Republican Corruption Updates

Posted in Corruption, Had Enough Yet?, Around The State at 9:01 am by wcnews

The same ethics issue that helped defeat Gene Seaman and Toby Goodman last fall has come up again, this time with Sen. Jane Nelson. The state Senate districts are harder to flip because the districts are better drawn to favor one party over the other, but this doesn’t look good for Sen. Nelson. Startlegram has the story, Why are some legislators paying rent to spouses?:

One of them, state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, has paid rent of more than $140,000 since 2000 for a condo registered in her husband’s name.


Nelson and state Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, now appear to be the only two legislators continuing to make such payments. The details of Brimer’s housing arrangement are no secret in Austin. He helped pioneer the practice, and other lawmakers have cited the Ethics Commission decision in his case.

But the discreet nature of Nelson’s transactions, and the absence of any Travis County real estate on financial disclosure reports provided by the Texas Ethics Commission, have kept them from public view.

Records show Nelson has paid $147,500 since 2000 to lease a condominium registered in her husband’s name in the exclusive Westgate Building, which several Austin lobbyists and power brokers, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, call home.

Nelson declined several requests for an interview about the lease, but she issued a statement saying the payments are both legal and ethical.

More on the closeness of Perry and Merck, Merck gift coincided with vaccine meeting.

Gov. Rick Perry’s chief of staff met with key aides about the human papillomavirus vaccine the same day its manufacturer donated money to his campaign, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Chief of staff Deirdre Delisi’s calendar shows she met with the governor’s budget director and three members of his office for an “HPV Vaccine for Children Briefing” on Oct. 16.

That day, New Jersey-based Merck & Co.’s political action committee donated $5,000 to Perry, $2,500 to comptroller candidate Susan Combs and $2,000 to four state lawmakers.

You can read much more about the revolving door in Perry’s office in this article, Working The Lobby.


Report Finds “Prison-Like Conditions” At T. Don Hutto - UPDATED

Posted in T. Don Hutto at 9:25 pm by wcnews

Juan Castillo of the AAS has the story, Report recommends closing immigrant detention center.

The government should shut down an immigrant detention center in Taylor and stop detaining families and asylum seekers in prisonlike facilities while they are in immigration proceedings, a new report recommends.


It recommends parole release for more families, especially asylum seekers who can establish identity and demonstrate a credible fear of persecution or violence in their homeland.

It acknowledges that some families may not be eligible for release on parole or bond but recommends confinement as a last alternative and then in “nonpenal, homelike facilities.”


The delegation said it found that families, many with young children, were detained for days, months and sometimes years under harsh conditions, including separation of children as young as 6 from their parents and inadequate care for pregnant women.

“Every woman we spoke to in person on a one-on-one basis broke down in tears, and the children were also clearly affected by this,” Brané said.

The report by the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women & Children entitled Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families will be released tomorrow.

“At Hutto we found prison-like conditions imposed on families with no criminal background, including asylum seekers,” said Michelle Brané, co-author of the groundbreaking report. “Conditions at Berks were less punitive, but many improvements must be made to better meet the basic needs of families, particularly children.”

I will link to report when it becomes available tomorrow.

[UPDATE]: Here’s the link to the press release and the report itself, Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families (.PDF).

AAS Editorial On Tolls Is Lacking

Posted in Road Issues, Central Texas, Around The State, Williamson County at 4:20 pm by wcnews

With the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce launching a pro-toll PR campaign the AAS decided to weigh-in on the subject, Tolls, taxes or time … we’ll all pay for traffic growth. While they correctly identify this as PR, and not the education campaign it’s purported to be, it leaves a false impression. A false impression that there’s no difference between the two choices they give for funding new roads in Texas.

The real issue is how to pay for those new highways. For a full generation, Texans have listened to and elected state politicians who promised no new taxes and have, by and large, kept that promise. One result is that the state gasoline tax, 20 cents per gallon and the principal source of state money to build, improve and expand highways, hasn’t been raised since 1991, losing value every year to inflation.

Yet the need for more highways and to expand existing highways has steadily grown. Rather than ask for a higher gasoline tax, Gov. Rick Perry has pushed hard for using tolls. Most Texans appear to accept tolls for brand new highways, if only grudgingly, but rebel against any suggestion they be used on existing highways. In 2005, the Legislature changed the law: Tolls can be charged on new lanes to existing highways, but not on existing lanes without an election.


But it all still comes down to whether Central Texans are willing to pay the high price required to build highways within a few years rather than a few decades.

The AAS goes on to say they’ve long been supporters of raising the gas tax to pay for new roads. But whether intentional or not the last line leaves the impression that it’s no worse to toll roads than raise the gas tax:

So, we must pick our poison: Fork up tolls, pay higher taxes or sit longer in traffic, wasting time and burning gas. In some way, we’ll pay.

Yes, that’s true, we’ll pay either way. But we all know that the gas tax is a much fairer and cheaper way to fund our roads. The AAS should have pointed that out, if they’re so pro-gas tax. In their editorial - and it’s not just the AAS they all do it - they blame nobody else for jumping on board. Surely if the AAS would point out the vast inequities between one system and the other that would help their cause. But that might make the Chamber of Commerce mad.

Good News

Posted in Privatization, Corruption, Around The State at 11:03 am by wcnews

These couple of stories show that despite what the MSM says shining the light on shady side of politics what the media is supposed to do. And these two stories (Merck to end vaccine lobby effort, Court limits Perry’s power over agencies) tell us that the results are good for the people when the media does what it’s supposed to do. Maybe if the MSM would have dug deeper into the TTC and the Accenture deal a few years back they would have been exposed for the schemes they were before they became the destructive forces they now are. Too bad we didn’t have a fully engaged blogosphere back then. Hopefully the lottery scheme will follow next.


Sen. Carona Announces Special Hearing On Transportation Policy

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Around The State at 12:17 pm by wcnews

The Press Release and Witness Form can be found here (.PDF). Here is the hearing notice, mark you calendars it’s Thursday March 1, 2007, 8:30 am - 6:00 pm. Here’s what Sen. Carona said in the press release:

“We have initiated some sweeping changes in transportation policy over the last four years,” said Carona. “The state has aggressively pursued a new toll policy, rapidly expanded the use of public-private partnerships for transportation infrastructure, and accelerated the process of developing the Trans Texas Corridor. In the process, we clearly have not fully heard or taken into consideration the views of the public. Before we go any further, the policy makers need to hear from the people.”


“Except for a few expert witnesses, the hearing is dedicated to listening to public concerns,” said Carona. “Anyone at all who wants to testify can submit a quick witness form in advance of the hearing, or at the hearing.”

One of the expert witnesses will be Dennis Enright of NW financial Group. If his testimony is anything like what he delivered last week (.PDF) at a Congressional sub-committee hearing we’re in for quite a treat and so are all the TTC and toll road supporters. In it Enright goes through the history of public-private partnerships (PPP’s or P3’s), what works, what doesn’t, and why. The basic answer is that there is a much cheaper way to pay for roads - a higher gas tax, or tolls to pay off the road and/or to pay for future transportation projects. Not tolls for corporate profits.

In his testimony he references projects, P3’s, he studied in Chicago and Indiana, that are similar to the TTC. He states that those projects , “..w[ere] the first time that the P3 mandate was utilized to increase costs to the users rather than decrease costs through the application of improved efficiency of the private sector”. Read that a couple of times if you must. What he’s saying is that historically with these partnerships the savings have been passed on to the consumer/taxpayer. With these “new” P3’s the cost to the consumer/taxpayer is increased to maximize corporate profits. He also tells us about the difference between previous goals of toll roads and those of a P3:

Previously toll roads were financed using an underlying assumption that increases would only be imposed based upon the revenue need of the toll road authority and that would be driven primarily by expectations about traffic flows and capital needs. The ability or desire to maximize the bottom line returns through compounding annual increase in tolls was never considered since the agencies that owned the toll roads were driven by a public policy mandate that treasured minimizing tolls.

Again what he’s saying is that corporate profits trump what’s good for the consumer/taxpayer. This coupled with non-compete agreements give these corporations a monopoly over our the highways of our state for the foreseeable future and new roads will only be built if they’re profitable.

I would encourage every Texan to go to this hearing if possible. Sen. Carona is having a 9.5 hour hearing. Texans will have three minutes to testify and can submit unlimited testimony in writing. Sen. Carona deserves much credit for giving us this opportunity. Contact him and thank him.

Everbody’s Confused About The Lottery And Priorities

Posted in Privatization, The Budget, 80th Legislature at 9:13 am by wcnews

Two articles on the lottery sale make one thing perfectly clear, everybody’s confused. Legislators are confused about whether or not this will expand gambling, the asking price, smart people and whether this can be done without a constitutional amendment.

Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, wondered whether a private company operating the lottery might view slot machines as a form of gambling similar to the lottery.

“My concern is is that this is opening the door to the mentality of slots in 7-Elevens,” Fraser said. “I don’t want slot machines in 7-Elevens.”


The potential price of the lottery also raised questions from senators.

“The price tag seems to change daily, by billions,” said Sen. Kevin Eltife, a Tyler Republican.

Perry has said $14 billion is a conservative estimate. Consulting firms that prepared documents for Perry’s office said it could go as high as $28 billion.

“I read somewhere that someone said, you know, the private sector, if they buy it, they’re very smart. They’ll know how to maximize the return on the investment. Are we not smart enough to run the lottery?” Eltife said.

Perry said last week that a private company run by “smart people” would make “substantially more money” off of the lottery than the state does.

Read the rest of this entry »


Somebody’s Feeling Left Out

Posted in The Budget, 80th Legislature at 2:17 pm by wcnews

Tom Pauken, former Texas GOP chair and head of Gov. Perry’s, winte fling, The Texas Task Force on Appraisal Reform, wants you to remember he’s still important. Put appraisal reform on front burner. Appraisal reform is so 2006.

The 80th Texas Legislature has gotten off to an unusual start. Various controversies surrounding coal plants proposed by TXU, an executive order by the governor on the HPV vaccine, and the governor’s proposal to sell the lottery have captured most of the media’s attention in the early days of this regular session.
Still, the Legislature shouldn’t neglect to address the pressing need to reform our appraisal and property tax system.

The Texas Task Force on Appraisal Reform has proposed a comprehensive set of legislative and constitutional recommendations that deserve passage this year. Texans have waited long enough for action to address the “stealth tax” of skyrocketing appraisals and the resulting increases in property taxes across the state.

It’s over Tom. Thanks for your work, but with the problems they’re having busting the cap your Republican “leadership” is not going to take up another tax-swap.

SA Current On T. Don Hutto

Posted in T. Don Hutto, Williamson County at 11:57 am by wcnews

This article from the San Antonio Current by Dave Maass, Hutto Report, has some interesting information about the lock-up. Mr. Maass has a unique perspecitve on CCA having toured their prisons before:

About five years ago, I toured the Florence Correctional Center, a CCA prison housing Hawaiian medium-security inmates in the Arizona desert. The prison was mired in scandal: a Hawaiian state investigation found that prison officials had essentially handed control of the facility to a prison gang, which was employing intimidation and violence to traffic drugs and operate a prostitution ring using female immigration detainees also at the prison.

Structurally speaking, Hutto is simply a smaller version of the Florence Correctional Center. My dèjá vu came with the chill in the air and the echoes off the bare white walls, all marked with CCA’s signature red stripe. I recognized the prison elements in Hutto’s “pods,” the contained areas where two tiers of cells open onto a shared recreation area. At Florence, a square patch of carpet broke up the center of the floor, marking a no-go zone for inmates; stepping in that space would earn you disciplinary measures. At Hutto, the carpet is hidden beneath a row of foam chairs below the ceiling-mounted television

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Texas Watch Report On Tort Reform

Posted in Health Care, Around The State at 11:18 am by wcnews

This AusChron article, Tort-Reform Folly, points us to a report by Texas Watch about how the tort “reforms” enacted in 2003 are working so far. The article tells us that despite what our governor is telling us not much has changed, in a good way, since tort reform was passed in 2003.

Back in 2003, 71-year-old Alvin Berry of Copperas Cove went to the doctor for a routine prostate screening. He was told his antigen levels were elevated, so his doctor referred him to a urologist for a follow-up. The urologist, however, told Berry not to worry. Seven months later, Berry’s antigen levels had skyrocketed – he had developed prostate cancer, and it was too late, the cancer had already spread to his bones. He was given five years to live. Unfortunately, reports the consumer-advocacy group Texas Watch, in 2003 Berry had also voted in favor of Proposition 12 – the sweeping “tort reform” package that severely limited the ability of individuals to avail themselves of the legal process and to sue in cases of medical negligence (what tort reformers – read, insurance companies – prefer to call “frivolous lawsuits”) – and with its passage, discovered that now he was left without the ability to seek legal redress for his doctor’s deadly oversight. “We’d voted on something,” Berry told Texas Monthly in 2005, “and we really didn’t know what the facts were.”

To hear Gov. Rick Perry tell it in his State of the State speech last week, the facts are that things in the land of tort reform are just peachy, thank you very much. Texas is “perched at the forefront of a new era of prosperity,” he said. “Frivolous lawsuits are down, as are insurance rates for homeowners and doctors. Thanks to medical liability reforms, hospitals are once again able to recruit specialists whose expertise can mean the difference between life and death.” Apparently, Perry wasn’t talking to Alvin Berry.

The saddest part of this report are the stories like Mr. Berry’s, you can read more personal stories here. But, as always, when we’re sold something that’s too good to be true, this was as well. One of the main selling points used in the run-up to the vote on this was the issue of Texas having a lack of specialists, obstetricians in particular. This “talking point” was used to guilt voters into voting for this. In effect making one feel that if they voted against this they were voting against the health of unborn children and their mothers. Well come to find out this problem has only gotten worse since 2003. Here are the main findings of the report:

  • Underserved areas remain underserved. Rural, remote, and indigent regions of Texas have seen a decrease in the rate of new doctors since Prop 12 passed.
  • More counties do not have an obstetrician. Today more counties in Texas do not have an obstetrician than before Proposition 12 passed.
  • Medical liability insurance premiums remain inflated. Despite marginal reductions, doctors are still paying dramatically higher premiums than they were just a few years before Proposition 12 passed.
  • Texas has the highest rate of citizens without health insurance. 25% of Texans do not have health insurance, the highest rate of uninsured among the 20 largest states.

It seems the only one’s who’ve benefited from the 2003 tort reform is the insurance companies. Imagine that. Texas Watch sums up what went wrong and what needs to be done:

The report illustrates how Texas misdiagnosed the health care dilemma. Instead of punishing patients and rewarding the few bad doctors who are responsible for most of the medical malpractice payments, lawmakers should pass real legal reforms that beef up patient safety standards, kick bad doctors out of the medical community, and enact comprehensive insurance reform that cracks down on insurance overcharges.

And to get insurance reform that means Republicans can’t be in charge anymore.


Perry Is Not Selling The Lottery But The State’s Monopoly On Gambling

Posted in 80th Legislature, Around The State at 11:35 am by wcnews

Another article on the lottery, Lottery could get face-lift in sale. In it we learn more about the plan, expanded gambling and that the asking price is still going up.

The Texas Lottery might look quite different under a private operator if the state opens the door to online games, casino-style Keno and video slot machines as suggested by financial firms that have consulted with Gov. Rick Perry’s office.

Documents prepared by three firms seeking to manage the deal for the state say the sale price would range from $14 billion to $28 billion, depending on the buyers’ ability to increase profits by expanding gaming in Texas.

That may mean legalizing video slots or letting people buy tickets at home on their digital televisions, according to the documents reviewed by the Associated Press.

Now we know why a corporation would pay so much for the lottery. Because they would not be buying just the lotteryonly but access to Texas and all it’s gambling possibilities. Video Lottery Terminals (VLT’s) were very close to passing the Senate a couple of years ago. Now with the long-term budget mess that was created last year with the Perry, Craddick, Dewhurst Tax Swap, Perry wants to play a shell game with the lottery. Sell it to pay for schools, a weak health care plan, and cancer research.

What Gov. Perry is selling is the state’s monopoly on gambling in Texas. This privatization scheme like all others will, almost certainly, include a non-compete agreement. Meaning this will be the only game in town, or state, as the case may be. As EOW has said before, Gov. Perry, whatever his reason, is dead set on selling the lottery and will tell any story of festivus miracles he can to get this done. His numbers are bad and there are many skeptics as the plan stands now:

Where would it leave Texas? The lottery earns about $1 billion a year for schools, a sizeable part of the $13.2 billion the state annually provides for education. Under Perry’s proposal, the trust established for education would provide $800 million a year, $200 million less than the lottery gives now.

Perry said the trusts would bring in $300 million more a year than lottery ticket sales, but he is asking a lot more of that money — if it actually amounts to as much as the governor says.

Critics argue that the $800 million figure for education is suspect because it is based on a 9 percent interest rate, which some say can’t be maintained year in and year out. Skeptics include state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said there is much to learn before even considering selling the lottery. “What do we have to lose?” asked Watson, a cancer survivor. State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, said the idea was a surprise that needs careful scrutiny.

So yes it’s worth a bunch more than $28 billion to buy the monopoly on gambling in Texas, that’s why the price keeps going up. But the governor’s buddies want to buy it on the cheap.

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