Tea’d Off

A business group representing some of Texas’s largest corporate sectors is pushing back against Tea Party candidates who oppose using tax dollars to upgrade the state’s highways, public education system, and water infrastructure. The Dallas Morning News reports that the Texas Future Business Alliance has begun campaigning on behalf of Republican incumbents who support those improvement projects, which the trade group believes are instrumental in attracting new business to the state.

The TFBA—whose members include interest groups from Texas’ chemical, banking, and homebuilding industries, among others—is concentrating its efforts in legislative districts with hotly contested primary elections on the horizon. Meanwhile, Tea Party advocates and fiscal watchdog groups argue that they are simply taking a stand against establishment GOP politicians who are beholden to wealthy business interests.

The Bottom Line: The alliance’s decision to get involved in state politics is part of a “schism happening nationally between hard right and establishment Republicans,” according to the Morning News, noting that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “recently pledged $50 million to back pro-business Republicans in U.S. Senate primaries.”

Charged Debate

Texas energy regulators are mulling proposals to restructure the state’s wholesale energy market, prompting a falling out between electric utilities and the Texas Oil and Gas Association. The TXOGA recently published a statement opposing a potential shift from the existing “energy-only” system to a capacity-based model “that would pay electricity providers billions of dollars to maintain excess generating capacity,” the Texas Tribune reported this week. 

The Texas Public Utility Commission has yet to take any formal action on the issue and has not announced plans to do so in the near future, but its members recently expressed interest in establishing a backup energy reserve.

The Bottom Line: Proponents of the market overhaul contend that if utilities have an incentive to invest in additional electricity-generating capacity, the state will be better equipped to meet its high energy demand—which is swiftly increasing due to population growth and hot summer weather. But the petroleum organization counters that the capacity model “would shift power away from consumers and toward state regulators,” according to the Tribune.

Winners of the Week: Aggie Drone Pilots

Texas A&M’s Corpus Christi campus is poised to reap the benefits of a new unmanned aircraft research program that is expected to generate about $260 million in economic growth in South Texas within ten years, the Austin Business Journal reported this week. In December the university received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate a test site that will launch drones carrying cameras that can “map sea grass, monitor pipeline routes, detect wildfire hotspots or oil spills in the ocean and count livestock.”

Last spring, the Association of Unmanned Vehicles International projected that opening such a center in Texas would have a statewide economic impact of $8 billion and create about 1,200 new jobs. 

Losers of the Week: White-Collar Mobsters

An Irving-based mortgage company is at the center of a federal racketeering case against a group of businessmen with reputed ties to organized crime, including the son of a former boss of the Philadelphia Mafia, the Associated Press reports. During opening arguments this week, government prosecutors accused the defendants of aggressively shaking down FirstPlus Financial Group in 2007, fraudulently siphoning $12 million out of the company’s accounts into shell companies they owned. FirstPlus eventually went out of business. 

Defense attorneys described the mafia allegations as “distractions” and claimed their clients’ dealings with the mortgage company were legitimate. Six other people involved with the alleged scheme have already pleaded guilty.