Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Election Issues 2006 - Jobs

Jobs and the economic health of the Concho Valley are an important component of the upcoming elections. A portion of our sales tax money is used to attract, promote, and assist businesses that want to relocate or grow here. Here is some of what we know about our economic health.

Our unemployment rate is low. There are factors such as the number of people that have just given up the search for a job, and those that have moved to big cities in search of jobs that don't show up in this low unemployment rate. Our lack of population growth and our shrinking school enrollment seems to support the idea that people are leaving to find jobs. Especially those with families

Our median wage is lower than the state and national average. We don't have that many high paying jobs. We seem to have plenty of entry level jobs, but good career type jobs are in short supply.

There are a number of factors that are limiting job growth. Transportation is a problem that will take a long time to adequately solve. Taxes can be detrimental to job growth. Finding the right markets to sell San Angelo and the Concho Valley to is a difficult problem.

Given what we know, how do the candidates plan on helping the Concho Valley grow in the years to come. Is any job a good job, or is it time for us to be selective in the type of jobs we attract. How do we have an economy where the kids don't have to leave to succeed?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Issues in English - Education

The interesting language of politicalese often uses English words in ways designed to imply more than state fact, the phenomenon of “spin” we hear so often. It is my intention to lay out some of the issues of the campaign in plain English without endorsing any candidate, in keeping with the non-partisan goal of this Blog.

Education is understandably one of the leading issues in the race for State Representative. With two utterly unproductive Special Sessions and a Texas Supreme Court decision on education funding come and gone, the one thing that can be flatly said is that our current system is an indefensible mess. One thing we no longer have the luxury of choosing to do is nothing.

The Court decision is the controlling factor now, so I skip over a recap of the sound and fury. Courts in general are very reluctant to take a de facto reading of anything and declare it to be a de jure legal principle, but in this case the Court spent 140 dense pages doing just that and declared the Robin Hood financing scheme to be a state property tax and with that de facto turned into de jure, clearly unconstitutional. Then in a fit of judicial pique, the Justices made it clear they never wanted to see this mess again and gave the legislature until June to come up with a new method of finance or Texas could become the first state in a century without a statewide public school system, and I think they mean it.

That dog fight will start shortly after the primary elections. Regardless of the primary outcome of the race, the incumbent will be our representative for this Special Session. All campaign rhetoric aside, if the outcome of the Special is acceptable, reopening the question in the regular session next year will be an obstacle to overcome. A lot of legislators will be reluctant to tug too hard at loose ends lest the whole thing come undone.

Right or wrong, Texas Constitution and legislative rules were created by people deeply suspicious (for good reason at the time) of government power. Our system defaults toward gridlock, just for example, any bloc of 12 Senators can prevent any item from ever reaching a floor vote. I have heard reasonable arguments that the Lt. Governor, as head of the Senate has more real clout than the Governor, at least in matters legislative. It was so in the two Special Sessions and will be true in the upcoming Special; Unless and until the Big Three of Governor, Lt Governor and Speaker of the House come to an acceptable compromise, there is very little likelihood any individual member of House or Senate can cobble together a coalition strong enough to overcome all three power bases in the short term. It would require a very unlikely number of underdogs being elected to materially change this reality in the next legislature.

Forget an income tax, like it or not, that would require a Constitutional Amendment with voter approval. As a political reality at this time, that horse died before the starting gate opened. Some combination of a sales tax increase and a platter of business taxes seems likely from what we hear now. At this point remember that business tax ends up added to the sticker price of whatever, wage earners eventually pay all taxes however they might be dressed up. Taxes on corporations only target which consumers of what eventually pay the hidden tax.

On this issue, the important thing for the voter to bear in mind is that we should take with a large grain of salt any promise to bring to pass a particular vision of education funding, at least until we see what will be given the Special Session as a starting point. If it seems intentional to delay the Special Session until after the primary, I won't deny that thought entered the process. I don't believe it was a determining factor. Remember two points: only the Governor can call a Special Session and set the “call” or allowable agenda of the session; and realistically, I cannot imagine a circumstance that would cause any Governor to call a Special Session during campaign season short of a State of War within the state borders.

Election Issues 2006 - Taxes

One issue that is central to all elections is Taxes. How will the candidate use our money. It is our hard earned money that we pay to the government to be used for services such as education, fire and police, roads, parks, etc..

There are critical needs at all levels. City property tax barely pays for fire and police services and is among the highest in the state. School property tax is at the state maximum and will likely be affected by the upcoming special session. Sales tax, which pays for much of the day to day operation of local government, needs to be spent wisely. High taxes hurt the economy and are not attractive to business.

All candidates have a responsibility to make sure that tax money is spent wisely and properly. No special favors. No candy store projects that benifit the few at the expense of the many. No expensive crusades that have no real substance. Projects should get the most bang for the buck and have a wide positive impact.

How well do you think the candidates will do with your tax money? Tell us here, and try to keep it to taxes this time. You will get a chance for other issues very soon.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Election Issues 2006

The election season is upon us, and Concho Info will be supplying information on many of the issues that are important in the upcoming elections. Each issue will be a posting at the head of its own thread with your comments welcome following like always.

We will not be supporting any candidate. Instead, we will be hitting the high points on issues such as water, education, jobs, housing, etc., supplying facts and links to information, and trying to give a good indication of the current state of that issue and hopefully suggest some questions that the various candidates should be answering.

Vote for the candidate that best addresses the issues and hopefully the information and analysis here will supply both a reality and a sanity check.

When you comment on these issues, you can add you opinion of where you think a candidate falls on a particular issue. That is welcome and encouraged. Just keep it tied to the issue. Don't just say "candidate x is the best on y". Tell us why you think X is the best on issue Y, with as much support and reason as you can. Quotes from campaign ads are probably not good supporting material though.

Try to keep it to what can be verified, and don't try to embarrass the candidates. I am sure they are all fully capable of doing that themselves.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The City and the Prison

The prison was discussed at the city council meeting and two very important points were made. First, the involvment of the city government to this point has been minimal. There has been no request for the city owned land, and no real coordination either formal or informal about the impact of a prison on the city services. COSADC did pass a resolution supporting a state prison here, but that's about it for the city.

Second point is that there is no need to do additional scientific polling on the prison issue as the results so far are overwhelming. Two petition signature drives and the Mayors mail in petition are clear, if not "scientific." The Mayor wanted a scientific poll to get a sense of what the citizens want in addition to their feelings on the prison, but the rest of the council was unconvinced. Polls have been used for similar purposes in the not too distant past, with results that were mixed at best. More on that in a later post.

There are still questions the city needs to ask. I have heard nothing yet on how having a prison within the extra territorial jurisdiction of the city will affect our public safety services. What additional training and equipment will be needed by our police officers and fire fighters to deal with potential problems at the prison. What procedures will be in place for when a sick or injured prisoner is transported from the prison 10 miles accross town to community hospital? Will they expect our fire fighters to provide EMS and ambulance services? Who will pay and how? These questions need to be answered.

Traffic Jam Not Much of a Victory

The City Council meeting yesterday had a surprising twist about an issue that is no surprise. ASU was back asking for the closure of part of Rosemont again. For over an hour, there were complaints about the impact that would have on the already bad traffic in the area for blocks around. At the end of the comments, ASU surprised everyone by withdrawing the request.

The traffic congestion around ASU is probably the worst in the city. As mentioned here before, the cities own master traffic plan labels the major roads in this area as level F, "severe congestion. Expect delays and problems." The released traffic plan shows high traffic for the next thirty years, even without ASU growth. It also shows no plan at all to make it better.

One statement made by Dr. Hindman adds an interesting perspective to the problem. He stated that the city planning department was on board and up to speed about ASU's master plan from the start. If that is the case, the planning and involvement by the city staff leaves much to be desired. At the first presentation there was nothing at all said about how the shift in traffic patterns would be handled. In the latest presentation there was a lot of talk about changes to Jade, and the possible addition of stop signs and other traffic control methods at other intersections in the area, but there was no good response to the traffic problems in the area beyond the standard answer of "we'll have to study the situation in more detail."

The reaction to the traffic problem in the area was so strong and so negative that in the end, Dr. Hindman withdrew the proposal for one overwhelming reason: He didn't want there to be any reason for people to blame the traffic problems in the region on ASU. He didn't want the city council and city planning staff to be able to say in the future "hey, sorry about the traffic in the area, but it's ASUs fault not ours."

The opponents won a victory here. But there was a lot lost at the same time. ASU was prepared to spend money on widening streets, making sidewalks, installing traffic signals and other traffic control measures, and help pay for more traffic studies in the area. None of that will happen now. Instead of this being the start of a solution to the area traffic problem, it will be congestion as usual.

There might be a little good that comes from this. Traffic in this area is now at the center of the radar screen (at least for a little while). Now is the time to push for changes. First thing to do is to give ASU a seat on the San Angelo Metropolitan Planning Organization, at least as a non-voting member. Second, improve the existing infrastructure as much as it can be improved. This means doing things like upgrading all the traffic signals in the area to where they are actuated and synchronized. Do real traffic engineering and planning and then improve the roads to the extent they can be improved. Go before the voters and get approval to use some of the sales tax money to help with this. Then, make the tough choices necessary to put a long term fix in place. If the traffic around one of the largest, most important members of the community isn't critical to the economic health and development of the city, what is.

Time for the city to move forward and fix this problem. Keep it on the radar.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Prison Liability

Experience teaches us that roughly 80% of business start-ups never see their fifth anniversary. Many and sundry are the incidental and unforseeable traps that can lead astray the best laid plans of mice or men.
The most recent presentation of a contract proposed by CCI was put on hold due to questions concerning the County's potential financial liability. I think this line of inquiry is on the right track, the taxpayers deserve protection from being on the hook for unintended consequences of operating a large prison unit.
I have yet to see a direct answer to what I believe to be the core question here. If we go with this prison, and a few years down the road we actually have say, 450 inmates from several states, CCI as a corporate entity goes bankrupt, to whom does the responsibility of operating this prison devolve?
I don't mean in the long term after a process of civil suits results in a judicial determination, I mean, the morning after, who is responsible for feeding the inmates breakfast and assuring the guards and staff their paychecks will not bounce? No spin, no tap-dancing, CCI has no assets, and we have a few hundred hungry inmates. I'm pretty sure we are not allowed to just turn them loose, and I don't think we can just lock the doors and let them eat one another until the last one starves to death.
The only track record Mr. Robinson can present is one of operating a program in the existing infrastructure of Red River County Texas a decade ago, a program that was terminated for whatever reason in one year. We are looking at signing off on a contract for a much larger program involving construction and hiring and operational phases CCI has never attempted.
Granting the best of intentions on the CCI side, should their corporate effort fail financially, every indication we have is that the taxpayers of Tom Green County will bear the responsibility of operating a large and expensive prison. If I am mistaken on this point, we deserve an explanation of exactly what does happen in that unhappy event.


The Standard Times has published its yearly wrap up in todays paper - Progress 2006. I am featured on page 10k of that section. They say some very nice things about the blog and website, they got most of the quotes right, and in general it is positive about our role in the community. I think you will especially like what the Mayor says about us.

It would have been better if they had given more credit to the other people involved with Concho Info. They also give me too much credit for some issues such as the sales tax campaign where I was just cutting my teeth on local politics.

Last minor point is the progress 2006 section is not online today. If you want to see what they say about us (and other issues such as the prison, jobs, etc.) you will just have to buy your own copy or wait till the library opens. Who knows, it might be online later.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Popularity, Polls, and Government

The results of the Mayors unofficial petition drive are in and are being discussed in the media. As has been pointed out by just about everyone, this was not a scientific poll. The results are useful communications between the governing bodies and citizens. They don't necessarily reflect how the majority of citizens feel, or even how people that would vote on the issue. I don't think this issue should be decided by the number of people for and against it today.

One of the most important parts of the Mayors petition results are the comments submitted with the petitions. Reading through them gives a very real indication of how facts and information are not getting out or are at least poorly understood. There were many comments where people thought the city government was behind this project. There was misunderstanding of where prisoners would be released. There were misunderstandings about almost every phase of this project by those for and against. This is to be expected. It's hard to dig into issues of any size and complexity when you actually have a life.

Our government is by elected representatives for a good reason. Ideally, these elected officials should be people capable of studying and analyzing issues and making tough decisions that are the best for the community. Granted, much of the time elections are little more than popularity contests but at least the elected officials can devote significant time and energy to issues (when not on golfing trips to Scotland.) Many of the founders of our republic were well educated in history. They had seen the cases where direct democracies had ended up bankrupting whole societies. They were aware that democracy can degenerate into two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner.

In the end, we need our elected officials to make decisions that are best for the community long term, even if they are not very popular. They will have to justify the tough choices, but that's what they are there for. In governing by popularity, someone always ends up getting eaten.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Petition Results

The results of the Mayor's petition request are in and posted on his website. There is an overwhelming response against any prison and especially the faith based prison. Keep in mind, this is not a scientific poll. Every result was voluntarily submitted. Each one was submitted by someone that cared enough about the issue to put out some effort. They had to care enough to put their name to their opinion.

There were 955 signed petitions. That is a very large number for such a poll. There have been elections with little more turn out. At 75% against and 21% for, the results look conclusive. There was less response on a regular state or federal prison, but even there the response was 66% against and only 13% for.

I find it interesting to read some of the written comments that were submitted. It is obvious that much of the response is based on feelings, not facts. If you have followed the discussion here and on the other forums, you know where I think the facts lead us.

The Mayor deserves kudos for putting out the effort to get citizen input on this issue. He made the effort on his own, including paying for ads in the paper. A number of other citizens also put out considerable effort to get the petitions into their fellow citizens hands, and making sure they got counted. This level of citizen involvement in any issue is encouraging

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cartoon Wars Commentary Missing the Point

“The occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the nations which make up Western Civilization, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any Islamic Peoples...”
This surely topical quote makes a body want to congratulate the brave spokesman who issued it as our response to the Islamic actions of the Cartoon Wars. Unfortunately, its author can no longer enjoy our approval. It was part of the Monroe Doctrine, directed at Barbary pirates in our nation's infancy. It certainly did not come from today's timorous State Department, which buried a nod to freedom of the press in a fluffy apology by our government for a group of political cartoons published in a Danish newspaper five months ago.
Just in case one cares to see what just how horribly offensive the cartoons in question really are, try http://www.humaneventsonline.com/sarticle.php?id=12146 As political cartoonery in the free world goes, rather tame stuff, but so far only a handful of papers have run any of them.
If a series of political cartoons in a paper nobody outside Denmark had ever heard of and the reaction to it ends up crystallizing the cultural gulf between Western Civilization and Sharia Law, it won't be the first time a pointed image lit up a distinct line between right and wrong. Radical Islamists have, aside from that minor unpleasantry of 9/11, murdered Dutch politicians and artists, sawed off the head of a journalist on film, burned enough French cars to jumpstart that country's failing auto industry and danced joyfully in the streets celebrating each of the above actions.
Sadly, the apologetic voices calling the Islamic violence and threats of terrorist response a minority aberration unrepresentative of this “religion of peace” have mostly been Western. The voices of prominent Islamic leaders condemning violence as unacceptably intolerant have been conspicuous in their absence. The few who have allowed that the level of violence is perhaps less than admirable have in the next breath condemned the publication on the grounds religious belief should be out of bounds to satire. Coming from a culture whose state-controlled newspapers regularly serve up caricatures of Jews as hook-nosed, baby-eating pedophiles and America as lap dog to the evil Jews, this sensitivity to strongly held belief seems a one-way street.
I am sure that many, possibly most, Muslims do not support violence and terror. Unfortunately, they are clearly not in control of events in that part of the world. Given recent history, the West has no choice but to take the rhetoric of the extremists as literal threats.
One hopes fear of such threats has not prevented our brave Fourth Estate from giving us a peek at what has stirred all this noise, but I have my doubts. The Dane who invited the submission of the cartoons in question said it was done to probe the question of fearful self-censorship. One of the cartoons is indeed of an artist drawing a purely representational portrait labeled “Mohammed”, nothing derogatory to it , looking nervously over his shoulder and sweating profusely lest he be seen by the wrong person. In light of recent events, that seems a reasonable point to make.
We distract ourselves worrying whether the publication was “inappropriate” and the UN and EU scramble to give forth really inappropriate apologies (the party of the third part cannot apologize for actions by the party of the first part). We need to look up from the sackcloth and ashes we are voluntarily wearing and ask who is orchestrating this violence for what reason. Riots and civil unrest do not happen spontaneously in the Middle Eastern dictatorships, at least not for very long. If this violence did not serve the interests of the rulers it would have been shut down brutally and immediately. The cartoons were published in September. I doubt it is a coincidence this dog and pony show erupts just in time to distract us from little things like Iran kicking out the last IAEA inspectors.
A truly suspicious mind might imagine we are not only being distracted, but our will is being tested. I have a truly suspicious mind. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. I can only hope a few of the better minds in the Defense Dept. (State would be too much to hope for) are looking past this circus of smoke and mirrors.
In the meantime, I am going to pretend we still live in a free country, and have taped a Danish Flag in my truck's rear window. Might have a Danish ham for dinner and buy a box of Leggos to give to a children's charity.