Weekend brunch for 3 November 2019

News and views from around the web

Image credit: Pixabay

[WB1] Early voting concluded on Friday, with turnout badly trailing that of 2015 despite a significant increase in the number of early voting locations and in overall registered voters.

For those who are voting on election day (Tuesday), the League of Women Voters has a handy online system that can be used for research and to personalize a guide for voting.

[WB2] Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman engaged in pre-emptive blame-shifting on Friday afternoon, criticizing the Texas Secretary of State for a rule that she claims will slow the release of election results. Recall that Trautman’s predecessor, Stan Stanart, was regularly criticized for the speed of election reporting. Will the new lady get the same treatment?

[WB3] The noncompetitive, $95,000/year Houston Airport System internship that was created for a Sylvester Turner friend also came with a nice set of travel expenses – some $35,000 worth for 35 days of travel, including luxury accommodations and business class airfare.

It’s good to be part of the ruling class – or a friend of the mayor – in Houston, Texas.

[WB4] Mayoral candidate Dwight Boykins criticized HPOU’s noxious head Joe Gamaldi for a tweet Boykins claimed was racist. Gamaldi denied that the tweet was racist, yet for some reason deleted it.

[WB5] Both the city and federal governments continue to try to get their act together on a plan to remove the massive sandbar that Hurricane Harvey created at the mouth of the San Jacinto river. In two years and three months, not a whole lot has happened on this “priority” flood control project.

[WB6] As expected, the Texas Education Agency has recommended the state replace HISD’s school board. In other news, the district approved a settlement of $7.8 million for its violation of an Austin company’s copyrights on study guides.

[WB7] The Financial Times notes the impact of falling interest rates on US pensions (private and public). Low interest rates are particularly troublesome for public sector pensions, which have chronically overestimated rates of return:

Public pension plans use an assumed return based on their historic performance to calculate their future liabilities, instead of the discount rate used by corporate defined benefit plans.

Public pension plans have gradually reduced their assumed return from 8 per cent in 2001 to 7.2 per cent but they have consistently underperformed this objective, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

The average annualised return for US public pension plans since 2001 was just 5.9 per cent. The top quartile of performers delivered 6.7 per cent over that period while the bottom quartile underperformed with an average annualised return of just 5.1 per cent.

“As the period of underperformance nears 20 years, pressure has increased for public pension plans to use assumed returns that are better aligned with the reduced expectations for future market performance,” says Jean-Pierre Aubry, assistant director of state and local research at the CRR.

The Turner/Patrick/Huffman/McGee City of Houston “pension reform” did lower the assumed rate of return slightly, but it’s still much too high, which is very likely to produce future headaches.

[WB8] The Chronicle reports that a state district judge has ruled that the city has complied with its obligations under the 2004 revenue limitation ballot measures. The newspaper leaves unclear whether those who brought the initial lawsuit would appeal. This lawsuit has been percolating for 14 years.

[WB9] The Chronicle’s Austin-based business columnist argues that solar power poses a huge threat to the future of natural gas. As usual, the columnist and newspaper neglect to mention that his wife is a renewable energy executive/evangelist.

[WB10] Former Chronicle sports writer Steve Campbell posted an excellent thread to twitter on AJ Hinch’s uncharacteristically horrible job managing Game 7 of the World Series. Despite the loss, it was still a great season for the Astros, with the promise of more great things ahead.

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About Kevin Whited 4306 Articles
Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX