To understand Proposition 1, you have to understand how transportation systems have been developed in this country and who really pays for it. We have a magnificent air transportation infrastructure, a dynamic national web of interstate highways and a robust waterway system. All three have helped move the U.S. and Texas along as an economic powerhouse. In one form or another, these three transportation systems were built by the taxpayers of this country, plain and simple.
Here's the dirty little secret. All three also have another common thread: user fees do not cover the entire cost of building, maintaining and expanding the infrastructure. Government obligations are issued - you pay for it through taxes in one form or another. Truckers do not cover the entire cost of using highways just as airlines don't pay for many of the expanses of running an airport. And those barges filled with commodities floating down major waterways don't pay the full hare of operations either. You do.
Our railroad system in Texas has already experienced gridlock and in the next decade it will become dangerously critical if we don't start to act soon and make improvements. Railroads in Texas carry many commodities that are important to you. The coal that generates the electricity for your power plant, the farm products on your table, the chemicals that are part of hundreds of products you use daily, the lumber that builds your home and numerous other commodities that are transported by rail. 4 million railcars were handled in Texas in 1991. According to TxDOT statistics, that rose to over 8 million railcars in 2003. Texas is basically a one-track rail system with occasional passing sidings. The system is in trouble. Railroad officials say there is no room on existing lines right now for future passenger rail service expansion.
Yes - Proposition 1 will cost each of us some of our tax dollars. Yes – the railroads are a profit-oriented business. Yes - we will cause them to prosper through Proposition 1. But what's in it for you? By moving hazardous cargo on a bypass around urban areas we maintain safety on the rails; we eliminate some dangerous highway rail crossings and keep our citizens safe; we take 200 or more truck trailers off our crowded highways on a single freight train with stronger rail infrastructure; we add additional tracks so that overburdened freight railways can be opened up for commuter and intercity passenger rail service. Fast, frequent and reliable passenger rail service means taking cars off the road and that's part of air quality improvement. There's the trade-off. You can pay for improvements to the public side of rail development now - or you can pay for it later when you're gridlocked on the highway that you've also paid for. It’s your choice.
In November 1989 I was walking from the Dallas Morning News to the NCNB tower when I noticed what appeared to be a large stack of rags and blankets and a large yellow suitcase. I saw no human presence and presumed the articles had been abandoned by one of the many homeless in that part of town. I made no effort to put space between myself and the rags or quicken my pace.
As I passed within a foot of the pile a long bare yellowed arm reached out and grabbed my pants leg. Your heart stops in moments like that. However startled I discerned the arm belonged to a woman of undetermined age covered by the blankets. She was filthy with rheumy eyes and a deep rattle in her whispered voice. I knew instantly she was dying. I bent to hear whatever words the woman had left. She had none. She only handed me a wallet containing nothing but a faded photo of a young girl. She looked up, shook her head and died.
A police car pulled up and asked if there was a problem. “Not any more,” I think I replied. I never learned her name or if the photo was of her daughter, or a friend, or of herself or just a photo. At moments like that one recalls the saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
That is how I became entranced with the problems of the homeless and who should bare responsibility for their care and what the ultimate goal of that care should be. It is a complex problem and not one simple compassion can necessarily guide. Well intentioned people disagree – violently. Yet, the voters of Dallas will soon be called on to make a complex decision that will have a profound affect on their city on the 6000-odd homeless said to live in Dallas County.
Tom DunningOn November 8th Dallas voters will decide whether or not the city should issue $23.8 million in general obligation bonds (that means they will be paid off by property and sales taxes) to build a homeless shelter. Many are under the impression the bond authorization contained in establishes the location of the shelter in downtown Dallas near the Farmer’s Market. It does not. The Council must ultimately determine the location.
That said there is no reason to believe the location will not be the one recommended by a task force headed long-time civic leader and one-time mayoral candidate Tom Dunning. It is the location that has turned what would otherwise be a near certainty into a serious campaign with an uncertain outcome.
Property owners like Ted Hamilton who have made substantial investments in downtown believe the continued presence of a large contingent of homeless in the central city will scare off the legions of residents that must lead the core’s revival. Other elements oppose the Proposition 14 because of the sheer $23.8 million cost.
Dallas County says there are about 6000 homeless in the county and that about 1000 of those are hardcore homeless with severe mental or emotional problems. At present there are about 2100 shelter beds available at various shelters and another 460 for the growing population of family homeless. No one argues that the city’s existing shelter is too small, and offers virtually nothing in the way of security. The argument is over how where, how much and exactly what.
Dunning argues you cannot force the homeless to travel to a shelter located where they don’t want to go. He suggests a shelter built at one of the alternate locations far from the central city will sit empty and downtown will still be overrun with homeless; others believe the City is taking the easy way out. Expensive brochures have been mailed by opponents who say they do not oppose a shelter but the location and the only way to insure a different location is to defeat Prop 14 outright.
I am intently listening to both sides and have no idea how I will vote. My growing sense is that I am far from alone.
The President likely feels stuck between a rock and a hard place these days. After weeks of controversy within the Republican Party, his first nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has bowed out—quite gracefully, I might add. The President is back to square one. He must nominate someone new.
Some disgruntled Senators are blaming the “radical right wing” of the Republican Party for the events of this past week. They have encouraged the President to respond to the Miers withdrawal by nominating a “consensus” candidate. A failure to do so, Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid argued, would “reward the bad behavior of his right wing base.” Senator Charles Schumer seconded Reid’s advice, urging the President not to “listen to that extreme wing on judicial nominations.”
Media outlets seem to agree. The L.A. Times “reported” that the “conservative wing of the Republican Party declared its independence from the White House and asserted its claim to steer the party rightward.” The Philadelphia Inquirer wondered, “If right-wing agita can torpedo a nominee who is an evangelical Christian and who has told friends that she considers abortion ‘murder,’ what sort of nominee will appease them?”
To listen to these disgruntled commentaries, you’d think that the Miers nomination was withdrawn because a bunch of pro-life Republicans dictated the move to the White House. Naturally, liberals would like to promulgate such a perception. If they can sell this notion, then maybe they can also convince a beleaguered White House that only a moderate jurist in the mold of O’Connor is appropriate. But such a story is merely a rewriting of history.
Conveniently forgotten in the political posturing is the fact that some of the most pro-life people in the Republican Party supported Miers. James Dobson, for instance, forcefully argued in favor of the Miers nomination. Dr. Jerry Falwell seconded his sentiments. Pat Robertson went so far as to threaten retaliation at the ballot box against any Republican Senator who voted against Miers.
The pro-life movement did not dictate the Miers withdrawal. Instead, the debate about Miers’s views and qualifications was an honest one, and it was fueled by discontent among mainstream conservative lawyers, bloggers, and commentators. Surely Reid and Schumer don’t really believe that George Will, Charles Krauthammer, and Bill Kristol are hard-right “extremists.”
Moreover, if certainty about Roe is the sole issue upon which conservatives evaluate judicial nominees, then why did so many support the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts? No one knows what Roberts will do if and when the Court is presented with an opportunity to overrule Roe. Will he overturn the case based upon its questionable legal reasoning or will he uphold it based upon stare decisis? We do not know for sure. Indeed, Roberts himself may not know for sure.
Conservatives did not support Roberts despite Roe and oppose Miers because of Roe. To the contrary, they relied upon appropriate and mainstream criteria to determine their position for or against each candidate.
When Roberts was nominated, some conservatives felt uneasy about the “stealth” nature of his nomination, but they also recognized that a principled stance argued for confirmation of the President’s choice. Roberts is universally regarded as a well-qualified jurist. All evidence indicates that he will work hard to interpret the law accurately. He is an originalist. He does not view the Constitution as a document that grows, evolves, and changes over time. He will struggle honestly with difficult questions of constitutional law. He will ignore his personal preferences, relying solely upon legal considerations as he crafts his judicial opinions. We can ask nothing more of a Supreme Court Justice.
Most conservatives recognized Roberts’s qualifications, and they rallied to his defense. Similarly, many conservatives saw that Miers lacked experience and that evidence of her judicial philosophy was mixed or missing. They rejected implied assurances that she would vote the right way on Roe, and they made a principled decision not to support her nomination.
The President has a responsibility not to let liberal commentators rewrite this history. He should instead focus on keeping the promise that he made during his presidential campaign. He should nominate a well-qualified, conservative jurist in the mold of Justices Scalia and Thomas, just as he did with John Roberts. He should nominate a candidate with a philosophy of judicial restraint. Most importantly, he should nominate a jurist who has demonstrated his ability to maintain such a restrained philosophy throughout his tenure on the bench.
Such a nomination may mean a confirmation fight in the Senate, but this fight is not to be feared. To the contrary, the Miers nomination shows that conservatives are ready to publicly defend their principled view of the judiciary. The President should give them a chance to do so.
Prop. 1 gives too much power and responsibility to an amateur politician instead entrusting our professional public administrators. In a disaster, who do you want handling your rescue?
It’s WRONG to give the mayor sole authority to hire the city manager.
The manager – responsible for providing services equally to all 14 City Council districts – is to be selected by none of the 14 representatives. Prop 1 allows a majority of them to FIRE the manager, however. This all but guarantees more conflict, more division. That breeze you feel is the revolving door Prop 1 installs in the city manager’s office at City Hall.
It’s WRONG to let the mayor alone to decide what to pay the manager.
Pay and pay raises are among the tools our elected representatives now use in evaluating management performance. A power-hungry mayor can use Prop. 1 to hold a paycheck hostage to an agenda our representatives may not support. And what if the City Council votes against the mayor-imposed pay package at budget time? Would you work for free?
It’s WRONG to force the manager to get the mayor’s OK when hiring two department heads: the police chief and the fire chief.
With this scheme, the two top officials responsible for public safety won’t know who’s their boss. Prop. 1 creates a classic “Mommy, Daddy” conflict and installs two more revolving doors at City Hall.
It’s WRONG to take away the little power our elected representatives have to influence what issues get attention.
Prop. 1 forces council members to win the mayor’s approval before they can raise an issue, perhaps one important for your neighborhood, to the full council. Instead of being accountable to those who elected them, council members will be busy working to please the mayor. That’s not our idea of representation.
Prop. 1 will increase your tax burden, cost us $7.5 million in 10 years and untold millions of tax dollars to fight futile legal battles that will come if it passes.
It’s WRONG to legislate a 100% pay raise for the mayor and create entire new and expensive bureaucracies. Especially since the new bureaucrats won’t have anything to do.
Prop. 1 requires us to pay an amateur politician $120,000 a year. It creates two new “super committees” of the council with additional staffing that duplicates existing committees and staff. Ironically the main purpose of the new bureaucracy is “budget oversight,” but Prop. 1 changes the budget process and makes it the joint responsibility of the mayor and city manager. The council and their budget bureaucrats are cut out of the equation.
It’s WRONG for the Dallas business climate by installing a political “boss” in our mayor’s office that invites backroom deal-making.
You’ve seen it in smokestack cities where some business leaders know they only need to see “da maya” if they want to cut corners or dodge the rules. In Dallas they know they’ll get at least a spirited debate from a watchful council and management staff.
It’s WRONG, and we’ll be paying for the courts to tell us so.
The city’s 14-1 single-member council district system, which helps ensure fair representation at City Hall, came at a cost. It was well over $2 million in legal fees that Dallas paid fighting for alternatives that would have concentrated power among a few, privileged elites. The same forces that fought that fight are lining up to take Dallas back to the courts and to the taxpayer piggy bank if Prop. 1 passes.
The firm that operates the long-running Deep Ellum rock club Trees and the Gypsy Tea Room has filed for bankruptcy. Another blow to what used to be Dallas’s only truly bohemian section. But Deep Ellum is a venue that may have run its course. It used to be a place that the botton-down crowd could go and observe exotic life forms and feel a slight tingle of danger. Once the Skin Head gangs were driven out there wasn’t much danger until the last couple of years. But Deep Ellum has gotten pretty rough lately. There is a sinister feel even in daylight. The pioneer restaurants like East Wind, the Deep Ellum café and Sambuca have departed or folded. Downtown and Uptown (and soon Victory) offer safer havens. Then there is the irritation of the constantly circling 24X7 parking meter squad. Sad.
So far as I know PenWrite was the only store in a Metropolitan area of over 3 million that offered a full array of pens – from the hyper expensive – to the mundane ballpoint. It was the only place you could take a vintage pen for repair. It closed its doors last week. You would think a location in Inwood Village between the Park Cities and Preston Hollow would be perfect. These days for niche retailers it appears the only profitable location is on the Internet.
Main Street Revival
If you haven’t driven down Main Street in downtown lately give it a try. There are half a dozen buildings undergoing either construction or conversion. And the makeover of the Mercantile block is still a few months from its start. Maybe this stuff about a downtown revival is real this time. Nearly all of these projects received City backing. And Laura Miller voted “yes” on each and every one. Good think none of the developers are named Hunt.
If you haven’t made it to the Dallas Arboretum for their Dallas Blooms Autumn edition there is one week left. The Arboretum is one of Dallas’s real treasures and there is nothing better to do on a bright crisp afternoon than pass a couple of hours there. By the way, it is as kid friendly as any place can be.
So long Hank
Hank Haney’s driving range on McKinney has been around for only a dozen years so it doesn’t qualify as an institution but it was a great asset to an infant Uptown. The value of finding this big patch of green and lights in such an urban environment cannot be underestimated. Alas, a driving range does not constitute the “highest and best use” for such prime acreage. City Place owners apparently feel that two 20-story apartment buildings are the best use. That may be true but you still wonder if this won’t diminish the quality of life that has made Uptown so attractive.
It's been an interesting week to be in the nation's capital. One political correspondent called it "Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue" -- the worse week of George W. Bush's political career, what with the Harriet Miers withdrawal and Scooter Libby indictment right after the U.S. passed the 2,000 casualty mark in Iraq. And all of this not long after major flubs on Katrina response. What's going on here?
Analysts say these kinds of political problems typically come in second administrations, i.e. Reagan had Iran-Contra and Clinton had the Monica Lewinski scandal during their second terms. One reason they occur is because second-term presidents and their staffs become insolated and arrogant. That's why you're hearing so much TV talk about the need for "fresh people"in the administration as a way to rejuvenate.
Recall that Reagan sunk to a 37 percent approval rating after Iran-Contra but went out of office with a high level of popularity. What can Bush do to bounce back? Some say he's following the model set by Clinton after his impeachment scandal. That strategy: Focus on big issues and talk about the job he still has to do. So Bush was in Virginia yesterday delivering a speech to rally support for the war in Iraq, and this weekend is at Camp David trying to come up with his next Supreme Court nominee.
People tend to underestimate George W. Bush. His political obituary shouldn't be written yet. Besides, after the media knocks somebody out, the next series of stories almost invaribly is about the recovery.
President George BushAlmost everyone agrees that Texas’ taxes are a mess. Some segments are badly overtaxed (homeowner and manufacturers) while some are hardly taxed at all (services and trusts). The state’s Robin Hood school finance scheme does more stealing than giving. Unfortunately no one agrees on what should replace it. As the late Bob Bullock used to say “don’t tax you and don’t tax me tax that guy behind the tree.” At tax reform time there usually aren’t any guys behind trees they are front and center lobbyist in tow. So here is wishing former Comptroller John Sharp good luck as he attempts to tackle the issue at the behest of Gov. Perry.
The last guy to tackle the tax issue was then Governor George W. Bush. His efforts were virtually a total failure, and especially upset conservatives. But it did much to burnish his image as a moderate reformer and that served his Presidential ambitions well. Indeed, many believe an exercise in credential burnishing was all Bush ever intended.
John Breaux (D-LA)Maybe, but President Bush still seems to have the tax reform fever and new appears ready to use the issue to revive his Presidency. He has appointed a commission headed by two slightly right of center ex-senators (Democrat John Breaux and Republican Connie Mack) that is preparing recommendations. They are expected to report their recommendations early next year. Connie Mack (R-Florida)
Right now the DC skies are as full of trial balloons as the Plano skies during the hot air balloon festival so it is hard to know just what the final version might contain. But if the balloons are indication of the final product the reform effort is more likely to finally bury the Bush presidency and the GOP with it.
The panel has rejected the kind of fundamental overhaul that would switch the country from the income tax to a consumption tax or border adjusted business activity tax and appears ready to opt for a long line of certain to be unpopular proposals. For example, the Commission is seriously considering capping the deduction for mortgage interest and health care. The idea is to shift more of the tax burden from the poor and middle-class to the wealthy. The Commission would turn mortgage interest deductions into a tax credit thereby allowing those who don’t itemize to gain benefit from the deduction (now, how many people with mortgages don’t itemize?). However, Breaux concedes the proposals will be opposed by labor and the economically critical homebuilding industries.
There are lots of other such changes sure to antogonize some significant constituency. What the recommendations apparently will not do is either raise additional revenue or cut tax rates. Without doing one or the other Bush will have absolutely zero support, but Democrats will have an unending vein of unpopular proposals to mine come election time.
Surely the US needs sweeping tax reform. But that requires rallying conservatives for overall rate cuts partially offset by broadening the base (that means ending tax subsidies for business) or rallying liberals by raising more cash for government programs. If the balloons are any indication of the reality Bush will manage to outrage both sides and achieve nothing. Somebody stop this guy before he reforms again.
He’s making a list. And checking it twice. He’s going to tell whose naughty and nice.
John SharpNo, we’re not talking about Santa Claus. We’re talking about John Sharp, the former state comptroller and head of Gov. Rick Perry’s tax commission. Sharp issued a pointed warning to the business community in a speech to the Texas Association of Business Oct. 28. “I don’t have an agenda now or in the future. And so at the end of this process I will tell you who was naughty and who was nice. If it dies, I’ll tell you who did it. If it passes, I’ll tell you who did that too. But this is a time where we ought to be Texans. Forget about party. Forget about who gets credit.”
Sharp also discussed his tax commission, its mandate, and his ideas on tax reform. Sharp made it clear that both he and Perry oppose a state income tax. Sharp told the audience that as comptroller, he seldom heard poor or rich Texans call for an income tax. The most frequent advocates for an income tax, he said, were large corporations. ”They want the tax on their employees, rather than on corporate profits,” Sharp said. “You can’t blame them for that. All that an income tax is, after you boil it down, is a tax on the middle class … If and when we get an income tax in the State of Texas, it will not come from the left. It will come from the very largest corporations in the State of Texas because those are the people who will benefit primarily from an income tax. It won’t be small business, and it won’t be middle class folks.”
Another concern topping the Sharp speech is the decline in Texas manufacturing. “We treat the folks who are the service end or the consumption end of services in the State of Texas better than we treat the folks to make the jobs … That’s what has to change. The debate that we hope to start is a debate about what it does to the economy of the State of Texas to have such a heavy [tax] burden fall on capital expenditures and capital construction. i.e. Manufacturing of all kinds and things like that. Because that’s the problem. If we can find a way to lower that and spread that evenly and fairly through the rest of the economy, than that’s something that we ought to be looking for.
Finally, Sharp told attendees that the committee is sensitive to the concerns of middle class homeowners and small business. He noted that large corporations can get property tax abatements but small business creates most of the jobs in America. He noted that a choice of business taxes could be an option the committee considers.
Sharp predicted the other members of his committee will be named soon, possibly next week. He pledged an open and transparent process. The committee will office in the old insurance building in Austin. Sharp invited all interested Texans and businesses to give input to the commission.
If ever there was an argument for affirmative action, the news of how the 94 percent white student body of Highland Park High School likes to celebrate their “spirit” is cause enough.
For those who missed it, students at the exemplary-rated high school get revved up each year the week before their Homecoming game by coming to school every day dressed to fit a particular theme during what is dubbed as “Spirit Week.” This year, one day was designated “Thug Day” and another “Fiesta Day.” The Dallas Morning News focused more so on “Thug Day” where the kids dressed in baggy clothes, sporting lots of bling-bling (flashy jewelry for the slang-illiterate), gang attire, gold-capped teeth and afro wigs. Aside from the gold-capped teeth, this kind of dressing up has been around since the 70s.
In my book, it doesn’t raise the red flags as much as the so-called “costumes” worn on Fiesta Day. The school says that Fiesta Day was to celebrate Hispanic heritage. Yet, according to a Park Cities People article, some kids came to school with leaf blowers, dressed in maid outfits and wearing traditional Mexican dresses with pillows stuffed under them to make it look like they were pregnant.
The principal has gone on record saying no one got in trouble because the dress code was not violated.
As someone who worked her way through college as an elementary school bilingual assistant, the one thing drilled into me was that every situation should be seized as a learning opportunity. To not call these students on the insensitive nature of their choice of costumes is as much a reflection on the lack of administrative guidance regarding cultural sensitivity at this school as it is on the segregated lifestyles these children lead. It’s a sad commentary when fun is made of other people’s line of work, and just lends credence to the observation that Hispanics are doing the kinds of jobs that others don’t want.
TexPIRG Advocate Luke MetzgerTexans, hold on to your wallets. We've spent the last few months suffering under the weight of $3 a gallon gasoline prices. Today, the PUC approved a24% increase in electric rates for TXU customers. And as the winter draws closer, many of us will soon face an even bigger potential economic wallop: rising home heating prices.
The numbers are sobering. The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that homeowners will see home heating bills rise 51 percent in Texas. And that's compared to last year's already-high prices. A colder-than-predicted winter or a slower-than-expected recovery from this year's hurricane season could make even these predictions seem rosy.
Rising energy prices threaten to leave many families struggling to make ends meet. And this winter, 391,000 low-income households will no longer receive a 10% rate discount on their electric bills that might have provided some cushion to the blow. This thanks to the Legislature's raid on the electric industry system benefit fund - a fund created in 2002 for billing assistance and weatherization programs for poor, elderly and disabled Texans – to balance the state budget instead. And the entire economy could be hurt if consumers find themselves with less disposable income to spend.
Today's energy crisis isn't just the result of a freak hurricane season. Rather, it's the result of decades of bad federal energy policy that have left us over-reliant on fossil fuels and other dangerous and unstable sources of energy. Even before this year's hurricanes, booming demand for oil and natural gas left suppliers unable to keep up --- and prices heading through the roof. And federal energy legislation enacted this summer didn't help, lavishing billions of dollars in giveaways on the oil industry while doing little to improve the energy efficiency of homes and vehicles. Until we address our over-reliance on unstable energy sources, we can get used to more crises like this one. Texans increasingly realize this; that's why many of us are buying more-efficient cars, driving less and being more careful about how we use energy at home.
But if we want to ease the pain of higher energy prices this winter, we have a lot of work to do. And we need to do it fast.
Now is the time for Gov. Rick Perry to launch an all-hands-on-deck emergency effort to promote energy efficiency and conservation in order to reduce demand for energy this winter. His executive order yesterday directing state agencies to develop conservation plans is a good first start. This will save the state money and serve as a good example of the kinds of things all of us can do to reduce energy use. Unfortunately, his order to 'streamline' the permitting of new coal-fired power plants are a major step in the wrong direction and will just mean less public involvement and more air pollution.
The months between now and the peak of winter give us enough time to improve the energy efficiency of thousands of homes and businesses. The state should acquire, and distribute for free, inexpensive yet effective technologies for reducing home energy consumption, including compact fluorescent light bulbs, low-flow showerheads, pipe wraps and water heater blankets. We should adopt a one-day sales tax holiday for weatherization supplies and Energy Star-rated appliances. And the PUC should deny any proposed rate increases, like that just approved for TXU, unless investments in energy efficiency programs are dramatically increased.
What else can be done? In 2001, California, facing a summer of possible rolling blackouts, launched an ambitious program to promote energy efficiency and conservation. For example, the state gave 20 percent bill reductions to customers who cut energy use by 20 percent. It also allocated $800 million in emergency efficiency and conservation spending from the state's general fund.
California cut its electricity consumption by more than 6 percent in a single year. There is no reason a similar program couldn't be just as successful in saving natural gas.
It won't bring natural gas or oil prices back down to where they were a year ago, or a month ago. But it will ease the pain of what threatens to be a very tough winter. And once winter is over and the immediate crisis has eased, we need to make sure to keep up the effort. Improved energy-efficiency standards for appliances and homes, coupled with a sustained financial investment in energy efficiency, can keep a lid on energy demand and save consumers money.
With continued investments in clean, renewable sources of energy and clean forms of locally generated power, Texas could put itself on the road to a more sustainable energy future in which the kind of price spikes and supply disruptions we've seen recently will become just a bad memory. A better and more stable energy future is possible --- if we get to work. And with a winter of high electric and heating bills on the horizon, there's no better time to start than now.
Luke Metzger is the Public Advocate for the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) headquartered in Austin.