Vol 29, Issue 31 Print Issue

Some officeholders have raised the idea of replacing Texas' property tax with a larger sales tax. But that could create some new fiscal challenges.
Some officeholders have raised the idea of replacing Texas' property tax with a larger sales tax. But that could create some new fiscal challenges.

Which Pocket?

A one-for-one swap of sales taxes for property taxes would raise the state sales tax to 17.85 percent from 6.25 percent, or enough to add almost $3,500 to the price of an average car.

University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth.
University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth.

Reeling in the Medical Schools

Public research universities around the state are looking to absorb medical schools, which represents a break from Texas' traditional set up and may require some major legislative changes. But only if they can make the funding work.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Thousands of illegal immigrants in Texas became eligible this week to apply for “deferred action” under a policy change the Obama administration announced in June. Being accepted would grant them relief from deportation proceedings and allow them to work for two years if they meet certain guidelines. 

State workers scooped up $122 million in overtime last year, according to an analysis by the Houston Chronicle. A member of the governor’s protective detail led the pack, earning slightly more in overtime than he got in regular salary; he was one of 40 state employees with more overtime than regular time. And 1,988 earned more than $10,000 in overtime.

Impersonation voting — the kind of fraud that voter ID bills aim to stop — is relatively rare, according to an analysis of more than 2,000 fraud cases over the past 12 years.  News 21, an investigative reporting project, found more fraud in absentee ballots and in voter registration than in any of the other categories, accounting for almost half the cases. And almost half of the cases — 46 percent — ended in acquittals, dropped charges or with no charges filed. 

This one’s back: Small tobacco companies could face a tax hike after the 2013 legislative session if three large tobacco companies get their way. Lawmakers met this week to talk about an extra tax on small tobacco companies to equalize what the big companies call a competitive advantage because of pricing. A similar bill that failed to pass in the last session would have raised $25 million for the state.

Former state lawmaker and Harris County Judge Robert Eckels is fronting a group that wants to build high-speed rail projects in Texas without public funding. Their target, at least for talking purposes, is to open a Houston to Dallas-Fort Worth train in 2020.

In several months, if the plaintiffs in one of the six current school finance lawsuits against the state get their way, a court will order a study to determine what that word — “efficiency” — means in the context of public education. How districts manage the largest strain on their budgets — personnel costs — will be increasingly monitored as the efficiency debate progresses — as will the ways they have coped with the loss of roughly 25,000 employees they shed before the 2011-12 school year, after more than $5 billion in state financing cuts.

In McAllen, reproductive health providers tell stories of women going to pharmacies across the border in Mexico in search of a drug they hope will terminate unwanted pregnancies. But the providers say that the pharmacies, which are largely unregulated, often fail to give proper instructions for the drug, misoprostol, and that it does not always give the women the result they seek.

Austin Sen. Kirk Watson’s Republican opponent, Guy Fielder, dropped out of the race, leaving Libertarian Ryan Dixon to face the Democrat. 

Tom DeLay is now a lobbyist on sex-trafficking issues, according to paperwork he filed in Washington. The former Texas congressman told Roll Call that will probably be his only lobbying client and that he registered out of an abundance of caution.

Political People and their Moves

The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Public Safety Commission announced the appointment of Kirby Dendy as assistant director/chief in charge of the Texas Rangers. Dendy has been second in command since 2011.

Those agencies also named Chris Sarandos the assistant director for the Information Technology Division, starting next month.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Dee Peavy of Graham as district attorney for Stephens and Young counties. She is a former assistant DA in Dallas County and currently a private practice lawyer.

The governor named Ken Florence Jr. as DA in Shelby County; he’s a former assistant DA there.

And Perry tapped Hockley County Attorney Christopher Dennis of Levelland to be the DA there.

All three will be on the November ballot. 

Fred Aus has been selected to lead the Texas Rural Water Association as its executive director, replacing Tom Duck, who is retiring in January. Aus has served as manager of government affairs for the Lower Colorado River Authority for the past 12 years.

Kathy Walt is leaving Gov. Rick Perry's office, where she's been everything from a spokesperson to a deputy chief of staff. The former newspaper reporter will take that governmental relations job at LCRA. 

Kim Kiplin, general counsel to the Texas Lottery for the past 19 years, is retiring from state government and opening an Austin office for a Michigan-based law firm, Dykema Gossett.

Long-time Austin legislative consultants Kyle Frazier, Patricia Hayes, James LeBas and Bill Stevens announced the formation of Capitol Dome Partners, LLC. Their combined resumes include education, taxation, regulation, energy and healthcare.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp agreed to consolidate the responsibilities of Dr. Jeffrey R. Seemann. Seemann will become executive director of OSRS in addition to his current position as vice president of research for Texas A&M.

Gov. Rick Perry has appointed Kevin Cloud of Austin to the Texas Council on Purchasing from People with Disabilities. Cloud is vice president of contract administration and information technology at Professional Contract Services Inc.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation restructured its communications team: Chuck DeVore, currently a senior fellow in the foundation’s Center for Fiscal Policy, will succeed Joshua Treviño as the vice president of communications. Treviño left the foundation earlier this month to become writer-at-large for Texas Monthly and to write a daily column on U.S. politics for The Guardian. David Guenthner will now serve as senior director for public affairs. Kristen Indriago, who has served as the foundation’s deputy communications director since February 2011, is now director of communications.