Category Archives: business news

Amarillo goes smoke-free … without a city ordinance

I feel like revisiting an issue that some years ago got a lot of Amarillo, Texas, residents all fired up.

I am referring to smoking indoors.

Over the years I have discovered something curious — and quite welcome — about the city where my wife and I live. It’s damn near impossible to find an eating establishment that still allows indoor smoking.

I haven’t been to every single such establishment in the city, so this isn’t a declaration of fact. It is a perception that has dawned on me.

City residents twice in recent years rejected municipal referendums calling for a citywide ban on indoor smoking. The calls for a city ordinance came from the medical community that sought to mandate that business owners order customers to keep their smokes unlit while they ate and drank indoors.

I worked during at least one of those elections for the Amarillo Globe-News. Our newspaper’s editorial policy opposed the mandate. We stated our preference for business owners to do the right thing without being forced to do so by the government.

I gritted my teeth while writing editorials taking that position. My personal preference — and it remains so to this day — was that the city should put residents’ health first. Second-hand smoke is dangerous to those who inhale it. What’s more, a former city councilman — a physician — once admitted to me that his personal preference was to enact a smoke-free ordinance, but that he didn’t want to be the sole vote on the five-member governing panel.

But now, years later, my wife and I are still eating out on occasion. We have discovered that none of the establishments we frequent allow indoor smoking. Indeed, some of these businesses — which formerly allowed it — have gone smoke-free on their own. Imagine that! It turns out that the newspaper’s opposition to was on the mark.

A couple of well-known places along Historic Route 66 have gone smoke-free. I interviewed one business owner while working part-time for KFDA NewsChannel 10 and learned that although she opposed the ordinance she was adamantly opposed to smoking inside her restaurant.

This is all my way of paying tribute to those business owners who have stayed true to their conscience while improving the health climate for their customers.

I am pretty certain some readers of this blog are going to remind me that there remain some joints around the city that still allow smoke to billow from stogies and cigarettes.

Fine. I just can’t find them. I prefer it that way.

AMA gets chance to boost city business climate

Amarillo long has seen its international airport as a gateway to the city’s economic well being.

If you look back over recent history, you find examples of the city forking over public money to keep jet service between the airport and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; critics called that initiative a form of “economic bribery.” I called it at the time a bold and creative initiative to help make business travel more comfortable for those seeking to do business in Amarillo.

The money came from sales tax revenue collected by the Amarillo Economic Development Corp.

So, with that the city has announced that American Airlines is going to begin daily non-stop service between Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. They’ll fly once daily between AMA and PHX.

The AEDC, City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce see it as a big business opportunity, connecting Amarillo with a key hub out west, enabling travelers to avoid flying east to DFW just to connect and fly west.

That’s a good idea … if the city markets the opportunity as aggressively as it did the AEDC subsidy it paid to American Airlines back when it sought to entice the carrier to keep the jets flying to DFW.

Since I am fully retired and since my wife and I will spend the vast bulk of our domestic travel time in our fifth wheel RV rather than in airports, I don’t have a particular dog in this so-called fight.

For the rest of Amarillo — which appears to be entering an accelerated growth mode — this new air service is good news.

Let there be more.

Where have the deficit hawks gone?

I always have thought that congressional Republicans were deficit “hawks,” officials who hated federal budget deficits and certainly derided those spendthrift Democrats for piling up the national debt.

Why, then, are GOP senators so intent on pushing a tax cut bill that will explode the annual deficit and add hundreds of billions of dollars to the debt?

A new non-partisan analysis indicates that the GOP tax plan will spur some limited economic growth, but it’s going to add $1 trillion to the deficit.

Here is part of what CNN is reporting:

The Joint Committee on Taxation, the Congressional scorekeeper for tax bills, estimates that the Senate tax bill could generate enough growth to create nearly $408 billion in new revenue over a decade. But even with that additional revenue, the bill would still add an estimated $1 trillion to deficits.  

JCT’s macroeconomic analysis — also known as a dynamic score — falls far short of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin oft-made claim that the tax cuts will pay for themselves.

There also doubts about whether the wealthiest Americans are going to pay more or less under the GOP-railroaded tax overhaul. Donald Trump keeps insisting it will “cost me a fortune … believe me.” Actually, I’ve discovered that whenever the president says “believe me” I need to discount the veracity of any point he is trying to make.

But if Republicans are so damn hawkish on budget deficits when Democratic presidents are seeking to boost the economy, shouldn’t they remain that way when their political brethren seek to do the same thing?

More chaos and confusion in the Trump administration

You’ve heard it said that the Trump administration “thrives” on chaos, that it cannot execute simple transitions without all hell breaking loose.

Consider the latest stumble-bum example from Donald John Trump’s presidential team.

Richard Corddray resigned as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; President Barack Obama appointed him to lead the agency created in 2010 in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis. The law allows Corddray to appoint his successor, which he did when he named deputy director Leandra English to lead the agency.

Oh, no. You can’t do that, said Donald John “Smart Person” Trump, who then named Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as the interim head of he CFPB. Trump then instructed the agency to ignore any directives coming from English and act only on those coming from Mulvaney.

Hey, there’s a bit more. English has filed a lawsuit preventing Mulvaney from taking over.

The CFPB has been a Republican bogeyman ever since it was founded. The GOP contends it puts too many restrictions on banks.

From my standpoint — and acknowledging my own bias — this has the smell of yet another attempt to overturn an Obama-era agency reform. If the former president did it, the agency is a “disaster,” according to Trump, who attaches that term to any agency or program created by his predecessor that he wants to gut.

CFPB targets banks’ practices

Trump tweeted this: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, has been a total disaster as run by the previous Administrations pick. Financial Institutions have been devastated and unable to properly serve the public. We will bring it back to life!

My actual point, though, is that we are witnessing yet another clumsy, cumbersome cluster-fudge that illustrates once again — as if we need any reminders — that the Trump administration cannot do a single thing without making a total hash out of it.

They call it ‘tax reform,’ but is it … really?

Here comes the legislative bum’s rush once again.

Just as congressional Republicans sought to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act all by themselves, they’re trying the same thing with what they’re calling “tax reform.”

Except that it doesn’t “reform” anything. It cuts taxes for the wealthiest Americans and, according to at least one prominent study, will increase taxes for middle-income Americans.

The House of Representatives zoomed this tax cut through that chamber with a narrow vote. Now it goes to the Senate. And you know what? It’s running into trouble.

GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin opposes it because it does too little for small business. GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine opposes it as well because it cuts out the individual mandate required by the ACA. That’s two “no” votes. The tax plan is officially on the bubble.

I believe I’ll now mention what it does to the deficit. It explodes the deficit and for those of us deficit hawks, it piles on more money to the national debt, which Republicans are fond of saying increased during President Barack Obama’s two terms in office.

Senate puts up roadblocks

I keep circling back to this notion that no single party can do anything constructive without the other party. Republicans haven’t yet learned that lesson now that they control the White House in addition to both congressional chambers.

This star-chamber style of legislating — with major bills being discussed in private by members of one party — is harmful to legislative process and to the principle of effective governance.

As GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona has implored his colleagues, “Let’s return to ‘regular order.'” That means, among other things, bringing the other party into the discussion.

‘War on Christmas’ about to commence

Listen up, my fellow Americans. Many of you are less than a week away from going to war. Against Christmas. Yes, I’m talking about you Black Friday shoppers.

You’ve heard the refrain from conservative media talking heads about the “War on Christmas.” They blame the “liberal mainstream media” for the open warfare, suggesting that the “happy holiday” greeting subverts the Christmas meaning.

It doesn’t do any such thing.

No, the real war on Christmas will be “fought” on retail sales floors all across the United States of America. The first shot in the next big battle in that war will be fired around midnight next Thursday/Friday. That’s when department stores fling open their doors to allow thundering herds of shoppers to pour into their buildings to look for their kids and grandkids’ perfect toy.

Here’s the best — or the worst part: There might be violence inside those department stores. Someone will grab the last fashionable toy off the shelf just ahead of someone who had his or her eye on the same item; they might exchange words, with the individual who wasn’t quick enough accusing the quick-draw artist who grabbed the item of cheating. They might exchange four-letter words and then fists might start flying.

Well, that isn’t exactly the Christmas spirit, is it.

But the war will commence anyway. Shoppers will tell media representatives about how chaotic this Christmas season has been. Some of them will bitch about the crowds and the rudeness of their fellow shoppers.

This will go on for a few days after the start of the Christmas Shopping Season.

I’m not shopping on Black Friday. I have many reasons for staying away. One of them involves the potential scenario I’ve just described. A more important reason is that my wife and I are accelerating our plans to relocate to points southeast of Amarillo, Texas; we’ll be too busy to do any Black Friday shopping.

Look, I get that some folks actually enjoy the pandemonium that occurs on Black Friday. I’m just one of them.

I made a pact with myself years ago to never again let Christmas get the better of me. I intend to go with the flow again in 2017 — of course, when I’m not doing what my wife tells me to do as we continue our relocation prep.

As for conservatives’ belief there is a liberal-led “war on Christmas,” I’ll simply say that it’s a canard. It’s a talking point.

What’s more, I take zero offense when someone wishes me a “happy holiday” when I make a purchase between now and Christmas.

What does offend me is the sight of the mayhem that is going to erupt on Black Friday.

Just wondering: Amarillo Matters … where is it?

A political action group emerged from nowhere earlier this year. It called itself Amarillo Matters. Its mission, as I understand it, was to elect a slate of candidates to the City Council.

It succeeded. This past spring, voters flipped the entire five-member council, electing five newbies. Amarillo Matters then seemingly packed its bags, and its members went back to whatever they were doing before they formed this political action committee.

They were mostly successful businessmen and women. Their agenda included electing individuals who shared their pro-business tilt. Hey, I have no problem with that.

There’s been some success in the months since the new council members took office. Chief among them is the landing of that AA minor-league baseball franchise that is relocating to Amarillo from San Antonio and will play baseball at the new ballpark that will be built in downtown Amarillo; they’ll toss the first pitch in April 2019.

That’s a big deal, man.

But what has become of Amarillo Matters? It’s no longer garnering headlines, or any discussion on local broadcast media. I looked at its website this evening. It’s still up. AM has a link where one can contribute money; I am not giving them any dough.

I’ve written plenty about them already:

http://highplainsblogger.com/?s=Amarillo+Matters

Given that I am unplugged from most of what’s going on at City Hall these days, I am left to use this blog to pose questions about some of the community’s key players.

I consider Amarillo Matters to be an important cog in the city’s civic machinery. I know many of the folks who formed the PAC’s leadership team earlier this year. I respect them, too.

I hope it hasn’t become what the Amarillo Millennial Movement turned out to be: a flash in the pan. AMM formed to promote the approval of the ballpark in the November 2015 municipal referendum. The measure passed — and AMM then vanished, vaporized, disappeared. Yes, I am aware that the AMM comprised essentially one individual, a young woman who moved to Fort Worth. But you get my point, yes?

Amarillo Matters, where are you and what are you doing to make sure that that Amarillo still, um, matters?

Amarillo’s downtown continues to evolve

When you see something daily you aren’t likely to notice change as it occurs in real time.

But when you are away and then see that thing in brief visits here and there, the change becomes quite noticeable.

I don’t get into downtown Amarillo as much as I used to when I was working for a living. I continue to marvel at the change I see every time I venture there. Moreover, I continue to relish the thought of the potential that awaits the city my wife and I have called home for the past nearly 23 years.

* Polk Street is returning to some incarnation of its former heyday.

* Tenth Avenue is turning into something quite appealing, too, with the heavy construction under way at the old Firestone building.

* West Texas A&M University’s downtown campus is drawing closer to completion.

* And, oh yeah, we’ve got Buchanan Street lighting up with the Embassy Suites hotel.

It’s not all brightness and mirth, I’m troubled to say.

The Chase Tower has gotten a good bit darker of late. Xcel Energy has moved out of the 31-story skyscraper for new digs on Buchanan Street. WT will vacate more floors at the Chase Tower once its downtown campus is finished. I believe that means about 19 floors of the building will go dark.

I once spoke with a partner of the Gaut Whittenberg Emerson commercial real estate firm that occupies a ground-floor office in the Chase Tower and he assured me that the tower will fill up soon.

He’s the expert at this stuff; I’m just an observer of it. I hope he is right. My concern is that he might have been expressing some wishful thoughts.

I am not going to gloom-and-doom the prospects for downtown’s future. Indeed, I haven’t yet mentioned — until this very moment — the downtown ballpark that will open for minor-league baseball in April 2019.

They’ll break ground on that site just south of City Hall quite soon. The San Antonio Missions will move from South Texas to Amarillo to play AA baseball downtown; San Antonio will get a AAA team that will move there from Colorado Springs, Colo.

The ballpark doesn’t yet have a name. It won’t just be a place for baseball. It’s been called a multipurpose event venue, which — by definition — suggests it will play host to an array of community events.

Therein lies the crown jewel of downtown’s revival.

Sure, there’s been some grousing about all the highway construction. Interstate 40 is torn up; so is Loop 335 along the city’s southern edge; the I-40/27 interchange is quite close to being finished.

My plea there is for patience. Local motorists are learning to cope with the incessant construction cones and barrels spread along rights-of-way. I hope they maintain their wits as they travel around the city.

But … downtown’s revival continues. For that I am impressed, gratified and delighted at the prospect of the future that awaits.

GOP plans to read tax bill eventually

Let’s call it the same song, second verse … or just the same ol’ same ol’.

U.S. Senate and House Republican leaders have cobbled together a tax cut bill that the rest of their GOP colleagues haven’t yet read. They say they plan to examine the legislation before voting on it.

Gosh! What a concept!

The tax bill is drawing some independent analysis, however, from those who tell us it will jumpstart an economy that’s already moving along pretty well. Others say it helps the rich more than it helps the middle class.

Donald Trump calls it the biggest tax cut in U.S. history.

What I find most amazing/amusing/troubling is that the GOP plans to rush this bill through before Thanksgiving. I am not alone in wondering about the wisdom of such a fast-track effort. The most recent landmark tax reform package took months of debate and hearings before it went to President Reagan’s desk in 1986. How in the world does this version of GOP leadership plan to enact the nation’s most historic tax cut in such short order?

The idea that legislators haven’t read it, of course, isn’t new. Democrats said much the same thing before they brought the Affordable Care Act forward in 2009 and 2010. Yes, the ACA had some serious hiccups during its rollout, but it is working — despite what GOP leaders keep saying to the contrary.

Congressional Republicans are feeling the heat to do something of substance. They couldn’t repeal and replace the ACA; they haven’t secured money to build the president’s “beautiful wall” across the southern border. Now they’re hanging their fortunes on tax reform.

They haven’t read the bill. They aren’t commenting on its specifics.

I keep wondering the same thing that I asked about the ACA repeal/replace effort: Why can’t — or won’t — these majority congressional members work with Democrats to get their input in legislation that affects all Americans?

Labor market loses jobs; no big deal … maybe

Donald J. Trump was all too quick while running for president to denigrate the nation’s stellar job growth during the final months of Barack H. Obama’s administration.

A couple hundred thousand jobs added to non-farm private payrolls during a given month? The number are phony, Trump would proclaim. The Labor Department is cooking the books, he would allege with no proof. The “real jobless rate” is something like 40 percent, he’d bellow.

OK. Today, the Labor Department came out with some dismal jobs numbers: employers shed 33,000 jobs in September. Yes, the jobless rate fell to 4.2 percent, which is pretty darn low!

But, but …

Still, the job losses aren’t the president’s fault. Really. They aren’t. Economists blame the job loss on business shuttering in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The hospitality industry was particularly hard hit along the Texas coast and throughout Florida, they said.

The good news is that the jobs are likely to rebound in the weeks ahead as Texas and Florida continue to recover, albeit slowly, from the savage beatings delivered by Harvey and Irma.

There’s no particular moral to this item, other than the jobs report issued today is no more “cooked” or “made up” than they were when they were reporting much happier economic news.

Let’s also remember that not even this president — the self-proclaimed “very smart person” who surrounds himself with “the best people” — can prevent nature’s wrath from damaging the nation’s business structure.