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POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE Through the Looking Glass OH, SINNER MAN While the governor titillates his base with a proposal to add a $5 surcharge to strip club cover fees, Rep. Lon Burnam his base that’s smarter and more inclusive, if a bit less sexy. Burnam proposes a tax on air-polluting practices, on the premise that ogling nekkid ladies is a lot less of a “sin” than poisoning the air we all have to breathe. And unlike the governor’s sin tax proposals, Burnam’s bills would tax those who could presumably afford it: power plants, SUV owners, and coal-burning industries. “It’s time we started taxing the sins of the 21″ century,” Burnam told reporters at a sparsely attended press conference on the Capitol steps. Cyrus Reed, director of the Texas Center for Policy Studies, said Burnam’s proposals could raise $1.2 billion over the next two years. A one percent surcharge on the sales price of vehicles that emit high levels of smog-producing gases could raise $200 million. Another tax on power plants that burn high levels of nitrous oxidean element of smogcould raise $700 million. A tax on industry use of coal would raise another $200 million. Coal is by far the dirtiest of the fuels used to produce electricity, yet unlike oil or natural gas, it is currently untaxed. Like traditional sin taxes, Burnam’s proposals would raise revenue for the state while discouraging behaviors that cost the state money. While Burnam concedes that revenue from the pollution taxes would drop overtime, the state would presumably recoup those losses in, say, decreased healthcare expenses for children with asthma. SOURED DREAM Each year Home and Garden designed home worth more than a million dollars to a lucky person chosen from tens of millions of entries. For DreamHome 2004, the network gave a fully furnished 3000square-foot house on two acres overlooking the southeast coast of Georgia to a state bureaucrat from California. And now, HGTV has decided where DreamHome 2005 will be situated: Lake Tyler, Texas. HGTV’s web site waxes poetically about all the amenities the new homesite, tucked away in an exclusive enclave, will have. It paints a bucolic picture of “approximately 100 acres of dedicated greenbelt” and “a private 39 acre waterfront club and resort!’ Photos of pastoral scenes of leafy glades and anglers casting against a dawn-streaked sky intersperse the text. All this nature, and it’s still just “eight minutes from the apex of Tyler’s shopping and dining hub.” The web site relates how the minimansion that is at the heart of the prize was designed to “draw from the environment” as well as to be “responsive to the rich heritage of East Texas.” Well, they got that right. The rich heritage of Texas is to draw from the environment. The winner of the HGTV contest is about to learn how the extraction game is played in the Lone Star State. It’s a lesson a new group of well-to-do property owners calling itself the Save Lake Tyler Association is having the misfortune of discovering the hard way. As the Observer went to press, a state district judge was set to rule on a lawsuit by lakeside residents of unincorporated Tyler against the city. The suit stems from a city council decision to make 5,500 acres of cityowned property on the lake open to oil and natural gas drilling. Oil and gas drilling could be as near to the HGTV site as across the street, according to association members. From the dock of the house, the lucky winner will likely be able to see derricks in action, says Mark Flynn, president of the association. The city opened up the leases for less than $2 million upfront and royalties of between 20 and 25 percent for all oil and natural gas sold. The lease the city granted to Longviewbased C.W. Resources to develop oil and gas resources has restrictions. Drilling is not allowed in the lake itself, on residential properties, or within 100 feet of the lake. That leaves the green spaces scattered about the lake as fair game, in violation of Parks and Wildlife Statutes, or so claims the Save Lake Tyler Association, the group that filed the case. There is a hang-up however. The Lake Tyler area is owned by the cityresidents have rolling leasesbut it is not an incorporated part of the city. \(The same goes for the taxes or receive city services. They do not vote in municipal elections. And though some properties along the lake have evolved into de facto parks, the city does not maintain or recognize them as such. An HGTV official insists that the company’s dream home is far enough removed from the drilling. HGTV spokeswoman Emily Yarborough said the company was aware of the issue and did not expect it to be a problem. Still, one can just see the ad copy: “Relax to the rhythmic sounds of oil and gas derricks.” But it gets worse. The city depends upon two adjoining reservoirs for most of its waterLake Tyler East, which was opened to drilling about a year and a half ago, under the watch of then-mayor and now newly minted State Sen. Kevin Eltifeand Lake Tyler West, which was opened to drilling in December, when the city council approved a recent lease with C.W. Resources. Both water sources could be threatened. As the association members have taken out ads, grown its membership, and demanded a greater say in the process, the company has defended its safety record. The city has maintained that it has done no wrong and it has continued to tout the economic benefits of natural gas exploration. Despite the lawsuit, C.W. Resources says it will go forward with its drilling. Lease holder Flynn moved back to his native Tyler after 20 years in Austin, motivated in part by memories of the beauty of Lake Tyler. “You are putting in jeopardy a reservoir that is the primary drinking source for the city,” he says. “It’s just greed, pure and simple.” BRINGING THEM THE GOSPEL Suzii Paynter says she never wanted to know anything about gambling. But today the public policy director of the Christian Life Commissiona wing of the Baptist General Convention of Texashas a bookshelf of books on gambling, 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5/7/04