BG Reads | News You Need to Know (February 19, 2019)



Council members agree: Cars are not the solution (Austin Monitor)

f the Thursday meeting was any indication, every member of City Council believes that the key to fixing Austin’s transportation problems is reducing the population’s reliance on automobiles.

Council members peppered city transportation staff with questions and critiques in response to a presentation at Central Library about the city’s long-term mobility goals. None of the Council members, however, have a problem with the city’s stated goal of getting people out of cars and onto their own two feet, bikes or public transit.

Council Member Paige Ellis, who was elected in December to represent the largely suburban District 8 in Southwest Austin, said that her own constituents favor cars due to a lack of options, not a lack of interest.

“I think people are interested in trying other modes of transit but they’re just not there yet, so we don’t even have the option to try it,” she said in an interview with the Austin Monitor. “The truth is, the city of Austin can’t keep adding many more lanes. We’re running out of space. We’re all going to have to look forward into the future and realize that single-occupant car trips are not solving our problems, they’re making it worse.”…

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Texas business leaders travel to West Coast to poach more California companies (Dallas Morning News)

A group of Texas business leaders is traveling this week to the state's favorite place to lure away companies: California. 

The three-day trip to San Francisco is the latest effort by Texas to snag corporate offices, company headquarters and jobs from its West Coast rival. For years, California has been a favorite punching bag of Texas politicians who describe the Lone Star State as a refuge from California's burdensome regulations, hefty taxes and higher cost of living.

The delegation to California kicks off Tuesday. It is led by the Texas Economic Development Corporation, an Austin nonprofit that acts as a marketing arm for the state. It also includes representatives from Irving, Houston, San Antonio and El Paso, Fort Worth-based freight company BNSF Railway, Houston-based CenterPoint Energy and the office of Gov. Greg Abbott. 

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Legislature traditions keeping revenue caps at bay, for now (Austin Monitor)

Travis County has a lot to lose if the Texas Legislature decides to discard tradition for the sake of passing the four property tax relief bills that have been filed this session. After Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s Senate Bill 2 was sent out to the Senate on Feb. 11, Deece Eckstein, Travis County’s intergovernmental relations coordinator, warned that the Senate may be preparing to forgo established tradition in order to get the bill on the floor.

Bettencourt’s bill would reduce the county’s property tax rollback rate from 8 to 2.5 percent annually, requiring local elections to approve any tax increases beyond that limit. Gov. Greg Abbott has been a champion of the measure, promising Texans it would protect them from excessive local taxation. Like any Senate bill, however, getting to the floor requires 60 percent approval to hear the bill, or 19 Senate votes.

Without those 19 votes, the only way to get a bill onto the floor is to get the first bill, known as the blocker bill, out of the way. The blocker bill is a long-standing tradition that protects minority parties by ensuring that a bill only comes up for a vote if a supermajority is willing to hear it. But if a political party is desperate to get a bill on the floor, it is technically possible to pass the blocker bill and open the door for other bills, like SB 2, to be taken up without that initial vote…

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Texas lawmakers look to the "cloud" for storing sensitive government data (Texas Tribune)

What do a warehouse in North Austin and a building at Angelo State University have in common? They hold trillions of bytes of data about some of Texans’ most sensitive information, including health and education records.

The Texas Legislature created the twin data centers in 2005 to consolidate disparate data management operations at dozens of state agencies. But since then, as government programs churned out more and more electronic information about health care, highways, public schools and other key services, the cost to operate the facilities has ballooned.

This session, lawmakers are considering an overhaul of how the state uses its data centers, with an eye toward private tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft that own private networks of remote servers known as a "cloud." Proponents say hiring such a firm to be the official keeper of much of the state's data could save millions of dollars and modernize vulnerable government tech infrastructure. But detractors say the current set-up is working fine and that any kind of structural change would be laborious, expensive and potentially risky…

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University leaders thankful for state funding, but seek more from lawmakers (Austin American-Statesman)

In Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” the young orphan, oatmeal bowl in hand, makes this request: “Please, sir, I want some more.” Texas’ higher education leaders, who carry thick binders and are fed much better than Oliver, spent much of last week thanking lawmakers for past and current funding but also asking for more.

The drama, as it were, played out in a series of hearings before Senate and House appropriations committees. The panels took no votes, as it is still early in the 140-day session that concludes May 27. If history is any guide, higher education leaders will see some fraction of their requests fulfilled. The testimony of University of Texas System Chancellor James B. Milliken was perhaps typical.

The testimony of University of Texas System Chancellor James B. Milliken was perhaps typical.

“The people of Texas and their elected representatives have done a terrific job of making investments in the past,” Milliken said. “And that’s why I have the chance today to lead a system that is so strong, with 14 terrific institutions — eight academic and six health institutions — which in many ways lead the country in terms of what they do for their state.”

While noting that the system administration is in the midst of a significant downsizing that will free up more money for the campuses, Milliken suggested that lawmakers loosen the purse strings in a few categories beyond the initial House and Senate budget proposals. Among them: so-called formula funding for basic operations; reauthorization of a $3 billion cancer prevention and research program; bonds for capital projects that include $1.2 billion sought by his campuses; and additional money for the state’s main student financial aid program, the Texas Grant…

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Trump Will 'Protect' Emergency Declaration If Congress Disapproves, Miller Says (KUT)

If Congress votes to disapprove President Trump's declaration of a national emergency, Trump is prepared to veto it, White House senior adviser Stephen Miller said on Sunday.

The president declared a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday to secure up to $8 billion in funding for a barrier on the southern border — more than four times what Congress approved. House Democrats have called Trump's declaration "unlawful," and are considering a joint resolution disapproving of the declaration. Miller's comments during a Fox News interview made it clear the president is unlikely to back down.

"If they pass a resolution of disapproval, will the president veto that, which would be the first veto of his presidency?" Fox News host Chris Wallace asked.

"Well, obviously, the president is going to protect his national emergency declaration," Miller responded…

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Voter initiatives, including Medicaid expansion, could get harder to pass (Wall Street Journal)

Some Republican lawmakers are moving to curtail future state voter initiatives, posing a possible obstacle to supporters of Medicaid expansion, who are already locked in a bitter fight to preserve initiatives passed in the November midterm elections.

Lawmakers in Florida and Missouri are weighing legislation to make ballot initiatives more challenging by charging fees, mandating more petition signatures or requiring more votes for passage. Both states are likely to be targeted by organizers for Medicaid-expansion petition drives in 2020 because they are among states that haven’t broadened the program but allow for voter-led ballot initiatives…

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Episode 34: Dyana Limon-Mercado, Travis County Democratic Party Chairwoman

(RUN TIME - 15:09)

On today’s episode we speak with Dyana Limon-Mercado, Travis County Democratic Party Chairwoman. Elected in November 2018, she is the party’s first Hispanic chair.

She and Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham discuss her state and local policy priorities for 2019, and ahead to the 2020 elections. Dyana also discusses the multiple constituencies making up the party, and ways political novices can engage in the process.

You can learn more about Dyana here, and follow her on Twitter at @DyanaforChair.

This episode was recorded on January 10, 2019.

Link to Episode 34

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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