Wed April 15, 2015 11:30 am By Paul Burka

It was with considerable sadness that I learned of the passing of Arthur “Buddy” Temple III, a former Democratic state representative from Lufkin during the speakership of Billy Clayton and a onetime candidate for governor. The Temple family is one of the great Texas dynasties, and one that has contributed immeasurably to the East Texas region where the Temple timber empire thrived. In 1982, I wrote a cover story about the history of the Temples (“The King of the Forest”) and their contribution to East Texas.

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Wed April 15, 2015 10:41 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

The House may be ahead of the Senate in getting bills out of the chamber, but the Senate has drawn first ink from Governor Greg Abbott.

The very first bill that Abbott’s signed into law during his tenure, on April 2, was SB 219 by Senator Charles Schwertner. The bill essentially was a clean-up measure on Health and Human Services functions, but initially met opposition from the Texas Home School Coalition. However, the coalition’s concerns were addressed in the Senate.

The second bill, signed on April 8, was Senator Jane Nelson’s SB 293 to expand the state’s major events fund eligibility. The groups eligible for state dollars now will include ESPN or an affiliate, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Primarily, this bill was for the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, but also had support from Circuit of the Americas in Austin.

Get your motors running. I’m sure other bills in the future will receive fanfare from the governor’s office.

Tue April 14, 2015 4:38 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

This past weekend, one of the 11 natural gas wells on the property of the Lake Arlington Baptist Church started spewing mud as crews began using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) at the site to extract natural gas. As a precaution, residents of 50 homes were evacuated, although there was no sign that an explosion was imminent.

“It honestly never had concerned to us at all up until last night,” nearby resident Jim English told The Dallas Morning News. English, who built his home in 1998, said up until this weekend the gas wells were mostly just a nuisance because of the service trucks. “It’s just an eyesore to me, and I don’t get any royalties off it, so it might as well go away. It was fine when it started, but it just keeps getting to be more and more.”

For Arlington Fire Chief Don Crowson, the leak was evidence that the Legislature is about to take public safety out of the hands of local officials through bills to keep cities from regulating the drilling of oil and gas wells in their communities.

“I’m concerned there is a potential that local control may be lessened. It is exactly local control that keeps the local community safe,” Crowson said.

Arlington has 56 pad sites with 306 gas wells, Crowson said. While the Fire Department has responded to gas releases and other incidents at pad sites in the past, Crowson said this was the first time an emergency well control team had to be called in.

The above map from the Texas Railroad Commission goes a long way toward explaining why Denton voters last year approved a ban on the drilling of gas wells within the city limits—despite a $1.1 million public relations campaign against the initiative financed by the oil and gas industry.

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Tue April 14, 2015 9:36 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

As the Senate prepares to debate its version of the state budget, perhaps as early as today, here is a quick comparison charting for the General Revenue portion of the House and Senate budgets. General Revenue reflects the bulk of state taxpayer expenditures and does not include federal funding for programs ranging from highway construction to human welfare. But General Revenue does include most of Texas’ spending on public education. The Legislative Budget Board has a complete analysis of the House and Senate budgets for those who want a deep dive.

If you want to follow along on the Senate budget debate, it is best to call up the LBB document on the Senate’s committee substitute. Here is the LBB chart of the Senate Finance Committee budget.

Here is the LBB version of General Revenue under the budget passed by the full House.

Mon April 13, 2015 12:06 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

A House committee later today will take up the fight for sales between Tesla and the auto dealers of Texas, a legislative battle over “free markets” that has the potential to ultimately create widespread social change in the state.

First, understand that this is not a fight over whether a car or truck can be sold over the Internet. That already happens through dealerships across the state. Go online, look at the dealer’s inventory and make a purchase.

Second, know this bill is not really about bringing free markets to Texas retail sales of new autos by busting the monopoly of licensed franchise dealers. House Bill 1653 would exempt manufacturers such as Tesla from having to sell through a state licensed franchise dealership, but the manufacturer would be limited to having a dozen or fewer sales locations in the state. Limiting the number of manufacturer dealerships just gives Tesla a competitive advantage over the giant motor companies of Detroit while trying to be unthreatening to the majority of Texas dealerships. Such a carve-out for Tesla is not exactly about bringing consumer choice to Texas, even if Tesla In Texas tries to claim otherwise.

SB 639 by Kelly Hancock and HB 1653 by Eddie Rodriguez, Charles “Doc” Anderson, Jodie Laubenberg, Tan Parker, and Ron Simmons will promote consumer choice, competition and innovation by limiting big-government mandates that deny Texans the ability to purchase certain new vehicles directly from the manufacturer.

This bill rightly makes the distinction between protecting consumers and defending the wishes of an incumbent protected class. It does not negatively impact dealers and takes great care to protect the relationships between existing manufacturers and their franchisees.   

If the Tesla carve-out is so limited, why is the Texas Automobile Dealers Association, TADA, fighting the legislation? It’s not like the soccer moms are going to suddenly abandon their minivan and local dealer to buy a luxury electric car that has a starting price almost $49,000 more than the median family income in Texas. However, if you are well to do, the appeal of the Tesla S is hard to deny.

A few high-end auto dealers may dislike the new competition. That competition would be there, though, if Tesla founder Elon Musk just paid for and set up a dozen franchise dealerships in Texas. The TADA is fighting because the auto dealers see the Tesla bill as one that could disrupt the entire market in the future. If Tesla breaks the monopoly franchise system now, other manufactures may want to in the future.

And that could have the biggest impact on the Texas economy, the funding of charities and politicians, and the survival of local newspapers since a certain big box store with its system of economy of scale moved into the state’s small towns forty years ago, wiping out the mom and pop pharmacies, groceries and general stores.

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