BG Reads | News You Need to Know (September 23, 2019)



NEW -> Episode 53 - Budget and Policy Talk with Austin Council Member Jimmy Flannigan (LINK TO SHOW)


Austin City Council punts on reinstating rules to limit camping and resting in public (Austin Monitor)

City Council declined Friday to revise rules passed in June that rolled back ordinances banning camping, sitting or lying down in public. Council members may take up the measures again next month.

After months of uncertainty on the part of police, the public and the city itself, Council was set to vote on ordinances clarifying where homeless people could camp and rest in public. The revisions would bring the new rules closer to the previous ones, which often resulted in unpaid tickets and arrest warrants, making it harder for people to transition out of homelessness. But that discussion was waylaid after Council members expressed uncertainty and discomfort with the process leading up to the potential vote.

A key facet of the meeting centered on the “phased” enforcement strategy for the ordinances, and how the city could prohibit camping in certain areas, including downtown and West Campus streets, areas at risk of wildfire and near creeks. Council members were also slated to address sidewalk obstructions and whether to ban obstructions altogether or to define a specific clearance allowing people to camp on sidewalks. Expanding those prohibitions would come only after the city found a way to provide more housing opportunities… (LINK TO STORY)

Council approves $3M annually from hotel tax for musicians, venues (Austin Monitor)

For the first time, Austin’s city government will provide direct annual funding to the local commercial music industry, including venues and performing musicians.

On Thursday, City Council unanimously approved an ordinance and amendments to city code covering the allocation of the city’s portion of Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue, specifically funding for historic preservation projects and cultural arts. The net effect of the changes will provide an estimated $3 million per year to support the local music industry, with preservation funds going up by an equal amount.

Historically the city’s hotel tax money for cultural arts funding – capped by state law at 15 percent of the city’s total revenue from the tax – was only awarded to nonprofit groups supporting artists and musicians. That meant for-profit music venues, performing musicians and other music-related businesses were prevented from receiving any of the funds from the rapidly growing revenue source…(LINK TO STORY)

Communities clamor for regulation as Texas mining industry explodes (Austin American-Statesman)

Kevin Baum gazes out from his second-floor porch across his 12-acre slice of Texas Hill Country heaven. But since 2012, the number of registered quarries, rock mining operations and aggregate plants operating in Texas has increased 1,690%, from dozens of mostly family-run enterprises to hundreds of sprawling operations.

And a six-month American-Statesman and KVUE-TV investigation has found that the industry’s growth, particularly the rise of controversial quarries, has far outpaced state regulatory oversight. The industry explosion is fueled largely by the dramatic population growth in Texas, with some 1,500 people moving to the state each day, creating urgent needs for roads, homes and other buildings that require mined resources, like limestone… (LINK TO STORY)

Austin billionaire Robert Smith’s tab for paying off Morehouse student debt: $34 million (Austin American-Statesman)

Austin billionaire investor Robert F. Smith in May announced he would wipe out all student loan debt for the 2019 graduating class at Morehouse College. Now he is extending that gesture to their parents.

Smith, the chairman and CEO of Austin-based Vista Equity Partners, and his family donated $34 million to the Morehouse College Student Success Program, which will completely pay off federal, state and certain private student loans borrowed by the Morehouse graduates as well as loans owed by their parents, the historically black, all-male college in Atlanta announced on Friday. More than 400 graduates, parents and guardians will benefit from the gift… (LINK TO STORY)


Trump, Indian Prime Minister Modi emphasize friendship at Houston event (Texas Tribune)

President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed off their growing friendship Sunday, just miles away from one of the largest Indian American communities in the state.

The leaders of two of the world's largest democracies addressed thousands at NRG Stadium at an event called Howdy Modi! that featured Indian cultural dances amid drill team routines performed to country music, drawing on the experience of Indian Americans living in Texas.

The pair praised each other extensively during their speeches, including their respective efforts to improve each country's economy and trade relationships… (LINK TO STORY)

How a property tax relief plan is prompting hefty tax increases in Texas (Houston Chronicle)

A statewide property tax relief plan that takes effect next year is prompting hefty tax increases this fall in many of the biggest cities and counties in Texas, even in places that have historically kept rates flat or decreased them. Elected officials in some cities and counties say they have no choice but to raise taxes as high as they can this year to brace for the implementation of property tax reforms that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Legislature called historic earlier this summer.

The average effective tax rate for single-family homes in Texas was 2.18 percent in 2018, third-highest in the nation, according to a study by ATTOM Data Solutions. Starting next year, cities and counties will be barred from increasing property tax collections more than 3.5 percent in any year without a vote of the public. Currently, the state has an 8-percent limit, called the rollback rate, that state lawmakers say has allowed cities and counties to overtax homeowners. The lack of a state income tax makes Texas municipalities especially reliant on property tax revenue… (LINK TO STORY)


Oil companies, pushed to address climate, disagree on how (Wall Street Journal)

As global leaders prepare to debate action on climate change at the United Nations on Monday, big oil companies are aiming to show investors and government officials that they are part of the solution to a problem they helped cause.

Fossil-fuel companies are falling out of favor with investors over underwhelming returns and fears that their long-term prospects are uncertain. Electric vehicles and renewable energy are gaining traction as governments adopt tougher regulations on greenhouse-gas emissions to address a warming planet. The oil-and-gas sector now makes up just 4% of the S&P 500 index, down from 10% a decade ago, FactSet data show. Exxon recently fell out of the S&P 500’s top 10 companies for the first time in years… (LINK TO STORY)


Economic Development: Opportunity Zones

The term “Opportunity Zone” has been buzzing around for a little while but it seems like things could be ramping up. While the tax benefits associated with the program accrue at the federal level, the City of Austin is also exploring how they might be able to leverage City resources to realize greater benefits… (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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