Naked City

Beyond City Limits

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn -- out of the headlines for a whole week -- on Monday added a $1-a-pack cigarette tax to her list of proposals to save the state budget. The latest "significant and negative" fiscal news: As of May 15, franchise tax collections had declined 17.8% from fiscal 2002, a rate nearly three times Strayhorn's previous estimate. Maneuvers like the "Delaware loophole" -- reorganizing on paper to move profits out of state -- have helped many corporations go from paying thousands or millions in franchise taxes to paying nothing. Strayhorn says the current House and Senate budget proposals are both at least $3.6 billion short of balancing and that a cig tax (rejected out of hand by Gov. Rick Perry) would raise $1.5 billion, even allowing for declines in tobacco sales. Also, in addition to closing the franchise loopholes (an idea the Senate has already found to be much easier said than done), Grandma wants to expand gambling (video and multistate lotteries); reinstitute the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund for schools and libraries (but skim half the cash, raised by a tax on phone service, for general revenue); and "reduce administrative overstaffing in ISDs" (an idea quickly euthanized in the House two weeks ago, when reps from "wealthy" districts learned what it would do to their already-strapped schools). -- M.K.

Maybe Strayhorn's son Scott McClellan -- the odds-on favorite to replace the resigning Ari Fleischer as President Bush's press secretary -- can seduce cooperation with his mother's budget proposals from Perry and the House if he gets behind the White House lectern. "I love my baby boy," beamed Mama and Grandmama Inc., "but that's the president's call, and I am not advised." -- Michael King

Breathe deeply: The Texas Senate approved a bill this week allowing utilities to get renewable-energy credits for burning garbage, a process that releases deadly dioxin and mercury into the air. Sponsored by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, SB 1325 does require that trash burners meet federal- and state-air standards to qualify for the credits -- but standards for waste incineration, environmentalists say, aren't stringent enough. A companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, died in the House last week. -- L.A.

The Senate also passed a bill by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, to create an interim Innocence Commission to investigate the causes of wrongful conviction. SB 1045 would create a nine-member panel of legislators, judges, and law professors to review known cases of wrongful conviction and to recommend policies and procedures that might help prevent future such cases. The committee would issue a report of its findings on Oct. 1, 2004. The bill now moves to the House. -- J.S.

Last week the DPS released the state's annual uniform crime report, showing overall crime increasing slightly in 2002. According to the report (online at ), violent crimes were up 3.3%, with increases in rape and robbery offsetting declines in murder and aggravated assault. Likewise, while motor vehicle thefts declined, burglary and larceny saw increases, leading to an overall 3% jump in reported property crimes. Last year, over $1.8 billion worth of property was stolen during the commission of indexed crimes. The report shows a drop in reported hate crimes, down to 344 reported incidents in 2002 from 429 in 2001. Hate crimes reported against Arabs declined significantly in 2002 to just 19 reports, down from a high of 63 in 2001. -- J.S.

Weed Watch: Today (Thursday) the U.S. Congress is set to consider HR 2086, legislation that would reauthorize the White House Office of the National Drug Control Policy and appropriate nearly $1 billion in tax money to the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. In a recent press release, the Drug Policy Alliance notes that the government's own evaluations consider the expensive campaign fairly inept. "There is little evidence of direct favorable campaign effects on youth," says the National Institute on Drug Abuse, noting no resulting decline in marijuana use or increase in "desirable" beliefs about the drug. The DPA is asking voters to contact members of the House Government Reform Committee -- including Texas Congressman John Carter, R-Round Rock, and Chris Bell, D-Houston. For more info, check out -- J.S.

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