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Good News Dallas
by Carolyn Barta    Sat, Apr 22, 2006, 04:04 PM


Congrats to Bar Belmont at the newly restored Belmont Hotel overlooking downtown and the Trinity for being named to Conde Nast’s “Hot List” of new properties around the globe. Conde Nast bills the list as the insider’s guide to the newest, hottest, sexiest hotels, restaurants, spas and nighclubs opened all over the world in the last year. Bar Belmont falls in the clubs category and is the only Texas property anywhere on the list.

 Designed by famed Dallas architect Charles Stevens Dilbeck and orignally built in 1946, the Belmont sits atop a perch in Oak Cliff where it has been restored to its Fifties glory as a boutique hotel. BarBelmont provides lounge seating indoors and an outdoor terrace showcasing a panoramic view of Dallas ' skyline. It serves light fare from a menu developed by former Jennivine owner Carol McHenry. Full reviews of each hotel, restaurant, nightclub and spa can be found in the May issue of Conde Nast Traveler, on newsstands April 25.

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by Will Lutz    Sat, Apr 22, 2006, 04:01 PM

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn lashed out today at the Perry/Sharp business tax reform plan, saying that she believes the margin tax that it incorporates is in fact an income tax, and is therefore unconstitutional. Strayhorn has requested Attorney General Greg Abbott to review the plan to see if it meets constitutional muster.

"It is my duty to ensure that the state's pay-as-you-go requirements are met and I have grave concerns over any provision that could undermine the integrity of our state's finances," Strayhorn said. "I have consulted with my legal staff, and they have raised enough questions about the constitutionality of the margin tax to make a formal opinion by the Attorney General necessary."

Gov. Perry, in response to Comptroller Strayhorn's questioning of the constitutionality of his tax plan, issued the following statement:

“Instead of trying to usurp the authority of the Attorney General by offering baseless legal opinions, Carole Strayhorn should concentrate on giving accurate revenue projections instead of the wildly fluctuating numbers she has produced in advance of this legislative session. She will say or do anything to stop a property tax cut for Texans in order to advance her political agenda. No one has elected her to provide legal opinions.”

Former comptroller and plan architect John Sharp, also commented:

“The weekly Strayhorn criticism of our property tax cut plan is a rehash of the criticism leveled by the big law firms who want to avoid paying franchise taxes. The Attorney General’s staff has already answered that question and I think anyone with any experience in taxes should know the difference between an income tax and other taxes. In addition, there is also an opinion from a former Supreme Court Justice. The questions as to whether or not this is a net income tax is absolutely unfounded and we presume everybody knows that. Fortunately, the vast majority of the members of the Legislature have put their partisan and political self-interest aside to help us solve this problem with regard to school finance and we invite the Comptroller to join us in the effort or we would welcome a plan of her own.”

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by Will Lutz    Sat, Apr 22, 2006, 04:00 PM

Several House chairmen held a news conference yesterday to highlight the taxpayer protections in the Perry-Sharp tax plan, codified in House Bills 1-5. Present at the news conference were Reps. Phil King (R-Weatherford), Joe Nixon (R-Houston), Beverly Woolley (R-Houston), Warren Chisum (R-Pampa), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), and Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie).

“This special session provides the legislature with an historic opportunity to drastically improve our school finance system and to lower the tax burden on Texas families and businesses,” King said. “But simply passing a property tax cut and reforming the business tax structure is not enough. Texas are like a helium balloon: You can knock them down, but unless you have a firm grip anchoring them to the ground they will always pop back up.” King noted that Texas taxpayers work until April 19 just to pay their state, local, and federal taxation.

The representatives highlighted provisions in HB 2 that dedicate any growth in revenue from the revised franchise tax, the repeal of the liar’s affidavit loophole on auto sales tax, and the increase of the cigarette tax to property tax relief. Pitts said there is plenty of growth in the sales tax and other existing sources of revenue to fund the state’s other priorities. The representatives also highlighted provisions in HB 1 that require voter approval for school maintenance tax increases above $1.36 per $100 of valuation.

Nixon also discussed his HJR 25, coauthored by Woolley. The bill writes the $1.30 cap on school maintenance taxes into the constitution and states that it is not a statewide property tax (cutting off state property tax lawsuits from school districts). Unlike a similar amendment filed by Sen. Steve Ogden (R-College Station), the Nixon amendment does not contain an appraisal cap, which is not currently on the governor’s call. Nixon said he has cosponsored Rep. Dwayne Bohac’s (R-Houston) appraisal cap amendment.

Pitts warned against spending all of the surplus in the special session. He told reporters more than $3 billion of that money is needed to fund obligations such as Hurricanes Rita and Katrina.

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by Carolyn Barta    Fri, Apr 21, 2006, 06:55 PM

Texas is one of four states with gubernatorial races that are declared “absolutely critical to each party,” according to the’s political blogger Chris Cillizza. They include California, New York and Florida, but only California and New York are likely to change hands, he says. His blog contends Texas Gov. Rick Perry will smother the other candidates with TV ads enabled by his fundraising ability and his status as the incumbent governor.

According to his post on today’s “The Fix,” the size of these four states “makes it a massive task (both financially and organizationally) for any candidate to get to know voters. The cost of running a flight of statewide television advertising in any of these states starts at $1 million and can often rise considerably higher. Incumbents inevitably flourish in this environment because few challengers have the fundraising capacity to level the playing field.”

“That scenario seems likely to play out this fall in Texas where Gov. Rick Perry (R) has a huge fundraising edge over former Rep. Chris Bell (D) (and singer/novelist Kinky Friedman and state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, both of whom are planning runs as independents).”  Cillizza says he expects the open seat in Florida to be considerably closer than the Texas contest, but it nonetheless drops off the line this month as the two Republican candidates continue to distance themselves financially from the two Democrats.

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by Mike Fisher    Fri, Apr 21, 2006, 06:15 PM

The world has no idea who Devin Harris is. They are about to find out how important he is to the Mavs. ... If, that is, the backup point guard can ever get on the floor. Click on the 'School of Fish'. ...

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by Trey Garrison    Fri, Apr 21, 2006, 05:20 PM

A police officer in McKinney, Texas, was injured during a brutal attack by a motorist during a traffic stop and the incident was captured on videotape.

Officer Russell May's dash camera was rolling when he responded to a disturbance call in a McKinney neighborhood. The tape shows May approaching the passenger side of a car and asking the people inside to get out. A man, who police identified as Joshua Jones, was then shown jumping out of the vehicle and attacking the officer for no apparent reason.

Here is the link.

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by Special to    Fri, Apr 21, 2006, 03:11 PM

Our resident economist Carl Pellegrini brought to our attention this article in today's Financial Times about the fall of the US dollar in value this week to other world currencies. Here is the link.

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by Scott Bennett    Fri, Apr 21, 2006, 02:11 PM

Light , sweet crude oil hit $75 per barrel today on the New York Mercantile Exchange.  Experts believe that prices could exceed $80 by month's end.

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by Brian Bodine    Fri, Apr 21, 2006, 12:33 PM

Financial issues are the biggest concern facing the district, says one Dallas ISD Board of Trustees candidate. Linus Spiller, a Dallas businessman who has worked in contract procurement, is challenging District 1 Trustee Edwin Flores in the May 13th school board elections.

At the core of the problem, according to Spiller, is the budget shortfall facing Dallas ISD.

“Right now, we are scrambling to figure out how we’re going to deal with Robin Hood if we’re going to have to export money out of the district to property-poor districts,” said Spiller. “We have to deal with the $17 million budget shortfall.” Spiller explained that there are pockets in Dallas, such as those in District 1, that have astronomical property taxes which have caused Dallas ISD to have a property-wealthy status.

Spiller added that the money lost to the FedEx/Kinkos contract doesn’t help the district’s financial situation.

“Close to 9 million is too much to lose over a contract,” said Spiller. “There’s no way the district would have lost money like that under my watch. That’s money that could have gone back into the classrooms.” Spiller also said that many of the recommendations put forth by the National Center for Educational Accountability (NCEA), and recommended by Dr. Hinojosa, could have been funded by the money lost to the FedEx/Kinkos contract.

Under the contract, DISD outsourced its printing and copying needs to FedEx/Kinkos. The contract was intended to modernize the district and also save it money over time. It ended up costing the district millions between 2003 and 2005.

“If they have that type of shortfall with one project, what type of money did we lose or are we losing every day on other contracts,” added Spiller.

Job cuts are crucial to saving the district money, according to Spiller. While Spiller said that he did not support a recent DISD proposal to cut hall monitor jobs, he proposed “cutting the fat” from the DISD bureaucracy by eliminating unnecessary middle-management jobs.

“I would like the Superintendent to look at the layers of bureaucracy that are there and the positions that are not necessary – eliminate those,” said Spiller. “Cut out the fat, basically. The objective here is student achievement. You don’t need so much oversight that it overshadows your end result, which should be student achievement.”

Spiller said that retaining great teachers was crucial to student achievement. He said that if additional money was going to be spent anywhere, it should be in the classrooms and for the purpose of teacher retention. “Put the money back into the classrooms and into the schools,” said Spiller. “Once you handle the money, the academic portion is going to fall into place. We have to pay our teachers more to retain them – if we don’t, they are going to go to suburban schools or leave DISD altogether.”

Spiller also emphasized that the bottom line was the achievement of students and whether they can compete in the global marketplace after they finish with school.

Principal Incentives

An issue that has been the source of division within the district and among trustee candidates is principal incentives for high student achievement.

“I do not support it. Principals and teachers are paid to do what they’re going to do. So the joy should come in doing their job,” said Spiller. Spiller said that during his days in school, teachers and principals did their job because they liked it. Spiller also suggested that the incentives could invite dishonesty and cheating.

“It’s a team effort,” added Spiller. “If that school is high performing, then let’s put that ten thousand back into that school because you definitely cannot divide ten thousand among everybody there. I feel that’s incentive enough.”

Bilingual Principals

Another issue that has been the source of division within the district is the requirements for the increased use of bilingual principals. Spiller said that he did not support requirements for hiring bilingual principals for any school, regardless of what the percentage of Hispanic students might be.

“At a school where the principal is not Hispanic, as long as the principal puts together a support team that meets the needs of the population, that’s all that is necessary,” said Spiller. “Evaluate principals on their ability to do that. Give the principals more control over their team. Build that into their evaluations.”

“As long as that principal has the ability to assemble a team to meet the needs of the student population, that’s all that matters,” added Spiller.

Dual-language programs

On the issue of dual-language programs, Spiller suggested that there was very little data to prove these programs could produce high achieving students in any district. Spiller suggested that his opponent was completely “out of touch” with education in urban centers. Spiller sharply contrasted himself from his opponent’s support for the development of dual-language facilities. Spiller said that the facilities, which are a part of the NCEA recommendations, would constitute separate-but-equal learning institutions.

“We don’t want to open the district up for lawsuits,” said Spiller.

“My vision is a multilingual program that’s integrated into the curriculum,” said Spiller. Spiller suggested that students could start learning foreign languages when they are young, so that when they get to high school, they will have the opportunity to take additional foreign languages so that they could become multilingual and compete more effectively in the global marketplace.

Spiller called the ability to be multilingual the “sleeping giant” in the global marketplace. He also said that he supported the more rigorous math and science requirements that are part of the No Child Left Behind Act.

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by Trey Garrison    Fri, Apr 21, 2006, 11:48 AM

Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed this morning that almost 100 illegal immigrants were arrested at three Dallas area plants in a raid on IFCO Thursday, a wooden pallet maker, as part of a crackdown on the company nationwide. About 1,200 were arrested at other sites, including Houston.

Most of those arrested were released within hours.

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