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Houston Mayor Annise Parker Provides Public With New City Budget Themed Video Game

Houston Mayor Annise Parker has created a new video game where you can make your own City of Houston 2012 budget.

(Above–Old-time video game called Pong.)

In the Mayor’s budget game, you can adjust the various funding amounts for each city function in the budget. You can also raise property taxes and decide to refuse or accept bullish projections for other sources of revenue.

In the end, you have to balance the budget.

The City of Houston is facing a $130 million budget deficit. The city budget must be balanced by law. The budget must be passed by June 30.

Here is a schedule of the four remaining budget hearings. 

Here is the link to the budget Mayor Parker has proposed.

The Mayor’s proposed budget involves layoffs for 750 city employees, the cutting of library hours, and the closing of some city pools and community centers.

Here is a list of the pools and community centers to be cut.

It is not hard to figure that in this economy, many of these fired city employees will go years without finding a secure job with benefits.

Here is what it says on the web page for Mayor Parker’s reelection

“In Annise’s first year as mayor, her economic development initiatives helped spur private investment that will create thousands of new jobs in Houston.”

If we had money to parcel out to private concerns for jobs that might well have been created anyway, than why don’t we have money to retain the jobs of loyal city employees?

My general impression about the proposed budget is that many of the sharpest cuts are going to parks, libraries, health, and other services that are of the greatest value to Houstonians least able to take the hit.

It is frustrating that the city dog pound–The BARC shelter–is not taking any cut all. There is nothing at all these folks can do to save money?  Not even a 5% cut? It seems that the 100% funding for the dog pound is the result of the Mayor’s relentless pursuit of the dog owner vote in Houston, and not a number based on the full needs of our city.

Police and fire forces are getting no layoffs at all. And they are taking a lower percentage of cuts than many other city departments. Public safety gets 67% of our city budget.

Don’t you imagine police and fire could find a few more million to cut out of a combined budget of more than $1.1 billion?

The good thing with the budget game is that Mayor Parker is showing folks that choices have to be made.

The Mayor should have had an entry in the budget game that shows how much extra revenue we would have if we had voted to keep the red light cameras.

I bet there are people upset about pool closings who last November voted to kill the red light cameras.

Mayor Parker gives people an option to raise property taxes in the budget game. The Mayor is not raising property taxes in her budget.

Houston was a 61% Obama city in the 2008 general election. We have a Democratic mayor and a Democratic majority city council. If all we do over the years is cut—and cut the most from people least able to sustain the cuts—than just what is it we believe as Democrats, progressives, and liberals? Economic and social justice are connected.

Of course, it is not all about Mayor Parker.

For example, it would helpful if  Houston Councilman C.O.Bradford stood more strongly for the values of the Democratic party. Mr. Bradford was happy to take Democratic votes when he was the losing 2008 Democratic nominee for Harris County District Attorney in 2008.  Now Mr. Bradford appears with far-right Republican Paul Bettencourt criticizing Mayor Parker.

Mayor Parker should continue with these video games.

For one thing, they would give kids locked out of closed pools and community centers something to do over the summer.

Also, they could be used to illustrate how your home will flood if we don’t do something about chronic flooding in Houston. While folks are right to be frustrated that estimates were wrong for how much they will have to pay for the new storm water tax, the problem is real.

How about a game that shows which Houston homes will flood based on how much rain falls in our city? The flooding could then be alleviated based on the amount of funding taxpayers are willing to provide for flood relief.

As the Mayor’s budget game shows—stuff costs money. You’ve got to decide what you value and how much you are willing to pay.

(Below—Annise Parker. Photo by David Ortez)

June 13, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I Apologize For Ever Having Voted For Houston Councilmember C.O. Bradford—Bradford Merits No Support From Voters Of Either Major Party

I apologize for ever having voted for Houston City Councilmember C.O Bradford.

(Above–Councilmember Bradford.)

I made this error when I voted for Mr. Bradford in 2008 to be Harris County District Attorney.

Mr. Bradford, a former Houston Police Chief, was the Democratic nominee for District Attorney.

I voted based on party when I should have simply not voted in the D.A. race. Neither candidate was worthy of support in that race.

While he did sound like a Democrat in 2008, Chief Bradford admitted at the time that he did not do all he could have done as Chief to deal with the deeply-flawed Houston crime lab.

As a current member of Houston City Council, Mr. Bradford often makes little effort to sound like a Democrat anymore.  This despite the fact he was happy to take Democratic votes in 2008.

From Councilmember Bradford’s web page

‘The City of Houston tends to over regulate. Understandably, the City must regulate from time to time for health and safety reasons. Even these interventions should be a limited, measured approach with broad substantive input from the citizens and businesses being impacted. Today, businesses and citizens are strapped with too many taxes, fees, and permitting requirements. Why is this so? Well, the answer can be found in one word – “spending. …”

I’m certain many would agree with this statement. Fine. But Democrats believe government has a role in making our communities better, and in making the lives of our citizens better. I’m sure folks who agree with Mr. Bradford’s minimal government views can find a real Republican to support.

You can be a Democrat and favor fiscal restraint. Nobody is in favor of waste. We do not have unlimited cash to run government. Yet what Mr. Bradford is doing here is identifying himself with the extreme and harmful budget cutting advocated by many in the current political climate, and offering nothing constructive for Democrats looking for fiscal moderation, but not looking to be Republicans. If given the choice between a Republican and a Republican—People will pick a Republican.

Mr. Bradford, as a Democrat, has the obligation to offer more than just a reflexive opposition to spending.

Now Mr. Bradford is teaming up with Republicans and others to attack the storm water drainage fee that Houston voters passed at the ballot box last November.

Some are upset that churches will have to pay a fair share of the fees required to address chronic flooding in Houston.

Councilman Bradford will be appearing with conservative Houston Councilmember Mike Sullivan and conservative Paul Bettencourt as panelists at a Houston Area Pastor Council meeting about the storm water fee.

This meeting will be held at Houston’s First Baptist Church. According to the Houston Chronicle, First Baptist is currently spending $12.6 million to renovate a Worship Center and $3 million to upgrade other facilities.

Mr. Bettencourt is best known for being reelected as Harris County Tax-Assessor Collector in 2008, and then quitting the post just a few weeks after the election.

That is some company Democrat C.O. Bradford keeps.

It is not  clear why Mr. Bradford opposes the storm water fee given that he said the following on his campaign page—

“…. Let’s get back to a commitment to basic sanitation (garbage & water), infrastructure issues, police and fire. Core services are the City of Houston’s business!”

What is more basic to a hurricane -prone semi-tropical place like Houston than addressing flooding with new storm water infrastructure?

There has been speculation that Councilmember Bradford may run for Mayor.

Mr. Bradford is not saying one way or another.

Which political party does Mr. Bradford truly support? Which city services does he see as essential? What are his political motives?

The only thing you can be certain of is that Councilman Bradford does not merit the support of any principled voter.

March 24, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Houston Mayor Annise Parker Needs To Make Greater Distinction Between Stormtroopers and Jedi Knights–The Need For Progressive Politics In Houston

In her campaign for Mayor last year, then Houston City Controller Annise Parker, a Democrat, actively courted both Democrats and Republicans.

She may have felt she needed to do this to win–and she did win–but it sure was depressing from the standpoint of hoping that strongly Democratic Houston could elect a Mayor based on progressive ideas.

A few weeks ago Mayor Parker proposed a hike in city water rates. She did this because we need the money to run the city.

Yet despite all the appeals to Republicans in last year’s campaign, Republican former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt is aggressively challenging the increase.

Mr. Bettencourt is possibly best known for quitting the tax office not long after winning reelection in 2008. Regretfully, though now out of office, Mr. Bettencourt is not finished harming the public’s best interests.

I don’t know what’s gained, beyond serving your own electoral interests, in courting Republicans to win in a Democratic city. Once elected, these folks won’t allow to you to govern.

If the feeling is that seeking Republicans is necessary because Democrats don’t show up for municipal elections, than at least try to do something about it after you get elected. Maybe making such an effort would allow you to run your next campaign in a way more consistent with your values as a Democrat.

Houston has plenty of Democratic officeholders sitting in safe seats. I’m sure in some cases these folks also have campaign war chests saved up.

What do these folks do all day? How do they go forever saying nothing about the low turnout in some of Houston’s minority communities, and saying nothing about the failure of Houston progressives to demand more from Democrats running for office around here?

Above you see a picture of Mayor Parker. The Mayor is dressed in white and standing in front of some stormtroopers.

I wish the Mayor would make a greater distinction between Darth Vader and his stormtroopers on the one side, and Princess Leia and the Jedi Knights on the other side.

Sure–Everybody is all smiles when someone is winning an award or receiving a proclamation. But when the trouble starts you can bet that Mr. Vader and his troops will be fighting for the Dark Side.

If Mayor Parker starts talking about the high poverty rate in Houston and all the people in Houston without health insurance—both subjects the Mayor so far seems intent on ignoring—you can be certain that Mr. Vader will take out his light-saber.

Ms. Parker began in politics as a fighter for the human rights of gay folks. An additional legacy the Mayor could leave is that of someone who worked both in public and behind the scenes to bring a more progressive politics to Houston.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Good Paul Bettencourt Keeps The Faith With His No Good Supporters

Harris County Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt is leaving public office for the private sector. This even though he was reelected for a full term just last month.

Mr. Bettencourt, a Republican, could justly be called a quitter. Yet I find that in his no-good way, Mr. Bettencourt has kept the faith with his no-good core of supporters in the Harris County electorate.

Mr. Bettencourt, though our county tax collector, made his name in large part by encouraging people to challenge their property tax assessment.  Mr. Bettencourt is also responsible for maintaining the county voter rolls. Not surprisingly, in this capacity he worked hard in 2008 to purge voter rolls of a number of likely Democratic voters.

Mr. Bettencourt was not popular in some circles because he was honest or because of some unbreakable compact with the citizens of Harris County.  Mr. Bettencourt was popular with some because he appealed to their worst instincts.

This final act of contempt by Mr. Bettencourt is consistent enough with his tenure as Tax Assessor.  He kept the faith by holding the office for Republicans at least until the 2010 special election for the completion of his  term. 

Just as he was elected to do rotten deeds, Mr. Bettencourt left his office in a rotten fashion. If only politicians who promise to do good were as faithful to goodness as Mr. Bettencourt has been to rottenness.

December 8, 2008 Posted by | Houston, Lousy People | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hispanic Turnout Low In Harris County—Turnout Overall Is Lower Than Projected

Turnout of Hispanic voters and of all voters was lower than projected in Harris County, Texas. Around 60% of eligible voters showed up at the polls or early voted. Hispanic turnout may have been as low as 40% to 45%. The 2008 turnout of all voters was only two percent higher than in 2004.   

The Houston Chronicle article on the subject addresses some theories for the relatively poor showing. You can read the article and take the theories for what they are worth. 

It’s suggested in the Chronicle article that Hispanic voters who supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary saw little reason to vote in November.  If this is so, that sure is silly. Maybe this is a nicer way of saying that the issue was not Hillary Clinton but was Barack Obama instead.

In any case, whatever the exact thinking, this shows why we’ve never had a Hispanic Congressperson from Houston or a breakthrough Hispanic political figure in Houston like a Barbara Jordan or a Mickey Leland.  

I recall during the campaign that the Chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party said the party was counting on the increased turnout in the Democratic primary to be a source of high Election Day turnout.

We criticize the national campaigns when they take potential volunteers out of state, but then we rely on the national campaigns to generate our turnout.   

Another theory is that re-registration requirements after people move within the county deters voting. The county’s chief voter registrar, Republican Paul Bettencourt, says this is not so. He says his office makes it easy for people to vote.

Sure. Mr. Bettencourt, who as our county tax assessor actively encourages people to challenge their tax assessments, is all about inclusion and doing his duty.

I think there is a bottom line here—People just did not show up to vote. In the end it really is on those people who did not vote.

But I’ll say this as well– Democrats held power in Harris County and in Austin up until the 1990’s. It’s not clear that these Democrats made any real effort to improve the lives of urban and minority voters.

In 2008, the focus of countywide Democratic candidates in Harris County for the most part was traffic, hurricane related issues and Republican misdeeds. These are not issues meant to dig deep down in our county and excite people who do not normally vote.  

In our city council elections, the Democratic Party refuses to make endorsements under the claim the races are non-partisan. Well–the races may be non-partisan on the ballot. But parties can endorse. Parties endorse in so-called non-partisan city elections in other parts of the country. Our Harris County Democratic Party appears to have little interest in taking advantage of the Democratic voting majority in Houston.

It seems sometimes that our Hispanic community in Houston does not see a value in taking political leadership equal to its numbers and that the Harris County Democratic Party is content enough with low turnout and with an electorate that asks little beyond garbage pick-up and traffic relief.

November 7, 2008 Posted by | Campaign 2008, Houston, Politics | , , , , | Leave a comment