BG Reads + BG Podcast | News You Need to Know (October 10, 2018)

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[BG PODCAST]

Episode 18: Talking Scooter Share with Jason JonMichael, Assistant Director, Smart Mobility, Austin Transportation

Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham and BG Advisor Andy Cates discuss dark money, funds given to nonprofit organizations, including 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) groups, that can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals and unions.

The issue of dark money is a current topic of interest at Austin’s City Hall, related to the November 6th bond election. In particular, Proposition K.

That measure would require the city of Austin to hire an outside firm to do an “efficiency study” of the city’s operations and finances. The city already has its own internal auditing office and uses outside auditors, as well. This measure calls for a brand-new audit — done by someone the city does not currently work with…

Link to Episode 18


[AUSTIN METRO]

As donations surpass $714,000, Adler continues to eclipse rivals (Austin American-Statesman)

Austin Mayor Steve Adler topped off his hefty campaign war chest with an additional $139,804 since July, bringing his total this election season to more than $714,000, according to campaign finance reports filed Tuesday.

The fundraising kept Adler well ahead of his biggest rival, former City Council Member Laura Morrison, who has raised a sixth of that amount. Morrison brought in $25,516 from July to the end of September, bringing her total since she entered the race to about $117,800.

Adler has spent $219,887 in the past three months on expenses ranging from political consulting to “burner phones.” Morrison has run a leaner campaign, forgoing paid staff and spending $62,819 during that time.

“I continue to be humbled by the support from our community,” Adler said in a news release. “I’m committed to tackling our toughest challenges, and we’re doing this campaign without money from PACs, business entities or bundlers.

Laura Hernandez, the mayor’s finance director, said Adler already has more individual donations than he did during the general election in 2014. Leading up to a mayoral runoff in 2014, Adler became the first Austin candidate to raise more than $1 million in an election season.

Morrison could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, but she has said since the race began that she did not expect to compete with Adler’s fundraising…

Link to story


BoA fee adjustments cause high tempers (Austin Monitor)

On Oct. 1 of this year, the Development Services Department enacted a new set of fees for those looking to come before the Board of Adjustment to have the board hear their applications for a code variance.

Although increases are to be expected as Austin grows, this year’s fees associated with appearing before the board nearly doubled from 2017, making zoning and sign variance fees $3,230.24 instead of $1,782.56.

The fees, according to Development Services financial manager Meredith Quick, are based on a combination of staff time, hearing notification fees, and a 4 percent Development Services technology fee associated with running the board’s monthly hearings.

“I don’t really see a justification why the fees have to be doubled,” said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen at the Oct. 8 meeting of the Board of Adjustment…

Link to story


As affordability crisis deepens, 88% of Austin's new apartments are classified as luxury (Austin Business Journal)

Escalating land prices, higher property taxes, rising construction costs, more expensive labor and a ballooning population are key reasons why so many projects aim for the high end. Many newcomers are also accustomed to higher rents. About 13 percent of people moving to Texas in 2016 were from California, according to a recent Business Journals analysis of Census data — a state where in some major cities $1,400 for a luxury apartment may seem like a steal…

Link to story


County faces a future of frequent, heavy storms (Austin Monitor)

As anyone who has sat for hours in Austin traffic knows, city infrastructure is often built to meet the needs of the present, not the needs of 15 or even 10 years down the road. This is a problem when adapting to rapid population growth, but when accommodating for something as unpredictable as natural disaster, the problem can be even more challenging.

During the Travis County Commissioners Court Tuesday morning voting session, commissioners called for Travis County to step out of this cycle of building for the present and begin to develop infrastructure now that can absorb the kinds of potentially cataclysmic storms Austin is facing with climate change.

These comments were in response to a presentation by the Public Works Department concerning the potential fiscal impact to the county if it were to adopt new standards of projected rainfall intensities into the Travis County code based on the findings of a recent scientific analysis of the region…

Link to story


[TEXAS]

Texas A&M AgriLife Partners With DHS To Combat Biological Threats At The Border (KUT)

As we've seen since 9/11, partnerships to strengthen national security can sometimes make for interesting bedfellows. One case in point is a collaboration between the Department of Homeland Security and Texas A&M's AgriLife Extension Service. Under the 10-year project, the institutions will launch a new Center for Excellence in cross-border threat screening and supply-chain defense. The project has nearly $4 million in funding for its first year.  

Melissa Berquist, director of the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases at AgriLife, says the partnership will address threats that can come from livestock or plants.

"When we're looking at what's coming across our borders, some of what the center has proposed to work on are point-of-care diagnostics that Customs and Border Protection agents could be able to use, in terms of screening both cargo and people, as well as maintain workforce health at the border," Berquist says. "There's bacteria, viruses, as well as other emerging threats that are circulating globally."…

Link to story


Dallas officials mum on whether Amazon's HQ2 team made second visit to North Texas (Dallas Business Journal)

Members of Amazon's HQ2 selection team reportedly visited Miami and Chicago recently, but officials in Dallas aren’t saying whether the Seattle-based e-commerce giant has returned to the region after its initial visit.

A spokesman for the Dallas Regional Chamber, which is spearheading the North Texas push for HQ2, declined to comment Tuesday on whether Amazon’s selection team had returned to the Dallas-Fort Worth area since its initial trip in February. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings also declined comment, and Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Amazon representatives have visited all 20 cities on the short list at least once. In addition to Dallas, the cities are Austin, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Denver, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Montgomery County in Maryland, Miami, Nashville, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Northern Virginia, Toronto and Washington, D.C…

Link to story


What would a Sen. Beto O'Rourke mean for Texas' business community? (Dallas Morning News)

Ask Rep. Beto O’Rourke what his election to the Senate would mean for Texas’ business community, and he has a long answer. “Having a stable, predictable government that’s focused on investments in communities and people is good for us all,” he said. "Certainly, it's good for small business."

Ask O’Rourke why, then, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Association of Business and many top Texas companies are backing incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, and he has a short answer. “I don’t know,” the El Paso Democrat said, grinning with puzzlement. Whether O’Rourke can bridge a divide that stretches from Main Street to Wall Street could be a fundamental challenge as he whips up enthusiasm among his liberal base while also seeking to win crossover support for his underdog campaign from moderates on the other side of the aisle…

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Homeland Security moves to plug gaps in Bush-era border fence (Texas Tribune)

Roughly a decade ago when the federal government built 60 miles of border fence in the Rio Grande Valley, it left a few dozen long gaps in the barrier where it said it would eventually install gates.

The spaces have been a point of confusion and frustration for local residents who say they render the fence ineffective — and a target of ire from progressives who say they are proof that the barrier was more of a political statement than a practical solution to hinder drug smugglers and undocumented crossers.

Now, infused with cash from the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is finally looking to make good on its promise. On Tuesday, the agency filed a notice in the Federal Register saying it plans to waive more than a dozen environmental and other laws so it can install gates and roads along the border fence in Cameron County…

Link to story


[NATION]

Amid Kavanaugh uproar, changes to Congress’s sexual harassment rules stall (Washington Post)

Long before Congress was consumed by the wrenching fight over sexual assault allegations against Brett M. Kavanaugh, lawmakers had promised to make the process fairer for those who accuse lawmakers or staffers of sexual misconduct.

But nearly a year after the #MeToo era began, lawmakers have failed to deliver on that pledge — and it is not clear when they will. Aides on Capitol Hill still have no choice but to report abusive behavior through a system that was widely decried last year as favoring lawmakers over employees who allege mistreatment. After lawmakers could not agree on a package of changes, they punted the issue until after the midterm elections — which are now shaping up as a battle between the #MeToo movement and Republicans who say many accusations have gone too far…

Link to story 


Nikki Haley Resigns As U.N. Ambassador (KUT)

Nikki Haley is resigning as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and will leave the Trump administration at the end of the year, she said Tuesday.

It is not immediately clear what prompted the move. She informed her staff Tuesday, NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

Haley appeared with President Trump on Tuesday morning at the Oval Office, where he called her a "fantastic person" and said Haley had told him six months ago that she might take time off at the end of the year.

Trump praised Haley, saying she has done an "incredible job" and is "somebody who gets it." He said he hoped she would come back to the administration in another capacity, adding, "You can have your pick."…

Link to story


The Bingham Group, LLC is an Austin-based full service lobbying firm representing and advising clients on municipal, legislative, and regulatory matters throughout Texas.

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