Tue March 17, 2015 11:00 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Rideshare drivers, you are already obsolete.

Even as the cities and the state fight over regulating ridesharing services, you might as well get those legs ready for a future on the pedicabs. I’ll explain more on that in a moment. For now, though, you might see gold in your pocket as the hip hoards descended on Austin for South by Southwest, the city cratered this week to give Uber and Lyft a sweetheart deal to work Austin-Bergstrom International Airport for 45 days for a mere $2,500 fee. A couple of drunk-ride, surge-pricing fares ought to take care of that.

Last week, it appeared Lyft would be the only ride-booking company working at the airport during South by Southwest this year after the company signed an agreement that would have given the city 10 percent of all fares, with a minimum of $25,000 for the year. Uber had declined to sign a similar agreement.

For the drivers with dreams of filling your pockets with the expendable income of the South-bys, keep in mind that your long-term future as a part-time cabbie is as much in doubt as the traditional cabbies endangered by ridesharing apps. Driverless cars are on the horizon, according to a new report from McKinsey Global Institute, as recapped by the Detroit Free Press.

The first places we will see smaller autonomous vehicles likely will be in the growing networks of ride-sharing and car-sharing ventures such as Uber, Lyft and ZipCar. McKinsey’s research shows that the number of people who are members of such services has quadrupled worldwide to 4 million over the past four years.


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Mon March 16, 2015 6:39 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” That may be true for something great, but the Texas Senate today proved you can advance, without enthusiasm, a bill to legalize the open carrying of handguns by state sanctioned licensed holders.
The highlight of the debate was the moment when the Senate took up the bill by a vote of 20-11. Before the Senate changed its rules at the start of this session, that vote would have blocked the permitted open carry bill from coming to the floor. But it signaled that this likely will be a session for Democrats to debate without effect.
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Mon March 16, 2015 9:21 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Timothy "Longhair Jim" CourtrightFort Worth’s White Elephant Saloon today is among the city’s top tourist attractions, but at about 8 p.m. on February 8, 1887, it was the scene of one of the most famous gunfights in Old West history. The White Elephant’s owner was gambler Luke Short, who counted among his friends Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. Short had a reputation as a quick shot and a man not likely to back down from a fight. That did not stop former City Marshal T.I. “Longhair Jim” Courtright from trying to shake down Short for protection money. Angry that Short was refusing to pay, a drunken Courtright called Short into the street outside the White Elephant.

Illuminated only by flickering gas lights, Courtright stood in the street with a .45 caliber pistol holstered on each hip. Short, something of a dandy in his dress, stood on the sidewalk with his thumbs hooked into his vest while offering assurances that he was unarmed. Short opened his coat to show no weapons. Courtright knew Short carried a pocket gun and shouted, “Don’t you pull a gun on me!” Courtright swiftly yanked out one of his pistols. Short was faster. His first shot took off Courtright’s thumb. The former marshal shifted the pistol to his left hand. He was not fast enough. Short shot him several more times. Courtright lay dying as Policeman John J. Fulford arrived. “Ful, they’ve got me,” Courtright said, with a dying gasp worthy of a dime novel.

The Texas Senate – the same body that this week likely will debate allowing for the open carrying of pistols – by chance on the day after the White Elephant shooting took up a bill to enhance the penalty for the crime of carrying pistols in Texas. The prohibition on carrying six-shooters in the state was not, as some claim, a racist Jim Crow law to intimidate African-Americans. The law was meant to reduce crime and calm fears that Texas was a dangerous place, fears that were keeping people and business from moving to the state.

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Fri March 13, 2015 4:06 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

As I listened to the pitchfork brigade testify this week in a House committee on limiting federal power, I found myself in agreement with the Texas Eagle Forum and members of the John Birch Society on one issue – forcing Congress to call a Constitutional Convention is a dangerous idea that could destroy one of the best national charters ever written.

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Thu March 12, 2015 6:23 pm By Erica Grieder

It’s probably clear enough at this point that I’m against the Senate’s proposals to exempt tax relief and debt service from being counted against the spending cap for a number of reasons. I see no good purpose for them. Although lessening property taxes and paying down debt are honorable goals, neither seems critical enough to warrant overriding the spending cap, especially this year. In calling for more spending, the Senate is not being frivolous: Texas has one of the lowest spending rates per capita in the country, and has maintained fiscal discipline even as the budget has come under pressure for a variety of reasons (the soaring costs of Medicaid, the growth in school enrollment). However, the Lege has some breathing room this session; the spending cap allows for $107 billion in general revenue-related spending, compared to about $97 billion last time around. That would leave $4 or $5 billion on the table, but it’s worth resisting the temptation to splurge. The Lege will probably need to top up school finance next year, and a surplus might be a lifesaver when the next regular session rolls around, in 2017: the Texas economy’s rate of growth is slowing.

If these proposals somehow made it into the Constitution, I think we’d be effectively undermining the spending cap itself. I know some people think that’s overly pessimistic; among Michael Quinn Sullivan’s many grievances with me is that (in his view), the proposals are about “redefining” the cap, not busting it. Sorry, no. The proposals are attempting to redefine spending, not the cap, and I think it would be naïve to look at this as an abstract intellectual exercise, or one that wouldn’t set a risky precedent. If the 84th Lege can “redefine” certain types of spending, future Legislatures can “redefine” others. And I don’t see why they wouldn’t try, if Texas’s self-professed “conservative” leaders set such a precedent this year–especially if they concurrently make the spending cap more restrictive, thereby making these gimmicks more tempting. That’s why, although I doubt this was the intention, I think the Senate’s leaders are putting Texas’s spending cap at risk.

But there’s a more serious problem with these proposals. They undermine Texas’s fiscal integrity. And that is, to me, one of our greatest virtues. Sometimes I think it’s the only one worth being called a virtue. By “fiscal integrity,” I mean something that encompasses fiscal discipline and fiscal responsibility but goes even farther and matters more than discipline or responsibility on their own.

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