in Houston, Texas
Texas couple fit to be tied in red tape, stimulus weatherization cash more trouble than it was worth
Tuesday, Dec 11, 2012, 09:49AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
light bulb

Viewed in one very particular way, carefully following the bureaucratic contours of a $327 million stimulus energy efficiency program, the weatherization of Brandi and Byron Hockaday’s south Austin home is a success story.

Rules and guidelines were followed. Contractors and inspectors returned again and again to check the work. And when things weren’t right Austin Energy made them right at its own expense. And none of it, or almost none of it, cost the Hockadays a dime.

And yet, after more than two years and well over $14,000 spent, no one involved, least of all the Hockadays, believes they should have gotten involved with the federal weatherization assistance program in the first place.

On Oct. 31, after the latest of dozens of complaints, Austin Energy customer service representative Ann Salerno put an official end to its relationship with the Hockadays.

“For many months while assisting you, Austin Energy has exceeded its role as the involved electric utility,” Salerno said in a letter, one of a fistful Brandi holds in her hand on the sofa in their living room. “Austin Energy staff has gone above and beyond its obligations, and, at this point, there is nothing else Austin Energy can do to assist.”

But what about the gas line left exposed and running right alongside the air conditioning line in the bedroom wall? The positive test for mold? And the incessant cycling of an air conditioning system that is supposed to be the best in the industry?

All of the contractor errors, the unexpected visits to fix things that never got fixed. The arguing that one time nearly led to a fistfight. The derision and condescension from at least one of the Austin Energy officials.

“They damaged our house, they put our family in danger and they’ve repeatedly said we need to be done with this,” Byron says, unable to stay seated next to Brandi. “That’s what’s flooring us here. We’re tired of this shit.”

Spend five minutes with the Hockadays, and you are convinced tired isn’t at all the right word. They have painstakingly filed every document - paper and electronic - generated by their case. They recorded phone calls with workers, contracting supervisors and Austin Energy program leaders. They’re already tag-teaming their latest contractor.

The Hockadays aren’t tired by a long shot.

Pulling up to the Hockadays’ home in a neat, middle-class neighborhood, it is difficult to grasp how, indeed, they ever got involved in the program.

There is an older model, silver Jaguar in the Hockadays’ driveway of a nicely maintained 1,400-square-foot home.

Brandi and Byron HockadayBrandi and Byron Hockaday

The Hockadays built this house themselves in 1999. Both of them had good-paying jobs with a commercial printing company until day care costs for their two children made it more cost effective for one of them to stay home.

“We flipped a coin, and I became Mr. Mom,” Byron says. “It worked out because I wanted to get my own mobile IT business started.”

It worked out until June of 2010 when Brandi was laid off after 13 years with the company. In an economy that a congressional majority thought only a nearly $1 trillion stimulus could help, the Hockadays’ combined work experience came from an industry in decline.

Brandi started investigating and found that the family now qualified for food stamps. They enrolled the children in Medicaid for their health care. And when she went to the Austin Energy website she spotted a house ad for a “Free Energy Program.”

She filled out a two-page application sometime in late July.

The program the ad referred to was part of the Weatherization Assistance Program, the U.S. Department of Energy's $5 billion contribution to the $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The goal of the program was to help low-income Americans save money on their monthly bills by making their homes more energy efficient at no cost to them.

Joseph Guerrero, now the weatherization program coordinator for Austin Energy, says his company dispatched the inspector based, according to the program’s guidelines, on little more than the Hockadays’ current combined income.

An interview with the Hockadays, a visit to the home, past earnings, the value of the home, even the Jaguar in the driveway was not part of the calculation, he says.

“We had no authority to question any of it. It’s not arbitrary,” Guerrero says. “Had we denied it for any of those reasons, you can bet TDHCA would have been notified.”

On August 4 an inspector came to the Hockaday home and did a series of energy tests.

“On his way out the door, he told us it was one of the nicest homes he had been in since he started doing the inspections,” Brandi says. “He said, if anything, we’d probably be eligible for low-energy light bulbs.”

Unknown to the Hockadays at the time, Austin Energy was under threat of having its $5.9 million stimulus grant yanked by the state Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Texas Watchdog reported Austin Energy had managed to weatherize just 56 homes in the 18 months since the stimulus bill passed. Only four of the 44 agencies in the weatherization program had done fewer homes.

In the first year of the stimulus contractors statewide had spent $3.7 million, mostly on administrative costs, and had weatherized a total of 47 houses. Program directors from all over the state complained they were under tremendous pressure by Housing and Community Affairs to spend their stimulus grants.

"Is time running out for this program? Absolutely," state program director Michael Gerber said of Austin Energy at the time. "We will de-obligate funds before we let one penny of this funding go unspent."

Two months after the initial inspection, Robert Meredith, the owner of a second contractor, Go Green Squads, came to the Hockadays’ door with good news. The initial tests showed they qualified for a new air conditioning system.

The air conditioning system they had was working fine, Byron says. The inside unit had been replaced in 2008, and the outer unit had been repaired in the past couple of years, he said.

Meredith, Byron says, pressed them to decide. A new energy-efficient system would help them realize hundreds of dollars in savings.

“He said we were about to lose this if we didn’t decide and that we had to get this done,” Byron says. “My initial reaction,” Brandi says, finishing his thought, “was ‘Wow. Awesome.’ Byron’s reaction was, don’t muck around with it. I love my AC. Byron gave in.”

A ‘deceptively complex’ government program

The decision to install a new air conditioning system in the Hockaday home was based on calculations punched into thresholds set by the federal government, nothing more, Guerrero says.

At no time did Austin Energy officials issue a directive to speed up or increase spending on the units they were weatherizing, he says.

Susan Meredith, Meredith’s wife and the company’s co-owner, says Austin Energy gave the company 10 days from the time a work order was generated to start work. Never did Austin Energy call for spending over and above that recommended on the work orders, she says.

On Oct. 8, 2010, Go Green Squads installed an new air conditioning system and thermostats. The $2,433.27 in expenses was paid for by the federal program, which allowed for a maximum of $6,500 to be spent on each housing unit.

“And for nine months we thought it was the best program in the world,” Brandi says. “We felt like we won the lottery.”

Until the day Byron came home and felt warm. The Hockadays regularly set their thermostat at 75 degrees. The temperature read 77 degrees, and to get there the air conditioning unit was running for hours at a time without cycling off.

Thus began a series of calls and responses from contract workers. They did temperature readings. Had Byron seal and insulate his attic door. The ductwork was checked. The plenum, an air circulation chamber in the attic, was rebuilt. Several times.

During these months of trial and error, the Hockadays reported condensation on their vents and a musty smell in the house.

Around one of the openings in the attic, Byron found black soot he thought was mold. The contractors insisted it be referred to as a mold-like substance. In January of this year the Hockadays had tests done that determined the mold-like substance was mold.

At the same time, the Hockadays’ monthly utility bills were now exceeding the bills for the same months with their old air conditioning system.

In the absence of solutions, Byron offered troubleshooting suggestions like checking the coil that were routinely ignored, he says. It seemed as though the workmen were going through the same motions again and again. During one visit insults were exchanged and challenges made before Byron and a crew member could be calmed down.

“They were coming here all the time, all different times of day. They’d never call, they’d just show up. Then they never did anything. It was like watching monkeys hump a football,” Byron says.

From then on, Brandi systematically worked her way up alerting the chain of command at Austin Energy to their problems.

On Dec. 20, 2011, Austin Energy ordered another full inspection of the home and followed it with a systematic retracing of all the steps that had so far bedeviled the other contractors.

But not until March 20, 2012, did the company reach the conclusion that the air conditioning system installed by Go Green Squads needed to be replaced. The coil Byron had been pointing to was designed for a four-ton air conditioning system. It had been trying to cool the house in a three-ton system.

“There definitely was a problem with the system,” Susan Meredith says. “And we were very committed to fixing their system. But there are so many different factors involved. That is why I say this is a deceptively complex program.”

Austin Energy decided that it wouldn’t be Go Green Systems but McCullough Heating and Air Conditioning that would install not only a new air conditioning system but a new furnace.

The cost, $8,604.81, was more than three times the first system. The company did some additional calculating and cut two checks to the Hockadays totalling $453.58, an estimate of the cost of the additional energy consumed by the old system.

In all, Austin Energy turned over just $3,000 in bills for the Hockaday work to Housing and Community Affairs for federal reimbursement. Austin Energy assumed the rest.

Guerrero said he didn’t want the blot on a program he is proud of.

“I thought it was in the interest of everyone involved that we change out the equipment for a new system,” Guerrero says. “Our goal was to satisfy a customer who had some extreme concerns. I think that by looking at the facts of the case alone, this was not a normal course of business for us.”

By the overall standard of Austin Energy work, the Hockadays weren’t normal business. Of the 1,886 units weatherized with stimulus funds, Austin Energy went over the $6,500 budget 13 times, a check of the records by Texas Watchdog showed.

Nine of the thirteen were total bills under $7,000, one of them over the limit by 83 cents.

Despite its slow start and by the decidedly low standard set by a program beset throughout with administrative incompetence, poor workmanship and allegations of fraud Austin Energy was a solid performer.

(You can track the program’s performance and that of all the other local programs in the Weatherization Assistance Program in charts provided here.)

Once threatened with a loss of funding, Housing and Community Affairs eventually shifted more than $3 million more from laggard programs to Austin Energy. The program spent all but $1,100 of its $9.2 million, Guerrero says.

And while Texas Watchdog tracked a rather dismal record of workmanship problems statewide, Austin Energy performed better than most. (You can examine the results of eight spot inspections of contractor work done by the Department of Housing and Community Affairs did over two years here.)

“One house out of all those we worked on is a pretty good record, I think,” Guerrero says.

Utility: Responsibilities fulfilled

But what of the record at that one house?

In the weeks that followed, the Hockadays discovered a water buildup in a garage ceiling that showered water and sopping drywall on computer hardware Byron had stored there. Negotiation with the contractor for reimbursement came to an impasse when the Hockadays wouldn’t surrender the hard drives for replacement.

McCullough tracked the moisture problem and in July rebuilt the plenum, return and filter system.

The installation of the air conditioning system, Byron says, has juxtaposed an air line unsafely with a gas line running to the new furnace. The Hockadays have demanded an inspection. McCullough insists they already deemed the parallel lines safe.

The Hockaday home gets cool, with digital thermostats festooning the house to prove it. But Byron swears this new, top-of-the-line energy efficient air conditioner still cycles for hours.

It is December, and in the cool weather the Hockadays can’t be sure, but all of that cycling, Byron says, isn’t going to save them any money come summer.

And if something more should go wrong, Austin Energy has said it won’t be coming around any more.

In the hundreds of units done by Go Green Squads as one of the six contractors used by Austin Energy, Susan Meredith says she never experienced anything like the Hockadays.

Understanding the cold calculating of eligibility and rehabilitation, Meredith still wonders if this program ought to have been serving a family like the Hockadays. She thinks the couple knew what they were doing, that they “gamed the system.”

Austin Energy and its contractors, she says, were caught in the classic quandary: Was there too much government or not enough government?

“In hindsight we shouldn’t have bent over backwards,” she says. “We spent so many hundreds of dollars we didn’t bill for trying to make them happy. All we did was create a bigger problem.”

The weatherization assistance program, at least at the start, would not allow anyone to walk away from the Hockadays, Guerrero says. Austin Energy, he says, has more than fulfilled its responsibilities.

The Hockadays do not believe that. It takes them nearly three hours on the sofa to tell their story, and only because they are forced to leave out all sorts of details. The Hockadays are consumed by the details.

Brandi is working again, at home and as a virtual assistant at a fraction of her old salary, she says. Byron is still working to make a go of his business. Their combined income, Brandi says, would easily make them eligible for the Weatherization Assistance Program if it were available today.

Knowing what they know now, the Hockadays say they would have never applied. But having done it, having gone through it, they aren’t about to give up.

“From the time we applied, all we expected them to do is do their job right,” Byron says. “That’s all we asked all along. I don’t think that’s too much to expect. Do you?”

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of light bulb by flickr user ikewinski, used via a Creative Commons license. Photo and video of the Hockadays by Mark Lisheron.

Creative Commons License
Like this story? Then steal it. This report by Texas Watchdog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. 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

Overweight? Smoke? Uncle Sam wants to help. Wellness programs started under 2009 federal stimulus persist, getting fatter with $1 billion in health care law
Monday, Sep 17, 2012, 10:29AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

Months after the grant that brought it to life ran out, Live Tobacco-Free Austin lives on.

Like many of the wellness programs started with $372.8 million in stimulus funding, Live Tobacco-Free Austin secured a new federal grant before the old one had run out and retained most of the staff hired to run the program.

Contrary to the billing of the $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as a one-time infusion, the smoking and obesity programs branded Communities Putting Prevention to Work were never meant to be orphaned.

While hundreds of new hires were spending hundreds of millions in advance of a March 2012 spending deadline, advocates were busy embedding promises for billions more in something called the Prevention and Public Health Fund created with the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

The fund is expected to spread $1 billion around to wellness programs this year and increasing every year after to $2 billion by 2016.

To augment that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began the Community Transformation Grant program, pouring $103 million into wellness programs, several, including $1 million for Austin’s smoking program, started through Communities Putting Prevention to Work.

The Texas Department of State Health Services received a $10 million Transformation Grant for its wellness programs.

Michael MarlowMichael Marlow

Michael Marlow, a California Polytechnic State University economics professor who has written critically on obesity and smoking crusades for the Cato Institute, says this sort of government paternalism is meant to be self-perpetuating.

“You have a one-size-fits-all approach to multi-faceted problems,” Marlow says. “There is no such thing as a temporary solution, just more money for more solutions.”

In the early part of 2010, about a year after the stimulus bill was passed, the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department filed two of what would be 263 applications for Putting Prevention to Work through the Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC made 44 awards, including $7.5 million for a smoking program for Austin, rejecting its application for an equal amount for an obesity program. The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District was the only other Texas agency to get a grant, $15.6 million to combat obesity.

Los Angeles County got the largest grants, for smoking and obesity programs, $32.1 million; New York City got $31.1 million; Seattle/King County got $25.5 million; and Philadelphia, $25.4 million.

Cassandra Deleon had been working for the Texas Department of Health and Human Services when she applied for and was hired, along with eight others, to manage the Austin smoking program.

The grant was the largest of its kind secured by Austin/Travis County, and Deleon says staff saw in it a tremendous opportunity to change the social norms around smoking.

There was one problem. For years tobacco was a potent political issue in Austin, but with the passage of what was, in 2005, one of the strongest local anti-smoking ordinances in the country a kind of exhaustion set in.

Austin spent about $1 million incorporating tobacco use data into the medical records of its hospital and clinic partners, Deleon says.The program set up the Live Tobacco-Free Austin website. The Ash Trailer - a vintage Airstream covered entirely with ash trays - was designed for public service appearances, she says.

Most of the funding, about $3 million, went into a radio, television and billboard campaign touting the benefits of living tobacco-free.

Deleon says she is pleased with how they deployed the grant money. The community transformation grant is testimony to the commitment to fight smoking, she says.

But this kind of program, she says, resists efforts to correlate spending with fewer people using tobacco. “We’re in the process of collecting data and, of course, were hoping for a reduction in tobacco use across the board,” Deleon says. “It’s more like that what we’ll be able to track is awareness of our live tobacco-free message.”

This is an example of the diminishing return on the money spent getting people to give up tobacco, Marlow says. After billions in federal, state and local subsidies, hundreds of thousands of tobacco-related deaths, punitive ordinances and prohibitive taxes on cigarettes, more than 45 million adults choose to continue to smoke, according to CDC figures.

“After all that’s been done, people who smoke know it’s unhealthy,” Marlow says. “Continuing to tell them that is not giving them any new information. But that isn’t going to stop the paternalists from spending money on what is no longer effective.”

There is evidence that smoking cessation programs will have to fight for funding with obesity, the new darling of federal wellness. The CDC made $230 million in obesity grants, compared to $142.8 million for smoking through the Communities Putting Prevention to Work program.

San Antonio, which has found itself on several of those much anticipated lists of the nation’s fattest cities, was an ideal candidate for its obesity grant, by far the largest single grant ever awarded to the Health Department, Christine Rutherford-Stuart, assistant director for the Community Health Division, says.

Unlike Austin, San Antonio’s bid for a Community Transformation grant was turned down. After an extension runs out and the $15.6 million is spent, the last of 13 people hired through the stimulus will be let go, Rutherford-Stuart says.

Assuming the one-time windfall wouldn’t come again, San Antonio spent nearly half of its money on bike and walking lanes and outdoor fitness equipment for parks and libraries, infrastructure that could be maintained in the future by other municipal departments, she says.

A full quarter of the funding went to physical activity programs. Among them is Siclovia, an annual bicycling event modeled after a popular rally in Bogotá, Columbia. More than 15,000 people participated in the first Siclovia, 40,000 last year and 60,000 people are expected on Oct. 7, Rutherford-Stuart says.

Another 20 percent of the grant went into nutrition and health plans, including the installation of salad bars in 108 public and charter schools in the city.

Rutherford-Stuart says the YMCA, its partner for Siclovia, has agreed to continue funding the event in coming years. The Health Department is relying on partnerships to continue exercise, fitness and nutrition programs in the absence of the stimulus money, she says,

Having put all of this in place, Rutherford-Stuart says her department will be hard pressed to find proof of actual improvement in public health. Through questionnaires the department hopes it might be able to track changes in behavior.

“We’re happy for the opportunity to use the grant money, but it will be a huge challenge going forward.,” she says. “It took decades to get where we are in San Antonio and in this country with obesity. It’s going to take decades to alleviate the problem.”

obesity by stateSource: CDC

Data from the CDC suggests what has been done at the federal level since the turn of this century has not worked. The current obesity rate of 35 percent - meaning nearly 110 million Americans are obese - is the nation’s highest ever.

In 2000, no state had an obesity rate greater than 25 percent. Today, two dozen have rates between 25 and 30 percent and a dozen top 30 percent, the CDC says. In 2000, 27 states could claim obesity rates of less than 20 percent. In 2010, none could make the claim.

The federal response to this failure is to redouble its efforts and its funding, making it clear to what were once pilot Communities Putting Prevention to Work programs that money will be made available to do further battle with fatty foods.

After exhausting its stimulus grant, Los Angeles County got another $9.8 million from the Community Transformation fund. San Diego County spent its $16.1million stimulus grant on obesity and got another $3 million in transformational funds. Philadelphia, too, got another $1.5 million after spending $15 million on obesity and $10.4 million on smoking.

Amanda Dudley, spokesman for the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, says the CDC has no intention of continuing the Communities Putting Prevention to Work as a national program.

The agency, however, refers to the grant money available through the Affordable Care Act as CPPW Phase Two funding.

And although one of the primary goals of all stimulus programs was to create or retain jobs, Dudley was unable to say how many of those jobs CPPW created or retained or offer a generalized assessment of the impact the program had on government hiring.

Trying to count the jobs, she said, would be misleading because of the way, the stimulus website tracking spending and job creation, collected the data.

Having also failed to negotiate, Texas Watchdog contacted the recipients of the 10 largest CPPW smoking and obesity grants. Los Angeles County flatly declined to answer questions. Philadelphia officials said they were still analyzing what they had done with their grants. Four agencies did not respond to our inquiry.

What is clear from the four that responded - the Miami-Dade County Health Department, San Diego Health & Human Services Agency, the Seattle – King County Department of Public Health and the Southern Nevada Health District - was a commitment to continue on as long as the funding continued to come in.

Although almost all of its grant had been spent by July of this year, San Diego County hung onto all 13.7 full time equivalent positions, spokesman Michael Workman says.

A package of Community Transformation, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education and other grants and some county money has kept 6.7 jobs alive in a program that has been renamed Healthy Works.

“The program is considered a cornerstone of the County of San Diego’s Live Well, San Diego!, a 10-year initiative to improve the lives of San Diegans through healthy, safe, and thriving communities,” Workman says.

The other seven CPPW employees were re-assigned to other jobs on the county payroll, Workman says.

By Seattle-King County’s calculation, its grant paid the salaries for 134 jobs in the Public Health Department and with the community partners who participated in the obesity and smoking programs, spokeswoman Kathryn Ross says.

Roughly two-thirds of the Public Health employees brought on with CPPW money are staying, Ross says, through a combination of federal grants, some foundation funds and the reallocation of money in the department budget.

A good share of the work will involve developing a plan to make the one-time grant program sustainable, she says.

Of the 12 people hired by the Miami-Dade County Health Department funding had been found to hold onto more employees, although spokeswoman Rosa Oses-Prealoni says they are hoping to find more funding to keep several others.

The work will continue through other entities funded at least in part through federal, state and local taxes, Miami-Dade County, the Miami-Dade County School Board, the City of Miami, and the City of North Miami and the Consortium for a Healthier Miami-Dade.

Only in the Southern Nevada Health District, which kept its hiring to one person, was there an effort to make sure the CPPW money was spent on programs carried out largely by people already on staff, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore.

Regardless of the inability to account for or measure the effectiveness of these federal programs, which Marlow insists is dubious, the perception of crisis, in smoking and in obesity, creates an inertia difficult to halt.

“It’s a bottomless pit,” Marlow says, “and it will never stop.”

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Follow Texas Health Care Report on Twitter, and fan us on Facebook. Texas Health Care Report is a project of Texas Watchdog.

Photo of money by flickr user auntnanny, used via a Creative Commons license.

Texas Watchdog federal stimulus reporting highlighted in Harvard study
Wednesday, Jul 25, 2012, 12:21PM CST
By Mark Lisheron

Texas Watchdog figures prominently in a Harvard study that says the federal stimulus program could have done a better job helping the public track its $862 billion in spending.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the authors of the just-released study, Recovery Act Transparency, contend, did a relatively wonderful job of documenting the movement of the money from the federal to the local level.

States followed the lead of, the sometimes troubled $27.7 million website, and jammed their websites full of data in the name of transparency.

The problem, the study points to time and again, was putting all that data in places where the public could find it, in forms that were understandable and offered some perspective into the success of the stimulus as a stimulator of the economy and a creator of jobs.

“In expanding the scope of fiscal transparency, policy-makers should pay special attention to the challenges faced by interest groups, individual citizens, and journalists in using data,” the study, headed by researcher Francisca Rojas, recommended. “Through consultation with user groups and others, government at all levels should develop transparency systems for public spending that are more accessible, actionable, and ultimately more valuable in the years to come.”

Researchers studying six states including Texas found the federal and state recovery websites largely failed to engage citizens. By far, the highest use of the sites was among state bureaucrats, making sure their reporting was reflected properly.

Because of the complexity of the data, its unevenness and lack of context, making sense of the stimulus was tough for journalists.

The study recounts the difficulty for Texas Watchdog, which published more than 100 stories about the stimulus and probed in particular the $326 million weatherization program managed by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

On page 42 of the study:

Mark Lisheron of Texas Watchdog focused his reporting on implementation of the state’s weatherization program, which expanded dramatically under the Recovery Act. In Texas alone, the Department of Housing and Community Affairs’ (DHCA) program grew from a typical yearly budget of $13 million to weatherize 3,500 to 4,000 homes to $327 million to weatherize 38,000 low-income homes in a two-year period.

Lisheron began reporting on the implementation of weatherization on a regular basis in late 2009, based on a tip that some contractors to DHCA were performing substandard weatherization projects. As he tells it, data from the comptroller’s Recovery Act website served as a first, partial view into his investigation:

“I never let the data tell the story all by itself. With each data drop, I would get a little glimpse of the whole picture. Then [I would] go back to the agencies and try to take it down as far as I could … [I] called regularly for public records requests from the Department of Housing and Community Affairs. They finally sent them to me on disk. (First, [they] made me go down and get them, boxes of files.) The government required 5-6 page forms to be filled out when [officials] would inspect weatherization jobs that had been done …Those reports are not available on any website, you had to ask. … Once every two months I’d ask for all inspections reports to see if there was any improvement.”

As Lisheron identified contractors rated as bad performers in DHCA’s weatherization inspection reports, the agency began to take money away from struggling contractors and shift it to groups that were doing a better job of weatherizing homes.

In his opinion, the effectiveness of Lisheron’s reporting was complemented by the federal government’s ongoing oversight and threat that money could be taken back for noncompliance with federal standards. By summer 2011, the head of DHCA had resigned after difficulties that included publicity about unspent rebuilding funds from Hurricane Ike and trouble managing the expanded weatherization portfolio.

The study also cites three of the weatherization stories, here, here and here.

Texas media made greater use of Recovery Act data than any of the other states. The study points to the posting of more than 400 stimulus stories on the state Comptroller’s website.

“The state’s archive of articles,” the study said, “did not include the extensive reporting done outside traditional newsrooms by an investigative journalist for Texas Watchdog.”

We take the grievous omission as a compliment, wondering if it might not have had something to do with our coverage of the Comptroller’s Energy Conservation Office and its distribution of $52 million in stimulus for questionable solar projects.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us onTwitterand Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Latest blunder by state housing agency: Texas discriminated by putting too much affordable housing in poor, minority areas, court finds
Wednesday, Mar 21, 2012, 10:55AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

Over the past three years, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs has placed new emphasis on embarrassment in the phrase embarrassment of riches.

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled the department’s interpretation of a crazy quilt of federal and state guidelines has led to systematic, but somehow not deliberate, discrimination in its distribution of tens of millions of dollars in federal tax credits to build affordable housing in Texas.

Sounds complicated? Maybe that’s why the department needed $1.6 million of our tax money for legal representation to help them keep everything straight, according to a story today by the San Antonio Express News.

It seems that Housing and Community Affairs, which is expected to dispense $55 million of these tax credits in 2012, keeps giving them to builders to put up affordable housing in poor and minority neighborhoods.

The goal of the program, if we’re following this correctly, is to build a certain percentage of this housing in more affluent, or in the government vernacular, “high opportunity,” areas.

The department is doing woefully little high opportunity building and has 60 days to deliver a plan to change that, U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Fitzwater ordered.

The original lawsuit filed in 2008 by Inclusive Communities Project, a Dallas non-profit also supported by our federal tax dollars, claimed the department had been picking projects with race bias. Fitzwater’s ruling placed the burden on something at least as pernicious, hopelessly clotted bureaucracy.

One could very nearly empathize, but the Department of Housing and Community Affairs hasn’t had much luck doing one of its core jobs of handling our federal tax dollars.

The department parted company with its executive director, Michael Gerber, last August over its inability to disburse nearly $3 billion in federal relief funds to Texans who lost property to Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Gerber’s oversight of $327 million in federal stimulus funds to weatherize low-income homes and apartments, the subject of dozens of Texas Watchdog stories, didn’t help in his performance review.

The Weatherization Assistance Program was beset by allegations of fraud, bad workmanship, and, like the hurricane funding, an inability to push the windfall out its doors.

After getting its deadline extended by six months to the end of last August, the department’s weatherization program still had not spent almost $78 million of the $327 million Congress granted them in February of 2009, according to the department’s weekly reports.

While federal officials had at the time the stimulus bill passed threatened to take back funds not spent by the deadline, Housing and Community Affairs dribbles on with $13.7 million not yet stimulating anything.

(Please see the weekly report from Sept. 26, 2011, for the end of August totals and the latest report from March 5, 2012 by scrolling here.)

It is unclear from the most transparent and accountable program in our lifetimes whatever happened to all the talk at the outset of the stimulus of “use-it-or-lose-it.”  Navigate the federal government’s $27.7 million stimulus website and try figuring out what’s been used and what’s been lost.

Don’t feel bad. We’ve been trying for years.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo 'Building Houses' by flickr user Images_of_Money, used via a Creative Commons license.

Administrators avoid the budget scalpel at many Texas school districts
Tuesday, Mar 13, 2012, 09:16AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

In a year when the Houston Independent School District lost 835 teaching positions, more than 400 by layoff, 21 administrative positions went away, less than half the teacher attrition rate.

The nearby Cypress-Fairbanks ISD shed 300 teaching positions by attrition and just two administrators. In El Paso, where the district was forced to get along without 241 teachers, those teachers were directed by seven fewer administrators.

Of the 10 largest school districts in Texas, five of them had teacher attrition rates at least 1.5 times higher than administrative losses. Fort Bend ISD’s rate was 4.7 times higher for teachers than administrators. This is based on documents from school districts following a request from Texas Watchdog, and for purposes of this analysis principals at school campuses and secretaries or other support staff working at schools or a central office are not included as administrators.

In a vacuum those numbers suggest districts making unpleasant decisions that exempt their top-ranking employees; that some districts are top-heavy or on their way; that in tough economic times teachers suffer disproportionately.

For free market public school reformers like the Texas Public Policy Foundation administrative bloat is taken as an established fact. In its study of public education spending trends, the Foundation’s Center for Education Policy notes that from 1949 to 2007 the percentage of teachers as a share of all school staff nationwide had steadily dropped from 70 to 51.

Many of the comparisons were made with California.

“Clearly, Texas is more top-heavy than California,” Bill Peacock, one of the authors of the study says. “California has more schools than Texas, but Texas has more principals.”

In a newly published blog titled “Wild Wild West Texas,” Connie Sadowski, with the Red Apple Project of the conservative watchdog Americans for Prosperity, rains down criticisms for the inefficiency of the El Paso district, including exorbitant salaries for the superintendent and 13 assistant superintendents.

Administrators in Texas schools

Whether El Paso employs too many or too few administrators for those big salaries, Sadowski says her research hasn’t hasn’t taken her that far.

What she is likely to find is the same thing Peacock discovered. For all of the reflexive talk of top heaviness, the research hasn’t taken anyone very far.  “It’s hard to come up with standards of comparison,” he says. “All districts are different, all states are different.”

It is tough to know what to make of the numbers at the top of this story without context. Some of the nation’s leading experts in public school design and productivity admit there isn’t a lot of context out there.

And without it, school boards, superintendents, legislators and the public lack the base from which to make some of the most important decisions in school finance.

Darvin Winick likes to call this lack of a base a peculiarity, a word he says he chooses with care. Winick is the director of the Institute For Public School Initiatives at the University of Texas. His involvement in public education goes back to his role as advisor to the 1984 Texas Select Committee on Public Education.

Winick was first a businessman and approaches problem solving in a business-like way. For many years Winick has advocated for a complete state auditing of all paid positions in the state’s public schools -- with a scope well beyond the annual staffing survey the Texas Education Agency conducts. Along with such an audit the state would create a uniform set of job descriptions that would allow for meaningful comparisons district to district.

“This state audits the districts as they should, but with the numbers that are sent to them by the districts,” Winick says. “The definition of administrator and teacher are not well-defined in this state.”

Legislation for state auditing has been introduced several times over the past several sessions and has gone nowhere. The peculiarity, as Winick calls it, persists because of a still ferocious demand for local control of school districts.

“It’s messy, and because it’s messy, there hasn’t been the political will to change it,” Winick says.

This despite the state’s increasing share of overall school spending in Texas. In the early 2000s with property values and taxes on the rise, the state’s share of public school spending stayed reliably below 40 percent, according to figures provided by the Legislative Budget Board.

(You can find a chart of those years on page 214 in the Board’s annual Fiscal Size Up for 2010-11 here.)

With the property tax relief bill of 2007 the state’s share shot up to 48.5 percent in 2008 and has hovered near 45 percent in the years since, the Budget Board figures show.

But at the same time the amount of federal funding for public schools has taken off. A search of the last five biennial fiscal reports published by the LBB shows federal funding at $5.7 billion in 2002-03, $8.3 billion by 2006-07 and with the added funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act at $13.3 billion in 2010-11.

Unlike the mostly discretionary local and state funding, federal funds, particularly the ARRA or stimulus funds, are tied to specific programs. Paul Hill, founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, says this program-driven funding has helped Balkanize school administrations.

Paul HillPaul Hill

“What you end up with are lots of federally funded programs, each with its own coordinator, and a complexity of funding streams that no one quite understands,” Hill says. “The underlying problem in most schools districts is you have growth without design.”

A year before Hill’s Center issued its 2010 report on performance in the Seattle public school system a district parent and business analyst submitted her own study to the School Board showing that the number of central administration positions grew by 48 percent while district enrollment declined by 7.5 percent between 1998 and 2009. During those years the total number of teaching positions decreased by about 4 percent.

Hill says he found dozens of instances of disgruntled or burned-out teachers given jobs in central administration offices to get them out of the classroom. In his work he has also found the satellite offices staffed by administrators deeply entrenched in their communities, for better and worse. He refers to these administrators as “warlords,” not likely to cede their authority.

In Seattle no more so than in Texas, this Balkanization often outstrips the ability and will of school boards and superintendents to be systematic and rational with their administrations, Hill says.

More difficult still if those intimidated boards and superintendents call for across-the-board cuts and settle for accepting the recommendations of the very administrative leaders whose vested interest is in perpetuating their departments, says Marguerite Roza, who has canvassed districts across the country for the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

None of this entrenchment protected administrators when the recession began enveloping the country late in the fiscal year for school districts in 2008, Roza says. Faced with last-minute decisions, many districts chose to lay off or thin by attrition their administrators.

The reasons, Roza says, were practical. Keeping teachers in classrooms is a priority to parents and taxpayers. Teachers are protected by unions and associations. Administrators are hired and fired at the will of the superintendent, she says.

Teachers in Texas school districts

Houston ISD made its first personnel cuts in central administration, district spokesman Jason Spencer says.

“We've been chipping away at central office for a decade, and many of those cuts already happened,” he says.

“This being said, it is difficult to cut many central office positions, many of which are necessary to ensure we are in compliance with state and federal mandates that have grown significantly in recent years.”

Which is why, facing $77.4 million less in state funding, Houston resorted to teacher layoffs and attrition in the last budget year. The district expects teachers to bear the brunt of an anticipated cut of $44 million in the coming budget year, he says.

In the last budget year the Dallas Independent School District reduced its overall teaching staff by more than 6 percent, from 10,639 to 9,994 teaching positions. The district, however, was forced to slash its district-wide administrative positions by 21.2 percent, from 888 to 700 administrator positions.

Among the 10 largest districts, Arlington, Fort Worth and North East (San Antonio) lost a higher percentage of administrators than teachers in the past budget year.

“It was one of the worst days I can ever remember in the district,” Dallas ISD spokesman Jon Dahlander said. “I can’t tell you where we were hurt the most. It was so across the board that everyone has had to pitch in to do more work.”

Jenny LaCoste-CaputoJenny LaCoste-Caputo

Among the administrative ranks across Texas there isn’t a lot left to cut, Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, spokeswoman for the Texas Association of School Administrators, says. LaCoste-Caputo’s observations are anecdotal. Even the association with this specific dedication has not undertaken any kind of systematic analysis of administrative staffing statewide.

She has used data from education consultant Moak, Casey & Associates to fend off charges that districts are top-heavy. The ratio of teachers and non-teachers has declined only slightly and has mostly been in balance since the 1989-90 school year.

Contrary to some criticisms, central and campus administrators make up about 4 percent of all school employees, Moak, Casey found.

The idea that school boards and superintendents have been dithering over the complexity of administrative cuts, LaCoste-Caputo says, is ludicrous.

“We haven’t had the luxury to suffer from that kind of paralysis,” she says. “I don’t think Texas has been that way for several years. And for at least the next budget year I think we are going to be in a cutting mode.”

That suits Sadowski and the Red Apple Project just fine. Reformers who have asked for reduced or more efficient school spending have for years been rebuffed, she says.

“School districts don’t want us to know how they are spending their money and how they make staffing decisions,” Sadowski says. “All you have to look at is El Paso to see all the inefficiencies.”

Peacock, however, is skeptical of any plan handed down from the state that would purport to know the administrative needs in each district.

“When you’re looking at a way to reduce those costs you hope the districts make the right choices,” Peacock says. “A top-down approach isn’t good when your goal is to decrease rather than increase bureaucracy.”

Peacock needn’t worry too much, Winick says. In the 1980s Winick took part in a years-long struggle to bring standardized testing to Texas public schools.

The arguments for local control were as loud and persistent against those tests as they are for administrative accountability today, he says. Political will often flagged.

“It dawned on me that I’ve been through this before,” he said. “I suspect we’ll have financial accountability someday in this state. Maybe just not for a while.”

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of supplies by flickr user BarbaraLN, used via a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons License
Like this story? Then steal it. This report by Texas Watchdog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. 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

Six-figure government-produced jobs: Texas' tech fund at $206K per job, federal stimulus came in at $300K
Tuesday, Jan 31, 2012, 02:02PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
stack of cash

The state’s Emerging Technology Fund has since 2006 invested 169 million taxpayer dollars in companies that have created 820 jobs, an expenditure of $206,097 per job.

The only thing that surprises us about the Dallas Morning News story today here at Texas Watchdog is the relative thrift of this particular government misadventure in capitalism.

When the federal government took a crack at job creation, with a little something called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Watchdog determined the cost to create a single job in Texas at almost $300,000.

Always thinking big, the feds poured $862 billion into the stimulus. Quite often, Watchdog discovered, millions of taxpayer dollars were spent here in Texas to create no jobs at all. Like the $23.1 million stimulus grants at the Texas Departments of Agriculture and Aging and Disability Services.

The Texas Department of Rural Affairs created a single job while it spent $4.4 million. The National Guard squeezed out one property upkeep position for $2.2 million.

The stimulus brain trust had its own, much larger, emerging technology fund, betting $535 million on a would-be solar panel manufacturer, Solyndra, and $118 million on a would-be car battery manufacturer, Ener1.

Both have provided jobs in an area not part of either business plan: bankruptcy law.

According to a report called for by the Texas Legislature, things aren’t nearly as dire for the Emerging Technology Fund, in spite of the meager job creation.

If you include the money the fund gives in matching awards for university research and researcher recruitment the job creation total increases to 1,883, the Morning News story says. The tech fund helped save 686 jobs in Texas.

The fund spurred an additional $592.3 million in outside private and other funding for startup companies in Texas, the report says.

Taxpayers have seen their $169 million portfolio grow to $174 million, or an average increase of less than half a percent a year since the fund was created.

Naturally, the assessment of the fund’s success cleaves along political lines. Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, said the increase in the portfolio’s value was “another indicator of the fund’s success.”

Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, a liberal good government advocacy group, was perhaps being unfair to Perry by singling him out, given the record of his high-rolling federal counterparts.

“The governor,” McDonald said, “is not a very good venture capitalist.”
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of money by flickr user 401K, used via a Creative Commons license.
Texas’ $41.5 million federal stimulus program for homeless costs $219K per job
Monday, Oct 24, 2011, 11:01AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

A $7 million pool of stimulus money helped stave off homelessness for more than 4,000 people in Tarrant County, giving social service officials plenty of additional work filing stacks of state and federal paperwork.

While state officials praised the way the money was spent in the Fort Worth and Arlington area, some local officials are pleased the ordeal of the most transparent and accountable federal programs in history, as Vice President Joe Biden dubbed them, are over.

"In hindsight, I wish we had never done it," one anonymous official told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
for its story today.

The story does not assess the overall economic impact or the jobs created in the area by the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program, the primary reasons Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act more than 2 ½ years ago.

According to the state Comptroller, the program, administered through the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, received $41.5 million. The program has so far spent $33.4 million and created 152 jobs or $219,736 on each job created, slightly higher than the roughly $205,000 spent on each job overall in the stimulus program in Texas.

With the program winding down and assuming no additional workers will be hired, when the entire $41.5 million grant is spent, the cost of each of those jobs will rise to $273,026.

In addition to confusing, rigid federal rules, delays in reimbursements and penalties for clerical mistakes, the story says the program had trouble keeping track of how effective the help was for the clients who received  it.

Texas Watchdog has tracked these and other problems with stimulus programs in Texas, including instances of fraud and mismanagement.

By any measure, the stimulus has not been a permanent solution and without more federal stimulating Tarrant County Homeless Coalition expects evictions to increase by 9 percent in the coming year, Cindy Crain, executive director of the coalition, says.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of money by flickr user Jeff Hester, used via a Creative Commons license.
Taxpayer-funded researchers bristle at criticism; see Texas Watchdog’s story on federal stimulus-funded research of weather on planet Venus
Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011, 11:52AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

It took a while, but the distress cries of research scientists criticized by politicians for wasting billions in taxpayer funds on questionable studies have reached the sympathetic ears of National Public Radio.

Researchers tell NPR studies that selectively and unfairly focus on elements of their work that might seem ridiculous to the public create a climate of suspicion that could threaten future funding.

The critical examination in question by the staff of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., alleges the National Science Foundation has squandered more than $3 billion on research that includes what the story says has become the catch-phrase for research waste, the shrimp on a treadmill.

It is worth reading the story for a description of the scientific ingenuity involved in the crustacean workout routine.

Although the study roasting the exercising shrimp on the barbie of public opinion is actually five months old, these criticisms apparently rankle.This, however, isn’t the first time Sen. Coburn has trained his ire on what he says is wasted taxpayer-paid research.

Coburn and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., teamed last August on Summertime Blues, a study of 100 research projects that in their opinion frittered away hundreds of millions of dollars of stimulus funds that created very few jobs.

Among the projects ridiculed were studies of weather on the planet Venus and a study of public perceptions of the stimulus that funded the study by two Texas researchers and reported on in some considerable detail by Texas Watchdog.

Taxpayers were on the hook for $492,499 for the two studies.

Coburn’s study says the National Science Foundation does good and necessary work. “While taxpayers support investing in science,” Coburn wrote in the study’s foreward, “most would likely question the merits of these projects.”
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Composite image of planet Venus by NASA.
Texas state housing chief resigns; agency failed to use Hurricane Ike rebuilding funds, oversaw faulty stimulus program to fix up low-income homes
Thursday, Aug 18, 2011, 08:18AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Galveston following Hurricane Ike

Gov. Rick Perry has accepted the resignation of the head of the state’s housing agency, which has failed to handle billions of federal dollars to rebuild homes in the wake of Hurricane Ike and oversees a federal stimulus program plagued by questions of fraud and mismanagement.

Michael Gerber, executive director of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, tendered his resignation, effective Aug. 31, as Perry yanked nearly $3 billion that has yet to be used to rebuild thousands of homes, roads, public utilities and buildings damaged or destroyed in 2008 by Hurricane Ike.

The program, administered together with the Texas Department of Rural Affairs, has been shifted to the state’s General Land Office. Timothy Irvine has been named interim chief at Housing and Community Affairs.

Crushed beneath billions of dollars in federal disaster and stimulus weatherization funds, the housing agency is still scrambling to spend more than $92 million in what has been a troubled stimulus Weatherization Assistance Program, reported on extensively by Texas Watchdog.

The agency has taken more than two years to spend the rest of the $327 million allotted to it. It has stripped funding from a handful of its 44 original contracting agencies and has investigated dozens of instances of alleged fraud and bad workmanship. Out from under the burden of the Hurricane Ike disaster program, Irvine is confident the agency will not have to return any of its weatherization funding to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Michael GerberGERBER

Gerber is on paid vacation until his departure date. A call by Texas Watchdog to his cell phone number was not returned as of Thursday morning.

In addition to Gerber’s departure, Perry asked J. Paul Oxer, a member he appointed in March, to take over as chairman of the Housing and Community Affairs board. The Legislature abolished the Department of Rural Affairs, a move recommended in 2005 by the Sunset Advisory Commission, turning over its duties to the Department of Agriculture.

The Governor originally designated two agencies to handle the Ike money because the Department of Rural Affairs administered the state’s Community Development Block Grant program through which federal disaster funds flow. Rural Affairs was to handle the infrastructure, and TDHCA was to handle the housing recovery.

“The problem had to do with putting the Ike recovery funding in the hands of two agencies, each with their own bureaucracies,” Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Perry, said Wednesday. “The General Land Office has played a role in disaster recovery in the past, and the governor has confidence in Jerry Patterson (Texas Land Commissioner) in getting this taken care of.”

Gary Hagood, chief financial officer for the Land Office, pledged Wednesday to have all of the HUD money spent no later than December of 2015. While insisting on not dwelling on past performance, Hagood expressed impatience that after nearly three years two agencies managed to spend just $200 million while Hurricane Ike victims lived in trailer homes.

“I don’t care about the history, I’m interested in streamlining, and if there’s stuff in the way I’m going to move it out of there,” he said Wednesday. “You had a bunch of people working with contracts that had no milestones. Now, we’re going to say if you don’t hit this milestone, we’re going to terminate your contract.”

Adding the Weatherization Assistance Program to an agency unprepared to get into the disaster recovery business was an unsustainable blow, Irvine said. With its welter of state and federal requirements and the cross-purpose goals of spending hundreds of millions of dollars quickly, efficiently and well, “We very quickly found out that drinking from a fire hose wasn’t that easy,” Irvine said.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Creative Commons License
Like this story? Then steal it. This report by Texas Watchdog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. 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, we'd love to hear about it. E-mail

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of Galveston following Hurricane Ike by flickr user simminch, used via a Creative Commons license.
Texas Rep. Drew Darby proposes monthly fees - $1 for homes, $5+ for businesses - to subsidize solar power
Wednesday, Apr 06, 2011, 04:34PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
solar array

Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, wants electricity users in Texas to pony up $1.2 billion over the next five years to subsidize the solar power in Texas.

Darby’s proposal, to tack on $50 a month for every industrial meter, $5 for every commercial meter and $1 for every residential meter is outlined today by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, tells the Star-Telegram that the $1.2 billion could produce 1,000 megawatts of solar generation over five years.

Texas currently has a total solar capacity of between 15 and 30 megawatts. Although exact estimates are sketchy, solar power currently provides much less than 0.5 percent of all power used annually in the state.

The entire history of the solar industry has been one of taxpayer or ratepayer subsidy, or jump starts, as solar advocates like to call them. Solar power figured prominently in a $290 million subsidy for energy projects in Texas through the American Recovery and Reinvestment ActTexas Watchdog jump-started a look at the return on taxpayer investment for those federal stimulus solar projects and found the initial costs would not be offset by energy savings for several decades.

A 2009 bill that would have billed ratepayers to generate $500 million for a solar rebate program died before coming to a final vote in the Legislature.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, NewsVine and tumblr.

Photo of solar array on the annex to the Austin Convention Center by flickr user clickykbd, used via a Creative Commons license.
KTRK: On Big Screens for Billionaires, Comptroller Susan Combs Silent
Related Blogs and Media
Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: The Watering Hole 1114 B Potomac Dr. [HAR] … Read...
Update:2 years 8 months
Comment of the Day: Still Missing the Good Ol’ Days “I was born in ’91, so I never got to experience the little mom and pop stores (hardware store or otherwise). I wish I could have...
Update:2 years 8 months
Nothing Really Happens with This Bed Bug Shutdown Notice and Implosion Threat Posted to a Westheimer Strip Center Mattress Store “The movie finally makes a reasonable amount of sense now” after 4 years of work on it, writes producer Joseph Graham on the...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot Sponsor: Central Bank Swamplot’s sponsor today is Houston’s own Central Bank. Thanks for the continuing support! Central Bank has 4 (central) Houston...
Update:2 years 8 months
The Next Food Hall Coming to Downtown Houston Will Be a Storeful of Open Kitchens If you’re just coming up to speed on the whole food hall thing, remember this: It’s not a food court, it’s a food hall....
Update:2 years 8 months
Amazon Will Swallow Whole Foods Whole For those who expected Whole Foods Market to shop itself to a fellow grocery store chain and not a powerful company experimenting with...
Update:2 years 8 months
This Century’s Rise in Home Prices; Rare Local Air Monitoring Equipment Exhibited at Museum Houston-Area Home Prices Have Increased Nearly 30% Since 2000, Finds Harvard Study [Houston Chronicle] Stream, AMD To Develop 5-Story...
Update:2 years 8 months
Daily Demolition Report: Feagan, and Again, and Again Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Report lists buildings that received City of Houston demolition permits the previous weekday. Demolition is...
Update:2 years 8 months
Blessed are the Poor: Examining opposition to debtors-prison legislation Texas State Sen. Paul Bettencourt was quoted by the Associated Press (June 11) criticizing debtors-prison legislation (SB 1913) which...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: The Vault 14759 Oak Bend Dr. [HAR] … Read...
Update:2 years 8 months
Bones Found in Holdout Heights House Attic Tell No Tales Fox26 has now updated its story from March on the mysterious circumstances surrounding the fate of Mary Cerruti, the former owner of the...
Update:2 years 8 months
Fast Indian Comes to the Strip Center End of 19th St. Just opened this week in Re:Vive Development’s new add-on strip center at 721 W. 19th St., just west of Shepherd Dr.: the first...
Update:2 years 8 months
A Personal Big Day at L'Auberge in Lake Charles In previous posts, including in my Lifetime of Running Cold history of my personal gambling, Iit's been mentioned that I've been...
Update:2 years 8 months
Cory Crow
Debtors-prison policies decried, DPS cuts license center hours, and other stories Here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention while mine is focused on preparing for a much-need break next week.SCOTUS...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Junk-science based false convictions in Houston lampooned by comedian Someone has finally grokked and managed to convey in an accessible, understandable way the unmitigated travesty of justice surrounding drug...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Just Liberty post-session roundup podcast Here's the latest Just Liberty podcast - this time reviewing criminal-justice reform legislation from the 85th Texas Legislature -...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Governor signs omnibus innocence bill to track informants, record interrogations Governor Greg Abbott today signed HB 34, Texas' latest omnibus innocence legislation. Grits explained in this post why the eyewitness ID...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Houston meeting of Texas Latino GOP PAC tomorrow evening From the InBox: The Texas Latino GOP PAC are the gatekeepers to the conservative Latino Community, for far too long GOP outreach to Latino...
Update:2 years 8 months
Big Jolly Politics
Sen. Joan Huffman to recap the 85th From the InBox: Join us THIS WEDNESDAY, June 14 (Flag Day!), for our meeting with State Sen. Joan Huffman, SD 17, who will be discussing...
Update:2 years 8 months
Big Jolly Politics
Gov. Abbott mistakes incarceration smell for "freedom" Governor Greg Abbott made a speech in Bell County recently declaring that, as one drove north out of Austin, one could notice a different...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Unanswered questions about law-of-parties beyond death penalty In our podcast the other day, Texas Defender Service Executive Director Amanda Marzullo estimated that 10 percent of death-row defendants...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Priorities The headline from the Victoria Advocate declaring that the Texas Legislature prioritized mental health treatment over incarceration is...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Legislative Session The 85th Legislative Session was different in many ways. Two things changed the narrative this session. First, Empower Texans successfully...
Update:2 years 8 months
Big Jolly Politics
Court trends advise tempered enthusiasm for HB 34 eyewitness ID reforms Does this sound like a suggestive photo array to put before a witness?A witness described being robbed at gunpoint by a “[b]lack male,...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
MAY 22, 2917 / Theodore Dalrymple on secularization and transcendence THE SECULARIZATION of Europe is hardly any secret. Religion's long, melancholy, withdrawing roar, as Matthew Arnold put it, is a roar no...
Update:2 years 9 months
Unca Darrell
MAY 10 / James B. Comey . . . . . . needed firing. Everything he did during the 2016 election was wrong. He was wrong . . . . . . back in July to release information...
Update:2 years 9 months
Unca Darrell
Droppin' F bombs, Beto O'Rourke style It's not often that a politician decides to start cursing repeatedly during speeches and interviews. But that hasn't stopped...
Update:2 years 11 months
Rick Perry vs The World
APRIL 5, 2017 / Weeding out the audience at the Alley is . . . . . . a feature, not a bug. Houston's Alley Theatre is running "An Act of God," a loosely dramatized collection of irreverent one-liners...
Update:2 years 11 months
Unca Darrell
Statewide primary rumors It's that stage of the election cycle where politicians are trying to figure out if they should run for something else or stay put. ...
Update:2 years 11 months
Rick Perry vs The World
Is Ted Cruz vulnerable? Is Ted Cruz vulnerable? Not really. Sure, he's not liked, Texans think Ted puts Ted first, his approval rating is upside down, etc...
Update:2 years 11 months
Rick Perry vs The World
MARCH 16, 2017 / Jim Webb on what it means to be a redneck, and . . . . . . why redneck culture matters. In 2004 Jim Webb wrote Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. Though the 2016 presidential...
Update:2 years 11 months
Unca Darrell
MARCH 3, 2017 -- Goodbye, and thanks, to Thomas Sowell THOMAS SOWELL, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and one of America's most important public intellectuals, retired from...
Update:3 years 1 week
Unca Darrell
March 2, 2017 / The poem our teachers got wrong TWO ROADS diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. Generations of commencement...
Update:3 years 1 week
Unca Darrell
FEBRUARY 27 / Eric Hoffer on . . . . . . baby boomers and alienated intellectuals. "SCRATCH AN INTELLECTUAL, and you find a would-be aristocrat who loathes the sight, the...
Update:3 years 1 week
Unca Darrell
2017 Project: January “Progress” There are two different ways to interpret my 2017 project: that it's a way more complicated New Years Resolution, or that it is essentially...
Update:3 years 1 month
Greg's Opinion
Ted Cruz's first senate term in a nutshell The National Review's Tim Alberta switched to Politico, and one of his opening pieces put Ted Cruz's first term in a nutshell It...
Update:3 years 1 month
Rick Perry vs The World
Andrea Parquet-Taylor named KTVT CBS 11 news director Former KHOU 11 assistant news director Andrea Parquet-Taylor named Vice President, News Director for KTVT CBS 11 Andrea...
Update:3 years 1 month
Mike McGuff
VIDEO: KPRC 2 10pm newscast (1-24-99) ...
Update:3 years 1 month
Mike McGuff
Democrats actually thought Wendy Davis was a serious candidate? Hat tip to Willisms: VIDEO- Wendy Davis being Wendy Davis: #txlege— Will Franklin (@WILLisms) January 24,...
Update:3 years 1 month
Rick Perry vs The World
Luke Bryan to sing National Anthem as part of Super Bowl LI on FOX ​ Country music superstar LUKE BRYAN will sing the National Anthem as part of Super Bowl LI pregame festivities at NRG Stadium in Houston...
Update:3 years 1 month
Mike McGuff
Karen Townsend | 7 years 9 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" -
Peter Corbett ✈ | 7 years 9 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy
KERA Public Media | 7 years 9 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour.
PBS MediaShift | 7 years 9 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 7 years 9 months
Great addition, been burned too much by bad subs. "Google Play Announces Free Trials For In-App Subscription Services"
TxDOT | 7 years 9 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact
keyetv | 7 years 9 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested.
Karen Townsend | 7 years 9 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
San Antonio Current | 7 years 9 months
Go ahead, chalk it up #satx #chalkitup | 7 years 9 months
Scanner: Bathroom on fire in 600 block of Virginia, CC fire dept. on the way
Ballotpedia | 7 years 9 months
Does your state offer early voting? Do you qualify? Find out! #election2012
Dallas Morning News | 7 years 9 months
Why a Dallas-area cycling coach believed Lance Armstrong was drug-free (video) | 7 years 9 months
Dozens of illegal waste dumpers sentenced in Jim Wells Co.; others on the run:
Karen Townsend | 7 years 9 months
Consistently impressed w/raullabrador when I listen to him in Congressional hearings. #Libya
Cory Crow | 7 years 9 months
Diigo: United raises fares by up to $10 per round trip - Business -
News 4 WOAI | 7 years 9 months
If you see news in or around San Antonio 'SEND IT' to @NEWS4WOAI here: OR email us at: NEWSDESK@WOAITV.COM
swamplot | 7 years 9 months
Mining Houston Garbage for Recycling and Compost Gold
swamplot | 7 years 9 months
Daily Demolition Report: Tulane Highway
KFDA NewsChannel10 | 7 years 9 months
Obama and Romney: Where they stand on the issues
Williamson County | 7 years 9 months
Mental Health Awareness Week FREE Webinar:"Understanding Depression-How to Help You or a Loved One" Thurs,Oct 11@1pm-
© 2019 TEXAS WATCHDOG and USELABS. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement