Wednesday, September 21, 2011
The Justice Department said Monday that Texas' state House and congressional redistricting plans didn't comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), indicating they thought the maps approved by Gov. Rick Perry (R) gave too little voting power to the growing Latino population in the state.
A special three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. will ultimately decide whether the redistricting plan for the state violates the VRA. That's because the state of Texas chose to skip the cheaper pre-clearance process, which would have put the decision in the hands of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. A hearing is set for Wednesday.
It is going to be interesting to see how the court rules. If you followed redistricting this year in the state, and if you took government in high school you got to see a textbook example of gerrymandering.
The point is redistricting should not be a politically led process. The reality is that areas with like issues and needs should be included in the same district. When you see the GOP redistricting committee take a district in South Texas and when they are done with it less than 2% of the original voters are still in that district you got to know something just ain't right.
Funny how the current rep Aaron Pena was elected as a Democrat in HD 41 and now the district lines have been changed so the district is a majority Republican district. By the way Pena switched parties after being elected. If the current district lines stand he will represent only 1.3% of his original district.
It is also interesting to note that the Justice Department is separately deciding whether a voter ID bill signed by Perry violates the Voting Rights Act. Keep a watch on what happens with the courts ruling. Could be a good indicator of whether or not there is any justice left in the Justice Department.
Friday, September 16, 2011
There are certain things in life that we know as indicators. For instance one of the things you can deduce when you see cactus and mesquite dying is that it is dry, and most likely dry for a long time. Granted it could be herbicide or other factors causing the problems, but when you take a look at the entire picture you quickly can see drought probably has some effect on what you are seeing.
There are many indicators or signs of tough times ahead for Milam County and Central Texas. If you listen to the weather pundits we are in for several more years of hot dry weather. Of course that could change overnight. After all, this is Texas.
There is no argument that production agriculture is a major part of the local Milam County economy. In fact agriculture provides for a majority of the dollar turnover in the local area economy. Prolonged drought certainly does not bode well for an already impacted sector of the economy.
Luminant is a major partner in the local economy and in the current 2012 tax year will provide for just under 32% of the total Milam County appraised values. The lawsuit they have filed could result in lower values either ordered by the court or negotiated through mediation.
Now, with all the previous being said one can easily figure that the two major economic factors in the local economy are at best iffy for the next 12 or more months. Take into consideration as well that the national economy is said to be entering another recession. FOX news states that one in three national economists say the country will be going into another recession. Persoanlly, on the local basis I say we are already there.
Then we read in last Thursday's local papers the county will wind up with a surplus at the end of this year. Remember, in January, or maybe it was February the same media reported we were already 1.5 million in the hole. What a difference a few months can make. Or, maybe it is just how you interpret the indicators.
I also noted in the budget hearing and later in the local news that Judge Barkemeyer said that the issues with the economy and the potential negative effects of the Luminant law suit on county finances were somethng that we should not worry about at this time. The court would do whatever it needed to do to meet the challenge. So evidently he is not too worried.
I believe that in any situation you have to have a "Plan B" just in case the best does not come to pass. I believe a lack of leadership is being shown when you see a potential wreck down the road and simply stay the course. It is much easier to meet the challenge with a plan than react to the challenge with no plan.
Quit honestly I am concerned; worried. Things do not look good down the road and if Luminant gets even some of what they want Milam County will suffer. What makes me worry even more is that those that are in charge seem to be betting on the best possible results rather than contemplating something less than the best. I just hope for all our sakes they are right.
Monday, September 5, 2011
The final hearing on the proposed 2012 Milam County Budget will be held September 7th at 6:00 pm in the Commissioners Courtroom. My last blog referred to this and again I stress the importance that the public attend and hear about the budget.
Judge Barkemeyer's article dated August 31 used some very interesting calculations that one might call more of a political spin than the real facts. He states the following in his article:
"The four Commissioner’s Precinct Budgets on first glance appear to have been increased by one and a quarter million collectively to $6,345,057 total. However, when you back out the allowance for reserve accounts, the actual budgeted amount remains essentially the same with 2011 budget without reserves being $4,520,448 and 2012 being $4,495,792, slightly less. So bottom line, our planned total budget for 2012 is some $300,000 less than 2011."
Now I am not sure where he gets his figures or why he indicated something can be backed out of a budget to balance it. Why not back out the $300,000 in reserve in the general fund and then claim a bottom line savings of $600,000?
The real figures are contained in the proposed budget available online. The grand total for General fund and Precinct funds for the 2012 budget is $16,639,883.47, and the grand total for this year's budget is $15,678,995.98. While math was not my best subject in school I did learn to do the simple stuff like add and subtract. Bottom line in the budget shows an increase of $960,887.49. That's the real bottom line.
Furthermore, the official proposed budget states that the 2012 budget will raise a total of $1,187224.48 or 1.17% more in total property taxes than this year's budget. So, again the math just does not add up. If we actually cut the budget as Judge Barkemeyer proclaims in his article by $300,000 you add that to the increased take in property taxes there should be over 1.4 million dollars hanging around somewhere, and a part of that should be returned to the taxpayers in a tax rate reduction.
As I said math was not my best subject, but this is pretty easy. I just wonder if Judge Barkemeyer's calculations are a result of his math skills being less than mine or if in his opinion we are really that stupid, or maybe it is just Austin or Washington DC math.
Friday, September 2, 2011
The last 2012 Budget Hearing will be on September 7th at 6:00 pm in the Commissioners Courtroom. This will be the third and final of the statutorily required public hearings that every county must hold. It is the public's opportunity, maybe even duty, to comment on issues they have with the proposed budget.
I attended the first and plan on attending the last. During the first hearing concerns about selected employees and elected officials receiving salary increase was brought up by several individual's in the audience. It was and remains one of my current issues with the 2012 budget.
My concerns are based on the fact that in initial planning of this year's budget (2011) there was a proposed across the board increase for all employees of two percent. No raise for elected officials just employees. Even though the money was there and the economy was much better the members of the court felt at that time no increase was needed.
It just does not make sense that with the current economic situation and the pending Luminant law suit that 51 "select" employees and elected officials receive a raise of any kind.
In the hearing I attended one elected official spoke and said that the raises for the elected officials were needed. I cannot remember the exact words, but basically the statement that was made indicated that if pay was not raised it could lead to dishonesty. Now folks, this is an elected official that made this statement.
It really did not hit home with me at first, but upon reflection was it a threat to steal? Was it indicating that county employees will become dishonest if they do not receive pay increases? What about the other employees and officials that will not get raises this year? Will they, as a result of no raise, steal from the county?
Another issue that I have is that all Milam County Justice of the Peace officials are receiving a $400 increase in travel. It was stated that Precinct 3 and 4 have to travel to the Cameron one week of each month to magistrate. Okay I understand that gasoline is expensive nowadays. However, Precinct 1 and 2 are housed in the Law Enforcement Center and they too are getting an increase in travel.
Mind you Precinct 1 and 2 have offices that are maybe a hundred or so footsteps from the magistration area, The reality is that the Law Enforcement Center was built to include two JP offices so that magistration of inmates could be done by those in the building. This was done to expedite the judicial process as well as save money for the county taxpayers.
Now I am not sure why the two newly elected Conservative Republican JP's that are housed in the Law Enforcement Center refuse to follow the lead of their predecessors, but it is costing the county money. Not much I grant you, but you gotta start saving somewhere.