COVID Cases Fall, Hospitalizations Steady
New infections continue a slow and steady decline with 2,878 cases reported by the state yesterday. This is down from the 5,900 reported one week ago. Hospitalizations are remaining steady, but falling slightly as well. The state is reporting 2,537 people hospitalized with COVID illness. That down slightly from the 2,674 reported one week ago.
State Tax Collections Far Exceed Estimates
The state Comptroller announced last week that state tax collections had exceeded estimates by nearly $900 million in the recently concluded fiscal year. In fiscal 2022, the state collected just over $77 billion in taxes, which is a nearly 26% increase compared to 2021. Sales tax collections were up 19%, showing a strong demand for retail goods despite rising inflation. Significant increases were also seen in motor vehicle and franchise tax collections. The largest increase by far was seen in revenue from oil and gas production. Tax revenue from oil production was up 85%, while natural gas production saw a 185% increase in revenue collections. Between the two, the state collected over $11 billion in tax revenue from industry production. Revenue from oil and gas production feeds into the state’s Rainy Day Fund and to the highway fund for road construction and maintenance. With these new collections, estimates are that the state will have an additional $25-$28 billion in surplus funds when they begin to write the biennial budget in January when the regular session convenes.
Asylum Advocates Praise Busing Program
The busing program initiated by Gov. Abbott to send migrants to Washington, New York, and now Chicago has gained support from a migrants rights group. The Central American Resource Center has actually given praise to Abbott for the program, saying that it is ideal for those seeking asylum in the US, and further encourages migrants from Central America to reach Texas, knowing free transportation is available once they arrive. The group, known as CARECEN, claims that giving the migrants free transportation allows them to more easily transition into the US by connecting them with friends and family, and allowing them to settle into cities that will more likely grant asylum. Courts in New York are far more likely to grant asylum than those in Texas. The program, started in June, has cost the state roughly $13 million so far, and has transported 8,900 people, according to the Governor’s office. Gov. Abbott’s office has not publicly responded to the claims and position espoused by CARECEN.
New Report Says Electric Grid is Reliable
The state’s grid operator – ERCOT – said yesterday that the state will have enough power generation this fall to avoid any service disruptions, provided weather conditions are normal. This came from the agency’s Seasonal Assessment of Resources Adequacy Report. The report predicts that demand for electricity will increase slightly over last year, but that the supply of energy is sufficient to meet demand at least through November. Gov. Abbott immediately, through a press statement, expressed his confidence in the operations of the grid, and praised both ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission for their work in implementing the reforms passed by the legislature last session to ensure the reliability of the grid. The ERCOT report did note that many power generating facilities would go offline for maintenance this fall, as well as to winterize in preparation for the upcoming winter temperatures. The agency did qualify their assessment by saying that if enough facilities are offline during an unexpected weather event, then the grid could experience stress, but no consequences for the stress were defined.
Uvalde School News
Students and teachers returned to school in Uvalde yesterday for the first time since the May 24th shooting. Parents and students were greeted with fencing around many of the districts campuses, along with more security cameras and an increased law enforcement presence at all schools. The district also provided more counselors and comfort dogs for parents and children that were still in mourning over the May incident. Many parents expressed a lack of confidence that the district had done enough to make the children feel completely safe, but felt that it was important to get the children back into some sort of routine of normalcy. The district has also added a virtual option for parents that do not feel comfortable sending their children back to school.
Throughout the state, other districts asked their students and teachers to wear maroon on Tuesday to show support for the Uvalde community.
Five Texas Department of Public Safety officers will face a formal investigation for their role in the delayed response during the shooting incident. The five officers were identified as part of the DPS internal investigation that began in July. The officers will be referred to the agency’s office of inspector general, which will determine if any violations of agency policy took place what type of discipline will be handed down.
Democrat Beto O’Rourke will invest over $10 million for television ads, including $3 million on Spanish speaking stations. An earlier round of O’Rourke ads began airing last week that attacked the Governor’s stance on abortion in conjunction with the effective date of the state’s new abortion “trigger” law. The O’Rourke campaign has not indicated when the new ads will start airing, only that they “would be critical of Abbott”.
In turn, Gov. Abbott has started a series of ads critical of O’Rourke for his stance on funding of law enforcement. The ads, which launched on Monday, cite rising crime in urban areas and criticize O’Rourke, claiming he has contributed to the problem with his position of wanting to defund the police. According to the Abbott campaign, this particular ad campaign costs $ 4 million and will air for the next three weeks.
Two prominent state Republican officials have endorsed the Democratic opponent of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, the incumbent Republican. Over the weekend, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said he will support and vote for Democrat Mike Collier. Whitley cites the Lt. Governor’s constant criticism of local governments for raising property taxes, along with the state’s inaction on transferring state inmates out of county jails as the main reasons for his opposition to Patrick’s reelection.
Yesterday, retiring Republican state Senator Kel Seliger of Amarillo also announced he would support Collier in November. Seliger has constantly been at odds with Patrick, who presides over the 31-member state Senate. Prior to the 2019 session, Patrick stripped Seliger of his chairmanship of the Senate Higher Education committee. On twitter, Patrick responded by saying that Whitley and Seliger are “two-of-a-kind, tax-hiking big spenders” who are out of touch with Texas voters. Neither Whitley nor Seliger are seeking reelection in 2022.
However, Lt. Governor Patrick did receive an endorsement yesterday from a current member of the Senate, although from the opposing party. Longtime Senator Eddie Lucio, a Democrat from Brownsville announced yesterday he is endorsing Patrick for reelection. Lucio was first elected in 1990 to represent the Rio Grande Valley, and is not seeking reelection in 2022. In his endorsement, Lucio praises Patrick as “the best Lt. Governor he has ever served with”. Patrick said he is honored to have the Democratic Senator’s endorsement.
The House Appropriations Committee meets next week to begin their preparations for the upcoming session. Topics to be discussed over their two days of scheduled meetings include public education funding, state Medicaid funding, and use of state funds for employee retention. Later in the month, The House Public Health Committee will meet to discuss the impact of fentanyl related deaths and the House Public Education Committee will meet to discuss the teacher shortage faced by most school districts. The Senate Local Government Committee will meet next week to discuss governmental entities use of lobbyists and property tax appraisal reform.
The schedule and details of all interim hearings can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov