Fri May 24, 2013
Storm-Insurance Disaster Looms As Hurricane Season Approaches
The 83rd Legislature is finished on Monday and so far there is no permanent fix for a state-funded storm insurance company as hurricane season approaches. Want to know the secret behind which bills pass and which ones fail? Follow the money. Also on this show: This summer's projected strain on the state's electric grid, and a border reunion between two villages.
Legislature pass and fail
Time is running out for the Texas legislature and even though you never know what will happen until the last pounding of the gavel, this legislature might be known more for what didn't get passed than what it did.
With hurricane season coming up June 1, there is a major problem facing the state that the legislature can't seem to find a solution for - fixing the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.
The TWIA is a state-created corporation that offers storm insurance below market premiums for people living in coastal regions. It was meant to be supplemental, but has become the sole provider of storm insurance for many living in these areas.
University of Houston Law Professor Seth Chandler has been tracking the issue with his blog catrisk.net and says this is a problem that could cost the state and taxpayers billions of dollars.
"Everyone agrees that TWIA does not have enough money, the only real issue is how bad would it have to be for TWIA to really run out of money. Estimates there range anywhere from at the low end maybe a $500 million storm, which is about a fifth or a sixth of [Hurricane] Ike, up to about a $3 billion storm, which is about the size of Ike. My own view is that it's probably about $1 billion, which is about a third the size of an Ike storm, would bankrupt the TWIA."
*A senate bill introduced this session proposed shifting the insurance program into the private sector, but groups who would be affected by such changes didn't agree with several parts of the bill and it didn't make it out of committee.
Follow the money
As the Texas legislature works through the last hours of the session to the close on May 27, it’s a wonder why some bills make it thought the cumbersome process to become law and other’s fall to the wayside.
It’s a mystery, until you look at the flow of money and the march of the lobbyists.
Denise Roth Barber is with the National Institute of Money in State Politics, who run the website followthemoney.org.
"Texas is one of 12 states that do not limit the amount of money that individuals and PACS (Political Action Committees) can give to candidates, so that's largely why we are seeing very large donations, they are allowed to give."
Also on this episode of Texas Matters:
Brownouts: Rolling power outages, not the funk band from Austin
Memorial Day is considered the official kick-off of the summer and that means Texans need to get ready for the long hot days and the roar of straining air conditioners.
With all that AC use, the state’s electric grid is once again going to be put to the test. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) says they are ready. Kent Saathoff is an executive adviser to ERCOT.
"We are forecasting for this summer a load of a little over 68,000 megawatts and that's almost, but not quite as much, as our peak demand in 2011, which was really the all-time hottest summer recorded."
In the rural border areas of Texas, seven 'informal' crossings were shut down following the 9-11 attacks. These were border villages and rural economies that thrived on their interdependence.
The actual border itself was invisible, but the shutdown destroyed that connection.
Recently, two border villages were reunited briefly for a one-day celebration. Marfa Public Radio’s Lorne Matalon reports from the international boundary at the midpoint of the Rio Grande in rural Texas.