RRC on the carpet It’s a rare day when the Texas Rail road Commission doesn’t get everything it asks for without question, but the next-to-impossible did happen when the House slashed in half the regulatory body’s request for more than half a million dollars in “emergency” funds. Watching all three commissioners complete with lawyerly retinuemaking a hand-wringing plea for the bucks and agreeing to line-item some of their fuzzily defined requests was the best show yet this session. The commission said it needed the emergency money to hire new employees and implement new policies under the federal Natural Gas Policy Act of 1978. The Senate agreed that the commission needed half a million dollars, and the bill sailed through that body with ease. It looked as if it would be the same story in the House, until a few members asked the bill’s author, Rep. Joe Hanna of Breckinridge, to be more specific about where some of the $581,000 would go. “It’s not my prerogative or duty to question what it takes for them to do their job,” Hanna said. This curious attitude didn’t set too well with El Paso Rep. Ron Coleman, who figured the Railroad Commission ought to have to itemize its request line by line, according to standard procedure for any appropriations bill. Speaker Bill Clayton was of the same persuasion, saying it was altogether proper for the House to ask for more specific and better information on where the money would be spent. In a stemwinder of a speech on the House floor, Coleman pointed out that in its own supporting document submitted with the request, the commission said it needed only $245,000 to implement the new federal act; it was not clear what the commission planned to do with the other quarter-million it asked for. Coleman also looked askance at a request for $67,327 under a category labeled “decision-making.” Coleman wondered if the $28,707 requested for utilities and $17,000 earmarked for travel had been spent for phone calls and plane tickets to Washington to lobby against the Natural Gas Policy Act. \(Spending state funds to influence legislation is forbidden under the current appropriations commissioners to answer this or other, simpler questions, such as why the commission needs an extra $16,089 for rent. The House thought Coleman’s points were well-taken, and voted 75 to 66 to give the commission only the $245,000 it said it needed to implement the NGPA. Since the Senate and House didn’t agree on the amount of money the commission should be given, the bill went to a conference committee. There, commissioner John Poerner trotted out the old bugaboo of the Bad Old Feds to rationalize his request for every bit of the $581,000, saying the full wad was needed to implement the NGPA and to make it “palatable to Texans.” Not only that, he cried, but the federal Energy Regulatory Administration is going to promulgate another regulation for crude oil in 60 to 90 days that will cause still more administrative headaches for the commission. Poerner’s “the-sky-is-falling” routine worked, and the conferees agreed to appropriate the entire $581,000. But Coleman, with the help of Rep. Matt Garcia, added an amendment that requires the itemization of commission funds and blocks the commissioners from transferring any of the half-million to other programs in the agency. It was a small victory, but an important one. Vicki Vaughan Squeezing out Shiner Drink a Shiner beer while you canit could be tough to find one after January 1, 1980, if a fast-moving Senate bill sponsored by Gene Jones of Houston makes its way into the law books. The measure includes two provisions that threaten to squeeze Texas’ last home-owned brew out of the market. The first one calls for what’s known as a “three-tier system” of distribution, from brewer to wholesaler to retailer. The idea is to stop the big brewers’ practice of by-passing wholesalers by making direct sales of their beers to retailers. That makes sense at one level \(giving independent wholesalers a chance to maintain a competitive element between large monopolistic brewers and consumwhere Shiner lives, Jones’s bill is a case of good intent producing disastrous results. This section of the bill would put the kibosh on the direct distribution system that the Spoetzl brewery has devised to help get its product to the public direct sales to consumers off the dock at its little brewery and at such Shiner wholesale outlets as the two-man operation in Austin \(Obs ., That’s bad enough, but under Jones’s SB 419 you’ll also be less likely to find a six-pack of Shiner at your local stores, thanks to a second provision that would allow beer to be sold in three new bottle sizesseven-, eightand 16-ounce bottles, in packages of six and eight. The sixand eight-packs of teensy sevenand eight-ounce bottles of beer, which will cost more per ounce than the tried and true 12-ounce six-pack now available, would mean higher profit margins for the big brewers, and the pressure to market the smaller sizes here is coming primarily from two of the most aggressive giants in the industryCoors and Philip-Morris, maker of Miller’s. These extra product lines will intensify the already-cutthroat competition for shelf space in supermarkets, liquor and convenience stores. Anheuser Busch, for example, already puts regular and light Budweiser, regular and light Michelob, and Busch Bavarian on the shelf in 12-ounce six-packs and quarts. Under the Jones bill, this industry giant can command additional space for seven-ounce versions of the same stuff. There’s only a limited number of inches on the already-crowded shelf. “Somebody’s got to go,” says a Shiner distributor, “and we’re afraid we’ll be the ones.” The result will be more size choices of the nationals, but fewer brand choices for consumers. The Shiner people aren’t taking all this lying down, but they’re getting precious little help. They did persuade Seguin Sen. John Traeger to amend the bill in committee to exempt breweries making less than 75,000 barrels annually from the three-tier system, thus allowing the brewery in Shiner to sell directly, but retail sales off the dock at Shiner distributorships would still be forbidden after the first of next year. At a Valentine’s Day hearing on the Jones bill, Marshall McHone, who with a single partner runs the Shiner distributorship in Austin, spelled out to the Senate state affairs committee what zero dock sales and less shelf space would do to his now-profitable business. Committee members were oh-so-sympathetic: “Well, I’m glad you’ve taken care of Shiner,” committee chairman Bill Moore of Bryan told Traeger; “Hang in there for the little guy,” Sen. Betty Andujar of Fort Worth told McHone. Whereupon both Andujar and Moore cast their votes with nine other members to gut Shiner distributors. Five days later, the full Senate joined in the fun by passing Jones’s bill. Only Ganado Sen. Bill Patman stood with Shiner. Vicki Vaughan 16 MARCH 2, 1979
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.