Monday, January 31, 2011

71% of TX political "insiders" say voter ID is a 'political issue'

According to the Texas Tribune's "insiders"...

This week, we asked our insiders about voter fraud — which was simultaneously being cussed and discussed in the Texas Senate debate over photo voter ID — to see whether they think it's a real problem (14 percent), a political issue (71 percent) or both (16 percent).

One of them commented:

"Legislative emergencies should be used for true emergencies, not the issues the Governor's pollster deems red meat. Also, answers to your first question will skew the voter ID debate -- many believe voter fraud is real, but the only kind of fraud voter ID legislation addresses is voter impersonation at Election Day polling places. That type of fraud has not been shown to be a real issue, despite the AG's best efforts."

Presumably their list of "insiders" -- the list is at the link above -- is fair and balanced (I'm tired of using italics in this post but they are certainly inferred WRT the previous phrase), so this represents a pretty embarrassing truism for Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, and the Senate Republicans: three out of four see through their BS, while the remaining insider is likely a Teabagging sycophant.

But I don't think the governor is going to be too embarrassed by this poll's results. Do you?

Update: The Chronicle's op-ed is withering in its criticism and reminds us of the legal hurdles VID must still clear ...

But the bill is by no means a sure thing. The U.S. Justice Department will be reviewing it to see that it complies with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Texas is among Southern states with a history of discrimination against minority voters that must get clearance from that department before making such changes. Another hurdle to overcome is that voter fraud is not an issue at polling booths. If anything, voter registration and mail-in ballots are more of a concern, but neither of those activities requires a photo ID.

If the bill becomes law, it will cost about $2 million to implement — at a time when we’re watching every penny. No problem, says Dewhurst. We could get a federal grant to foot the bill.

From the same feds, we assume, who spend like drunken sailors and interfere in our state business.

This is a hasty, mean-spirited bill that could cause far more problems than it solves. We urge the Justice Department to give it their full attention.

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance is ready to retire the phrase "blue norther" for another year as it brings you this week's blog roundup.

Off the Kuff took an early look at fundraising for 2011 city of Houston elections.

The Big Gas Mafia says it's impossible but hydraulic fracturing causes gas to migrate, threatening lives... AGAIN. TXsharon puts 2 and 2 together at Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS.

Bay Area Houston has a press release from the governor titled Rick Perry Asks Republican Voters to Quit Their State Jobs.

A Texas republican is at the forefront of the movement to kill Medicare. CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is not surprised.

This week at Left of College Station Teddy calls out Congressman Bill Flores' health care hypocrisy for voting to repeal health care reform that ensures health care for millions of Americans while voting against repealing his own government health care. Teddy also covers the week in headlines.

The Texas Cloverleaf highlights the Texas House Republican vote against open government.

Ryan at TexasVox asks "Where's the outrage?" from TCEQ approving another polluting power plant despite local opposition, warnings from the EPA, and rulings from two SOAH hearings. The facility is ironically named Las Brisas plant in Corpus Christi.

During the voter I.D. legislation fight on the floor of the Texas Senate last week, a new problem emerged on the policy. And it's not what you think this time: potential problems for minorities, or the elderly, or rural Texans, or poor folks. This time, it's a problem with your right to vote. Yes, you. Letters From Texas explains why.

Eye On Williamson points out that the state GOP's proposed budget is asking for huge sacrifices from poor and working Texans, but little or nothing from the wealthy and corporations, in the Texas GOP budget proposal is morally bankrupt.

Ever been broken down on the side of the road and everybody in the car is arguing about who's going to get out in the rain and try to fix what's wrong? Well, that's where the state's highway fund is. And our Austin representatives are "ready to have a discussion" about it. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs double-checked, and no, nobody has a roadside assistance plan, either.

At TexasKaos, Libby Shaw serves up a heaping helpin' of snark in Rick Perry Urges Republican Voters to Abandon Public Schools. By the reactions she got, she ruffled a few feathers. You go girl!

Neil at Texas Liberal had jury duty the past week. Neil dressed well for the responsibility and feels that you should do the same when you are called. What merits greater respect than our common society?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egypt collapses into revolution

Thousands of inmates have broken out of their prisons (some reports indicate they were let loose by authorities) and have joined the demonstrators in the streets of cities throughout Egypt. 'Looters' and 'criminals' carrying government identification are rioting. Warplanes are repeatedly buzzing the crowds in Cairo. Police and soldiers have demonstrated an unusual amount of sympathy for the protesters, and now even hundreds of judges have joined the outcry. All this according to as-I-type broadcasts from mostly foreign services including al-Jazeera and the BBC.

This follows the resignation two weeks ago of the president of Tunisia and unrest in other Arab nations including Yemen and even Jordan.

We have revolution, and some of it is being televised, and Tweeted and Facebooked, despite the Egyptian Internet switch being turned off.

Update: Follow the al-Jazeera live blog here.

Texas state highway fund is broke down on the side of the road

Texas soon will be shelling out more per year to pay back money it borrowed for road construction than it spends from its quickly vanishing pile of cash to build new highways.

Legislative leaders characterize the state's transportation funding as a crisis. Most Texans, they say, are unaware of its severity and must be educated before the state can find new ways to finance new roads.

The gasoline tax pays for road maintenance and construction but has not increased in 20 years. Gas tax revenue peaked in 2008 and likely will decline as vehicles become more fuel-efficient.

"It's not a crisis until everybody agrees that it's a crisis. Right now, people who don't understand it are saying, 'You're crying wolf,'" said House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Pickett, D-El Paso. "Yes, it's a crisis."

Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, agrees.

"The gravity of the situation is that in the absence of further action by the Legislature this session, we will literally be out of money for new construction in 2012 in the fastest-growing state in the country and in one of the largest states in the country," he said. "We need to begin to have a discussion about it."

Unfinished roads -- Roads to Nowhere? -- potholes, bridges broken down, then finally toll roads and Lexus lanes... but isn't this what a whole lotta Texans voted for in the last election?

What is everyone so upset about? Besides the ill eagles, as usual?

Remember: this is a financial issue mostly separated from the state's budget shortfall, which is also a crisis ... but not yet one of Rick Perry's emergencies, like voter ID, or sanctuary cities, or mandatory sonograms for women considering their reproductive options.

The transportation funding problem is separate from the state's projected $15 billion to $27 billion budget shortfall. The Texas Department of Transportation does not get any general revenue to build or maintain roads.

Legislative leaders generally agree that hiking the gasoline tax is not a viable option for several reasons, including the no-tax-increase pledge by Gov. Rick Perry and others. But Pickett wants that option on the table.

The proposed budget calls for the state to spend nearly $3 billion a year on road maintenance and nearly $800 million a year to repay debt. Less than $600 million, however, will be available per year for new road construction, which will not buy much pavement.

For example, the U.S. 290 corridor from Loop 610 to FM 2920 in Waller runs 38 miles and will cost $2.4 billion, according to TxDOT officials.

State lawmakers still have $3 billion left to authorize from a $5 billion road bond issue approved by Texas voters in 2007. Williams said he will push for that in the coming months.

The state began borrowing money in 2003 to pay for roads and now owes $11.9 billion. It will cost more than $21 billion to repay those bonds, Pickett said.

"We are trying to warn people," Pickett said, "Is this the way you really want to go? If you could get everybody around the table and put politics aside, common sense would say the conservative thing to do would be to limit borrowing capacity and put more cash in."

But hey, the Republicans elected in mass majorities just two months ago have a handle on it.

(Williams) agreed that the growing debt is a problem but said it is manageable given the size of the state, likening borrowing money for roads to buying a home with a 30-year mortgage.

A 30-year mortgage? Really, Tommy? In the current real estate market? You didn't sign us up for an ARM, did you?

Williams and Pickett agree that higher vehicle registration fees would help counter the immediate funding pressures. Current vehicle registration fees run about $60 a year in Texas.

Both said there's no benefit in assessing the state's long-term highway needs because that cost is so staggering that "you push the public away," as Pickett put it.

A report two years ago by the Texas Transportation Institute and others indicated the state's highway needs between now and 2030 would cost $488 billion.

Texans now pay 20 cents of state tax on every gallon of gasoline — a nickel of it goes to public education - which costs a person who drives 12,000 miles a year and averages 21 miles per gallon pays $7.14 a month. People who get better mileage spend less, Picket said.

A 5-cent hike in the state gas tax would raise about $575 million for roads and $190 million for schools.

"Is it OK to keep borrowing money, putting it on the credit card and paying high interest - or, should we raise the gas tax?" Pickett said.

Higher fees, more debt, and/or raising taxes are the choices. And "let's have a discussion about it" is what's coming out of the mouths of Republicans in the state legislature. I think I hear a Teapot squealing.

The Republicans have been in charge of Texas for almost 20 years now and this state is in the worst shape it has ever been in its entire history. Prior to 1998 the Democrats had been in control for about a hundred years and not once during the entire time have the state's financial consequences been this dire. Not once.

Rick Perry (and David Dewhurst, and everybody running for Kay Bailey's chair too, for that matter) has gone from boasting about the strength of the Texas economy during the campaign season to blaming all our troubles on Washington -- that is, when he can bring himself to admit we have any troubles at all. It's the same con game as his public persona; the drugstore-cowboy equivalent of bragging about how brave you are because you shot a coyote, even though nobody actually saw you do it and there's no dead coyote to be found.

The fact is that Republicans rule, and Democrats govern. I realize this is difficult to understand, particularly if you have been drinking too much tea for the past year.