BG Reads | News You Need to Know (April 17, 2019)



Infrastructure, financing studies signal progress for South Shore district (Austin Monitor)

The city’s Planning and Zoning Department is looking to move forward on two pieces of long-overdue economic analysis needed to begin larger planning and development efforts around the portion of South Congress Avenue immediately south of Lady Bird Lake.

At Monday’s meeting of the South Central Waterfront Advisory Board, members learned that PAZ had identified the funding to pay for an infrastructure study and the gap financing to provide affordable housing as the 118-acre district is developed in the coming years. The news from PAZ director Greg Guernsey came weeks after the board delivered a sharply worded letter to City Council expressing frustration that a list of plans and approvals needed to begin work on the area’s redevelopment had stalled for more than a year.

Guernsey said the roughly $50,000 needed for the infrastructure study will come from “unfilled vacancy” funding from his department, while the gap financing analysis will possibly be paid for with a revolving contracts agreement with consultants.

Those studies, which will likely take beyond the end of the year to complete, are two of the bigger pieces of research needed for the city to determine if a tax increment financing district – or TIF – or bond funding will be used to pay for district improvements… (LINK TO STORY)

County considers matching Austin with $15 livable wage (Austin Monitor)

Between the tax revenue ceiling regaining momentum at the state Legislature and ongoing affordability concerns, Travis County is looking for a way to increase its livable wage for county employees before the imminent property tax caps take effect.

Todd Osburn, compensation manager of the Human Resources Management Department, told the Commissioners Court on Tuesday that the county’s current livable wage rate of $13 an hour is just over what is necessary for single adults to support themselves. According to HRMD’s recent Livable Wage Study – which used data from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology living wage calculator to determine basic costs of living for Travis County – if you add a partner or children to the equation, $13 is not enough.

Though there is no precise definition, a livable wage is usually higher than the minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and is at least sufficient for basic needs like food, shelter and clothing.

Considering the cost of housing, Commissioner Brigid Shea said that even without a partner or children to support, the study’s livable wage calculations seem too low for Travis County. With some of the county’s new subsidized affordable housing units charging roughly $900 a month for rent, she said the study’s livable salary of just over $26,000 for a single adult was still too low to make even those a viable option … (LINK TO STORY)

Central Health Says Sendero Is Relatively Healthy, But Its Survival Is Still Uncertain (KUT)

As the June deadline draws closer for Sendero Health Plans to prove its worth in the insurance market, Central Health officials gathered Monday night to update the community about the nonprofit health insurance company.

According to Sendero and Central Health's board of managers, the company is doing well so far – sort of.

“At this point there’s nothing we can say definitively, other than anecdotally we’re very happy that we’ve been able to provide quality care,” said Wesley Durkalski, Sendero's president and CEO.

Over the past eight years, Sendero Health Plans has provided about $475 million in coverage to more than 135,000 low-income residents in the area… (LINK TO STORY)


Cornyn's stockpile grows to $7.4 million as he awaits a Democratic challenger (Dallas Morning News)

Sen. John Cornyn, girding for a potentially tough reelection fight next year as Democrats drive to end the GOP grip on Texas, raised another $2 million in the first three months of 2019.

That pushes his stockpile to $7.4 million, with no serious challenger so far. The three-term Republican is expected to announce the tallies later today. As of Jan. 1, Cornyn had $5.8 million in the bank, the most of any senator up for reelection in 2020 at that point. But he still doesn't know who he may face. With the state's top Republicans in his corner, he's a safe bet for winning the GOP primary. The Democratic field remains open… (LINK TO STORY)

A Texas sales tax increase would hit poor people the hardest (Texas Tribune)

Texas’ Republican leadership wants to raise the taxes that consumers pay when they go shopping in order to lower the taxes that homeowners and business owners pay on their properties.

How would that work?

The state sales tax would rise from 6.25% to 7.25%, generating an estimated annual $5 billion in coming years. That would take the total sales tax in most cities to 9.25% because local governments can raise the sales tax an additional 2 percentage points. Supporters say a higher sales tax rate would generate enough revenue to buy down property tax rates by 20 cents per $100 valuation at a time when Texas homeowners and businesses are feeling squeezed by rising bills.

But raising the sales tax would cause poor Texans to pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes while the richest Texans and businesses are most likely to enjoy tax relief under the proposal…


Texas ban on companies that boycott Israel drives state to divest $72M (San Antonio Express-News)

Texas state agencies are beginning to divest nearly $72 million worth of stock in a company said to be boycotting Israel — the first financial move after a year-old law that bars Texas agencies from investing in such companies.

Two major state pension funds — the Employees Retirement System of Texas and Texas Permanent School Fund —own $68 million and about $4 million, respectively, worth of stock in DNB ASA, a Norwegian financial services company, officials said, though the company has denied it boycotts Israel. The 2017 law was touted by Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, as a way to show solidarity with the country, and prohibits state agencies from investing in companies that boycott Israel, or giving them government contracts. With bipartisan support, it passed unanimously in the House and with little opposition in the Senate… (LINK TO STORY)

Beto O’Rourke dominates 2020 Democrats in Texas fundraising (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Beto O’Rourke raised more than $2 million from his home state of Texas in the opening weeks of his presidential campaign, easily outpacing his 2020 Democratic rivals. Another Texan, Julian Castro, placed a distant second in the state’s money race, collecting more than $400,000, according to an analysis of newly filed campaign finance reports.

Texas donors accounted for more than half of the high-dollar donations brought in by O’Rourke, a former El Paso congressman, and Castro, a former San Antonio mayor, during the first fundraising quarter of the election cycle. O’Rourke, who launched his White House campaign in mid-March, is considered by Democrats to be a top-tier candidate, while Castro has struggled to break through since entering the race in January… (LINK TO STORY)


Amid New York Measles Outbreaks, 1 County Orders Exclusions From Public Spaces (NPR)

As the number of confirmed measles cases in New York continues to tick up, one county is determined to stem the spread of the disease by keeping it out of public spaces.

Rockland County, just north of New York City, issued an order Tuesday barring anyone diagnosed with measles from all places of public assembly, including schools, restaurants and places of worship. The order also applies to people who have been exposed to a person diagnosed with measles, based on laboratory evidence or an investigation by the county health department.

Earlier this month, a judge blocked the county's emergency declaration keeping unvaccinated children from public places... (LINK TO STORY)


BG Podcast Episode 42: A Startup Conversation with Easy Expunctions CEO Yousef Kassim

On today’s episode we speak with Easy Expunctions CEO and Founder Yousef Kassim.

Easy Expunctions is a San Antonio-based legal technology start up providing background check and expunction/nondisclosure services.

Their legal records search algorithms allow clients to know what (if any) charges they have against them, and what can be expunged. 

Additionally, they provide the necessary legal forms and filing instructions directly to the client. The overall process provides a significant savings to the client (in the thousands) as well as empowering people who may not have experience with the court system.

In April 2018 they won Austin-based Capital Factory's $100,000 Startup Challenge.  As part of the package, the firm received space at Capital Factory (located in downtown Austin)...

Check out Episode 42 here!

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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