Christmas Combs Early

Texas is emerging from the 2012-2013 budget cycle with a surplus of $2.6 billion—more than twice as much as state officials had projected—according to a report published this week by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs. The energy boom has been a leading factor in the state’s economic success, and it is expected to continue that trend for several more years, the Texas Tribune reports. Combs predicts the industry will generate about $8 billion in tax revenue through 2015—about $2 billion more than she had previously forecast. 

The report also offered positive news on the employment front: “Texas has recovered 100 percent of the jobs lost during the recession and added 597,000 beyond the previous peak in August 2008.”

The Bottom Line: State sales tax revenue is also growing steadily, with a record $2.41 billion collected in November, according to the Dallas Morning News. That bump was primarily driven by “sectors such as wholesale trade, services industries and restaurants,” Combs noted.

Pemex Appeal

Mexico is taking steps toward allowing private investors to move into the country’s oil market, which has been under a government monopoly for the better part of a century. After state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) took over Mexico’s oil fields in 1938, American energy exploration companies including Houston-based Halliburton and Schlumberger could only participate as contractors. But on Thursday, Mexico’s legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow outside private firms to “develop projects as investors rather than contractors—sharing in the risks and rewards” of oil production, “or to contract independently of Pemex,” the Houston Chronicle reports. 

The Bottom Line: At least of seventeen of Mexico’s 31 state legislatures must approve the amendment before it can move forward, “which Mexican political observers expect but say could take a few days or several weeks,” according to the Chronicle. After that, federal legislators will have four months to iron out details such as licensing fees and other financial particulars. 

A Cold Day in Health

Only about 14,000 Texas residents managed to enroll in health insurance plans in the first two months of the website’s troubled rollout, according to figures released this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Florida was the only other state with more successful enrollments in October and November: a total of 18,000. 

Technical glitches plagued the online exchange for weeks following its October 1 launch, causing fewer than 3,000 Texans to select plans in the first month. However, The Associated Press reports there were more than 100,000 people who had completed the application process but were not yet enrolled in a plan by November 30. 

The Bottom Line: Texas is one of 36 states participating in the federal insurance exchange rather than a state-operated marketplace, after Governor Rick Perry and Texas legislators declined to create one. Those three-dozen states enrolled about 137,000 people in two months, compared to more than 227,000 in the fourteen states that run their own sites, according to the AP.

Winner of the Week: Ted Cruz

Solidifying his reputation as Texas’ most colorful politician, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz is the subject of a new children’s coloring book that became the number-one seller in its category on Amazon this week. “Ted Cruz to the Future: Comic Coloring Activity Book” depicts “snippets of Cruz trivia, the Ten Commandments and commentary” on the senator’s Obamacare filibuster, The Dallas Morning News reports. The book’s publisher, Really Big Coloring Books, says Cruz was not involved in the project.

The company has also published coloring books about Barack Obama, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, as well as an intriguing mix of titles such as “The Most Dynamite Hip Hop Coloring Book on the Planet,” “Being Gay Is Okay,” and a multi-volume series called “We Shall Never Forget 9/11,” which comes with terrorist trading cards. 

Loser of the Week: Vendetta Royalty Partners

The managers of an Austin-based energy investment firm are under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for running an alleged Ponzi scheme, the Austin Business Journal reports. The agency has accused Vendetta Royalty Partners’ Robert A. Helms and Janniece S. Kaelin of mismanaging $18 million they raised from more than 80 investors who believed they were buying stakes in oil and gas projects. In a December 6 filing, the SEC claims the pair had pledged to “use more than 99 percent of the investment proceeds to acquire a lucrative portfolio of oil and gas royalty interests,” but they ended up investing just ten percent, using the rest of the money for personal expenses and to pay off earlier investors. All of Vendetta’s assets have been frozen during the fraud investigation.