The State of Texas: January 21, 2015
Video of the Day
Yes, college is a time for experimentation in the bedroom, but once in a while a student will really nail it. Case in point is Rice University senior David Nichol who turned his dorm room into a giant plastic ball pit. Creating a kids’s playground for himself has been an education, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Nichol leaned a thing or two about importing as well as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
Texas By The Numbers
Spending 101 – Number of school districts that spent money cleaning campuses because of the Ebola scare: 9. Total amount spent: $117,000. Amount by Belton Independent School District, 120 miles away from Dallas: $35,813.85. Amount it received in waivers from the state: $9,200. Amount Highland Park paid in overtime for cleaning: $7,200.
Death List – Number of people executed under Governor Rick Perry’s tenure: 279. Year with highest number of executions: 2000. Number of executions that year: 40. Lowest year: 2014: Number of executions that year: 10.
A Grand Old Party – It’s now official; we have a new governor and lieutenant governor. Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick were sworn in yesterday before a day full of events that included barbecue, parades, and fancy parties. During his speech, Governor Abbott gave some indication of his tenure, saying he “pledged to build more roads, secure the border and ‘speed up our needed water projects.’ Abbott also said he will ‘ensure that we keep Texas No. 1 in the nation for job creation,’ which he said will require improving the state’s education system,” according to the Texas Tribune. Patrick’s speech, which took a slightly different tone, ”felt like a sermon, perhaps because he began with a profession of faith,” writes Texas Monthly’s own Erica Grieder in her recap. “His goal, as he put it, is to be ‘the best lieutenant governor in the history of Texas,’ and re-upped his campaign pledges to secure the border, lower property and business taxes, and advance educational reforms such as school choice, among other things.” The real excitement, however, came with with the barbecue picnic, of which there was “four tons of brisket, one ton of smoked chicken breast and 4,500 pounds of potato salad,” according to TWC News. Texas Monthly’s barbecue man, Daniel Vaughn, has a wonderful interview with the man responsible for cooking all the inaugural deliciousness, Eddie Deen. Later that evening, it was party time, with “three different musical acts — along with six cash bars” at the black-tie Future of Texas Ball, writes the Texas Tribune. Oh, and Patrick learned, too, he will be “expecting his fourth grandchild” this year. A Mazel Tov night all around, even if Patrick did make clear his affinity for being a Christian.
Money Talks, Donations Advise – Now in office, it appears Patrick will be guided by both his faith and the pocketbook of his closest friends. Patrick’s “virtually unprecedented … citizen advisory council” is comprised of “some of the state’s most active political donors, the committee includes some of its most powerful private sector interests, groups that already heavily lobby the Legislature and rake in millions in state contracts,” according to a fabulous report from the Texas Tribune. “Companies directly connected to people appointed by Patrick to his council spent at least $1.5 million lobbying during the 2013 legislative session, according to Ethics Commission records, which provide the amount of contracts for individual lobbyists in ranges only. As of the first week of 2015, they have reported between $990,000 and $1.8 million in combined lobby contracts for the upcoming legislative session.” Even better is that “[the six separate boards] will meet on its own schedule, [said Patrick], and their recommendations will not be made public.”
Debtors’ Prison – Locking up a lot of people for a very long time is expensive. And like prisoners learning to make shivs or hooch, the corrections department is improvising. “From 2007 to 2011, Texas prisons have seen a 24 percent increase in health care spending per inmate, according to a more recent study by the Pew Research Center,” reports the Dallas Morning News. “The July 2014 report looked at cost data for 50 states and found spending increased by an average of 10 percent.” To curb some of the costs, Texas is trying out things like “telemedicine,” which “uses technology to connect prisoners, who are often housed in remote areas, with medical experts throughout the state.” The technology, “saved the Texas Department of Criminal Justice $780 million from 1994 to 2008. Those savings are set to increase as the number of telemedicine consultations rises. About 100,000 telemedicine encounters take place in Texas state prisons each year.” Unfortunately, even that is not enough to deal with our aging prison population, say nothing of complaints from prison advocacy groups, which “as filed dozens of lawsuits against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and its medical contractors citing medical negligence.”
Oil, Soon To Spoil – Talk of the oil boom turning into a bust is more of a reality with every new day. As the New York Times reports, “every day, oil companies are decommissioning rigs and announcing layoffs.” The latest example of that would be Baker Hughes, which “will lay off 7,000 mostly in the first quarter of 2015, due to dropping oil prices and drilling slowdown,” according to KETX. Now that “small firms that lease equipment have fallen behind in their payments,” the trickle-down effect is even starting to affect unrelated areas with “businesses and workers are getting ready for the worst. As the Times story notes, “a Mexican restaurant has started a Sunday brunch to expand its revenues beyond dinner.” Some people have paid attention to history, which saw the last boom and bust replace a Rolls-Royce dealership with a tortilla factory. “Dexter Allred, the general manager of a local oil field service company, began farming alfalfa hay on the side some years ago in the event that oil prices declined and work dried up. He was taking a cue from his grandfather, Homer Alf Swinson, an oil field mechanic, who opened a coin-operated carwash in 1968 — just in case.”
Whata Idea – The food barbarians are banging at the gate of our state’s most beloved food chain: Whataburger. Apparently, “a school nutritionist from Pharr, Texas [has] launched a Change.org petition asking Whataburger to offer a plant-based entrée, like a veggie burger,” writes CultureMap Dallas. What’s worse is that the petition has “garnered 650-plus signatures in four days.” Apparently, nothing is sacred, with burger joints around the country giving in to the vegetarian terrorist’s demand. To be fair, salad munchers have limited options at the old Orange-and-White. “Whataburger’s non-meat options are currently limited to a side garden salad.” Perhaps the worst part of this news is that Whataburger appears to be listening. “Villarreal is heartened by the fact that he’s already received a short response from a Whataburger representative, who told him that the chain was open to new ideas.”