The State of Texas: December 2, 2014
Betty King, the state’s longest-serving secretary of the state senate, went to that big capitol dome in the sky Monday. King, who retired in 2001, “called the roll for every recorded vote—reading every senators’ names (thousands during her tenure)—and her office oversaw the 31-senators’ budgets,” notes the Houston Chronicle. Condolences and remembrances have flooded in from all over, including from Governor Rick Perry and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.
Final Appeals — Texas is one step closer to executing a man whom every respectable medical body has declared mentally impaired. “The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday declined to recommend a reprieve for convicted killer Scott Panetti,” writes the Texas Tribune. It’s now “up to Governor Rick Perry to decide if he will delay Wednesday’s scheduled execution of the schizophrenic death row inmate.” The U.S. Supreme Court has been drawn into the debate as well, with lawyers for Panetti asking the court to halt the execution. The Supreme Court argument is more complicated than deciding whether Penetti is crazy or not. “Justices in 2002 prohibited the execution of people who are mentally impaired, deciding it violated the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. But they have allowed capital punishment for mentally ill prisoners as long as the inmate has a factual and rational understanding of why he’s being put to death.” The controversy over Panetti’s execution has brought together some odd bedfellows: the petition denied by the parole board “received an outpouring of support from conservatives and evangelicals,” writes Mother Jones. And “the list of conservative supporters grew as more prominent figures sent a new letter to Perry urging clemency.” As the piece notes, “The last time evangelicals really rallied en masse to prevent a pending execution was in 1998, in the case of Karla Faye Tucker, who converted to Christianity in prison and became a conservative cause célèbre.”
A Few Dollars More — Schools might have to struggle to find enough cash to pay the bills and the roads might be in bad shape, but border theater gets top dollar. Less than a month after Governor Perry called for another border surge, the legislature has agreed to pick up that tab to the tune of $86 million. “The Legislative Budget Board unanimously approved the increased spending,” according to the Texas Tribune. “The new round of money will pay to station hundreds of Department of Public Safety officers at the border through August, but only fund the deployment of National Guard troops there through March.” Since the cost is no small chunk of change, it took a little finagling that’s on par with actually trying to sneak across the border. “More than half of the $86 million—$47.9 million—will come from money originally meant to pay off Texas Department of Transportation debt, which totals more than $15 billion. Another $17.5 million will come from money reserved to pay off other state debt managed by the Texas Public Finance Authority. The remaining $20.7 million will come from the state’s disaster funds and the Emerging Technology Fund.”
Oil Toil — It wasn’t long ago that the drop in oil prices suggested nothing more than a trickle of problems under the surface. Now it appears that bad news well is really starting to run. “The economy of the oil and gas region encompassing Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma weakened in October more than any other part of the country due to plummeting oil prices,” reports the Dallas Morning News. “Oil prices have nosedived in that same June-to-October period. West Texas Intermediate crude oil sold for an average of $106 a barrel in June, compared with $84.40 in October and $69 today, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.” The drop in prices is due to massive output from OPEC, so now the name of the oil game is stamina. “Drillers from Texas to North Dakota are pumping the most in three decades, with many betting they can outlast Venezuela, Iran and other nations that need higher oil prices to fund government budgets,” writes Bloomberg News. Despite the honeymoon period being over, “the West South Central region still tied for the highest economic score in Decision Analyst’s October index.”
Carbon Complaints — Who’s ready for yet another round in the Texas v. EPA fight? Last month, the federal agency took umbrage with state pollution from coal-fired power plants. Now Texas has responded to “a new EPA law capping carbon dioxide emissions by power plants ‘unworkable’ and an ‘unlawful intrusion’ in comments submitted to the federal government Monday,” according to the Dallas Morning News. The commission said, “the rule establishes completely unachievable timelines for this fundamental remaking of the power industry, creating great threats to the ability of Texas to manage and operate our electricity system.” In this particular case, the “unlaw intrusion” would cut the state’s power industry’s carbon emissions by almost 40 percent. Unsurprisingly, “Texas officials have been almost unanimous in their opposition,” saying the new rules could cause power shortages. At least there’ll be plenty of hot air to blow when it comes to the carbon emissions debate.