‘Born and raised’ Texans forced to prove identities under new voter ID law | theguardian.com

There are so many things wrong with this, it is hard to know where start. Yep, it’s a law that solves a problem, which for the most part doesn’t exist.

The fact it takes Eric Keniie 3-buses to get to a vital Texas state service, just shows how broken our transport system is in Austin. Here is a man, which, if as reported, seems a reasonable grasp on life, and a good approach, who makes living as a scrapper, foraging in other peoples garbage and when feeling flush, handout food to neighbors.

So much for the Texas miracle.

‘Born and raised’ Texans forced to prove identities under new voter ID law | US news | theguardian.com.

There are no $1.4 Billion do-overs

There is a better choice and it’s worth the wait, Austin’s strongest and densest corridor: Guadalupe-North Lamar.. Communities want light rail on that route and have written it into the neighborhood plans. The FTA has said it would consider funding a MetroRapid bus-to-light rail conversion in that corridor.

Draft only (for comment_review by Chronicle printad staff)

Prop-1 The Wrong Rail for Austin

From where I see it, this was never about rail, it was always about developing an under-developed corridor of central Austin. A previously undesirable corridor because of it’s proximity to I35 and the noise and congestion associate, along with specific properties, which, without rail wouldn’t be nearly as viable or valuable.

One reason I have not posted to my blog recently is the fact I’ve been spending my time lobbying, writing an posting on why this is the wrong solution. Since my last blog a lot of additional material and discussion has happened. Also, long overdue I’ve joined AURA, a number of their members have produced some great information. I was also impressed with Roger Cauvins’ calm, logical argument at the recent KUT Views and Brews. You can hear the whole Views and Brews here.

From where I sit, this was never about rail, it was always about developing an under-developed corridor of central Austin. A previously undesirable corridor because of it’s proximity to I35 and the noise and associated congestion, along with specific properties, which, without rail wouldn’t be nearly as viable or valuable.

An AURA blog post nails where the funding for much of the pro prop-1 support is coming from, and by doing so also confirms what I thought, and had previously heard about the route for the rail in Prop-1.

It’s also well worth listening or watching the following City of Austin Central Corridor Advisory Group. For those that are short of time, use the menu to skip to the citizens communication section and listen to the first speaker, Mike Dahmus. Having been surprised by the direction and format of the meeting, that basically rubber stamped the route, Mike discussed  what was wrong with the selection and the proposal. If you can, continue to listen through the Mueller developers, to Linden Henry and David Dobbs, possibly the two qualified people in Austin on transport.

If you can’t be bothered to listen, Mike has written this elsewhere on the Prop-1 rail proposal.

Project Connect has ignored public input in favor of misrepresentation and obfuscation to justify the predetermined route preference of UT and speculative development interests. Please don’t fall for the premise that this somehow represents good transit planning; so far, most knowledgeable Austin transit activists oppose the plan, and every national transit advocate/expert who has spoken up about it has been amazed at how badly the process was run and how stupid the recommended plan is.

Prop-1 route was decided and heavily influenced by developers, and then a justification sought. It’s easy to see that those in the urban sprawl areas, will vote against this because they’d never use it, and will add circa $300 per year to their property taxes yet many of them commute into the central business district.Meanwhile, those, especially long term residents in the central districts, Zilker, Bouldin, Travis Heights etc. who have seen huge property tax increases as the property value increased, face another $400 per year for a system they can’t use and for which for the most part won’t help with traffic congestion.

It’s worth remembering that unless you die, or move out, an improved property value is worth zero, nothing, nada. However, the tax burden is real. The elderly, retired and those barely surviving now due to increased costs, will now be further penalized by the increased taxes which are proportionately much higher, due to their higher per sq foot property value, which will ultimately force more people to sell their properties and move out, further gentrifying those neighborhoods.

Decaying Texas

It’s been an interesting month. I live in Austin Texas, boom town USA. Everything is happening in construction, although nothing much in transport. In many ways Austin reminds me of rapidly developing cities in China, India and other developing countries. I’ve travelled some inside Texas, but most on I10 and out East. I’ve tended to dismiss what I’ve seen in small towns, mostly because I figured they were unrepresentative.

Earlier this month I did my first real US roadtrip. I had my Mum with me for a month and figured a week or so out of the heat of Texas would be a good thing. We covered 2,500 miles, most up from North West Texas, also New Mexico, and Colorado. On the way back we went via Taos, Santa Fe, and Roswell and then back through West Texas.

There they were small town after small town, decaying. Every now and again you’d drive through a bigger town that wasn’t as bad, but overall massive decay, mostly in the commercial space. Companies had given up, gone bust, or got run out of town by a Walmart 30-50 miles away. Even in the bigger ones, there was really no choice, there were Dollar Stores, Pizza Hut, McDonalds or Burger King, Sonic or Dairy Queen, and gas stations. Really not much else, except maybe a Mexican food stop.

It was only just before sunset on the drive back through West Texas, with my Mum asleep in the backseat, I worked out that my camera and telephoto lens rested perfectly between the steering wheel and the dashboard and I started taking pictures. These are totally representative with what I’ve seen all over Texas. Just like the small towns out near Crockett and Lufkin in East Texas; pretty similar to anything over near Midland; outside El Paso; down south towards Galveston. Decaying Texas.

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What there were plenty of, in the miles and miles of flat straight roads, were oil derricks, and tankers, hundreds upon hundreds of them. It’s not clear to me what Governor Perry means when he talks about the Texas Miracle, but these small towns, and to some degree, smaller cities have more in common with the towns and cities in China and India, slowly being deserted, run down in the rush to the big cities.

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Interestingly, while writing and previewing this entry on wordpress, it suggested the mybigfatwesttexastrip, which ends with the following

The pictures above tell the story of a dying West Texas town and the changing landscape of population movement away from the agrarian society to the city.

Rail isn’t about Congestion

It's not going to fix congestion.
It’s not going to fix congestion.

Prop.1 on the Austin November ballot is an attempt to fund the largest single bond in Austin history, almost half the $1 billion going to the light rail proposal.

Finally people seem to be getting the fact that the light rail, if funded, won’t help with the existing traffic. KUT had a good review of this yesterday, the comments also some useful links. You can listen to the segment here: Is a Light Rail Line Going to Solve Austin’s Traffic Problems?

Jace Deloney, makes some good points, what no one is saying though, and what I believe is the real reason behind the current proposal. There is a real opportunity to develop a corridor of key central Austin and, some unused and many underused land, West of I35, and from Airport all the down to Riverside Dr.

This is hugely valuable land, but encouraging development would be a massive risk, purely because of existing congestion. Getting more people to/from buildings in that corridor, by car, or even bus, into more dense residential accommodation, a medical school, UT Expansion or re-site, more office, whatever, will be untenable in terms of both west/east and south/north congestion. So the only way this could really work, is to make a rail corridor, with stations adjacent the buildings.

The Guadalupe/Lamar route favored by myself and other rail advocates wouldn’t add almost any value to that new corridor. It’s debatable that it would eliminate congestion on the west side of town either. But with a rail transit priority system, the new toll lanes on Mopac, the ability to get around at peak times, and the elimination of a significant number of cars in the central west, and downtown areas would make it worth the investment.

Voters need to remember this when considering which way to vote in November. If the city, UT, and developers want to develop that corridor, they should find some way of funding rail from those that will directly benefit. City wide economic impact; new tax revenues, new jobs is a slight of hand, a misdirection.

It’s not acceptable to load the cost onto existing residents for little benefit, just so you can developers can have their way.

Power corrupts

And for the record, Lehmbergs arrest for drink driving was shameful, and yes she should of resigned. But because she didn’t doesn’t make it OK for the Governor to abuse his power to try to remove her. Don’t let the Lehmberg arrest though distract from the real issue, abuse of power and term limits.

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely

Famously said by John Dalberg-Acton, the historian and moralist, first expressed this opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887. I was reminded of it on Friday when it was announced that Governor Rick Perry of Texas had been indicted.

Abbott and PerryAlthough I’m clearly more of a social activist than Republican, Conservative, this post isn’t really about politics. It may or may not be that Perry has a case to answer. What is clear is that the lack of a term limit for the Governor of Texas has, as always, allowed the Governor to focus more on his succession, more on his politics, than the people that elected him and their needs.

I’m personally reminded of Margaret Thatcher, who enacted swathing changes in her time, but in her 3rd term, spent more time inward looking, in-fighting, that outward looking. More focused on those that would succeed her than what the country needed to succeed. Major, Howe, Heseltine, Lawson. et al.

jmmtThatcher these days is remembered mostly for consolidating her own power and the debacle that ended her reign rather than her true legacy, creating the housing crisis; and the banking crisis. Thatchers government started moving people to incapacity benefit rather than unemployment to hide the true state of the economy from the people. Blair, Brown, mostly the same, after a couple of years of shifting emphasis and politics it became the same farcical self protection.

And so it has become the same with Perry and his legacy. Irrespective of the merit of this indictment, what’s clear is that Perrys normal has changed to defending his legacy and Abbott. Abbott meanwhile moves to make as much as possible secret about Perrys activities. This includes the detail of Governor Perrys’ expense claims, sensitive, secret but not limited to that. Abbot also feels the location of chemical storage is also a threat to our liberty, and not to be easily publicly accessible. Redaction it would appear, is a lost art.

For the layman it is impossible to understand how/who/what of CPRIT affair is real. Was Abotts oversight of CPRIT politically motivated? Did Abbott really turn a blind eye to the goings on at CPRIT and did Perry and his staff know about and approve this?

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) anIf they did, then their pursuit of Lehmberg is bogus, their attempts to stop the Public Integrity Unit(PIU), self serving, And there is the rub, it really doesn’t matter if it was legal or not. Perry needs to go, term limits should mandate not more than two sessions, and Abbott should be seriously questioned about his motivation, otherwise as Thatcher goes, Major goes; as Blair goes, so Brown goes; As Perry goes, so Abbott goes, and the result of too much power be shared out as a grace and favor does no one, not least the local tax payers any good at all.

And for the record, Lehmbergs arrest for drink driving was shameful, and yes she should of resigned. But because she didn’t doesn’t make it OK for the Governor to abuse his power to try to remove her. Don’t let the Lehmberg arrest though distract from the real issue, abuse of power and term limits.

Property Tax, Travis county, Austin

There are a number of threads running through the posts on this blog about Austin and Texas. One key aspect of them is how things get paid for, and what gets paid for. Since Texas(bigger than Germany, approx. 7/8 the Population of Germany) has no income tax, as boasts about it’s low corporate taxes, apart from the 6.25% sales tax, property tax is key.

(c) http://www.tax-rates.org
(c) http://www.tax-rates.org

Property tax, the valuation and assessment of properties has become both increasingly complex, and for many long term residents, unaffordable. Among those arguing for greater density in Austin, there are calls for better transportation, more affordable rents etc.

The fact that Caesar Chavez currently has more high rise development than any other street in America, added to all the stories and blatant self promotion that Austin in #1 in this, no.1 in that, highest ranked for everything has lead to a typical Texas business friendly “gold rush” over the last 10-years, eight of which have been presided over by rail-or-fail Mayor Leffingwell.

All this has lead to massive gentrification of the core and central neighborhoods. Development and re-development in itself isn’t evil, it’s the nature of the development and the context it’s done in. However, when that development is done by forcing people who’ve spent their adult lives in a neighborhood out, because they can no longer afford among other things, the property taxes, thats just plain wrong and bordering on financial exploitation.

Imagine, you were a hard working manual worker, domestic, construction, yard, office, transportation, etc. in the late 1970’s in Austin. A very different place. South of the river was mostly for the working poor, as a legacy of the cities 1920’s policies, east of I35 for the racially segregated families. You’ve struggled in the heat with no central a/c, poor transport options, typical inner city problems. Your do what you can to plan for your retirement, depend on federally provided health programs and finally you get to retire in your late 60’s.

Then along comes the modern, gold rush Austin. A few people, often like me, move into your neighborhood because we want something authentic, real rather than remote, urban sprawl neighborhoods. Sooner or later, business spots the opportunity to take advantage of the low property prices, the neighborhood starts to pick-up and before you know it, your meager retirement can’t afford the property taxes that are now annually more than the price of your house from 40-years ago.

Few people seem to understand the emotional, and stressful impact of having to even consider moving, let alone being financially relocated in your reclining years. It changes virtually every aspect of your life. One possible solution to this, and some of Austins other problems is the “accessory dwelling”. I’ll return to ADU’s in a subsequent post, it isn’t a simple as just making then easier to get permitted an built though.

With the City of Austin, typically for Texas, siding with business and refusing to challenge commercial property tax appraisals, the burden falls on private homes. That’s why it is important for everyone to protest their appraisals until the existing system changes.

If you don’t understand how the system works, and more importantly, why you need to protest, the Austin Monitor has a great discussion on soundcloud.

While I can see my obvious bias, as I said in my July 4th post, I for one would rather opt for a state income tax, even if that meant I would end up paying more tax. That though is very unlikely to ever happen in Texas, and so until then we have to push back and get to a point where businesses and commercial property owners pay their fair share.

Why bias? Well, I’m in my 50’s, I won’t be working for ever, and my income will then drop off sharply. At least as it currently stands, I plan to stay were I am.

Happy 4th to all my US Readers…

My yearly token protest
My yearly token protest
Happy 4th of July. This was my token yearly protest at 6:30am this morning, throwing a tea bag into Lake Austin from the Congress (bat) bridge. No taxation without representation!

The reality is I pay little tax in Texas, not counting what the State takes from the federal government. However, I for one would be willing to pay state income tax if it helped fix the deep inequalities in the property tax, which have arisen from people like me moving to Austin, and driving huge increases in property taxes. The state of Travis county property taxes is in itself deeply unjust for those that have lived through the lat 30-years in their same houses and now find assessments leaping up yearly by the maximum allowed. My property tax appeal will be heard in August.

Not withstanding my complaints and attempts here to understand the massive bias to big business in Texas, and the unjust social impact that regulation has on minorities, and more recently, women. I really like it here. Happy 4th!

Abbotts Texas Miracle

This week Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott continued to demonstrate that the Texas Miracle is based only on smoke and mirrors.

Zap, Pow, Sock it to 'em Abbott
Zap, Pow, Sock it to ’em Abbott

First up, Abbott claimed victory over the evil empire, the Federal Governments’ Environmental Protection Agency. Abbott has time and time again sued the EPA to try to get relief for Texas based businesses, claiming almost everything except the dog ate their homework. The only thing Abbott hasn’t denied is that Texas is the worst state when it comes to air pollution, and given it’s size and position, that pollution is a major contributor to US pollution and to pollution in other states. But, hey, apparently that’s too bad as the regulations would be too costly for Texas businesses to implement.

The truth is that Abbott won a battle to save small businesses from implementing these regulations, but lost the war, the coal plants and other major facilities will have to implement them. The EDF has a different perspective but comes to the same conclusion.

Meanwhile, Abbott(“What I really do for fun is I go into the office, [and] I sue the Obama administration.”) has been explaining the unexplainable, back-peddling on his order to restrict access to the hazardous Chemicals list. As posted last week “The Texas Freedom Illusion“, Abbott confirmed the ban of releasing information to the public as Tier II reports in the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA).

Well it turns out, he’s explained his position. You, yes, you the people, have not lost your right to know under the EPCRA. If you want to know, apparently all you have to do is visit the plants or write them, and ask. Instead of letting concerned citizens check the state database, where businesses are required to register, the State is pushing handling costs on the business. The Daily KOS has a great piece on this, describing Abbotts remarks as “jaw dropping”. < Zap pow!

It can’t be because it’s more secure that way.because it sure isn’t anymore secure. I’m sure the terrorists would never think of that, after all, they didn’t think of taking private flying lessons pre-9/11… when they couldn’t get trained by the Government.

Meanwhile, Abbott has also been re-confirming that the Texas Miracle doesn’t come with workers compensation insurance, the only state in America to do so. The Texas Tribune this week published a damning report into the cost and effect of this on workers. For as little as $1.38, businesses could provide workers comp. but like that EPA cost, thats too much of a burden. The downside of this, i workers getting hurt, seriously hurt often have no medical coverage, that means you are and I are picking up the tab.

So, lets summarize. Abbott is running for Governor. He is

  • Not prepared to require businesses meet the same emissions standards they are elsewhere in the USA
  • Not prepared to require Workers Comp. insurance
  • Not prepared to provide citizens access to data the State has on dangerous chemical storage
  • Continues to sue the Presidents Administration, costing hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars, for no real purpose and little result

I’ll be protesting in the morning, Taxation with no representation, I can’t even vote for someone else, let alone against him. Zap Pow – Robin’ the people to pay for business.

The Texas Freedom Illusion

Governor Perry is well known for his brags that “the Lone Star State’s winning mix of low taxes, reasonable regulatory structure, fair court system and world-class workforce has been paying dividends” and bringing business to Texas, even when it isn’t true.

Courtesy the Dallas News
Courtesy the Dallas News

For the day to day Texan, their freedom is becoming increasingly an illusion too.

To have real freedom, you need choice. Increasingly Texans have no freedom, because they have no choice. This week, Attorney General Abbott confirmed the ban of releasing information to the public as Tier II reports in the 1986 Emergancy Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA).

What this means is, YOU, yes You! can no longer find out what dangerous chemicals are stored by businesses in your town, or your neighborhood. The sort of chemicals for example, that were the cause of the West, TX explosion last year. The Dallas Morning News in their research found 74 facilities that 10,000 Pounds or more of Ammonium nitrate or ammonium nitrate-based explosive material on site.

Given one of the startling discoveries post West, TX. that

“The fertilizer plant hadn’t been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. Its owners do not seem to have told the Department of Homeland Security that they were storing large quantities of potentially explosive fertilizer, as regulations require. And the most recent partial safety inspection of the facility in 2011 led to $5,250 in fines”

wouldn’t you want to know this stuff was happening near your home, school, or work place? WFAA has a great video report showing Texas regulation at it’s best/worst. Confusion.

Gov. Perrys claim for low regulation is in fact obfuscated by the fact that plants like the one in West, TX are regulated by as at least seven different state and federal agencies. OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Feed and Fertilizer Control Service. If you think this creates a smooth, efficient, low cost and safe way of managing risk, then “good luck with that”.

The good news is Texas isn’t much worse than many others, at least we still have the ultimate freedom, to leave. Unless of course it’s via the Mexican border where Abbott continues to press for the Federal Government to be tougher, fence more, fence frequently border control. What Texas does a best is apparently marketing the illusion of freedom via the cheerleader in general, Gov. Perry.