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What's Big and Slowly Graying?

We liked it better when stories about baby boomers were about hip-huggers and greasy hair and loud music, but the most self-centered generation in modern America is getting old. That ain't news in and of itself, but it presents a whole slew of things for people in government and business to think about and Texas actually has dispatched a team to start doing some of that thinking.

We liked it better when stories about baby boomers were about hip-huggers and greasy hair and loud music, but the most self-centered generation in modern America is getting old. That ain't news in and of itself, but it presents a whole slew of things for people in government and business to think about and Texas actually has dispatched a team to start doing some of that thinking.

The Texas Department on Aging is pulling together polling information and facts and figures and interviews to try to figure out what will happen when people born between the end of World War II and the end of the Kennedy Administration get old. What agencies and services will be strained? What won't be needed? Are there enough hospital beds, or should there be more gyms?

They don't have to worry directly about Social Security and other federal problems, but they're looking for pressure points that might make a difference to state government. The Legislature wants the agency to figure out what, if anything, the advancing age of Beatlemaniacs really means.

The department has chopped that up into separate studies that will be folded into one report to lawmakers sometime next year. It's the first time that particular agency has been involved in policy instead of service delivery, and it's probably the last. In four years, the agency will be merged into the Texas Department of Human Services.

The first part of the "Aging Matters in Texas" study will focus on the state government's readiness, with a focus on agencies that could see the biggest impacts: insurance, for instance, and health, and consumer credit. They're surveying agencies in an effort to figure out the angles.

They're working on a demographic profile of older Texans. That's being done now, but will be updated in a couple of years when information from the 2000 census is available.

Another piece is a survey -- already partly done -- of 2,800 elderly households in Texas. The aim of that is to figure out what older Texans need. How much do people save for retirement? What kind of physical condition are they in? Are they active, or shut-ins? Do they drive?

That will be followed by another survey focussed on baby boomers. Some of the questions will be framed by the answers from the older Texans. Are baby boomers repeating some mistakes -- like not saving enough for retirement -- that could put a burden on government? Are they staying in good shape, and will they be filling hospital beds at a greater or lesser rate?

And What's Texas Supposed to Do About It?

The last piece is to figure out whether there are any surprises ahead for state government, so lawmakers can start getting ready for future problems. Folks from Aging are already quizzing other state agencies to see what others in government are expecting, a process that's not unlike what happened a few years ago when people started talking about the Y2k issue. That could lead to new services and new directions for state agencies, but it could also mean cutting back in some areas. One grizzled policy wonk we know points out that it would be cheap and easy for the state to cut out an expensive and marginal service now, before a lot of people get older and demand it as an entitlement.

The full report will be ready (except for the demographic info that has to wait for a new census) by about this time next year, but pieces of it will be available as early as this spring. The first statewide survey will be complete then, and the second won't be long behind, according to agency officials. That will not only point to problems that might be expected, but should point to geographic trends and problems, if there are any, that are particular to the baby boomers.

An e-Chicken in Every e-Pot

The audio was bad, the video was jumpy, and the repartee was flat. That's political life on the Internet, whether you're the President of the U.S. or the Texas Comptroller.

But in spite of problems that are fairly typical for Internet broadcasting, Carole Keeton Rylander's e-Texas project is off and running and has some compelling ideas behind it, such as making government services and access available all the time instead of just between 8am and 5pm on weekdays. Rylander's troops, who have said since her inauguration that she'll keep the Texas Performance Review, now say that project will be folded into e-Texas. But the object is the same, and that is to produce a report and a legislative package behind it that makes government work better, and frankly, that works well enough that it makes the author a bigger political force than she already is.

The comptroller's office even set up a web site for the new project (http://www.e-texas.org) that's separate from the agency's "Window on State Government," an extensive site that includes all of Rylander's publications and information on the economy and taxes and such. The new site focuses entirely on the new project, and is being used to gather info and suggestions and to spit out some of the results. It's also where you can go to see who all's been recruited for the project.

The project starts out looking like a pyramid of task forces. Rylander named more than a dozen prominent Texans who will head the project itself and who will chair the 14 groups that report up to the main panel. They will, in turn, pull together groups of their own to fold, spindle and mutilate suggestions in various subject areas ranging from asset management to environmental issues. The project is a hydra, with three co-chairs: Wendy Lee Gramm, wife of the state's senior senator and the former head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; San Antonio lobbyist and former congressman Tom Loeffler; and Hector De Leon, an Austin attorney.

The whole schmear will be funded out of the comptroller's $9 million research budget, about a third of which is dedicated to the performance review, and from $400,000 Rylander hopes to raise privately. The private money, she said, will be used by task force members for travel and similar expenses. Part of the aim, Rylander said, will be to save money. Part will be to "institutionalize the Yellow Pages test" -- that's her promise to privatize services and operations whenever possible. And part will be to do to government what technology has done to commerce.

More Forces Than Tasks

This makes one wonder whether state officials had to wait in line to ask prominent high tech types to volunteer for government work: The day before Rylander unveiled the e-Texas project, Lt. Gov. Rick Perry announced his task force on electronic commerce, and both officials ended up saying they don't expect any overlap. They'll also have to take care not to step on Gov. George W. Bush's toes: He announced a legislatively mandated task force on electronic government a week before that.

Perry's task force -- officially called the Advisory Council on the Digital Economy -- will have 21 business people and four lawmakers on it (Sens. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, and Rodney Ellis, D-Houston). Like the Bush and Rylander groups, Perry's panel is supposed to kick out a report in time for the next legislative session.

The lite guv's group will look at taxation and regulation with respect to technology companies, and will dabble as well in electronic commerce, privacy and other issues. Perry did bring in at least one element that's gotten short shrift elsewhere: His panel will look at what some call the "digital divide" and will try to see that Texans can get to the Internet regardless of geography or income levels.

To recap, that's three panels with at least 60 members, three reports, one year, and all of it's about technology. For those wondering what -- other than redistricting and gubernatorial succession -- might be on the legislative center stage next session, this is a clue.

Not Necessarily Working on the Railroad

Last time Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage, was up for election, he flew to Athens for a vacation. It wasn't the Athens in his district, but the one on the other side of the pond. He was similarly unconcerned on his way to Eastern Europe, which is where he'll be for the next two weeks while the Texas political world speculates about his future. The presumption from the Austin lobby and other politicos has been that Nixon died politically when he was arrested in a prostitution sting in Austin two years back. But he doesn't appear to be thinking about it; in fact, he seems to be enjoying himself.

First, Nixon is coy about rumors that he is considering a run for the Texas Railroad Commission against Michael Williams, but says it's unlikely. He disclaims the rumor and says he doesn't know what kicked it up, but it's not something he's thinking about, he says. He does add, however, that he's familiar with the oil business and has been for years, and points out that that's not true of everybody else on the commission. That's the same tack taken against Williams earlier in the year by Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, when he was considering the race.

Nixon isn't saying whether he will run for reelection, and three Republicans have jumped into that race without knowing whether they'll have to face him in March. On his way out of the country for a two-week trip to Romania, he said he's "enjoying watching the other three cut each other up."

Also enjoying that show: Democrat David Fisher of Silsbee, who is so far the only candidate from his party to show up for the SD 3 dance. He's been able to keep other Democrats out of the race so far and appears to have locked up support from some of the elders in the district.

Assuming Nixon is out, Williams, a Bush appointee and personal friend from the governor's Midland days, has not attracted an opponent for his first election bid. He's also been extremely busy on the fundraising trail. So far, both he and Charles Matthews, who is seeking another term on the commission, are running unopposed, but there's still time for candidates to sign up and there are still signs that some candidates other than Nixon are sniffing around.

One big mystery is that no Democrats have jumped forward to say they'd like to snag that or any other statewide office in the 2000 elections. Democratic Party Chairman Molly Beth Malcolm isn't ruling out a candidate for those posts next year, but says candidates seem more interested in getting on a better ticket in 2002, when all of the statewide offices are open. Republicans occupy all of the state's 29 statewide positions, from U.S. Senate down through the courts.

Leaving the top of the ballot to the GOP could pose problems for Democratic legislative candidates, especially those that overlap significantly with Republican congressional districts. With presidential candidate George W. Bush (assuming he is the nominee) and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison at the top of the ticket next November, those state lawmakers might want the security blanket of a Democratic stopper above them on the ballot. Those who live in Democratic congressional districts will have one; those that don't are hoping for the cavalry.

Did They Jump or Were They Pushed?

Six of the top people at the Texas Department of Economic Development recently left, departing for various reasons but leaving the organization with a hole a year before the Legislature decides whether to keep the agency in business. The departees include Margo Dover, director of the Office of International Business, Mitchell George, program manager for Strategic Initiatives, Donna Osbourne, director of the Information Clearinghouse and two from the Office of Defense Affairs: David Walsworth, the director, and Bill Wilson, the program director. Steve Ray, a former reporter who handled media and legislative issues for TDED, also left. Dover and Ray are both already working at other jobs, according to agency officials. Ray has lined up some public relations work, and Dover has signed on as the executive director of something called the Texas-Canada Business Council.

It's impossible to tell what happened from what the agency's officials and its lawyers are saying, but it'll clear up soon enough: TDED is under a Sunset review in anticipation of the 2001 legislative session. The result, something like a combined financial and management audit, is due in January.

Off and Running: San Antonio

Rep. Bill Siebert, R-San Antonio, has been catching local flack this year for lobbying the city while he's in the Legislature. He was exonerated (along with Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio), but the blood in the water has attracted a shark. Elizabeth Ames Jones, a former political worker in Austin who moved to San Antonio, got married and had kids, says she wants to be in the Legislature and will run against Siebert. Jones worked for political consultant Karl Rove during Gov. Bill Clements' first term. She's hired Ann Whittington as her campaign manager.

On the other end of town, longtime San Antonio political guru JoAnn Ramon, who put together successful campaigns for Reps. Robert Puente, Carlos Uresti and Arthur Reyna, has signed onto the Mike Villareal campaign. Villareal, you'll remember, is the political newcomer trying to win the House seat left open by Leticia Van de Putte, who was elected earlier this month to the state Senate.

Villareal faces Roberto "Robbie" Vazquez in a special election January 15, and Vazquez has lined up support from much of San Antonio's Democratic political establishment. But Villareal is putting together an interesting campaign, and this won't be a slam-dunk for the establishment favorite.

The race has a short fuse on it, and will be followed by another race in March. The special election will fill Van de Putte's seat, opened when she was sworn in as a senator, until January 2000. The regular term will start then. Accordingly, the two candidates -- and anyone else who decides to join in -- will run for the unexpired term in January, then run in the March primary and the November general election for the full term that follows. Filing for the special election is open until December 15; the general election deadline is January 3 for everybody on next year's regular ballot.

Vazquez is getting help from a lot of the political establishment, but his main squire has been Rep. Juan Solis III, D-San Antonio. Now it looks like Solis, a freshman lawmaker who succeeded Christine Hernandez, will be busy on his own: Jose Menendez, a San Antonio city council member, is now talking about challenging him in the primary.

Off and Running: Austin, Houston

It's official: Ann Kitchen, a former assistant attorney general who's now with a national accounting firm, is running for the Texas House. She's the first to officially announce for the seat held by Rep. Sherri Greenberg, D-Austin. Greenberg announced a couple of weeks ago that she's not going to seek reelection. And she says now that she'll stay out of the primary fight, which looks to be a busy one.

It seems there will be a race, after all, to fill the seat left empty by Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, but the favorite at this early date is Corbin Van Arsdale. He's a constitutional lawyer who's been involved in GOP politics in Houston, and he has whatever advantage you get from playing baseball at the University of Texas when he was there. He won't be alone in the race: Aubrey Thoede, who founded and recently sold a carpet cleaning company, will be running in that HD 130 primary.

Shortfalls and Windfalls

The financial hole at the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse will force a cut in services after all, according to the agency. They're talking to their third-party providers between now and Thanksgiving to deliver at least the outline of the bad news. The details will follow as the numbers firm up. But the problems are pretty much what we reported two weeks ago: TCADA started the 2000 fiscal year with $28 million less in its accounts than it had forecast, and current spending levels, if left alone, would double that deficit by the end of the fiscal year. Also, the agency named Dianne Casey, most recently of the Workforce Commission, as chief financial officer. She'll sort out the numbers.

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports that Texas Tech University bought an $830,000 house for Chancellor (and former senator) John Montford, (it's only his while he's the boss there). The school had two appraisals done, and they came in $30,000 and $80,000 below the sales price. The house, next to the campus, includes a 5,500-square foot main residence, a pool house, a garage apartment and an efficiency apartment. Montford's current residence, a rental, runs $2,800 a month.

E-gad. More e-Stuff.

The Internet tax fight won't really crank up until next year, but the federal task force that's working on the subject hasn't changed the basic outline of the debate.

Some folks want commerce on the wires (and in catalog sales) to be tax-free. Some want to include all types of sales under the existing sales tax umbrella. To over-generalize a bit, state and local governments that are heavily dependent on sales tax revenues are worried about losing taxable sales to electronic commerce; they tend to be tax hawks, urging an extension of current taxes or something like them to the new sales channel. On the other side are tax doves who think sales taxes would burden a developing industry at a time when its fantastic growth is driving the economy. On the same side are a fair number of people who just don't like taxes and think the Internet is a good place to draw a line and shout "Stop!" The task force will put out a report next spring after its final meeting in Dallas.

In the meantime, some of the states (who want to preserve their revenue streams) are working on an idea that might be attractive to businesses whether Internet sales taxes end up on the floor or on the table. One objection that has been raised to online sales taxes is that it would force sellers to know the tax rates for each of their possible buyers. They'd have to know whether to charge a state tax, a city tax, county tax, special district tax and in what combination and amount. Worse, the answer would vary depending on the location of the customer, the location of the company and a mess of other variables. They'd have to know which items are exempt in which states, and on and on and on.

To put it mildly, they think that would be a burden. So the states are talking about a third-party system that would take the burden off of retailers and other sellers and move it back to the state and its contractors. While it still has some kinks in it, the concept is straight-forward: The third-party contractor would compute the tax on the sale, record it, collect the money and remit it to the state. The retailer would sell the item to the customer and be done with it, which is why the idea is interesting even if online and mail-order sales taxes are banned.

An easy example: A customer uses a credit card to make a purchase. The retailer rings it up, electronically and automatically checking with the third party contractor to get the sales tax amount and then adding that amount to the total. The credit card company approves the sale as it does now. But instead of sending one payment to the retailer, who then figures up taxes and later sends a payment to the state, the credit card company would send the payment for the goods or services to the retailer while sending the tax portion on to the third-party contractor who figured the taxes in the first place. The taxes would be paid. The retailer wouldn't have to keep track of various tax jurisdictions and reporting and filing, and the change would be invisible to the customer. The retailer would be out of the business of figuring up sales taxes on behalf of the state, and the state would be able to watch its taxes at one choke-point instead of by watching every taxpayer.

Political Tidbits, Oddments, and Other Notes

• This is like tracking a very, very slow boat, but Attorney General John Cornyn has asked a federal appeals court to end the Ruiz prison case -- that's the one that put the state's penal system under federal watch. Cornyn contends the state has done more than it was asked to do and should be released from the leash held by U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice. Soon after Cornyn took office this year, he asked Justice to let the state out of the case. Justice wouldn't, so the AG is asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to end the oversight.

• This is so obvious that nobody else thought of it. The American Lung, Heart and Cancer societies teamed up and bought tickets to The Insider and passed them out to officeholders and staff in the Pink Building. That's the Disney (really) movie about the tobacco industry whistle-blower who went to CBS News with his story and who, more significantly, testified against the industry in the lawsuits filed by Mississippi and, later, other states.

• Left off our list last week: Anna Bennett is the fundraiser for Regina Montoya Coggins. Coggins is challenging U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, in CD 5.

Political People and Their Moves

Dr. Patti Patterson, the number two exec at the Texas Department of Health, is leaving that agency to go work for the Texas Tech Health Science Center in Lubbock. She'll be the vice president of Rural and Community Health for the school, and the job returns her to home country: Patterson is from Hale Center and still has family there... Mike Jones, who for years has been the spokesman for the Department of Human Services, takes the job of deputy press secretary in the government office of Gov. George W. Bush... Austin-based Montgomery & Associates gears up for the elections with three hires, signing Brett Price, who spent the last two years in former officeholder Lena Guerrero's lobby shop after working for several Texas House Democrats; Jeff Butler, who worked for Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and the House Research Organization; and Shawn Hinkle, who's experience is in phone bank operations... Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, gets the Texas Municipal League's award for best legislator after taking cities' side in a fight over fees charged to utilities... Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, wins the "True Grit" award from the American Cancer Society's Texas office, for her work on anti-tobacco legislation... The Texas Department of Public Safety promoted Rhonda Fleming to the rank of major and put her in charge of driver license field service. That's notable in part because that's the highest any woman officer has ever gone in that agency... Michael Levy, the publisher and founder of Texas Monthly, is getting one of his industry's highest honors, the Henry Johnson Fisher award, for his career in the business... Gov. Bush appointed two new regents for the University of Houston and reappointed one: Morrie Abramson, who heads Kent Electronics Corp. of Houston, and Morgan Dunn O'Connor of Victoria, managing partner of Bissett Ranch Partnership, are the new members. Thad "Bo" Smith of Sugar Land, who heads Smith Global Services, was appointed to another term on the board. As always, the three will need Senate approval... Reagan Brown, a farmer and county extension agent who was the state's agriculture commissioner from 1977 to 1983, has died. He apparently suffered a heart attack while on a tractor at his ranch in Brazos County. Brown, 78, who worked in agriculture all of his life, won a permanent spot in the Texas political storybook by sticking his hand in a fire ant mound at the prompting of a TV reporter while cameras rolled.

Quotes of the Week

Gov. George W. Bush, on how long he speaks: "The speech can go 15 minutes or it can go 45 minutes. In Kentucky one time, it must have been 120 degrees out there and I kept seeing guys' faces turn beet red, and they were about to drop, so I hastened it for public health reasons."

Attorney S. Rafe Foreman of Flower Mound, who asked Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller to recuse herself from one of his cases after he sued her as the corporate landlord of a strip joint that served a customer too many drinks: "I don't think anyone would believe you could sue a judge, or a business they own, and then go over and ask them for relief."

Rep. Domingo Garcia, D-Dallas, an attorney for the League of United Latin American Citizens, on a set of discriminatory jury screening questions that were being used in Dallas County: "The law says you have a right to a jury of your peers. And if some of your peers are being excluded before you get to the courtroom, you've got a problem."

Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson, on a proposal to share leadership of Baptist groups by switching between conservatives and moderates in top positions: "I don't like compromise of any kind when truth is involved."

U.S. District Judge Royal Furgeson of Midland, who contends the federal courts on the U.S.-Mexico Border are overburdened and that El Paso, especially, could use more jurists and more courtrooms for them to work in: "We're only asking for concrete. We're not asking for marble."

Former U.S. Rep. David Skaggs, D-Colorado, on siccing the IRS on two conservative groups that are still being audited: "I believed then and I believe now that these were serious possible violations and the appropriate step was to ask the people with the expertise. But it would be incredible to suggest, and I won't, that there was not a political dimension to these things. Of course there is."


Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 21, 22 November 1999. Copyright 1999 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited.

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