Sunday, February 11, 2007


Stat of the week: I have worked for the Texas Legislature for one-quarter of my lifetime. Last Thursday was my 8-year anniversary. I think I’m just starting to get the hang of it.

Last week was the first really busy week of public hearings before the House and Senate budget-writing committees. In the coming weeks, the real budgeting work--and the real long hours--will begin.

Two years ago, during the 79th Legislative Session, I had to work every single day during February and worked overtime every single weekday. This time, I’ve managed to have a couple of Saturdays off. Let’s hope that continues. I’ve even been able to make it home early enough on weeknights to catch my TV shows. I have a feeling that is going to end, this week. So, now I will bid a tentative farewell to Heroes, Veronica Mars, The Office, Scrubs, and 30 Rock [“jazz that you laugh at“]. Although . . . one of the few job perks bequeathed to yours truly is the sweet cable hook-up in my office. Lest you think I’m an irresponsible steward of the State’s resources, consider that I would likely be surpassing hour number 12 of my workday [at a bargain rate for my services, I might add] by the time I would consider tuning in to primetime TV programming.

Not much interesting stuff is going on with the Legislature this week, so the focus has been on the Governor. He gave his "State of the State" address, last week, and revealed his budget proposal.

You Bet Your Assets
As part of his budget proposal, Gov. Rick Perry laid out a scheme to sell the Texas Lottery for $14 to $20 billion for a 40-year private operating concession. The idea is that the proceeds would be “invested at a conservative return of 9%” per year, and the interest earnings would be used to fund cancer research, public education, and a health insurance premium assistance program for the state’s uninsured [the state employee retirement system trust fund earned an 8.8% return last year, so I guess that’s where the Gov is getting the 9%]. Illinois is currently considering doing the same. The big up-front payment seems attractive, and the benefiting causes are noble; but the devil is in the details. The state lottery is currently operated by state employees. Would these employees continue to run the games? What kind of input and oversight would the state have in the operation of the games to ensure the public trust? Who will be charged with managing and investing the new trust fund? None of these details have been revealed as far as I know. A deal like this should be approached with caution and warrants in-depth analysis. With only 106 days left in the session, I don’t believe there is adequate time to even consider this measure. And I imagine it’s not a popular idea among the anti-gambling conservatives in the House, who already don’t like the fact that we have become dependent on state-run gaming to support public education. They would much rather "stay with the devil we know" and maintain a modicum of control over the operation of the lottery.

And then there was the Governor’s “executive order” that would require all 11 - 12 year old girls to receive the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine before entering sixth grade. Here’s yet another idea that’s not playing well with Perry’s conservative pals [mainly because it will encourage kids to have the sex, just like providing condoms in school would]. Some Democrats are actually applauding the order. Sure, it’s another proposal that appears noble at face value. But when you think about who really benefits from this initiative [Merck], you become a tad skeptical about the Governor’s sudden concern about our female Texans' lady parts.

By now, the Ted Nugent rebel flag story is ancient history.

An Inconvenient Truth?
In Austin news, Mayor Will Wynn unveiled a ambitious [if not naïve] plan to cut the city’s carbon dioxide emissions to “almost nothing” by the year 2020. Here‘s the plan:

•Power 100 percent of city facilities with renewable energy by 2012.
•Reduce carbon dioxide emissions from entire city fleet by 2020 through use of electric power and nonpetroleum fuels.
•Achieve 700 megawatts in savings through energy efficiency and conservation by 2020.
•Meet 30 percent of all energy needs through renewable resources by 2020.
•Commit to lowest-emission technologies for any new power plants and carbon dioxide reductions on existing plants.
•Boost energy efficiency in new homes and other buildings.
Require energy efficiency improvements in existing homes and buildings when sold.

Clean air is great and all, but that last one's the kicker. How much will it cost to upgrade older homes at the time of sale? Who will be held responsible for making the improvements? How will the cost of improvements affect the value of older homes [like mine!!]?

From an economic development standpoint: Would businesses reconsider Austin as a place to locate their operations when faced with greater facilities costs?

The plan sounds pretty expensive. I'm not too jazzed about picking up the tab. Maybe the goals should be scaled back a bit and given a more reasonable time table. Hopefully, the city plan will provide allowances for the citizens of Austin to exhale without restrictions.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Game Over

The 2006 NFL season as come to an end. It's always bittersweet.

Who would have thought the Colts would be on the plus side of the takeaways? Who would have thought the Colts would be the team to establish a hard-nosed rushing attack in relentless Miami rain?

After the shaky start--Bears returning the opening kickoff for a TD and the early Colts turnovers--the Colts put together an impressive game. It was the same relentless no-huddle attack that rallied Indy back to a victory against the Patriots a couple of weeks ago. It was a maligned defense that pulled it together in the playoffs to become more than the sum of their parts. And it was excellent coaching. Now, the question is: do we have the makings of a new NFL dynasty?

They'd better look out for the Tennessee Titans next year. And don't count out the Patriots. They were able to beat the Chargers in the playoffs with a couple of wide receivers who were washing dishes only a month or so before joining the team [I'm exaggerating a little]. They are a few strategic trades from becoming really damn good again.

I have low expectations for the Cowboys. Have they found anyone crazy/dumb enough to take the head coaching job, yet? I'm not sure I even care at this point. It's time to close the book on football until next August [yeah, I know the draft is in there somewhere].


Sunday, February 04, 2007

In Observance of the Sabbath

Super Bowl Sunday is finally here. Since I'm a big fan of football [especially NFL football], you'd think I would be pretty pumped about the big game. But that's not the case. With the exception of the Cowboys Super Bowls of the 90's, I've never been very excited in anticipation of the "World Championship" match. Maybe it's the dead week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl that kills the momentum. Maybe it's because in the last few years, it seems like the AFC championship game is the real league championship game. Or maybe it's because the Super Bowl is really a rock concert where they try to sell you stuffed-crust pizza and auto insurance with the occasional interruption for a football game.

The premier of new TV commercials gets as much hype as the big game itself. Most times [for me anyway], the ads don't live up to the hype. For several years now, the commercials have been pretty damn weak. I think 2007 has to be the year the product pimps make good. I have high expectations.

I'm mostly looking forward to an NFL game during which I do not have to see/hear that damn Nissan truck commercial--featuring Black Sabbath's "Iron Man"--twice per commercial break, at least thirty times per game. Don't get me wrong. I love me some Sabbath. And, no matter how sick of that commercial I get, the end of that signature guitar intro always elicits an involuntary "blick-um-blick-um-blick-um" drumming motion from my arms [which is kinda embarassing in the presence of polite company]. But I'm ready for a new song. I don't want Nissan to kill "Iron Man" for me the way that Burger King almost killed funk and soul back in the 90's. Please pick a new song, Nissan.

In a few mintutes, I will be heading out to a Super Bowl party. In my estimation, there will only be three or four people out of ten who care about the game, and about ten out of ten who care about the commercials [and the performance by the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince]. In fact the commercials and the half time show may be the only part of the presentation when everyone pays attention. But, in the grand scheme, does the game really matter? Super Bowl Sunday has become as much a national day of celebration as the Fourth of July. Football brings us together. Food and folks and beer make it a national holiday [maybe someday].

Stevie Nicks just performed on the pregame show. Are you ready for some football?

More after the game [?].