09.30.11

Tolls, tolls, tolls – former Perry aide/lobbyist appointed to head Texas Transportation Commission

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Money In Politics, Road Issues, Transportation at 12:39 pm by wcnews

Via Ben Wear at the AAS, Former Perry aide to lead TxDOT.

An energy company lobbyist and former top aide to Gov. Rick Perry was chosen Thursday to lead the 12,000-employee Texas Department of Transportation and will be paid at least $100,000 more annually than the career engineer he succeeds.

The Texas Transportation Commission, after a short, closed-door session, approved the appointment of Phil Wilson as the agency’s executive director on a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Ned Holmes of Houston, out of the country traveling on business, missed the vote.

The commission authorized paying Wilson, 43 , at least $292,500. TxDOT’s just-retired executive director, Amadeo Saenz, was paid $192,000.

The commission also voted to petition the Legislative Budget Board and the governor’s office to exceed that statutory maximum salary. Commission Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi said moments after the closed-door meeting that she didn’t know how much the commission will ask for in additional salary.

[...]

Wilson is registered with the Texas Ethics Commission as a lobbyist with Luminant and its parent company, Energy Future Holdings Corp . The filing shows expected 2011 compensation of less than $10,000 from Energy Future Holdings and $50,000 to $99,000 from Luminant.

[...]

After more than a decade as an aide to Republican U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, Wilson held various jobs in Perry’s office, beginning in 2002 as director of communications. He was later deputy chief of staff under former Chief of Staff Mike Toomey and Delisi. In addition, Wilson was Perry’s designee to the Texas Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund, gubernatorial grant programs designed to bring new businesses to Texas. He also led the governor’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism.

And as TollRoadNews points a person with Wilson’s “experience” makes sense, Texas Gov Perry headed for more PPPs with close associate Phil Wilson new head of TxDOT.

Gov Rick Perry seems to be laying the ground for stepping up tollroad concessioning or PPPs in Texas. Today the state’s Transportation Commission – a body which generally does the Governor’s bidding – announced selection of a longtime Perry political confidante and associate Phil Wilson as the new executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation. That position has normally been filled by a transportation professional.

Wilson, aged 44, comes immediately from head of public affairs at a large electric generation company Luminant.

[...]

Wilson himself is quoted: “I am honored to be selected as the next executive director of TxDOT. This is an agency with a rich history in successfully building for our future with dedicated employees. I look forward to working with the agency, Commission, Legislature and local communities on the most efficient and effective ways to build infrastructure for Texas.”

That last sentence looks like a proposal to enlist investors and private enterprise more heavily in transportation in the state – to do more tollroads with public-private partnerships or concessions (‘comprehensive development agreements’ (CDAs) is the favored Texas term.) [Emphasis added]

Just more of the same for this crew. Privatizing government services just winds up costing us all more in the long run.  There’s a much simpler, cheap, and easy way to fund transportation.

Further Reading:
More on the record of Perry’s former aides, “Two top Perry aides gave false testimony under oath in campaign case”.

It’s how they govern – Commissioners (un)pluck county trapper

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commissioners Court, County Judge, Had Enough Yet?, Right Wing Lies, Williamson County at 11:21 am by wcnews

“It’s a serious issue to a lot of folks. It’s my fault for not doing a little more homework on it.”
– Republican Williamson County Commissioner Ron Morrison, Precinct 4

The story of the GOP Commissioners Court in Williamson County and how they, willy-nilly, decided to cut the funding for the county trapper program is a microcosm of how they prefer to govern.  The just assume, without even doing a little homework, that all government funding is the same – equally bad – and that cutting government, no matter how necessary it may be to someone, is a good thing.  Via the AAS, Commissioners give county trapper his job back.

Williamson County commissioners this morning voted to resume funding the position of county trapper, which they had eliminated in the county’s recently adopted budget.

The trapper will be paid for at least partially through fees paid by landowners who take advantage of the trapper’s services.

“It looked like little hanging fruit to me — just pluck it,” County Commissioner Ron Morrison said, echoing what many argued: that the decision was made without having enough knowledge about the position. [Emphasis added]

It’s key to understand that the county trapper does not cost the county millions of dollars, it’s $28,000/yr., not something to sneeze but it’s not breaking the bank. But the commissioners just saw it as another line item in the budget that could be plucked to keep them from having to, bless their hearts, raise the tax rate.

Having to reverse course and reinstate the trapper, after much public outcry (homework now done), is causing another set of issues.

There’s still details to be worked out – involving a controversial assessment of user fees – but after hearing citizen complaints and talk of 700 petition signatures, the Williamson County Commissioners Court on Tuesday reversed an earlier budget decision and restored $28,800 in funding to the county trapper program.

On Tuesday – and following up on discussions from earlier this month – farmers and ranchers from throughout the county told commissioners about services the trapper provides.

[...]

While reinstatement of the trapper program enjoyed broad support from the members of the agriculture community in attendance, a proposed pay-for-service fee structure proved less popular.

Gattis proposed that those who use the trapper for predator removal (as opposed to just consultation) pay a fee, based on their acreage.

All fees would be assessed annually, like renewing a hunting license, Gattis said

Those with up to 10 acres of land would pay $25. Those with 11 to 100 acres would pay $100. Those more than 100 acres would pay $200.

“I don’t think $200 is going to break anybody,” Gattis said, stating ranchers should have “skin in the game.”

Shell objected, stating: “There’s no fees for the fire department responding to calls. There’s no fees for the sheriff’s department responding to calls. They [trappers] respond to calls, protecting property.”

But Pct. 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman of Brushy Creek stated county government runs the EMS service, which does charge “if you can pay.” [Emphasis added]

The fees are not yet in place and are pending review from the commissioners court’s legal advisor, Hal Hawes.

The commissioners, undeterred, are doubling-down.  After making a bad decision, cutting the trapper which they now acknowledge was a mistake, they are now going to punish those affected by their bad decision by making them pay for the service.  I certainly hope many in Williamson County will think twice next time they check the box next to the incumbents name on election day in Williamson County.  I’m not sure an incumbent commissioner has ever lost in this county, it’s probably time one did and some accountability was brought to our county government.

What this shows is how the GOP prefers to govern.  They would rather our government be fee for service, corporate-style government, instead of the kind of system our founders created.  This is just the further shredding of the social contract in our country. There are certain things that we long ago agreed that we/our government should do, things we agree promote the general welfare of the people. Like building roads, keeping the elderly and the least among us out of poverty, and providing health care to all, to name a few.  Now the GOP wants to toll every new road, privatize Social Security, and we’ve never had a sane health insurance system like almost every other industrialized nation in the world.

But as long as all our elected leaders, at all levels, care about is the cost (tax rate) – not to mention do some homework – and not what is actually needed to promote the general welfare, we will continue to get this kind up “plucked up” government.

09.29.11

2012 revenue estimate for Texas will be “Flattish, dedicated funds trickery

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Had Enough Yet?, The Economy, The Lege at 11:09 am by wcnews

“Flattish”, that is the word used by a member of Texas Comptroller Susan Combs staff used at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing yesterday, State revenues through August will be ‘flattish,’ official says.

Some experts say Texas tax revenues must zoom far above forecasts, if we’re to escape another miserable budget session in 2013. But the state’s leading forecaster on Wednesday offered little hope that will happen.

“The year of ’12 is not going to be a great recovery year,” John Heleman, chief revenue estimator for the Texas comptroller’s office, testified at the House Ways and Means Committee. He was referring to the fiscal year that began this month and ends Aug. 31, while answering a question from Kerrville GOP Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, the panel’s chairman.

“It’s still going to be flattish [and] soft,” Heleman said.

That could mean, if you check out the bottom half of this post I had earlier this month, that we’re sailing into fiscal headwinds in trying to keep up with the education, health care and transportation needs of a growing state. True, as Hilderbran pointed out, recent revenue numbers have looked good. Final but unofficial figures for fiscal 2011 show sales tax receipts increased by 9.4 percent over the previous year, which was — in a word — ugly. Fiscal 2010 included December 2009, which “marked the low point in Texas employment” during the Great Recession, Heleman said in a written presentation. In the just-ended fiscal year, Texas consumers and diners spent about 5.5 percent more on retail and restaurant purchases, he testified. The reason overall sales tax receipts leapt by 9.4 percent was “supercharging” from a burst of oil and gas drilling activity, some decent manufacturing growth and a bit of an uptick in at least parts of the construction industry, said Heleman. [Emphasis added]

This fiscal year, though, he sees “probably a little bit less than” 5.5 percent growth in retail and restaurant sales. As for the energy exploration and production sector’s purchasing, “it’s actually just going to flatten out — at higher levels,” he said. But that won’t grow, in percentage terms, the way it did last year.

In other words the Texas economy is doing better then it did in 2010, but it’s still nowhere near where it was before our current economic woes started, or where it needs to be to keep from a replay on 2011 in 2013. Texas budget director to quit in April, before next flood of red ink.

In the 2013 session, the budget gap may very well turn out to be as large. The economy’s recovery is slow, and lawmakers this year exhausted many of the available, one-time-only fiscal remedies — such as delaying state payments and speeding up tax collections. They also punted a $4.8 billion Medicaid IOU to next session. Yes, this time they could do that because they left about $6 billion in the rainy day fund. But next time? Probably a non-starter.

If revenue doesn’t run well ahead of forecasts for the next two years, and keep growing strongly for the two years after that, then “2013 will pretty much be a re-run of the 2011 revenue shortfall – with a 24 percent gap, instead of 27 percent,” said Eva DeLuna Castro, budget expert at the center-left Austin think tank the Center for Public Policy Priorities. That’s “back of the envelope,” but still pretty alarming, she said. [Empahsis added]

The Texas economy also isn’t close to where it needs to be to keep up with the state’s population growth, and Texas still has a record high unemployment rate.

Jason Embry in his latest column gives the details of a recent report released by Comptroller Susan Combs which shows, Budget trickery worsens in shortfall year.

In a report released this week, Comptroller Susan Combs illustrates the trickery that legislators and Gov. Rick Perry used to get there. That’s because lawmakers assess fees under the guise that they will be used for a specific purpose — to help low-income residents pay electric bills, for instance — but then leave much of that money unspent to balance the state budget.

Combs’ report shows the problem is getting worse. The state will leave $4.9 billion unspent in its dedicated accounts over the next two years, up from about $4.1 billion in the previous budget.

The unspent balances include $851 million that comes from fees on electric customers and is supposed to help low-income Texans defray their utility costs, $654 million meant to improve air quality and $388 million in an account for improving trauma facilities and emergency medical services. Technically, these dollars don’t get spent on other programs. But by sitting there unspent, they allow the state to show on paper that it has enough money to pay for the amount it budgets for education, health care and other high-cost programs. [Emphasis added]

[...]

So at least for now, the Combs report reminds us of the game state leaders play when they write a budget. And this isn’t the only game. Lawmakers intentionally left the state Medicaid program underfunded by about $5 bil?lion over the next two years, severely weakening claims that the state has $7 billion sitting in its rainy day fund. Lawmakers will either have to spend most of the rainy day money to keep the Medicaid program operating in early 2013 or pray that the Texas economy performs considerably better than projected over the next two years so that revenue from current taxes will increase.

Our governor is running for president, and our lieutenant governor is running for the U.S. Senate — and both will count the state’s balanced, no-new-taxes budget among their successes. Just remember that they used a few multibillion-?dollar tricks to get there.

See the Comptrollers report here. Here’s the section of Texas Government Code that allows this, Sec. 403.095. USE OF DEDICATED REVENUE. It looks like this nearly $5 billion of taxes collected for specific uses – helping the elderly with their electic bills in the hot Summer months, clean air, and funding for trauma centers – has been set aside instead to keep the GOP from having to raise taxes on their wealthy donors, and allow them to mendaciously states that they “protected” the Rainy Day Fund.

In other words all the recent praising of retiring state legislators that have such awesome budget prowess was bunk. All The Lege did this year was move money from one account to another, and are hoping the economy recovers before the bills come due – which looks extremely unlikely. But they don’t really care because they’ll likely be gone and it will be someone else’s problem.

Another possible unsolved murder that could help exonerate Michael Morton

Posted in Criminal Justice, District Attorney, Williamson County at 9:00 am by wcnews

Via the AAS, Could 1988 cold case in Austin help exonerate man imprisoned nearly 25 years?

Austin police are investigating potential links between an unsolved 1988 murder and the strikingly similar killing of Christine Morton two years earlier in Williamson County, raising the possibility that a serial killer is to blame and bolstering claims that Morton’s husband has been wrongly imprisoned for almost 25 years.

Like Morton, Debra Jan Baker of Austin was beaten to death with a blunt object while lying in her bed. The Baker and Morton homes were about 12 miles apart.

What’s more, lawyers for Michael Morton — serving a life term for his wife’s murder — have tried without success to get court-ordered DNA testing to determine if there are links to another unsolved but similar crime, the 1980 bludgeoning death of Mildred McKinney. McKinney also was attacked in bed in her home, about a half-mile from the Morton house in southwestern Williamson County.

Morton has consistently proclaimed his innocence, blaming his wife’s murder on an unknown intruder, and attempts to link that crime to the McKinney case have been central to his lawyers’ efforts to overturn his sentence.

The link to the Baker case — established in interviews with Baker family members and from information revealed in a Monday hearing in the Morton case — is new.

About two weeks ago, cold case investigators from the Austin Police Department began re-interviewing Baker’s relatives based on a tip from Morton’s lawyers with the Innocence Project of New York.

The tip included the name and DNA profile of a man whose DNA was discovered on a recently tested piece of evidence from the Morton case: a bandanna that also contained Christine Morton’s blood and one of her hairs.

The payoff for the Innocence Project came on Monday, when a routine hearing on Michael Morton’s exoneration efforts took a dramatic turn after the judge handed out a two-page document provided by the Travis County district attorney’s office.

The document, reviewed in private and discussed in a closed hearing to avoid compromising the cold case investigation, is now known to have included recent developments in the Baker case.

The new information left defense lawyers ecstatic, and they pushed for Morton’s immediate release from prison when Monday’s hearing resumed in open court.

“This is very powerful evidence, your honor. Wow,” defense lawyer John Raley said, adding that the information lent credibility to the DNA found on the bandanna because the suspect lived near the scene of another murder.

District Judge Sid Harle has barred lawyers and investigators from discussing the Morton case. But it would be a significant development if DNA on the blood-stained bandanna, which was found at a construction site behind the Morton house, belonged to a felon who also lived near another murder victim who had been killed in similar circumstances.

All that is publicly known about the suspect is what has been discussed in court: His DNA profile was listed on the national Combined DNA Index System for a felony committed in California, and he has state and federal felony convictions for offenses in three states that include burglary, drug use and assault with intent to kill.

As of a hearing in late August, the man was not in police custody or prison.

Again, it looks like a killer is running free, and an innocent man has been sitting in jail for 25 years.

09.28.11

New Precinct lines approved by Williamson County Commissioners

Posted in Commissioners Court, Elections, Williamson County at 11:23 pm by wcnews

Comments on Precinct Redistricting in Williamson County by Williamson County Democratic Party Chair Brian Hamon.

Tuesday, Williamson County Commissioners approved a new precinct map that is expected to go into effect January 1, 2012. [PDF here] (An interactive map is also available.)

Although hurdles remain before this becomes official, it is likely to be eventually approved. We can begin using now it to organize for 2012.

The map features 88 precincts, a decrease of 14 from the current map. On average, the new precincts have more active registered voters (2,273 ARVs) than the current ones. The largest has 4,262 ARVs and the smallest has 469 ARVs.

The boundary lines follow city council district lines in Georgetown and Taylor, which should be very helpful to voters in those city elections. (Other municipalities in Williamson County elect city council members at-large throughout the city.)

We’re reaching the end of a long process of realignment necessitated by the historic growth in Williamson County population over the past decade. I’ve been honored to have had an opportunity to play a part in the process, and hope you agree that the result will facilitate free and fair elections.

Many changes to election law and districts in Texas became law this year, most of which I oppose. The new photo ID law will disenfranchise thousands in Williamson County and impose a de facto poll tax. The Perrymandered House and Congressional district state plans fail to recognize the dramatic population gains by Hispanics in Texas. Watching Republicans water down the voting strength and deny representation to millions of ordinary Texans has been most painful to witness.

In stark contrast to the Republicans in the State Lege, however, our County Commissioners have produced an agreeable result. Yes, I would have preferred a few more of the more crowded precincts be broken up to avoid long lines at polling locations, but these numbers are likely to produce only small increases in waiting times.

In many ways, Democrats in Williamson County were punished far less than in other parts of the state. We have a long journey ahead to remind workers why the Democratic Party is important, but one only need look at the stagnant wages and longer working hours that have lingered as our influence over state and local government has faded to understand the consequences of not participating.

Yes, it is going to take a little more effort to register to vote and maintain the required PhotoID paperwork. Yes, you’re going to have to drive a little further and wait in a little longer line before you can cast a ballot. No, there’s probably not going to be many Democrats on the ballot. Few workers have the luxury of taking leave from their jobs to run for office. Few have the money it takes to operate a political campaign, hire staff and communicate with voters.

But we can work together a little bit each day, to bring new people into the process and organize our neighborhoods. In time, we can bring change to Texas.

====
DEFINITIONS

ARV: active registered voters. All registered voters whose status is “active”. When the Elections Department sends mail to a registered voter, if the post office returns the mail undeliverable, the voter’s status is changed to “suspended”. A suspended voter may vote a regular ballot if they complete a Statement of Residence card at the polling location and certify that they continue to reside within the same voting precinct.

RV: registered voter. A person legally entitled to vote and registered with the county elections department.

TEC: Texas Election Code

VTD: Voting Tabulation District. The U. S. Census Bureau’s name for a voting precinct.

Possible connection between Morton case and another murder

Posted in Criminal Justice, District Attorney, Williamson County at 11:52 am by wcnews

Brandi Grissom at the Texas Tribune tells the stroy, DNA Test May Tie Morton Case to 1988 Killing.

Travis County authorities are investigating an unsolved 1988 Austin murder that they suspect is related to the 1986 murder of Christine Morton, for which her husband,Michael Morton, has been in prison for 25 years.

The developments could bolster efforts to exonerate Morton — who has steadfastly maintained his innocence — and help solve the mysterious killing of Debra Jan Baker, which has haunted her daughter, Caitlin Baker, nearly her entire life. She was 3 years old when her mother was bludgeoned to death in her bed.

“I’m happier for Michael Morton at this point,” Caitlin Baker told The Texas Tribune. “If it helps him, that would be even better.”

It could also have potentially serious ramifications for Williamson County District AttorneyJohn Bradley, the former head of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Appointed to the panel by Gov. Rick Perry, Bradley was critical of efforts to examine questions about the arson science used to convict Cameron Todd Willingham in the 1991 deaths of his three daughters. Willingham was executed in 2004.

[...]

Neither Morton’s attorneys nor the district attorneys in Travis and Williamson counties would confirm a connection between the two cases or discuss the Baker investigation. But Caitlin Baker said a detective in the Austin Police Department cold case unit told her Tuesday that authorities are investigating a potential connection between the two crimes.

Debra Jan Baker’s body was discovered on Jan. 13, 1988, in her north Austin home, about 12 miles from where Morton’s body was found about a year and a half earlier. Initially, police focused on Baker’s estranged husband, Phillip Baker. But Phillip, who at the time worked at the local jail, said in an interview that the police eliminated him as a suspect.

Caitlin Baker, now 27, has pursued her mother’s killer for years, begging Austin police and anyone else who might know what happened to share with her information about the murder. In 2005, she sent a letter to the Austin Chronicle, pleading for help from the public. “There must be someone with information regarding her death. We have not given up hope,” she wrote.

Over the years, the police were in occasional contact — Baker said she met with cold case detectives about four years ago and police took DNA samples from other relatives — but her mother’s murder has remained unsolved.

Then, about three weeks ago, she said, the police returned, asking again about her mother’s death. Phillip Baker said police came to his home and showed him photos of two men, neither of whom he said he recognized. Caitlin Baker said police also spoke with her aunts and an uncle in Sugar Land. When Caitlin Baker asked Tuesday if the renewed interest in her mother’s case was related to the Morton murder and recently discovered DNA, an officer told her it was.

“They are definitely looking into that, but they couldn’t share any details,” she said. “I’m happy that there could be something.”

Unfortunately all of this reflects badly on Williamson County and it’s criminal justice system.

If DNA evidence from Debra Baker’s murderer is linked to the sample taken from the Morton bandana — as was implied at Monday’s court hearing — it could have momentous implications for Michael Morton and for Williamson County DA Bradley.

At Morton’s original trial, then-Williamson County prosecutor Ken Anderson, now a Williamson County district judge, told jurors that Michael Morton beat his wife to death because he was upset that she had fallen asleep instead of having sex with him the previous night, after celebrating his birthday. Morton insisted that an intruder must have killed his wife after he left for work early in the morning.

Bradley fought against DNA analysis of the bandana and other evidence in Morton’s case for more than six years until an appeals court granted the testing in 2010. In a 2008 interview with a Williamson County Sun reporter, Bradley derided the claims of Morton’s attorneys that DNA on the bandana could be linked to “a mystery killer.” In a motion filed in court on Monday, prosecutors said there was no evidence to suggest that the man whose DNA was found on the bandana had done anything more than touch it.

Morton’s lawyers also argue that the district attorney’s office deliberately withheld other evidence at the trial — and in the years since — in violation of discovery laws that could have not only exonerated Morton but allowed police to focus on the real killer.

Among the items withheld from both defense lawyers and the court at the initial trial, they said, was the transcript of a telephone conversation between Michael Morton’s mother-in-law and a sheriff’s deputy soon after her murder. In that conversation, Rita Kirkpatrick explained in great detail that Morton’s 3-year-old son, Eric Morton, watched the murder and had told her that the “monster” he saw hurting his mother was not his father.

Morton’s lawyers discovered in documents the court forced Bradley’s office to release recently that state lawyers had the Kirkpatrick transcript at the time of the trial and did not provide it to defense lawyers or to the court despite specific requests for investigative material.

In its Monday motion in court, Bradley’s office said “any claim that this evidence was somehow suppressed seems to be unfounded and has been irresponsibly costly to the trial prosecutors in this case.”

In court Monday, Morton’s lawyers said he should be released immediately based on the information connecting his wife’s murder to the pending investigation in Travis County. Raley told the judge that he and his colleagues would cooperate with investigators to find the man identified by the DNA match, who is still at large.

Here’s what Grits had to say recently regarding Bradley and the DNA evidence.

The DNA evidence in Morton’s case appears to point strongly to actual innocence, but Williamson County prosecutors told the court they want to re-test the evidence. (Good thing they didn’t destroy it, which Williamson DA John Bradley has argued would prevent inconvenient post-conviction innocence claims like this one.) But that’s not the only potential grounds for Mr. Morton gaining post-conviction relief.

Everyday it looks more and more likely that Williamson County officials convicted an innocent man and may have even tried to keep evidence of his innocence hidden, for years. It’s long past time for the truth to come out in this case, so these families can finally get justice.

Further Reading:
A tangled web.
In Morton case Williamson County officials may have “committed fraud of the highest order”.

09.27.11

100+ Texas ISDs join Equity Center litigation

Posted in Around The State, Education, Hutto, Public Schools, Taylor at 9:41 am by wcnews

Here’s the text of the Equity Center press release.

More Than 100 School Districts Join Equity Center Litigation Effort

(AUSTIN, TX) – More than 100 school districts across Texas have officially joined the Equity Center’s legal fight for fair funding for all Texas taxpayers and students. By passing a board resolution, these districts have formally recognized the crucial need to change the state’s unfair and inefficient school funding system.

Plaintiff districts range from large to small, urban to rural, and the number grows daily as school boards commit to join the effort. A complete list of Equity Center plaintiff districts will be released next week following the statewide school board convention in Austin.

Because the Legislature has failed to adopt a rational and efficient system that treats all Texas taxpayers and children fairly as required by the Texas Constitution, districts believe now is the time to take legal action. Given the disparities in student funding and taxpayer equity, these districts have a strong case and their position cannot be ignored.

For example, per student funding across Texas ranges from under $5,000 to over $10,000, even though state accountability standards are applied to all children uniformly.

Dr. Wayne Pierce, Executive Director, explains it this way: “We believe litigation is the only way to ensure taxpayer equity and a quality education for Texas children. We must litigate for a school finance system that makes sense and is fair to all children, taxpayers, and districts.”

The Equity Center is a non-profit advocacy organization that was founded in 1982 to promote fair funding for all Texas school districts, regardless of their wealth. In addition to serving as a resource for every school finance lawsuit in recent history, the Equity Center regularly educates its 690 member school districts and the public on school funding issues and works closely with the Texas Legislature to promote policy that treats all Texas children and taxpayers fairly.

Hutto and Taylor ISDs are part of the lawsuit.

09.26.11

“Bombshell dropped” in Michael Morton case

Posted in Criminal Justice, District Attorney, Williamson County at 3:47 pm by wcnews

Via Austin Legal, Travis D.A. offers “powerful evidence” in Morton case. It must be good news for Michael Morton.

Travis County prosecutors dropped a bombshell on the Michael Morton murder case Monday – a sealed, two-page file detailing a pending case that apparently bolsters Morton’s claim that he was wrongly convicted almost 25 years ago.

District Judge Sid Harle revealed the sealed file to prosecutors and defense lawyers during a Monday afternoon hearing, then adjourned to give both sides time to read it.

The contents, discussed in court only in oblique terms, prompted defense lawyer John Raley to move that Morton be immediately freed from prison.

“This is very powerful evidence, your honor. Wow,” Raley said. “I would imagine that, in light of this new information, the state should be prepared (to provide) relief for Michael Morton immediately. Right now.”

Raley and fellow lawyer Nina Morrison offered to work with prosecutors to produce a “bare bones” court filing with agreed-upon findings based on Morton’s innocence.

But lawyers with the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office, which originally prosecuted Morton for murder in the 1987 death of his wife, Christine Morton, said more information was needed – including access to a bandanna that is being held by a private DNA testing company.

For earlier reporting on Michael Morton go here and here.

Video of the day

Posted in Around The Nation, District 31, Money In Politics at 1:36 pm by wcnews

Via Texas Progress, Patriotic Millionaires.

Today, a group of Patriotic Millionaires released a video challenging several of Texas’ prominent politicians and 36 of their Republican Millionaire Politician colleagues for their opposition to the Buffett Rule.

And one of those Texas GOP “millionaire politicians” is Williamson County and District 31 Congressman John Carter.

Unfair and unbalanced

Posted in Around The State, Media at 1:25 pm by wcnews

Sharon Wilson who blogs at Bluedaze on her dis-invite from the Texas Tribuue’s Festival. The Texas Tribune inadvertently demonstrates the importance of the 1st amendment.

This past weekend,  The Texas Tribune, the nonprofit news site that enjoys a higher profile in the journalism world (than it would otherwise) thanks to its partnership with The New York Times, held a lecture-and-networking event on the University of Texas campus in Austin.

I was invited to appear on a panel after the showing of the documentary Haynesville: A Nation’s Hunt for an Energy Future.

[...]

I saw I was the token enviro on the panel, but I’ve been a turd in the punchbowl before. I did want to know how the panel would be structured, and if I would have an opportunity to correct their misinformation.

I sent back the following email:

I am quite surprised that your panel is so unbalanced. I would like to get more information on how this panel will work. I don’t mind being the token environmental person as long as I have an opportunity to give my vast experiences living in the gas patch and working with people who are suffering from natural gas drilling that is too close to their homes.

The next thing I know: I received a phone call from the festival coordinator notifying me that I was uninvited to participate. Maybe they would find a more suitable panel for me sometime. Ouch! But, on second thought, I reclaimed my weekend and shrugged it off to the influence from T. Boone Pickens, one of the festival’s financial backers.

[...]

Maybe there is an explanation of the Tribune’s behavior that isn’t explained by financial influence of the natural gas industry. But if there is, it is past time for them to make their case. And from where I sit, it better be a doozy

This is the first sentence at the Texas Tribune’s the About Us page.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that promotes civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government, and other matters of statewide concern.

When this venture started many thought it would be an independent voice that was lacking in Texas media. Sadly, though it’s produced some good things, it’s turned out more like the Texas version of the national insider/villager web site Politico.

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