BG Reads | News You Need to Know (April 25, 2019)
Travis County braces for lean times (Austin Monitor)
Travis County commissioners spent a good chunk of Tuesday morning fuming over state legislation targeting local control, notably a proposal that will sharply limit the ability of local governments to raise property tax revenue.
A bill recently approved by the state Senate, which would cut the maximum effective property tax rate from 8 percent to 3.5 percent, would leave the county $6 million short of what it needs to continue its existing programs in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget cycle. By FY 2024, that shortfall will grow to $30 million.
If the Legislature ends up approving a 2.5 percent rollback rate, as advocated by Gov. Greg Abbott, the shortfall in 2021 will be $13 million and in 2024 it will be $58 million.
To illustrate the potential impact, Budget Director Travis Gatlin put together a presentation visualizing the current year’s budget under the 2.5 percent rate. Under that scenario, the Commissioners Court would have had $18.9 million less on hand.
Where would the county achieve the savings? Staff suggested the biggest cuts would be $4.2 million from road and bridge maintenance, $4 million from law enforcement, $1.8 million from health and human services, and $1.4 million from homelessness and mental health initiatives… (LINK TO STORY)
East Austin ZIP code named one of the 10 fastest-gentrifying neighborhoods in US (Austin Business Journal)
Austin is near the top of another list for real estate growth — but not in the way most residents and policymakers would want.
The East Austin ZIP code of 78721 ranked No. 4 among the fastest-gentrifying neighborhoods in America's major cities in an analysis by Realtor.com.
Amid Austin's boom, private developments like upscale apartments and luxury condos have moved into lower-income areas, particularly east of I-35. Rising property values have led to higher taxes and increased costs of living, pricing out many local businesses and longtime residents.
Slowing the tide of gentrification is a top priority for many local leaders — both in the name of racial and economic fairness and in an effort to preserve local residential and commercial character… (LINK TO STORY)
Council to consider jump-start to small area planning (Austin Monitor)
The city’s Planning and Zoning Department could be getting outside help to clear an anticipated decades-long backlog of planning documents for activity centers specified for growth in Imagine Austin.
An amendment up for consideration at today’s City Council meeting includes possible use of outside consultants as part of the process to complete small area plans for the corridors and other areas likely to see big changes in the coming years.
The amendment from Council members Leslie Pool and Ann Kitchen – potentially attached to Council’s resolution responding to City Manager Spencer Cronk’s questions to Council seeking direction on the land development code rewrite – outlines the criteria used for completing new small area plans, with the goal of completing those documents within five years.
At Tuesday’s work session, Council learned that Planning and Zoning is currently able to complete only two plans every 12 to 18 months, and that adding 10 full-time planners to the department would only double its expected output.
With more than 100 distinct centers and corridors defined in Imagine Austin, that would leave the city far behind in its ability to plan for growth and shape how those centers respond to Austin’s rapidly increasing population… (LINK TO STORY)
Former UT Austin Tennis Coach Pleads Guilty In Admissions Bribery Scam (KUT)
The former men's tennis coach at the University of Texas at Austin pleaded guilty Wednesday to accepting a $100,000 bribe in the widespread college admissions bribery scheme and will cooperate with authorities.
Michael Center, 55, is the third coach to plead guilty in the high-profile case that has also ensnared wealthy parents, including executives and Hollywood actresses, across the country.
The scandal has put a spotlight on the cutthroat college admissions process and amplified complaints that the system is rigged in favor of the rich. The parents are charged with paying big money to doctor entrance exam scores or get their children admitted to highly selective schools as athletic recruits for sports they didn't play… (LINK TO STORY)
Senate backs 2-year wait before ex-legislators can lobby (Austin American-Statesman)
A unanimous Texas Senate on Wednesday approved requiring senators and House members to wait two years after retiring to become a paid lobbyist.
The cooling-off period required by Senate Bill 13 would help Texans “be confident that their elected officials are representing their interests and not those of anyone else,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe.
“The state of Texas is one of nine states with no restrictions on the practice of legislators leaving public office and heading immediately for lobbying positions,” Creighton said.
Violations would be a Class A misdemeanor with up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. The bill would not apply if former legislators are not compensated for communicating with members of the legislative or executive branches “to influence legislation or administrative action.”
On the Senate floor, Creighton stripped a second provision from SB 13 that would have barred lobbyists from elected office in Texas, saying he made the decision after talking with senators and other officials… (LINK TO STORY)
Texas Executes John William King In Racist Dragging Death Of James Byrd Jr. (KUT)
It’s been more than two decades since an infamous hate crime in East Texas, where three white men were convicted of chaining a black man to the back of a pickup truck, dragging him for miles and then dumping the remains of his body in front of a church.
On Wednesday evening, John William King, 44, became the second and final man to be executed in the 1998 murder case of James Byrd Jr. Lawrence Brewer was put to death in 2011 for the crime, and Shawn Berry is serving a life sentence… (LINK TO STORY)
Texas House approves plan for digital license plates (Austin American-Statesman)
The House gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill that sets up Texas to be the latest state to allow digital car license plates. House Bill 1711, filed by Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, would let people have the option for a digital plate on the rear of cars.
“This is about giving consumers more opportunity and flexibility, so it adds some features that I think will not only be beneficial to consumers but would be beneficial to law enforcement as well,” Paddie said. Digital license plates, currently produced only by the San Francisco Bay Area-based startup Reviver, are customizable plates that include features for parking permits, toll collection and GPS tracking. Law enforcement can remotely indicate on a digital plate that the vehicle is reported stolen… (LINK TO STORY)
CDC Reports Largest U.S. Measles Outbreak Since Year 2000 (NPR)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 695 measles cases in 22 states.
"This is the greatest number of cases reported in the United States since measles was eliminated from this country in 2000," according to a CDC statement issued late Wednesday.
The agency attributed the high number of cases primarily to a few large outbreaks — one in the state of Washington and two others in New York City and New York state. The New York outbreaks are among the largest and longest lasting since 2000.
"The longer these outbreaks continue, the greater the chance measles will again get a sustained foothold in the United States," the CDC said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, in a statement, said the rise in measles cases is "avoidable."… (LINK TO STORY)
In push for 2020 election security, top official was warned: Don’t tell Trump (New York Times)
In the months before Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign, she tried to focus the White House on one of her highest priorities as homeland security secretary: preparing for new and different Russian forms of interference in the 2020 election.
President Trump’s chief of staff told her not to bring it up in front of the president. Ms. Nielsen left the Department of Homeland Security early this month after a tumultuous 16-month tenure and tensions with the White House. Officials said she had become increasingly concerned about Russia’s continued activity in the United States during and after the 2018 midterm elections — ranging from its search for new techniques to divide Americans using social media, to experiments by hackers, to rerouting internet traffic and infiltrating power grids… (LINK TO STORY)
BG Podcast Episode 43: A Palm School Discussion with Bingham Group Senior Consultant Paul Saldaña
On today’s episode Bingham Group Senior Consultant Paul Saldaña, and CEO A.J. Bingham update on discussions around Austin’s Palm School.
Located at Cesar Chavez and I-35, Palm School was Austin’s second elementary school, and served generations of students from the city’s Mexican-American community during its 84 years.
Travis County is considering whether to put the building up for sale or a long-term lease, and there are some who don't want its cultural history gone.