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About that Fence

While business groups were trying to temper efforts to seal the border between the U.S. and Mexico this week, and Gov. Rick Perry was puncturing anti-immigrant proposals from the Legislature, the state's chief financial officer was saying undocumented immigrants are a pretty good deal for Texas.

While business groups were trying to temper efforts to seal the border between the U.S. and Mexico this week, and Gov. Rick Perry was puncturing anti-immigrant proposals from the Legislature, the state's chief financial officer was saying undocumented immigrants are a pretty good deal for Texas.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn says undocumented immigrants boosted the Texas economy by $17.7 billion, and that they paid more in state taxes than they cost in government services.

That's contrary to conventional wisdom and to a couple of other recent reports, though it syncs up with what business groups in Texas and other border states have been saying. And it could bolster arguments for a guest worker plan pushed by the governor and by a coalition of business groups that don't want their labor pool drained.

In a 22-page special report, she says there were 1.4 million undocumented immigrants in Texas in 2005 and that pulling them out of the state would have pulled 17.7 billion, or about 2.1 percent, out of the gross state product. They used state services costing $1.16 billion, but they contributed $1.58 billion in taxes, according to the report.

The financial thing didn't go so well for local governments and hospitals, where the tab for the immigrants was $1.44 billion, or about $928.9 million more than those governments raised in taxes from those folks in 2005.

They didn't say it in so many words in the report, but that's a net negative. Combine their numbers for the state and their numbers for the locals. The net effect on state and local government was red ink of about $93 million annually. But there's that $17.7 billion in economic activity to ponder.

The report says the immigrants pay more in taxes here than in states that rely on income taxes and don't have the sales and other consumption taxes Texas has.

Education costs for children of those immigrants totaled $967.8 million in the 2004-05 school year. Incarceration costs were $130.6 million and healthcare — these are state numbers — totaled $58 million. Most of the state's income from them was from sales and other consumption taxes, $866.7 million, followed by school property taxes, $582.1 million, and then the Texas Lottery, $60.9 million.

The comptroller's report leaves out the costs of and revenues from the legally resident children of undocumented immigrants. The report says that's because the headcounts are uncertain, and because the researchers had questions "of whether to include the costs and revenues associated only with the first generation. . ."

Purple Rain

Democrat Bill Moody, who ran for Texas Supreme Court, lost to Republican Don Willett. That continues the history of El Paso candidates running for statewide office — none has won it yet. But there are interesting numbers inside the numbers.

Republicans are a little nervous about what's happening in Harris County, and some fear it could follow Dallas County out of the red column (Democrats won one countywide seat in Dallas two years ago and took over the courthouse this year). 

Willett beat Moody in Harris County by 4,786 votes out of 564,751 cast. It was a relatively close race statewide, but Willett finished five percentage points ahead of the Democrat.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison got 61.7 percent of the statewide vote, but only 56.5 percent in Harris County (her opponent, Barbara Ann Radnofsky, is from Houston, but hasn't run before this year and hadn't established her hometown as a political base).

Downballot statewide Republican candidates also suffered a deficit in the state's biggest county. Susan Combs and Greg Abbott, for instance, each got about 59.5 percent statewide. Abbott's numbers in Houston — and he's a native son — fell to 56.4 percent. That's still a healthy win, but it illustrates the difference between that locale and the rest of the state. Comb's numbers fell more: She got 55 percent in Harris County against Fred Head, who basically ran no campaign.

We left Gov. Rick Perry off the list, though his Harris County numbers lagged far behind his statewide numbers. Democrat Chris Bell, a former city councilman, congressman, and mayoral candidate, has a legitimate base in Houston, and his numbers were significantly better there than elsewhere. Perry finished with 39 percent statewide to Bell's 29.8 percent. In Harris County, it was Perry at 36.5 percent and Bell at 35.5 percent.

The Dallas County numbers in some of those same races, so you can see what the Democrats and Republicans are chattering about, also showed GOP deficits compared to statewide results. Hutchison, who claims Dallas as her Texas home, got 53.2 percent to Radnofsky's 44.9 percent. Bell beat Perry in Dallas County, getting 40 percent of the vote to the incumbent's 35.2 percent. Attorney General Abbott pulled 51.1 percent. Combs, the comptroller candidate, got 50.1 percent. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst didn't break 50 percent in Dallas County — getting 49.8 percent against a Democratic candidate who never lifted a finger — and three Republican statewide winners lost in the state's second most populous county: Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, and Agriculture Commissioner-elect Todd Staples.

We started this with Bill Moody, who lost his race for Texas Supreme Court. In Dallas County, he got 52.3 percent to Willett's 43.4 percent.

Spy vs. Spy

The last congressional race in this cycle ends on Tuesday, and it's unexpectedly hard-fought, with incumbent U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla spending the last week with a harshly negative attack that paints Democrat Ciro Rodriguez as a terrorist sympathizer. It's got national attention, national money, and it's a December runoff, so who knows what turnout will look like?

Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, popped up with the first attack in an ad that's been used in other congressional races around the country. The former congressman is relying on a third-party spot that smacks the Republican and praises Rodriguez.

Announcer: "Our heroes. Fighting for freedom overseas. Needing health care when they return. But Henry Bonilla voted to cut billions of dollars in veterans' benefits. Voted against extending health care to our National Guard. Henry Bonilla has neglected our veterans. Ciro Rodriguez fights for our returning heroes. He backed fully funding veterans' health care so vets get what they were promised. Ciro Rodriguez. The change we need. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising."

Bonilla, R-San Antonio, responded with this attack on Rodriguez using a former FBI official as his announcer:

Bonilla: "I'm Henry Bonilla and I approved this message."

Ortiz: "I'm Al Ortiz. For 22 years I tracked terrorists and criminals for the FBI. After the World Trade Center was first attacked by Sheik Abdul Rahman, he was convicted. In 2000, a summit was held in the U.S. Capitol, where Islamic radicals called for his release, and a new law to free suspected terrorists, all sponsored by Ciro Rodriguez. He took contributions from these radicals while pushing the law they wanted. I urge you: Check the record. Judgment matters."

A note on that spot: The legislation Rodriguez sponsored — limiting the use of "secret evidence" — had more than 120 other authors from both parties, and was filed before 9/11. His documentation for the spot — some of it's disputed by the other side, as you would expect — is at www.henrybonilla.com.

Bonilla had Gov. Rick Perry making robo-calls on his behalf — less to get voters going than to corral volunteers for the race. Part of the text: "Henry's in a fierce runoff election... the national Democratic party has sent in liberal activists from across the country... With your help, we'll show those Hillary Clinton-style liberals that Texas is a conservative state."

Early voting in the CD-23 runoff started on a weekend after all. The state and MALDEF — the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund — agreed to give the locals the option to start on Saturday instead of on Monday, and then filed a friendly suit in court to get it all ratified by a judge. Bexar County wanted to open early. The state said no. The county pressed on, and they ended up with weekend voting. Early voting wraps up this week in that race (on Friday in most counties, but on Saturday in Bexar and two others); the election's on Tuesday, December 12. Both campaigns said they favored the weekend voting.

This is one of the five congressional districts redrawn after the U.S. Supreme Court said Texas' political maps were unconstitutional. In those districts, primary results were tossed out and new elections ordered. Bonilla nearly won the special election outright, but finished with 48 percent of the vote. And since it was a special election and not a general, that forced a runoff with Rodriguez, who was second with 19.9 percent fo the votes. Bonilla was the incumbent, though, and all but one of his seven challengers was a Democrat. Judging by the ad he's running — you don't attack somebody who's not threatening your election chances — the Republican's polls must show the Democrat within striking range.

Even so, the San Antonio Express-News looked at the money in the race and found Bonilla with a 10-to-1 advantage. He'll find out within days whether he's still in Congress or the latest Texas victim of redistricting.

Government 1.0

The Woodlands is neither a city nor a town, though you wouldn't know that if you weren't looking for City Hall to fight or a mayor to berate. It's the size of Tyler and is situated in an unincorporated part of the City of Houston's jurisdiction. But now Houston Mayor Bill White and state Sen. Tommy Williams say they've worked out a deal that will let residents decide whether they want self-rule and independence and all that (it's not just those two; squads of Woodlanders have been tinkering with this idea for several years).

They don't have the power to sign this deal — yet — but it would include some financial sharing. Houston would get one-sixteenth of local sales tax revenues from The Woodlands, for instance, because of shared infrastructure and public hospitals and such. And property taxes in The Woodlands would presumably fall — or rise more slowly — as they're supplanted by locally generated sales taxes. The deal still requires approval from Houston's City Council, a bit of legislation from Austin, and a public vote in The Woodlands, possibly in November 2007.

Showing His Cards

If the Legislative Budget Board doesn't vote on a growth rate for the state economy — and with it, a cap on growth in state spending — the current budget would itself become the cap. That means any spending over current levels would require the Legislature to vote to increase spending over current levels.

That might be an easier vote for some members than a vote to let spending increase faster than the state economy.

But in an email newsletter for constituents and supporters, House Speaker Tom Craddick suggests lawmakers might be able to save money by adopting a higher growth rate. ". . . if the LBB adopts a higher rate of growth, there is a better chance the Legislature can deliver on their promise to provide much needed property tax relief, fund essential state services and even leave $4 billion in general revenue unappropriated when the 2008-2009 budget is completed," he wrote. "In addition, the state's Rainy Day Fun is projected to have a balance of $4.5 billion by the end of the 2009 fiscal year."

In that same email, Craddick said property tax relief alone would require a 25 percent increase over current discretionary spending. But, he wrote, "State officials question if the framers of the Constitutional Spending Limit intended for it [the cap] to limit property tax shifts."

The LBB meets next month on how to proceed.

Battle Lines

Put the Texas Association of Counties down, officially, as a supporter of public price disclosure of real estate sales prices. That's been proposed as one reform for the property tax system. Appraisers think it would make it easier to square real values with tax rolls; some folks in the real estate business oppose it for proprietary reasons. In their resolution, the county folk noted a potential end to disclosures that now exist. Some Multiple Listing Services run by Realtors share home prices with appraisal districts. But there's an attorney general opinion out there that says the appraisal districts have to share that info, once they have it, with potential MLS competitors. That could dry up the limited disclosure already out there.

While they were at it, they resolved to support a ban on state mandates to counties that aren't fully funded, and for an amendment that would write that idea into the state constitution. The state could still boss them around, but only if it sent along enough money to pay for whatever the Lege ordered counties to do.

There's one more: TAC doesn't want the Legislature trying to abolish any of a list of county offices. They want to protect the offices of county constable, county attorney, county auditor, county clerk, county commissioner, county judge, county sheriff, county tax assessor-collector, county treasurer, district attorney, district clerk and justice of the peace.

Political People and Their Moves (Inside)

Dr. David Lakey of Tyler will be the new chief at the Texas Department of State Health Services. Lakey is now the chief of infectious disease and medical director of the Center for Pulmonary and Infectious Disease Control at the UT Health Center in Tyler. He's replacing Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, who resigned after five years at the head of the agency. Sanchez is now director of the Institute for Health Policy at the UT School of Public Health in Houston. Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins hired Lakey after getting an okay from Gov. Rick Perry. Lakey will start January 2. And Dr. Charles Bell, who's been acting commissioner at DSHS, will return to his post as Hawkins' deputy.

Buddy Barfield, who's been active in David Dewhurst's campaigns over the last ten years, will go on the state payroll soon to look over the lieutenant governor's operations and suggest improvements. A spokesman says it's not a permanent gig. Barfield's coming in as Rob Johnson takes over as chief of staff to Dewhurst and former CoS Bruce Gibson moves to the private sector.

Pete Slover, a longtime investigative reporter with TheDallas Morning News and before that, the Houston Chronicle, will be working in the comptroller's office next year. Slover will apparently be special counsel to incoming Comptroller Susan Combs, doing sort of what he was doing for the papers: ferreting out trouble spots. Slover was, for a while, the Capitol Press Corps' only bar-card-holding lawyer. He took the buy-out his paper offered reporters and editors earlier this year (they wanted to thin their news ranks by 100+) and hung out a shingle as a lawyer. He's done some work for Combs during her transition into the comptroller's office. They're not talking officially yet, but we're told Combs will be using Slover for his investigative skills and not as part of her publicity department.

Slover's hiring goes along with one you already know about — Lisa Woods will be associate deputy comptroller — and one we haven't written — that Sarah Whitley will be the new comptroller's special advisor. Woods is managing the transition, too, and has been with Combs off and on for ten years. Whitley ran Combs' campaign and worked for her at the Agriculture Department.

The public voices of the governor's office have new titles. Kathy Walt is now Gov. Rick Perry's special assistant for communications. Robert Black is now the press secretary, and Ted Royer is now the assistant press secretary.

Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry is apparently ready to name the members of a new health care panel charged with putting together a network for "the secure exchange of medical records." It'll report back in time for lawmakers to do whatever's needed to put a system in place. Ron Luke, a lawyer and health care consultant, will chair the Texas Health Care System Integrity Partnership. Four state officials will have ex-officio roles: Attorney General Greg Abbott, Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins, acting Commissioner of State Health Services Charles Bell, and Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin. They'll announce the full panel in a few days.

Confirmed: Robert Gates, who gave up a perfectly good job as president of Texas A&M University, where he'd been for four years, to be U.S. Secretary of Defense. Only two U.S. senators — Republicans Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania — voted against his confirmation.

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, will chair the House Intelligence Committee when the new Congress convenes next year. Reyes, a career Border Patrol official, is the third-ranking Democrat on that panel, but he had the support of Speaker-presumptive Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Atascocita, isn't leaving the Legislature in spite of what you might see in the blogs. He wasn't in town to talk about it, but apparently instructed his aides to tell folks like us that "he wants to serve a lot more terms." He just won reelection to his eighth term in the House.

Political People and Their Moves (Outside)

Former Gov. Bill Clements, former Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher and San Antonio car dealer Red McCombs will all be backing U.S. Sen. John McCain's presidential bid. Clements will be honorary Texas chairman for the Arizona senator; the other two will be honorary finance chairmen.

Joe Valenzuela, most recently an aide to Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has joined the lobby shop at Winstead Sechrest and Minick. That's his second foray into Lobby World. He started in the House, then lobbied for five years before joining Straus.

Nelda Cruz is leaving Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, to join Santos Alliances, an Austin-based lobby firm. She's a graduate of the George Bush School of Government at Texas A&M.

Matt Matthews is back in the lobby bidness after managing U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's reelection campaign.

Attorney Mark Eidman, who's been nearly as controversial among the state's tax wonks as G. Brint Ryan, is adding a job on top of the one he's got with the Scott Douglas McConnico law firm. He'll become of the principals at Dallas-based Ryan & Co. Eidman's a former director of hearings at the comptroller's office and now advised clients with cases before that and similar agencies. That's what Ryan does, too, and now they're in the same shop.

Equality Texas, a group that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation, named Marianne DeLeon its new development director. She was previously at the Resource Center of Dallas.

Michael Quinn Sullivan will head the newly formed Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. He's been the spokesman for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Sullivan says the first mission will be to get the state's surplus — he's putting it at $15 million — refunded to taxpayers instead of added to the state budget. Marc Levin will be the group's general counsel (and actually filed a position paper with the Legislative Budget board on the group's behalf, a week before the group's formation had been announced). The new organization can be found online at www.empowertexans.com.

Jo-Hannah Whitsett, a former Senate aide who has most recently been at the Association of Texas Professional Educators, is the new political director for the Texas Freedom Network. And Valerie Benavidez, now will the League of Young Voters, will join TFN next month as outreach and field director.

Quotes of the Week

Gov. Rick Perry, promoting a guest worker program for foreign citizens, and disavowing proposals that would punish immigrants, quoted by the Associated Press: "I think any of those types of legislation that create divisions are bad. We need to look at ways to be bringing people together rather than driving wedges between them."

Departing Deputy Comptroller Billy Hamilton, in the Houston Chronicle, about the agency where he's spent much of his professional life: "This is a pretty complicated machine — and I don't mean political machine — financial machine. Before you pull out a gear, you better know what it's connected to."

Robert Gates, nominee for U.S. Secretary of Defense, responding to a question during his confirmation hearings: "Senator, I am not giving up the presidency of Texas A&M, the job that I've probably enjoyed more than any that I have ever had, making considerable personal financial sacrifice, and, frankly, going through this process, to come back to Washington to be a bump on a log and not to say exactly what I think, and to speak candidly and, frankly, boldly to people at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue about what I believe and what I think needs to be done."

Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, quoted in The Dallas Morning News on calls for a ban on local governments paying lobbyists to represent them in Austin: "It would be a very challenging bill to pass because you'd have 3,000 lobbyists opposing it. Some of the best lobbyists in the state are involved and those guys know how to get things stopped."

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, reacting — in the Austin American-Statesman — to a report that says Texas prisons have thousands of inmates who are eligible for parole: "If they're a low-enough risk that they are allowed outside without close supervision, why not parole them and put them on a monitoring bracelet, and open up that bed for someone else?"

Gov. Rick Perry, after congressional demonstrations disrupted the inauguration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, quoted by the Associated Press: "It's not like there's never been a fight on the House floor in Texas. I'm just not sure there were any chairs that were thrown."

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News about a judge's decision to start early voting two days earlier than the state wanted: "I know there's some ambiguity in the law, but strip away all the legal bullshit, and what you're trying to do is give people more of an opportunity to vote."

Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of the Saddleback Valley Community Church, on ABC News: "I'm a pastor, not a politician. People always say, 'Rick, are you right wing or left wing?' I say 'I'm for the whole bird.' "


Texas Weekly: Volume 23, Issue 25, 11 December 2006. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2006 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (512) 302-5703 or email biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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