“w ,.::,,””‘:”.’-‘””il stream \(Are you listening, Ways and Means Cool, clear, air. The lack of leadership from the federal government in preventing the intensification of the greenhouse effect \(and resulting global warming, flooding, and other the states to attack the problem. Vermont has taken the lead in in this area, but since Texas leads the nation in greenhouse-gas emissions, reform here could play a significant role. Last session, Land Commissioner Garry Mauro helped push through legislation requiring the state’s bus fleets to make a partial conversion to natural gas, which burns cleaner than other fossil fuels and therefore contributes less to global warming than does gasoline or diesel. We need legislation to encourage drivers and . manufacturers to switch to natural gas and alternative fuels. Because so much of the problem of global warming stems from private car use, market incentives have tremendous potential. Possible mechanisms include property tax exemptions for those who choose to live near their places of employment, a parking tax to give Texans a direct incentive to drive less, and tax incentives to buy fuelefficient cars. The Legislature could establish user fees on driving, especially in highly congested or polluted areas; automatic counters could be installed to calculate miles traveled on designated roadways. The cost of auto insurance could be rolled into the price of gasoline. Instead of buying insurance separately, drivers would pay a surcharge per gallon of gasoline, to cover the cost of car insurance. The total cost to the consumer would not increase, but those who chose to drive less would be rewarded not only with lower fuel expense, but also lower insurance rates. Such fees would give individuals and businesses incentives to reduce car use and make those who are causing this pollution to bear more fully the cost of the global warming, rather than passing those costs onto everyone. Market incentives such as those described here will allow Texas to make real progress on protecting the environment, without rely ing on expensive and too-often unresponsive bureaucracies. And such legislation would give each Texan a reward for changing his or her behavior in order to protect the planet and its resources from egregious exploitation. JIM MARSTON Jim Marston is managing attorney of Texans for the Environmental Defense Fund. Make Utility Customers Rate Two important ratemaking issues which have been very costly for ratepayers will be the focus of legislation this session. First, a significant controversy is brewing in Texas right now over the settlement process at the Public Utility Commission. The PUC approved a non-unanimous settlement in the recent Southwestern Bell rate case, in which Bell was found to be overcharging ratepayers. Consumer’s Union and all other consumer representatives opposed the settlement. We were also vocal opponents of the settlement process, which effectively excluded us from negotiations, and permitted the Commission to act upon a non-unanimous deal. The Legislative Budget Board has also criticized the PUC for its settlement process, which excludes representation by all parties concerned with ratemaking issues. A bill will be introduced in this Legislature to ‘do away with the non-unanimous settlements at all regulatory agencies. However, we expect another bill to be introduced to legitimate the PUC’s procedure. Consumer’s Union will oppose non-unanimous settlements and ensure fairness in the regulatory process. A second pressing ratemaking issue is hypothetical taxes. These are taxes the utility collects through surcharges in utility rates, but they are not actually owed to the government. This is possible because utilities are in holdinecompany structures. Although such arrangements are illegal in Texas, the current PUC ignores this law. All recent cases that permitted hypotheti cal taxes are on appeal. As they did last ses sion, the utilities will try to get the law changed to permit these taxes at a cost to ratepayers of at least $1 billion. This bill would reward utility stockholders for losing money in their non-utility investments. The cases which we believe the PUC decided il legally are making their way to the Supreme Court. Consumer advocates expect the Court to uphold our position. However, if the cases are remanded to the PUC, a change in the law would have the effect of boosting utility rates by $1 billion by means of hypothetical taxes. JANEE BRIESEMEISTER Janee Briesemeister is a policy analyst with Consumers Union of Texas. Give Low-Income Texans a Little Credit Consumer Union’s emphasis in the area of banking and credit has been on ensuring fairness in financial transactions, and ensuring the safety and soundness of financial institutions. Our particular emphasis has been on how these issues affect low-income persons. Our priorities this session will be on legislation affecting finance companies and pawn shops. These are the main sources of credit persons, and both are permitted to charge very high rates of interest. Consumers Union of Texas will monitor legislation and oppose any attempts to further increase permissible interest rates for these businesses. We are also working with a state senator to put some plainlanguage disclosures on these contracts that would alert customers of the actual cost of the credit they are contracting for. Consumers Union will also look carefully at legislation to create state-chartered savings banks in Texas. Savings banks are designed to evade federal-law restrictions on capitalization, premiums for deposit insurance, and certain restrictions on powers. We will oppose any attempts to eliminate consumer protections enacted under the bailout. JANEE BRIESEMEISTER DANNA BYROM Leslie Lanham Put the Needs of People First in the State Budget Most Texans are healthy. The have jobs with sufficient pay and health insurance benefits. They live in decent housing and attend adequate schools. Many have loving, attentive families who can protect them from danger and care for them when they are young, ill, disabled, or elderly. Many Texans, however, face a different reality. Even though they may work full time, many earn incomes below the level defined by the federal government as “poverty” $10, 610 per year for a family of three. One out of five Texans lives in poverty almost one out of four of our children. About one out of three Texas babies is born to a mother who had late or no prenatal care. One out of three young Texans fails to finish high school. Over 49,000 Texas children are abused each year. Almost three million Texans have no health care coverage. 14 FEBRUARY 8, 1991
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