Thursday, April 28, 2011

Early Voting Starts Monday!

Election day for city councils and school district boards across the State of Texas are set for May 14, 2011.   Early voting begins May 2, 2011 and runs through May 10.  Click here for a list of Early Voting venues in Bexar County.

Unfortunately it's too late to register to vote for this election (voter registration cards become effective 30 days after you have received it), but if you're not sure if you are registered you can find out here.

To find out who's running outside Bexar County, do a web search for a May 14, 2011 sample ballot for your county.  Here's a link to the Bexar County ballot

Here are the candidates for the City Council of San Antonio.

District 1 District 2 District 3
Chris Forbrich
Carolyn Kelley
Diego Bernal
Lauro A. Bustamante
Ralph Medina
Ivy R. Taylor
Darrell Boyce
Jennifer V. Ramos
Elizabeth “Liz” Campos
Ernest Zamora, Jr.
District 4 District 5 District 6
Rey Saldaña
Leticia Cantu
Kathy Luna
Raymond Zavala
Andro Mendoza
David Medina
Lourdes Galvan
Pete Galaviz
Ray Lopez
Steve Shamblen
District 7 District 8 District 9
Ruben A. Cortez
Cris Medina
Fred A. Rangel
Gloria Rodriguez
Elena Guajardo
Caron West
Reed Williams
Elisa Chan
Jose Valdez, Jr.
District 10 Mayor
Isy Perez
Laura Thompson
Bud Little
Carlton Soules
James Rodriguez
Will McLeod
Michael “Commander” Idrogo
Julián Castro
Rhett R. Smith
For news about each of these races click on your district below.
District 1                                          District 7
District 2                                          District 8
District 3                                          District 9
District 4                                          District 10
District 5                                          Mayor
District 6

If you're not sure what district you live in here's a map.

Here is a link to the Express-News Voters guide for all the races in San Antonio.

Remember, your vote counts a lot more in local elections, so get out there and VOTE!!!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Would electing members of the Public Utility Commission make them more accoutable?

In Lyle Larson's latest weekly recap he lays out his latest bill in committee:

HB 1302: Our own intuition and numerous studies tell us that elected representatives are more accountable and far more likely to do what we, the voters, want because they risk being thrown out of office if they don’t. In Texas, most industries are regulated by different state agencies, many of which are lead by a board or commission appointed by the governor. For some agencies, this process seems to be sufficient, but for other agencies, especially those that oversee our basic needs, such as energy, water and transportation infrastructure, voters should choose the regulators. HB 1302 would abolish the Public Utility Commission (PUC), transfer its duties to the Railroad Commission (RRC) and rename the RRC the Texas Energy and Communications Commission (TECC). Many people have long questioned the Public Utility Commission's lack of transparency and lack of accountability to Texans. Since 1991, there have been several legislative efforts to consolidate and streamline the PUC and Railroad Commission (RRC). With the PUC slated for Sunset review this session and as Texas faces a daunting $27 billion shortfall, the 82nd Legislative Session is the optimal time to pursue and achieve this change.  
But would adding more responsibility to an elected commission actually have this desired effect?

Voter turnout in Texas is abysmal.  Here is a chart from the Texas Secretary of State's website.  VAP stands for Voter Age Population.  As you can see the historic election of Barack Obama had the highest voter turnout at 59.9% of registered voters.
 I point out this out because everyone was excited about this election,
yet the turnout was only a little more than half of the registered voters and
only 45.5% the the VAP voted.

When you get to what are perceived as less important races, like the Constitutional Amendment elections, the turnout is a joke, 8% of Registered Voters and 5.77% of VAP.

So how many of y'all out there know what the Public Utilities Commission does?  How many know what the Railroad Commission does?  I'd guess most of you don't have a clue. (Don't worry, I'm going to write some posts about these later.) 

There's another problem with relying on the voters to choose members for this important commission.  Even though people turn out to vote, they don't check all the boxes.  I know I'm guilty of this, there are so many elected officials, it's not only hard to keep all of them straight, sometimes there just isn't any information out there about them.  For most people, they can't be bothered with taking the time to learn about candidates other than the President and the Governor, and most of this information comes from political advertising, a very poor way to get the real dope.

Adding more duties to the Railroad Commission is a bad idea.  Even the Sunset Advisory Commission doesn't agree with this.  
Change in Statute
S 1.1 Continue the Public Utility Commission for 12 years.
The Sunset staff report on PUC, published in July 2010, concluded in Issue 3 that Texas has a continuing need to regulate the electric and telecommunications industries and oversee evolving competition in the industries. The report left pending the question of whether these regulatory functions should be continued at PUC or in other agencies until completion of the Sunset staff reports on TCEQ and the
Railroad Commission. Now that these other reviews have been completed, staff recommends that PUC be continued for 12 years, with additional functions as indicated in the recommendations below.

S 1.2 Transfer gas utility regulation from the Railroad Commission to the Public Utility Commission.
This recommendation would transfer the responsibility that resides at the Railroad Commission for gas utilities to PUC. Under the recommendation, PUC would administer these regulations under the same original and appellate jurisdiction over rates as currently exists at the Railroad Commission. The transfer would include the Railroad Commission’s existing efforts regarding utility rates and services,
consumer complaints, reports, and audits. Generally, the same regulatory approaches that exist now in gas utilities statutes would continue to apply at PUC, including provisions for interim rate adjustments, cost-of-service adjustments, and cost-recovery surcharges. Collection of the Gas Utility Tax would also
transfer to PUC. The recommendation would provide for the transfer to be completed by March 1, 2012, and would provide for planning and coordination to occur between the Railroad Commission and PUC to implement the transfer. A transition team would be established with high-level employees of both agencies to develop plans regarding the transfer to PUC of obligations, property, personnel, powers, and duties for gas utility functions and sharing of records and information. The team would develop ways to coordinate on areas of interrelated responsibilities, such as the impact of the Railroad Commission’s pipeline safety requirements on the rates of gas utilities. The recommendation would also require the agencies to develop memoranda of understanding, as needed, to implement the plans developed by the transition team. Statute would require the memoranda to be completed by February 1, 2012.
Perhaps commissioners will be accountable to the people who elect them, but so few voters actually choose these officials, their focus will be much narrower than implied by Larson's bill.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Can Texas Thwart the EPA?

Each week State Rep. Lyle Larson, (R) San Antonio, sends out an update on bills being heard in committee in his Weekly Recap.  One of the bills Larson is sponsoring is HB 3188.
HB 3188 This legislation would allow Texas agencies like the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to refuse to administer federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) greenhouse gas regulatory programs. We believe environmental management is the sole responsibility of the states, as evidenced by the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. This bill would put the power back in our hands.
Meanwhile, in the US House of Representatives, the budget debate is being slowed down by five policy issues, one of which is the EPA's regulation of greenhouse gases.
Greenhouse gases and EPA: Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, pushed through an amendment to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Poe's proposal passed 249-177, with 13 Democrats backing his effort. Obama and Democrats in the Senate aren't budging. "Neither the White House nor the Senate leaders are going to accept any EPA riders they have in their bill," Reid told reporters recently.
So if Larson's bill becomes law, will it stand up in court?  How much power does the EPA have over the states?

 First a brief history of the EPA.  The EPA was created in 1970 by Richard M Nixon by executive order to comprehensively regulate environmental pollutants.  Since the EPA is an executive agency, its policies change as presidential administrations change.  The agency is charged with administering over 30 environmental laws and executive orders.

In 2007, another Texan tried to temper the EPA's control of greenhouse gases, George W. Bush.  
the EPA has discretion to decide when and how to best respond to international environmental threats.
However, in the Supreme Court case, Massachusetts v the Environmental Protection Agency 
The petitioners claimed that human-influenced global climate change was causing adverse effects, such as sea-level rise, to the state of Massachusetts. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled in favor of Massachusetts et al, finding that EPA has the authority to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
The EPA [under the Bush Administration] argued that it was not given the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate CO2 or other greenhouse gases. The Court challenged the EPA’s refusal to regulate CO2 as an air pollutant under the statute. The Court found that CO2 fits within the statute’s broad definition of an air pollutant. Further, the Court stated that “EPA identifies nothing suggesting that Congress meant to curtail EPA’s power to treat greenhouse gases as air pollutants.” In its case, the EPA argued that regulating CO2 would require regulating fuel economy standards, which – according to the EPA – is under the purview of the Department of Transportation. The Court countered the EPA by recognizing that multi-agency efforts can indeed overlap when addressing an issue as important as global climate change: “The fact that DOT’s mandate to promote energy efficiency by setting mileage standards may overlap with EPA’s environmental responsibilities in no way licenses EPA to shirk its duty to protect the public health and welfare.” Protecting public health and welfare is a duty mandated by the Clean Air Act.
When the Obama Administration took over the Oval Office, the EPA began to move on regulating green house gasses.  In December 2010, the EPA tried to force Texas into compliance by overstepping the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to enforce the new regulations after the state agency refused to comply.  
Last month, when Texas did not implement the new rules, EPA released a plan to seize control of greenhouse permitting in the state. But the agency must wait at least a week so judges can make a decision on Texas' legal bid to stave off federal intervention, the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia ruled Thursday.
The temporary delay "should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits" of the state's lawsuit, the order (pdf) said.
It is a small setback for EPA, which has promised a smooth transition as Texas and more than a dozen other states challenge the new climate regulations in court. But while the other challengers are going along with the new rules while their lawsuits move through the courts, Texas has refused, saying that EPA has shut the state out of the process by ignoring the usual procedural steps.

If a court stay only lasts for so long, how do you slow down the EPA?  Take away its money.
House Republicans Propose Cuts to Climate Change Programs for 2011
On February 19, 2011, the House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution, H.R. 1, that would fund the federal government for the rest of fiscal year 2011.  Because a budget for fiscal year 2011 was never approved, the government is being funded during fiscal 2011 by continuing resolutions that are based on the 2010 budget.  The current continuing resolution expires on March 18, 2011.  H.R. 1 would cut EPA’s 2011 funding by $3 billion from 2010 levels, to $7.3 billion.  It would restrict EPA from using any funds to regulate or limit GHG emissions, and it removes all funding for states to develop, and EPA to consider, GHG permits.  The continuing resolution would also cut $60.3 million from various other EPA climate change programs and would bar the government from using appropriated funds to make contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Finally, H.R. 1 would prevent EPA from implementing its Clean Air Act waiver for E-15 gasoline during fiscal year 2011.  To be implemented, the resolution must go to the Senate, where majority Democrats have opposed the environmental provisions of the continuing resolution and promise to rewrite the resolution, which then must be approved by the President.
So would a state law hold up to Supreme Court scrutiny?  Based on precedent, the Supreme Court has already decided that the EPA has the authority to enforce green house gas emission regulations.  But what about the money?  Right now neither the Senate nor the President are going along with the House on cutting funding to the EPA.  The budget process is pretty much at a stand still and threats of a government shut down are looming large.  I guess it comes down to who blinks first.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Your Federal Income Tax Receipt

Here's a cool calculator I found today.  The Thrid Way, a moderate think tank, has a calculator that will calculate where your federal income tax money goes.  Just type in the total amount you paid in taxes and it gives you an itemized list of which programs get your money and how much they receive.  It also calculates how much each taxpayer is on the hook for the national debt.  

Not only does it calculate your share, you can sort alphabetically or by percentage share.  If you hit the Expand All link it breaks down the expenditures even more, i.e. from Defense, to all its components.