The State of Texas: May 4, 2015
If you noticed a bunch of Chuck Norris jokes on the Twitters this morning, that’s because our most beloved Texas Ranger was the primo guest at Texas’s National Day of Prayer breakfast. The Austin American-Statesman has a few quick visuals from the breakfast, including Chuck Norris bowing down to the only force stronger than him—the Lord.
Shots Fired – Details are still coming out, but two gunmen are dead following an exchange of fire outside a well-attended event in Garland hosted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which put on a competition to see who could draw the “best” picture of Muhammad. According to ABC News, “one of the suspects in the attack has been identified as Elton Simpson, an Arizona man who was previously the subject of a terrorism investigation.” A local ISD security guard was wounded after the gunmen opened fire; he was treated at the hospital for minor injuries. Police opened fire on the gunmen, killing both, although it was suspected that they might have also been carrying explosives of some kind. The incident will likely continue fueling Christian and Muslim feuds. Earlier this year, thousands protested a Muslim conference in Garland, and this latest event was hosted by New York-based Pamela Geller, whose anti-Muslim “initiative” has drawn sharp critcism. On the flip side, there are reports indicating that someone operating Muslim-geared Twitter accounts may have foreshadowed—then praised—the attacks.
Detour – In Texas, all roads lead to mass failure, at least where regional transportation projects are concerned. On Friday, the Dallas Morning News went full speed with a look at how regional mobility authorities (RMAs) have pretty much failed by every metric. “The RMAs have spent at least $220 million on overhead costs, and not all RMAs have been audited, according to the News’ analysis. They’ve spent about $864 million in state and federal funds, despite the Texas Legislature originally hoping the projects would be financed almost exclusively by tolls.” As the Morning News demonstrates in clear and painful detail, “Some have completed no roadway projects at all. Others have spent millions on projects that critics have said are unnecessary, such as planning for a toll road through a residential neighborhood of Brownsville. In some cases, RMAs have financed projects by siphoning off tax dollars from elsewhere, not by using tolls.” How has this boondoggle been possible? There are a number of factors, but the Morning News certainly seems confident in who might be to blame for the traffic direction—law firms lobbying on behalf of the RMAs. Unfortunately, the RMAs siphoning money from the state for these projects “don’t ask the firms to separate bills for legislative work from lobbying because it’s not required by state law. As a result, the public can’t pinpoint how much the local transportation agencies are paying for lobbying.” In other words, traffic—road, legislative, or otherwise—as usual in Texas.
Singin’ in the Rain – It’s not your imagination; Texas weather has been wetter than average. “Statewide, estimates from the National Weather Service indicate the first four months of this year have been the fifth wettest since 1895 and the wettest since 1997,” according to the Associated Press. “So far this year, estimates show the state has gotten 11.5 inches of precipitation, or about 160 percent of the normal 7.1 inches. March and April each provided 200 percent of the state’s normal rainfall.” If that wasn’t enough to wet your whistle, thanks to El Niño, summer is expected to be the coolest it’s been since 2008. Not that anyone needs it pointed out, but this is a long-delayed godsend for Texans still going through the drought. As the piece notes, “Nearly 16 percent of the state is in the top three driest categories [and] two percent of the state … [remains] in the driest, or exceptional, category.” But just think happy, wet thoughts. Also, stay away from California.
The Doctor Is Kinda In – The Longview News-Journal takes another uncomfortable look at the decline of rural medical services as budgets and resources continue to be directed toward the larger urban areas. “Across Texas, 10 rural hospitals have closed since 2012,” with five of those in east or northeast Texas. The story in Texas isn’t unique, as rural hospitals have been shutting down nationally, and “the pace has been accelerating, with more closures in the past two years than in the previous 10 combined.” As the story documents, “Of those [rural hospitals] at risk, nearly 70 percent are in states that, like Texas, have declined to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, although some experts are hesitant to draw a cause-and-effect correlation.” Not all the experts, however. “The effects of the federal health care law were the prime factor leading East Texas Medical Center to close three of its 12 rural hospitals last year,” according to one hospital executive. While urban hospitals have been shutting down as well, it’s the rural areas that lack alternatives. It’s yet another growing pain as Texas continues to settle in as a state with primarily urban centers. As Representative Warren Love commented, we’re suffering from our own Bigger in Texas syndrome. “Everything has evolved to the big gets bigger and the littlest disappears,” he said.