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McBee to represent UT at the Capitol


Barry McBee, first assistant attorney general of The State of Texas, has been appointed vice chancellor for governmental relations in the University of Texas System. The appointment, announced today (April 7) by Chancellor Mark G. Yudof, is effective June 12.

As first assistant attorney general, McBee serves as the second highest ranking attorney and as the agency's chief administrator under the State Attorney General. He was appointed to the post by current Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in 2002. As vice chancellor for governmental relations at UT, McBee will represent the Board of Regents and the UT System in its interactions with the Legislature and other state agencies. Prior to joining the attorney general's office, McBee served as chief of staff for Rick Perry in both the Governor's and the Lt. Governor's offices. He also served as deputy commissioner of agriculture from 1991 to 1995 and was appointed by then-Governor George W. Bush to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission where he served as chairman from 1995 to 1998.

Feedback on tax plan mostly positive
Few qualms with Sharp's tax reform plan as special session approaches

John Sharp

With just 10 days until lawmakers return to Austin for a special session on tax reform, there are some grumblings about the tax reform commission's proposal on the table, but for the most part it is being embraced. Supporters of the plan, which was unveiled about a week ago by former state comptroller John Sharp (pictured) and a committee appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, now include powerful and diverse allies such as the Greater Houston Partnership, the Texas Association of Builders and the Texas School Alliance, which represents 29 of the state's largest school districts.

Most pundits shy away from predictions that the proposal - which aims to rework the tax structure on which school districts rely for funding - will pass both chambers handily and as-is, but judging from the feedback so far there don't appear to be any major sticking points that could hold up tax reform this time. Lawmakers failed to overhaul the school finance system in the regular session of 2005 and in three special sessions in 2004 and 2005. They must resolve the issue soon to beat a June 1 deadline set by the Texas Supreme Court. A court ruling more than a year ago, which was later upheld by the state supreme court, concluded that the current method for financing schools is unconstitutional and amounts to a statewide property tax.

Sharp has accepted an invitation from the House to outline the commission's proposals and to answer members' questions about its recommendations. The presentation will take place on the floor of the House of Representatives on April 17, the first day of the special session, immediately upon adjournment and is expected to last until 5 pm.

Special Session Roundup: People to watch

All eyes will be on lawmakers when the Texas Legislature convenes for a special session on April 17, but an untold number of hours will be put in by non-elected officials between now and the session's end to ensure that Texas adopts the best possible tax reform plan. This week, the Texas Government Insider is highlighting five people who will undoubtedly emerge as key players behind the scenes at the Capitol:

Bruce Gibson, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst's Chief of Staff

Bruce Gibson

Gibson has had a voice at the Capitol for more than 25 years. After graduating from UT Law School in 1978, Gibson returned to his hometown of Godley to practice law and engage in farming and business pursuits. In 1980, Gibson was elected to the Texas House of Representatives, where he served six terms. During his 12 years in the Texas House, Gibson served on the Conference Committee on Tort Reform, Workers Compensation Reform, and School Finance. He authored and passed legislation establishing the Texas Ethics Commission, and the Finance Commission of Texas reform legislation. He also authored the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation sunset legislation. In 1992, Gibson was appointed executive assistant to Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock. In 1994, he returned to the business world, first as president and chief executive officer of the Texas Chamber of Commerce, then as vice president of Houston Industries Incorporated, and finally as senior vice president of Reliant Energy. In 2003, Gibson re-entered public service as chief of staff to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Nancy Fisher, House Speaker Tom Craddick's Chief of Staff

Nancy Fisher

In October 2003, Speaker Tom Craddick named Nancy Fisher, his legislative director, as his chief of staff. Fisher began her legislative career early as an assistant sergeant-at-arms for the Texas House while she attended the University of Texas at Austin where she received her Bachelor of Arts in 1980. Fisher served as Rep. Bill Messer's administrative assistant, was Calendars Committee clerk and later became senior legislative assistant to Gov. William P. Clements. She was also the deputy executive director of the Texas Racing Commission. Born in Abilene, Fisher moved to Austin to attend college and stayed to pursue a career in state government.

Mark Borskey and Victoria Ford, Gov. Perry's legislative liaisons

Victoria FordMark Borskey

Gov. Rick Perry in February 2005 named Mark Borskey and Victoria Ford as deputy directors of the legislative division, instantly catapulting them into the upper echelon of all legislative activities. Borskey, a University of Texas graduate who served as chief of staff to state Rep. Mike Krusee, had served as the House liaison since 2002. He previously worked as campaign research director for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, special assistant to the commissioner of the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission and regional research analyst for the Republican National Committee.

Ford, who previously served as the assistant director for Perry's Office of Budget, Planning and Policy, also works to promote and advance the governor's policy agenda in the Legislature. Ford joined the governor's administration as policy director for health services in 2002 and later as assistant director of the office of budget, planning and policy. She previously worked as a legislative assistant to state Sen. Frank Madla, and as legislative director for state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. Ford received a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Jenna Watts, head of TEA's governmental relations

Jenna Watts

The Texas Education Agency, like all state agencies, is prohibited from lobbying the Legislature, but onlookers can still expect the agency to play a major role in the upcoming special session. When lawmakers have questions about the public school system - and they undoubtedly will - they will seek answers from Jenna Watts and her staff at the TEA. Watts may be called to testify on occasion, but other than that she and the TEA will work from the sidelines, handing legislators the data they will use to make decisions that will affect school finance. Watts has been entrenched in Texas politics for more than a decade as a legislative aide and then a lobbyist. She joined TEA's governmental relations team in 2000.

Emergency election in Delay's district not expected

Tom Delay

A special election to fill out U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's (pictured) current term won't happen until November unless the congressman turns in his formal resignation by close of business today. Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday ruled out calling an emergency election for May to fill Delay's seat, which represents Sugar Land near Houston. His replacement is expected to be elected in November.

Excitement growing over unique WCIT events

When the renowned World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) lands in Austin May 1-5 it will offer a cornucopia of interesting events, but two in particular are really raising eyebrows throughout the state.

One of the events, the Lone Star Plaza Party, Wednesday, May 3, from 7 p.m. to midnight at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, will welcome delegates from 80 countries to the Live Music Capital of the World via a Texas-sized celebration with Texas BBQ, Texas beer and wine, and Texas music. More than 30 Texas artists present a musical tour de force under the direction of Stephen Bruton, Grammy nominated producer and WCIT 2006 Musical Director. Tickets, which are available to the public, are $45 and can be purchased online.

Another event generating plenty of buzz is the Innovation Exchange, which will be a two-day event that will showcase the latest innovations in technology from around the world. Click here to see all of what WCIT 2006 - dubbed the Superbowl of technology events - has to offer.

TTC route now open to public scrutiny

Residents, businesses, grassroots organizations and local leaders across the state are scrutinizing the proposed path of the Trans-Texas Corridor and a lengthy environmental report, both of which were released this week and made available online. More than 50 public hearings will be held in cities along I-35 beginning in June. According to the report, nearly 1 million Texans live in the study area. At least 46 threatened or endangered plant and animal species call it home. More than 2,400 square miles of prime farmland, 13 square miles of parks and 63 landfills also are potentially in the path of the proposed toll road, which Texas Department of Transportation officials want to open by 2015. The private sector consortium Cintra-Zachry has been hired to plan the $6 billion highway.

The Cost of Public Education in Texas

A recent study, A Cost Analysis for Texas Public Schools, has been released to help lawmakers, parents, and taxpayers understand what goods and services are purchased with education dollars and how these purchases contribute to the educational process. The study, covering the 2003-04 school year, details what was purchased, how expenditures vary across different types of districts, and how expenditures have changed since 2001-02. A Cost Analysis for Texas Public Schools is posted online. The study was prepared by Moak, Casey & Associates, LLP, and sponsored by the Texas Association of School Boards, Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas School Alliance, Texas Association of School Business Officials, and the Equity Center.

Report: Schools must increase anti-pollution measures

A report from the Austin-based environmental group Environmental Defense, titled "A Breath of Fresh Air: Reducing Diesel Pollution Inside Texas School Buses," recommends installing pollution-reducing equipment on many of Texas' 35,000 school buses. The report urges that the state, not individual districts, pay for the improvements through its clean air projects fund. The cash balance in the state's general revenue account for clean air projects is $104 million, according to the state comptroller's office.

Improving emissions of school buses is a growing trend across the U.S. School districts nationwide, including dozens in Texas, have retrofitted buses, and Congress appropriated $7 million to the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean School Bus USA program for 2006. In May, voters in the Eanes school district West of Austin will decide whether to approve about $3 million in bonds to pay for 40 new buses, which would replace vehicles that have become outdated.

Austin seeks state's permission for appraisal changes

Brewster McCracken

Some Austin City Council members want the authority from the Texas Legislature to slow the annual increases in the taxable value of homes. The proposal being floated by Council Members Brewster McCracken, Lee Leffingwell and Betty Dunkerley would allow local governments to lower the property appraisal cap from 10 percent per year to as low as 5 percent. Under state law, the assessed value of a home - the amount a homeowner is taxed on - now cannot increase more than 10 percent per year, even if the property's county-appraised market value exceeds that threshold. The cap, which applies only to owner-occupied homes, is intended to control how quickly a homeowner's tax bill rises as appraisals jump, particularly in hot real estate markets such as Austin.

"Homeowners are being taxed out of their neighborhoods because of rising appraisals," said McCracken (pictured). "By reducing the appraisal cap, we can protect homeowners while still being fiscally responsible."

NCTCOG says $10M in transportation funding available

The North Central Texas Council of Governments has announced that more than $10 million in funding is available to local cities from two transportation projects. Approximately $7 million in Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) funds is available for clean refuse hauler projects to aid in the purchase, replacement, repower, or retrofit of refuse hauler vehicles that operate within the Dallas/Fort Worth ozone nonattainment area. Application deadline is May 5. Approximately $4.2 million is available for public entities that have adopted the Clean Fleet Vehicle Policy Model Ordinance. A call for projects will be issued later this month with a deadline of June 30.

Questions about gift disclosure thrust into limelight

Lon Burnam

Texas Ethics Commission members Ross Fischer, Francisco Hernandez, and R. R. "Tripp" Davenport, III are calling on the Legislature to clarify whether the disclosure of a gift on a financial statement should be accompanied by a value. State law requires officials to file personal financial disclosure statements including a description of gifts they get in excess of $250. But the commissioners listed above said they were forced to decide, because of the way the law is written, that describing such a gift simply as "check" is enough of an explanation - no amount is necessary, regardless of whether the check was made out for $251 or $1 million. State Rep. Lon Burnam (pictured) of Fort Worth filed suit Wednesday against the Texas Ethics Commission in an effort to get a court ruling on what constitutes a "description" of a political gift.

Frisco backs out of SH 121 toll plan

The Frisco City Council rescinded support this week for the expansion of 11 miles of State Highway 121 as a toll road through Collin County. The vote sets the stage for a showdown with state officials who are thinking about granting a tollway contract to a private company, but Texas Department of Transportation officials said the project will proceed, regardless. If necessary, TxDOT said it will take the matter to the Regional Transportation Council for mediation. Frisco officials expressed misgivings because part of the toll revenue would be used to fund road projects throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth region.

Librarians included in proposed 65 percent rule

School librarians will be included when calculating instructional costs under proposed revisions to the state's school financial rating system, which is designed to provide the public with a clear look at the spending practices of each school district, said Commissioner of Education Shirley J. Neeley. Draft rules for the revised School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST), including an indicator that focuses on instructional costs, have been posted on the Texas Education Agency website. The rule will be posted to the Texas Register website on April 21 and the official 30-day public comment period begins then.

Dallas to gain federal fraud task force

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State and other agencies this week announced the creation of task forces in 10 major U.S. cities - including Dallas - to combat the growing problems of document fraud and immigration benefits fraud. The new "Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces" will build upon the success of an existing document and benefit fraud task force in the Washington, D.C. / northern Virginia area. Led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the task forces build on existing partnerships to bring investigators together from a variety of agencies with expertise in different aspects of document and benefit fraud. These agents will partner with U.S. Attorney's Offices to formulate a comprehensive approach in targeting criminal organizations behind these schemes as well as the ineligible beneficiaries of such fraud. Any case where a sufficient nexus to terrorism is discovered will be referred to the Joint Terrorism Task Forces.


Rep. Isett names replacement

State Rep. Carl Isett of Lubbock named his wife, Cheri (pictured), to replace him in the upcoming special session. Isett, a commander with the U.S. Navy Reserve, is in Kuwait supporting military operations in Iraq. Cheri Isett graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in accounting and has worked with the local Republican Party for more than two decades, making her an effective representative, according to her husband.

Shapleigh pushes for med school funds

Now that legislators helped Texas A&M University find money to open its South Texas pharmacy school this fall, state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso said this week that he wants similar help to get a Texas Tech medical school in his hometown open on schedule. In a letter sent to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, Shapleigh asked him to contact Texas Tech University officials and request that they rearrange the budget to provide money for hiring faculty for the four-year school in El Paso. Texas Tech University officials for more than a year have been seeking at least $38.5 million from the state to continue expansion of the El Paso facility from a two-year to a full four-year medical campus. The school is scheduled to take four-year students by 2008.

Perry to feds: State should lead disaster response


Texas Gov. Rick Perry (pictured) disagreed with a proposed change to the White House's federal disaster response plan Monday, saying a modification allowing the military to intervene without local consent would endanger human life. Flanked by U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, Perry said the federal government should not have the power to assume primary control of response by firefighters, police officers and emergency personnel during catastrophes such as hurricanes. The recommendation was among more than 100 made in the report "The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned," released at the end of February. Perry has welcomed some of the recommendations, such as improving communications between federal, state and local officials during disasters.

Schools must deal with cost of walkouts

Last week's student walkouts to protest proposed immigration policies will cost Texas school districts millions of dollars in attendance-related funding and overtime pay for their security and police personnel. While the walkouts will have a financial impact on next year's budgets, they aren't expected to be too much of a financial hassle for districts individually, most administrators said. Texas funds school districts based on average daily attendance, not enrollment, so campuses must monitor and report their attendance to the Texas Education Agency to figure out how much money they will need to educate students. TEA officials said, on average, a student's absence will cost a district about $25 per day.

UH hikes tuition by 10 percent

University of Houston students will pay nearly 10 percent more in tuition and fees for the coming school year, regents decided Monday. The tuition increase will bring the cost of attending UH-Main to $2,926 a semester for Texas residents taking a full-time load of 12 units, up from $2,663 this semester. By agreeing to the plan, the regents followed the governing boards of the Texas A&M University and University of Texas systems, which recently approved their own similar increases. Campus leaders have defended higher rates as necessary to ensure quality in the face of shrinking state subsidies.


Marlins "serious" about San Antonio

Jeffrey Loria (pictured), owner of the Florida Marlins Major League Baseball team, told the Associated Press recently that discussions with San Antonio officials about the possibility of relocating the team to the Alamo City are serious. San Antonio has been trying to lure the team and county officials have offered to put up $200 million toward an estimated $300 million ballpark if voters approve extending a tax on hotel and car rentals.

UT gets $2.3M to make glaucoma tests

A research team at the University of Texas has received $2.3 million to develop a better glaucoma test that could help prevent blindness caused by the disease. The National Eye Institute funneled the five-year grant to a team led by H. Grady Rylander III, a physician and UT biomedical engineering professor. About 3 million Americans have glaucoma, though half might not know it because the disease progresses so slowly and painlessly, UT says. By the time doctors detect the disease, substantial damage may have occurred. Rylander and his team hope to use an imaging machine to replace current exams before permanent damage is done.

Projects in the pipeline

Mary Scott Nabers

By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.

SPI's Research Division is constantly scouring the state for business opportunities in the public sector and uncovers dozens every day. Click here for this week's hot opportunities.

Barsumian to join SPI

Lisa Barsumian

Longtime legislative guru Lisa Barsumian is heading back to Texas. Barsumian, who has spent the past year and a half as the New Mexico Legislative Council Service's research analyst, will join the ranks of Strategic Partnerships, Inc. as a senior consultant. Barsumian has more than 20 years of experience with the Texas Legislature. Prior to her work in New Mexico, Barsumian spent two decades as a legislative and government affairs consultant in Austin, working primarily with corporate, education, and trade and professional association clients such as the Texas Municipal League and the Texas Cable and Telecommunications Association.

Sunset staff releases agency reports

The Sunset Advisory Commission staff has released the reports on the Texas Animal Health Commission, the Texas Real Estate Commission and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. The reports are available online.

Report on homeland security funds compiled

Ever wonder how much - and through what channels - homeland security funding is being funneled to Texas? Strategic Partnerships, Inc. has answers. SPI's research division has just completed a report on homeland security that outlines the flow of funds. Contact Reagan Weil at 512-531-3917 or rweil@spartnerships.com for details.

Houston ups ante for electric firms

Mayor Bill White launched a new campaign this week aimed at helping Houstonians make better choices about their electricity providers. Under his "Consumer Choice Initiative," White asked retail electric companies in February to pitch their best rates for the Houston area. The administration picked seven applicants that met qualifications defined by the city. Those prices are now available online.

Schools hit by Rita get a break

Schools in counties hard-hit by Hurricane Rita won't be rated on their students' performance on state-mandated tests this year, the Texas Education Agency announced Wednesday. Districts that were closed for 10 or more instruction days between Sept. 21 and Nov. 3, 2005, along with districts in counties designated as disaster areas by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will be listed as "not rated" if their rating drops from last year.

Willis ISD eyes safety upgrades for bond issue

Student safety is a major concern for members of the Willis ISD Facility and Bond Committee as they contemplate a proposed $37 million bond referendum. The committee this week discussed updating campuses to provide better security in addition to other proposed referendum items such as playground equipment.

TABC to retool after bar stings

Responding to widespread complaints about its crackdown on public drunkenness in bars, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is investigating the program and retraining officers to make sure their enforcement actions are appropriate.

Austin among safest U.S. cities

Austin became the third-safest major U.S. city last year, according to police statistics released this week. Among major cities with a population of 500,000 or more, Honolulu had the fewest crimes per 100,000 people, followed by San Jose, Calif. Austin moved up one spot, according the FBI's Uniform Crime Statistics, which gets its numbers from police departments.

VP at UT retiring

James Hill, vice president for community and school relations at the University of Texas, will retire next year. Hill has served in the position since 2000. His retirement is effective Jan. 31, 2007.

Perry makes several appointments

Gov. Rick Perry made the following appointments this week:

  • Dr. Charles E. Oswalt of Waco, Texas Medical Board
  • Dr. Richard C. Adams of Dallas, Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee
  • Dr. Mario Anzaldua of Mission, Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee
  • Anthony James Busti of Dallas, Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee
  • Dr. Harris Hauser of Houston, Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee (chair)
  • Dr. Melbert "Bob" Hillert of Dallas, Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee
  • J.C. Jackson of Alvin, Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee
  • David E. King of Houston, Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee
  • Julie Elaine Lewis of Grand Prairie, Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee
  • Dr. Valerie Robinson of Lubbock, Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee
  • Dr. Donna Burkett Rogers of San Antonio, Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee
  • Dr. Guadalupe Zamora of Austin, Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee

Ask the experts

Q: My company offers services that could potentially be valuable to state jails and prisons. Do state facilities handle procurement individually or is it all handled by TDCJ?

Steve Robinson

A: It's important to realize that most significant purchases are planned for a year, if not two years, prior to the time of the purchases. They must go through the appropriations process, and most purchases are eventually handled by the procurement division, or possibly another division depending on what's being procured, at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

-Steve Robinson,
Senior Consultant at Strategic Partnerships, Inc.

Have a question for one of SPI's government affairs experts?
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Procurement articles online

Click here to view recent articles on government procurement authored by Mary Scott Nabers, president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc., and published in the Austin Business Journal and Houston Business Journal.

[Editor's note: Mary Scott Nabers' procurement columns run regularly in the Austin Business Journal, Houston Business Journal, San Antonio Business Journal and the Dallas Business Journal]


Should public officials be required to report the value of gifts they receive?

(Non-scientific results next week)

Last week, 56% of respondents said school districts should be open to the idea of selling the naming rights of a stadium or facility to a private firm. 44% were opposed.

SPI seeks a researcher

Strategic Partnerships, Inc. is seeking a researcher for a short-term engagement involving research in other states. The candidate should have experience in state or federal government and have an understanding of procurement processes and concepts. An ideal candidate would have a working knowledge of professional services (architecture, engineering) and construction industries. Applicants may send a cover letter and resume to jcarl@spartnerships.com.

Event Links

HUB Forums in April

Fiesta Informacion 2006 - 4/24/06-4/27/06

World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) 2006 - 5/1/06-5/5/06

2006 Lone Star Conference - 5/2/06-5/5/06

TCEQ's Environmental Trade Fair and Conference - 5/9/06-5/11/06

TAGITM Annual Conference - 5/16/06-5/19/06

Texas Hurricane Conference - 5/23/06-5/25/06

ICMA conference in San Antonio - 9/10/06-9/13/06

Upcoming Executive Women in Texas Government events

Texas Government Insider Archives

Volume 1, 2, 3 and 4 Archives - 11/7/03 - 3/31/06


LBB Budget and Performance Assessments

Senate Interim Charges

House Interim Charges

Texas Fact Book '06-'07

LBB's Fiscal Size-up '06-'07

SAO report on full-time state employees for fiscal 2005

Texas Human Resources Management Statutes Inventory

TBPC Vendor Guide

State Budget Resources

HUB Forms Library

State Contract Management Guide

State Procurement Manual

Who Represents Me? Texas Districts By Address

Diagram of Texas' Biennial Budget Cycle

2006 Texas GIS Forum

The Texas Natural Resources Information System (TNRIS) is gearing up for the 2006 Texas GIS Forum, an annual statewide event designed to showcase advances in the fast paced technologies of geographic information systems. The event takes place May 1-5 in Austin. The theme this year, Crossing Boundaries, is designed to highlight the expansion of GIS into new arenas and to reflect on the events of the past year that brought new synergies among people using the technology. Click here for more information.

2006 Lone Star Conference

The 2006 Lone Star Conference, hosted by the Southeast Texas Association of Public Purchasers, will be held May 2-5 at the historic Galvez Hotel in Galveston. The conference promises some of the most respected speakers and presenters in the public purchasing arena and an impressive vendor exposition. Visit the conference website for more information.