The State of Texas: February 25, 2015
Images of the Day
Nothing shows just how bad our drought has been like a bird’s-eye view from space. And with that in mind, the San Antonio Express-News has some rather depressing satellite images marking the yearly disappearance of Medina Lake. In six years, it’s become almost a different area altogether. The image on the left was taken in 2009. The right, just last year:
Texas By The Numbers
Aging Ungracefully – State’s rank among most-fined nursing homes in the U.S.: Second. Amount of fines incurred by nursing homes across the country in past three years: $100 million. In Texas: $9 million. Worst state: Kentucky. Fines: $11 million.
You Get a Tax Break, and You Get a Tax Break – Size of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s proposed business and property tax breaks: $4.6 billion. Amount going toward increasing homestead exemptions from school property tax: $2.5 billion. Amount coming from reduction of the state’s franchise tax: $1.5 billion.
Grounded – Number of North Texas flights canceled by Tuesday due to weather: 1,400. Flights canceled at DFW Tuesday: 168. Delayed: 50. Number of flights canceled on Monday: 1,100. Delayed: 300.
Guilty – In a decision that likely surprised no one, Eddie Ray Routh was found guilty in the murder of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield. “After hearing nine days of testimony, an Erath County jury deliberated for just 2 ½ hours Tuesday night,” writes the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Routh’s lawyers had argued that he was not guilty by reason of insanity, and had the jury concluded the same, Routh would’ve been institutionalized. The final day of the trial was particularly emotional. “At one point, Kyle’s widow, Taya, stormed out of the courtroom, apparently angered by something a defense attorney said,” and Kyle’s stepfather and Littlefield’s father both addressed Routh after the verdict. “Because prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty, Routh received an automatic life sentence with no possibility for parole.” The verdict was one heard round the world, with nearly every major publication—from CNN to People magazine to the BBC—announcing the decision.
Don’t Panic – Despite all the unpleasant news about the state’s oil and gas industry lately, industry leaders are feeling just fine, at least about last year’s profits. During a conference call yesterday, Todd Staples, newly minted president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, said that “the state’s oil and gas industry posted a record $15.7 billion in taxes and royalties” in 2014, according to the Austin American-Statesman. “The figures solidify once again the state’s great reliance on the energy industry. Staples said the oil and gas industry supported 41 percent of the Texas economy in 2014, up from 33 percent a year earlier.” As the Texas Tribune notes, “The 2014 total more than doubled what state and local governments collected in 2010 and was $3.6 billion higher than the 2012 total.” Staples said he’s confident the market will recover, and in perhaps a surprising move, the association offered support for a “$12 million appropriation request to hire more workers to monitor and inspect wells and pipelines statewide.” Staples did talk about the recent attempt by local cities to ban fracking, saying, “We want to clearly define what the cities’ roles are.” Presumably, that role is anything that’s subservient to the oil and gas industry’s desires.
Goodbye, VDP – On Wednesday, hardworking trailblazer Leticia Van de Putte bid farewell to legislative politics after 24 years. “Van de Putte submitted her resignation before the session began in January, contingent on her replacement being sworn in, so she could run for mayor of San Antonio,” writes the Austin American-Statesman. “That won’t happen until March 4, when state Rep. Jose Menéndez, D-San Antonio, takes the oath of office, but Van de Putte isn’t expected back at the Capitol after today.” One would understand if she never wants to return to the Capitol, getting thumped by Dan Patrick after made to play second fiddle to the sudden star-power of Wendy Davis. Writes the Texas Tribune: “Van de Putte ended her farewell using a closing remark that became a kind of trademark on the campaign trail. ‘Dios y Tejas,’ she said. ‘It has been an honor to serve with you for the people of this great state.’”
Health Services – The Ebola crisis was a big deal. And if that wasn’t clear enough, publications are still rolling out big stories that unpack how the panic went down. Earlier this month Vanity Fair masterfully laid out the whole scenario, and just this week D Magazine gets specific with a look at how Texas Health Presbyterian itself responded to the crisis. The story is interesting in that its main focus is the administrative response and actions by the hospital’s leaders. It’s not Ebola, however, that everyone needs to be worrying about anymore. In a lovely ironic twist, “Mexican health authorities are warning people traveling to the United States about the risk of infection here following an outbreak of measles at Disneyland last month,” according to the Houston Chronicle. It’s a far cry from chest-beating xenophobic politicians saying it’s them dern Mexicans that will bring disease over the boarder. “Health officials in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, which borders Texas and New Mexico, are distributing pamphlets with information about measles at airports, bus stations and border crossings. They’re urging anyone with plans to travel to U.S. states where the outbreak has spread to immunize themselves, if they haven’t already.”