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The QueQue

Tru luv’s calling

Last week was marked by bold grasps for personal fulfillment, as indentured public servants from Texas’s far corners abandoned their old-school institutions for partners who grok their deep inner feelings. Along the way, the world shifted just a bit. The announcement that three-term San Angelo Mayor J.W. Lown was resigning his office for his Mexican lover was stunning not because he’s gay, but for the personal intimacy it brought to the oft-abstracted immigration debate: his beloved is not yet documented, and Mayor Lown didn’t want to be aiding and abetting an illegal alien on U.S. territory; nor did he want to be separated while they waited out the paperwork.

In San Antone, word that Express-News columnist Jaime Castillo would be ditching the beleaguered daily was met with less shock than it might have been a few years ago, before newsroom layoffs became commonplace. And no one was surprised by his new partner: Incoming Mayor Julián Castro, whom he’ll be serving as communications director and senior policy analyst.Castro pitched Castillo after his swearing-in May 14, Castillo wrote in his final May 24 column, the first time the topic came up. We’ve no evidence to the contrary, but elopements are usually preceded by some flirtation, if not outright courtship.

Castillo certainly knows most of the City Hall players and might make for a shrewd gatekeeper. But will he be as good at shaping a message as he is at parsing one? It’s not the same skill by any means, which is why PR people generally do not make good reporters.

Two more questions: Will Castillo’s former colleagues treat him with kid gloves — an ideally placed insider they’ll never cross for fear of losing the whisper in their ears — or sharpen the carving knives? And: Did Castro’s team poach their biggest potential critic, or their most passionate public advocate? Castillo wrote largely favorable columns about Castro’s odds and qualifications during the campaign, and the columnist was one of the earliest and most scathing critics of Diane Cibrian, whose poor poll showing contributed to Castro’s run-off-free win.

“For those who question my coverage of the mayoral campaign, I would ask them to examine my entire body of work, not just the past few months,” Castillo wrote in his farewell column. A request directed, we assume, at his former bosses and colleagues as well as the paper’s readers.

Giving away the (wind) farm

Thanks to a little renewable-energy windfall known as wind farms, many West Texas counties are reaping big money these days. And they’re not sending it on to the state to be divided up among school districts the way we’ve long done with oil and natural-gas revenue. The Texas Economic Development Act of 2001 allows these small towns and rural counties to work out detailed tax-abatement schemes with wind companies and keep any negotiated profits for themselves rather than sharing the wealth through the Robin Hood school-funding program.

According to the Associated Press, 44 school districts will take in $248 million over the next 10 years, their share of more than $700 million in tax breaks doled out. But unequal education funding isn’t the only problem with Chapter 313 School Property Tax abatements, according to Dick Lavine, a senior analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

“As job creation, it doesn’t really work very well,” said Lavine.

And it’s true. When one considers how much the various industries are getting in tax breaks per job, wind and nuclear deals start looking not so hot.

In agreements being inked for wind companies, for instance, the state is prepared to extend $1.5 million per job created, according to numbers crunched by the Texas Comptroller’s office. For the two nuke projects on file — including the proposed expansion of CPS Energy’s South Texas Project — the state is offering $1 million for each of the 500 jobs that could result.

Governor Perry and his Bidness Per Usual brunch club are pushing to get a four-year renewal of the school tax code under HB 3676.

While the bill was scheduled to be debated as the QueQue headed to press, Lavine thinks it could be pushed to Wednesday, the last day proposed legislation can be considered in the Senate. All told, the extension of 313 for the next four years would cost the state an estimated $2.4 billion.

Lavine’s analysis of the Comptroller’s data suggests Toyota and Samsung have together provided half of all the jobs created by 313 programs, though they represent a fraction (about 6 percent) of the expense. The break-per-job ratio at San Antonio’s Toyota plant, for instance, represents a “mere” $30,000 per job. Way to keep it roughly respectable, SA!

Driving a Hardberger bargain

At last week’s Council love-in for outgoing Mayor Phil Hardberger, one of the most glowing plaudits came from departing District 8 Councilwoman Diane Cibrian, who told Hardberger that he had been “the greenest mayor in San Antonio history,” a compliment he accepted and boomeranged her way by calling her “the greenest Council person that’s served.”

Those titles were put on the line only moments later when Council had to consider a staff-recommended plan to give Medtronic, Inc. nearly $3.7 million in financial incentives to establish a National Diabetes Therapy Management and Education Center over the Edwards Aquifer contributing zone. The issue carried all the hallmarks of any Development vs. Environmental Protection debate. To be fair, it was a tough call. Medtronic reps have talked about bringing as many as 1,400 new jobs to SA over the next five years. A facility already exists at the site Medtronic plans to use, and it’s likely to be used by another, possibly less welcome, business entity at some point if Medtronic doesn’t move in. Cibrian, the biggest Council advocate for the deal, noted that the spot — the Overlook at the Rim in District 8 — was formerly an industrial quarry, adding that “It’s actually much greener today than it was.”

On the other hand, local environmentalists know that giving up a piece of land near the recharge zone, particularly to a company with long-range expansion plans, could lead to bigger water-supply issues in the future. As AGUA’s Elizabeth Earnley put it: “AGUA is not concerned about a facility that already exists.” They’re worried that this project was set up “in anticipation of satellite developments” in  the area.

With carefully worded deference to water advocates — and District 5’s Lourdes Galvan, the lone Council member to oppose the deal — Hardberger said that he would have preferred to see Medtronic establish their base in a different part of town, but nonetheless supported their decision to set up shop in the aquifer contributing zone. The Council, as usual, dutifully followed his lead

Choice cuts

The hijinks surrounding the Texas Conservative Coalition’s April attempt to defund our local Planned Parenthood affiliate grow mysteriouser the more paperwork we requisition. It seems House Speaker Joe Straus’s office was asking questions as early as February about the four facilities that were providing the abortifacient mifepristone without individual licenses, and the state’s finger-wagging and spanking act appears to be a coverup for their own FUBAR.

Here’s what we already knew: Planned Parenthood had been offering RU-486 at four sites since fall 2004, when the director of TDSHS’s licensing division told them that only their sole in-clinic abortion facility needed a license. Maybe that advice (preserved in a transcript in PP’s, and now TDSHS’s, possession) was no good; maybe things changed (TDSHS isn’t saying, and that director left the department a few months back). But this January, PP Director Jeffrey Hons was tipped off by proposed state rules that something was amiss and promptly filed applications for those locations. The state received them on Friday March 13, according to their press office. Enter the Texas Conservative Coalition, which on Monday March 16 requested that TDSHS investigate whether San Antonio PP clinics were providing abortions without licenses. TDSHS complied, subsequently issued cease-and-desist orders to the clinics, and acted all bad-cop about it. (The license applications are pending.)

But judging by the Department’s own paperwork, the cease-and-desist orders amount to posturing. In late February, DSHS was in communication with Straus’s office. “You had asked whether DSHS had received any complaints like the one you have heard about the unlicensed distribution of the RU-486 chemical,” they wrote to the Speaker’s office. “DSHS Regulatory has informed me they have not.”

Which is not the same as DSHS not knowing that PP was dispensing mifepristone at those four clinics. As a February 19 email between DSHS staff notes, “Now the `San Antonio Planned Parenthood` 2006 report states that five PP clinics were giving out RU-486 pills.” A spring 2008 compliance audit confirmed this state of affairs. The San Antonio PP affiliate operates four family-planning clinics, noted the report (with photos!) and five abortion providers (again: pictures!). The audit reported favorably on PP San Antonio, incidentally, but the point here is this: TDSHS had ample notice that our local PP was providing mifepristone at five clinics, even though they had only one licensed clinic listed in their database. Yet when the Texas Conservative Coalition raised its stink in March, the Department laid the blame squarely on PP’s shoulders. Is this what Republicans mean when they say they want industry to be self-regulating?

As of press time, the four Planned Parenthood clinics were still awaiting their licenses (two months and counting).


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