Friday, March 18, 2005

Dewhurst blurring lines of government and business

Ordinarily I don't post something that falls outside the lines of policy, but's account of government-sponsored propaganda is too good to pass up.

PinkDome is alleging that Lt. Governor David Dewhurst is using government resources to provide web space for the website Texas Children First - a (web)site for sore eyes. Read the post for more.

House votes out HB 86

On February 4, 2004, the Houston Chronicle reported that 12 major petroleum and petrochemical companies accounted for 80 percent of all unpermitted pollution released into Houston’s air the previous year. These facilities released 5.5 million pounds of pollution during air emission events over the period of 11 months, and these unpermitted emissions not only endanger the health of nearby residents but can travel for hundreds of miles.

The Legislature acted on this: Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) authored HB 86. This bill relaxes restrictions on the compliance history - a company's record of environmental violations. Specifically,

  • The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) would only have to develop standards for using compliance histories – rather than evaluating them – and the bill is a little fuzzy on how compliance histories would be developed.
  • TCEQ could no longer use compliance histories in determining whether to conduct announced inspections on a facility.
  • The classification of a "repeat violator" would be more narrowly defined from all violations that a company commits to simply the violations of "the same nature in the same environmental media." This means that TCEQ would look more narrowly at the same violation committed repeatedly instead of looking for a pattern of violations.
  • HB 86 grants TCEQ to allow "reg. flex." (regulatory flexibility) to a company as far as pollution controls go. Specifically, it deletes requirements that an alternative pollution control is only as protective of the environment and public health rather than more protective.

    HB 86 is good in that gets rid of a complicated mathematical formula for determining compliance histories and that it allows penalities to be levied for a specific facility and not all facilities of a given company - if a company has facilities in Gavleston and Odessa, and the Odessa facility is the only one with environmental violations, then that one would be the one that TCEQ reprimands.

    HB 86 was improved by around 100 votes, with around 45 dissenting votes.

  • Like I said yesterday,

    a lot of bills were pushed through the Calendars committee yesterday (much like the Local & Consent Calendars committee). The following actions were taken yesterday:

    • The following measures were placed on the General State Calendar for Monday, March 21, 2005: HB68, HB225, HB282, HB404, HB423, HB1077, and HB1286.

    • The following measures were placed on the General State Calendar for Tuesday, March 22, 2005: HB81, HB256, HB265, HB322, HB472, HB548, HB729, HB755, HB914, HB946, HB1285, and HB1478.

    • The following measures were placed on the Local, Consent, and Resolutions Calendar for Wednesday, March 23, 2005: HB18, HB67, HB74, HB102, HB178, HB204, HB230, HB263, HB297, HB350, HB479, HB532, HB564, HB593, HB595, HB596, HB597, HB638, HB705, HB723, HB735, HB736, HB737, HB738, HB739, HB740, HB741, HB742, HB743, HB744, HB747, HB760, HB794, HB885, HB901, HB932, HB935, HB957, HB1058, HB1139, HB1163, HB1310, and HB1394.

    Notice that HB 789 isn't on there. However, Phil King, the bill's author, is interested in having it heard on Wednesday (well, allegedly - it's just what I heard). Hmm...I wonder if this has anything to do with the upcoming Easter holiday - many representatives are planning on going home for a long weekend, so the thought is that many bills will be shoved through since the rep's might not put up as much of a fight. Fantastic.

    And watch for HB 7, the worker's comp bill, to be heard on the House floor next week too.

    Well I'll post my thoughts on the telecom bill soon.

    Thursday, March 17, 2005

    Telecom bill gets voted out of committee

    In a flurry of ad hoc committee hearings called on the House floor today, the telecommunications bill HB 789 was voted out of the Regulated Industries committee today. The Calendars committee, which coincidentally had a formal meeting at the same time, will determine sometime in the near future when that bill, along with many others voted out over the past fifteen minutes, hits the House floor. Updates to come.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2005

    HB 3 gets approved by House

    HB 3 was approved late last night, carrying many new taxes. Items not taxed include newspapers (a Charlie Geren amendment pulled that) and diapers, the latter of which was substituted by a tax on "elective plastic surgery" - meaning surgery stemming from a disease is exempt from the tax (a Scott Hochberg amendment).

    But most of the other regressive taxes were kept. According to today's Fort Worth Star Telegram, the following taxes were approved by the House:

    • Sales taxes: Raise state rate to 7.25 percent from 6.25 percent [The highest in the nation once you account for the sales taxes added by local governments]. Begin levying the tax on billboard advertising, bottled water, car washes and car-repair services. Sales taxes on boats and cars would rise to 7.35 percent.
    • Snack tax: Put a 3 percent surcharge on chips, soft drinks, candy, doughnuts and other snack foods consumed off the premises of a restaurant. Combined with the sales tax, the tax rate for snack food would exceed 10 percent.
    • Vanity tax: Apply the sales tax to elective cosmetic surgery.
    • Business taxes: Close business loopholes by expanding the corporate franchise tax or a new payroll tax to all business entities, including partnerships.
    • Tobacco taxes: Increase cigarette tax by $1.01, raising it to $1.42 per pack. More than triple the cigar tax. Raise the smokeless-tobacco tax to 40 percent, up from 35.2 percent of list price.
    • School property taxes: Cut by one-third on average, or 50 cents per $100 valuation, and dedicate 15 percent of future surplus revenue (not constitutionally dedicated) to additional property tax relief.

    Monday, March 14, 2005

    Tuition Relief bills filed

    These will be discussed later this week, I think on Wednesday at the press conference on Higher Education.

    Rep. Gallego (D-Alpine):

    • HB 2687 is similar to Rep. Garnet Coleman's HB 1019, only this has a shot of going somewhere. This will at least get a hearing by the House Higher Education Committee, but I'm pretty sure that Craddick will try hard to prevent it from passing on to the Senate. Actually, I'm not even sure if it will get to the House floor since Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, is the also the chair of the Higher Ed. Committee and author of the tuition deregulation bill, HB 3015, from last session. I know that Craddick and Morrison worked closely to get HB 3015 passed two years ago.

      Craddick was the one, after all, who revived tuition deregulation when it appeared dead in the water: when Lt. Gov. Dewhurst proposed pumping $500 million in new money into higher education, Craddick said he would allow it only if deregulation was put back into HB 3015. After a closed-door, 8 hour meeting (where they also discussed other things..), deregulation was back on the table and eventually passed.

      But since the Senate controls the budget this session - each session, the House and the Senate alternate between controlling the budget - instead of the House, it might have to be a Senate bill that would put caps back on tuition...

    • HB 2688 is very similar to but not the exact same as SB 1400 (see below). It says that a university cannot charge a student more than a 3 percent increase in total tuition and compulsory fees than the previous year.

    Sen. Ellis (D-Houston):

    • SB 1389 also takes into account total tuition and compulsory fees charged by an institution, as well as the family's income, in determining tuition caps.

    • SB 1398 relaxes the requirements on qualifying for a tuition equalization grant. Basically, SB 1398 says that a student can simply qualify for a TEXAS Grant to be eligible for a TEG. Also, there is no minimum requirement for the number of hours a student must take; the student must only be enrolled in a university.

    • When deregulation went through, 20 percent of all tuition collected was designated as financial aid for other, more needy students. SB 1399 clarifies the language for this financial aid to say that this tuition revenue is allocated to "need-based" financial aid. HB 3015 also said that if a university increases their tuition past $46 per semester credit hour, then 5 percent of that revenue would also be set aside for financial aid - but this 5 percent is considered part of the other 20 percent of all tuition and fees charged (that is, without regard to specific tuition rates). SB 1399 would tweak this to say that the 5 percent is in addition to the 20 percent.

    • SB 1400 is very similar to Gallego's 2688 (see above). SB 1400 would say that a
      university can't charge a student more than a 5% increase from the
      year before.

    • SB 1554 is a full rollback of tuition deregulation. It would negate the tuition increases from the past two academic years by requiring that tuition rates for the next academic school year, 2005-06, could not exceed a 5 percent increase from the 2002-03 school year. This bill doesn't have a snowball's chance in Texas of passing. Well, wait just a goshdarn second, it did snow this year! On Christmas Eve, after about 5 minutes of scraping snow off my windshield, I did make a single snowball to throw at my sister! Boy am I excited..

    School bill not made in Texas

    In a disturbing trend, HB 2 was not drafted by Texas lawmakers but by a conservative think tank in California. From Saturday's San Antonio Express-News:

    The road to passage began in December 2003, when Gov. Rick Perry; House Committee Chairman Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington; and Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, asked the Hoover Institution's Koret Task Force to examine Texas school funding and suggest ways to improve the effectiveness and delivery of education in public schools.


    The result of the task force's work: "Recommendations from the Koret Task Force, February 2004," was published in book form last year. Its recommendations mirror the language in House Bill 2, including rolling back local property tax rates, establishing a system of financial accountability for districts, freeing exemplary schools from state regulation and phasing in computer-assisted testing for state-standardized tests.

    The report also covers school board elections, incentive pay for teachers and how to budget for textbooks — all points covered in the bill.


    "It's no surprise that conservative politicians will go to conservative think tanks, but there should be truth in advertising. We should know where this came from," he (SMU professor Cal Jenkins) said. "We're really getting a Hoover Institution piece of legislation pushed through the Texas Legislature."


    Kathy Miller, president of Texas Freedom Network, an advocacy group that often challenges the GOP, said legislators should talk to constituents, not cut and paste recommendations from outside organizations.

    Tax burden shifts: Biggest tax breaks would go to the largest political donors

    says the Houston Chronicle:

    Time and again in the House's proposed tax bill, which will be debated Monday, the largest political donors are the businesses that receive the biggest tax breaks or have their taxes left untouched.


    People and companies' political committees in the biggest losing industries -- construction, services and trade -- also made millions of dollars in political donations but rarely in the concentrated amounts of the potential winners. They will pay $1.4 billion in increased state taxes.


    A legislative study of the tax bill found that people earning less than $100,000 a year would pay a combined $1.1 billion a year more in taxes while those earning higher wages would receive a $437 million annual tax cut.





    Agriculture-$72.8 million
    Mining, oil and gas-$169.1 million
    Utilities and transportation-$222.2 million
    Construction+$205.6 million
    Manufacturing, petrochemical-$230.6 million
    Trade+$102.8 million
    Information-$91.4 million
    Finance, insurance, real estate-$896.5 million
    Services+ $1.1 billion
    Subtotal of all businesses-$235 million



    Residential, single family-$2.6 billion
    Sales and excise taxes+$3.1 billion
    Subtotal on individuals+$449 million