Texoblogosphere: Week of May 18th

The Texas Progressive Alliance doesn’t need hindsight to know that invading Iraq was a tragically stupid decision as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff is pleasantly surprised to hear that the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority and US Rep. John Culberson have reached an accord in their longstanding feud over funding for light rail in Houston.

Letters from Texas provides a step-by-step guide to using your hypocrisy to justify your bigotry.

Libby Shaw at Texas Kaos and contributing to Daily Kos calls it as she sees it when the U.S. Congress cut Amtrak’s budget within hours of the train wreck outside of Philadelphia last week. Republican Austerity Kills. Literally.

Nonsequiteuse asks you to consider the long game for progressives in Texas, and explains why she’s building progressive infrastructure and working the next generation of leaders through New Leaders Council.

From WCNews at Eye on Williamson. The GOP’s end of session plan for tax cuts is getting near completion, Give It All To Business – The GOP Tax Compromise.

In a roundup of events, Socratic Gadfly says this week in Texas politics was probably even nuttier than normal — a high bar to clear.

Julian Castro is Hllary Clinton’s pick for running mate, according to Henry Cisneros. That suggests a Latino will also be the vice-presidential nominee of the Republicans. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs thinks that might be the most interesting thing that could liven up an otherwise completely predictable 2016 presidential season.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is surprised that a Republican was so honest about tax cuts being just for the business cronies. Who needs roads, schools, or safety inspections. The rich can buy their own. But, the shrinking middle class and the poor must pay for what’s left.

Neil at All People Have Value posted about 11 pictures he keeps in his phone that involve death. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

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And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Texas Clean Air Matters examines what Tesla’s Powerwall home energy storage battery means for Texas.

Better Texas Blog names the least worst way to under-invest in schools, college access and health care systems.

Stephanie Wittels Wachs documents her efforts to get the Legislature to require insurance companies to cover the cost of hearing aids for children under 18.

The Lunch Tray calls self-regulation of kids’ food advertising a “doomed effort”.

Paradise in Hell warns us that the anti-gay crowd isn’t going anywhere.

BEYONDBones explains why you should care about endangered species.

The Texas Election Law Blog tracks what has happened to election law-related legislation so far this session.

Culberson, Garcia Put METRO Federal Funds, Commuter Rail On Fast Track

So last Friday, I wrote the following regarding then-unknown plans surrounding the new open-door policy between U.S. Congressman John Culberson, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, AKA METRO…

“But let’s be clear on what the Congressman did not promise.  If a new vote occurs, rail supporters can be sure that Culberson and his group will do everything in their power to defeat the measure.  The door to funding may have been cracked open, but it is far from a guarantee.”

With the details of that plan now released, I am happily prepared to eat those words.  As Katherine Driessen of the Houston Chronicle reports, the new agreement between Culberson and METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia is more significant than most anticipated…

Metropolitan Transit Authority leaders and U.S. Rep. John Culberson on Monday announced details of a new agreement to help the agency move forward with transit projects.

The Houston Republican, who has long been at odds with Metro over its plans for a rail line on Richmond, has agreed to help Metro obtain funds for a proposed commuter rail line on U.S. 90A and other projects. Rail on Richmond west of Shepherd Drive or on Post Oak Boulevard north of
Richmond would be contingent on voter approval.

Culberson lauded the agreement as a “historic breakthrough” in addressing Houston area traffic congestion and rebuilding his fractured relationship with Metro.

“Above all, what today symbolizes is a new era of cooperation between Metro, under Gilbert Garcia’s leadership, and the Houston area congressional delegation,” Culberson said. “We will all be working arm in arm to make sure that metro and the elected officials in the region solve our transportation problems by looking to every kind of transit and transportation available, beginning with commuter rail out 90A.”

It’s something that should probably be avoided most of the time, but today, Hyperbole is warranted.  The new understanding between METRO and Houston’s Congressional delegation not only fosters new hope for a University Line, but puts Commuter Rail along the US90A corridor on the fast track.  The planned route would connect Houston’s inner loop (most likely via the south end of the existing Red Line) to Missouri City.

But wait… there’s more!!  Like back-door Federal funding for the East End Rail Line (originally built entirely on local funds) can now be used as “transfer credit” towards the Commuter Rail? Wha huh???  Here’s an excerpt from the full letter of agreement between Garcia and Culberson…

Congressman Culberson will begin work right away to change federal law so
that METRO can count $587 Million in local funds spent on the East End Rail Line as the
local matching credit for a commuter rail line along 90A, and secondarily for any non-rail
capital project, or any other project included in the 2003 Referendum. Rail on Richmond
Avenue west of Shepherd Drive or Post Oak Boulevard would only be eligible to utilize these credits once approved in a subsequent referendum.

Also included is another $100 million payday for METRO to improve its bus fleet and transit infrastructure (again some of which is already being done as a result of System Reimagining), and a recoup of funds diverted to the Southeast and North lines that can be put back into general maintenance and improvement projects.

Of course some of this has yet to materialize, but given how Congressman Culberson was the most vocal opponent of previous initiatives, there’s little reason to think that all of these plans can’t be realized.

All told, today is a great day for transit in Southeast Texas.  And Houstonians have Chairman Gilbert Garcia to thank for it.

Could Culberson’s newly-discovered love for transit spread to other Republican Lawmakers, and result in significant new transportation investments nation-wide?  Only time will tell.  But if today is any indication, Obama’s “lame duck” period may not be as lame as we once thought.

US90A Commuter Rail

Though not the finalized route plan, here is one proposed route for the US90A Commuter Rail project.  

 

Culberson Opens The Door To University Line

It’s probably no secret that recent years have brought some huge changes at METRO… a complete scrubbing of former leadership, the formation and soon-to-be implementation of an entirely new local bus system, and the successful construction of 3 new light rail lines.  For all these reasons, the METRO of today has very little in common with the agency from 6 years ago.

Even still, a few issues have haunted new leaders from the past, like the ongoing stalemate which has prevented Houston’s transit authority from receiving federal funding for two key rail projects… the beleaguered University Line down Richmond and the Uptown Line, currently planned as Bus Rapid Transit.

But as Dug Begley of the Houston Chronicle reports, agency leaders may have found a way to bring the stubborn Congressman on board with rail, or at least not continue to stand in its way…

Metro and U.S. Rep. John Culberson have called a truce in their war over a planned light rail line on Richmond Avenue, suggesting an end to an impasse that has stymied local transit development.

 

[…]

The announcement follows months of discussions and comes days before Metro is set to open two new rail lines serving east and southeast Houston. The Green and Purple lines open May 23, the next step in development of a light rail system that has divided Metro and many critics, notably Culberson, since voters approved it in 2003.

From his seat on the House Appropriations Committee, Culberson has stopped Metro from receiving any Federal Transit Administration funds related to rail on Richmond or a similar rail plan along Post Oak, later converted to a fixed-route bus system.

Culberson represents voters west of Shepherd along Richmond, many of whom vigorously oppose the rail line.

Recently, Culberson announced he would seek to continue cutting off the Richmond money in the next federal funding bill, but he softened his stance by saying Metro could seek money for the lines if they receive local voter support in a new election.

See here for text of the actual amendment.

Culberson has promised to allow the funding to go through if and only if  voters approve the rail construction through a new ballot referendum.

But let’s be clear on what the Congressman did not promise.  If a new vote occurs, rail supporters can be sure that Culberson and his group will do everything in their power to defeat the measure.  The door to funding may have been cracked open, but it is far from a guarantee.

However given the previous situation, any amount of progress is worth recognition.  This is a huge victory for METRO, particularly Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia.  At a time when the University Line seemed all but forgotten, this move sheds light on a lot of hard work being done behind the scenes.

We’ll learn more next week in a press conference.

ULine1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Van de Putte, Taylor Face Off For San Antonio Mayor

Last Saturday’s highly contested municipal election in San Antonio produced an historic result, as two female minority politicians advance to a run-off for the city’s top job, besting all of their numerous male contenders.  Here’s the story from Patrick Svitek of the Texas Tribune

Former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is set to face San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor in a runoff for the city’s top job.

[…]

It was the first step in determining who would permanently replace Julián Castro, who resigned as mayor last year to become President Obama’s secretary of housing and urban development.

The results mark a reversal of fortune for Van de Putte, who just months ago was trounced in the lieutenant governor’s race by Republican Dan Patrick. Talking to reporters late Saturday, she said speaking with voters across the state last year drew her even closer to San Antonio.

Former State Senator Van de Putte was the top vote-getter in last Saturday’s election, but Taylor came in as a very close second.  With the run-off set for June 13th in what will surely be a very light turnout, anything is possible for this run-off.

It will be of particular interest to see how Progressive Politics comes into play for the mayoral election.  There couldn’t be a more clear difference between the two politicians than LGBT rights.  Where Van de Putte has stood time and again in favor of marriage equality and comprehensive non-discrimination laws, Taylor famously voted against San Antonio’s Non-Discrimination ordinance.  In recent weeks doubled down on her views, calling debate over the measure a waste of time.  Given how rapidly viewpoints are shifting  across the state of Texas, it will be very interesting to see if these recent comments come back to haunt Taylor.

While it’s true that Taylor has pledged not to harm the NDO if elected to serve a full mayoral term, it is important for San Antonio voters to know that on LGBT issues, this campaign represents a very clear choice.  Let’s all hope that Alamo City voters choose wisely on June 13th.

 

 

(Feature photo credit:  San Antonio Current)

Texoblogosphere: Week of May 11th

The Texas Progressive Alliance is busy designing its own TexMoji as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff is busy popping popcorn so as to fully enjoy the Jonathan Stickland soap opera.

Letters from Texas guest blogger Russ Tidwell explains what the SCOTUS ruling that invalidated Alabama’s Congressional redistricting means for Texas.

Lightseeker at Texas Kaos examines the Texas founders’ vision for public education. As a teacher and scholar Lightseeker laments how far we have strayed from this noble goal. Why Texas Puts the Stupid into Educational Reform.

From WCNews at Eye on Williamson. It impossible to lower taxes in a way most Texans will actually notice without raising taxes on the wealthy and big business. That is The Texas GOP’s Tax Trap.

There’s a message from the last socialist mayor of a major American city to the various Republican and Democratic socialists running (in a so-called non-partisan race for) mayor of Houston. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs wants everybody to understand that we are all socialists of a form or fashion. And that’s not a bad thing.

Socratic Gadfly talks about how the New Democratic Party win in Alberta might have lessons for American Democrats, even in Texas.

Texas Leftist attended the first ever Houston Artist Town Hall— a meeting of nearly 200 artists from across the region. As Council prepare a new Cultural Plan for the Bayou City, artists themselves met to make sure they contribute to those plans.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is appalled that Texas Republicans are using our taxpayer dollars to publicly bash gay people.

Neil at All People Have Value observed Jade Helm operations in Houston. All People Have Value is part of NeilAquino.com.

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And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Better Texas Blog reads a headline from the future about the short-sighted tax cuts of today.

Texas Vox mourns the passing of the anti-fracking ban bill.

Newsdesk puts on its tinfoil hat for a look at Jade Helm 15.

Paradise in Hell is amused by the effort to video stalk members of the Legislature.

The Current reports on Scouting for Equality and their crowdfunded work to get the Boy Scouts of America to repeal its ban on gay parents and adults.

David Ortez complains about Harris County’s role in killing the online voter registration bill.

Robert Rivard recalls the legacy of William Velasquez and wonders what he’d make of today’s turnout rates.

 

Today’s feature photo is the Asia Society Texas Center in Houston, Texas.  Here’s more information on the establishment of the Center…

Forward-thinking Houstonians led by former First Lady Barbara Bush and former Ambassador Roy M. Huffington established Asia Society Texas Center in 1979. Sharing the vision of John D. Rockefeller 3rd, who founded Asia Society in New York in 1956, they recognized the need to educate Americans about Asia and to forge closer ties between Houston and the peoples and institutions of Asia.

In 1995 the Texas Center’s Board of Directors voted to build a home for its programs and activities. The Board selected Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, best-known in this country for his renovation and expansion of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, to design the building, located in Houston’s Museum District.

Completed in early fall 2011, the 40,000-square-foot Center features the 273-seat Brown Foundation Performing Arts Theater, Louisa Stude Sarofim Gallery, Edward Rudge Allen III Education Center, Fayez Sarofim Grand Hall, and more. It opened to the public April 14, 2012.

With the opening of the Center, Asia Society takes its place as a major educational and cultural institution in the region, the driving force in transforming Houston into an Asia-Pacific city.

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METRO Begins ‘Reimagined’ Network Implementation

The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County voted back in February to move forward with a radical re-design of the region’s local bus system.  Every single route will be affected.

But for most daily METRO riders, information about these changes is still quite unknown.  If one doesn’t follow local transit or politics news, it’s pretty easy to see how they could miss the extensive Reimagining campaign entirely.  Transit officials have spoken much about these changes within the METRO Boardroom, but very few specifics have filtered down to where they are most needed… buses and bus stops.  As Houston Chronicle Transportation writer Dug Begley penned, what lies before METRO in the next 100 days is a “Herculean task.”

Last Friday, the agency released some details about how they plan to implement the new bus network, set to debut on August 16th 2015.  Well before that date, METRO must change out 10,000 signs and renew materials at several bus stops.  Per a new YouTube video, they will employ a technique called Bus Stop Bagging for the new signs…

The bags will allow for METRO to install new signs without leaving riders confused on the current information.  At the same time, the additional banner will allow riders to get caught up on the new information, and they will hopefully take special notice before August 16th.

METRO’s plan for implementation seems quick and efficient. If held on schedule, the signs are sure to be changed in time for the new system’s roll-out. But questions remain about how the agency plans to edue public about these changes before they occur, and time is quickly running out to do so. All the sophisticated studies and intricate maps cannot ensure the successful transition of the region’s public transit routes. At the end of the day, the only indicator of relative success or failure for METRO will be the perception of its riders. Implementation has  begun, but it is far from over.

Off the Kuff has more.

METRO1

 

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