The State of Texas: December 19, 2014
Video of the Day
Having your dog be the ringbearer is, like, so passé. And while there as many ways to bear the ring as there are weddings, the efforts by a scantily clad Superman on rollerblades at a Lubbock wedding may be the best. The happy (and wonderfully weird) couple apparently told guests they just “wanted to do something fun and different.” Mission accomplished.
The Colbert Report ended its run with a star-studded show last night. It was okay. What was better was the two-for-one appearance of Billie Joe Shaver and Willie Nelson the night before on Letterman. When he takes over the late night slot next year, here’s hoping Colbert continues the tradition of featuring great Texas artists.
Irony Triage — It’s as if the state government read the satire Catch-22 and thought, “We can do better than that.” Legislatures and the Travis County DA are going full-tilt with an investigation “into Texas health officials’ dealings with 21CT, an Austin data analytics firm hired to help root out Medicaid fraud.” Let that irony sink in. Officials certianly have. The Travis County DA announced yesterday it’s beginning a criminal probe into how the Ausitn company won $110 million in no-bid contracts. “The investigation comes after Jack Stick, the chief counsel of the Health and Human Services Commission, resigned [the previous] Friday,” reports the Austin American-Statesman, for which the paper’s previous work on the subject helped stir calls to action. “A pending $90 million contract that Stick had helped get for 21CT also was canceled last week by Dr. Kyle Janek, executive commissioner of the massive health agency.” The Texas State Auditor’s Office is also beginning a probe. The call to action came originally from State Sen. John Whitmire of Houston and “among the officials calling for policy changes was state House Speaker Joe Straus,” according to the Houston Chronicle. Rick Perry called for an investigation, but apparantly “he implied it should be internal.” Because backroom deals obviously worked so well the first go-around.
Will Drill For Food — Like the business itself, there’s been light quakes and little spurts that our oil boon will soon be facing rough times. But now the Dallas Fed has chimed in with some unpleasant news. Fuel Fix reports that “if U.S. benchmark crude remains cheap at around $55 a barrel, the state could lose 128,000 jobs by the middle of 2015, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas model of how oil prices impact U.S. jobs.” As the Dallas Business Journal notes, “West Texas Intermediate crude oil prices have fallen more than $50 since June. It was trading at $54 Thursday.” What’s more, “it wouldn’t just be roughnecks losing their jobs on the oil rigs, either. It could spill over into hotel and restaurant workers and companies that build machinery for the industry, for example. The impact will hit cities such as Midland the hardest.” There is a silver lining around that oil barrel, though. The lose of jobs “wouldn’t be enough to slow the state’s job growth to zero: Texas is on track to add 390,000 jobs this year, and it added 295,000 jobs last year.”
Road Rage — Hey, thanks for all that money, oil boom areas. Now hit the road. That’s how the recent allocation of the $1.7 billion earmarked to be spent for transportation funding could be perceived by places like Midland. The source of the money comes from the state’s oil and gas revenue, and “Forty percent of the funding — almost $700 million — will be distributed to metropolitan planning organizations throughout the state to try to ease congestion [with] thirty percent of the funding — $522 million — will go to regional corridors to improve connectivity among TxDOT districts,” according to the San Antonio Express-News. In the end, just 15 percent ($261 million) will go toward road in the shale area, which have not ony been severely torn up thanks to all the big truck traffic but has seen a rise in accidents because of all the activity. To be fair, the state has bent over backwards to the oil and gas industry, but “Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, had said at least 20 percent of Proposition 1 funding should be set aside for the shale regions.” Meanwhile, the head of the Eagle Ford Consortium said “It’s a good start,” but “when you look at the assessments and the needs, you’ve still got a long way to go. It’s not quite enough.”
Lil’ Havanna, Big Texas — The thawing of one of the Cold War’s last remaining icecycles could be great news for us and not just because of the cigars, rum, and antique cars. The Texas Tribune has a fascinating look at how the recent decision to ease sanctions against Cuba “could reignite Texas’ once-flourishing economic ties with the island nation, foreign-policy.” And by “once-flourishing,” they don’t mean pre-Kennedy. There are sanction exceptions and our Castro business “thrived until just a few years ago. … In 2009, $85 million in agricultural products bound for Cuba left from Texas ports, second only to Louisiana’s $241 million” about $45 million of that was in food and agricultural products. The hefty business between our two countries (i.e. Texas and Cuba) ended mostly because both Castro and our own federal government love tyrannical bureaucracy. And “that policy will likely change.” After the reunited of our two economies, the only thing left would be to import Cuban music. Mixed with Tejano and country, it could become the greatest cultural export the world has ever seen.
SXLawsuit — No, it’s not the name of yet another SXSW-themed conference, but it does involve a lot of people. “A flurry of lawsuits filed late Thursday claim organizers of the festival also were negligent, asserting they should have known Austin’s culture of partying endangered pedestrians swarming the downtown streets,” reports the Austin American-Statesman. “The lawsuits, which seek unspecified damages, were filed by four firms in three courts on behalf of eight victims, including three who died from their injuries.” The lawyer for one of the lawsuits calls the deadly crash, by a young man who drove through the crowd while evading arrest, “an absolutely preventable tragedy.” As the story notes, the lawsuits come at a “sensitive time” for SXSW. A report earlier this year pretty much admitted that things like crowd control are getting out of control. How “Austin’s culture of partying endangered pedestrians swarming the downtown streets” is highly debatable when a madman just up and decides to play Mad Max, although the lawsuits do claim better barriers are needed.