HOU Infinity and Beyond
Houston airports may be feeling the financial pinch from federal spending cuts, but that isn’t stopping them from shooting for the stars. The Houston Business Journal reports last week’s automated sequestration cuts are already causing airport delays, and employee furloughs will lead to much longer waits at security and customs. Houston Airport System Executive Director Mario Diaz said this week that his organization is taking “preemptive steps” to reduce delays.
But once Houston airports solve their congestion problems, they’ll move on to much bigger things: HAS is “applying to license Ellington Airport as a spaceport,” which would allow it to serve as a “launch site for commercial spaceships” and a hub for aerospace companies, according to the HBJ.
The Bottom Line: Plans to establish Ellington as a space hub have been bandied about since 2011, but more pressing projects at Hobby and George Bush Intercontinental airports have caused the project to be placed on the back-burner, the HBJ reports.
A federal judge this week sentenced former GameStop vice president Chris Olivera to 51 months in jail for embezzling nearly $2 million from the company, which is headquartered in Grapevine. The Dallas Morning News reports Olivera pleaded guilty to “setting up dummy companies that did public relations work for him,” while siphoning the money back into his own pockets.
The Bottom Line: After GameStop uncovered the scheme in 2011, Olivera paid back the money within a week, according to the Morning News. The crime carries maximum sentence of 20 years but the former VP was given a lighter punishment because of his cooperation and lack of prior convictions.
Texas legislators this week proposed two new bills that would reform regulation of the short-term loan industry in the state. According to the Austin Business Journal, the measures “aim to ensure loan sizes correspond to customers’ incomes or vehicles’ values, limit the number of times consumers may refinance a loan and mandate extended payment plan provisions.”
Rep. John Carona, R-Dallas, said the reforms will provide a more uniform policy for regulating the industry—as opposed to the current city-by-city approach, which has proven difficult to enforce and also creates headaches for lenders. Carona also referred to the proposals as a “step forward in protecting consumers from an irreversible cycle of debt.”
The Bottom Line: Short-term loans, also known as payday loans, have been criticized for saddling low-income customers with high interest rates—as much as 400 percent—in desperate times. Paul Rothamel, CEO of Austin-based lending company EZCorp, penned an op-ed in The Austin American-Statesman this week in which he supported the new legislation, while defending payday loans as a legitimate and in-demand product.
Winners of the Week: Sharks
Just when you thought it was safe to order shark fin dumplings, a new state law may strike them from the menu. This week lawmakers introduced legislation in the Senate’s Natural Resources Committee that would outlaw “the sale, purchase and possession of shark fins” and “the possession of almost any fish, or shark, that’s had its fins cut off,” The Austin Business Journal reports.
The practice of removing shark fins has been illegal in the U.S. since 2010, but it is still legal to sell them. The fins are considered delicacies in East Asian cuisine and can sell for up to $700 dollars a pound, according to StateImpact Texas. A recent investigation found that “shark fins are actually on the menu at some Texas restaurants, from Dallas to Houston to Galveston.” Globally, about 73 million fins are traded each year.
Loser of the Week: Martha Stewart
Plano-based J.C. Penney is caught up in a legal battle between Macy’s and Martha Stewart Living, and this week the New York Supreme Court ordered the three companies into mediation to resolve a contract dispute, NBC News reports. Macy’s sued Stewart’s company in response to a partnership she formed with J.C. Penney to “open about 700 Martha Stewart mini shops in stores this spring”—which Macy’s claims is a violation of a contract that grants it the exclusive right to sell certain Stewart product lines.
Stewart says she called Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren to tell him about the Penney deal in 2011—prompting him to hang up on her.