Texas Watchdog Copyright (c) 2019 Texas Watchdog and Use Labs. All rights reserved. http://www.texaswatchdog.org/ local news Investigating government waste, fraud and abuse in Texas en-us Mon Aug 19 14:49:41 2019 CST 5 Texas Watchdog 435 98 http://www.texaswatchdog.org/ http://www.texaswatchdog.org/themes/twd/img/logo.gif Publicly-funded gondolas a ‘viable transportation alternative’ for Round Rock, Texas? http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/02/gondolas-a-public-transportation-transit-alternative-round-rock-texas/1361304180.story 11607 world Tue Feb 19 15:03:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="gondola" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/gondola.jpg" title="gondola" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>When one of the most innovative cities in America takes its first crack at mass transit you can bet it won&rsquo;t be buses, trains or streetcars.</span><br /> <br /> <span>No, Round Rock, Texas, elevation 709 feet, is thinking about a gondola system, like those crawling up and down the ski slopes of the world. </span><br /> <br /> <span>While the average mope on a Round Rock street might ask, &lsquo;Are you really serious?&rsquo; the mayor of the city, Alan McGraw, is quick with a reply. &ldquo;Why not?&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;The problem with government in general is the thinking is not very innovative,&rdquo; McGraw told Texas Watchdog. &ldquo;I am fascinated at this being a viable transportation alternative.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>In keeping with the kind of thinking Forbes Magazine recognized when it named Round Rock the second most innovative city in America in 2010, McGraw said he got the idea a couple of years ago.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Every time McGraw turned around the city was faced with a right-of-way issue that, invariably, cost money and time. Wouldn&rsquo;t it be great, he thought, if you could plan over the top of everything already here?</span><br /> <br /> <span>The creative nucleus at </span><a href="http://www.frogdesign.com/contact/austin.html"><span>Frog Design</span></a><span> in downtown Austin were thinking about it, too. They put together a proposal for Austin. They couldn&rsquo;t get an audience in spite of ongoing transit troubles, in particular with the city&rsquo;s </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/02/all-aboard-austins-taxpayer-express-metrorail-weekend-service-capital-metro/1328736123.column"><span>little loved commuter train</span></a><span> to and from Leander.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Round Rock has no corresponding troubles because it has no bus system, no train, no entrenched transit union. But with a population of about 105,000, the city is one of the fastest growing in Texas.</span><br /> <br /> <span>And so McGraw welcomed Frog Design to City Hall last week for a </span><a href="http://www.roundrocktexas.gov/home/index.asp?page=10&amp;recordid=2997"><span>multimedia presentation</span></a><span> that had a lot of Austin and no Round Rock.</span></p> <div style="float:right; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="Alan McGraw" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/alanmcgraw.jpg" title="Alan McGraw" width="120" /><span style="display:block">Alan McGraw</span></div> <p> <span>No matter.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The presentation was a little light on specifics. After realizing most commuters would not be wearing ski clothes and would be scudding along in the Texas heat, Frog&rsquo;s factoring in of climate control for gondolas quadrupled its low-end estimated cost from $3 million to $12 million a mile.</span><br /> <br /> <span>That figure could go as high as $24 million a mile, a figure that compares favorably to the $100 million Austin is estimating it will cost to complete a mile of urban rail. Which doesn&rsquo;t compare favorably to much of anything.</span><br /> <br /> <span>At a top speed of 15 mph, the gondola system can be ruled out as a regional transportation alternative, McGraw said. At fewer than a dozen people to a gondola, dangling one behind another in a loop, there remain the problems of traffic density and of maximizing pickup and dropoff opportunities.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Michael McDaniel, the principal designer of what he likes to call &ldquo;The Wire,&rdquo; said Round Rock has a big advantage over Austin in that the city isn&rsquo;t saddled with the political baggage of existing mass transit.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;We think it would be pretty hilarious that Austin, the city that likes to keep things weird, wouldn&rsquo;t do this, but Round Rock, the place that keeps things normal, would,&rdquo; McDaniel said.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Neither is McDaniel worried that the residents of a suburb in a state known for its individual vehicle culture would be reluctant to park their pickup trucks somewhere on the cable circuit and grab a gondola.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The designers have even toyed with an elaborate design allowing for door-to-door service, a sort of ski in and ski out system, he says.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s really up to the city to decide what they want to do,&rdquo; McDaniel said. &ldquo;Round Rock would be starting fresh, from the ground up.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>McGraw&rsquo;s undimmed enthusiasm begged the question, could there be an ulterior motive for considering an untried transit method with technical hurdles that threaten to make it costlier and less efficient than a bus or a train?</span><br /> <br /> <span>There is the coolness factor of having the only gondola system of its kind in the country, McGraw said. But he promised that wouldn&rsquo;t color any cost/benefit analysis the city would need to do.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Although the Frog presentation never mentions it, could the gondola system open the door to the state&rsquo;s first indoor skiing park? McGraw freely admitted he likes to ski. One of the planning team at Frog Design came up with the gondola concept, in part, because he is a ski bum, McGraw says.</span><br /> <br /> <span>There are stranger places to plan such a complex. In 2009, Snow Sport Entertainment Ltd. was all set to build </span><a href="http://activerain.com/blogsview/1179851/-70-million-dollar-project-snow-park-project-economic-peak-for-grapevine-tx"><span>Texas Alps</span></a><span>, a $70 million complex as part of a proposed $1.6 billion World Villages of Grapevine, right next to the Grapevine Mills Mall, when the world economy collapsed.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The investors, including former Texas Rangers hitting star Rafael Palmeiro, later filed for bankruptcy.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Could the Texas Alps arise from the gently rolling hills of Round Rock? Alec Sohmer, who headed the original Alps project, told Texas Watchdog his group had no plans for Texas, and a deal for a similar skiing complex in Georgia has stalled.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Sohmer wasn&rsquo;t aware that anyone else was moving ahead on a skiing village in Texas.</span><br /> <br /> <span>But are you sure, Watchdog asked McGraw. &ldquo;No, not at all,&rdquo; he said, amused at the question.</span><br /> <br /> <span>At the end of the presentation, McGraw told Frog Design the city&rsquo;s line of communication would be open, nothing formal, nothing set for an upcoming agenda. McGraw, he said, is always ready to listen.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s open-ended. I like the idea of having another arrow,&rdquo; he said, mixing his skiing and archery metaphors, &ldquo;in our quiver of transportation.&rdquo;</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or <a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tkellyphoto/2188160985/"><span>Photo of gondola by flickr user tomkellyphoto</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> <p> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/" rel="license"><img alt="Creative Commons License" src="http://i.creativecommons.org/l/by/3.0/us/88x31.png" style="border-width: 0pt;" /></a><br /> <em><span>Like this story? Then steal it. This report</span> by <a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org" rel="cc:attributionURL" target="_blank">Texas Watchdog</a> is licensed under a <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/" rel="license" target="_blank">Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License</a>. That means bloggers, citizen-journalists, and journalists may republish the story on their sites with attribution and a link to Texas Watchdog. If you do re-use the story, e-mail <a href="mailto:news@texaswatchdog.org">news@texaswatchdog.org</a>.</em></p> Mark Lisheron Austin Energy customers foot bill – $2 a month per customer for 19 years – for idled biomass plant http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/02/austin-energy-customers-foot-bill-for-biomass-plant-east-texas/1360884396.story 11606 world Thu Feb 14 17:33:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="Sam Houston National Forest" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/woods.jpg" title="Sam Houston National Forest" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>Around the clock, seven days a week, in a plant 233 miles away, a full complement of energy professionals stands at the ready to provide wood-fired power to Austin Energy customers.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The staff isn&rsquo;t sure when they will be needed next. The $128 million plant has produced electricity for less than two of the seven months it has been in operation.</span><br /> <br /> <span>But &nbsp;for the next 19 years a little less than $2 will be added every month to the bill of the average Austin Energy customer to pay for a plant that, when it does produce energy, produces energy too expensive for any energy company to want to buy.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;It is one of the biggest boondoggles I&rsquo;ve seen in modern history,&rdquo; an obviously agitated Tony Bennett says. Bennett is the acting director of the Texas Forest Industries Council. &ldquo;Just thinking about how they pulled this off makes me mad.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>Bennett was among those who tried to persuade </span><a href="http://www.austinenergy.com/"><span>Austin Energy</span></a><span> five years ago to think a little bit harder before trying to pull off building a new biomass-burning generating plant in the pine woods of East Texas.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The Council was part of a once-in-a lifetime coalition of consumer and good government advocates, environmental activists, and commercial and industrial interests who came together in 2008 to plead with the Austin City Council to reject the plan.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The City Council unanimously approved allowing Austin Energy to charge its customers to build the plant. The plan allowed for the energy company to enter into a guaranteed contract for 20 years for energy valued at the time at $2.3 billion.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;What is the most disturbing thing to me was that they put this contract through in about two weeks, almost in secret,&rdquo; Bennett says. &ldquo;I can tell you it shocked the forest products community at the time, the way they hurried it along.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>The reason for its urgency was that Roger Duncan, then head of Austin Energy, considered the plant a necessary component in his plan for Austin Energy to get 35 percent of all of its energy from renewable sources, spokesman Ed Clark says.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Unlike solar power and wind power, wood or biomass is a source of energy that could be called on in the dead calm of night, Clark says. </span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;Roger wanted that renewable component that would allow us to have power to dispatch 24-7,&rdquo; he says.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Roger Duncan and Austin Energy could not at the time the contract was signed in 2008 have anticipated the explosion of hydraulic fracturing that created a buyer&rsquo;s market for a seemingly endless supply of cheap natural gas, Clark says.</span><br /> <br /> <span>They could have had they listened to several industry experts who were part of a </span><a href="http://www.cleanenergyforaustin.org/about.html"><span>generation plan task force</span></a><span> formed by former mayor Will Wynn in 2007, Trey Salinas, a spokesman for the Coalition for Clean Affordable Renewable Energy, says.</span><br /> <br /> <span>At least three of those experts who later helped form the coalition told the task force that most every reliable forecast predicted a protracted period of low natural gas prices driven by technological breakthroughs like hydraulic fracturing.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;They can&rsquo;t say they couldn&rsquo;t know because they were told,&rdquo; Salinas says.</span><br /> <br /> <span>More than two years ago, while the plant was under construction, </span><a href="http://www.me.utexas.edu/directory/faculty/webber/michael/"><span>Michael Webber,</span></a><span> who supported the plant as associate director of the Center for International Energy &amp; Environmental Policy at the University of Texas, admitted to </span><a href="http://www.texastribune.org/2010/12/05/biomass-power-plants-rise-in-east-texas/"><span>Texas Tribune</span></a><span> the plant was controversial to begin with and no longer made economic sense.</span><br /> <br /> <span>In spite of the failure of additional federal tax breaks to materialize that would have made biomass more competitive, construction pushed on. Not long after the plant &nbsp;fired up for the first time this past summer Southern Power, a subsidiary of the </span><a href="http://www.southerncompany.com/"><span>Southern Company</span></a><span> in Atlanta, acquired it.</span><br /> <br /> <span>By agreement, Southern Power has the plant fully staffed around the clock, ready to serve Austin Energy&rsquo;s needs, spokesman Tim Leljedal says. In spite of the substantial lack of work, Leljedal confirmed that the company has not reduced staff nor has it been asked to by Austin Energy.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Leljedal declined to say - per the contract - how much Austin Energy customers were paying by the day, week or month when the plant is idle.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Clark confirmed Austin Energy is paying a capacity fee to Southern Power, but would not say what it was, per the contract. But the fee and the contract are little different from those signed with other renewable energy companies in generation arrangements that are increasingly&nbsp;</span><span>complicated. </span><br /> <br /> <span>At one time, Austin Energy envisioned the biomass plant running 90 percent of the time. Officials have downgraded the outlook to 75 percent and promised the plant would be firing on all burners by this summer, Clark says.</span><br /> <br /> <span>When asked if Austin Energy customers would be expected to cover the shortfall in the $2.3 billion contract, Clark says, &ldquo;We&rsquo;re not going to come close to that $2.3 billion figure.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>The problem is, advocates have for five years been unsuccessful in getting Austin Energy to make the terms of the contract public. No one really knows what utility ratepayers are paying for.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;CCARE (Coalition for Clean Affordable Renewable Energy) has always </span><span>strongly believed that Austin Energy should release the 2008 Biomass contract,&rdquo; Salinas </span><span>says. &ldquo;We do not feel there is a legitimate reason that a signed contract should be kept confidential and held from the public for over four years.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>The Austin City Council is currently deciding on whether or not to hand oversight of Austin Energy over to an independent board.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;We view this biomass plant decision as Exhibit A for why we need an independent board overseeing Austin Energy,&rdquo; Salinas says.</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/barclaynix/8129204743/">Photo from the Sam Houston National Forest by flickr user NixBC</a>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> <p> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/" rel="license" style="font-size: 12px;"><img alt="Creative Commons License" src="http://i.creativecommons.org/l/by/3.0/us/88x31.png" style="border-width: 0pt;" /></a></p> <p> <em><span>Like this story? Then steal it. This report</span> by <a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org" rel="cc:attributionURL" target="_blank">Texas Watchdog</a> is licensed under a <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/" rel="license" target="_blank">Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License</a>. That means bloggers, citizen-journalists, and journalists may republish the story on their sites with attribution and a link to Texas Watchdog. If you do re-use the story, e-mail <a href="mailto:news@texaswatchdog.org">news@texaswatchdog.org</a>.</em></p> Mark Lisheron Valero tells the tax man what’s what, awarded $5 million in overpaid taxes http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/02/valero-tells-the-tax-man-whats-what-awarded-5-million-in-property-taxes/1360702886.column 11605 world Tue Feb 12 15:01:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="Valero" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/valero.jpg" title="Valero" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>Memo to southeast Texas oil companies: you might want to have your people give your local tax bills the old once over before sending off a check.</span><br /> <br /> <span>A Galveston County jury taking issue with a novel revenue enhancing program has decided the Texas City Independent School District, Texas City, Galveston County and the College of the Mainland must give nearly $5 million back to Valero Energy Corp. for an excessive assessment of its Texas City refinery.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The school district is on the hook for $2.45 million the jury said it had no business collecting from the independent oil refiner based in San Antonio, the </span><a href="http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/texas/article/School-district-others-owe-Valero-nearly-5-4269932.php?t=9f0b811ee7b05374ef"><em><span>Houston Chronicle</span></em><span><em> </em>reports t</span></a><span>his morning.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Galveston County is in arrears for $1.16 million; Texas City owes $805,000; and the college, $439,000.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Seems the Galveston Central Appraisal District in 2011 came in with an assessed value of the refinery that was off by just a bit more than a rounding error, $189.38 million, according to the jury.</span><br /> <br /> <span>And it wasn&rsquo;t the first time. The school district in 2009 was forced to return $2.38 million to Valero after the Appraisal District worked its assessment magic.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Valero went after the appraisal of its Jefferson County plants in 2011, and a </span><a href="http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/education/article/Port-Arthur-ISD-must-pay-14-6-million-to-settle-1380191.php"><span>jury ordered the Port Arthur Independent School District to give back $14.6 million.</span></a><br /> <br /> <span>The company has at least two other lawsuits pending to try to take back tax money for which Valero contends it was overcharged, the </span><span>Chronicle</span><span> says. </span><br /> <br /> <span>Several officials for the involved government bodies could not be reached for comment, but those who did said the refund would be a hardship. </span><br /> <br /> <span>Aw, don&rsquo;t be that way. Take it from Virginia Hopkins, our favorite waitress at Johnny&rsquo;s Downtown Restaurant in Cleveland, who never thought twice about </span><a href="http://abcnews.go.com/US/cleveland-waitress-half-million-dollar-tax-refund/story?id=16467506"><span>returning the $433,958 more </span></a><span>than she was supposed to get for her tax refund.</span><br /> <br /> <span>You&rsquo;ll just feel better about it.</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/derrichdotcom/6254251134/"><span>Photo of a gas station by flickr user derrich</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron Pension finances, local government debt targeted in Texas transparency bills http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/02/pension-finances-local-government-debt-targeted-in-texas-transparency-bills/1360269779.column 11604 world Thu Feb 7 14:42:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="money" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/money_56.jpg" title="money" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>A quartet of the most powerful legislators in Texas filed bills Thursday to make available to the public detailed financial information from most local taxing entities and pension systems across the state.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Senate bills </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/124380628/Senate-Bill-14"><span>14 </span></a><span>and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/124379788/Senate-Bill-13"><span>13 </span></a><span>and their identical House counterparts establish, at the request of state </span><a href="http://www.window.state.tx.us/"><span>Comptroller Susan Combs</span></a><span>, new requirements for the posting of public debt, unfunded liabilities, borrowing and project costs on websites maintained by state and local agencies.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;People need to know what their government is doing, and how it spends their money,&rdquo; Combs said in a statement she issued after a press conference announcing the filing of the bills. &ldquo;We need to implement common-sense changes that put vital information about government spending and debt in front of the public.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>SB 14, drafted by </span><a href="http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/members/dist4/dist4.htm"><span>Sen. Tommy Williams</span></a><span>, R-The Woodlands, and</span><a href="http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/member-page/?district=10"><span> Rep. Jim Pitts,</span></a><span> R- Waxahachie, commits the Comptroller to maintaining tax rate information for every political body collecting a sales or use tax in the state, updated by the assessors and collectors for those bodies.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Williams is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a member of its committee on Open Government. Pitts is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The state&rsquo;s Bond Finance Office would post on a website a list of all outstanding local securities and schedules for their repayment. In turn, the issuers of local securities would submit reports of their activities to the state.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Under SB 14, the public would get more detailed information about the issuing of bonds, the rationale for their issuance and a tally of outstanding debt incurred by the bonds.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Local political bodies would be expected to file annual reports detailing all of their funds and their outstanding debt obligations. These reports would be posted on websites maintained by all cities, school districts and special taxing districts.</span></p> <div style="float:right; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="Susan Combs" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/susancombs.jpeg" title="Susan Combs" width="120" /><span style="display:block">Susan Combs</span></div> <p> <br /> <span>Once every three years each special taxing district in the state would be expected to prepare a report defending its existence and hold a public hearing to discuss the assessment.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The bill would also require school districts to create or to include on their websites detailed information about school facilities, enrollment, estimates of projected costs for new school projects and the current annual financial report.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&quot;When we write the budget each session, we require transparency and access to information,&rdquo; Pitts said in a prepared statement Thursday. &ldquo;Texas taxpayers deserve the same level of transparency and openness, and House Bill 14 will deliver just that.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>Senate Bill 13, written by </span><a href="http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/members/dist28/dist28.htm"><span>Sen. Robert Duncan,</span></a><span> R-Lubbock, and </span><a href="http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/member-page/?district=132"><span>Rep. Bill Callegari, </span></a><span>R-Houston, calls on the state Pension Review Board to maintain a website for the financial information for every public pension plan in the state. </span><br /> <br /> <span>Duncan is the chairman of the State Affairs Committee and a member of the Finance Committee. Callegari is the chairman of the House Pensions Committee.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The bill would require from all pension systems, including the state&rsquo;s two largest, the </span><a href="http://www.ers.state.tx.us/home.aspx"><span>Employees Retirement System of Texas </span></a><span>and the </span><a href="http://www.trs.state.tx.us/"><span>Teacher Retirement System of Texas,</span></a><span> financial reports that would include:</span></p> <ul> <li> <span>Net investment returns for each of the most recent 10 fiscal years</span></li> <li> <span>Net rate of return for 1,3, 10 and 30-year periods</span></li> <li> <span>Net rate of return from the founding of the pension plan</span></li> <li> <span>Current and future anticipated rate of return on investments.</span></li> </ul> <p> <span>Texas Watchdog has </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2011/12/texas-public-pension-reformers-warn-of-looming-breaking-point/1323277373.story"><span>reported on in detail</span></a><span> concerns with the health of pensions plans in the state and nationally.</span><br /> <br /> <span>To that end, the Pension Review Board would be expected to produce a study of the overall health of public retirement plans in Texas and present its findings to the Legislature by </span><span>Sept. 1, 2014.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;It is important for taxpayers to feel confident that public pensions in Texas are being managed properly to ensure long-term financial health,&rdquo; Duncan said in a statement Thursday. &ldquo;Senate Bill 13 aims to give citizens the information they need to feel secure about public pensions.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.texaspolicy.com/experts/talmadge-heflin"><span>Talmadge Heflin,</span></a><span> director of the Center for Fiscal Policy at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, said he was particularly pleased the bills focused on opening the financial affairs of schools and pensions.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;Texas is once again at the forefront of the transparency movement, pushing for the sort of good government reforms that will give Texans more information, more choice and more freedom,&rdquo; Heflin said. &ldquo;Among other things, these two bills would let Texans know who&rsquo;s taxing them and why, require local governments to prepare basic financial reports, and put all this information online.&rdquo;</span><br /> <span> </span><br /> <span>Max Patterson, executive director for the </span><a href="http://www.texpers.org/"><span>Texas Association of Public Employee Retirement Systems,</span></a><span> issued a statement Thursday saying the direction from the Comptroller&rsquo;s office was the right one.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;There may be some fine-tuning we&rsquo;d like to see with the fees that are indicated in the first drafts of the bill, but we will work with the comptroller on that or other matters that come up with our members,&rdquo; Patterson said.</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/6355836713/"><span>Photo of money by flickr user 401(K)2012</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron Pensions of former Texas lawmakers can be kept secret: Judge http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/02/government-pensions-of-former-texas-lawmakers-can-be-kept-secret-legislature/1360100780.column 11603 world Tue Feb 5 15:47:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="Texas state Capitol" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/capitol_38.jpg" title="Texas state Capitol" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>Texas District Judge Lora Livingston Tuesday ruled the state is not obliged to tell the public how much it pays in pensions to former members of the Legislature.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Livingston turned back a </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/124017813/Texans-For-Public-Justice-lawsuit-release"><span>lawsuit filed last October</span></a><span> by the open government non-profit group </span><a href="http://www.tpj.org/1997/01/about-tpj.html"><span>Texans for Public Justice.</span></a><span> The group originally filed suit to compel the state to produce a total cost for the retirement plans paid to 103 former legislators who currently work as lobbyists.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;It really doesn&rsquo;t matter whether they are lobbying or not, we have a right to know what that total is because we are paying into it,&rdquo; TPJ director Craig McDonald said Tuesday afternoon. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re hiding it because maybe we think the retirement might be too extravagant. That&rsquo;s for us to decide, not them.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>McDonald said no decision has yet been made to appeal Livingston&rsquo;s decision.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Legislators themselves have spent the last decade passing laws that protect their pension information and prohibit the Employees Retirement System from disclosing it, McDonald said.</span><br /> <br /> <span>In 1998 Texans for Public Justice asked for an opinion of then-Attorney General Dan Morales, who said the public was entitled to the pension information.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;Our speculation was Morales&rsquo; opinion was the reason the Legislature passed those laws,&rdquo; McDonald said. &ldquo;This is total hypocrisy to talk about transparency and accountability and in the middle of the night pass laws that close off information about this pension money.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>A year ago, after </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/02/sixfigure-state-workers-taking-pension-too-texas-law-keeps/1329147702.column"><span>federal income disclosure reports revealed</span></a><span> Gov. Rick Perry was receiving a state pension worth more than $92,000 a year on top of his $150,000-a-year salary, there was a call for increased pension disclosure.</span><br /> <br /> <span>And while the public learned that more than 6,000 state employees were drawing a state pension and a state paycheck, state law protected their identities.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/double-dipping-by-elected-officials-targeted-texas-state-legislature/1357832972.column"><span>As Texas Watchdog reported last month</span></a><span>, Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, has filed a bill that would end the practice of double dipping - but not for those like Perry who are already helping themselves. </span><br /> <br /> <span>Texans for Public Justice has focused on legislators-turned-lobbyists because they are among the best compensated lobbyists in the state, McDonald said. </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/124017813/Texans-For-Public-Justice-lawsuit-release"><span>(Please see the chart on the second page of this document.)</span></a><br /> <br /> <span>The group has tried with little success to lobby for a law that would prevent retiring lawmakers from moving immediately into the lobbying profession. A bill filed in the last session by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, went nowhere.</span><br /> <br /> <span>State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has in this session filed </span><a href="http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/83R/billtext/pdf/SB00099I.pdf#navpanes=0"><span>Senate Bill 99</span></a><span> that would force a legislator to sit out two legislative sessions before doing any registered lobbying work.</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org"><span>mark@texaswatchdog.org</span></a><span> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/athrasher/2823255013/"><span>Photo of money by flickr user athrasher</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron Dazzled by promise of rail, Austin leaders still need to persuade public http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/02/dazzled-by-promise-of-rail-austin-texas-leaders-commuter-rail-public-transit/1360002816.column 11602 world Mon Feb 4 12:33:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="train" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/train_1.jpg" title="train" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>Having followed Texas Watchdog&rsquo;s coverage of Austin&rsquo;s rail rapture, you can be forgiven for assuming the movement remains earthbound awaiting only taxpayer billions and living, breathing commuters.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Not so. Like President Obama explaining the </span><a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/election-2012/obama-first-term-failure-telling-story-article-1.1113839"><span>single failure of his first term</span></a><span>, the brain trust behind Austin&rsquo;s Central Texas and urban rail plans needs only to tell a better story, one that inspires the public to </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_A2pRVyBmOY"><span>Choo-Choo Ch&rsquo; Boogie</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>So says a </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/123780429/Project-Connect-Urban-Rail-Report"><span>new report</span></a><span> from a working group headed by </span><span>Greg Hull, </span><span>president of the American Public Transportation Association, and development directors for transit systems in Dallas, Charlotte, Denver, Portland and Salt Lake City.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The working group lauded the overall planning for the high-ridership Central Texas Project Connect and the expansion of the much loved but chronically underused MetroRail commuter line now running from Leander to downtown Austin.</span><br /> <br /> <span>What the partnership of the </span><span>Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the City of Austin and Lone Star Rail District hasn&rsquo;t done so well is tell people why they really, really need all this rail transportation, the report says.</span><br /> <br /> <span>It might also help, the working group suggested, if there were a &ldquo;well defined, clearly understood, and agreed upon path for moving the projects forward.&rdquo; The path could be blazed if the groups involved formed a real partnership and figured out individuals and businesses in the area that like the rail idea.</span><br /> <br /> <span>And, while you&rsquo;re in the storytelling mood, it wouldn&rsquo;t hurt to come up with a 20-year plan to explain to people how you plan to pay for this fantasia.</span><br /> <br /> <span>As Texas Watchdog has cheerfully pointed out for some time, they will be explaining that for 20 years almost all of the money will be coming from the people. While locomotive fanciers continue to </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/05/high-speed-rail-proponents-still-pushing-for-10-billion-houston-dallas-line/1336673767.column"><span>float ideas about private investment</span></a><span> in rail systems, </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2010/10/federal-stimulus-boosts-highspeed-rail-backers-hopes-but/1288170000.story"><span>no one has ponied up a dime i</span></a><span>n decades in Texas. </span><br /> <br /> <span>It isn&rsquo;t any secret to area transit officials how cost effective the MetroRail has been, coming in wildly over budget, its cars half-full on the best days. A year ago, while losing millions of dollars a year on its weekly commuter run, MetroRail added </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/02/all-aboard-austins-taxpayer-express-metrorail-weekend-service-capital-metro/1328736123.column"><span>weekend service</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Fares taken in on the weekends cover about 8 percent of the $1.85 million MetroRail spent running trains on the weekends this past year, the </span><a href="http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/weekend-metrorail-a-now-and-then-hit/nWFB8/"><em><span>Austin American-Statesman </span></em><span>reports today.</span></a><br /> <br /> <span>Not a whole lot better than the 5 cents commuters are contributing to every dollar it costs MetroRail to run the trains during the weekday rush hours.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Now, if there were only a better way to tell that story. Maybe with lots of pictures of </span><a href="https://www.google.com/search?q=missouri+pacific+railroad+locomotives&amp;hl=en&amp;tbo=d&amp;source=lnms&amp;tbm=isch&amp;sa=X&amp;ei=gvQPUaK1FcjOqQHlyYCADQ&amp;ved=0CAcQ_AUoAA&amp;biw=1280&amp;bih=709#hl=en&amp;tbo=d&amp;tbm=isch&amp;sa=1&amp;q=texas+pacific+railroad+locomotives&amp;oq=texas+pacific+railroad+locomotives&amp;gs_l=img.12...36251.38525.0.41341.13.9.0.0.0.2.121.759.8j1.9.0...0.0...1c.1.2.img.XK8Ep7mqg60&amp;bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.&amp;bvm=bv.41867550,d.aWM&amp;fp=b56ee3fc51651232&amp;biw=1280&amp;bih=709&amp;imgrc=yr7La4GL6DxpYM%3A%3Br31dT9QKxsHh-M%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fupload.wikimedia.org%252Fwikipedia%252Fcommons%252F0%252F0a%252FTexas_and_Pacific_Railway_ticket.JPG%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fen.wikipedia.org%252Fwiki%252FFile%253ATexas_and_Pacific_Railway_ticket.JPG%3B692%3B317"><span>big, old locomotives.</span></a></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/xfile001/5104751151/"><span>Photo of a MetroRail commuter train by flickr user xfile001</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron President’s jobs council disbands; economist: ‘I didn't even remember we had one’ http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/02/president-obama-jobs-council-disbands-economist-i-didnt-even/1359758224.column 11601 world Fri Feb 1 16:37:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="White House" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/whitehouse_2.jpg" title="White House" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>Grief-stricken that after spending </span><a href="http://www.foxbusiness.com/on-air/willis-report/blog/2013/01/31/766-trillion-your-taxpayer-dollars-gone#ixzz2Jf6bHaKm"><span>$7.66 trillion</span></a><span> to get us going again our economy is </span><a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324156204578273611039517142.html"><span>shrinking </span></a><span>and our unemployment is </span><a href="http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/02/01/unemployment-rate-ticks-up-to-79-percent"><span>growing</span></a><span>, I turned this week to a last thread of hope, the President&rsquo;s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Only to find out the President </span><a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323926104578276341300702084.html?KEYWORDS=council+on+jobs"><span>decided Thursday to break up </span></a><span>that old </span><a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/advisory-boards/jobs-council"><span>jobs council </span></a><span>of mine. Well, no reporter worth his salt is going to sit back with his feet propped up on his desk smoking his meerschaum and not ask why.</span><br /> <br /> <span>In the late morning, I put in a call to the media departments for the two Texas members of the council, </span><a href="http://www.swamedia.com/channels/Officer-Biographies/pages/gary_kelly"><span>Gary Kelly</span></a><span>, chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines, and </span><a href="http://www.stateoftheindustry2012.com/speakers/matt-rose/"><span>Matthew Rose,</span></a><span> CEO for BNSF Railway, who doesn&rsquo;t live too far from me here in Austin.</span><br /> <br /> <span>And then I set about to do some digging. As anyone who cares about our economy recalls, President Obama issued an </span><a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/01/31/executive-order-13564-presidents-council-jobs-and-competitiveness"><span>executive order </span></a><span>in January of 2011 calling on some of our most powerful business people to:</span></p> <blockquote> <p> <em><span>&ldquo;continue to strengthen the Nation&#39;s economy and ensure the competitiveness of the United States and to create jobs, opportunity, and prosperity for the American people by ensuring the availability of non partisan advice to the President from participants in and experts on the economy...&rdquo;</span></em></p> </blockquote> <p> <span>While the makeup of the committee might have been a little too Ivy League and Wall Street for a Texan&rsquo;s taste, you couldn&rsquo;t argue with council&rsquo;s pedigree. And they got right to work, or certainly said they were going to get right to work.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Groups of council members decamped for &ldquo;listening and action sessions&rdquo; around the country. Council members including Kelly and Rose told an audience at Southern Methodist University on Sept. 1, 2011, that if the government was going to spend a lot of &nbsp;money to get the economy going again, you could do worse than to invest in infrastructure.</span><br /> <br /> <span>By the end of the year, the council had kicked out a swell report </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/123389486/Road-Map-to-Renewal"><span>Road Map to Renewal</span></a><span>, although its recommendations for the future - fostering innovation, preparing the workforce for a global economy, investing in alternative energy and infrastructure - sounded a lot like talking points for the </span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Recovery_and_Reinvestment_Act_of_2009"><span>American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The council met only four times, the last time on Jan. 17, 2012, at the White House. There is no 2012 report on the website, and one wonders with the dissolution of the council whether there will be one.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Seems like more than a few people wondered why, exactly, the President formed the jobs council in the first place.</span><br /> <br /> <span>To calculate the impact the council had on the economy, the </span><a href="http://www.marketplace.org/topics/economy/hey-remember-presidents-jobs-council"><span>Marketplace website </span></a><span>asked economist Gary Burtless at the Brookings Institution what he thought of the President&rsquo;s decision to shut down it down. &quot;Well, as probably more than one economist would remark to you,&rdquo; Burtless said, &ldquo;I didn&#39;t even remember we had one.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>By this time, much of the afternoon had flown by without my knowing what the Texas delegation to the council thought of their work. I looked on the Internet in vain for comments from either of them.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Deadline fast approached, when Chris Mainz, a spokesman for Kelly, replied by e-mail to my request. </span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;Thanks for reaching out, &ldquo; Mainz wrote. &ldquo;Gary is out of pocket, and I won&rsquo;t be able to get you a comment for your deadline. We don&rsquo;t have a canned one to send. Sorry we can&rsquo;t help out with this story.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>We can only hope Kelly can&rsquo;t be reached because he&rsquo;s in a garret somewhere finishing up his part of Road Map to Renewal: 2012.</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/toptechwriter/44210268/"><span>Photo of the White House by flickr user DuckofD3ath</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron Newspaper notice law ‘horse and buggy’ thinking, Rep. Jonathan Stickland wants governments in Texas to post online http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/newspaper-notice-law-horse-and-buggy-thinking-rep-jonathan-stickland-texas-legislature/1359585128.column 11600 world Wed Jan 30 16:49:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="horse and buggy" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/buggy.jpg" title="horse and buggy" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>You can already hear a distant drumbeat, the pounding of 40-gallon drums holding printer&rsquo;s ink.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Freshman state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, who rode into the Texas House on a surge of small-government austerity, has filed a bill he says will save taxpayers millions of dollars.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Stickland&rsquo;s </span><a href="http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/83R/billtext/pdf/HB00335I.pdf#navpanes=0"><span>House Bill 335</span></a><span> would rescind laws that require all government bodies to pay newspapers to advertise their public notices. Instead, they would be free to post these notices on their taxpayer underwritten government websites.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Be forewarned, the following will include allusions to and even overt references to government transparency and accountability, an informed public, the commonweal and all that.</span><br /> <br /> <span>But really, when you get down to it, as we must when it comes to government, it&rsquo;s going to be all about the money. And make no mistake, it&rsquo;s a lot of money.</span><br /> <br /> <span>In the age of the Internet, the government tether to expensive ads in newspapers people increasingly aren&rsquo;t reading is horse and buggy thinking, Stickland says. Most government bodies, even tiny municipal utility districts (MUDs), have their own websites.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Posting notices of upcoming public meetings and important actions, even soliciting public input, could be done as effectively at little or no cost on those websites, Stickland say</span><span>s.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Just how much taxpayers could save is a little hard to figure. When contacted by Texas Watchdog, neither the </span><a href="http://www.texaspress.com/"><span>Texas Press Association</span></a><span> nor the </span><a href="http://nnaweb.org/ir-newspapers-dead"><span>National Newspaper Association</span></a><span> could provide estimates of how much newspapers earn from taxpayer-funded advertising.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Anecdotal evidence - like the $25 million a year Pennsylvania is likely spending, according to an</span><span> </span><a href="http://fundingthenews.usc.edu/related_research/6_Carnegie_PublicNotice.pdf"><span>Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy study</span></a><span>, or the $4 million annually that school districts alone in Texas spend, a state Comptroller study found - hint at an enormous market.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Or in </span><a href="https://docs.google.com/a/texaswatchdog.org/spreadsheet/pub?key=0AqoAg7PhXY5UdEdkeF84cUZ3bVdHYV9lU19KZmgzZkE&amp;output=html"><span>figures from around the country </span></a><span>provided by </span><a href="http://legal-notice.org/"><span>legal-notice.org,</span></a><span> a nonprofit clearinghouse for, believe it or not, news concerning public notice law.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley told Stickland&rsquo;s staff moving to website notices would save county taxpayers $50,000 per year. </span><br /> <br /> <span>The National Newspaper Association back in 2000 estimated 5 to 10 percent of a newspaper&rsquo;s revenue came from public notice advertising, the Annenberg Center report said. The figure today is as much as but no more than 5 percent in Texas, Donnis Baggett, executive vice-president of the Texas Press Association, says.</span><br /> <br /> <span>And while classified advertising revenue drop</span><span>ped 29 percent d</span><span>uring the period the Annenberg Center looked at, public notice revenues were off by 4.3 percent.</span></p> <div style="float:right; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="Jonathan Stickland" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/jonathanstickland.jpg" title="Jonathan Stickland" width="120" /><span style="display:block">Jonathan Stickland</span></div> <p> <span>In short, according to Stickland, the current welter of public notice law &ldquo;amounts to nothing but a taxpayer subsidy for the companies that own newspapers, and it needs to go the way of the horse and buggy.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>Cue an incessant ink drum beat getting louder. </span><br /> <br /> <span>The </span><a href="http://www.theeagle.com/opinion/editorials/article_ed7b3060-cbcf-5972-8901-c7416acfcb9a.html"><span>editorial board for </span><span>The Eagle</span></a><span> in Bryan-College Station wrote that newspapers make a pittance on public notices and offer a tremendous public service.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;While at first glance, the bill seems innocuous, it is, in fact, dangerous &ndash; and, it won&#39;t save much money, either,&rdquo; the editorial said.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Mark Engebretson, editor of the </span><span>Lake County Sun</span><span>, </span><a href="http://www.dentonrc.com/opinion/columns-headlines/20130112-mark-engebretson-newspapers-help-ensure-access-to-public-notices.ece"><span>called on readers </span></a><span>to take action.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;Call legislators, let them know,&rdquo; he wrote. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a bad idea, forget it. Don&rsquo;t know who the legislators are? They&rsquo;re listed on the Internet.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>At the top of the list of bad reasons, Baggett says, is leaving the legal responsibility of public notice in the hands of public officials. As even a casual reader of Texas Watchdog can tell you, despite the endless rhetoric, public officials have an unrelievedly awful record of making sure the people know what they&rsquo;re up to.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;The fact is, most officials see this as a bother and an unnecessary expense,&rdquo; Baggett says. &ldquo;They would rather not deal with it.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>But if it were to come to pass, Baggett says citizens would be left to search each and every website for each and every notice from each and every government body. Providing the government body has a website.</span><br /> <br /> <span>And providing the citizen has a computer. Relying on new technology threatens to disenfranchise the poor and minorities, something the Texas Press Association has written extensively about.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Not in print but on its website, </span><a href="http://www.keeptexasnotified.com/"><span>Keep Texas Notified.</span></a><br /> <br /> <span>If Keep Texas Notified can keep Texas notified, why couldn&rsquo;t websites operated independently of government compete for the advertising monopolized by newspapers? The laws themselves, for one thing.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Legal-notice.org shows no record of any change other than that at the local level. In 2008, 153 bills, amendments and proposals like Stickland&rsquo;s were proposed, the Annenberg Center study said. Few got a hearing, and none at the state level passed.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, a St. Petersburg, Fla., journalism think tank, says </span><a href="http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/business-news/the-biz-blog/161539/new-threat-to-classifieds-as-newspapers-legal-notice-franchise-comes-under-fresh-pressure-from-cash-strapped-states/"><span>newspapers have so far protected their turf.</span></a><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;Seems to show that the old media has some clout still, slapping down these proposals as they come up,&rdquo; Edmonds wrote in an e-mail to Texas Watchdog.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Expect Stickland&rsquo;s bill to get slapped around by the old media some more before the session is over.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;We believe his bill might be unconstitutional,&rdquo; Baggett says. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re looking into that.&rdquo;</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or <a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/kbansari/6754156635/"><span>Photo of horse and buggy by flickr user K.B. Ansari</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron Surplus refunded to taxpayers under Gov. Rick Perry’s plan http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/surplus-refunded-to-texas-taxpayers-under-gov-rick-perrys/1359489780.column 11599 world Tue Jan 29 15:03:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="Texas state Capitol" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/capitol_37.jpg" title="Texas state Capitol" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>Flush with an </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/booming-revenues-have-officials-in-texas-pondering-pay/1357749744.column"><span>oil and gas-generated surplus of nearly $9 billion,</span></a><span> Gov. Rick Perry has called for a change in the Texas Constitution to allow the state to refund unspent revenues directly to taxpayers.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Perry brought the audience for his biennial state of the state address to their feet Tuesday morning asking the Legislature and citizens to help find $1.8 billion in tax relief during this session.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Surprised at the duration of the ovation, Perry remarked, &ldquo;I&#39;m proud that in Texas, we&#39;re talking about the best way to give money back to the people who paid it.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>Perry, delivering his seventh state address to the joint meeting of the House and Senate, said Texas needed to take advantage of its role as a national economic leader and put its financial house in order.</span><br /> <br /> <span>To be able to return unspent tax money to citizens directly would require </span><a href="http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/CN/htm/CN.17.htm"><span>amending the state Constitution.</span></a><span> Such an amendment would require approval by two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate</span><span> and by a majority </span><span>in a statewide referendum. </span><br /> <br /> <span>Last year, with a budget surplus of $2.1 billion, the state of </span><a href="http://www.ibj.com/indiana-taxpayers-to-see-111-credit-from-surplus/PARAMS/article/38071"><span>Indiana granted state tax credits</span></a><span> of $111 for every taxpaying individual and $222 for couples.</span></p> <div style="float:right; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="Rick Perry" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/rickperry_5.jpg" title="Rick Perry" width="120" /><span style="display:block">Rick Perry</span></div> <p> <br /> <span>&ldquo;We&#39;ve never bought into the notion that if you collect more, you need to spend more,&rdquo; Perry said.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The governor&rsquo;s office established a </span><a href="http://gov.texas.gov/texastaxrelief/"><span>website</span></a><span> soliciting ideas for how to provide the $1.8 billion in tax tax relief. At the same time, he called for an even tighter, more streamlined budget and a constitutional limit on spending growth tied to the growth in population and inflation.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The franchise tax exemption for small business should be made permanent, he said.</span><br /> <br /> <span>In the future, state budgets would not rely on budget gimmickry like </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/state-sen-tommy-williams-promises-less-raiding-of-texas-dedicated-funds-legislature/1359055378.column"><span>dedicating collections of taxes and fees</span></a><span> tied to specific bills only to hold onto the funds or use them for another purpose.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;If we don&#39;t need taxpayer money for that purpose,&rdquo; Perry said, &ldquo;let&#39;s not collect it at all.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>Perry emphatically reiterated his </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/price-tag-says-115-billion-yet-study-authors-find-medicaid-expansion-texas-obamacare/1359413118.column"><span>longstanding position</span></a><span> that Texas will not expand Medicaid or establish a </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2011/03/rep-john-zerwas-doubts-passage-of-texas-health-insurance/1301497240.column"><span>health insurance exchange</span></a><span> under the terms dictated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;Texas is not going to drive millions of dollars more into an unsustainable system, one that would drive Texas into bankruptcy,&rdquo; Perry said.</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattrife/70695105/"><span>Photo of Texas state Capitol by flickr user Matt Rife</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron Price tag says $115 billion, study authors find Medicaid expansion in Texas ‘affordable’ http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/price-tag-says-115-billion-yet-study-authors-find-medicaid-expansion-texas-obamacare/1359413118.column 11597 world Mon Jan 28 16:45:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="shot" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/shot_3.jpg" title="shot" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>With the unveiling today of a new report on the cost of expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, we are confident we have now heard the last three words on the subject: </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/122519109/Smart-Affordable-and-Fair-Why-Texas-Should-Extend-Medicaid-Coverage-to-Low-Income-Adults"><span>Smart, Affordable and Fair</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured said pretty much the same thing in a lot more words with its </span><a href="http://www.kff.org/medicaid/upload/8384.pdf"><span>study released back in November.</span></a><span> </span><br /> <br /> <span>By affordable, the Kaiser Commission meant $1.03 trillion with the cooperation of all 50 states from this year through 2022.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The cost for Texas to be smart, affordable and fair is about $115 billion during the same decade, according to the new report by Billy Hamilton Consulting for </span><a href="http://texasimpacttest.mgtt.net/"><span>Texas Impact,</span></a><span> a grassroots religious non-profit based in Austin.</span><br /> <br /> <span>This figure is considerably less than the $150 billion the conservative </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2011/01/policy-group-estimates-health-care-reform-adds-31-billion-to-Texas-Medicaid/1294263466.column"><span>Texas Public Policy Foundation estimated in its study</span></a><span>, as much as $38 billion of it to comply with the </span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patient_Protection_and_Affordable_Care_Act"><span>Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>What this flurry of studies is selling, particularly in states like Texas with </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/07/gov-rick-perry-announces-texas-will-not-expand-medicaid-a/1341865519.column"><span>recalcitrant political leaders</span></a><span>, is that all this expanding isn&rsquo;t just affordable but practically free. And by free these analysts mean paid for by the magic money machine in that </span><span>far off </span><span>land where all dreams come true: Washington, D.C.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Of that trillion in the Kaiser study, why, only $76 billion would come from the states. And of the $115 billion only $15 billion would come from Texans, according to the Hamilton study.</span><br /> <br /> <span>What&rsquo;s more, in the best tradition of John Maynard Keynes, all this free federal money will multiply itself in a direct and indirect boon to the Texas economy, $27.5 billion yielding $67.9 billion during the fiscal years 2014 through 2017, the study says.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Should you like to believe all that we&rsquo;ve said here about the money being free and multiplying like fishes and loaves, feel free to ignore those marginalized cranks </span><a href="http://www.timesdispatch.com/opinion/our-opinion/columnists-blogs/bart-hinkle/hinkle-the-myth-of-free-medicaid-money/article_f553b787-c200-5911-a33f-fe32ad062191.html"><span>like this one </span></a><span>suggesting all of Medicaid is paid for by taxpayers.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Next thing these folks will have you believing is that we are running </span><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/why-is-the-national-debt-16-trillion/2013/01/03/e2a85386-55fc-11e2-8b9e-dd8773594efc_blog.html"><span>national debt of $16 trillion.</span></a></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mccord/295079027/"><span>Photo by flickr user Lance McCord</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron Crystal ball says click here for salamander protection costs http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/crystal-ball-says-click-here-for-salamander-protection-texas/1359147240.column 11596 world Fri Jan 25 15:54:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="salamander" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/jollyville.jpg" title="salamander" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>Having </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/07/salamanders-would-be-blocked-endangered-species-john-cornyn-john-carter/1343668441.column"><span>not quite championed</span></a><span> four little known, underloved and potentially endangered salamanders here in Central Texas, you can imagine my excitement at the mere mention of them in a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Fish and Wildlife was </span><a href="http://www.fws.gov/southwest/docs/4TXsalamanderEANRfinal.pdf"><span>giving notice</span></a><span> that its draft report analyzing the potential</span><span> </span><span>economic impact of protecting the habitat of the Austin Blind, Georgetown, Jollyville Plateau and Salado salamanders was now available to the public.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The estimated impact was $29 million over a period of 23 years, the release said, with little explanation of how the dollar figure was arrived at or why a federal agency chose to measure the impact over such an odd period of time.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The bottom of the release was studded with helpful links to find the Service on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, but nowhere a link to the report to which notice had been given.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Knowing the federal government to be logical and efficient, I clicked on a link promising more information at the Fish and Wildlife </span><a href="http://www.fws.gov/southwest/"><span>Southwest Region website</span></a><span>. The site&rsquo;s top story announces the availability of a brand new economic analysis for my four beloved and imperiled salamanders.</span><br /> <br /> <span>To learn more, the agency suggested I click &ldquo;Learn More,&rdquo; which took me back to the original press release.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Deeply rooted in investigative reporting, I dialed a local number provided at the top of the release. Adam Zerrenner, a spokesman for the Austin field office did not answer, and at 9:07 a.m. I left a message.</span><br /> <br /> <span>At 10:14 a.m. an apologetic Zerrenner returned the call. &ldquo;The, the, the blame is all on us,&rdquo; he said. Just Google our &ldquo;Austin Ecological Services&rdquo; field office and click on the first link that comes up, Zerrenner suggested.</span><br /> <br /> <span>But will I find the report? Will the $29 million be explained? The report will tell you all about it, Zerrenner said, with the reassurance of someone with a long experience of public service at the federal level.</span><br /> <br /> <span>As promised, Google did its job, delivering me to the </span><a href="http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/AustinTexas/ESA_Sp_Salamanders.html#Second_comment"><span>field office,</span></a><span> which provided a trove of information on Texas salamanders. </span><br /> <br /> <span>After nine minutes of careful perusing, I called Zerrenner again. The message I left begged his pardon for my stupidity and asked that, should he call back, he stay on the line and guide me to the report.</span><br /> <br /> <span>It might also bear noting at this point the Austin American-Statesman, perhaps having experienced some of the same technical difficulties, </span><a href="http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/salamander-listing-could-cost-29-million-over-23-y/nT6Sd/"><span>wrote a story based on the press release</span></a><span> alone, leaving an explanation for the costs for another deadline.</span><br /> <br /> <span>At 10:33 a.m., the echo in the background of the return call told me Zerrenner was no longer alone. Two members of the field office information technology staff (one of them cheerfully admitting she was really half a position) had joined us on a conference call.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The 3 &frac12; of us returned to the field office website where, because it had just been added, I was asked to refresh my browser. Scrolling to the bottom of the page, under the Second Comment Period heading, second item, there it was. The </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/122194188/ECONOMIC-ANALYSIS-OF-CRITICAL-HABITAT-DESIGNATION-FOR-FOUR-CENTRAL-TEXAS-SALAMANDERS"><span>Draft Economic Analysis.</span></a><br /> <br /> <span>According to the agency, designating as critical habitat dozens of sites totalling about 6,000 acres or about 9.4 square miles in Williamson and Travis County would cost $29 million with a favorable discount rate or as much as $40 million if the rate deteriorated.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The authors admit to many economic variables making this estimate a very rough one and confining themselves mostly to the costs one might have dealing with the federal government while trying to develop in and around the critical habitat area. (Please see page ES-4 of the report.)</span><br /> <br /> <span>The actual economic impact, when all is said and done, could be several times the Fish and Wildlife Service estimate, Kemble White, a member of a Williamson County group assigned to the issue, says.</span><br /> <br /> <span>White, regional scientist for </span><a href="http://www.swca.com/index.php/"><span>SWAC Environmental Consultants</span></a><span> in Austin, says among the many missing costs in the estimate is the cost in time lost complying with all of the federal requirements embedded in adding four salamanders, however deserving, to the Endangered Species list.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;Let&rsquo;s just say these guys (Fish and Wildlife) have a pretty foggy crystal ball when it comes to figuring out what it&rsquo;s going to cost,&rdquo; White says. &ldquo;This report excludes all kinds of economic impacts.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>For those costs, we&rsquo;ll have to wait patiently for another press release.</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://austintexas.gov/department/jollyville-salamander"><span>Photo of the Jollyville Plateau salamander via AustinTexas.gov.</span></a></em></p> Mark Lisheron Lawmaker promises less raiding of state’s dedicated funds - like those for utility bills of poor http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/state-sen-tommy-williams-promises-less-raiding-of-texas-dedicated-funds-legislature/1359055378.column 11595 world Thu Jan 24 13:25:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="dome" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/dome_6.jpg" title="dome" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>Imagine if you were to hold a fundraiser for terminally ill children from abusive homes, raised a potful of money and used it to pay your rent.</span><br /> <br /> <span>In the Texas Legislature, this is known as &ldquo;dedicating,&rdquo; passing laws that require setting aside an amount of taxation or fee to carry out their goals and sitting on it, instead, to plug holes in the state budget.</span><br /> <br /> <span>This practice, clearly lacking in dedication, has produced what the Legislature has come to think of as a </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/03/fees-climb-in-texas-tens-of-millions-diverted-texas-state-legislature/1330962219.column"><span>slush fund of nearly $5 billion,</span></a><span> all perfectly legal if you talk to the right kind of lawyer.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams </span><a href="http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/state-politics/20130123-new-texas-budget-will-keep-fewer-set-aside-funds-in-reserve-top-senator-vows.ece"><span>tells the </span><span>Dallas Morning News</span></a><span> he&rsquo;s willing to take a crack at ending the process of dedicated funding. But he isn&rsquo;t exactly sure how and thinks it might take two or three legislative sessions.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Williams, R-The Woodlands, says lawmakers began leaning on locking in funding in the last decade when state sales tax collections were volatile. A volatile state sales tax, however, is the funding source for all that dedication, making budgeting itself an unstable business.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;You can&rsquo;t have it both ways,&rdquo; Williams said.</span><br /> <br /> <span>In the meantime, low-income utility customers, the dedicated fund the Legislature isn&rsquo;t using to help you has grown to $850 million. Air quality awaits improvement while its fund is $798 million. Paramedic and hospital emergency services is short $388 million the Legislature promised.</span><br /> <br /> <span>May we suggest, while you are waiting, a fundraiser?</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/greencracker/4694103992/"><span>Photo of state Capitol dome by flickr user dziner</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron Texas courthouses named to preservationists’ ‘most endangered’ list, $247 million spent to date on courthouse program http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/texas-courthouses-named-to-preservationists-most-endangered/1358967309.column 11594 world Wed Jan 23 12:55:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="plate" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/fortbendtxcourthouse.jpg" title="plate" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>The historic courthouses of Texas, without which the lemonade, chewing tobacco and </span><a href="http://www.dominoes.com/"><span>dominoes</span></a><span> industries would have long ago collapsed, are themselves collapsing. Again.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Taxpayers have since 1999 spent $247 million to keep the domes, cupolas and turrets atop 83 of the old warhorses, but that isn&rsquo;t near enough, </span><a href="http://www.kxan.com/dpp/news/texas_lege/old-courthouses-banking-on-state-money"><span>according to a report by KXAN-TV in Austin</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>After 14 years of restoration, the state&rsquo;s county courthouses have found themselves back on the </span><a href="http://www.preservationnation.org/issues/11-most-endangered/listings.html#.UQAFBx2nIhB"><span>National Trust for Historic Preservation&rsquo;s</span></a><span> list of America&#39;s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.</span><br /> <br /> <span>To help blot out the shame, the </span><span>Texas Historical Commission is asking the Legislature for another $20 million in this session. But with at least 75 of the more than 235 courthouses 50 years or older in need of work, expect the requests to go on in perpetuity.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Stung by the first National Trust reproach, Gov. George W. Bush and the Legislature in 1999 ponied up $50 million to establish the </span><a href="http://www.thc.state.tx.us/preserve/projects-and-programs/texas-historic-courthouse-preservation"><span>Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program.</span></a><span> The grant reached a high of $62 million in the 2007 session but has dipped to $20 million for each of the past two biennia.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Should the funding not be forthcoming, counties might want to consider setting up committees for </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/08/travis-county-committee-wants-to-bypass-voters-on-courthouse/1344444961.column"><span>issuing bonds without voter approval</span></a><span> as was done to prompt quick action to build a new $343 million courthouse in Travis County.</span><br /> <br /> <span>And if that doesn&rsquo;t work out, there&rsquo;s always room for folding dominoes tables in the Wal-Mart parking lot.</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/fusionpanda/247956339/"><span>Photo of Fort Bend County courthouse by flickr user fusionpanda</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron Texas props up wind, solar with hundreds of millions of dollars per year, lawmakers cautious on more $ http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/texas-props-up-wind-solar-with-hundreds-of-millions-green-energy-subsidies/1358890149.story 11593 world Tue Jan 22 15:55:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="wind turbines" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/windturbines.jpg" title="wind turbines" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>With a nearly $1 billion federal renewable energy tax credit in doubt, Texas Rep. Mark Strama delivered what to another audience would have been an odd message.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/member-page/?district=50"><span>Strama, an Austin Democrat</span></a><span>, is an energy guy, a technology guy, whip smart and a little unpredictable. Invited to give the keynote address to the Texas Renewable Energy Industry Association on Dec. 12 at a resort hotel south of Austin, Strama drew a few gasps admitting he supports hydraulic fracturing. Safe and clean hydraulic fracturing, of course.</span></p> <div style="float:right; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="Mark Strama" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/markstrama.jpg" title="Mark Strama" width="120" /><span style="display:block">Mark Strama</span></div> <p> <span>But the product of that technology, abundant, inexpensive natural gas, was not necessarily a good thing, Strama told the group. Rather than pouring some of the windfall into new energy technology, utilities are providing a palliative, allowing millions of people to pocket their utility savings.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The not so simple truth, Strama said, is that after all of the billions of tax dollars that have been spent no one is any closer to knowing when the wind, solar and biofuels industries can survive without government subsidy.</span><br /> <br /> <span>What&rsquo;s more, Congress&rsquo; reluctant decision to extend the renewable energy tax credit, and for only one year, may be a signal that in an age of cheap natural gas there isn&rsquo;t the political will to ask ratepayers or taxpayers for more renewables support.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Renewable energy played almost no role in the presidential election dialogue. The energy tax credit passed with no outcry outside of the political class.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Of the roughly 600 bills filed through the end of the second week of the 83rd session of the Texas Legislature, just two contain the phrase renewable energy. One of them, a bill by Strama, is specific to the city of Pflugerville.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The other, </span><a href="http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/83R/billtext/pdf/HB00303I.pdf#navpanes=0"><span>House Bill 303</span></a><span>, calls for the state to require utilities to get</span><span> 35 percent of their generating capacity from renewables, two percent of it from solar energy, by Jan. 1, 2020.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The bill, written by state </span><a href="http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/member-page/?district=51"><span>Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin</span></a><span>, like similar bills in the past two sessions, is likely to go nowhere. Rodriguez chose not to respond to calls and a list of several questions about the bill and renewable energy e-mailed to him by Texas Watchdog.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Strama won&rsquo;t be offering any major renewable subsidy bill in this session.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;Honestly, a lot of the work I&rsquo;m going to be doing is to protect what we already have now,&rdquo; Strama said. &ldquo;This is just not a priority issue to most people right now.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>Perhaps it isn&rsquo;t a priority to most people because, at least in the abstract, they </span><a href="http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/18737"><span>like the idea of supporting renewable energy</span></a><span>. In 2009 the </span><a href="http://cgmf.org/p/home.html"><span>Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation</span></a><span> in Austin surveyed 993 registered voters, 85 percent of whom thought Texas needed to increase production of wind and solar power. Nearly 80 percent, 73 percent who identified themselves as conservative, supported the idea of subsidies, loans and tax incentives to those energy businesses.</span><br /> <br /> <span>In November, a </span><a href="http://bush.tamu.edu/news/index.php/story/texas_am_energy_report"><span>national survey from the Texas A&amp;M Energy Institute and the Bush School of Government and Public Service </span></a><span>found 59 percent of the public for increasing renewable research and development funding and 60 percent supporting tax breaks for companies developing renewable energy technology.</span><br /> <br /> <span>But if all that funding and those tax breaks meant the price of gas going up at their local pump, the survey said nearly 70 percent would change their answer.</span><br /> <br /> <span>A public intolerant of an increase of a few pennies they can see is a public historically oblivious to its donation of billions of dollars it doesn&rsquo;t see. In November, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin, estimated Texas would contribute $567 million a year on the renewable energy tax credit alone.</span><br /> <br /> <span>In their </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/121629311/The-Cost-of-the-Production-Tax-Credit-and-Renewable-Energy-Subsidies-in-Texas"><span>study,</span></a><span> </span><a href="http://www.texaspolicy.com/experts/josiah-neeley"><span>Josiah Neeley,</span></a><span> policy analyst with the Armstrong Center on Energy &amp; the Environment and </span><a href="http://www.texaspolicy.com/experts/bill-peacock-0"><span>Bill Peacock</span></a><span>, director of the Center for Economic Freedom for the Foundation, drilled deeper.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Overall, including federal funding through the </span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Recovery_and_Reinvestment_Act_of_2009"><span>American Recovery and Reinvestment Act </span></a><span>of 2009, wind, solar and other alternative energy got $7.1 billion of taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies since 2006. </span><br /> <br /> <span>The </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2011/12/texas-public-utility-commission-pushes-for-7-billion/1323284341.column"><span>Public Utility Commission last year</span></a><span> made way for a nearly $7 billion project at utility ratepayer expense to run electricity transmission lines from West Texas wind farms to urban centers where the generation would be used.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Since 2006, $2.46 billion has supported development of wind farms in something called Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, the study says. The zones were made possible when the Legislature in 2001 passed the </span><a href="http://www.texasahead.org/reports/incentives/ch313.php"><span>Texas Economic Development Act</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Federal grants have pumped another $1.65 billion into wind farms, $290 million from the stimulus for various energy programs, including </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2010/04/federal-stimulus-plan-for-solar-power-will-take-decades-to/1270438516.story"><span>$52 million for more than 30 solar projects,</span></a><span> several of them that will not pay for themselves for 50 or more years.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The cost of supporting the legal requirement that utilities purchase a percentage of renewable energy set by the </span><a href="http://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/tag/texas-renewable-energy-targets/"><span>Renewable Portfolio Standard</span></a><span> is estimated to have cost power users an extra $69 million this past year, Neeley and Peacock contend.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The Legislature created the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, which has since 2005 devoted $44 million to &nbsp;renewable energy-related projects, according to the </span><a href="http://www.governor.state.tx.us/files/ecodev/Renewable_Energy.pdf"><span>Governor&rsquo;s Renewable Energy Industry Report.</span></a><span> Two years earlier, lawmakers passed the Texas Enterprise Fund which has invested nearly $5 million in renewable energy projects.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Lucy Nashed, Gov. Rick Perry&rsquo;s spokeswoman, said, &ldquo;Here in Texas, we strive toward an all-of-the-above strategy to address our state&rsquo;s energy challenges and create a diverse and robust electric generating portfolio that uses a variety of sources, including traditional technologies such as natural gas, coal, nuclear, and newer technologies such as wind, clean coal and solar power.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>However, Nashed says Perry favors weaning the entire energy industry off industry-specific credits and subsidies while lowering taxes on domestic energy producers.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The Texas Public Policy Foundation feels the same way, only more so.</span></p> <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="Josiah Neeley" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/JosiahNeeley-300-web.jpg" title="Josiah Neeley" width="120" /><span style="display:block">Josiah Neeley</span></div> <p> <span>&ldquo;Our message has been very clear,&rdquo; Neeley said, &ldquo;we&rsquo;d like to see no government support for any energy industry and want to see no new energy supports. If natural gas or wind is doing well we&rsquo;d like it to be due to the work of the market, not the government.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>The numbers suggest wind and solar still need the work of the government to have a hope in the market. With subsidies it currently costs $22 per megawatt hour to produce electricity with wind, 44 cents to produce it with fossil fuels, Neeley says.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Although power generation rates and costs are different for every utility, a customer with Austin Energy can choose to &ldquo;buy&rdquo; only renewable power through its </span><a href="http://www.austinenergy.com/energy%20efficiency/Programs/Green%20Choice/"><span>GreenChoice program</span></a><span> at a cost of 5.7 cents a kilowatt hour compared to the normal rate of 3.4 cents. </span><br /> <br /> <span>The average GreenChoice customer pays $23 more a month, Austin Energy says.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/09/public-costs-of-wind-power-pile-up-as-industry-digs-in/1347648715.column"><span>Forecasts by the Electric Power Research Institute</span></a><span> show that while wind and solar are getting more competitive, they are unlikely to come close to natural gas at least through 2025. (Please see charts on pages 1-11 and 1-12 of its report </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/105913144/Electric-Power-Research-Institute"><span>here.</span></a><span>)</span></p> <div style="float:right; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="graphic1" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/energygraphic0122-colorfixed_0.jpg" title="plate" width="340" /></div> <p> <br /> <span>Further lost in the tangle at the intersection of commerce and government is what all the incentives, particularly in the wind industry, do to the pricing of energy.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Wind companies have at times been able to sell their energy below the market price, knowing it must be bought by somebody, and still make a profit, a practice decried both in </span><a href="http://www.hks.harvard.edu/hepg/Papers/2012/Negative_Electricity_Prices_and_the_Production_Tax_Credit_0912.pdf"><span>a study</span></a><span> by the consultant NorthBridge group and Donna Nelson, chairwoman of the Texas Public Utility Commission.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Advocates, including Strama, acknowledge the wind and solar industries would collapse without taxpayer and ratepayer subsidy but contend that coal, oil and gas have been subsidized for 100 years, renewable energy for a few decades.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Neeley says the </span><span>Energy Information Administration points out that in 2010 renewable energy generates less than 10 percent of the energy in the country but gobbles up 55 percent of the subsidies. Fossil fuels are responsible for 70 percent of the generation while taking 16 percent of all energy subsidies.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Neeley says the public ought to be concerned that in an energy market commanded by already low prices for natural gas, artificial pricing for renewable sources will cut further into profits.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;In the long term there is a real threat to investment by the industry,&rdquo; Neeley says. &ldquo;If you can bid onto the grid at negative prices, nobody is making any money.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think the public has a good grasp of what is in their energy bill,&rdquo; </span><a href="http://www.mccombs.utexas.edu/Centers/EMIC/Speakers-for-Conferences/Fred-Beach.aspx"><span>Fred Beach, with the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas</span></a><span>, says. &ldquo;They have a very poor appreciation of who pays for what in energy generation. There is a need for much greater transparency.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>Beach refers to himself as a technologist, someone paid to examine the role of science and technology in energy policy. An opponent of direct government investment in renewable energy, Beach is, nonetheless, in favor of utilities meeting state standards for renewable energy use, however they do it.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Like Strama, Beach considers natural gas a low-cost bridge fuel to help consumers and the industry along while wind and solar technologies are improved.</span><br /> <span> </span><br /> <span>&ldquo;Right now, I think it&rsquo;s a bridge to nowhere, an opportunity being wasted,&rdquo; Beach says. &ldquo;The industry doesn&rsquo;t need that much more help. And I&rsquo;m not a big fan of the government spending yours and my tax money. I am in favor of regulation that says meet this standard. We don&rsquo;t care how you get there.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>Beach said energy consumers are further hurt by renewable policies pushing large-scale development of wind and solar power with a power plant model developed for coal more than 100 years ago.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Wind technology is ideal for large-scale generation. Solar power, at least today, is best suited to individual arrays on top of homes and businesses, Beach says. </span><br /> <br /> <span>This hasn&rsquo;t stopped </span><a href="http://www.cpsenergy.com/About_CPS_Energy/News_Features/News/072312_OCI_Agreement_NR.asp"><span>CPS Energy in San Antonio</span></a><span> from going forward with a $1 billion, 400-megawatt solar development or Austin Energy considering a plan to have ratepayers underwrite </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/02/a-texas-tale-of-two-technologies-solar-natural-gas/1329345409.column"><span>$750 million</span></a><span> to increase the city&rsquo;s total solar power generation by 50 times by 2020.</span><br /> <br /> <span>San Antonio, with Democratic </span><span>Mayor Juli&aacute;n Castro&rsquo;s enthusiastic support, is resisting what Colin Meehan calls a &ldquo;sugar rush&rdquo; of low natural gas prices that cannot last.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Meehan, an energy analyst for the Environmental Defense Fund in Austin, objects to criticism of renewable energy development rooted in the present. Wind and solar power continue to get cheaper.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Nor is Meehan patient with the idea that the Legislature is incapable of big thinking when it comes to renewables. In 2009 the House and Senate passed a $500 million plan by former Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, to offer rebates to individuals and companies to install solar arrays.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The bill, however, </span><a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/environmentalcapital/2009/06/01/texas-kills-solar-bill-on-last-minute-motion/"><span>died over a procedural disagreement</span></a><span> as the session expired. No similar bill has been introduced since.</span><br /> <br /> <span>This fall, when the Environmental Defense Fund joined several other groups in asking that the Public Utility Commission on its own order utilities to increase their renewable percentages, the </span><a href="http://greenmountainsummit.com/2012/11/texas-puc-denies-rps-petition-from-the-environmental-renewable-groups/"><span>commission refused the petition.</span></a><br /> <br /> <span>Strama says he believes the window of opportunity to attract promising solar businesses has closed. Renewable energy industry leaders, </span><a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324595704578243830388986480.html"><span>in particular wind energy,</span></a><span> are predicting a very quiet 2013.</span><br /> <br /> <span>In recognition of the reduced circumstances, Strama says he intends to introduce a bill that would have ratepayers underwrite the construction of solar arrays on public school rooftops.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The same bill in the 2011 session never made it out of Calendars Committee.</span><br /> <br /> <span>In his speech to the Texas Renewables Energy Industry Association, Strama said he thought the Legislature was further from its renewable goals than five years ago. Still, he remained confident technology would eventually do the only thing that could sustain renewable energy: lower prices.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve been providing energy from coal on an enormous scale for 100 years,&rdquo; Strama said. &ldquo;Nothing you could say would convince me we won&rsquo;t someday be able to provide renewable energy on an enormous scale.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;People are right to ask about a timetable. We don&rsquo;t have a timetable.&rdquo;</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pitmanra/504054475/">Photos of wind turbines by flickr users nikkorsnapper and</a>&nbsp;and <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/therussiansarehere/3349867013/">the russians are here,</a>&nbsp;</span><span>used via Creative Commons licenses.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron In these tough budget times, Austin ISD adds $100K-earning administrators http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/austin-texas-school-district-adds-sixfigure-administrators/1358874701.column 11592 world Tue Jan 22 11:11:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="schoolbus" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/bus_5.jpg" title="schoolbus" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>Before adding the $5.4 billion Democratic state </span><a href="http://keranews.org/post/burnam-bill-would-restore-education-funding"><span>Rep. Lon Burnam says was cruelly torn from the public education budget</span></a><span> in the last session, the Legislature, among their many questions, might ask how much of that tax money will be used to pad the salaries of administrators.</span><br /> <br /> <span>While education advocates and some politicians, including Burnam, D-Fort Worth, waited for the </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/02/Texas-teachers-layoffs-are-relatively-few-after-state-budget-cuts/1329267427.story"><span>sky to fall on Texas schoolchildren</span></a><span>, the number of administrators making more than $100,000 increased by 63 percent in the Austin Independent School District, the </span><a href="http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local-education/aisd-six-figure-earners-increase-63-percent-in-pas/nT3ns/"><span>Austin American-Statesman reports.</span></a><br /> <br /> <span>As </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/03/administrators-avoid-budget-scalpel-at-many-texas-schools/1331566605.story"><span>Texas Watchdog reported last year,</span></a><span> a remarkable number of school administrators managed to keep their jobs, while school districts in the wake of budget cuts eliminated thousands of vacant teaching positions.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Even as the last Legislature went into its session knowing it would have to cut the overall public education budget by several billion dollars, </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2011/02/todays-featured-video-supersized-salaries-perks-for-school-superintendents/1297263479.column"><span>KXAN-TV in Austin</span></a><span> reported on the comfortable salary and benefits packages for school superintendents in the Austin area.</span><br /> <br /> <span>This year, 70 of the 11,973 employees for AISD make annual salaries of more than $100,000, up from 56 just a year ago and from 43 at the end of the school year in 2008.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The operations budget during the same five years has dropped 16 percent, the district shed more than 1,100 education positions and overall district employment was flat, the paper reports.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The big-ticket earners are the 12 members of what the Statesman calls the &ldquo;senior cabinet&rdquo; of advisors to the </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2010/08/austin-isd-bows-to-pressure-releases-survey-results-to/1281986040.column"><span>sometimes secretive</span></a><span> Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. How positively medieval of us to think that only U.S. presidents have cabinets.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The rest of those in the $100,000-plus club are executive directors and directors, and high and middle school principals. Always good to know public schools still have principals. </span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sunchild_dd/543951114/"><span>Photo of schoolbus by flickr user sunchild_dd</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron Ethics bill would require disclosure of lawmakers’ contracts with state of Texas http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/ethics-bill-would-require-disclosure-of-lawmakers-contracts-texas-state-legislature/1358358780.column 11591 world Wed Jan 16 12:53:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="see-through raincoat" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/seethroughguy.jpg" title="see-through raincoat" width="160" /></div> <p> <span>Look out, Linda Harper-Brown. If lawmakers aren&rsquo;t careful people are going to start calling this the See-Through Legislature.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Blissfully aware of the animus they are supposed to have for one another&rsquo;s politics, hardline conservative Rep. Giovanni Capriglione and hardline liberal Rep. Mary Gonz&aacute;lez are staging a veritable lovefest with a bill that would require all legislators to disclose if they or their family members do business with state or local government.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/83R/billtext/pdf/HB00524I.pdf#navpanes=0"><span>House Bill 524</span></a><span> would require lawmakers, many of whom are also lawyers, to waive any attorney-client privilege should they choose to represent a company doing business with a state agency, a public university or a water district, the </span><a href="http://www.texastribune.org/2013/01/15/lawmakers-file-bill-widen-financial-disclosure/"><span>Texas Tribune reports</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The bill comes less than a year after the </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/04/texas-state-rep-linda-harper-brown-fined-2000-for-failing-to-disclose-mercedes-benz/1334954518.column"><span>Ethics Commission fined Harper-Brown, R-Irving, $2,000</span></a><span> for failing to reveal that a brand new Mercedes Benz she had been driving was a barter payment to her husband for accounting work he did for a company with state transportation contracts.</span></p> <div style="float:right; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="Giovanni Capriglione" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/capriglione.jpg" title="Giovanni Capriglione" width="120" /><span style="display:block">Giovanni Capriglione</span></div> <p> <span>Harper-Brown sat on the House Transportation Committee at the time a complaint was filed against her with the Ethics Commission.</span></p> <p> <span>Capriglione, in his second week on the job, is daring his colleagues to ignore their bill. &nbsp;&ldquo;I want to see who doesn&rsquo;t vote for this,&rdquo; he tells the Tribune. &ldquo;It gets to the crux of the distrust between the public and elected officials: Where there&rsquo;s a lack of transparency, they assume the worst.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>The Southlake Republican has a little familiarity with the topic, having beaten former Rep. Vicki Truitt, another </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/04/rep-vicki-truitt-bobs-weaves-and-avoids-the-facts/1335306074.column"><span>disclosure-challenged representative</span></a><span> of the people, in the Republican primary in District 98 this past May.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Giving Capriglione a big rhetorical bearhug, the Democrat from Clint replied, &ldquo;Transparency and ethics are bipartisan issues.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>Taking this sentiment to heart, state Sen. Wendy Davis on Tuesday filed </span><a href="http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/83R/billtext/pdf/SB00178I.pdf#navpanes=0"><span>Senate Bill 178</span></a><span>, a companion bill with much the same disclosure language as HB 524. </span><br /> <br /> <span>Davis, D-Fort Worth, was able to research her bill firsthand as a partner of Brian Newby, former chief of staff for Gov. Rick Perry. </span><a href="http://newbydavis.com/"><span>Newby Davis</span></a><span> promotes on its website expertise representing every manner of government entity including the state&rsquo;s public schools and a facility for assisting on bond financing. </span><br /> <br /> <span>Accused by her Republican opponent for state Senate, Mark Shelton, of </span><a href="http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/10/03/4309876/shelton-want-da-to-investigate.html"><span>criminal conflicts of interest,</span></a><span> Davis this past fall insisted her practice did not interfere with her role as a representative. She declined, however, to identify her clients, telling the <em>Fort Worth Star-Telegram</em> to do so would violate attorney-client privilege.</span><br /> <br /> <span>At the time she was denying any conflict of interest, Davis decided to remain mum on Shelton&rsquo;s contention that Newby Davis was being paid handsomely to represent the North Texas Tollway Authority at the same time Davis was voting to support </span><a href="http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/82R/billtext/pdf/SB00469F.pdf#navpanes=0"><span>SB469</span></a><span> assisting the authority in collecting unpaid tolls.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Davis told Texas Tribune yesterday afternoon she would be amending SB 178 just in case it wasn&rsquo;t clear enough to everyone the disclosure requirement would include her.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Capitol visitors this session, don&rsquo;t worry. Should the emperors speaking on the floor of the House or Senate be wearing no clothes, assume they have filed another transparency bill.</span><br /> <br /> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span><a href="http://www.allyn.com/rainwear/thumb_long-clear-plastic-raincoat-with-hood.html">Photo of clear raincoat via Allyn.com, the site documenting the work of artist Mark Allyn.</a>&nbsp;<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/linc4justice/5531338238/">Photo of Texas state Capitol by flickr user Frank Swift</a>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron Texas Supreme Court weighs emotional value of pets, Avery the dog was euthanized by mistake http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/texas-supreme-court-weighs-emotional-value-of-pets-avery/1357924981.column 11590 world Fri Jan 11 11:23:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="scales of justice" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/justice_0.jpg" title="Lady Justice" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>Those of you wearing your Averystrong wristbands, your dog is having its day. Before the Texas Supreme Court.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Justices Thursday began considering whether Avery&rsquo;s unexpected and untimely demise in 2009, </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/09/texas-supreme-court-will-weigh-whether-courts-can-award/1348676578.column"><span>as we told you about in September</span></a><span>, is reason enough to allow pet owners to seek damages in court based on emotional attachment.</span><br /> <br /> <span>From their queries, </span><a href="http://www.dallasnews.com/news/state/headlines/20130110-texas-supreme-court-takes-up-whether-dog-owners-can-sue-for-emotional-value.ece"><span>according to a story by Associated Press today</span></a><span>, the high court judges weren&rsquo;t much persuaded by the emotional value argument. Justice Don Willett asked, rhetorically of course, what emotional value might be assigned to a stuffed dog. Justice Jeffrey Boyd wondered if the law should also apply to pet cats, fish and fowl.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth last &nbsp;fall was less skeptical, deciding in favor of Avery&rsquo;s owners, Kathryn and Jeremy Medlen, and overturning a Tarrant County civil district court that had originally dismissed the case.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The Medlens brought suit after their 8-year-old Labrador mix ran away and ended up in a Fort Worth animal shelter. The Medlens tracked down Avery but didn&rsquo;t have the $80 to secure the dog&rsquo;s release.</span><br /> <br /> <span>In spite of having put a tag on Avery&rsquo;s cage holding her for the Medlens, when Jeremy returned with the cash the dog had been euthanized.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Texas law allows courts to award damages based on the emotional or sentimental value of property, but not live property like pets. Attorneys defending the animal shelter employee argue changing the law would cause jury damage awards and veterinary and animal handling insurance to skyrocket.</span><br /> <br /> <span>But the Medlens didn&rsquo;t go to court for the money, Randall Turner, their attorney, told Associated Press. They want to change state law, Turner said, to insure that Avery didn&rsquo;t die in vain.</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/14178579@N02/5354783961/"><span>Photo of Lady Justice by flickr user kbjesq</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron Texans received $6 billion in food stamp benefits last year, 4 million on program http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/texans-received-6-billion-in-food-stamp-benefits-last-year-SNAP/1357919580.column 11589 world Fri Jan 11 10:53:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="plate" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/bigstatesfoodstampslist.jpg" title="plate" width="166" /></div> <p> <span>More than 4 million Texans - the greatest number of any state in the country - spent $6 billion last year through the federal food stamp program.</span><br /> <br /> <span>In an average month in 2012, 46.6 million Americans used food stamps at a cost for the year of $74.6 billion, according to new data released Thursday on the </span><a href="http://www.statehealthfacts.org/"><span>statehealthfacts.org</span></a><span> website.</span><br /> <br /> <span>The website is run by the </span><a href="http://www.kff.org/"><span>Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation</span></a><span>, a Menlo Park, Calif., nonprofit specializing in national and international health care policy.</span></p> <p> <span>Texas ranked second among the states in the amount spent on food stamp purchases, the </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2011/04/texas-food-stamp-beneficiaries-using-lone-star-card-in-hawaii-and-vacation-spots/1304087015.column"><span>abuse of which Texas Watchdog has helped uncover.</span></a><span> California spent the most, $7.1 billion.</span><br /> <br /> <span>You can find the entire ranking of food stamp spending </span><a href="http://www.statehealthfacts.org/comparetable.jsp?ind=25&amp;cat=1"><span>here</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>California ranked just behind Texas in the number of people - 3.96 million people on average, who took advantage of the program last year. Florida served 3.4 million people; New York, 3.1 million; Georgia, 1.9 million; Illinois, 1.87 million; Michigan, 1.83 million; Ohio, 1.81 million; Pennsylvania, 1.8 million and North Carolina, 1.7 million.</span><br /> <br /> <span>You can find all the states&rsquo; monthly food stamp participation figures </span><span><a href="http://www.statehealthfacts.org/comparetable.jsp?yr=246&amp;typ=1&amp;ind=24&amp;cat=1&amp;sub=7&amp;sortc=1&amp;o=a">here</a>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>And while Texas ranked first in the number of people enrolled, its average of one in six people enrolled in food stamps was comparable to all but California among the 10 biggest food stamp states.</span></p> <p> <span>California, with one in nine people enrolled, had a lower participation rate than all but two of the states with the lowest total enrollments. Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming had fewer than 100,000 food stamp recipients. At an average of 34,347 people, Wyoming had one person using food stamps for every 16 residents in the state. (<a href="https://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?viz=MAP&amp;q=select+col3%3E%3E1+from+1FNYQkjEWXuFH5uJFux7qik1PajV7lF5TOO95yi0&amp;h=false&amp;lat=40.67482429300845&amp;lng=-95.20084171874993&amp;z=4&amp;t=1&amp;l=col3%3E%3E1&amp;y=2&amp;tmplt=2">Explore the map below in a larger view</a>.)</span></p> <div style="float:right; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="food stamp key" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/foodstampkey.jpg" title="food stamps by state" width="240" />&nbsp;<br /> <iframe frameborder="no" height="240" scrolling="no" src="https://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?viz=MAP&amp;q=select+col3%3E%3E1+from+1FNYQkjEWXuFH5uJFux7qik1PajV7lF5TOO95yi0&amp;h=false&amp;lat=40.67482429300845&amp;lng=-95.20084171874993&amp;z=4&amp;t=1&amp;l=col3%3E%3E1&amp;y=2&amp;tmplt=2" width="320"></iframe></div> <p> Texas was also among the top 10 states in the percentage of its population, 23 percent, below the federally set poverty level in 2011, according to new&nbsp;<a href="http://www.statehealthfacts.org/comparebar.jsp?ind=9&amp;cat=1">statehealthfacts.org data here</a>.</p> <p> The national average is 20 percent below an <a href="http://www.familiesusa.org/resources/tools-for-advocates/guides/federal-poverty-guidelines.html">annual income of $11,170 for an individual and $23,050 for a household of four people.</a> New Mexico and Louisiana had the highest levels of poverty, 27 percent; Mississippi and the District of Columbia, 25 percent; California, Hawaii and South Carolina at 24 percent; and Arizona, Georgia and Texas at 23 percent.</p> <p> <span>New Hampshire had the lowest rate of poverty in the country at 10 percent, followed by Minnesota at 13 percent and Connecticut, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming at 14 percent.</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>. Graphics by Lee Ann O&#39;Neal.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also&nbsp;</span></em><em>on <a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070">MySpace</a>, <a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog">Digg</a>, <a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog">FriendFeed</a>, and <a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/">tumblr</a>.</em></p> <p> <em style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; line-height: 12.800000190734863px;">Image of a Lone Star Card via the <a href="http://www.hhsc.state.tx.us/">Texas Health and Human Services Commission</a>.</em></p> Mark Lisheron Double dipping by elected officials targeted by Texas state Rep. Chris Turner http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/double-dipping-by-elected-officials-targeted-texas-state-legislature/1357832972.column 11588 world Thu Jan 10 09:52:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="money" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/money_55.jpg" title="money" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>Opening week of a new session of the Texas Legislature, vacant as it is of much substance, is the perfect time to send up flares for bills lawmakers hope won&rsquo;t be talked about come May.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Take </span><a href="http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Search/DocViewer.aspx?K2DocKey=odbc%3a%2f%2fTLO%2fTLO.dbo.vwCurrBillDocs%2f83%2fR%2fH%2fB%2f00413%2f1%2fB%40TloCurrBillDocs&amp;QueryText=Turner&amp;HighlightType=1"><span>House Bill 413</span></a><span>, a rather short and direct piece of lawmaking that would prohibit elected officials eligible for a state pension to collect it while drawing a state salary.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Those officials would not include Gov. Rick Perry and several others whose identities and pensions are </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2011/03/public-pension-details-in-texas-kept-confidential/1301601577.column"><span>kept confidential by a law </span></a><span>passed by the legislative bodies to which they belong. </span><br /> <br /> <span>Late in 2011, at the time he was required by federal law to declare he was collecting a pension of more than $90,000 in addition to his $150,000 a year governor&rsquo;s salary, Perry told the </span><a href="http://www.texastribune.org/2011/12/16/perry-retires-boost-pension-pay/"><span>Texas Tribune, </span></a><span>&nbsp;&ldquo;I think you would be rather foolish to not access what you&rsquo;ve earned.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>Having been stung by the governor&rsquo;s disclosure, state Rep. </span><a href="http://www.texastribune.org/directory/chris-turner/"><span>Chris Turner</span></a><span>, D-Grand Prairie, filed a corrective in HB 413, the </span><a href="http://www.texastribune.org/2013/01/09/bill-would-ban-double-dipping/"><span>Tribune reports today.</span></a><span> &nbsp;The bill, however, is carefully written so as not to cut off the governor or any of the anonymous elected officials currently - how shall we put this - double dipping.</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;I just couldn&rsquo;t believe it, and I think most Texans can&rsquo;t believe elected officials can collect a salary, retire and still stay on the job and collect a pension all at the same time,&rdquo; Turner told the Tribune. </span><br /> <br /> <span>Given current law, the public will never know how many elected officials might be stopped by HB 413, assuming the Legislature has the will to deny itself the pensions a past Legislature once determined it had so justly earned.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Such an unusual display of courage might serve as an example to Congress where a dozen or so </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/07/texas-members-of-congress-dip-once-twice-three-times/1343256806.story"><span>Texas representatives are drawing federal pensions on top of their salaries</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Or the </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/02/sixfigure-state-workers-taking-pension-too-texas-law-keeps/1329147702.column"><span>more than 6,200 state employees </span></a><span>who draw salaries and pensions, 189 of them, including Perry, do so while earning annual salaries of $100,000 or more.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Not to mention the </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/01/texas-fort-worth-isd-schools-taxpayers-getting-hit-up-twice-by-double-dippers/1326811006.column"><span>nearly 200 employees of the Fort Worth Independent School District </span></a><span>and who knows how many other employees in how many other school districts across Texas.</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/76657755@N04/6881496274/"><span>Photo of money by flickr user Tax Credits</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron Booming revenues have officials in Texas pondering pay raises, boosts to programs http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2013/01/booming-revenues-have-officials-in-texas-pondering-pay/1357749744.column 11587 world Wed Jan 9 10:53:00 2013 CST <div style="float:left; margin:8px; text-align:center"> <img alt="bar" src="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/files/bar.jpg" title="bar" width="240" /></div> <p> <span>Like the guy who finds a crumpled $20 bill on the floor on his way out of the tavern and heads right back to his favorite bar stool, Texas governments are all of a sudden flush.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Booming oil and gas industries have produced enough tax revenue to give the Legislature an estimated $8.8 billion more than they had to play with the last time they met in 2011.</span><br /> <br /> <span>(Please see the detailed revenue estimated for the 2014-15 biennium prepared by the Texas Comptroller </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/119626688/Texas-Revenue-Estimate"><span>here.</span></a><span>)</span><br /> <br /> <span>And would you believe in Dallas County, commissioners found enough property value increases and spending cuts under the cushions to scrape together as much as $17 million to toss into the 2014 fiscal pickle jar?</span><br /> <br /> <span>To our deliberative heroes in Austin, according to the </span><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/09/us/texas-budget-surplus-proves-as-contentious-as-a-previous-shortfall.html?_r=0"><span><em>New York Times</em> today,</span></a><span> the surplus is very nearly as vexatious as an estimated $27 billion shortfall was coming into the last session.</span><br /> <br /> <span>For the titanium umbrella crowd who in 2011 predicted the </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2012/02/Texas-teachers-layoffs-are-relatively-few-after-state-budget-cuts/1329267427.story"><span>Texas sky would unravel and drop</span></a><span>, the surplus is an opportunity to atone for moral failures in public education, indigent health care, prisons and road infrastructure.</span><br /> <br /> <span>To those who see Tea Party freshmen taking their seats in an already conservative House there is, more than ever, pressure to appear in every spending measure austere. </span><br /> <br /> <span>Dallas County commissioners, too, are singing the ballad of fiscal surplus woe. Mike Cantrell, the only Republican on the court, reminded fellow commissioners how easy it is to spend a surplus, the </span><a href="http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/dallas/headlines/20130108-dallas-county-may-have-17-million-in-extra-revenue-for-2014-fiscal-year.ece"><span><em>Dallas Morning News</em> reports.</span></a><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m hoping we move slowly,&rdquo; Cantrell said.</span><br /> <br /> <span>But what of all the deprivation endured by Dallas County government since the economy began its atrophy in 2008? County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat, suggested the county use its surplus to make up for lost time, giving raises to all department heads</span><br /> <br /> <span>There are, Jenkins said, &ldquo;some real opportunities to improve the quality of life&rdquo; in Dallas County, meaning, apparently, the lives of those running county departments.</span><br /> <br /> <span>State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, explained the current and perpetual dilemma to the Times this way:</span><br /> <br /> <span>&ldquo;I think there&rsquo;s going to be a group of people who think we&rsquo;ve got the money, we need to spend it. I think there&rsquo;s going to be a group of people who think we need to cut our budget more. The session could be very difficult because of those two groups of people pushing us.&rdquo;</span><br /> <br /> <span>Check back with us in about 139 days. Having never in 33 years written a story about government returning a surplus to the taxpayers, we think we know which group of people will come out on top.</span><br /> <br /> <span>In the meantime, we plan to have a drink on the guy at the bar with the wrinkled twenty.</span></p> <p> ***<br /> <em><span>Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or </span><span><a href="mailto:mark@texaswatchdog.org">mark@texaswatchdog.org</a> or on Twitter at </span><a href="http://twitter.com/marktxwatchdog"><span>@marktxwatchdog</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <span>Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. </span><a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Texas-Watchdog/26245936414"><span>Fan our page on Facebook</span></a><span>, follow us on </span><a href="http://twitter.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Twitter</span></a><span> and </span><a href="http://www.scribd.com/texaswatchdog"><span>Scribd</span></a><span>, and fan us on </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/texaswatchdog"><span>YouTube</span></a><span>. Join </span><a href="http://delicious.com/texaswatchdog"><span>our network on de.licio.us</span></a><span>, and put </span><a href="http://www.texaswatchdog.org/rss/list"><span>our RSS feeds</span></a><span> in your newsreader. We&#39;re also on </span><a href="http://www.myspace.com/530162070"><span>MySpace</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://digg.com/users/texaswatchdog"><span>Digg</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://friendfeed.com/texaswatchdog"><span>FriendFeed</span></a><span>, and </span><a href="http://texaswatchdog.tumblr.com/"><span>tumblr</span></a><span>.</span><br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/asilentthing/2663098048/"><span>Photo by flickr user joelgoodman</span></a><span>, used via a Creative Commons license.</span></em></p> Mark Lisheron