Vol 28, Issue 37 Print Issue

An Eye on the Calendar

The state probably won't have political maps for federal and state legislators until November and possibly December, crowding the filing-fundraising-campaigning cycle into the holidays and perilously close to the March primaries.

State Rep. Will Hartnett (r), R-Dallas, listens to a question from the back mike as State Rep. Rene' Oliveira (l), D-Brownsville, waits on May 6, 2011.
State Rep. Will Hartnett (r), R-Dallas, listens to a question from the back mike as State Rep. Rene' Oliveira (l), D-Brownsville, waits on May 6, 2011.

Campaign Chatter

Chris Harris and Will Hartnett say they won't be back, but the horde of candidates for state and federal legislative seats is growing.

Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio
Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio

School Finance Suit Takes Shape

Within the education community, there have been rumors about a possible school finance lawsuit since well before the legislative session got under way. Now, with $4 billion less in public funding and a daunting new student assessment program on the horizon, those rumors have become a reality.

Traffic congestion on Interstate 35 in Austin. The freeway through central Austin is among the state's most congested road segments, according to a TxDOT study.
Traffic congestion on Interstate 35 in Austin. The freeway through central Austin is among the state's most congested road segments, according to a TxDOT study.

Phil Wilson's War

Phil Wilson, a former Texas secretary of state and aide to Gov. Rick Perry, on Thursday was named executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation. For Wilson, the new job comes with a big salary — and even bigger challenges.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

News that law enforcement officials are investigating a cold case that could be related to the 1986 murder of Christine Morton could be good news for Michael Morton, who’s been in prison for 25 years for the crime. Morton has maintained his innocence and has finally seen success in his appeals with the DNA testing of a bandana found near the Mortons' home. DNA found matched that of Christine Morton and an ex-convict in California. Now it seems that another case with similar details is being investigated in light of the DNA discovered. Other discrepancies are coming to light in Morton’s case, and his attorneys insist he should be released from prison immediately. A hearing is scheduled for early next week.

Inmate Lawrence Brewer may have left a lasting impact on the state prison system, and in particular death row. After he ordered, and then didn’t eat, a gigantic last meal before his execution, outraged state officials declared that they would end the practice of allowing inmates a special meal of their own choosing. Instead, they will be served the same meal as any other inmate in the prison, according to the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Brad Livingston, who issued the announcement after receiving a letter from the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, John Whitmire, D-Houston.

Refiners seeking tax refunds for buying pollution-controlling equipment have school districts and cities located near refineries on edge. If the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approves the refunds, those districts and local governments could find themselves owing the state millions of dollars that they have already incorporated into their current budgets. Valero initiated the request from an amendment to the Texas Constitution exempting companies from paying taxes on equipment purchased to reduce pollution, and since that action in 2007, four other companies have joined in asking for the refund. The TCEQ is researching the claim after Valero’s initial claim was turned down.

Texas, known for its reluctance to embrace federal health care reform, was the beneficiary of the law’s most recent grant. Of $103 million in grants awarded to combat heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes, the Texas Department of State Health Services received $10 million. Austin and Houston also received $1.5 million worth of municipal grants under the program. To date, government agencies in the state have received about $93 million in awards and grants under the law.

An $80,000 report on spillover border violence commissioned by the Legislature has drawn mixed reactions. Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales and retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, authored the report, which contends that spillover violence is a real threat to the border areas outside of El Paso. Ideas about drug cartels establishing sanctuaries from Mexican law enforcement, though, were met with strong objections by U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, who criticized the report as sensational and politically motivated.

The Texas Water Development Board released its five-year water plan for the state, and the news wasn’t encouraging. Continued drought, coupled with population growth, could cause serious damage by 2060, including massive job losses. The report recommended that the Legislature plan ahead and invest in new reservoirs and water infrastructure. The estimated cost to the state for such forward-thinking measures: $53 billion.

A study commissioned by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce has provided some concrete numbers on the Barnett Shale natural gas field. The report, compiled by Waco economist Ray Perryman, details the impact that the drilling boom in the Barnett Shale has had on the regional economy. The big numbers were an estimated $65.4 billion pumped into the North Texas region since 2001 and the addition of more than 100,000 jobs in the area, both directly and indirectly created by drilling activity. That’s estimated to be 38.5 percent of the area’s entire economic growth in the last 10 years. Tax revenues have been good for the state as well as local governments, generating $5.3 billion for localities over the decade and close to $1 billion for the state, the report said.

The drought has killed an estimated 15,000 trees just in city parks and esplanades in Houston. The city now forecasts it needs to spend $4.5 million to remove the withered trees, which are a safety hazard. That’s more than 13 times what Houston would spend on tree removal in an average year.

Political People and their Moves

More than two and a half years after President Obama took office, the U.S. Senate confirmed four U.S. attorneys for Texas. Robert Pitman of Austin will be the chief federal prosecutor for the Western District, which also includes San Antonio, El Paso, Del Rio and Midland. Kenneth Magidson got the Southern District, including Houston, Laredo, Corpus Christi and Laredo. Sarah Saldana got the Northern District, with Fort Worth and Dallas. And Malcolm Bales, who's been the interim in the Eastern District, now gets to drop "interim" from his title. Pitman is the state's first gay U.S. Attorney; Saldana is the first Latina. The four were appointed in June.

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has been named the senior fellow for Latin America at Rice University's James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

Zachry Holdings hired A.J. Rodriguez, San Antonio's former deputy city manager, to run public policy and government relations there. He's been the head of the city's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the city's first economic development corporation.

David Prior, the executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Texas for the last four years, is stepping down when a successor has been found. He was at Texas A&M before coming to the UT System in 2007.

Matthew Miller, who was the chief spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, is joining Austin-based Vianovo as a partner in the consulting firm's Washington office. Before DOJ, he worked in both the House and the Senate, and on John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004.

Gov. Rick Perry's latest appointments include:

Ann McClure of El Paso chief justice, and appointed Christopher Antcliff of El Paso as a justice of the Eighth Court of Appeals. McClure is a current justice of the Eighth Court of Appeals. Antcliff is former judge of the 448th and 168th Judicial District courts in El Paso County.

Cynthia Tauss Delgado of League City to the Texas Lottery Commission. Delgado is president of Cyndel Industries.

William F. Scott of Nederland to the Texas State University System Board of Regents. Scott is chairman and CEO of Trans-Global Solutions.

Susan Burton of Addison and Larry Patton of El Paso to the Finance Commission of Texas. Burton is a consultant and owner of Susan Burton Consulting. Patton is president and CEO of Bank of the West.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven C. McCraw made Gary Albus the Regional Commander for DPS Region 6. Albus had most recently served as Texas Highway Patrol Major in Lubbock since 2010. And he named Carey Matthews as the Regional Commander for DPS Region 4. Matthews began his career with DPS in 1988.