Below are the questions we asked City of Houston candidates and give a letter grade based on their responses. In some instances there was no response, like Sylvester Turner, who doesn't want your vote.
- Do you support ending all diversions from the "Rain Tax" infrastructure fee and pledge to use those funds specifically for infrastructure and flood control as intended?
- Do you support adding a minimum of 1500 new police officers to the ranks of HPD?
- Will you support implementation of "Proposition B" and give firefighters their raise that voters approved?
- Have you ever filed for bankruptcy, either personally, or for a business for which you were a principal or executive?
- Do you support a requirement that contractors hire vagrants and/or the homeless for work on city contracts?
- Do you oppose homeless encampments on city or state rights of way?
- Would you support privatizing city services, such as street repair, if it were determined that private contractors could deliver those services at a lower cost while maintaining or improving the quality of those services?
- Do you believe that governent should be more aggressive in its use of eminent domain?
- Do you support a requirement that the City not raise taxes without a supermajority of at least 60% of City Council?
- Do you support ending the HFD "All Hazards Response" policy?
- Do you support adopting a defined contribution pension plan for all new municipal employees, excluding police and fire fighters?
- Do you support establishing an independent commission to identify ways for the City fo eliminate waste, fraud, abuse, incompetence and operating efficiencies?
- Would you support a waiting period that would exclude a donor to any Houston mayoral or city council candidate from receiving a city contract, as either a primary contractor or subcontractor, for a period of two years from the date of the contribution?
- Do you support the consolidation of City functions with Harris County where practical?
- Do you support ending race and gender based affirmative action programs and replacing them with a need-based system?
- Do you support the right of City Council members to add items to the City Council agenda if approved by a majority of members?
- Do you support lifting the city revenue cap which limits the growth in city revenues to the combined rates of inflation and population growth?
- Would you support the elimination or sunsetting of tax increment reinvestment zones (TIRZs) in areas that are not economically disadvantaged?
- Do you support zero-based budgeting, which would require city departments to justify their budgets on an annual basis?
- Would you support a budget amendment requiring that all revenues above projected levels be used to pay down city debt?
- Do you support compliance with federal law and cooperation with federal law enforcement including ICE?
- Do you support capping residential property tax appraisals at a maximum 5% increase per year?
Download TCR 2019 Runoff Candidate Questionnaire Results.pdf
Perspective (Medicare for All)
By Ken Veit, Guest Columnist
When I watched the Democratic debates last week, I almost became nauseous at the ignorance on display. PLEASE DON'T STOP READING! This is not a Trump commercial.
There is unanimity that everyone should have access to affordable health care. The question is how to pay for it and by whom?
What do politicians mean when they talk about "universal health care"? It means everyone gets treatment for everything, regardless of pre-existing conditions, etc. Most people think of it as "Medicare for all", regardless of age, but it goes beyond that.
First of all, it is an undisputed fact that the present Medicare system is going broke. It does not cover all beneficiaries for everything, which is why most people take out supplemental insurance to cover the gaps. It does not cover dental, vision, or hearing, except to a limited extent. When politicians speak of "universal health care", they are including all those additional benefits, as well as the super expensive and experimental benefits that Medicare does not now cover.
The politicians assure us that when they are finished everyone will pay less than they do now.
That means more benefits for less money. So good old popular Medicare will then include tens of millions of presently uninsured people (including illegals), but we are told that costs are going to go down. How much will individuals pay? Under the versions of UHC espoused by many, employer group plans will be eliminated. Group plans already get discounted rates, so where are the savings there?
If premiums do go up, not to worry. The Government will subsidize those who are short a few bob.
Big pharma will have to accept smaller profits. There is little question that the big pharma companies engage in price gouging, but if their profits on drugs are capped, one thing for sure is that they will stop looking for drugs that treat rare diseases since the markets are too small to devote research dollars if profit margins are capped.
"Import from abroad!" is a popular reply. However, the drugs sold abroad largely originate from U.S drug companies. They sell at lower prices abroad (since people in other countries don't earn what we do) on the same theory that hotels use to sell unreserved rooms (i.e., some income is better than no income). However, if the US begins importing those same drugs from abroad, how long do you think the drug companies will continue to sell abroad at discounted prices?
OK, let's get the greedy insurance companies. Senator Warren says that no one likes their insurance company. Fine. Let's put them out of business. All they exist for is to deny claims, right? Wrong.
The job of insurance actuaries is to make sure that the benefits promised can be paid from the premiums paid. However, insurance companies don't cover all things under all circumstances. When they don't, the companies must deny claims or they will become insolvent. Politicians don't have to worry about such details.
Yes, Medicare employs actuaries too, and their actuaries tell Congress every year that what is being charged for coverage is insufficient and will lead the system to collapse eventually. Congress ignores them. Why?
The answer is that when the taxes charged to fund Medicare prove inadequate, any shortfalls will be paid from the general revenues of the Government. And where do those come from? Answer: From you and me, the taxpayers. This is why the size of the National Debt is ballooning at an accelerating rate. The current political response is that Government debt doesn't matter because Government doesn't have to pay it back. Oh really?
Every debt involves a borrower and a lender who expects to be paid back eventually. Who buys Government debt? Largely it is banks and insurance companies and pension funds, and also foreign governments.
What do you think happens to banks and insurance companies and pension funds if their investments in Government debt fail to pay off? Loans and mortgages dry up, insurance companies can't pay claims (remember they insure lives, homes, cars, etc., as well as health) and pension plans can't pay pensions. They have to be bailed out, as in 2008-9. And when the Government bails out financial institutions, it is the taxpayers who pay for it.
Then there are foreign governments like China, Japan, etc. who buy US Government debt as part of their financial reserves. China has already stopped buying US debt. Who will buy our debt if they expect us to default on paying back the principal?
What happened when countries like Argentina have defaulted in the past? They were treated as pariahs by financial markets. When Congress threatened to default on U.S. debt a few years ago, the stock market swooned. Imagine what would happen if there was an actual default. Senator Sanders doesn't care if the stock market collapses, because it will mostly hurt the hated billionaires he loathes so much, right? Wrong. Where are the trillions of dollars of our pension funds invested?
Tax the rich! Take away their ill-gotten gains, earned on the backs of the proletariat. Karl Marx preached that long before Sanders arrived on the scene. Even if you ignore the Communist similarities, you have to realize that soaking the rich or the large corporations does not produce enough money to fund all the promises of Sanders, Warren, etc. If you confiscated all of the wealth of the billionaires and the large corporations, there still would not be enough to pay for MFA plus free college, food stamps, and all the other goodies being tossed so easily to the proletariat.
Additionally, once the insurance companies, drug companies, energy companies and all the other corporate "villains" are brought low, what do you think happens to employment? The energy industry has some of the highest paid middle class jobs in the world. Those employees are not going to go from working oil field rigs to computer programming, despite all the promises of massive dollars being spent on retraining (which is more money needed!)
The rebuttal to my "bad attitude" takes two forms: (1) "We always find the money to fight wars"; and (2) "Other countries provide universal health care at half the price."
As for (1), we can't afford all our wars either. We are no longer the financial powerhouse of 1945. We just want to live like the English and the French, dreaming of past glories when they occupied unbridled dominance over the rest of the world.
As for (2), I would ask why, if health care is so great in Europe and Canada and elsewhere, do so many doctors emigrate to America, and why do citizens who can afford it prefer to come to America for treatment?
Sadly, the Democrats are spinning Goldilocks dreams with no chance of being passed into law unless their hoped-for "blue wave" in 2020 gives them the White House and sweeps all of Congress. The last line of defense for many Republicans is that the Dems could never get all their wish list passed into law because the Senate would block it. True, unless the Democrats get a filibuster-proof Senate, which is not out of the question.
Would they actually enact so much spending without adequate revenue? The only practical alternative (if they do half the other things they propose) is to raise taxes on the middle class. They won't want to do that, since they would be tossed out in the next election, unless America suddenly embraces European style Socialism. (Check out European tax rates. They will leave you breathless.)
Senator Sanders believes that if corporations no longer have to provide health benefits, they will pass on the savings to employees who will then be able to pay higher taxes to support Medicare. As VP Biden quipped, "Bernie, you have more faith in corporations than I do!"
Even if that did happen, there is no "saving", as pointed out above. Corporations are more efficient than the government at administering anything, even allowing for their profit margin. The reason is that they can say "No", whereas bureaucrats are under political pressure to say "Yes", to claims, regardless of merit. Proof? Examine how Social Security disability payments always rise sharply during economic downturns. The reason is a significant increase in bogus claims coupled with loose claims management. If poor Joe the Plumber's claim is denied, Senator X will be on the phone in no time.
My concern is that the Democrats can win big in 2020 and actually put into practice the impractical and ruinous theories of the Far Left. I expect Senator Warren will be their standard bearer. She will not be a pushover in the face of Trump's attacks.
Can't happen here? H.L.Mencken used to observe that you can't make a mistake overestimating the stupidity of what he called the "boobocracy." In a democracy, the execrable is always possible. Who would have imagined that the sensible Brits would make such a cock-up of BREXIT? Are we immune from insanity? I doubt it.
Ken Veit is an actuary and retired president of an international insurance company.
And They Want To Take Over Health Care
By Bruce Bialosky, Contributing Editor
Experiencing how the government works firsthand offers insight into whether we should allow some of the presidential candidates' plans to further expand the federal government's responsibilities. My recent encounter with the Social Security system defines everything we need to know about how our government functions. Let's just say that my wife by happenstance had an appointment with the DMV the same morning and remarkably hers was a far superior experience.
Under direction of some experts on Social Security (SS) I planned to file for spousal benefits from my wife and then at age seventy take my full benefits. This program expires for anyone born after January 1, 1954 (thanks Mom for sneaking me under the wire). As directed on my 66th birthday, I applied online for SS benefits. The SS website was very easy to work through except it was unclear as regarded the benefits being claimed were spousal benefits. I wrote a very detailed explanation in the comments area. The information regarding the Beautiful Wife (BW) was already part of the questionnaire so they knew everything about her.
A little over a month later I received correspondence about my benefits, but it was clearly about my full benefits and not spousal benefits based on my wife. I called the SS and mercifully they had a call back system. When the gentleman called me back, he directed me to a form I had to fill out and that I must take a check to return the benefits received at this time to the local office in Burbank that was the closest to my home.
I drove over to the attractive free-standing SS building located 20 minutes from my house. Upon arriving a security guard made sure to direct me to a touch screen which asked a series of questions and generated a printed number. I had stated I was making a new application since, in effect, my first one was not for what I wanted which were spousal benefits. I took my number and sat down. I had enough reading to cover me for days so I was relaxed and comfortable.
I saw on the board the numbers as they were called. Though I was sitting in a room nearly full (approximately 50 people) and it seemed like matters were moving along. I noticed there were A numbers, B numbers and E numbers on the display board, but I had a W number. I went over to our friendly (armed) security guard and asked for some guidance. He said they usually announce those separately.
That is when things started to fall apart. My number was called. I go to window 7. When I get there a lady was sitting behind a plexiglass window. Nothing conveys warm and fuzzy like speaking to someone through plexiglass. The lady tells me she doesn't handle what I want; she only does new applications. She takes my number slip, writes a new number on it (B506) and tells me I have to go back and wait in the bullpen.
I plunked back down in the still available Bialosky seat and start piling through the stack of reading. I notice the board says they are on B492. I keep one eye on the board and one on my reading. 493, 494 ... 499, 500. After a 20-minute wait I hear "B506 go to window 7." You cannot make this stuff up. I return to the same plexiglass-encased staff person. I said "I thought you didn't handle this. It seems you could have done this last time I was here." She was falling in love with me.
I handed her my forms and driver's license, told her the situation and conveyed what the man at the service center had told me. I took out my checkbook after I stated I had to return the monies received to stop further payments. We review the amount together and I wrote the check which was slipped through the plexiglass slot. This is when she tells that she cannot accept the check; there will be a mailing coming at a further time. I stared at her wondering if we were existing in different universes. She had watched me take out my checkbook and we discussed the amount. I just slipped the check in the side of my bag.
I then stated there was another problem with my claim. Payments for Medicare B benefits (doctors) are deducted from your social security. Since they bifurcated the age for SS and Medicare until you register for SS, you are sent bills quarterly for your Medicare B premiums. I have already paid for October, November and December, but they were deducting November and December premiums from my benefits. I thought they were going to give me new spousal benefits so I did not want the premiums paid twice.
I asked if they could correct that. She tells me they cannot. I am looking at her sitting in front of two computer screens and she had my account open. "No, they will reimburse you for those payments." I ask her why she cannot just let them know and she tells me NO. I lurched into a mini rant about how this is exactly why so many people dislike government. I can see she is now falling madly, deeply in love with me.
My regular benefits have now been cancelled. I ask her what about the application for my spousal benefits. She then tells me she doesn't do that. "What do you mean you don't do that? Who does?" I am feeling it now. I see in her eyes she wants to break through the plexiglass and passionately embrace me. She communicates that a colleague who specializes in that will help me. Back to the bullpen.
I rush back to the bullpen. Thankfully the Bialosky seat is still vacant. Of course, it was vacant because they close at noon and we were past that time. The friendly security guard was getting a little less friendly. He wants me there like he wants me to give him a hickey.
After more reading of Elizabeth Warren's plans (they are endless) and impeachment analysis I hear my name. A new friend from SS helped me through my spousal application which had to be done jointly with the BW because I could not receive those benefits until she applied. He informed me if I wanted to really get the regular benefits canceled I should bring the form mailed to me in some distance time and check back to the office. If mailed it in, he indicated a century of processing. We did an under-the-plexiglass handshake and I walked toward the door.
The security guard was delighted to see me exiting. He gave me a fist pump with a feeling of joy to see me gone. Little did he know he was going to get to see me sooner than he could ever dream.
And these people want to add our health care insurance to their portfolio. What a great country we live in. Happy Thanksgiving.
Bruce Bialosky is the founder of the Republican Jewish Coalition of California and a former Presidential appointee. You can follow Bruce on Twitter @brucebialosky.
TCR on the Air
Red, White, and Blue featuring TCR Editor Gary Polland on Fridays at 7:30 pm on Houston Public Media TV 8, replaying Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on Channel 8, Monday at 11:30 pm on Channel 8.2 and on the web at www.houstonpublicmedia.org.
Red, White, and Blue on hiatus, back with new shows in January 2020.
About Your Editor
Gary Polland is a long-time conservative and Republican spokesman, fund-raiser, and leader who completed three terms as the Harris County Republican Chairman. During his three terms, Gary was described as the most successful county Chairman in America by Human Events - The National Conservative Weekly. He is in his twenty-second year of editing a newsletter dealing with key conservative and Republican issues. The last eighteen years he has edited Texas Conservative Review. As a public service for the last 16 years, Gary has published election guides for the GOP primary, general elections and city elections, all with the purpose of assisting conservative candidates. Gary is also in his 18th year of co-hosting Red, White and Blue on Houston Public Media TV 8 PBS Houston, longest running political talk show in Texas history. Gary serves on the Board of Directors of American Values, a national pro-family, pro-faith, conservative organization supporting the unity of the American people around the vision of our founding fathers and dedicated to reminding the public of the conservative principles fundamental to the survival of our nation. Gary is a practicing attorney and strategic consultant. He can be reached at (713) 621-6335.