_Academy_Texas_Telecommunicators_Online_Training[1]Since I’ve criticized Governor Abbott numerous times, I figured he deserved a quick post for vetoing the ethics bill that contained the spousal loophole as discussed in my Ethics the Texas Way post.

As predicated though, when doing so, the Governor did do his best Sepp Blatter impersonation, saying

“Serious ethics reform must be addressed next session — the right way. Texans deserve better.”

Of course in the mad way that Texas governs, that really means 2017. Maybe Sepp Blatter will be gone by then, but Texas ethics won’t have advanced. At least we will be able to see what the Spouses of the legislator are doing.

What many of us suspect goes on all the time in Texas in what is called the ol’ boy network is best seen in action by the sponsor of the Spousal loophole herself, state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. Turns out Sen Huffman is facing an ethics complaint related her own spouse. It is alleged the senator filed “false” information by failing to list more than 35 businesses in which her husband has a stake. Off the Kuff has a good round on on Sen, Huffman.

Texas ethics at its best. Well done Governor Abbot for vetoing the bills, they were not the ethics reform you were looking for. Hopefully by 2017 the legislator will take more notice of you than the board of FIFA did of Sepp Blatter.

Ethics the Texas Way

Just a few months ago, I’d have started this blog post with a comparison between Texas and a 3rd world government. Now, maybe I’ll be able to compare 1st term Texas Governor, Gregg Abbott with FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

BlabbottEvery FIFA Congress for as long as people can remember, Blatter has declared it’s time to clean up FIFA, as we know now, it’s never happened. Back in February, Governor Abbott declared five emergency proclamations for the 84th Legislature, The Governor’s issuance of an emergency item message to the Legislature enables that measure to be considered within the first 60 days of the legislative session.

Included in the five was this proclamation on ethics.

The faith and trust that Texas citizens place in their elected officials requires each of us to conduct the business of the state in the most transparent and honest manner possible. Strengthening our ethics laws relating to disclosure of state contracts with elected officials, prohibiting lawmakers from voting on legislation from which they could profit and increasing disclosure of campaign finance information will ensure a more responsible government for Texas.

So, the 60-days are up, they’ve pretentiously declared sine de which is a whole ‘nother issue. So, how’d the 84th Ledge do?

Well, in theory they had legislation to consider what were some of the most radical considered in years or even decades, including restricting legislators leaving and going straight to work as lobbyists, banning lawmakers from making money off of public debt-financing deals; and taking government pensions away from politicians who are convicted of public corruption charges.

In reality, what we got was

  • Special treatment for politicians and bureaucrats giving the ability to be tried in their home districts rather than where they commit corruption, giving them “home field advantage”.
  • A new way for Senators and Congressmen to avoid financial disclosure.
  • Continuing to avoid disclosing wining and dining by lobbyists.
  • A new spousal loophole that allows politicians to hide details about their spouses’ financial dealings.

What we did get was

  • Parity with the Federal bill that forced former Governor Perry and then (1st time) Presidential candidate Perry to disclose he was receiving a pension and salary at the same time from the State. Texas law at the time allowed this and allowed in to be secret.
  • A couple of other disclosure requirements including disclosing financial interests in State contracts.

Overall, pretty weak, hardly compelling, and definitely not the emergency legislation proclaimed. If Governor Abbott signs these changes into law, he has set course for a bi-annual Sepp Blatter moment.

If politicususa is right, and in actually went down like this, that’s pretty much how South Africa was awarded the 2014 World Cup minus the 15-deaths.

Koch-Pays-Abbott-Plays[1]

Greed, taxes and a lack of empathy

It’s tax time in Travis county and Austin, that means it’s the annual hand wringing and whining because the property values are up again, by huge amounts.

gop_greed_over_people_badge-r5803b6831b244f1ab8d9e1519c522292_x7j3i_8byvr_324[1]Taxes are all relative. The total of tax paid is still stunningly low compared to the quality of life and services you get for that. Yes, property taxes are high, but sales tax is relatively low, there is no state income tax, and while the Ledge and Republicans have you convinced that Federal Taxes are high, and money being wasted on drug taking, idle, work shy, “minorities”, it doesn’t matter that that is or is not true, taxes are not really high.

I have never had children in school in Austin, and will never have. I would guess I’ve paid over $60,000 for that choice alone. I’m guessing when most people complaigning were born or arrived in Austin, there were already schools? If thats true, someone paid for them. Probably a lot of people paid taxes for them and couldn’t use them as they were still being built. I’m guessing when they arrived the city had services, roads and other common amenities. How did they get there, someone paid taxes for them.

Those complaining are simply paying for the next generation and you are paying so that those families who can’t afford private education, have some expectation of having children who have a chance in life, and don’t become a burden on the same tax paying society.

I think the problem many of us have, is, those that complain about taxation seem out of touch or sheltered by comparison and lack empathy or sympathy for the real challenges. While I don’t know you, or anything about your quality of life, I’m guessing you don’t worry about water, food, and live in fear because you live in a dangerous environment? All the facilities, effort, and labor that goes into providing the conditions that allow you to live that way, were in general, provided by taxation. Usually that taxation was provided by someone else, your forefathers, others, the people that founded your city etc.

Too many people these days lack empathy, they are, in some respects selfish. They demanding they keep more of THEIR income, and not understanding that if they had to pay their fair share for the free facilities they get to use, in what is essentially a pretty dam good 1st world life, would be paying way over 50% of their total income in taxes. Even if taxes stayed the same, that would mean real cuts being made. Those cuts almost always are targeted at the people who will complain least, because they often are in real fear, too busy getting by.

Yep, I hate the way property taxes are done in Travis County, it’s a sham. Businesses are not assessed fairly, there are too many suspicious valuations. However, while my income has stayed relatively flat since I arrived in Austin from the UK via New York City, my total gross income is still way up and I do not participate in any tax avoidance schemes. So when the politicians promise homestead exemptions, reducing the tax bill etc. they are doing nothing but pandering to the lowest common denominator, and increasingly that represents a generation who don’t understand how good they have it.

Debunking 5 Myths About Houston-Dallas High-Speed Rail Plans – CityLab

Good article addressing some of the common misconceptions and bias,  aka scare mongering I’ve about this high speed rail project

http://www.citylab.com/politics/2015/04/debunking-5-myths-about-texas-high-speed-rail/390903/

Fraccidents coming to a neighborhood near you, soon

The “Texas House Approves “Denton Fracking Bill”” aka HB40, marches closer being signed into law by Governor Abbott. All those places, like say, Austin, where fracking is something mostly invisible that happens way out west, need to wake up.

The bill at his heart, stops cities from banning fracking within the city limits. When fracking is out of sight, it’s mostly out of mind. Flying into Dallas Forth Worth airport this morning surprised me though at the scale of the problem. You can see from the following picture I took out the window of the plane, to many it’s already a reality.

Fracking 1

Which would all be fine if you are inclined to believe the industry, and that the earthquakes are coincidental, and the groundwater pollution is unrelated and the methane naturally occurring, you’d think you’ll be OK. With this State law in place, there is nothing to stop them fracking the Eagle shale in say Zilker Park or Auditorium shores. Seriously.

Of course, even if the earthquakes and methane laced water are not their problem, the frackers still have their issues, these are captured and documented on the earthjustice page. I’m left wondering though if these are all the accidents, or just those reported. If you cruise around some of the Texas County Roads it’s not unusual to find this sort of hastily laid pipe which crosses creeks on pieces of wood support, hastily strung under bridges, and generally, out of sight, out of mind, in this case County Rd 615 in Alvarado, Texas