Monday, May 31, 2010

Where do Your Property Taxes Go?

Let's say that your house is valued at $189,930 which is pretty close to the average home price in San Antonio. Your total property tax bill for 2010 without any exemptions would be $5,029.23. So where does this money go?

Well, according to the Bexar Appraisal District this is the breakdown:

$58.27 goes to Bexar County Road Maintenance and Flood Control
$30.30 goes to San Antonio River Authority
$258.03 goes to Alamo Community College District (NW Vista, SAC, St. Phillips, etc)
$505.66 goes to the University Health System (University Hospital)
$552.65 goes to Bexar County
$1,074.42 goes to the City of San Antonio
$2,540.31 goes to the School District you are in (In this case North Side ISD)

This tax bill would vary depending on which school district you lived in because each school district has it's own taxing rate.

The first category, Bexar County Road and Flood Maintenance is pretty self explanatory. Bexar County pays a portion of every road and flood project done in the City of San Antonio, and every other town within the county. The city of San Antonio also pays a portion of road and flood maintenance, and the San Antonio River Authority pays a portion of the flood maintenance, which I will talk about in a future post. But if you live outside the city limits, the only money going for road maintenance would be $58.27 from your taxes. You would pay less taxes but it will probably take a lot longer to have any work done on problem areas near your home.

In my following posts I will give a break down of how each of these taxing districts uses your money.

Helpful State of Texas Websites

I just added several helpful websites for the State of Texas, including the Drivers License and Vehicle Registration Renewal websites. Let me know if there is something you need help finding. Just write in my comments section by clicking on comment at the end of this post.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cheap Food and Low Cost Housing

I was thinking about illegal immigration today. Most of the jobs that illegal immigrants take are the ones Americans refuse because they don't pay enough and/or they are too grueling. Now many people make the argument that the fact that illegal's will work for lower pay is undercutting Americans who would take the job if it paid better. But think about this, would you pay for a $20.00 watermelon, or a $10.00 pound of grapes? Or how about $7.00 per pound for hamburger meat? What about a house that sells for $150,000 right now with cheap labor versus the same house for $300,000?

Now some people will say that they pay more for produce because they buy from a local farmer, and I applaud them for that. But, does the farmer you buy from pick all the fruit him or herself?????

Just raising an hourly salary from $7.00 to $10.00 would raise the employer's base cost by $6000 per year more per worker. This would be compounded for home builders because they hire subcontractors who would tack on their profit along with the rise in pay. And have no doubts, this cost will be passed on to the consumer. We are all complicit in illegal immigration whether we like it or not.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Helpful Websites

I just posted some helpful San Antonio websites. If you are looking for something and having trouble finding it, write me a comment and I can help you find it. I'll post other websites as I come across them.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pushing for Green in San Antonio

San Antonio is gearing up to be a Green Leader in the 21st Century. There have been several articles in the Express-News lately about green initiatives the city is implementing. It is all part of the 11-point Mission Verde Plan. Plans range from bringing more green jobs to the city to green building codes, a green housing and building retrofitting program, a more desirable multi-modal mass transit system, sustainable real estate development, a green venture capital fund, and maximazation of sustainability all city facilities.

The lastest effort is putting bicycle lanes on the forefront of city road building and planning. In the past cyclists had no sway but now that the city is greening up, bicycle transportation is getting a big boost. The city already has plans to stripe up lanes on several existing roadways that have plenty of space for a bike lane. This intiative kills two birds with one stone, the obesity epidemic and lowering carbon dioxide emissions. Hopefully soon there will be north-south and east-west corridors linking SA's linear parks and street level bike lanes to make it possible for commuters to bike to work.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Does Voting Matter?

Scott Stroud of the San Antonio Express-News believes that if Texans voted more we wouldn't have had the lunatic textbook standards pass that make Texans look like a bunch of right wing zealots. I agree. Most people have no idea who represents them as US Senator, let alone on the State Board of Education, and they certainly don't vote.

The general public gets caught up in Presidential elections, but they don't seem to realize that state and local elections are actually much more critical to their daily lives. It used to be difficult to find out anything about the candidates in the past but now with the Internet there is no excuse for not knowing about elections, candidates and positions. But instead people spend their time reading about Lindsey Lohan's latest drug arrest, or Paris Hilton's latest boy toy. Don't get me wrong, I read the gossip columns too, but I also care about what goes on in my community.

Over and over I hear excuses about voting, the most common being "My vote doesn't really count anyway." But that is so wrong, voter turnouts in state and local elections are SO LOW that every vote counts. IF YOU DISAGREE WITH THE TEXTBOOK STANDARDS VOTE IN THE NEXT STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION ELECTION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

If You're Born in the US Does that Make You a Citizen?

As anxiety in the US rises the issue of birthright citizenship has come up for debate. When the 14th amendment was passed after the Civil War, it officially and explicitly gave citizenship to anyone born within the boundaries of the US. The amendment was meant to address the freed slaves, but over time many immigrants have taken advantage of this clause for their own children. Some mothers cross the US border from Mexico just to go to the hospital to have their children. Also, any illegal immigrant who's children are born stateside will be citizens.

So why do we have this stipulation in the Constitution, the highest law in the land? We are a nation of immigrants, all of us, except for Native Americans originally came from somewhere else. Our ancestors all came here to get their slice of the American Dream. It is a principle so fundamental to our country that we put into the Constitution, one of the most difficult legal instruments to modify, It has only been amended 27 times in our 234 year history. By contrast the Texas constitution has been amended over 450 times.

The challengers of Citizenship-By-Birth hope to challenge the principle in the Supreme Court, however, this has been tried many times before and has never passed muster. The only way this right could be changed would be by Constitutional amendment, a process so cumbersome, there is little chance of it happening.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Europe Emulating the US? It's time to pay the piper.

The debt crisis in Europe is having an odd effect. It looks like Europe may start to look more like us! In order to cut costs many countries in the European Union are looking to raise the retirement age, lower social security benefits, get rid of free money for having a baby, raise the cost college education (virtually free now) and require people on unemployment to actually look for a job.

The countries in the biggest trouble (Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Ireland) are mostly in southern Europe and generally offer their citizens the biggest perks for the least amount of taxes. Well, it's come time to pay the piper.

Northern Europe, mostly Scandinavia, is in a much better position. These countries have extremely high taxes, so their citizens are willing to pay for the benefits. They have also assuaged the unions by making it easier for an employer to fire an employee by offering job retraining along with unemployment benefits. Most countries in southern Europe are hog-tied by the unions and generally have a very difficult time dealing with negative employment issues. Cross country strikes can shut down a whole country for days.

The current economic crisis will be a true test of Europe's tolerance for immigrants and of it's citizens will to persevere. The constant strikes in Greece right now are not going to change the situation, Greece will have to make drastic spending cuts to survive in the union and possibly to even survive as a country.

People are always looking for someone to blame in a crisis situation. The blame game is a favorite with the US Congress. But does it get anything positive accomplished?? Not in the short term that's for sure. I think it's a much better policy to do as much as possible to solve a problem and to think positively and creatively about the future until the situation has improved. Then go back, not so much to point blame, as to look to see what caused the problems and do what is necessary to prevent them from happening again.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Text Book Wars

The, socially conservative heavy, Texas School Board has been duking it out over the last year to come up with new social studies and history standards for textbooks. Why does this matter? Because Texas is one of the biggest textbook markets in the country. Many other smaller states will have to buy the same textbooks. The battles range from excluding Thomas Jefferson's position on the separation of church and state to explanations for the Civil War that don't include slavery. Many liberals, minorities, historians and teachers are up in arms about the standards.

One of the more intriguing additions the Republicans want to make is a side-by-side comparison of the Lincoln and Davis (President of the Confederacy) inaugural addresses. Republicans want to emphasize the issue of state's rights which Davis argued was the reason for the War between the States. I find this bizarre because the fledgling Republican party headed by Lincoln, with it's anti-slavery platform, won the election of 1860 and incited the secession of South Carolina. Lincoln believed that states did not have the right to secede thus claiming the superior authority of the federal government. I don't think Lincoln would recognize the Republican Party of today.

The standards come up for a final vote today. Many opponents are urging the legislature not to buy the new textbooks, a move that might appeal due to the projected $18 billion budget deficit.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Incumbents need not Apply

Well the people are sending Congress a message: WE ARE TIRED OF BUSINESS AS USUAL.
All incumbents, Democrats and Republicans alike, are in trouble. Three primaries on Tuesday knocked off incumbents to Tea Partiers and liberals. I don't know that this is necessarily a good thing, more than likely Congress will be more polarized than ever and unless one party gets a strong majority, nothing will get done.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Perry living high on the Hog

Well,well,well, Perry says the state needs to tighten it's belt by lowering costs by 5%. Wonder if he's going to follow suit? Apparently his living expenses, financed by the state, are pretty high, about $600,000 over the last two years. But he claims he's lowering his expenses. Poor guy has to get by with only one chef instead of two!!!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Democrats not the only ones in trouble

The Republicans were pretty smug when Scott Brown, a Republican tea partier, won the Massachusetts Senate seat occupied for centuries by Ted Kennedy. It certainly got the Democrat's attention.

But now it appears that Democratic incumbents aren't the only ones in trouble. Senator Bob Bennett, R-Utah, running for his fourth term didn't even win the primary. The big reason, he voted for the Troubled Assets Relief Program, affectionately known as TARP.

Many voters see TARP as a Welfare program for wealthy investment bankers. Hmmm, aren't they the ones who got us into this mess in the first place??

Now I can see why voters are upset, it seems like the government just gave away money to the banks and AIG and let them do whatever they wanted with it, including giving bonuses to the executives that got us into this mess.

But we have to look at the whole picture. Our economy was about to go belly up, something drastic and quick needed to be done. Leaving money decisions up to Congress moves about as slow as a glacier. Also, the companies like AIG who gave out executive bonuses got into a lot of trouble for it. Several of the banks have already paid back the TARP money because they didn't want the Feds looking over their shoulders. Also, AIG is doing better, so hopefully they will soon be repaying their debts.

Also, a lot of people are worried about the deficit spiraling out of control. I agree that we cannot continue to let the deficit grow, but we needed to go into the hole for a little while to bolster the economy. Employment is starting to come back, albeit slowly, so lowering the deficit right away could be counter productive.

Many people are dissatisfied with Congress right now, the deadlock is extremely frustrating. The problem is that right now the country is so polarized, it's hard for Congress to pass any legislation without making a lot of people mad. Personally, I think that any legislation that makes both the conservatives and the liberals mad is probably good because it's in the middle. Many people think that the middle is a bad place to be, but if you look at nature you can see that the animals and habitats that are in the middle and not in the extremes, generally have the best chance at survival.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Creative Solutions for Budget Shortfalls

Well, it turns out Texas is not in as good a shape as we thought. Instead of the projected $9 billion shortfall for the next legislative session, due to start next year, the amount has doubled to $18 billion. Texans abhor new taxes, so to even suggest this as a solution is political suicide.

So instead the Speaker of the Texas House, Joe Straus R-SA, is looking in to creative solutions such as unpaid employee furloughs and 4-day work weeks. The 4-day work week has some potential and has had good results at USAA and the city of El Paso. Instead of working 8 hours 5 days a week, employees would be at the job 10 hours 4 days a week and then a day off. This helps save on utilities, custodial services and gas for government vehicles.

Another solution in the works is allowing flexible class sizes for grades K through 4 instead of the mandated 22 students. As it stands now if 23 students show up another teacher needs to be hired and another class room set up. Teachers of course are against this idea, but would they rather be laid off?

Other ideas involve streamlining bureaucratic operations. I'm sure there are a lot of small fixes that could be found that could make a difference. For example, the University of Michigan decided to change all publications, memos, letters, etc that are printed by the University to use the Century Gothic font, which uses less ink than the standard Arial font. They figure this will save between $5,000 to $10,000 per year. This may not sound like much but lots of small changes like this add up.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The New Jew?

I have been saying for a long time that Immigrants, particularly from poor countries are the new Jew. For centuries when a scape goat was needed Jews always fit the bill, but over the last twenty years or so the immigrant has become the one to blame.

Now, in the US immigrants have come under fire from time to time, starting around the early 1900s when thousands of Irish and Eastern Europeans were pouring into the country. They were looked upon as stupid and lazy, even though they worked long hours in the worst of conditions in order to achieve the American Dream.

The difference today is, now the US has some safety nets set up for it's poorest citizens and many people jealously guarding their earnings from taxes claim that poor immigrants only come here to receive social services.

While I agree that we are educating illegal aliens in our public schools and that many of these children receive free breakfast and lunch I don't believe that they are receiving most of the social services that many critics claim. Most immigrants work hard and keep their heads down, they don't want to attract the government's attention by applying for food stamps, CHip and medicaid.

For many years I drove through construction sites all over the city of San Antonio each quarter to conduct a housing census. The majority of the workers were hispanic and spoke little English. They were working their butts off, many times working on Saturdays and Sundays.

I live in a right to work state so the construction workers are not unionized. I have heard that in northern states where the workers belong to unions, they stop work for all their scheduled breaks regardless of whether or not they are holding up traffic or causing problems at the work site. I'm sure if they worked on Saturdays and Sundays they would get time and a half. I know that's not the case for illegal aliens, in fact many times their employers don't pay them minimum wage and in some cases don't pay them at all, because they know the illegals won't report them.

Now I realize that the unions are worried about being under cut by illegal labor. But is this really the fault of the illegals? Who does the hiring?

I agree that illegal immigration is a problem that needs workable solutions, but I don't think building higher fences is the solution. Right now the US only allows about 3,000 unskilled laborers per year to enter the country legally. According to the Pew Hispanic Center estimates, there are 12 million illegal aliens in the US as of March 7, 2010. Three thousand is such a paltry amount in comparison to the number of illegal aliens it's not even funny.

There are several things that could be tried:

1. Raising the limit of unskilled laborers to a reasonable level and setting up a hiring center for them to find jobs, thus requiring the employers to pay decent wages that don't undercut wages for citizens.

2. Help Mexico to build their own economy so that there are more decent paying jobs for their citizens.

3. Lowering our country's demand for illegal drugs by instituting drug rehab and prevention programs.

I'm sure there are many more solutions that I haven't thought of that would help fix the problem, probably several things put together would work.

So far the beginning of this century has been a time filled with anxiety: terrorist attacks, wars, economic meltdowns, religious fanaticism, social problems, natural disasters, Global warming. Blaming the immigrants for all of our problems won't change things.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hispanic Republicans--A thing of the past?

In the 1990s and early 2000s the Republicans made some good gains among Hispanics. Many Hispanic businessmen in the South West had similar values, fiscally conservative, interested in a good business climate and socially conservative due to their largely catholic backgrounds. But so called Immigration Reform, which really means keeping poor Hispanics immigrants out of the US, may reverse that trend.

Lionel Sosa, an Hispanic advertising mogul, is one of these disaffected republicans.

I'm not Hispanic, but but I worked for many years by driving around construction sites to survey housing. The majority of the workers were Hispanic and they were all working hard. I have personally known several illegal aliens and they all work hard. They aren't here for hand outs. They want the American Dream, work hard so that your children can have a better life and become successful.

Over the two centuries that the US has been in existence there have been several immigrant groups that have come under fire for trying to steal our way of life. Usually the ones Americans objected to the most spoke a different language.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Above and Beyond

I've been listening to some great online Psychology lectures by Yale Professor Paul Bloom at Open Yale Courses. In one of the lectures he talks about why it is when someone is in trouble and calling for help with lots of people around, that no one helps them. Professor Bloom says it's because each person assumes someone else will help. He says if the victim singles someone out he is much more likely to receive help.

I thought, yeah that sounds about right. Whenever I have taken first aid classes they always instruct you to single someone out to call 911. But then the other day my mother told me a story that is almost unbelievable. If it hadn't happened to my father directly, I might not have believed it.

My father, who is 83 and quite infirm, was outside and noticed some dead flowers in a flower bed, so he got down on the ground to pull them off. But when he went to get up, he couldn't get off the ground. He waited to see if anyone would come out to help him, but no one was around. So he waited a while, but when he got tired of waiting he started to call out for help.

My parent's house is on the top of a 90 foot cliff that over looks a golf course. There are about 30 houses perched on that cliff. A maintenance man working on the golf course below heard my father calling for help. He of course assumed it was an emergency and called 911. Then he climbed up the cliff,scratched and bleeding, helped my father up and then ran out into the street to flag down the ambulance, police cars and firetruck that had been racing around the neighborhood trying to find the person in need. WOW!!!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Oil Spill Solutions?

Well BP is finally putting the 4 story cement cap on the oil leak in the Gulf. Apparently it will take a few days to cap the well. The well is 5,000 feet below the surface and they have to use robot subs to put it in place. Hopefully this will stop the oil from coming out of the well. Then there's all the oil on the surface and floating around beneath the surface that has to be cleaned up. An innovative way that us regular people can do to help is by getting a hair cut. Huh??? Well, there is this group in San Francisco that collects hair, stuffs it into tubes of nylon stockings that are then tied together to form a barrier around the slick and then the hair, which is highly absorbant, soaks up the oil. Over 390,000 salons have signed up to send hair to the project and some are giving a discount on a haircut. So if you've been dying to get that new doo now's the time.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mayor of San Antonio

This is an interesting article in the New York Times about San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. It's interesting that they are already looking at him as a national candidate. When he ran for mayor many people accused him of using the Mayor's office as a stepping stone to wider office. He claims that he plans on being Mayor for as long as SA will have him. I think he probably will try to fill out his term limits. As for future office, he's only 35, he should have a long career ahead of him. He seems to be fairly pragmatic, which I like in a politician. Radicals and reactionaries never make very good leaders for government. I believe in a more middle of the road approach.

Government SANFUs

Here's something I've been following. Apparently there are a lot of VA nurses that are in trouble right now because in order to keep them the VA gave them raises. Now the Feds say that they shouldn't have been given the raises and the nurses need to repay the government. The government is planning on hiring a bunch of temporary workers to figure out how much the nurses were over paid. Usually in real life when a mistake is made, the person who made the mistake is supposed to fix the problem. These nurses had no idea their raises weren't authorized, their supervisors gave them the raises, they didn't steal the money. Luckily it looks like they can file waivers to avoid repayment, which is up to $30,000 in some cases (some of the nurses recieved the raise 8 years ago.) But to me it seems like it would be less expensive to just let them keep the money and lower their salaries!!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lots of Blank Space

Well, I've decided to start a blog, well I guess more like an online diary unless other people read this. I don't know if anyone will find what I have to say interesting or not, but I do have some things to say.

I'm interested in lots of things, my mind wanders constantly, I have a hard time shutting it up, even when I'm doing yoga. What do I think about? Well let's see, I have to do the dishes, water the plants, clean the house, what can I do about global warming, is recycling enough, can we afford to put solar panels on the roof, the roof is getting old looking, maybe we need to paint the house, I'd like to learn how to paint, maybe I should pick up a book from the library, isn't that video I checked out due tomorrow, wait no that's Friday.... You get the picture. Some psychologists would call this free association, but mostly it's just noise!!!!!!

My interests run from cooking, baking, politics, science, crafting, learning new things, exercising, reading, movies, music, education, pretty much I'm all over the place. The one thing I probably won't be talking about on here is sports, except to make a comment about my lack of interest in sports. I was talking to a customer service rep yesterday who knew I was from San Antonio and was astonished to learn that I had no idea how the Spurs were doing. Yes, I know, how unpatriotic of me.

Well, let's see, what's going on in the world today? The would be Times Square bomber apparently got caught on camera scouting out a bombing location in the same car he put the bomb in. I know a lot of people are wondering why he was able to board a plane when he was on a no fly list but they caught him before he left. I think they did a good job. It's somewhat amazing how inept the last couple of terrorists have been, I guess they barely passed bomb making class. But I wonder, how many failed bombing attempts there are in other countries that we never hear about. Surely there are inept bomb makers in other places too.

I don't watch much TV except for what's on the internet, or sometimes I'll check out television DVDs, so I have never watched American Idol. I decided to see if I could find it online this year. You can sort of watch it on their official website. It's ok, can't get too excited about it, but I hear this isn't a very good season. The thing I'm really into is Dancing with the Stars. This is only my third season watching it online. I think it's great, what I want to know is, when are they going to have a contest to allow an average person to dance on the show. You know, someone like me!! That would be fun!!! Also, I think next season they should have Neicy Nash be Tom Bergeron's cohost, that would be great.

I'm interested in politics and I follow all levels, but I'm particularly interested in local and state politics. If you haven't guessed by now, I live in Texas and it's a pretty lively place with a lot of crazy characters. The governor alone could fill a blog with all of his antics. The other day it got out that Perry shot a coyote back in February with a .380 Ruger with hollow point bullets (man stoppers) and a laser sight! What self respecting macho Texan uses a gun like that? What ever happened to a Smith & Wesson revolver? Also, was he carrying that gun in his pants? It's a wonder he didn't shoot off his Johnson.

Today the San Antonio City Council is voting on a more restrictive tree ordinace. I'm glad to see this, because the old ordinance was ineffective. There are a lot of nay sayers on both side of the issue, the environmentalists say it's too lax and the developers say it's too restrictive. I think that means it's just about right, the middle is always a good place to be.

Homeowners across the street from UTSA (with 30,000 students and growing) are upset about all the apartments being built around them. The biggest complainer has only lived there two years. What did he think when he moved in there? That there wouldn't be students living near by? Come on, the University is literally across the street from his neighborhood. I live about a mile away and we have university students renting houses here. They do have occasional parties, but over all they haven't been a problem.

Northside ISD is having a bond election so they can renovate existing schools and add classrooms. I voted in favor of it, after all it is the fastest growing school district in San Antonio. Over half the housing sales in SA take place in their district and most of the homeowners have children. It's a large district so the tax burden is spread out pretty well, it will not be that big a deal.

I'm trying to grow some vegetables this year. I have one tomato plant and one green squash plant. I have a major black thumb, so I wanted to limit the amount of deaths. So far they are doing pretty well, the plants are getting bigger and there are lots of leaves, no flowers yet though. I check them everyday for bugs, pull weeds and water them. I live in South Texas, not the best environment for growing things, not much rain and lots of sun and heat. Also my yard is pretty shady so it was hard to find a sunny spot to plant them. They get sun part of the day, but I'm not sure if it's enough. I guess I'll find out.

School is winding down and soon my kids and husband will have the summer off. I'm going to try Scuba Diving this summer. I'll work on my certification here and then go to Cozumel with my family for my open water work. It should be fun, my husband got certified over spring break in Honduras and is really excited about it. I think it will be great to finally have a physical activity (other than you know) to do together. He's much more physically fit than I am and I have a hard time keeping up with him. But swimming is something I'm good at. Also, from what I understand, you don't want to be moving around a lot when you dive because you'll use your air up too fast.

That's it for now............