Politics

By Ian White

A SCHOOL district faced with a shortfall of $3.9m in its budget for the coming educational year is hoping to save most of its taxpayers from higher bills despite a proposal to ask them to vote for a hefty tax-rate increase to cover the shortfall.
A massive citywide business-property market valuation and this year’s $10,000 increase in homestead exemptions are key to the district’s calculations, which its trustees will consider during a public tax-setting meeting on Tuesday evening.
Texas City ISD superintendent Cynthia Lusignolo and her senior officers will tell their board members that, in order to balance the district’s budget, they will be forced to choose between cutting services and asking the electorate to vote for a 13-cent rise in the tax rate.
Cutting services could mean axing teaching staff, an option likely to impinge on the district’s educational standards as it has a burgeoning student enrollment, up from 5,944 two years ago to 6,347 this year.
At least two of the trustees are known to be against that idea.
Board member Bryan Thompson said: “We are making academic gains in a very tough state accountability system. I don’t want to see us take away anything that benefits students now while we are moving forward.”
And fellow trustee Dickey Campbell said: “A rate increase is our best option. When you factor in the increased homestead exemption, most of our residents will experience little or no increase in their school taxes.”
If a majority of the board members agree with them, they are likely to vote for the second option, asking the city’s electorate to raise the tax rate that supports the district’s maintenance and operations budget from $1.04 per $100,000 of appraised property value to $1.17.
If so, the proposal will be placed on the ballot at November’s general election.
A 13-cent increase in the rate will produce revenues of $5.3m, but the district will have to pay the state a “Robin Hood” contribution of $1.4m out of the proceeds, leaving it with the money it needs to balance the budget.
Because industry and other big business interests own property worth 82.6 per cent of the city’s taxable value, their joint contributions to the cause will leave residential taxpayers with a combined burden of just $300,000 to top up the pot.
But many homeowners will not have to pay any more towards it than they paid this year and some will not have to pay at all because of the increased home exemption and a decline in the value of many homes in Texas City, where the total property value has fallen from $3.84 billion last year to $3.63 billion now.
Tables produced by the district for The Post on Wednesday show that owners of homes worth $100,000 will be almost $34 better off while owners of homes worth $150,000 will see their school-tax bill rise by less than $34.
The figures are even better for homeowners who qualify for age exemption or are disabled, with some paying no tax at all and many others having their bills reduced by almost $150.

Slide6 Slide5Texas City ISD tables show how ordinary homeowners will be spared the effects of an increase in the school district’s tax rate.

Incisive line at root of attorney’s Quiroga case request

By Ian White

A DENTIST’S visit is one reason behind a request for more time to prepare county judge Mark Henry’s appeal against a July ruling in a legal case instituted by district judge Lonnie Cox.
Attorney Terry Adams, who works for Houston law firm Beirne, Maynard & Parsons, filed the request on Wednesday, saying a nine-day extension “is necessary to provide the undersigned appellate counsel with adequate time to prepare a concise, well-reasoned appellant’s brief to assist the court. Additionally, the undersigned had to be out of the office on August 10 for a dental procedure.”
Whether or not that was tongue in cheek, Adams, who seems to be filling in on the case for a colleague who was appointed to it last month, added: “The requested extension of time is not made for delay but only so that justice may be done.”
Adams, an appeals specialist, admitted that that and his dental-treatment line had needled Cox’s attorney, Mark Stevens, to whom he had to give advance notice of his extended-time motion. In his request, he wrote that Stevens “has indicated that appellee [Cox] is opposed
to a motion for extension being granted”.
He was right. On Thursdsy, Stevens entered an objection to Adams’ motion in which he made it clear he was incensed by the call for more time.
Stevens and Cox have been claiming for some time that Henry and the county commissioners are doing everything they can just to stall the case, which began in September when Cox signed an order that the county’s termination of justice administration department director Bonnie Quiroga two months earlier had been illegal.
Stevens reiterated the claim in his 34-page response to Adams’ motion,  telling the appeals court he would “ordinarily not bother the court with objections to a motion for extension” but that it is “not only a transparent attempt at tactical delay but outright financial extortion of one or more [Galveston] trial judges”.
That was a reference to a discussion during a workshop the commissioners held on Wednesday, in which they discussed the possibility of cutting county-court judges’ county-paid stipends to save money towards the cost of their legal fees.
A nine-day extension would return the appeal procedure almost to its original schedule, as Adams’ request is for a date four days before the brief-submission deadline originally set by the state’s first-district court of appeals, which sits in Houston.
As reported exclusively by The Post, that deadline, September 8, was later changed to Wednesday, August 26, but Adams’ motion asked for an extension until September 4.
In the appeal, Henry is seeking to overturn an order entered against him last month, when visiting judge Sharolyn Wood signed an injunction against him in the case and held that he must submit to a contempt-of-court trial in January.
The injunction ordered the county to reinstate Quiroga and barred the commissioners from breaking up the department or replacing her pending the January trial, when Henry will be asked to explain why he has failed to comply with Cox’s September order.
The commissioners believe that Cox’s ruling is itself illegal and it was their refusal to abide by it that led to his June application for the injunction and contempt-of-court trial.
Wood’s granting of the application in July stuck in the throat for the commissioners and they appealed immediately.
The appeals court, which had already twice rejected the commissioners’ attempts to overturn Cox’s declaration, responded by spitting out a mediation order but Stevens filed an objection, claiming the commissioners were merely trying to delay obeying the order for as long as possible.
Swallowing his pride, appellate judge Terry Jennings accepted the objection and dropped the mediation order, striking out September 8 as the deadline for the commissioners’ brief and ruling that they had only until Wednesday to file it.
By the time The Post went to press on Thursday, there was no word of whether the appeals court will grant the extension or give it the brush-off. Stevens will have 10 days from whichever date they decree in which to submit a counter brief.

By Lora-Marie Bernard

US SENATOR John Cornyn is demanding the release from Syrian captivity of Austin Tice, a Houston native, military veteran and freelance journalist who disappeared in the war-torn Middle East country three years ago.
Cornyn made the call on last week’s anniversary of the Marine veteran’s capture.
“Today, his family and friends do not simply see a milestone of time lost but another chance to push for action that will bring him home,” Texas’ senior Washington senator said in Austin on Thursday.
“I renew my call for Austin’s immediate release by his captors and I strongly urge the [federal US] administration to utilize all possible means to secure his safe return.”
Tice was a Marine captain and had been covering the Syrian war for several news outlets before he was kidnapped on August 13, 2012.
His parents have said they don’t believe Islamic State captured him but they know little more. He has appeared once in a video since his disappearance.
The senator’s comments came a day before national news outlets released new information about Kayla Mueller, who was a relief worker in Syria when IS captured her.
She was repeatedly raped by an IS leader before she died in captivity.  Her death in February caused Capitol Hill to review efforts to release Americans held hostage around the world.
That same month, Tice’s family launched a campaign to raise awareness about their son.
Cornyn introduced legislation in June to establish an interagency hostage-recovery coordinator to create a unified government response to the taking of American hostages.
“Although he has received many accolades and worn many hats, Austin Tice is best known as friend, brother and son,” the senator said.
“While nothing can undo the pain those who love him have endured, we must as a nation do everything we possibly can to find Austin and bring him safely home.”

Cornyn, John                 John Cornyn

Sterling,Ed             Ed Sterling

A BRONZE statue of Jefferson Davis, who was president of the Confederate States Of America, is to be moved from the main mall of the University Of Texas’ Austin campus to UT’s Center For American History after a decision last week by college president Gregory Fenves.
The decision followed a study by a task force that reported its findings to Fenves on August 10.
Fenves said in a news release that he appointed the task force in June, shortly after he became university president, “to identify options for the statues along the main mall that have long been a source of discussion, debate and more recently, controversy”.
He added: “While every historical figure leaves a mixed legacy, I believe Jefferson Davis is in a separate category and that it is not in the university’s best interest to continue commemorating him on our main mall.
“Davis had few ties to Texas; he played a unique role in the history of the American south that is best explained and understood through an educational exhibit.”
The release continued: “Briscoe Center is the logical location for the Davis statue and can provide a well-curated scholarly context for its permanent display.
“As the home of one of the nation’s largest collections of southern history and as the keeper of UT Austin’s own history – including the papers of George Littlefield, a former regent and major benefactor responsible for the statues and fountain and sculptor Pompeo Coppini – the center will bring a scholarly depth that enhances the educational value of the Davis statue.”
Fenves said: “The center has long planned a renovation of its facility, including new exhibit space, and my office will help raise the remaining funds needed for its completion.”
The Sons Of Confederate Veterans filed a request for a restraining order ahead of the statue’s move date last Saturday. A Travis County state district court is expected to review the matter this week.

‘Vital’ records forms to change

THE STATE is to send out new forms for the certification of births and deaths following two federal court decisions requiring state and local governments to recognize same-sex marriage.
The revised “vital event” forms include birth and death certificates, including supplementary birth certificates for adoptions and certificates recording births by surrogate mothers.
The department of state health services said on Thursday that it has completed a review of the forms in the wake of rulings this summer by the US supreme court and a US district court.
“As a result, DSHS is implementing revised policies and procedures and also will amend certain vital-events forms and records related to vital-events records to recognize married same-sex couples,” the agency said.
Local registrars or entities such as hospitals and funeral homes that file vital-event information will receive revised forms and instructions when they become available.

Boost in sales tax revenue

TEXAS public-accounts comptroller Glenn Hegar is to send an estimated $760m in sales-tax revenue to the state’s local-government entities this month.
Local sales-tax allocations for the month represent an increase of 7.6 per cent from the figure for August 2014, Hegar’s office said Thursday.
The allocations come from state sales-tax revenue in July, which was $2.4 billion, up by 2.7 per cent from July 2014.
“July’s modest growth in sales-tax revenue is in line with the biennial revenue estimate issued in January,” Hegar said.
“Stronger growth in receipts from consumer-driven sectors, including retail trade, restaurants and services, offset declining receipts from oil- and gas-related sectors.”

Capitol suspect arrested in Iowa

ON THURSDAY, the Texas department of public safety published a bulletin announcing the arrest of a suspect in Iowa who was being sought in connection with arson of a vehicle in the Texas capitol’s parking lot on August 7.
The suspect, Michael Patrick Wagner, 38, is being held in the Linn County, Iowa, jail and extradition proceedings have begun and are pending.
The arrest warrant is for second-degree felony arson, an offense that carries a possible sentence of two to 20 years in state prison and a possible fine of up to $10,000.
“Thanks to great police and investigative work by local, state and federal law enforcement in Texas as well as our partners in Iowa, we are pleased to announce that the suspect in this case has been arrested,” DPS director Steven McCraw said.

Weber, Randy 2014 Web Ready            Randy Weber

US congressman Randy Weber writes about his work as part of our nation’s government –               exclusively in The Post

THE JOB of the US supreme court is to interpret the United States’ constitution. Unfortunately, over the past few years, the court has expanded its role from interpreter of the law to an independent policy maker.
The recent supreme-court decisions of Obergefell v Hodges – same-sex couples have the right to marry – and King v Burwell – affordable-care-act tax credits apply in every state in the nation – were judicial activism at its worst. Unfortunately, these decisions have left me concerned on how far US courts are willing to bend our laws or the constitution in the future.
In order to combat judicial activism, I have recently introduced house resolution 3425, the firearm rights equally enforced act. My legislation would allow responsible and licensed firearm owners to carry across all state lines.
It is vital that our citizens who lawfully obtain a license or permit are able to protect themselves and their families nationwide without having to deal with the excessive red tape certain states impose on our second-amendment rights.
There can be no argument that citizens recognize the importance of protecting themselves.   Since 2007, concealed-carry permits have increased by 156 per cent for men and 270 per cent for women, according to a study by Crime Prevention Research Center. During this same period, the national murder rate fell to 4.2 people per 100,000 from 5.6 people per 100,000.
It is not just law-abiding citizens who realize the importance of an armed citizenry. Three out of five felons polled in a department-of-justice survey agreed that a criminal will not mess with a person they know to be armed.
This month, police officials from several jurisdictions across the country, including District Of Columbia, Baltimore and Chicago, met to discuss the recent uptick in violence across the country and voiced concern for the increasing trends of street violence and murder.
Instead of restricting the ability to own a firearm, Americans should be empowered and educated on how to protect their families in order to feel safe and secure, no matter where they are.
The second amendment was written to protect our inalienable right to keep and bear arms. If the supreme court is willing to expand upon one part of our constitution, then I believe they might do so with every part. It is the job of congress and states to thwart judicial activism with sound policies that protect our communities.
Randy Weber is the US representative for the 14th district of Texas, which covers Brazoria, Galveston and Jefferson Counties.