ustxtxb_obs_1955_03_21_50_00004-00000_000.pdf

Page 4

by

%. . b.. 4. “. . Ikks ‘ THE GAS HOUSE GANG Reminiscenses About an Old House, Some Poor Boys, and a Tax r Lgri AUSTIN \(Four years ago the SewellNokes gas gathering tax was the biggest issue in the Texas Legislature. There are some who think there is a parallel between that Ineasure and Jerry Sadler’s gasoline processing tax now before the current Legislature. Denny Ingram, who served in the 52nd session, entered’ the Army shortly after, and is now a law student at the University of Texas, remembers how his old buddies in the House helped push the Sewell-Nokes measure through and wonders if their strategy would again be effective. Here is the story of what some people have dubbed’ “The THE PEOPLE’S HEADQUARTERS 52nd Texas Legislature LET NATURAL GAS PAVE THE WAY THE FREE RIDE’S OVER That was one step in the publicity drive. It was far from the run-of-the-mill political news angle . it posed a wide-open challenge to the opposition in a humorous manner. Why would a dozen or so legislators rent an old house to live in during the 52nd session? How did it help the Sewell-Nokes bill? The background, briefly, is this: The 52nd session was bottlenecked by the insistence of a group in. the House of Representatives that the essence of the gathering tax be included. in the omnibus tax bill pushed by the Shivers Administration. The Senate wouldn’t do it, re’ fused to take any action as the session passed the 120-day mark. Pay dropped to $5 a day. This hurt all members, but it was almost disi astrous for the backers of the gathering tax who were largely from the rural bloc and were just nat4rally in lower income brackets. In addition, they could no longer gobble a free meal, hear the lobbyist’s view, and then vote as they pleased. In short, most of us were broke but forced to stay in Austin to sweat out our gathering tax, making sure it would not fall victim to the perennial end-of-session starvation seige. Our poor boy strategy was this: We rented the biggest house we could find, moved in, begged for food, borrowed furniture,. got Publicityand held together the nucleus of our fighting force, which’ included D. B. Hardeman, Doug Crouch, Chatles Hughes, Waggoner Carr, Jim Sewell and many others. Next came a drive for furniture. sunk beds, chairs, apple crates, and other items came from Austin residents, firms, and even lobbyists. The food? It came from people throughout the state and, of course, the remaining few that were lobbying for the Sewell-Nokes bill, such as the Farm Bureau and the County Judges and Commissioners A.4sociation. I’ll even have to admit that a gas lobbyista good sport was one of the first to donate food. About seven House members moved in the first day. The highest number living there at any one time during the, few weeks’ stand was around 22, but others quartered there temporarily. Our house was not just a place to stay. It was a rallying point. It kept us going, and we won. One night, ,not very long before a compromise version of the gathering tax was adopted as part of the omnibus tax bill, the idea of for lieutenant governor became a popular subject at the Rio Grande house. Had the seige continued, that idea might have been fruitful. Each day the bottleneck continued, it became worse for the opposition. Favorable publicity was increasing, and it became evident that the Administration and the Senate would suffer from public reaction unless passage of the bill took them off the hook. The gathering tax was later held unconstitutional. Welf, no one could definitely say it was until it was adjudicated. I remember that in testimony on the bill before the House Committee on Agriculture, a gas company representative contended that it was unconstitutional. But he admitted that a similar law had been in effect in Louisiana for years, and that many millions of dollars had been paid in taxes under it without anyone contesting its constitutionality. He finally admitted that the reason was the companies were afraid the Louisiana Legislature would put some worse tax on them if it were knocked down. So, if the gathering tax was to be declared unconstitutional, it seemed that in the meantime Texas might ,find out what was “worse” and use it. The only practical matters to the lack of an appropriate constitutional tax on natural resources tiative to levy such taxes. The 52nd session had the initiative but an unconstitutional tax. If Sadler’s condensates tax is constitutionaland you can’t find out without tryingall the 54th Legislature needs is the initiative to start the battle and the stamina to keep going. And maybe another run-down house. By DENNY 0. INGRAM, JR. Former Texas /Legislator Written for The Texas Observer A lot happened in the old house we rented at 1700 Rio Grande in the early summer of 1951. Soon after we moved in, somebody painted two signs for the front porch which pretty much reflected our feelings: ‘JUDGE ME BY MY KNLTTIN’ Roy Hofheinz Is A Most Efficient Fellow “low-density-per-square mile city,” “diffusion of buses on expressways,” and “this age of the automobile” He is, in short, an urban councilman of the Twentieth Century. Is he running for Governor? He reacted to the question trim The Texas Observer this way: “Well; I tell you, people judge you by your knitting, and right now I’m knittin’ away here. So I hope my piece work now turns out good.” It’s a bit of knittin’ he’ll be doing, though, if he intends to provide for Houston’s growth. In the first place, he points out, Houston’s population increases every year by 35,000″that’s a city larger than Baytown.” “This growth adds some problems not related to a status quo city,” he says. “And they get compounded the longer we wait to solve them.” By 1974, he says, Houston will have 2,450,000 people. “And we are the first city in the country that has had any effort made to establish a plan of construction and -growth commensurate with proba ble future population growth.” He appointed a 50-person committee which represented various races, c r e e d s, color, “financial strata,” and the professions. It inSmith, Howard Tellepsen, Miss Ima Hogg, Jesse Andrews, John Mecom, Arthur Laro, Hobart Taylor, W. P. Hobby, and R. H. Abercrombie. After long study, this committee proposed a ten-year program of civic improvements that would cost half a billion dollars. Because of financing problems, it is now a 15year program in Hofheinz’s mind. It includes $206 million for streets and freeways; $143 million for drainage and storm sewers; $67 million for health and hospitals; $44 million to provide a steadier water supply; $15 million for a civie center and public buildings; and $9 million ‘for airports What about slum clearance? Hofheinz explains that he has “a reactionary gentleman” on the City Council, Gail Reeves. This fellow Reeves has been sniping at Hofheinz for months, and the Mayor is not above sniping back. He made the point that Reeves runs with the “Constitution Party” group, which is ultra-conservative. “He has succeeded in stopping slum clearance,” Hofheinz said. But the Mayor is still on record for Rep. Stanley Banks’s bill to authorize slum clearance by private or, if necessary, public agencies with federal aid. “It’s not socialisticprivate agencies would do it,” he says. The committee’s plans have not been submitted to the people yet, Hofheinz says, because “we don’t want to be like some noted statesmen who vote for all appropriations and no taxes.” Even so, the plans for a great metropolis on the Southwestern plains are pushed ahead. There is something about this high-powered and efficient mayor that conjures up the images of the hygienic, many-level cities of the TwentyFirst Century you sometimes find in architect’s drawings and futuristic comic books. Since Houston grows in a. 360 degree circle and has a low population density relative. to Eastern cities, Hofheinz and his planners are convinced that an underground transportation system would be uneconomic. Instead, they plan “super duper expressways” with adequate turnoffs for fast buses. Recently there was talk about “monorail,” the one rail ,highspeed train that has been operating in Europe since the turn of the century. Hofheinz has not declared himself on mono2ail but says that the advantages of an adequate above-ground bus system “far outweigh” any other. Urban railway systems developed in Eastern cities, Hofheinz says, “long before the days of 70 2 mile-an-hour safe automobiles,” and the “mid-Twentieth century direction” is in favor of utilizing ‘the general distribution of such cars. The heavy spending on expressu ways is necessary, he said, “or downtown values will deteriorate.” Houston, he said, must provide “accessibility of people from the perimeter of 360 degrees to the center with ease.” Extensive suburban developments a r e inevitable, o f course. Houston is a rich town, of course, but even here property owners resist new property taxes. Reeves, Hofheinz’s arch-foe, has a knack for homily that has combined with Hofheinz’s own irritability to do the Mayor real damage in Houston during the last few months. Referring to the Mayor’s desire for harmony, Reeves said the City Council wants to sing “Marching Along Together” but Hofheinz wanted them to sing “Hail to the Chief.” Reeves opposes Hofheinz’s suggestion on the tax raise bitterly:, “His pet excuse for this whopping increase is that he wants Houston to go ‘first-class’ and it’s a good way to go when you can afford it, and the Mayor personally can afford it, by the way, but it’s a poor way to go to the poorhouse …” It is said, Reeves opines, that you can shear a sheep every year, but you can only skin him once. The Mayor’s property tax raise would amount to “foreclosure notices for thousands of Houston homeowners,” he says. Thus the issue is clearly drawn in Houston: bold growth and new taxes versus no explicit plan on growth and no new taxes. Reeves’s reference to Hofheinz’s ability to go first class was strange, since the Houston mood is much friendlier to the self-made man of wealth than is that of many another American city. Hofheinz went to the Legislature from Houston at 21 and became a Harris County judge at 24. He quit public office at 31 with the announcement that he planned to make a million dollars within eight years and return to politics. He did and he did. He developed KTHT as Houston’s fourth radio station; built KSOX, a 50,000-watt station in Harlingen; and became a partner in WILD, Birmingham. He was a millionaire at 40. After his election as mayor sold KSOX for $225,000 and threefourths of his interest in KTHT for $600,000., In addition, he has developed Houston Slag Materials Company with a Birmingham man. Nine years ago he bought 83 acres of land that was then on the far outskirts of Houston. Now the land is surrounded by expensive residential developments. Except for the Hofheinz hoine, it is still open prairie. But perhaps Reeves made the point in an effort to damage Hofheinz with his many supporters from middle and lower income group’s. Hofheinz defends his program for its poor by referring to the Jefferson Davis Hospital for the indigent poor, the city-county hospital, and Houston’s program for indigent unemployables and their families. Houston’s welfare program,. he says, is “among the finer efforts in that direction expended anywhere in this part of the country.” But, he says, Houston is strong on the self-reliance philosophy, and “to an extent I go alone with it.” Sometimes he calls 14 a i. “hard-bitten businessman.” That may account for his thoughts on an increased state tax on gasoline. Asked about it last week, he said: “I am for it only on this basis: I think , peOple are willing to pay to obtain honest first-class service. The State Highway Department is impeccably honest. And I think that it’s fair that the fellow who uses the roads should pay for them.” Why not finance such expansion from revenues from, say, Natural resources taxes, he was asked. He had no comment on that at the moment, “but the appropriate way to finance highways is to obtain the money from the users.” True, he said, revenues would have to come from somewhere for the rest of the State’s expanded program of spending this new next two-year period. Mrs. Dene Hofheinz works as hard as the Mayor at politics. Last week she was directing the campaign for 17,000-plus signatures on a petition to reinstate Gould Beech, the Mayor’s former executive assistant whose job was abolished by the Council. \(At week’s end the signatures numbered well over 17,000. The City Council must either rescind its action or call a referenHofheinz has a sharp young crew of men running interference for him. Pat Daniels, his secretary, was Daily Texan editor at the University of Texas in 1938. Beech, whose job. was abolished, is a charming, savvy young man. who managed Kissin’ Jim Folsom’s campaign for governor of Alabama. Thus Hofheinz has sharp aides, an ambitious plan for Houston’s growth, and the energy and determination to carry it out. He is in every sense a modern mayor. Whether his tax theories and his “mid-Twentieth Century” vocabulary could carry him into the Governor’s chair is another matter.