You Can Help Win The Taxpayer Battle!

By Bill Oakey – April 28, 2021

Let’s cut right to the chase. We now have the facts we need to win a taxpayer victory, with the Federal Rescue Plan funds. The City will have to recognize that an 8% maximum tax increase won’t be necessary in the upcoming budget. They can simply cover the shortfall with the Federal funds. You’re going to be amazed, when you see how obvious the evidence looks:

1. Houston – City Controller Chris Brown says, “A $615 million influx of federal funds will help Houston stave off a potentially disastrous budget season.”

2. New Orleans – Officials said that they hope to stretch the funds to cover what could be years of budget shortfalls from the drop-off in tourism and sales taxes.

3. Grand Rapids, Michigan – Proposed budget shortfalls offset by American Rescue Plan

4. Memphis – This is the clincher! Mayor Strickland: “Federal funds will go to budget shortfalls, the tax rate will go down.”

5. Kansas City, Missouri – Received $195 million, exactly what Austin got! They will use it to restore budget cuts and enhance public services.

Check out my clumsy attempt at poetry, and then hit the single-click link to send an email to the Mayor and all 10 City Council members.

What’s wrong with some of our local officials?
Are they too inept to even write their initials?
All they have to do is look around
The solution is right there, so easily found

From Memphis to Grand Rapids, and towns in between
They’re applying Federal funds to their budgets so lean
In Austin where homes are so hard to afford
They just want to tax us, good gracious, Good Lord!

I research this stuff in the dead of night
And I’m nowhere near ready to give up the fight!
So, City Council members and County Commissioners too
The taxpayers are advancing, you know what to do!

Please use this single-click link to email the Mayor and City Council. Be polite, ask them to do right, and we can win this fight!

Then share this blog piece with everyone you know, and post it on social media.

Musical Accompaniment For This Blog Piece:

1. “Memphis” – Johnny Rivers
2. “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans”– Freddy Cannon
3. “Houston” – Dean Martin
4. “Saginaw, Michigan” – Lefty Frizzell
5. “Kansas City” – Wilbert Harrison
6. “Walkin’ To Missouri” – Sammy Kaye, 1952. First record in my music collection, at age 5

How Austin Can Apply COVID Rescue Funds To Tax Relief

By Bill Oakey – April 27, 2021

Winning a battle to help the taxpayers is not an easy task. It’s like climbing up a hill backwards during a snowstorm in the dark. But it can be done, and this time it really must be done!

Get Ready To Go Down Into The Weeds!

This is what I have learned so far in researching the Federal American Rescue Plan Act. I am sharing this information with the Austin City Council:

1. Drill down on the American Rescue Plan details. Here is a good summary.

Take note of Item 2. on Page 17, under “Allandale Use of Funds”:

2. for the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue (i.e. online, property or income tax) due to the public health emergency.

This provision nails it. Austin has lost sales tax, property tax and various fee revenues since the pandemic began. These revenue losses can be covered with American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds. Some or all of the City’s projected budget shortfall can be covered with these funds. Here’s how to determine the exact amount:

This information is from the bottom of Page 2, in this Texas Municipal League document.

Eligible uses of ARP funds include:

– Responding to the public health emergency with respect to Covid-19 or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality.

– Responding to workers performing essential work during the pandemic by providing premium pay to eligible workers performing services inside recipients’ territories, or to eligible employers that have eligible workers who perform essential work.

– Providing government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue of such recipient due to the pandemic relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year of the recipient prior to the pandemic.

– Necessary investment in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.

The third bullet applies to our City Budget. Our most recent full fiscal year prior to the pandemic was FY 2019. It appears that pandemic-related revenue losses in the FY 2020 Budget are covered by the Rescue Plan funds, to the extent that the added revenues will bring the total up to the FY 2019 level, for each type of revenue. This provision does not make clear whether any FY 2021 revenue losses can be replenished with Rescue Plan funds. Please address this question to the Texas Municipal League or the U.S. Treasury. If I find out, I will let you know. You have until December 31, 2024 to spend the Rescue Plan funds. So, you could easily apply them to next year’s Budget, and provide relief on taxes and fees.

2. The Rescue Plan funds can be used for various health initiatives and social services. Many of these programs are funded annually in the City Budget. It seems to me that you should be able to apply the Rescue Plan funds directly to those eligible services, in lieu of property taxes. That would be in addition to the revenue shortfalls that you are allowed to cover.

Here’s the Bottom Line

You folks on the City Council have a unique opportunity to bring tax relief to homeowners and small businesses during this stressful period of the pandemic. This should be an easy win-win for everyone concerned. Think about these words from the recent KXAN News story:

Patrick Brown, a former Travis County chief appraiser, said with people already strained, an increase in the property tax calculation cap may put too much of a tax burden on Austinites. 

“It’s definitely going to affect all the commercial properties and land, and rental properties and the landlords, particularly ones that have acquired a mortgage loan in the last two or three years,” Brown said. 

That, in turn, he said will affect rental rates. 

“And that could push a number of residents out into the periphery and make Austin even less affordable than it is already,” he said.

Stay Tuned and We Shall See What Happens…

The next step is to ask the Travis County Commissioners to use part of their $247.1 million in Rescue Plan Funds for property tax relief. This news article makes no mention of their planning to do any such thing.

Taxpayer Alert – City Considers 8% Property Tax Hike, Instead Of Using COVID Rescue Funds!

By Bill Oakey – April 26,  2021

Before the ink was barely dry on tens of thousands of shockingly high Austin property tax appraisals, City budget officials crafted a startling and alarming memo to the City Council. First reported by KXAN News last Thursday, the memo describes a purported $23 million shortfall in the upcoming City budget that will be hammered out this summer.

Despite Receiving $195.8 Million in American Rescue Plan Funds, Chief Financial Officer Suggests 8% Tax Increase!

The Texas Legislature has placed a 3.5% revenue cap on City and County tax increases. But, there is an exception to the tax law. I had to rub my eyes and blink twice to believe that I read his words correctly. But this is what Austin CFO, Ed Van Eenoo said to KXAN News:

“Essentially the language says that, you know, if there’s a disaster declaration, the year of that disaster declaration and the subsequent year, cities have the opportunity to go to the 8% increase,” Van Eenoo said. He estimates that change would result in about $15 to $20 million more in revenue for the city.

He Forgot to Mention That Austin Received $195.8 Million In  COVID Rescue Plan Funds!

The City has a special webpage that celebrates the huge Federal windfall. But you won’t find a single word about using it to provide critical property tax relief for homeowners and small businesses. Are they completely out of their minds?! The spending plan includes these categories: Public Health, Economic Recovery Resources, Hotel Occupancy Tax-Funded Services and Contingency. The $39.2 million contingency is for “unanticipated events.”

Well, Guess What…The “Unanticipated Event” Contingency Would Wipe Out the City’s Budget Shortfall

Or, the City could easily adjust some of the other non-health categories. The disturbing memo that the Budget Office sent to the City Council on April 16 echoes the CFO’s bizarre obsession with raising taxes to the 8% legal maximum. Here is the very first “Action Item” in the memo:

“Council must take action to direct that the voter‐approval rate be calculated using the higher, 8% increase factor. This initial action does not require that Council ultimately adopt a property tax rate at this higher level, but this direction must be given in order for Council to retain the option to do so during its budget adoption proceedings in August.”

The memo also lays out a parade of fee increases, stretching over the next five years! And don’t forget this year’s 23% tax increase for the Project Connect boondoggle!

Please Join With Me. Let’s Unite Behind a Much Better Property Tax Increase Amount:

Use This Single-Click Link to Email the Mayor and All 10 City Council Members

Tell them you support zero property tax increase and zero fee increases in the upcoming City Budget. Be sure to ask for a zero increase in the “effective tax rate.” That would actually lower the rate that goes on your tax bill, and help offset the huge tax appraisal increases. It’s a no-brainer to use a portion of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to bring tax relief to struggling Austin homeowners and small businesses.

Keep in mind that 6 City Council seats are up for election next year! Share this blog link with all of your friends, and post it to social media.

The Brookings Institution Recommends That Cities Use ARP Funds to Cover Budget Shortfalls

You may hear excuses for why tax relief can’t be done, or why it isn’t a good idea. That is poppycock! Here is what the Brookings Institution says about it:

“Based on our on-the-ground work in Northeast Ohio and Birmingham, Ala., we believe that elected officials—and the networks of civic, business, philanthropic, and community stakeholders that surround them—should take a three-pronged approach to using their ARP funding: stabilize, strategize, and organize. Stabilize – ARP provides state and local governments with the resources to stabilize their operating budgets.”

Raising Taxes As High As Possible Is Embedded In the City’s Bureaucratic Culture

Starting the budget process with the highest possible tax increase is like giving a teenager a $100 bill to go to the movies, and hoping he will bring back $86. The City’s motto seems to be “Raise taxes first, and ask questions later.” It is time for every homeowner and small business owner to rise up and stop that nonsense dead in its tracks!

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

1. “Rescue Me” – Fontella Bass, original version, 1965
2. “Love Minus Zero / No Limit” – Joan Baez, written by Bob Dylan
3. “Zero Zero” – Bent Fabric
4. “Emotional Rescue” – The Rolling Stones
5. “Rescue Me” – Linda Ronstadt, 1972

Welcome To Austin’s Newest Mass Transit Bureaucracy

By Bill Oakey, April 20, 2021

First of all, the pandemic has upended the old historic model of mass transit. But, does the City Council and Capital Metro recognize that? Have they modified the plans for Project Connect the way other major cities are doing? Ridership has decreased dramatically, peak times have shifted and routes have been altered. See these two extraordinary articles:

2. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Austin taxpayers face a bleak future of spiraling property tax increases for a new bureaucratic morass that may not even succeed in their mission. Unless we have strong oversight and rigid accountability standards, the high cost will displace many thousands of longtime Austin residents.

1. The City of Austin’s property tax increase this year for the Project Connect plan  is 8.75 cents per $100 valuation. That is almost as high as the 11 cent tax for Central Health, and even closer to Austin Community College’s 10.6 cent tax!

2. The City and Capital Metro created a whole new bureaucracy for implementing Project Connect’s $7.1 billion plan. It is called the Austin Transit Partnership. I have tried several online searches for “Austin Transit Partnership budget,” and cannot find one that is published anywhere. So, who can tell us how this year’s 23%, 8.75 cent City property tax increase, that is almost as high as ACC and Central Heath is being spent?

3. The $7.1 billion transit plan was sold to the voters as an “initial investment.” The final cost for a citywide plan would easily be 3 to 4 times that amount in local funding.  In 2016, Seattle voters approved a $54 billion plan to expand their existing rail system. By 2019 it was already over budget!

4. I am proposing to the City Council an annual public review process for the Austin Transit Partnership budget. It would closely follow the City’s budget process, with a proposed budget released a few months ahead of final adoption. This would be followed by 2 or 3 public hearings, with City Council members present. The final budget would have to be approved by our elected City Council. I am also asking for this year’s budget for our 23% property tax increase (8.75 cents) to be published and posted online.

5. The new Austin Transportation Partnership is busy recruiting coordinators, facilitators, liaisons and all manner of other bureaucrats to begin the process of studying and evaluating the approach to formulating the implementation of Project Connect’s $7.1 billion plan (!) Check out this colorfully worded job posting for “Manager, Board Relations:” The very first sentence has a typo with repeated words:
Manager, Board Relations
“The Manager Board Relations reports directly to the reports directly to the General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer.“

Here is one of my favorite bullet points in the job posting:

“Develop and maintain viable systems and procedures to implement board policy providing knowledgeable input to the Board in their decision-making process.”

6. There are serious questions as to whether the proposed downtown tunnel is even feasible. The fault that runs north and south through underground Austin poses major engineering challenges. And our downtown streets were elevated several feet in the late 1800’s, because of severe flooding. In the 1980’s, an amateur explorer crawled through a narrow tunnel and discovered what remains of the old downtown streets. He showed a film to the City Council. This evidence of a previous downtown, and why it was buried still lies beneath us today, shrouded in mystery.

Musical Accompaniment For This Blog Piece:

1. “Ambrose (Part 5)” – Linda Laurie, 1958
2. “To Tell the Truth TV Show” – featuring Linda Laurie

San Francisco Is Worried That Austin Is Becoming Like San Francisco!

By Bill Oakey – April 19, 2021

My cousin pointed me to a Bloomberg Business article that clearly shows how out of whack things are getting here. People from the Silicon Valley have been coming here for years because  they liked Austin. That’s the Austin that had a thriving live music scene, a funky “keep it weird” vibe and lots of other things that the locals created. For many of us, it’s been fun meeting the new people at various festivals and other events.

But, what happens when the very factors that drove people out of California start happening right here? Well, we don’t have to wait long to find out. I will provide a link to the “San Francisco Is Worried” story. But first, here are a few things they need to think about before and after they get here. Maybe one of their high tech think tanks could discuss these, and then sit down with the folks on our City Council. Here’s what they need to know…

To The Good People Of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley:

Our transportation system will get much worse before it gets better!

Last year, Austin voters were promised a dazzling crosstown rail system, with a downtown tunnel, and two lines crossing Lady Bird Lake. One of those will extend to the airport. The grand plan, which was easily approved by voters, is riddled with problems. For starters, the “initial investment” of $7.1 billion won’t go very far. In 2016, Seattle approved a $54 billion expansion of their existing rail system, and it is already over budget. Our new system, even if it could be built on a wing and a prayer, will leave several of Austin’s busiest roadways with only one car lane in each direction.

I requested detailed feasibility and engineering studies, prior to the bond election. Why were they not provided to me? Because they don’t exist. Studies were set to begin many months after voters bought the plan and started paying taxes for it. The plans call for two crossings over the lake, but doesn’t specify where, how, or even whether enough land is available or could be acquired near either crossing. Nobody has been able to figure that one out yet.

The downtown tunnel is a dead-on-arrival pipe dream. A fault runs under part of downtown, causing occasional leaks into basements in buildings. There are numerous utility fixtures under the downtown streets. The rock in the ground is so hard that utility contractors have a difficult time even drilling a small space for a maintenance vehicle to squeeze through. Project Connect’s fairy tale image of people sipping cocktails across from an underground rail station, while grooving to a live band are positively hilarious!

Wait Till Austinites See Their Property Tax Bills Later This Year!

The $7.1 billion “initial investment” by taxpayers is only a drop in the bucket for the expected final cost. Any modern citywide rail and expanded bus system would easily cost 3 to 4 times that much in local funding. This year’s 8.75 cent property tax for the sure-to-fail-rail is almost as high as the 11 cent annual tax for our entire Central Health System. And it’s even closer to our 10.6 cent tax for Austin Community College. In my next blog piece, I will introduce you to the boondoggle bureaucracy that will “enhance, engage and facilitate” the implementation of the big fairy tale plan.

Perhaps I’ve Said Enough for One Tough Swallow!

I wouldn’t want to spoil anyone’s lovely welcome from San Francisco, before they even get their moving boxes off the truck. So, I won’t bemoan the fact that I-35 will be torn apart for 10 or 15 years with new construction, at the very same time that rail construction rips up the streets across the city. And I’ll say no more about the hapless diggers who will try to bore their way under our downtown streets. Oh, and I almost forgot to say this to our kind and gentle friends from San Francisco…Welcome to Austin!

And Now For That Entertaining Story…Click the Headline:

Silicon Valley Is Flooding Into a Reluctant Austin

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

1. “San Francisco “ – Scott McKenzi
2. “San Franciscan Nights” – Eric Burdon & The Animals
3. “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” – Tony Bennett
4. “Fairytale” – The Pointer Sisters

KXAN Forecasts Historic Wave Of Property Tax Protests

By Bill Oakey – April 16, 2021

Just as Austinites began enjoying the marvelous joys of spring weather, amid hopeful signs of finally escaping the pandemic, a thunderous roar could be heard reverberating across the city. On Thursday afternoon, the initial sounds were much quieter – little mouse clicks and computer keystrokes. And the nearly silent taps and swipes across phones and tablets. Then came the sweeping surge of audible gasps, quickly followed by various combinations of howls, shrieks and screams. Many people exclaimed out loud, “How could this even be possible!!??” The Travis Central Appraisal District’s website went live with this year’s stunning property tax appraisals.

On the evening local news, KXAN became the first to report on the story. Click here for the video, or read about it below:

Tax Experts Anticipate More Home Appraisal Protests Than Ever

By Kevin Clark, April 15, 2021

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the local housing market changes dramatically, hundreds of thousands in Travis County are getting their home appraisals from the Travis Central Appraisal District for this year. The numbers are important because they’re used to calculate property taxes. But tax experts tell KXAN they expect more homeowners than ever to fight back.Last year, TCAD says there were 127,000 protests. This year, even more are expected.

“We’ve already had folks calling us and asking us to help them, anticipating that ‘hard hit’ in those values,” said Debra Bawcom, CEO of Texas ProTax, which helps represent homeowners who want to protest the values set by the appraisal district. (Link provided by this blog).

As it does around this time every year, TCAD has begun sending out appraisal notices. But as housing demand continues to skyrocket, the appraisal district is reporting higher median home values. In 2020, Travis County’s median home value was $354,622. This year, TCAD says it has reached $413,403. The only year this number didn’t go up from the previous year was last year — that’s when the appraisal district froze appraisals because of a data dispute.

“I think it’s going to really shock the property owner how much that value is going to increase because the appraisal district is going to have to play catch up now for two years,” Bawcom said.

Bill Oakey is just one homeowner feeling the effect. He owns one-third of a triplex in West Austin. According to the appraisal notice Oakey received, its value went up 55% from last year.“The first thing that occurred to me was that the alarm was going to go off, I’m going to wake up and tell everyone about the bad dream I just had,” he told us.

Property owners have until May 17 to protest their appraisals. From there, homeowners can try and reach a settlement with TCAD informally or have a formal hearing in front of the Appraisal Review Board. More details on the process and timelines can be found here. Texas law caps increases of tax-assessed value to 10% per year for those with homestead exemptions. Anything above that is ripe for a protest, which is exactly what Oakey plans.

“I’m going to try to become an example of how you can win,” he said.

Run, Run, Run From The “Strong Mayor” Deception!

By Bill Oakey – April 9, 2021

Let’s keep this simple. What is a “strong mayor?” It is a local oligarch who has so much power, that he or she could veto almost anything that the rest of your elected City Council tries to do. Like so many things in politics and life, it comes down to simple numbers. Right now, we have 11 equal Council members, including the Mayor. It takes 6 votes to pass an ordinance. If you support protecting neighborhoods and other progressive issues, you can fight for or against any proposed ordinance and win, by convincing 6 Council members.

But Under a Strong Mayor, You Would Need 7 Votes to Override the Mayor’s Veto

Please understand that it takes two-thirds of the Council members to override a strong mayor’s veto. We are taking about two-thirds of 10, because the Strong Mayor does not participate in the override votes. Two-thirds of 10 rounds off to 7. So, now your neighborhood association or progressive organization suddenly faces a much steeper hill. You would need to secure 7 votes instead of 6 for every critical issue. And get this…The Strong Mayor doesn’t even have to attend the City Council meetings! He or she could fire any City department heads, and hire a band of personal cronies. Don’t bring The Swamp to Austin!

Don’t Be Fooled By the Smooth Talk and Hype – A Strong Mayor System Would Benefit the Special Interests, Not You!

It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out who must be backing this so-called “progressive reform.” The Big Money special interests would like to install your next mayor. So, vote No. And while you are at it, vote against their entire package of propositions. We don’t need to change any of our current election standards. What we do need is better transparency, tougher ethics policies and more accountability for some of the missteps under our Council-Manager system. Those are reforms worth fighting for.

Prop F Gets an F From Austin’s Real Progressives! Vote Early, Starting Monday April 19th – Click Here for Polling Locations

This will be a low turnout election. Please share this blog link with as many people as possible.

Yes, there Is a “strong mayor” song, and the messenger is literally Strong:

1. “Money (That’s What I Want)” – By Barrett Strong. He was the first artist signed to a Motown label, and this was a #2 R&B hit in 1960.
2. “Money (That’s What I Want)” – By the Beatles, from their second album

If You Thought It Couldn’t Get Any Crazier, Think Again!

By Bill Oakey – March 28, 2021

The U.S. Congress took up their investigation of the Texas power blackout last week. And the bumbling, bungling shenanigans of Texas officialdom went on full display. When you read the editorial below, ask yourself this question – If you owned a large Texas business, would you hire any of the numbskulls from ERCOT, or the political hacks that interact with or pretend to oversee them? The gang that couldn’t shoot straight was called upon the carpet in Washington. Here’s what happened…

Editorial – The Houston Chronicle

By the Editorial Board, March 28, 2021

Texas leaders, get tough on grid security

Human mistakes shut off the electricity. Now the humans in charge must do their jobs.

It wasn’t the wind turbines. It wasn’t natural gas. It wasn’t coal that was to blame in the blackout that killed 111 people across Texas.

The truth is all those power sources went offline at some point during last month’s winter storm, not because they were “renewable” or “base load” or “liberal” or “conservative” fuels but because generators and pipeline owners chose not to weatherize their equipment for a predictable winter storm. Some gas operators chose not to fill out a simple two-page form to exempt their operations from losing power during rolling blackouts and other shortages.

They chose not to do these things because nobody in Texas government required them to.

Let’s stop wasting time, as U.S. House members did in a hearing last week, bickering over which political party’s preferred natural resource saved the day and which caused death and destruction.

The culprit was not vegetable or mineral. It was human.

It was the people in Texas government who had the duty to secure Texas’ power grid and refused. The people who had the power to protect millions of Texans from an accident waiting to happen and opted to just let it happen. The people who chose not to require that companies delivering life-sustaining energy do so responsibly, opting instead to make basic emergency planning optional.

It is elected officials, political appointees, and well-compensated executives who, more than a month after the catastrophic failure of Texas’ power grid, refuse to take true responsibility or move with urgency to fix the problems.

The shameful show of finger-pointing and shallow concern hit the national stage Wednesday as several Texas officials testified before Congress on the impact and causes of February’s storm.

One moment served as a glaring allegory of Texas deflection: Railroad Commission Chairman Christi Craddick was asked whether she, as the state’s top oil and gas regulator, would start requiring operators to fill out a short form that keeps their power from being shut off during outages.

The question by U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey should have been a no-brainer. Craddick herself had testified that in the middle of the blackouts, crews returning to gas fields found they couldn’t restart production because they’d lost power for their equipment.

“Frozen roadways prevented crews from going out, but the No. 1 problem was a lack of power at the production sites,” she said.

That problem, as Houston Chronicle reporters Jay Root, Eric Dexheimer and Jeremy Blackman reported this month, was the result of gas production plant owners not filling out simple paperwork to become designated as “critical facilities,” making them exempt as hospitals are from having their power cut so they can keep supplying fuel to power plants.

Even so, Craddick wouldn’t commit to requiring the form, only saying that her agency had sent letters to all operators “suggesting” that they file it. She also insisted that she hadn’t “realized this form existed” before the winter storm and that power grid operator ERCOT should have done a better job getting the word out about the exemptions. Never mind that her name was on the letterhead of a 2013 Railroad Commission memo explaining the exemptions and urging natural gas facilities to apply.

“But do you don’t think it should be required?” Veasey pushed back.

Craddick continued to dodge the question, pivoting again to her favorite punching bag. She blamed ERCOT for not prioritizing oil fields for such exemptions, and tried to claim they only were available to processing plants anyway. While the 2013 letter uses the term “facilities,” it also states clearly that “high volume gas wells are examples of such facilities.”

Letting industry police itself is a basic tenant in Texas’ laissez-faire approach to oversight. But while expense may be behind Craddick’s previous refusal to require winterization of natural gas wellheads, it’s unclear what kind of burden she thinks filling out a free form that takes about two minutes to complete would impose on companies.

Veasey wasn’t having Craddick’s excuses.

“Republicans just want this problem to go away,” he said. “They don’t want to deal with this, they don’t want to require anybody to do anything, which means we’re going to be sitting in the cold again and that is the problem. They are running out the clock.”

Coming from a Democrat, that may sound like partisan rhetoric — except for the fact that the complacency and political cowardice he describes has all happened before. It set the stage for February’s disaster. And it will lead to another tragedy unless lawmakers resolve to finally act this session.

Just as Gov. Greg Abbott and lawmakers knew Texas’ grid was vulnerable in winter without proper weatherization, Texas oil and gas regulators knew that gas suppliers had their power cut during the state’s last major freeze in 2011. A federal after-incident report had warned that communication gaps between gas and electric companies should be fixed to prevent it from happening again.

A state report in 2012 said the same thing, with regulators at the Texas Public Utility Commission and Railroad Commission concluding that “cascading” grid failures could happen if companies that provide fuel for power generation lost power themselves. That’s exactly what happened in February.

The former PUC regulator who oversaw that 2012 report, Jennifer Hubbs, told Chronicle reporters she was shocked to realize during the storm that her simple recommendations hadn’t been followed.

“I’m on Twitter and I see a photo of downtown Houston lit up like a freakin’ Christmas tree and all the houses around it dark. It hit me like a physical blow,” she told the Chronicle. “You know, we might have avoided rotating outages entirely if we had just approached it with some sense.”

Sense. It’s something as scarce in Austin these days as toilet-flushing water during last month’s storm.

It is not government overreach or far-left sabotage to require energy companies to engage in basic emergency planning. It’s the least a government can do to protect its residents from a harsh winter storm or even an attack on our power grid from a foreign adversary such as Russia or China.

Abbott needs to lean on lawmakers to require safeguards, lawmakers need to pass them, and elected leaders such as Craddick need to stop leaving Texans’ health and safety to chance and voluntary compliance.

Why should Texans put up with leaders whose loose regulations leave us vulnerable to everything from random chemical explosions to prolonged blackouts that put our homes, our businesses and our loved ones in harm’s way?

Leaders, do your jobs, not industry’s bidding. Texans don’t deserve to live this way — or die this way, either.

———————————————————————————–
My Recommendation: The Legislature should make sure that the form is easily accessible. Right now, once an entity submits it, they are permanently registered. If their status changes, or if they are new to the system, they need to submit an updated form. I recommend that the Legislature set an annual fall deadline to submit the form. Failure to do so should be greeted with a stiff fine. Here’s what’s so crazy – It’s in a company’s best interest to submit the form. They’ll sell more gas during the power outage (!) If the right hand is unable to help the left hand, perhaps either Alexa or Siri could help with a friendly reminder..

Get Your Wooden Nickels Ready – Here Comes the Jukebox!

1. “All Right, I’ll Sign the Papers” – Mel Tillis
2. “I’ve Always Been Crazy” – Waylon Jennings
3. “Still Crazy After All These Years” – Paul Simon
4. “No Place But Texas” – Willie Nelson
5. “Texas In My Rear View Mirror” – Mac Davis

Dallas Morning News Blows The Lid Off ERCOT’s Sordid History!

By Bill Oakey – March 26, 2021

Strap yourselves in for a wild ride, folks! If you think you’re heard everything…Nope, not even close. No wonder this guy won a top journalism award. What in the ding-dong-dang are the politicians going to do now!??

Dallas Morning News Watchdog Column – By Dave Lieber, March 26, 2021

In 20 years, ERCOT has been a misbehaving, secretive, arrogant, even criminal grid operator

Looking at the history of the state’s all-powerful electricity overseer, The Watchdog finds a pattern of failure.

ERCOT, the operator of the Texas electric grid, has been a problem child since the state’s electricity market was deregulated at the turn of the century.

When it comes to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, incompetence and lack of accountability and oversight is nothing new.

If you know your history, you shouldn’t be surprised about what happened in last month’s cold-weather catastrophe.

The power to bring us electricity rests in the hands of a nonprofit, mostly invisible group whose leaders claimed we were a mere 4 minutes and 37 seconds from a massive blackout that could have shut the grid down for months.

Texans wonder why it would take months. It takes that long for replacement transmission towers to be built shipped, placed and powered up.

With the help of The Dallas Morning News Archives and a history book by R.A. “Jake” Dyer of the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, let me show you year by year how bad it has been.

It might make you wonder why we don’t throw up the white flag and join the interconnected national grid.

2001: Tasked with creating a pilot program to handle the new deregulated system that began that year, ERCOT blows it by going over-budget and failing to meet goals. Customers who wish to switch electricity companies are blocked. Bills generated by ERCOT are wildly inaccurate. Its budget, built on fees paid by electricity customers, is hatched in secret.

That year, the first price spike to the maximum-allowed cap hits customers, but ERCOT says it won’t happen again. Yet it happens again and again in the next few days.

2002: About a quarter-million customers do not receive bills, sometimes for months. An expensive marketing campaign promoting the new deregulated system is delayed because ERCOT can’t handle the influx of consumers wanting to switch companies.

A peek at financial statements shows ERCOT’s average salary with benefits is $99,000. Employees receive a $10,000 travel allowance. Critics pounce on ERCOT’s sponsorship of a minor league hockey team as frivolous. After promising to cut back, ERCOT asks that its customer-paid fees get doubled.

2004: This is — aside from 2021 — ERCOT’s worst year. The Dallas Morning News reveals a massive procurement scandal at ERCOT that will lead to criminal convictions. Fake companies are created by several ERCOT managers, and millions of dollars are siphoned from ERCOT funds. Legislators blast ERCOT’s weak financial controls and complain about “perceived arrogance among top officials in the face of these problems,” Dyer writes.

2005: A grand jury indicts six ERCOT managers. They include the chief information officer, director of information technology, data warehouse manager, director of program development and physical security manager. The sixth, a former FBI agent, is responsible for corporate security. The men use the stolen money to buy boats, luxury homes and expensive cars.

“The maze of illicit business dealings going on within ERCOT over a year’s time is simply stunning,” the Texas attorney general says. “This is not about electricity. It’s about corruption at top levels of ERCOT.”

The AG at the time? Greg Abbott.

In response to the growing scandal, the Legislature gives all oversight of ERCOT to the Public Utility Commission.

2006: Running out of power on an April day, ERCOT launches, without public warning, rolling blackouts. Even the PUC, which supposedly oversees ERCOT, isn’t notified. Under fire, ERCOT’s chief executive resigns. On the criminal front, the indicted managers are convicted and some are ordered to pay fines, while others are sent to prison.

One state senator says: “There’s an ongoing, cavalier attitude over there [at ERCOT] that you are a standalone entity and not responsible to the people of the state.”

2009: Bills to rein in ERCOT are introduced at the Legislature, but they do not pass. ERCOT’s CEO resigns, the fourth such resignation since 2000.

2010: A consultant’s report finds ERCOT is hindered by “poor corporate governance, leadership and culture.” The consultant finds that ERCOT has too many employees and recommends that 166 get cut. ERCOT cuts 37. A state report finds poor financial oversight, questions ERCOT’s large debt (more than $300 million) and suggests removing industry representatives from the board.

2011: An icy cold snap hits during Super Bowl week, but ERCOT isn’t prepared, resulting in rolling blackouts. Similar cold weather problems occurred in 1983, 1989, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2010. Meanwhile, during the summer, the state keeps setting records for hot-weather usage. A bill that gives the PUC even more oversight of ERCOT dies in the Legislature.

2015: New electricity demands break records. ERCOT lifts the regulatory cap to its current $9,000 per megawatt-hour. Originally, until 2011, the cap was $1,000 per megawatt-hour. ERCOT’s cap is the highest in the nation.

2018: ERCOT planners predict that generators will note the state has lower reserve margins of power and build new power plants to make profits and boost energy supplies. Because of this, they say, Texas will have a much stronger system by 2021. Oh, well.

2019: The $9,000 cap for wholesale electricity is hit twice, once in May and once in August. “Such high prices eventually trickle down into home rates,” Dyer writes.

Texas’ population of 29 million people is projected to grow by 2050 to 55 million. Can the current system handle the added power load? Why isn’t anyone talking seriously about joining the national grid?

The Watchdog took the “P” away from the (p)UC because the commission doesn’t care about the public. Watchdog Nation member David P. Bader of Dallas suggests, “Going forward, until some meaningful reforms are made, you should refer to ERCOT as E(r)COT since “reliability” doesn’t appear to be part of their purview.”

Done. Considering its sketchy past and dangerous present times, you have to wonder if E(r)COT can handle the future.

News researcher Alyssa Fernandez contributed to this report.

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Blog Special Feature – Songs From the ERCOT Jukebox

1. “Ain’t No Honky Tonks in Jail” – George Goss (Totally Hilarious)!
2. “Shame and Scandal” – Shawn Elliott
3. “Shame, Shame, Shame” – Cher & Tina Turner
4. “In the Jailhouse Now” – Johnny Cash
5. “Mama Tried” – Merle Haggard