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the top priority for any education bill.” Hancock wrote, “Property tax estimates produced for his office by an Austin consulting firm are ‘the most reliable we have’ and should be used for distributing state aid, he said. And he is ‘committed’ to the weighted pupil plan and sees no reason to delay its implementation, he said.” What seems clear at this point is that the House, which has the initiative on the school finance problem, is not about to try to pass a major reform bill with Briscoe threatening a veto if they overspend. House members have never been very enthusiastic about the governor’s weighted pupil plan, and they certainly aren’t going to go out on a limbfor it when Briscoe is holding back on the purse strings. Passing a tax bill is one hellacious process even when the governor agrees it’s necessary. In this case, there’s more than Briscoe’s opposition to consider. An official in Comptroller Bob Bullock’s office who is already keeping tabs on such things says there are 107 members of the House over two-thirds of the membership who have never had the opportunity to vote on a tax bill before. They are not likely to demand a chance to do so. BY A VOTE of nine to nothing, the Senate State Affairs Committee passed out a utilities regulation bill that Common Cause promptly labeled “a farce and a sham.” The bill, SB 42, sponsored by Bill Moore of Bryan, was a compromise measure worked out by a subcommittee chaired by Sen. Chet Brooks of Pasadena. Brooks in turn credited Don Rives, Hobby’s executive assistant, with coordinating the drafting of the bill. “I think we can get it through the Senate virtually without dissent,” Brooks predicted. Dallas Sen. Ron Clower, co-sponsor of a stronger regulatory bill, voted for the compromise and promised to try to “strengthen” the measure on the Senate floor. The day it was approved by committee, Clower called the bill “an improvement over what we’ve got” and said he would vote for it even if he could not improve it with amendments. The measure would give a three-member appointed utilities commission power to set all intrastate telephone rates in Texas and electric rates outside of city limits. Cities would retain jurisdiction over electric and gas rates within their boundaries. Appeals on electric rate decisions would go to the utilities commission but gas rate appeals would go to the Railroad Commission, which would also have jurisdiction over gas rates outside of municipal boundaries. The Texas Coalition for Utility Regulation, which includes Common Cause, the Texas AFL-CIO, the Texas Consumer Association, and the association of retired persons, held a news conference to announce that the bill is “a monopoly’s dream and a consumer’s nightmare.” s Dr. 4 The Texas Observer Mike Abel, co-chairman of the coalition, insisted that SB 42 is “worse than no regulatory bill at all.” Senator Doggett, Clower’s co-sponsor of the rival utilities bill, and Austin City Attorney Don Butler also lambasted the bill, saying it would be a disaster for Austin-area citizens. “As drawn, this bill is strictly for the utilities companies,” Doggett said. “If they didn’t write it they sure had lots of input.” He said that as written the bill would entitle Southern Union Gas Co. in Austin to $500,000 more than the company is presently seeking in rate increases. Butler cited a long list of grievances against the bill, including: Increasing the fair market value amount utilities can use as part of their rate base; A rate of return higher than what is now currently allowed by cities or the Railroad Commission; No representation for the rate-paying public; Unreasonably requiring cities to prove that a rate request is unjustified rather than requiring utilities to prove that the rates are justified; Deletion of an original proposal that would prohibit utility company attorneys or consultants from serving on the commission for at least two years after leaving the company’s employ; And a “potpourri” of procedural aspects slanted in favor of utilities companies. “After careful study,” Clower decided that SB 42 needed drastic alterations. It soon became clear that right-wing senators opposing any regulation and left-leaning senators opposing weak regulation together had more than the 11 votes necessary to block consideration of the bill, so Clower decided to try to get some concessions in advance rather than amend the bill on the floor. Clower, Doggett, Brooks, Moore, and other began a series of meetings with the lieutenant governor to put together a bill that might pass the Senate. Hobby announced his willingness to go along with most of the minor changes recommended by critics of the bill, but Im was sticking to his support of the rate base provisions of the bill. These are the very provisions that the consumer groups insist would guarantee utilities easy rate increases and inordinate profits. Hobby thinks the consumer groups are mistaken. “What the bill does is allow the commission to strike a balance anywhere between 60 percent of original value or 40 percent of replacement value,” he told the UPI. At presstime Clower told the Observer that the negotiations were continuing and that he and Doggett were mainly trying to knock out the 60-40 provision and trying to get the bill’s sponsors to compute a utilities rate of return in conjunction with the rate base. It looked like an uphill battle all the way. LEGISLATION in almost every other area of statewide concern has been delayed as well. Prospects for prison reform were not good in January and they are down to zero now. There is little hope that the Lege will empower the Texas Youth Council to meet the demands of U.S. Dist. Judge William Wayne Justice’s order to the TYC last year, which instructed the agency to “create or discover a system of community-based treatment” for juvenile offenders. A package of child-care reform bills remember Artesia Hall? is waiting for committee action in the House. In the Senate, Bill Moore signed off as sponsor of a bill revising DPW licensing of child care facilities after his colleagues voted not to debate it. The bill, which once received support from Governor Briscoe, is now “on the table,” which means it could be revived if anyone cares to take over as sponsor. The Senate has at least passed a strip-mining mill, but it’s one that gives environmentalists the fantods. The bill, sponsored by Max Sherman of Amarillo, places regulatory authority in the Railroad Commission rather than in the General Land Office. It provides for automatic renewal of stripping permits. It covers only coal and uranium mining. It prohibits the filing of complaints by citizens who do not live in the county where the alleged violations occur or in an adjoining county. Meanwhile, a House subcommittee has yet to kick out its version of the legislation: as the Observer full Environmental Affairs Committee is unlikely to favor any but the weakest regulation. Superport legislation is stalled as well. The Senate has at least passed a bill, one which sets up a mechanism for the governor to give the state’s approval to any proposed port. The measure was designed to interlock with federal licensing legislation, but it avoids the hottest issue: whether a Texas superport should be publicly or privately owned. What with the Senate’s rules on bringing up bills for argument, it will undoubtedly take a two-thirds vote to bring any bill to the floor, and there may very well be. 11 votes to block action in either direction. In the House, Rep. Buddy Temple’s public ownership bill is in the State Affairs Committee’s special section of limbo. \(When Jon Ford was doing his counting in early April, State Affairs had reported out the “leadership” weighs in on this question, it will probably be on the side of private ownership: Governor Briscoe and Lieutenant Governor Hobby said jointly, as long ago as December, that they felt “state expenditure of funds for a superport is not necessary.” \(Comptroller Bob Bullock recently concluded that public ownership “best serves the public interest and the fiscal well-being of the state,” based on his