Vol 28, Issue 41 Print Issue

Schools and Taxes: The Next Big Thing

The primary elections come in less than five months. The general election is about a year away. When that's all out of the way, we'll all be talking about lawsuits — some that have been filed, some that will be filed later — on school finance and franchise taxes.

Austin High School
Austin High School

Schooling the GOP

As the field of candidates shapes up for the March 2012 primaries, a new — at least since last election cycle — breed of GOP hopeful is emerging: the education Republican.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Early-voting signs went up this week for the Nov. 8 election on 10 proposed amendments to the state Constitution. Lawmakers crafted the propositions during the legislative session, and now it’s time for voters to weigh in on such issues as funding of water projects, student loans, agricultural exemptions and rules for officeholders. The 135 year-old Constitution has been amended almost 500 times, and most amendments usually pass. Historically, turnout in these elections is low — less than 20 percent.

A hearing on the validity of the recall petitions against three El Paso officials is under way. Attorneys for El Paso Mayor John Cook called on signers of the petition to testify to their affiliations with local churches, which Cook and others contend is an illegal avenue for gathering signatures. El Pasoans for Traditional Values, which has mounted a campaign against Cook and two city council members for their votes in favor of extending health benefits to the partners of gay and unmarried city employees, says it didn’t violate state law in circulating the petitions and is free to act like a corporation. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court granted corporations the same rights as individuals in the political arena.

Another Texas mayor may be facing a recall. New Braunfels Mayor Gale Pospisil received an angry letter from a local businessman and political activist expressing his dissatisfaction with her recent actions surrounding a proposed disposable-container ban. The ban is up for a vote on Nov. 8 and has already drawn big crowds during early voting. Mark McGonigal got the issue on the ballot after city officials passed the ban earlier this year. McGonigal accused the mayor of distorting the facts, saying that the volume of trash was reported in gallons rather than pounds, making the totals harder to verify. He also accused the city of counting items thrown into riverside trash cans. 

Occupy Fort Worth is struggling to find its footing after different groups of protesters have presented themselves as the voice of the local movement. The first incarnation of the group worked with authorities to gain access to free parking spaces near its Burnett Park encampment. But after demonstrators were arrested for obstructing access to the sidewalks near the park, the protesters split into two groups, and their relationship with the authorities has grown tense. The group that left the park is making plans to re-form at another location and has called the remaining protesters anarchists.

It’s not as dramatic as a hurricane, but the drought is wreaking havoc on Texas agriculture. Farmers who’ve suffered losses in the millions are receiving payments from a national crop insurance program, but it’s estimated to be only about a third of the amount farmers will lose this year. Ranchers are in an even worse predicament, with no hay to feed their animals. Relief for some starving animals has come from organizations like Ranch Hand Rescue that are taking in as many animals as they can, but it’s not enough for many, and a petition has been posted online asking Gov. Rick Perry to authorize spending state funds on drought relief.

For the first time this season, coastal residents are fighting off swarms of mosquitoes. The record drought had kept their eggs dormant, but heavy rain two weeks ago spawned the first batch of hatchlings this year and sent authorities into overdrive as they mobilized trucks and planes. Neighborhoods throughout coastal counties are scheduled to be sprayed until a cold front moves in and slows the pests.

Taxation, rarely a popular subject in Texas, was under increased scrutiny this week as the state Supreme Court began hearing a case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s major business tax, known as the margins tax. In 2006, the Legislature revamped the school finance system by increasing the business tax while reducing property taxes. But the resulting margins tax has never produced the projected income and is now being contested in court as an income tax, which the state Constitution prohibits.

After a two-year legal dispute between the Lower Colorado River Authority and the city of San Antonio, the parties have reached a settlement approved by LCRA’s board that will send $30 million to San Antonio. The first payment of $18.8 million would be paid out immediately, and the remainder would be paid out at the rate of $1.4 million for the next eight years. The LCRA was unable to proceed with a deal to provide water to San Antonio after conducting thorough and costly feasibility studies, prompting the city to sue to recover the cost of the studies.

Political People and their Moves

Think of this as having all of the names in one place, since you've likely heard it: Joe Allbaugh joined Rick Perry's presidential campaign as a senior advisor, apparently sitting at the top of the organization chart. Nobody is leaving the campaign, apparently, though the roles of the new folks and the pre-existing folks aren't entirely clear. Allbaugh, until now a lobbyist, managed George W. Bush's campaigns for governor in 1994 and for president in 2000 and Rudy Giuliani's campaign for president in 2008.

They've added Tony Fabrizio and Fred Maas as senior advisors too, and Curt Anderson, Jim Innocenzi and Nelson Warfield will work on the media squad for the campaign. And Stanton Anderson will be the campaign's liaison to Congress.

Luke Marchant is joining David Dewhurst's U.S. Senate campaign as a political consultant; he'll focus on organization. He's the son of U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, and was most recently the political director for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.

Brian Newby, a Fort Worth attorney, former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry and a judge advocate in the Air National Guard, won a promotion to Brigadier General. He's also the new chief of staff and vice commander of the Texas Air National Guard.

Matt Barr, a former legislative staffer who was most recently a regional aide to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, is joining Houston-based Strategic Public Affairs.

Department of Corrections: In an earlier version of this week's newsletter, we put another name on Raul Torres' quote (see Quotes of the Week). It's fixed now. Sorry, sorry, sorry.