Tag Archives: Texas

SolarCity and its Impact

3 Oct

A lot has been written in the past week or so about the SolarCity project in South Buffalo. A lot of it has to do with OMG THAT’S LIKE $300k PER JOB. It’s being sold as an excessive investment for dubious return.

Here’s something to consider: the state of New York is not paying a subsidy to SolarCity. Under its contract, SolarCity will create approximately 3,600 brand-new high-paying jobs in Buffalo alone.  In order to do that, the state is buying the equipment that SolarCity will use to manufacture its products, and building the factory facility. The state will own it all.

While it’s well within the populist fashion of the times to decry public-private partnerships such as these – especially given examples where the private beneficiaries fail to uphold their end of the job-creation bargain with impunity – the simple fact is that municipalities compete with each other for this type of project, and Buffalo needs to be able to compete. 

It’s not just about 3,600 jobs. It’s about the economic activity that each one of those well-paying jobs generates

Let’s backtrack for a second and talk about supply-side/trickle-down theory versus demand-side/trickle-up; I believe in the latter and not the former. 30+ years ago the country started a grand experiment, simply put that lowering the tax burden on the very wealthy would result in them amassing more wealth, and that this would “trickle down” to the economy-at-large and create great wealth for everyone. It was what George H.W. Bush in 1980 called “Voodoo Economics”. Yet the country has stuck with this notion that easing the tax and regulatory burden on the rich would bring about great things for the middle and working classes. It simply didn’t happen. In fact, the working poor stayed that way, and the middle classes have borne the brunt of this experiment in terms of less pay for more work. 

Think of it this way – we heard a great deal in the last few Presidential elections about the vaunted “job creators” – these magical John Galts who have amassed great success and wealth and who demand less regulation and more tax relief (and none of this “Obamacare” nonsense) in order to … well, it gets a bit fuzzy at this point. 

It gets fuzzy because lax regulations have simply led to poor oversight and environmental catastrophes like the chemical spill in West Virginia last year. Arguably, the public cost in money and suffering that resulted from that disaster far exceeded the cost properly to inspect and enforce health and safety regulations in the first place. 

But with respect to the ultra-wealthy “job creators” in this country – let’s say I have a fortune of $150 million. With that sort of money, my opportunity to participate in the economy is limitless. Many of the people with this sort of money pay a fraction of a percent of their income to the authorities as compared to the nut you and I pay, because the tax code is designed by these people to help these people. Let’s say, instead, that I actually earn a paycheck rather than amass a fortune through inheritance or investment, and that I make $4 million per year. Technically, I’m supposed to pay 35% or so of that money to the IRS, but through creative accounting and other loopholes, we can whittle that down substantially. But even if, hypothetically, I paid the full 35% nut to the feds, I’m still bringing home $2.6 million. What does that mean, in terms of the trickle-down theory? That I won’t get a Maybach and instead opt for an S600? That I’ll have to cut back on my NetJets account? Seriously, what is it about $2.6 million versus, say $3.4 million that will adversely affect my ability to spend? Whether you earn $2.6 or $3.4 million, you’re making all the money in the world and you can buy anything you need, and everything you want. 

By contrast, if you put an extra few thousand dollars in the pocket of someone who’s working class or middle class, you just added a new appliance, or a better car, or a nicer vacation. By giving tax relief to the middle class, you can suddenly give average people more freedom to participate in the economy, and they’ll spend it – everyone benefits.  We could simplify the tax code tomorrow and the economy would skyrocket. OK, everyone earning over $500,000 pays 35% straight up, regardless of income source – paycheck or capital gains. Anyone making $200 – 500k pays 25% straight-up. Anyone making $100k – 200k pays 17%. 50k – 100k, you pay 10%, and if you earn less than 50k you pay zero.  Add a VAT and you’ve just funded universal health care. 

But I digress. 

The state’s investment of $350 million from the Buffalo Billion and $400 million in conditional loans (payable if SolarCity does not meet milestones and goals as set forth in the agreement), will result in a massive trickle-up boost to the local economy.  You will have 3,600 households suddenly better able to afford to participate in the local economy, buying goods and services throughout the region. And let’s not forget that SolarCity has contracted to invest $5 billion in this project over the first 10 years, we’re not looking at some sort of idiotic handout. 

Although 3,600 jobs will be here in WNY, there will be 5,000 SolarCity jobs created throughout upstate New York.

Now, witness what some are now trying to peddle. Namely, local embarrassment Carl Paladino. Here’s an excerpt from an anti-Cuomo, pro-Astorino email he sent Thursday: 

Aside from the misspellings and factual inaccuracies (read: lies), Paladino claims that Texas doesn’t subsidize or incentivize businesses moving to Texas. Well, not every business wants to locate in an overheated place that doesn’t spend money on infrastructure or education.  But the idea that Texas doesn’t do economic incentives is simply a lie.  It takes a few simple clicks of the Google machine to find the Texas website where its incentives and subsidies are set forth. Now, Paladino would have you think that Musk went to Texas simply because it’s an overheated, be-rednecked Galt’s Gulch, right? Wrong

In Texas, Musk said the outpouring of support from local residents and government officials — who are supporting the project with at least $15.3 million in state funding — was significant: “We want to be in a place where we’re truly wanted,” he said.

By the way, Elon Musk – the guy in charge of SolarCity – recently located his SpacePort in Texas, but located his Tesla battery plant in Nevada. Part of the reason? Nevada’s business climate is more liberal than Texas‘. Also, Nevada and Texas competed against each other to land the Gigafactory, and Nevada’s package of $1.25 billion in tax breaks and incentives beat whatever Texas’ proposal was

The deal with SolarCity is different. The state (via SUNY) will own the factory and equipment, and SolarCity will be allowed to use it – for free – for 10 years. This will create 3,500 local high-tech jobs; 21st century jobs. Again – SolarCity will be investing $5 billion of its own money. If they don’t live up to their promises, SolarCity will be up to $412 million in debt to the state.  SolarCity maintains a big chunk of the risk, and isn’t getting a direct cash subsidy. 

Over 3,500 new, high-paying local jobs and all the economic activity that each one of those jobs generates is huge for this region. This is a big risk and a big expense, but you don’t undo 50 years of decline through recklessness or fear. 

Cognitive Weppner Dissonance

1 Oct

The big news Tuesday afternoon was that the first case of Ebola was diagnosed Stateside, down in Texas. By the late afternoon, we knew that the afflicted man had flown from Liberia (a former American colony) to Texas to visit relatives. 

Around 4:45 pm, walking, talking insult to your intelligence Kathy Weppner tweeted and posted this to the Bookface

I enjoy the anti-vaxxer weighing in with his idiot opinion, but I actually can’t fault Weppner here. We should deal with it medically and not politicize a disease, and we should be ensuring that the disease is not spread. The CDC worked last night to remind people that you can only catch Ebola by coming into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who has the disease. 

Yet just 30 minutes later – at 5:16 pm – Weppner asked this question on social media: 

Wait a cotton-pickin’ minute. I thought we were supposed to deal with this medically, not politically! But here we are, worrying not about containing the spread of this virus, but how much it’s going to cost and whether the person is here “illegally”.  

I’m guessing the fact that the person had traveled to a place other than Ireland, they must be – according to Klownshoes Kathy – likely illegals. Of course, when someone flies to the United States from Liberia, they need to apply for a visa, their passport is checked prior to departure and their identity transmitted to the US authorities to ensure that they’re not on any list. Upon arrival, the traveler must go through passport control at the port of entry, as well as a customs check. Just like any of the other millions of travelers who come to the U.S. annually from non-visa-waiver countries. 

But, you know, all brown people are probably illegals.

Weppner also inadvertently makes the case for Obamacare or some other universal coverage construct – who’s going to pay?! Who knows? Who the hell cares? Who paid for the American volunteers in Africa who caught Ebola and were flown on private jets back to the States to get treatment? I don’t give a crap, and neither should you.  I’m just glad they’re ok. Likewise, I hope our Liberian visitor gets the medical care he needs so that he can enjoy his family and go home healthy and safe. One Ebola Liberian isn’t going to bankrupt the Republic. 

If the person was Texan and didn’t have insurance, that means they’re either in violation of the Affordable Care Act’s coverage mandate, and possibly that they fell into the gap left by indictee-cum-Texas Governor Rick Perry’s refusal to expand Medicaid in the U.S. State with the lowest rate of people with health insurance. Texas refused federal money to ensure that people who make too much for Medicaid, but too much for Obamacare subsidies to render private insurance affordable for their incomes. It was a deliberate, political choice to do harm to the most vulnerable people in Texas society. Perry is the person who was feted last night by local thug Carl Paladino and the tone-deaf Erie County Republicans and fusion Conservatives. 

So, yes, Kathy – we should treat the Ebola patient with medical care, and not politicize it at all. 

It’s high time you asked Thug Paladino and the local Republicans and fusion Conservatives why they’re backing this abhorrent, repulsive candidate. 

Texas Legislator Violates 1st Amendment

10 Jul

I’m not as concerned about the potential for governmental abuse of information as I am with actual government abuse of power. There are actual liberties being chiseled away by elected representative bodies, and when average citizens decide to speak up against it, they are physically removed from the legislative chamber.

While amateur constitutional scholars and Infowars cretins conflate “rights” with “being a dick to a cop and seeing what happens”, this woman is a victim of governmental restraint of political speech. Good for Sarah Slamen, aka @VictorianPrude, and shame on @SenJaneNelson.

Interviewed later by a Daily Kos user, Slamen wrote that she was never given a reason why she was expelled before her allotted speaking time had elapsed: 

There was no explanation. Senator Jane Nelson tried to say I was being disrespectful but how would she know? I barely got to give the complete performance review of every member on the committee. Pointing out that Sen. Donna Campbell is an ophthalmologist is not disrespectful when she asserts in a state hearing that she should be THE expert on reproductive health. What was disrespectful was the parade of anti-choice zealots and misogynists who got up for 13 hours and called women murderers, killers, promiscuous, thoughtless, and selfish. Not a peep from committee chair Nelson on those.

Texas. Freedom and Liberty, but only if you’re a right-wing zealot. 

A Revolution, Televised

26 Jun

Yesterday, Texas’ state senate was poised to pass anti-abortion legislation so restrictive that it would leave the state with only five remaining clinics. It would have banned all abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, would have required that the procedures be done in surgical clinics, and the doctors performing the procedures would have to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. It would have closed 37 of Texas’ 42 clinics

One Democratic female senator – Wendy Davis – stood on the floor of the Texas Senate for over 13 consecutive hours to filibuster this bill. The rules are more stringent than in the US Senate – she could not so much as lean on a desk, and the topic of her marathon talk had to be related to the bill at hand. 

Among the things she read from the podium were stories she solicited from Texas women, telling the story of their own abortions. The debate over this bill included one female sponsor of the filibustered anti-abortion legislation to declare that exemptions weren’t needed for victims of rape or incest because rape kits can prevent unwanted pregnancy. Republican state representative Jodie Laubenberg said that in “the emergency rooms they have what’s called rape kits, that the woman can get cleaned out, basically like a D and C” — dilation and curettage surgery, often performed after miscarriages. Ms. Laubenberg is wrong – rape kits do not ‘clean women out’

There was drama as midnight approached and the Lieutenant Governor tried to shut down the filibuster, but the Democrats began to filibuster that. In the end, the bill failed thanks in great part to the efforts of one brave woman

The abortion “debate” isn’t one anymore. Most Texans didn’t support the added restrictions on abortion that failed yesterday. A 75/25 majority of Americans agree that abortions should be legal in some circumstances. Nobody has to like abortion, but that doesn’t mean you get to restrict a woman’s right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy in the 1st trimester. 

And here I thought Texas Republicans hated regulations on business. 

The war on women and reproductive rights is in full swing throughout the country – not just in the South. The American right wing works diligently to roll back liberties won over the last century – health care, equality, reproductive rights, civil rights, human rights – all of them are under siege in a country whose highest court declares that racism is over and a key portion of the Civil Rights Act is, therefore, applied unconstitutionally and invalid until Congress changes it. Next up, they’ll look to roll back Social Security. The America they envision is one that is of the rich elite, by the rich elite, and for the rich elite. An America that protects the Paris Hiltons and Kardashians of the world at your expense and the expense of your family from cradle to grave.

That revolution wasn’t televised. It just wasn’t the revolution Mr. Scott-Heron envisioned.  Now America needs to recapture what it’s lost. 

Valenti’s: Where are they Now (Slight Return)

25 Jan

Remember yesterday, when I indicated that I didn’t know where they were? Well, I did know, but wasn’t at liberty to reveal their location  because of pending legal matters.

Well, they’re in the Dallas area and had been leasing kitchen space in a nursing facility. There was supposed to be a meeting yesterday to let the residents complain about the food coming out of that kitchen. In the meantime, as seen above, Valenti was arrested on the newly re-filed Midland County forgery charge and is being held in a Dallas County Jail on $10,000 bond. Now you know. Karma and whatnot. 

Joe Barton Apologizes to BP for Holding It Accountable (UPDATED: Givesies-backsies)

17 Jun


Representative Joe Barton, Republican from Texas said these things today to BP’s chairman. You may recall that a deepwater oil rig leased by BP exploded, killed several people, and has been gushing millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico since late April 2010. It’s now June 2010, and there is no solution to the gushing oil or its catastrophic environmental effects.

The least that BP can do is set up a multi-billion dollar escrow fund to help make whole people and businesses adversely affected by its failure. For this Barton to suggest that this is a “shakedown” is outrageous. This is bare minimum accountability. BP broke it, BP bought it. “It” being the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline.

Barton (and other GOPers like the always-amusing Michele Bachmann) have become literal apologists for BP.

It came out earlier today that Barton said this in 2004 about deepwater drilling:

Offshore drilling and production platforms are so technologically advanced that one platform on the surface of the water can handle production from several different wells several miles apart, house a myriad of technologically advanced computer systems, employ scores of personnel, generate electricity, enable people to face and conquer the adversities of living in the middle of the ocean, and do so 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; all without so much as losing a gum wrapper over the side of the platform. It is truly amazing,

Since 1989, Barton’s top campaign contributor has been a partner of BP’s in the Deepwater Horizon drilling area. He has already called for the deepwater drilling moratorium to be lifted. Perhaps realizing that his sudden nationwide fame is a net negative for him, he’s issued a decidedly Paladinoesque non-apology apology.

UPDATE: Literally within minutes of posting this, Barton issued a revised apology, expressing that he’s sorry for using the word “shakedown”, reiterating that BP should bear full responsibility for the spill, and retracting his apology to BP. While un-ringing that bell, his priorities and judgment remain called into question.

The Paradox of Austin

7 Apr

I made the mistake of flying into Austin, Texas the day before the South By South West (SXSW, or just South By, for those in the know) festival kicked off. On a normal day, the plane into Austin has two or three guitars stashed in an overhead bin. This day, every available nook and cranny was filled with instruments. The airport breezeway, baggage claim, and rental car pick up were similarly stuffed, with limp haired musicians and their tools of the trade. As I made my way north on I-35, ever so slowly in the regular bumper-to-bumper traffic, I was quietly thankful that I was leaving the self-imposed and never ending congestion of the “best” (read: progressive, fastest growing, most tolerant, Floridian if you will) city in Texas.

In Buffalo’s quest to regain its greatness, I have come to the conclusion that reputation and brand are more important than reality. Young, beautiful, well-educated people with disposable income follow reputation more than cold, statistical, monetary reality, despite the pleas of libertarians to the contrary. This does not mean such individuals do not make sound economic decisions; rather, I point to the nuance of this choice, that life is about more than taxes, and everyone decides for themselves what they are seeking from a hometown. Some (like corporations with a bottom line profit motive) do want the lowest taxes. Some want good weather. Some want family and history. Some want argument and the opportunity to make their community better. And if you want to live in a hip fun town but still be in Texas, you move to Austin.

Hopefully when you move to Austin, you find what you are looking for . . . because I never fully do on my visits. Is there a better example of reputation not meeting reality? I would say Austin’s national brand is a mix of music, youthful enthusiasm, progressive urban planning and politics, good jobs, and fun, mixed in a sauce of Texas sunshine and free-wheeling libertarian low taxes.

This reputation attracts thousands of people a year, making Austin the fastest growing metro in Texas, and (as a direct result of that fact) the best place for young adults to start a business in the country. But how does that reputation match with reality on the ground? Consider a few facts and comparisons:

– Austin’s fun music orientated reputation is based upon a PBS teevee show, a two week music festival, and six blocks of bars on Sixth Street. Six blocks. Hell, our bar district around Chippewa is almost six blocks if you are willing to walk up Franklin. Thursday in the Square and Rock the Harbor are not SX, and Chippewa is not Sixth Street. But that isn’t much infrastructure on Austin’s part for a national reputation. Imagine if we had a competent CVB that marketed Buffalo as the Festival Capital of America: the two previously mentioned events, plus the second largest Taste event in country, Allentown, Elmwood Arts, Chicken Wing Fest, Powder Keg, Dyngus Day, Citybration, a variety of ethnic festivals, just to get started.  

– Austin is a motorist’s dream, and a nightmare of progressive urban planning. Is there a sidewalk in all of Texas? Even I can tell the horrors of Texas planning: major highways all require a maze of one-way frontage roads, taking 6 line highways and turning them into 12 lane behemoths. Imagine Route 5 and Fuhrmann Boulevard, and extrapolate it to the 90, 190, 290 and 33. Obviously bad planning does not impede all growth.

These highways dominate the city along its spine, north to south. In the towns of Round Rock and Georgetown, sprawltopian suburbs that stretch Austin to nearly 50 miles long, there are obviously codes that state all commercial buildings must be clad in stone, like this beauty named “Old Town Square”:

No, that is not a Mexican-American War era barracks converted into chic loft apartments. Its a new build office park full of dentist offices and realty firms. You have to see it on Google maps to get the full effect of its position on I-35:

Faux stone, but real money – Austin in a nutshell. This treatment seeks to impersonate the actual old stone buildings from the nineteen century that still linger on Main Street in small central Texas towns. Note: Austin, Round Rock, and Georgetown are not these towns. I know architectural standards are seen nationally as an important tool to building pleasing urban areas. But merely covering a Walmart on a 12 lane highway with fake rock veneer doesn’t do much for me.

Austin is trying to get better, and just opened (while I was there) its first passenger light rail on the main cargo line that runs through town. Verdict and ridership from the first weekend? More bikers used the service than expected (39 – more than expected!) and 2900, on average, used the trains each day of the first week. Buffalo’s much maligned, and much shorter system, handles 23,000 passengers a day. If Buffalo leads anywhere on light rail coverage, new or not, there is a problem.

– Let’s once and for all debunk the myth of low tax states having blooming non-governmental industry, or an economy based more on the private sector. Buffalo is often criticized for having such a large proportion of its jobs be government ones. Fair enough. But is this what’s holding us back? Shouldn’t Austin, the poster child for fast private growth, beat our pants off? Hate to break the news but Austin’s economy is based on government jobs.

Austin has 22 entities that employ 2000 people or more. Of those 22, nine are government agencies (local, state, federal and school districts), two are non-profit health care conglomerates, three are higher education (Eds & Meds), and only eight are private companies.

How does Buffalo do? Checking the last Book of Lists, we have 27 entities that employ 2000 or more. Of those 27, six are government agencies, eight are healthcare, one is higher ed, and twelve are private companies. Looks about the same. Austin’s big private employers? Dell, IBM and AT&T. Buffalo’s? HSBC, M&T Bank, supermarkets, Moog and Dresser-Rand. They focus on technology, we focus on banking and manufacturing. But the percentage of the employment based on government largesse is strikingly similar. Total government spending, as a percentage of the economy, was 36% in 2006, and has grown since. If 40% of Buffalo’s economy isn’t government, that just means we don’t have our fair share. 

– To address taxes, I have to return to the highways. Rus Thompson would have an apoplectic fit if he had to drive on Austin’s highway system, and the BRO arm-chair planning crew may have a collective heart attack to see the Skyway-sized interchanges every couple miles. The man-made edifices that dominate the skyline by far belong to the ten lane highway interchanges, that rise ten or twenty stories, in the suburbs and downtown. Driving them can be disorientating (if you look down) as it feels like you are on a roller coaster. “They dream big here,” noted a friend of mine in the car. How to pay for all these many miles of brand new concrete? Tolls:

Since free I-35 is a parking lot at all hours of day and night (the high cost of free roads), driving the toll roads becomes a necessity at some point, especially going east-west. And not cheap tolls either – $0.75 every mile or two, and more if you get lost and have to loop around a couple times like me (you can go I35 North from TX 45, but not South? WTF?). Add in the 8.25% sales tax rate, and it starts to look annoyingly familiar.

– Our very own USRT guys would be proud of me – I was exploring the toll roads because I was headed to the Cedar Park Center to see the AHL Texas Stars play the San Antonio Rampage. The quality of the sports fan is a biased factor I use in judging a city. And here is perhaps where I found Austin’s greatest paradox of all: real hockey, in a real arena, with real hockey fans, in a fake suburb in central Texas.

The arena is in Cedar Park, in the equivalent (geographically and land use wise) of Hamburg’s Erie County Fairgrounds. The Texas Stars, obviously the farm team of Dallas, is in its first year as member of the now 29 team AHL. I wore my retro Sabres shirt to the game, just so everyone knew that I knew that Brett Hull’s foot was obviously in the crease. Interspersed in the crowd of Dallas and Texas jerseys were a smattering of Fliers and Rangers fans – perhaps the transplants explain my pleasant surprise later. I was expecting bad hockey, a bad atmosphere, and bad fans, like I used to get with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL, who play at the Orleans Casino. Instead, I got a full house (announced crowd of over 6000), $2 beer and $1 hot dog night, a real scoreboard, and real fans who were loud. Sure, corner glass tickets were still available a couple days out. And yes, the guy behind me (acting as the “real” hockey fan) was explaining to his buddy how icing the puck is a great way to get rest to your players if they have been on the ice a while (if I have to explain that rule to you, never mind). But when the Stars scored in OT to win 4-3, the entire arena (your humble author included) stood straight up and screamed. You could almost forget you were in Texas.

Deep Thoughts

18 Apr

If Texas decides to secede from the United States, my only wish is that all the dumb Fox-watching motherf*ckers go with it.

And that the US then promptly barricades the border with Texas with a very high wall and a visa requirement.