Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn today placed an indefinite hold on all payments from the State of Texas to the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm of Cassidy & Associates, which is being audited by the Comptroller's office. The current contract between Cassidy & Associates and the Office of State-Federal Relations runs from Nov. 16, 2005 through Aug. 31, 2007. The total amount is not to exceed $330,000. For those who don't recall Cassidy & Associates is a firm populated by several close associates of ex-House Majority Leader Tom Delay.
The contract has been under criticism over the past few months as DeLay's star has fallen and revelations regarding contributions made by firm members to GOP candidates have become public. The firm was hired to do lobby work by Gov. Rick Perry's office. Strayhorn, who is opposing Perry in the fall election as an independent/Republican stated that "As the state's chief fiscal officer I am committed to making sure tax dollars are spent wisely and in absolute accordance with the law," Strayhorn said. "During the early stages of my expenditure audit of the contract with Cassidy & Associates enough questions have been raised and I have found sufficient reason to indefinitely stop all payments to the firm."
During a three-month period in 2004, June through August, Cassidy & Associates was paid $302,363 by Gov. Rick Perry's office. In Fiscal Year 2005, the firm was paid $34,299.06 by the Office of the Governor and $105,000 by the Office of State-Federal Relations. To date, in Fiscal Year 2006, Cassidy & Associates has been paid $52,511.92 by the Office of State-Federal Relations.
Whether the Comproller actually has the power to refuse to pay bills is an open question. By her actions today it appears that the Comptroller believes she has such authority.
While DallasBlog is still awaiting a statement from the governor regarding the Comptroller's authority his office did release the following statement:
Kathy Walt, press secretary to Gov. Rick Perry, issued the following statement today regarding the comptroller’s announcement that she is suspending payments to Cassidy & Associates, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm that represents Texas interests before Congress.
“As long as we’re talking about audits, when will the comptroller voluntarily comply with the independent State Auditor’s recommendations so Texans can have faith that her tax decisions are not for sale to her contributors? Today’s action smacks of another publicity stunt by Comptroller Strayhorn to grab headlines. Her appetite for media attention is legendary.”
Now how cool is this? A Stradivarius violin made in 1725 and valued at £570,000 (which in American money is what? A billion?) is being returned to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra fully 21 years after it went missing.
The violin, one of only about 600 in existence, resurfaced when it was put up for sale at auctioneers Bonhams, which struck a deal with the vendor to see it returned to the orchestra.
The BBC has the full story. (For the record, £570,000 is $996,000, at the exchange rates at the close of market today.)
Will Pryor, Democratic congressional candidate in District 32, says the recent Democrat move to censure President Bush “is not only non-productive; it steals focus from the issues this nation needs Congress to address.” A professional mediator seeking to unseat Republican Pete Sessions, Pryor said Congress needs to spend more time working to solve problems and less time polarizing the electorate.
Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., introduced a resolution to censure President Bush, saying he broke the law and misled Congress by engaging in domestic eavesdropping and illegal wiretapping. Censure is a way to publicly scold the President while falling short of impeachment. The last president censured was Andrew Jackson in 1834.
"I respect Senator Feingold and share many of his frustrations. I, too, am concerned about the proper balance between national security and protecting the rights of our citizens. Let’s debate those issues head on. But I believe that our nation is tired of polarized politics and partisanship that makes headlines but fails to solve problems,” Pryor said, in a release.
All that stuff of yours that got ruined in the flood waters, or got washed into your yard? Call the city's 311 line and you can arrange curbside pickup of your water-logged flotsam over the next two weeks.
City sanitation workers will pick up anything no larger than a standard sized sofa - such as soggy carpets, sheetrock, flooring and, one supposes, water-logged sofas. They promise no tickets during the two weeks. (I'm looking at you, "Mr. Blue Easy Chair on the Roof" guy.)
The Dallas Morning News has reported that the University of Dallas, a private catholic school of 3,000, is one of the remaining three contenders for the George W. Bush Presidential Library because of its partnership with the surrounding city of Irving.
The university’s partnership with Irving and the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau involves the City of Irving funding $50 million in hotel and motel tax revenue for the “George W. Bush Library and Institute at Freedom Park.” City officials have touted the accessibility, scenery, and location of the University of Dallas, citing its proximity to the airport and views of the surrounding city skylines.
Gov. Rick Perry with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst do not agreeLt. Gov. David Dewhurst told reporters he thinks it’s essential the education reform issue get addressed during the special session. Dewhurst addressed the Texas Association of Manufacturers today and discussed why he thinks education reform is an important part of the school finance debate. “I think we have a window of opportunity to address not only improving our schools but lowering our local school property taxes. What I worry about is that if we take the attitude of let’s do these sequentially, we’ll never get to school reform and improving our public schools. I’ve talked to senator after senator, house member after house member, after two regular sessions and six special sessions in the last three years, I think that once the lawsuit is solved, the wind goes out of the sail of a lot of members of the legislature. They’ll want to go home.”
Dewhurst does not think this effort to reform public school will fail like the last few school reform bills. “I believe there are the elements of agreement on a school improvement bill,” Dewhurst said. Dewhurst agreed with Perry that the “spend the surplus” plan will not work. “All that does is create a hole and a probably need to raise taxes in the 2009 session,” Dewhurst said. He told reporters that he would like to use $1 billion to address one-time fixes to the 2003 budget.
Dewhurst was surprisingly upbeat regarding the work of the Governor’s tax commission headed by former comptroller John Sharp. While non-committal on the details of any proposal that might be released, Dewhurst praised the commission in his speech to the Texas Association of Manufacturers. “I welcome the Sharp commission’s input. The Senate will give it a hard look,” he said.
Dewhurst has told reporters the Senate intends to pass out an education reform bill, regardless of whether Gov. Rick Perry puts it in the special session call. “We have spoken repeatedly to the governor’s staff to advise them that in our opinion legally there’s no way to draw the call so narrowly that it prohibits a bill to improve public education from being sent from one chamber to the other.”
This opinion might get tested during the special session. Perry told the press the call will be narrow. Page 49 of the current Senate rules contains a precedent from 1934 where the lieutenant governor sustained a point of order against a bill that it was not on the governor’s call for the special session. Therefore, any senator objecting to the bill could try and raise that point of order. A point of order may also be raised in the House; however, the House rules state that the governor’s power only extends to specifying the general subjects of the session and past speakers have given wide latitude to the House about the scope and character of the bills (see pages 138-141 of the House rules for more detail.)
A new organization called Stop and Think was launched today to oppose the lifting of the Wright Amendment. The organization says it intends to represent the citizens of North Texas who oppose lifting the Wright Amendment. Another organization, Friends of Love Field, has been reactivated to support repeal of the Wright Amendment and says that it represents the majority of residents living near the Dallas airport. Stop and Think says that it will accept and receive funding from American Airlines who opposes repeal of Wright. Friends of Love Field did not say whether it would seek financial help from Southwest Airlines but Southwest said it would consider funding specific projects.
The Stop and Think group raised concerns over safety, traffic, noise, and the environment. The organization has launched a media effort intended to detail the concerns of various individuals in the community and hopes to get the broader public to reconsider its support for repeal of Wright. The group opened its headquarters today in Snyder Plaza near SMU with a full assortment of campaign paraphernalia including buttons, bumper stickers and yard signs. American Airlines VP David Cush said that his company would not control or direct the campaign but was willing to give voice to people who have been drowned out by Southwest's long running anti-Wright media campaign.
The Friends of Love Field was created by former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Bartos in the late 1990s when it worked to open Love Field to Legend Airlines. The organization has launched a Web site and will shortly release a 20 member steering committee of business and civic leaders.
Both groups appear to be aiming at current negotiations between Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief and Dallas Mayor Laura Miller to hammer out a local compromise on the Wright Amendment. Any agreement will have to be presented to the two city's respective city councils and it is likely that both campaign are intended to influence the eventual vote as well as show local support to members of Congress - especially local members of Congress.