The Admiral Shankle Pork Barrel Museum “I voted for your pork barrel, now you vote for mine.” Rep. Bill Hollowell to members of the House Appropriations Committee Austin House members toiled diligently over their $11.9 billion appropriations bill. They spent three days going over 110 amendments, lopped $3.6 million off the proposed bill, and seemed well pleased with themselves. It was, however, a fairly quirky performance. Legislators can glom onto the strangest issues. The major sticking point of the three-day debate was nothing as substantial as the state’s stingy payments to welfare children, or the extravagant endowments for agribusiness research, or the anonymous private donations to college presidents and agency heads. No, the issue that took approximately a fourth of the debate time and a dozen amendments to settle was the purchase of a derelict foundry in a black neighborhood in San Antonio. It was Rep. G. J. Sutton’s personal piece of the pork barrel, and, as fate would have it, the old foundry became the symbol for all the questionable expenditures that riddle the budget bill. NO ONE raised a stink about the 4-H Club convention hall the House voted to staff in Brownwood, or the $490,000 Speaker Billy Clayton wangled for the private High Plains Research Foundation, or the $155,000 Jim Nugent got for Fredericksburg’s Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz Memorial Naval Museum “to foster and commemorate the memory of the era of supreme U.S. naval power upon the seas and the men and women of the armed services whose gallant and selfless dedication to duty made this era made a good try with the East Texas Chest Hospital in Tyler, a $14 million boondoggle. Medical science seems to have TB on the run. Mattox pointed out that the Tyler hospital’s budget has almost doubled since the last biennium despite the fact that its occupancy rate is only 58 percent. Meanwhile, over in San Antonio, which Mattox maintains has a more sympathetic climate for persons suffering from respiratory diseases, the state is converting a seldom-used chest hospital into a school for the mentally retarded. The East Texas Chest Hospital seemed like a juicy piece of pork, but the legislators preferred to chomp down on poor G.J.’s foundry. Debate on the property was an object lesson in how a proposal with little or no merit can get locked into an appropriations 6 The Texas Observer bill. Sutton is a friend of Perry Shankle, who happens to own an abandoned foundry with an office building on six and a half acres in a black neighborhood. The Sutton & Sutton Mortuary is only two blocks away. Shankle has been trying to unload the property for quite a few years. Sutton tried and failed to get the Legislature to buy the land two years ago. This year he tried harder. When it was not among the items recommended to the Appropriations Committee by the State Affairs Committee, Sutton, a black man who supported Clayton for speaker, called Clayton and complained. \(Some House members maintain that the Shankle property was Sutton’s price for endorsing Clayton, but Clayton just laughed when rate, -Sutton got some action after his call to Clayton. The speaker apparently contacted State Affairs Chairman Tom Uher, because Uher made a speedy trip to San Antonio via a DPS jet helicopter to look over the property. Uher then proceeded to get the Appropriations Committee to return State Affairs’ recommendations for further consideration, and the committee added a proposal to spend a million dollars to buy the Perry Shankle property. Despite the fact it had not been recommended by the State Building Commission, the property was to be used for state office space. It would be the first major state office building outside of Austin. Latham Boone of Navasota, vice chairman of State Affairs, resigned in protest over the action, and he was the first man up during the appropriations debate. to offer an amendment. He wanted to take the million away from Shankle and put it into tuition equalization grants. Representative Nugent of Kerrville, responding for the Appropriations Committee, insisted that a million dollars for six and a half acres of land in downtown San Antonio with 25,000 square feet of office space was a darn good deal. The plan, he said, was to buy the property for $750,000 and spend $250,000 on remodeling it. Boone’s amendment was tabled 74 to 62. BOONE’S near success, however, prompted a bunch more amendments. During the first two days of appropriations debate, Wayne Peveto tried to transfer the Shankle million to the William B. Travis State Office Building. John Wilson wanted to apply the money to a parking garage in the capitol complex. Dan Kubiak proposed pumping the money into public school education, and Tom Craddick made an effort to re-allocate it for special education. Each time a new amendment was offered a little more damaging information would come to light about the Shankle property. Somebody wanted to know where “those horrible looking pictures” of the Shankle foundry Sutton . showed legislators last session had disappeared to. There were all manner of estimates as to the property’s worth and how much it would cost to remodel the office building. Peveto, the property tax expert, finally put in a call to the Bexar County Tax Office. The tax assessor, Peveto reported to the House, said the property is on the rolls at 100 percent valuation for a total of $221,852 that’s $77,820 for the land and $144,023 for improvements. But, Peveto added, Perry Shankle, Jr., has been protesting to the tax office that the valuation is too high. Votes on some of the amendments were close enough to require . verification. Speaker Clayton was sufficiently concerned that he used his own vote on Sutton’s side from time to time, but Sutton repeatedly declined to come forward and defend the property. Peveto’s information from the tax assessor finally
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