The State of Texas: April 1, 2015
Warning Of The Day
It is April 1, so be wary of, like, everyone you know. The best advice is to just stay inside and check out the Austin American-Statesman’s list of best April Fools’ Day pranks.
Texas By The Numbers
Not So Bad – Traffic congestion increase for DFW-area residents: 2 percent. Average delay during normal rush hour commute: 16 minutes. DFW’s rank among congested U.S. metropolitan regions: 32nd. DFW’s rank among the 146 worldwide metro areas: 124.
Workin’ Hard for Your Money – Average wage for Austin, ranked one of the highest in the nation: $28.80. Houston area: $27.66. Dallas area: $26.56. Midland: $26.02. Corpus Christi: $23.90. San Antonio area: $22.90. Amarillo: $22.80.
Goodbye, Drought? – Total area of state considered to be in moderate or exceptional drought status: 36 percent. Last week: 40 percent. In January: 46 percent. During same time last year: 67 percent.
Tough Recommendations – A grand jury decided not to indict embattled UT regent Wallace Hall, who came under fire last year after doggedly pursuing the release of certain records from the university. While the grand jury didn’t see fit to criminalize his actions, they did recommend that he be removed from office. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the four-page letter released by the grand jury stated, “Based on the information we reviewed, we are appalled at the Regent’s unaccountable and abusive behavior. … We, as citizens, feel it is in the best interest of the State of Texas to remove Regent Hall from office.” The grand jury “also accused him of ‘abusive excess’ in issuing requests for information with ‘impossible deadlines’ that ‘overwhelmed’ the system, including requesting some information twice.” As the Texas Tribune notes, the report “also suggested multiple changes in UT System Board of Regents policies. Those include limitations on how much regents can spend on investigations and requests without full board approval. The report also suggests that regents be required to state their intentions for all open records requests.”
For the Money – After weeks of guessing, it has finally been revealed how much Matthew McConaughey is being paid to speak at the University of Houston’s commencement ceremony. The Texas Tribune reports that after first resisting requests to reveal the fee, the U of H finally gave in, but not before the talent agency representing McConaughey filed papers with the state attorney general’s office asking that the numbers be kept under wraps. “The University of Houston said in a statement Tuesday that it was paying McConaughey speaking fees totaling $135,000 plus travel expenses, as well as a $20,250 commission to the Celebrity Talent International booking agency engaged by the university,” according to the Dallas Morning News. Perhaps the revelation came after a little strategizing with the actor’s PR camp. “The statement says McConaughey is donating his fees to a foundation he started [jk livin] to provide tools to help high school students lead active lives and make healthy choices for the future.” (Also, slow golf clap for the Texas Tribune, which managed to slip the phrase “Houston Buyers Club” into its reporting on the matter.)
Oil Stains – Anyone following the news knows that the local oil industry is seeing a slowdown. Now the Houston Chronicle is reporting “further pummeling [for] a Texas economy reeling from crude’s downturn.” As the story documents, “Houston-based oil firm Sabine Oil & Gas Corp. on Tuesday warned that it could default on $1.7 billion in debt after the plunging prices left it strapped for cash. Another Houston company, Frank’s International, announced plans to lay off 400 to 600 workers, joining a growing number of firms that are shedding employees as they slash costs and rein in spending. Four others notified the Texas Workforce Commission in the past week of plans to cut more than 400 workers statewide.” In other words, the well is looking dangerously dry. “The Dallas Federal Reserve said on Tuesday that its Texas retail outlook survey plunged in March to negative 6.4, its worst reading since July 2012. It was a positive 6.8 in February,” according to MarketWatch. “The energy sector lost jobs in Texas for the first time in more than five years, hitting Houston particularly hard.”
Bad Apple – The Dallas County truancy courts are being sent to the principal’s office, so to speak. Federal investigators from the Justice Department are looking into allegations that the courts have been a little too draconian when it comes to punishing kids. The local complaints that caught the DOJ’s attention include the fact that “some students have been punished unfairly—handcuffed in court, denied access to an attorney and ordered to pay exorbitant fines,” according to the Morning News. The investigation is part of a larger issue in Texas. It “marks the latest and most extensive look at truancy cases in Dallas, adding to an already emotional debate between Austin lawmakers who want to ensure students’ rights are protected and North Texas school district officials who say they need tools to hold accountable those who regularly miss school days.”