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TexasTowelie

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Gender: Male
Hometown: Texas
Home country: United States
Current location: Red Hell Texas
Member since: Sun Aug 14, 2011, 03:57 AM
Number of posts: 66,078

About Me

Middle-aged white guy who believes in justice and equality for all. Math and computer analyst with additional 21st century jack-of-all-trades skills. I'm a stud, not a dud!

Journal Archives

Bankruptcy judge to Brown: Prepare a budget

A bankruptcy judge on Tuesday ordered former Houston hand surgeon Michael Brown and his attorneys to prepare a budget for his living expenses after his release from prison.

Brown will surrender to U.S. Marshals on Friday to begin serving a 30-day prison sentence in Florida after pleading guilty to interfering with a flight attendant.

Brown is currently living in a multi-million-dollar home in Florida that he purchased with a $4 million down payment.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeff Bohm ticked off several questionable expenses already filed by Brown's legal team, including several hundred dollars in monthly bills for gardening and pool cleaning at the home.

More at http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Bankruptcy-judge-to-Brown-Prepare-a-budget-4918092.php?cmpid=hpts .

[font color=green]It looks like ex-Doc Brown will have to give up the 122 acre ranch.[/font]

Trial over Texas abortion law stretches into third day

The federal court trial over Texas’ new abortion regulations will enter a surprise third day Wednesday to allow for more robust closing arguments.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, facing a large pile of exhibits and affidavits, adjourned the trial early Tuesday to give lawyers for abortion providers and the state attorney general’s office time to hone their arguments on the legality of House Bill 2.

“I want each side to point out to me … what parts of the evidence should I concentrate on the most,” Yeakel said. “I want arguments with specificity.”

Only five witnesses testified — all called by lawyers for abortion providers — but both sides submitted numerous declarations from medical and legal experts in lieu of live testimony. Yeakel said the stack of often lengthy declarations was at least six inches tall.

Each side will have one hour for closing arguments that will begin at 10 a.m. in the Austin federal courthouse.

Yeakel has not indicated when he will rule on the abortion providers’ request to block two key parts of HB 2 — requiring abortion doctors to gain admitting privileges from a nearby hospital and adding stricter rules on dispensing abortion-inducing drugs.

Both provisions take effect next Tuesday.

According to previous testimony, at least 13 abortion clinics will be forced to close Oct. 29 because their doctors cannot gain admitting privileges.

On Tuesday, Yeakel heard from Whole Woman’s Health officials who testified that difficulty getting admitting privileges for eight of its 11 doctors will force clinics in Fort Worth, San Antonio and McAllen to close and its Austin facility to reduce services.

Despite starting the search before Gov. Rick Perry signed the regulations into law in June, the company has had no success thus far securing admitting privileges for its doctors, said Andrea Ferrigno, corporate vice president.

The company still has applications for admitting privileges pending at 15 hospitals. Another 17 hospitals have yet to respond to inquiries or are still in the pre-application process, she said.

“It can take days to weeks to get a response,” Ferrigno said. “We call and call and call.”

Many hospitals only grant privileges to doctors who live near the hospital, while most of Whole Woman’s doctors travel to several of the company’s clinics, chief executive Amy Hagstrom Miller testified.

Hiring doctors who already have privileges is not an option, she added.

Recruiting new doctors has been one of the most demanding aspects of her job, even before HB 2 was passed, Hagstrom Miller said, because many potential doctors fear harassment or retaliation from abortion protesters or are banned from moonlighting by their practices.

As a result, most of Whole Woman’s doctors are over age 60, and half are over 70, she said.

Source: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/local/trial-over-texas-abortion-law-stretches-into-third/nbWRh/?icmp=mystatesman_internallink_megamenu_link

Lone Star Rail seeks cut of Austin property tax growth

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City of Austin property tax dollars would start flowing to the Lone Star Rail District as soon as next year, even with the proposed commuter rail line’s fate still uncertain, under a proposed agreement that has city and rail district officials far apart on the deal’s broad outlines.

City officials, in a briefing Tuesday to the Austin City Council, said that all taxes collected near the seven planned Austin stations should remain in city hands until the rail line opens. Officials also said that the 50 percent of property tax growth near stations that the district wants is too high a percentage to give the rail district, and that the deal’s proposed 40-year length (with a possible 40-year extension) is too long. Getting a deal worked out by a target date of early November, allowing council approval of a final agreement before the end of the year, might be a tall order, city Chief Financial Officer Elaine Hart told the council.

“We can provide a draft by then,” Hart said, “but it may not be one we can recommend.”

The rail district — which, despite daunting financial challenges, hopes to have the line between San Antonio and the Austin area operating by 2018 — is in similar discussions with Travis County, Austin Community College, Hays County and San Marcos. It eventually also will approach the San Antonio, Bexar County and Williamson County governments.

The district, formed in 2003, hopes to harvest property tax growth, and in some cases sales taxes as well, within a half-mile of most of the 18 planned stations on the proposed 115-mile line, starting with the 2014 tax year. One exception would be the proposed station near the Seaholm development in downtown Austin, where the “transportation infrastructure zone” instead would have a quarter-mile radius. That zone, even with the diminished reach, would extend north of West Sixth Street along North Lamar Boulevard into a densely developed section of the city with several large projects planned or under construction.

“The city didn’t want us to reach halfway into downtown,” said Joe Black, Lone Star’s rail director.

The district wouldn’t get taxes from single-family homes or duplexes within the zones, Black said, or from tax-exempt, government-owned land, or from tracts where more than half the land is outside the zone. But the district, at least in Austin, hopes to get parking revenue from lots and garages within the tax zones. The city of Austin opposes that parking provision, Hart said.

The money from the zones would be put in an escrow fund under the district’s control, according to the rail agency’s proposal, and be used primarily, but not exclusively, for operating and maintenance costs.

Hart said the district’s proposal would allow the money to be used for “project costs,” which she said would include not only operations and maintenance of the train line but also debt financing costs, real estate, professional services and “reasonable reserves.”

Council Member Sheryl Cole told the American-Statesman she is uncomfortable paying for that array of possible district costs. A council resolution passed earlier this year instructed city staff to negotiate an agreement with Lone Star using city taxes only for the rail line’s operations and maintenance.

“I also don’t think we should agree to hand over management of those funds to Lone Star without a detailed agreement about how those funds will be handled in the interim” before rail service starts, Cole said.

The district is seeking both property and sales tax growth from San Marcos and, potentially, Kyle and Buda, but only property taxes from the city of Austin, Black said, because 1 percent of sales taxes in Austin already go to Capital Metro for transit costs. Counties don’t have the authority to collect sales taxes.

Black said that securing the tax revenue for future operating costs is critical as the district in coming years attempts to secure huge grants from the federal government and the Texas Department of Transportation. Construction of the line, including the necessity of building an alternative freight track east of the Austin metro area to free up the Union Pacific track for passenger trains, could cost well above $2 billion.

“We need to lock these down first so we can walk in with a straight face to regulators” and ask for grants, Black said.

Reaching agreements by the end of the year would be important to Lone Star, particularly in certain station locations, because it would set a base property valuation level before more development occurs. Near the proposed Seaholm station, for instance, construction already has begun on a large mixed-use development in and around the defunct city power plant. And the Domain in North Austin continues to expand within a proposed rail taxation zone.

The district’s maps generally have shown five Austin stations — at Slaughter Lane, Seaholm, West 35th Street, the Domain and McNeil Junction. But Black said interim stations could be built at Anderson Lane and Parmer Lane as well. The property tax districts could be set up around all seven stations.

By 2028, according to figures in Hart’s presentation, as much as $6.7 million in city taxes and another $6.7 million in Travis County taxes would be going to the district. Hart said that much of the growth near the stations would be unrelated to the rail line and that giving the district half of the increased property taxes is likely excessive.

Hart’s presentation indicated that, even if the money begins flowing now under the terms envisioned by the rail district, it could be inadequate to pay for Lone Star’s service. Operating the line would cost as much as $31.7 million in 2018, $58.7 million a year by 2023 and $101.3 million by 2028. A third of that (about $10.6 million in 2018 and $33.8 million by 2028), the presentation said, would be expected to come from the city of Austin, Travis County and Austin Community College property tax growth.

However, the district is estimating that Austin, Travis County and ACC together would produce only $1.9 million of property taxes for the district in 2018 and only $14.7 million in 2028. The district also would collect passenger fares (which typically cover a small percentage of rail operating costs) and potentially other revenue.

That initial $31.7 million cost estimate for operations, Black said, is based on a “robust” level of train offerings — the district on its website envisions 32 trains a day and seven-day-a-week service.

Even if all the local governments chip in as hoped, Black said, “we’re going to have to adjust the service level.”

http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/transportation/lone-star-rail-seeks-cut-of-austin-property-tax-gr/nbWRL/?icmp=statesman_internallink_invitationbox_apr2013_statesmanstubtomystatesmanpremium#

The Amazing Acro-Cats are Back in Austin this Weekend!



"About halfway through the Acro-Cats show, one of the cats wandered up into the seats and stayed there for the rest of the show. This wasn’t the first time a cat wandered off – and it wouldn’t be the last. When the cats did perform, the stunts were often absurdly simple and almost always involved the trainer holding a chunk of tuna inches from their faces. And guess what? It was amazing.

"When we got to the theater to see the Acro-Cats, the show was sold out. We hopped on the waiting list and stood around a giant bus which was emblazoned with the likenesses of the show’s stars: A dozen or so house cats. The crowd was eclectic but everyone was excited to see what lay in store.

"The show is led by Samantha Martin who's devoted much of her life to studying animal behavioral sciences and advocating for her clicker-training techniques with cats. Under her supervision, the cats can be seen pushing carts, riding skateboards, rolling barrels, ringing bells, turning on lights, and other silly stunts. If you’re expecting a well-choreographed, highly trained feline-acrobat show, you’re in the wrong place. But it’s this chaos that makes the show so compelling. It’s inspired whimsy. Case in point, The Rock-Cats. This is an all-cat rock band performing an approximation of music. It’s all the trainers could do to get the animals to bang on their instruments at the same time – but, when they did, everyone cheered.

"We all agreed that this show was well worth the admission. And the money goes to a good cause: The Acro-cats sponsor a rescue program and, at the last show, there was an opportunity to adopt a cat right there – so you could bring home your own star."

Source: http://www.austinchronicle.com/blogs/arts/2013-10-22/the-amazing-acro-cats-are-back-in-austin-this-weekend/



Texas State Teachers Association Finds More Teachers Forced to Moonlight

A study released this month by the Texas State Teachers Association found that forty-four percent of Texas teachers moonlight during the school year, which is the highest percentage of teachers to report since TSTA began sponsoring the survey more than 30 years ago.

The study also revealed that 61 percent of teachers take extra jobs during the summer to make a living. The most recent year the survey was conducted was in 2010, which found that 40.8 percent of teachers held extra jobs during the school year, and 56 percent during the summer.

A driving force behind the change in the two studies is the Texas Legislature's 2011 cuts to public education, which slashed $5.4 billion from our state's classrooms. As reported by the TSTA, since then, average teacher salary has dropped by $528. For teachers who are already underpaid, this is a big hit to take as the cost of living continues to rise. In 2008, only 28 percent of teachers reported moonlighting during the school year. Meaning that in just six years, the number of teachers holding two jobs to make ends meet has nearly doubled.

In a state whose leaders continue to undervalue the quality of public education and their educators, it's easy to see how Texas got to this point. With over a decade of the slash and burn approach to our public education system, our educators have been left with little to work with while our youth pay the price.

More at http://www.burntorangereport.com/diary/14272/texas-state-teachers-association-finds-more-teachers-forced-to-moonlight .

Ted Cruz Takes A Victory Lap with the King Street Patriots

HOUSTON--After Ted Cruz’s turn on the national stage—the “filibuster,” the shutdown, the flirtation with self-inflicted economic meltdown—the man has probably earned a little me-time. A little break from the arm-twisting and the name-calling, a chance to joke around with a few old friends.

Sometimes you want to go where everybody chants your name.

For Cruz on Monday night, that was King Street Patriots headquarters in Houston, home to Texas’ preeminent bunch of red-blooded, freedom-loving and positively nonpartisan warriors for the old stars and stripes.

Before a standing-room crowd in King Street’s warehouse, Cruz made a symbolic Texas homecoming—on a tour that continues Tuesday night at a tea party-sponsored “Thank You Ted Cruz” party in Arlington—to share the good word from the front line.

The King Street Patriots’ founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, made sure Cruz left with a souvenir from the occasion: a copy of War and Peace signed by members of the crowd, which she suggested he use as ammunition for his next filibuster. The book, she joked, is ”widely considered to be one of the nation’s greatest works of fiction … like the Obamacare bill.”

Michael Berry—the conservative Houston talk radio jock who once said he hoped someone blows up the Islamic community center at Ground Zero—had the honor of revving up the crowd before Cruz took the stage.

More at http://www.texasobserver.org/ted-cruz-takes-victory-lap/ .

[font color=green]Question to Ms. Engelbrecht:

Are you a product of TEA Party education efforts? War and Peace isn't one of the nation's greatest works of fiction. It was written by Russian author Leo Tolstoy.[/font]

After 91-0 Blowout, Aledo High Fends Off Bullying Charges

The Aledo High School Bearcats didn't want to score 91 points over Fort Worth Western Hills on Friday night, nor did they intend to hold their opponent completely scoreless. When the team glanced at the scoreboard as time expired and discovered they'd done both those things, the pangs of remorse were acute.

"I'm upset about it," head coach Tim Buchanan told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I don't like it. I sit there the whole third and fourth quarter and try to think how I can keep us from scoring."

Alas, when your team is No. 1 in the state, and you average just south of 70 points per game, and your opponent has been blown out in almost every game they've played, telling your team not to score is like trying to rein in a thoroughbred on the home stretch of the Kentucky Derby.

The parents at Western Hills could have used Friday's lopsided loss as a teachable moment, perhaps to convey the message that their kids will spend their lives beneath the heels of the rich and powerful, perhaps as a metaphor for the dangers of capitalism unchecked by sensible regulation to level the playing field.

More at http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2013/10/after_91-0_blowout_aledo_high.php .

[font color=green]Uh-huh?[/font]

As traffic lags, Texas 130 tollway debt rating lowered again (Austin-San Antonio corridor)



Moody’s Investors Service, saying that traffic remains well below forecast levels on the privately operated section of Texas 130 and that reserve funds are quickly depleting, has once again lowered the rating for the $1.18 billion of debt owed by the road’s operators.

The rating agency also issued a “negative outlook” for the tollway project, saying that its lighter-than-expected traffic will “grow at a slow to moderate, yet inadequate pace” to meet current and future debt payments.

The road, running from Mustang Ridge to Seguin, could fall into default next year, the rating agency wrote in the Oct. 15 report that lowered the road project’s debt rating to Caa3, below investment grade, potentially leading to a Texas Department of Transportation takeover of the 40 miles of toll road. TxDOT in 2007 granted a 50-year lease to SH 130 Concession Co., a consortium of Spanish toll road builder Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Co., under which the company built the road at its own expense and keeps, at this point, about 95 percent of the toll revenue.

TxDOT would have to pay to acquire the 85 mph road under the “buyback” terms of the contract, but it was not clear Monday what those terms are or how much TxDOT might have to pay for the $1.4 billion road. The privately operated section of Texas 130, which connects to a northern 49-mile TxDOT segment that came on line in pieces between 2006 and 2008, opened a year ago to nationwide publicity because of its 85 mph speed limit.

Absent an infusion of cash from the concession company’s owners or a restructuring of the debt, the highway “will have insufficient cash to meet its debt service payments due in June 2014,” Moody’s said. The newest rating — Moody’s in April had lowered Texas 130’s original rating to B1 — falls into the lower half of what the rating agency calls “speculative grade,” or well below investment grade.

The concession company released a short statement pointing to a yearlong program that began in April, subsidized by TxDOT, to lower truck tolls on the highway to the same rate paid by passenger vehicles.

“We remain confident that the recently opened SH 130 … will benefit our investors and the people of Texas,” spokesman Chris Lippincott said in the statement.

Neither Moody’s, the concession company nor TxDOT Monday would release recent traffic or revenue numbers from the road. TxDOT in April, in response to open records requests from the American-Statesman and other media outlets — and a Texas attorney general’s opinion that the records were legally public information — had released the numbers for November and December 2012.

Despite that opinion, TxDOT Monday was considering seeking another attorney general’s opinion on the latest information request, spokeswoman Veronica Beyer said.

But the Moody’s report, combined with the earlier numbers that were made public, gives a qualitative picture painted in dark hues.

In its first two months, the road was averaging about 3,000 vehicles a day and taking in about $51,000 a day. On an annualized basis, that would have been about $18.6 million a year. Moody’s said then that was less than half of the traffic and revenue originally projected by the concession company.

Moody’s in its recent report said current revenue already has been inadequate to make the project’s twice-a-year debt payments and that the company, owned 65 percent by Cintra and 35 percent by Zachry, has had to dip more deeply than expected into $65 million in reserve funds.

And the picture will grow worse before long, according to Moody’s. Right now, the company must make debt payments only on $686 million in debt owed to private bond investors. But in 2017, payments on $493 million in federal transportation loans will begin, the report said, leading to annual debt service of $78 million.

“The current debt service profile is too burdensome for the project in its current ramp-up phase and provides little breathing room,” the report said, “especially given that traffic has not materialized as expected.”

More at http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/transportation/as-traffic-lags-texas-130-tollway-debt-rating-lowe/nbTdg/?icmp=statesman_internallink_textlink_apr2013_statesmanstubtomystatesman_launch .

[font color=green]So will the taxpayers of Texas have to bail out Rick Perry's friends at Cintra?[/font]

Emergency motion asks judge to order Michael Brown to turn over cash

The trustee in Michael Brown's federal bankruptcy case has asked the judge to compel the former hand surgeon to turn over all cash in his possession as of a month ago.

Ronald J. Sommers, a Houston lawyer who last month was named as the Chapter 11 trustee in Brown's bankruptcy case, filed an emergency motion Monday in U.S. District Jeff Bohm's court.

-snip-

According to the motion, bank statements provided by Brown's counsel showed that he withdrew $300,000 on Sept. 5. Those funds became property of the debtor's bankruptcy estate on Sept. 24, when the bankruptcy case was reinstated, but the funds have not been delivered to the trustee, Sommers' motion states.

"As long as the debtor has possession and control over funds which are property of the debtor's bankruptcy estate, those funds are at risk of depletion," the motion states.

More at http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Emergency-motion-asks-judge-to-order-Michael-4914266.php?cmpid=hpfc .

Out candidate (former SBOE member) George Clayton still in House race, but now as a Democrat

Former State Board of Education member George Clayton is still planning on running to replace Dallas Republican Stephani Carter in House District 102, but he’ll now be seeking the Democratic nomination.

Clayton announced the party switch in an email on Sunday, writing that he’d decided to run as a Democrat instead of a Republican. Carter isn’t seeking re-election because she’s running for the Railroad Commission.

As an administrator for the Dallas Independent School District, Clayton has said his campaign for the House seat would focus on education issues. During his time on the SBOE he was outed as gay and lost in the primary last year, but he told Dallas Voice he doesn’t want to be known as the gay candidate.

“For those of you who know me, you understand this change does not alter my views on education,” Clayton posted on Facebook. “Rather it allows for a much better campaign in terms of openness and acceptance of ideas, beliefs and goals. I hope you will join with me in this crusade.”

More at http://www.dallasvoice.com/candidate-george-clayton-house-race-democrat-10159672.html .
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