Closing tax loopholes
Last week, QueQue got all sideways over this slicing and dicing of education and social-services budgets, suggesting maybe lawmakers should be following the parallel track of exploring new revenue creation. Yes, spending the Rainy Day Fund — all of it — but also ending corporate tax loopholes and giveaways. Yesterday a small beam of light broke through the stormy Austin skies when the House Ways and Means Committee approved Mike Villarreal’s House Bill 658 repealing a subchapter of the state tax code that has allowed companies getting property tax breaks from cities or counties (after the state ended the ability of school districts to offer such) to get additional tax relief from the state. It was established as a short-term measure for those businesses already setting up in Texas, but was allowed to linger. In a prepared release, Villarreal said, “This is a first step towards closing tax loopholes so we can continue funding our children’s education.” Granted, the estimated $10 million the measure would drop in Texas’ bucket isn’t much measured against the full $27-billion deficit huffing down on us, but it would, Villarreal said, send 2,000 college students to school under TEXAS Grant, a program that current budget proposals totally defund. Villarreal is also pushing to establish a commission to comb through the state’s tax code for other possible savings.
Guns (and booze) on campus
State Senator Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, all but promised staff and students at Texas A&M University-San Antonio last week that they will soon have the right to carry guns on campus.
A bill filed by Wentworth would allow students 21 and over who have concealed-carry permits to bring their guns into college buildings and classrooms. Wentworth was joined by Senator Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who told the crowd he would ultimately vote for the measure. And Wentworth predicted that the bill would sail through the Lege this time around. He filed a similar bill last session that stalled behind intense voter ID debate. While he may know guns, Wentworth’s knowledge of the college scene is limited. Asked by Chris Matthews on Hardball last month whether “booze and guns” were a good combo, he told the host that no alcohol was allowed on college campuses in Texas. Adamant about the subject on air, Wentworth later admitted to the Austin American-Statesman that suds were barred at least when he went to school … in 1971.
And while the students and staff in the room Thursday night were split over the measure, many in academia disagree with Wentworth’s notion, saying college and guns could be a volatile mix. Last week, University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa weighed in, sending a letter to Governor Rick Perry saying many under the UT umbrella — the state’s largest university system — don’t want guns on campus. “`P`arents, students, faculty, administrators, and institutional law enforcement have all expressed to me their concerns that the presence of concealed handguns on campus would contribute to a less-safe environment, not a safer one.”
Texas earns “C” for sex trafficking
We may be failing by every other measure as the Lege reconvenes this year, but the state pulled off a “mediocre ‘C’ grade” for its legislative efforts to combat sex trafficking in the state. Specifically, Shared Hope International, one of the larger advocacy groups dedicated to ending sexual slavery in the world, described Bexar County and San Antonio as “an overwhelmed but sympathetic system” fighting sex trafficking of minors. While the report blames limited resources for some of our shortcomings, it also points out that the non-mandatory trainings provided for officers on how to identify and respond to child victims suffer from low attendance. And while a progressive philosophy of “restorative justice” has grown up around the local juvenile justice system, there are no appropriate shelters to take child victims to — when police aren’t mistakenly charging the kids as criminals for curfew violations and the like, that is. In essence, Shared Hope’s report states that child victims of sexual trafficking are still “being pulled deeper into the justice system rather than rescued and restored.”
State Representative Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, is stepping into that gap by co-authoring a bill that would make compelling prostitution of a minor a first-degree felony and extend the statute of limitations on trafficking crimes.
CPS-NRG arm twist
As city-owned CPS Energy re-enters talks with NRG Energy about possibly buying more deeply into the proposed nuclear power plant expansion they only recently largely extracted themselves from, local and Austin-based activists are fighting a sense of regret and déjà vu. “We wish CPS would have learned the lesson that it should have learned a year ago. I wish we didn’t have to go through this again,” Cindy Weehler, of the anti-nuclear group Energía Mía, said at a Tuesday press conference in front of City Hall.
After getting clearance from the CPS Energy Board of Trustees last week, CEO Doyle Beneby is planning to entertain proposals that could once again throw CPS and NRG into deeper partnership, priming the city to either further invest in the group’s two proposed South Texas Project reactors or agree to a long-term power purchasing deal.
Just a year ago, CPS and NRG’s equal partnership in the proposed nukes imploded in a $32-billion lawsuit amid allegations of fraud and manipulation on the part of NRG. “The history is so messy, so why would this even be considered again?” Weehler asked.
Karen Hadden, director for Texas clean-energy group SEED Coalition, said she has approached city council members and found “no excitement” about Beneby’s move. “Our concern is these talks just came up so quickly. We’re worried that serious arm-twisting could occur to push this thing through,” Hadden said. •