Clay Robinson has an excellent article in today’s Houston Chronicle about the Sharp Commission’s proposed solution to the school finance quandary. According to the Chronicle story, Sharp will propose a "revised franchise tax which would apply to limited liability partnerships, as well as corporation … It would help pay for a cut of about one-third in local property taxes spent on school operations."
The Sharp plan "will net about $4 billion a year more than the current franchise tax" while cutting property taxes by $5.8 billion a year." The difference would be made up by the utilization of a portion of the estimated $4.3 billion surplus. The Chronicle story also mentions that "some commission members want to raise the sales tax, which he (Sharp) opposes."
Gov. Perry reportedly has signed on to the Sharp Plan while opposition is coming from some auto dealers, law firms and other professionals, along with companies headquartered outside of Texas.
With the Governor’s support of the Sharp plan, chances improve that the Texas legislature may finally be able to reach an agreement on a school finance alternative to our excessive reliance on high property taxes and the Robin Hood redistribution of local property taxes.
The independent auditors presented their final report on the Dallas Police Department's fake drug scandal from back in 2001, and it appears as though the DPD is doing the bare minimum to comply with the auditor's recommendations. Some city council members would even like to see an independent panel continue to audit the Dallas Police narcotics division.
The auditor's report restates the obvious – the D.A.’s office did not require lab testing of drugs, there was a failure to follow standard operating procedures and a lack of supervision.
Last year auditors said the Dallas Police narcotics division hadn't fixed problems with handling confidential informants identified after the infamous 2001 fake drug scandal. They now say some but not all of their recommendations have been implemented.
As the report from the auditors notes, eight narcotics officers signed documents claiming field tests were positive for drugs when they turned out later to be fake, but only three of them - disgraced officers Mark De la Paz, Eddie Herrera and David Larsen - were ever fired and indicted, and only one, De la Paz, convicted. Which should be of great comfort to all those who spent time in state prison because of bogus busts and prosecution.
And one of the officers involved in the scandal - Officer Larry Moses - who despite there being excessive evidence of inconsistent testimony regarding a drug bust (first saying he was present, then not, then had contact with defendant, then not, then saying he was involved, then saying not) was put back on duty and even on special assignment with the narcotics unit. He has since been returned to duty as a patrolman in the Southeast division.
Further, the department hasn't addressed all of the problems with its handling of confidential informants. The DPD says it will record conversations with snitches "when possible," but as Scott Henson at our favorite legal affairs blog, Grits for Breakfast, points out, it means inevitably "when something improper is discussed those conversations won't be recorded. It's a loophole you could drive a truck through. What's more, the department failed to implement all the recommendations, and continues to use officers who helped convict innocent people in the first place."
Councilman Ron Natinsky said he was concerned about ongoing errors in field testing of drugs, despite improvements that saw only 40 false positives of almost 10,000 field tests in 2005, using the new guidelines and training.
“Of the 10,000 field tests, 40 (that were false positives) is a small percentage, but it’s significant if you’re on the receiving end of a false positive” Natinsky said.
Councilman Mitch Razansky, not one to recommend spending city money lightly, wondered if the city couldn't engage the independent auditing firm - Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr PC - to continue ongoing work watching over the Dallas Police Department.
“I feel confident our police chief today is doing what should have been done a long time ago. But is there anyone left in the department that should have been investigated more than they have? My biggest concern, has anyone gotten away with anything? You just cannot answer that question. So I wish the investigation would have gone deeper, but this is fantastic. But sorry to hear that maybe some people may be getting by with something,” he said.
Council member Angela Hunt echoed Razansky.
“I agree we should continue to have independent panel looking at this … to once again secure the public trust. My recommendation is after the trials we do have independent panel review transcripts and evidence to ascertain whether currently there are people in our police department there who shouldn’t be,” she said.
What happens when two 800-pound gorillas climb into bed together? Some thoughts on the marriage between the Cowboys and The Ticket -- and a dismissal of concerns that somehow the radio station will now lose its "sports edge'' from Mike Fisher in the "School of Fish.'' ...
Rudi GiulianiThe Quinnipiac Polling Institute has begun testing for the 2008 Presidential contest with a poll of 1900 registered voters nationwide. The poll simply named a number of nationally known political figures. Survey respondents were asked to rate each person with a number between 1 and 100 with a higher figure being more favorable. The most popular politician was former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani who scored 63.5. Surprisingly the number two was Illinois Senator Barack Obama, a newcomer to the national scene, who rated a 59.9. Sen. John McCain was third with 59.7 and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was next with a score of 57.1. Former President Clinton was fifth with 56.1 which was ahead of eighth place finisher Sen. Hillary Clinton with 50.
Full results may be viewed here Click the first newsrelease
Survey USA is out with a pre-election survey of sorts sponsored by KEYE-TV in San Antonio. There are no head-to-head matches but there are some interesting numbers. The firm surveyed 1200 Texans of which 905 were currently registered to vote. First, the two Democrats contending in today's primary for Governor of Texas, are unknown to the same number of people: 62%. The favorable and unfavorable ratings were basically equal. Gov. Perry had 44% favorable and 37% unfavorable which hardly seem deadly to an incumbent. Only 4% didn't know who Perry was. Carole Strayhorn was 40% favorable, 25% unfavorable and 17% unknown. So Strayhorn is carrying a small advantage in public perception. Kinky? SUSA reports that 26% view him favorably, 27% view him unfavorably and 26% have never heard of him. What does this all mean? Hard to tell.
The Office of Economic Development recommended to the city council’s economic development and housing committee that guidelines for granting abatements and incentives be tightened, given the current economic climate.
Noting that there were a near record $2.6 billion in building permits in the city in 2005, and that there are currently 75 public/private program tax abatements resulting in $8.7 million in forgone revenue, the office recommended more strict criteria for granting incentives.
For the downtown area, incentives are only granted for companies bringing in 50 jobs or $5 million in investment. The OED recommended changing that to 250 jobs or $25 million in investment.
No change was recommended for the Southern Dallas Enterprise Zone, which allows incentives for businesses bringing in 25 jobs or $1 million in investment.
The incentive threshold would rise from 50 jobs or $2.5 million to 200 jobs or $10 million in the northern Dallas enterprise zone, and from 100 jobs or $5 million to 250 jobs and $15 million in north Dallas commercial zone “N.”
The Dallas Cowboys have announced they will switch their broadcasts to 1310-AM the Ticket and to 93.3-FM The Bone starting this year. The contract will move from golden oldies station KLUV and and adult rock KVIL which were both targeted at a older demographic. The Ticket is the nation's first all sport talk radio station, and is wildly successful. Its audience is heavily young and male. The Bone is a hard rock station that also attracts a young male audience. The Cowboys say it is too early to talk about broadcasters. Currently former Dallas quarterback and Channel 11 sport anchor Babe Laufenberg works along side play-by-play man Brad Sham.
Sen. John McCain, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president in 2008, devoted a Dallas speech Monday to the need for a human rights-focused foreign policy that includes recognition of human rights at home as well as abroad. He was here to receive the John G. Tower Center medal of freedom award.
He called actions of torture at Abu Ghraib prison a “disgrace” and said they “undermine our foreign policy. We must be more scrupulous in our own affairs.” He also said that the U.S. should use its influence not just for prosperity in the world but also for the promotion of democracy and human rights.
McCain sponsored a bill approved by the Senate that set standards for the military’s treatment of detainees in response to the Abu Ghraib scandal and other allegations that U.S. soldiers have abused prisoners.
The Arizona senator who was a victim of torture while a prisoner during the Vietnam War received the fifth medal of freedom given by the Tower Center at SMU at a ceremony in SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium.
McCain lauded the late Sen. Tower, noting that Tower "thought the purpose of political advancement was to become a statesman." Tower was a mentor to McCain. In his first congressional race, McCain became the only candidate that Tower ever endorsed in a Republican primary. He also used his resources and network to raise money for McCain's election.
After the speech, some members of the audience commented on the "statesman" tone of McCain's address.
Since the 1991 plane crash that ended the life of Sen. Tower -- the first Republican elected this century in a statewide election in Texas -- his legacy has been carried on through the endeavors of the SMU Tower Center for Political Studies under the guidance of his daughters Penny and Jenne. Previous medal of freedom recipients were Gen. Colin Powell, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former President George H.W. Bush and Gen. Tommy Franks.
At a reception following the speech, a local human rights advocate commented to McCain that he is being undercut by the Bush administration, which is trying to negate adherence to the anti-torture law he passed.
McCain was introduced by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who noted that McCain worked with former Texas Sen. John G. Tower when he was Navy laison to the Senate and Tower was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Today, McCain is the second ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee.
A Washington Post online political column recently touted McCain as the leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. According to the column, McCain is ahead in South Carolina, a crucial early primary. In 2000, he beat President George Bush in New Hampshire, the first primary, although he skipped the Iowa caucus.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, introducing McCain Monday, won the laugh award when she noted that McCain has become a star of late night comedy, appearing on Jay Leno, David Letterman and Saturday Night Live. She said that when he appeared on Comedy Central’s Daily Show, he was funnier than host Jon Stewart.
“Some think he has aspirations to be president,” Hutchison said. “Wrong. He just aspires to be the master of ceremonies for the Academy Awards.”
Central Dallas Community Development Corp. is saying it is coming up $1,750,000 short for its $19.1 million City Walk at Akard project downtown, and it wants the city to foot the bill from its homeless bond funds.
Central Dallas CDC proposes transforming 511 N. Akard into a 15-story, 209-unit single-room only project for low and no-income residents. The project would include one floor of limited retail and two floors of office space. Rents would range from $384 at the low end to a few units leasing at market rates, about $1,050 per month.
About 100 units of the 209 will be set aside for homeless tenants.
Meanwhile, Central Dallas Community Development Corp. proposes acquiring 511 N. Akard for a little more than $5 million, or about two and a half times the most recent appraisal of the property by the Dallas Central Appraisal District, which pegs the property at $2 million.
And to top it off, the developer wants a $2.2 million development fee, which is about 11 percent of the project cost. Oh, and they're only putting in around $300,000 to $400,000 of their own equity into the project.
And they want the $1.75 million in city money to come out of the homeless bond program, which can't give out grants such as this because that money is restricted to long-term assets the city would own.
And even if they can find a way around the restrictions, it would take money from the city's homeless shelter.
The committee’s reaction was mixed.
“I can tell you that this proposal because of where it sits…I can’t think of a more fitting location for this type of housing to take place,” said Councilman Bill Blaydes, chairman of the economic development and housing committee. “It’s a home run, guys. This is truly in the right spot.”
Council member Angela Hunt agreed.
“I feel very strongly this is a good project. Downtown has to be more than just for people who can afford to live at the W,” she said.
But Councilman Mitch Rasansky was four-square against it.
“They’re putting in $300,000 (in their own money) in a $19 million deal and pulling out $2.2 million developer fee? That’s obscene,” Rasansky said. “Eleven and a half percent developer fee is ridiculous.”
“This deal needs to be scrutinized a lot more,” he said. “I really do not want to see any money taken out of our homeless shelter downtown. I am not supporting this. It’s in the wrong place.”
Councilman Leo V. Chaney, Jr. said he couldn’t disagree with Razansky more.
“We need to move ahead with gusto,” he said. “I’m for it 150 percent. We need more SROs. About the developer’s fee, maybe we’ll get more developers down here if they feel they can make some money on it.”
Councilman Ed Oakley said he liked the project, but saw no reason to use homeless bond funds.
The city attorney’s office said that there’s no way for the city to provide the funds to City Walk at Akard developers. Because of restrictions on the homeless bond funds, the city would have to own or long-term lease these units, an assistant city attorney told the committee.
Funding for the proposed City Walk at Akard project currently breaks down as:
• $11,0480,400 from tax credit equity
• $6,276,394 from loans
• $64,622 from grants
• $1,750,000 from city of Dallas funding
• $37,500 from TDHCA Housing Trust Fund
Expenses for the project break down as:
• $5,052,000 for property acquisition
• $233,421 for site work
• $7,237,628 for hard construction costs
• $1,940,094 for other direct construction costs
• $984,701 for “soft costs”
• $1,529,072 for financing costs
• $2,200,000 for the developer fee