Texas Matters
12:20 pm
Fri February 15, 2013

Cruz And Stockman Waste No Time Mixing It Up In D.C.

Ted Cruz and Steve Stockman have quickly established themselves as vocal and active members of Congress, and their gusto is ruffling some feathers. How much do we know about the cost of state lawmaker pensions? Apparently not much, but why not? Debate about changing the way electric utilities get paid; should they be paid for capacity? Quail hunting used to be a part of everyday life, but quail populations have been declining for the past 25 years.

We're here, and we're ready to go!

Washington D.C. swore in its latest crop of lawmakers about six weeks ago and the swearing hasn’t stopped since.

The nation’s confidence in the legislative branch continues to wither due to the inability of congress to end its partisan back biting and get to work on fixing the nation’s economy. But two new Republican lawmakers from Texas are reveling in their roles as irritants to the Democrats -- and that’s essentially what Texas voters sent them to do.

Ginger Gibson, a congressional reporter for POLITICO, says Rep. Steve Stockman, R-District 36, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R) are quickly becoming national figures known for their combative styles.

"A freshman lawmaker from a rural area is unlikely to gain a lot of attention, they don't have a lot of power, but Steve Stockman is managing to get his name in a lot of headlines across the country, and bringing Ted Nugent [to the State-of-the-Union] is one way of doing that."

"Whereas some of his fellow freshman members are laying low, getting the lay of the land, Senator Cruz has come out swinging. He's out there in the forefront of this fight and he's making it his own."

How much does lawmaker retirement cost the state?

You would think that distribution of public money would be public information, but lawmaker pensions have been kept secret.
Credit Flickr user TN Drum Guy / cc

Texas lawmakers have a pension plan that you and I could only wish for, so how good is it? We wish we knew, but it’s a state secret.

Taxpayers who foot the bill for these lush benefits are told by the lawmakers they don’t have a right to know how much this is costing the state.

A state legislator with 20 years of service can retire at age 50 with an annual pension of $57,500. That payment can be increased by lawmakers buying additional years, which includs years of military service and folding in other state pensions; they can also keep it all a secret from taxpayers .

The state government watchdog Texans for Public Justice tried to find out by going to court and was shot down. Andrew Wheat is with Texans for Public Justice.

"Generally there's an expectation that when there's expenditures of public money that the public has a right to get information about how that money is being spent. In this case, when we put in a request for that kind of information about the expenditures of public money, we got the stiff-arm. We think a big reason of why we got the stiff-arm is because we were asking for information about spending public funds benefiting a very special class of individuals. In this case we were asking for aggregate totals on how much money the state retirement system is spending on former lawmakers who went through the revolving door and became lobbyists."

Getting paid for what you COULD do instead of what you ACTUALLY do

A debate is underway in Texas about whether to change the way electric power generating companies get paid. They want not to be paid for how much power they produce, but how much power they have the capacity to produce.

It’s called a "capacity market" and backers of the plan say it’s a solution for the state’s growing energy needs. A new study by Public Citizen Texas says it won’t work but it will cost utility customers more. Tom "Smithy" Smith is with Public Citizen Texas.

"What we've found in other parts of the country is that 90 percent or more of the payments under the capacity system would go to existing generators, and that led us to an interesting question. Energy Futures Holding -- folks that used to be known as TXU up in the Dallas/Fort Worth area -- is signaling that they are going to restructure their debt. So the question we came up with is: Would capacity payments be enough to keep Energy Futures Holding from drowning in the sea of red ink that they've created. And the answer we found was resoundingly no."

Save the quail!

Quail hunting in Texas used to be part of everyday life. Quail were plentiful and flushing a covey was not a rare occasion. But today the number of quail in the state continue to decline because of man and nature. The Quail-Tech Alliance is trying to save them.

Charles Hodges is the director of the Quail-Tech Alliance at Texas Tech University.

"The birds have declined steadily over the last 25 years but we've seen a marked decrease over the last 10 years and at this point I would say we are down about 80 percent from our populations 10 years ago."

Related Program