Monday, April 29, 2019

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance needs to remind you that not all Democrats qualify to be called progressive.  Don't be misled by brand new blogs that conflate the two.

Our Great State figured large in presidential aspirations last week.  The #SheThePeople forum featured eight candidates speaking Wednesday at Texas Southern University, and the African American Mayors Association, convening in town at the same time, also received visits from some of those same men and women.  Bernie Sanders held a rally in downtown Houston after his appearance and the following day in Fort Worth.  (Oh, and Joe Biden finally jumped in, though he hasn't had anything to do with the Lone Star State as yet.)

PDiddie at Brains and Eggs had his weekly 2020 update while two Texas bloggers, Somervell County Salon and Pages of Victory, clarified their stances on who they would -- and would not -- be voting for.  Carl Davidson and Bill Fletcher Jr. of the Rag Blog offer a strategy for the left in 2020 and beyond.  And with Bill Weld now officially in, SocraticGadfly has his first take on the now-contested GOP primary.

With respect to the Texas Senate contest, John Cornyn finally got what he wanted: a high-profile challenger.  And he promptly made an ass of himself on Twitter.  A fresh poll reveals that the front-runner in this contest still has not decided whether to join the fray, and some people grow impatient waiting for him to do so.

Much Lege news as bad bills are moving quickly: Ed Espinoza at Progress Texas calls us to action to stop SB9, the latest anti-voting effort from Dan Patrick and the Republicans.  Equality Texas also wants your assistance in blocking SB17, the 'religious exemption' bill, and other proposed legislation that would overturn local non-discrimination ordinances.  Texas Freedom Network notes that the House is advancing a bill on posting the Ten Commandments in public schools.  And the most important legislation of the session, funding public schools by shifting the burden to sales taxes from property taxes, is not just punitively regressive but points to the failure of the state's leaders to compel large corporations to pay their fair share.

(T)he state’s top three politicians -- Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen -- provided Big Business with a useful smokescreen earlier this month. The Texas troika unveiled a proposal to enshrine a 1 percent sales tax rate increase in the state constitution as a means to buy down homeowners’ ballooning property taxes. It’s a regressive ploy that would help only the wealthiest homeowners while leaving the vast majority (80 percent) of Texans paying more in overall taxes.

Meanwhile, corporations continue to plunder the state and local communities. In the last year alone, property owners (almost entirely businesses) used a loophole in what is known as the “equity appeals” system to wipe out an estimated $44 billion in value from the tax rolls in the state’s five largest counties, according to an investigation by the San Antonio Express-News. That costs local school districts and governments roughly $1 billion in lost property tax revenue each year.
Nobody benefits more from the broken property tax system than the state’s powerful oil and gas industry, which has the resources to inundate county appraisers with appeals and legal threats challenging their property values. In 2017, property owners filed more than 5,000 lawsuits in Harris County alone, 90 percent of which came from businesses, the Express-News found.

“The only public policy reason behind [the equity appeals process] is to enrich commercial land owners at the expense of residential ratepayers,” Jeff Branick, the county judge in Jefferson County, told the Express-News. “If I had all properties being appraised at true fair market value, I could lower the tax rate.”

Jefferson County is home to one of the Gulf Coast’s largest oil and gas hubs. The fossil fuel giants located there run roughshod over the property tax system. That’s been devastating for Port Arthur, one of the most impoverished and polluted cities in the state.

But there are some encouraging developments: Texas Standard saw the statehouse approve an extension of beer and wine sales on Sundays, and the authorization of craft breweries to sell beer to-go.  A federal judge blocked the state's anti-BDS law.  And Charles Kuffner celebrated the settlement agreement in the lawsuits over that bogus SOS advisory.

Meanwhile Houston's city council, led by Mayor Sylvester Turner, voted to lay off 220 of the city's firefighters in order to pay for Proposition B, the voter-approved 'pay parity' resolution.  Court-ordered mediation on a gentler (fewer or no layoffs) settlement will continue.

A hodgepodge of other legal matters worth noting happened last week: the state's AG, Ken Paxton had the city of Edinburg's mayor, Richard Molina, and his wife arrested on voter fraud charges.  Dallas County DA Percy Creuzot has been one of the state's leading advocates against mass incarceration, and 'lawn-order' Republicans like Greg Abbott have decided to re-label the effort "legalized theft" and "soshulizm".  And Sanford Nowlin at the San Antonio Current reports on the effort to push bail reform in Bexar County.

Some climate news: Abbie-Louise Lord and Jenn Char, for the Houston Chronicle, documented their efforts to give up single-use plastic for Lent.  Pasadena, Deer Park, and other east Harris County residents sought answers about the #ITCfire at a community town hall hosted by Rep. Sylvia Garcia.  EARTHblog noted, in brief coverage of three incidents this spring, that the Houston area suffers a petrochemical disaster, on average, once every six weeks.  And DeSmog reported on an ethanol train that derailed, exploded, and burned near Fort Worth on April 24, killing three horses and forcing the evacuation of nearby homes.

Jef Rouner at the Houston Press argues that you cannot be "pro-life" if you are anti-vaccine.

Daniel Williams presents his research on how conflicts in policy positions between special interests may be analyzed.

A new exhibit at UT-El Paso displays artwork created by children held last year at Tornillo's immigration detention center.

And in Galveston, the Tea Kettle House gets a makeover for the DIY Network's "Big Texas Fix".

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