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Principal participants with Hidalgo County Road Builders are featured in Edinburg on August 9 after being chosen by the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority as the agent to develop a proposed Southern Loop Project in Hidalgo County. The RMA’s next scheduled session has been announced – the governmental entity will hold a public meeting on Wednesday, September 12, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the City Commissioner’s Room, located on the second floor of Pharr City Hall, 118 S. Cage Boulevard. The agenda for that session will be posted three days before the meeting at http://www.lrgvdc.org/RMA/meetings.html. Included in this portrait shot are (center, first row) Gerry E. Pate, P.E., managing partner of Hidalgo County Road Builders and Pate Transportation Partners, and to his right, Jennie N. Taraborelli, a partner with Pate Transportation Partners.

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Mikal Watts, featured right, a probably Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, was in Edinburg recently, flanked by area mayors, including, from left, Salvador Vela of Alton, Gumaro Flores of Sullivan City, and Jorge Garcia of Palmview. The Labor Day weekend represents the traditional kick-off for major political campaigns, such as Watts’ hopes to unseat incumbent Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in November 2008. But first, Watts may face Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, who is also considering a run for the March 2008 Democratic Party nomination to challenge Cornyn. Watts has picked up key endorsements in Edinburg, including support from: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III; Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; and Mayor Joe Ochoa. Recently, Noriega announced endorsements from two former Democratic Party icons – Gov. Dolph Briscoe and Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby. See story later in this posting.

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The amount of bank deposits in Edinburg has passed $1 billion, a new record, while new construction activities continued strong, approaching $123 million between January and July 2007, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. “Edinburg’s economy is growing rapidly and the bank deposits reaching the billion dollar mark shows the level of investment interest in Edinburg and strong business activity taking place,” said Ramiro Garza, Jr., executive director of the EEDC. The EEDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council, is governed by a five-person board of directors, which includes Mayor Joe Ochoa, former mayor Richard García, who is the EEDC board president, and Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D. Included in this photograph that featured local business leaders announcing the milestone is City Councilmember Gene Espinoza, featured right. See story later in this posting.

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Sen. Hinojosa to hold campaign kick-offs September 6 in Corpus Christi; September 13 in McAllen

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

With a senatorial district that stretches from Hidalgo County to the Coastal Bend, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, will host two campaign kick-offs at both ends of his district in the coming days.

The McAllen attorney is seeking a second four-year term in the Texas Senate. He will be a candidate for the March 2008 Democratic Party primary, and if he is nominated, would be on the November 2008 general election ballot.

So far, there are no announced opponents from either party.

Hinojosa will have his first campaign kick-off at the Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz International Center, 402 Harbor Drive in Corpus Christi, on Thursday, September 6, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

A week later, on Thursday, September 13, Hinojosa will have his campaign kick-off at the Holidome, 200 W. Expressway 83 in McAllen, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

For both events, a $25 donation is being suggested by his campaign, but all constituents are welcomed to show up for the celebrations, which will also feature food, drinks, and entertainment, at no cost.

René Ramírez, Hinojosa’s longtime chief-of-staff and a former Edinburg city councilmember, is listed as the contact person for more information about the events. He may be reached at 512/496-3494.

Hinojosa also maintains a political campaign website at http://www.SenatorHinojosa.com

The campaign e-mail address is info@SenatorHinojosa.com, and the campaign telephone number is 956/992-9195.

Hinojosa’s Senate District 20 includes all but the southeast portion of Hidalgo County, Brooks County, Jim Wells County, and Nueces County. The major population centers in Senate District 20 include Corpus Christi, most of McAllen, Edinburg, Mission, Falfurrias and Alice.

First elected to the House of Representatives in 1980, Hinojosa served 10 years before retiring to return full time to his legal practice. While out of elected office, he served as a member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in the early 1990s as an appointee for Gov. Ann Richards.

In 2002, he was elected to the Texas Senate in what at the time was the most expensive campaign, involving three other candidates, in state history.

Hinojosa, a U.S. Marines combat squad leader in Vietnam, hails from Mission, graduated from Pan American University, and received his law degree from Georgetown University Law School in Washington, D.C. His extensive legal career also included serving as an Assistant Attorney General with Attorney General John Hill in Austin.

As a legislator, Hinojosa has authored or sponsored hundreds of bills and amendments into law, including bringing Pan American University into the University of Texas System and creating the UT Regional Academic Health Center – two milestones that have had a dramatic impact in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Highlights of his most recent legislative achievements, stemming from the regular session last spring, are featured on his state web site (http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate).

According to that site:

Hinojosa served as vice-chair of Senate Jurisprudence and as a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

He has focused on legislation tackling health care coverage for working families, strengthening border security without damaging Texas’ valuable economic ties with Mexico, and improving child welfare and safety in our public and private schools.

His work has led to sweeping changes in the juvenile justice system; more accountability and consumer protections for electricity ratepayers; and a proposed moratorium on skyrocketing college tuition rates so that more working families have an opportunity to attend university.

Throughout his 36 years of military and public service,

Hinojosa has made it his duty to protect the civil liberties granted to us by the Constitution and to fight for a more transparent government that truly represents the people of Texas.

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Edinburg banks’ deposits pass $1 billion level while new construction reaches $123 million

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

The amount of bank deposits in Edinburg has passed $1 billion, a new record, while new construction activities continued strong, approaching $123 million between January and July 2007, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The $1 billion benchmark was first attained in March, and has continued to grow, reaching $1,039,459,851.60 as of May – a significant increase over the same month in 2006, when bank deposits in the three-time All-America City totaled $622,671,770.51.

“Edinburg’s economy is growing rapidly and the bank deposits reaching the billion dollar mark shows the level of investment interest in Edinburg and strong business activity taking place,” said Ramiro Garza, Jr., executive director of the EEDC.

The EEDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council, is governed by a five-person board of directors, which includes Mayor Joe Ochoa, former mayor Richard García, who is the EEDC board president, and Fred Palacios, MikThe amount of bank deposits in Edinburg has passed $1 billion, a new record, while new construction activities continued strong, approaching $123 million between January and July 2007, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The $1 billion benchmark was first attained in March, and has continued to grow, reaching $1,039,459,851.60 as of May – a significant increase over the same month in 2006, when bank deposits in the three-time All-America City totaled $622,671,770.51.

“Edinburg’s economy is growing rapidly and the bank deposits reaching the billion dollar mark shows the level of investment interest in Edinburg and strong business activity taking place,” said Ramiro Garza, Jr., executive director of the EEDC.

The EEDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council, is governed by a five-person board of directors, which includes Mayor Joe Ochoa, former mayor Richard García, who is the EEDC board president, and Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D.

Edinburg ranked third in the Valley among bank deposits, according to data compiled and maintained by the Rio Grande Partnership, which is an alliance of local chambers of commerce and economic development and business entities.

To recognize that economic achievement, the Edinburg Marketing Committee, comprised of leaders with the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Edinburg, scheduled a free, public reception on Tuesday, September 4 at the University of Texas-Pan American.

The public gathering was set from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., in the International Trade and Technology Building, according to Evana Vleck, director of Marketing and Special Events for the chamber of commerce.

McAllen posted $3,392,055,372.18 in bank deposits in May, up from $2,964,109,054.31 during the same month in 2006. Brownsville came in second with bank deposits, totaling $2,361,483,190.93, up from $1,733,930.02 in May 2006.

Harlingen’s bank deposits in May 2007 – fourth in the Valley – reached $925,546,394.72, while Pharr reported bank deposits of $855,258,255.20 as of that month, while Mission’s bank deposits in May 2007 totaled $839,134,934.22.

All banks in the Rio Grande Valley reported bank deposits totaling $11,766,612,233.10 in May 2007, compared with $9,610,577,123.21 in May 2006.

Meanwhile, the value of construction activities in Edinburg from January through July 2007 totaled $122,943,220, with the city receiving the most valuable building permit, worth $2,254,000, for additions/remodeling/repairs at a facility located at 100 E. Freddy Gonzalez Drive in the Texas Mexican Railway Co. Survey Subdivision.

The value of construction activities for the same seven-month period in 2006 was reported as $128,422,060.

For the month of July – the latest figures available from the city government – Edinburg generated more than $7.5 million in total construction, compared with almost $15.8 million in July 2006.

The estimated value of construction for a project is included when the city issues a building permit.

A building permit is permission issued by a city’s planning department to oversee and approve any changes to structures.

They are documents designed to guarantee that any construction work, from remodeling to demolition to building a new home or business facility, meets the city’s building codes.

The building permit does not include the value of the lot.

A breakdown of the major construction categories year-to-date and by month in Edinburg includes:

•In July, total new construction was $7,502,286.00, compared with $15,756,578 during the same month last year;

•Total new commercial construction, January through July, was $57,793,225, compared with $49,508,864 during the same period in 2006. New commercial construction in July reached $95,000, compared with $3,592,000 in the same month in 2006;

•Total new construction of single-family homes, January through July, was valued at $37,427,909, compared with $44,687,358 during the same period in 2006. New construction of single-family homes in July totaled $2,946,136, compared with $6,963,768 in the same month last year;

•The number of single-family homes built in the first seven months of 2007 totaled 399, compared with 560 from January through July 2006. In July, construction began on 34 new homes, compared with 74 new homes in the same month last year;

•Total new construction of multi-family residences (duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and apartments), January through July, was valued at $9,306,500, compared with $9,410,000 in the same period in 2006. New construction of multi-family residences in July totaled $1,580,000, compared with $3,415,000 in the same month last year;

•The number of multi-family residences built, from January through July, totaled 99 (95 duplexes, three triplexes/fourplexes, and one complex with five or more units), compared with 98 (89 duplexes, one triplex/fourplex, and eight complexes with five or more units) in the same period in 2006. New construction of multi-family residences in July totaled 11 (10 duplexes, one complex with five or more units), compared with 10 (two duplexes, eight complexes with five or more units) in July 2006;

•Total residential alterations, January through July, were valued at $3,406.157, compared with $3,858,240 during the same period in 2006. Total residential alterations in July were valued at $282,850, compared with $438,460 in July 2006;

•Total commercial alterations, January through July, were valued at $2,507,929, compared with $8,473,598 during the same period last year. Total commercial alterations in July were valued at $344,300, compared with $782,350 during the same month in 2006;

•No permits have been issued through July for new construction of non-taxable structures (government buildings, churches, etc), compared with work valued at $8,996,000 during the same period. The city government does not issue building permits for any construction work at the University of Texas-Pan American.

•Alterations/repairs on non-taxable structures (government, religious, etc.) between January and July have reached $12,501,500 during the first seven months of 2007, compared with $3,488,000 during the same period last year. For the month of July, building permits valued at $2,254,000 were issued for alternations/repairs on non-taxable structures, compared with $575,000 in July 2006.

Miguel A. Garza was issued a building permit for the second most valuable project in July.

He is building a multi-family residence, valued at $600,000, at 805 Russian in the Schunior Village Subdivision.

Five other multi-family residence projects authorized for construction in July were valued at $100,000 or more.

Permits were issued in July for seven single-family homes valued at $100,000 or more.

The most valuable home to receive a building permit in July was issued to Jesús and Dora Contreras, for construction valued at $227,000. Their home is located at 2682 Easy Avenue in the Copperfield Subdivision.

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Edinburg Cable Network earns statewide honors for local programming by government channels in Texas

The City of Edinburg has announced the Edinburg Cable Network – ECN 12 (Time Warner Cable) recently brought home eight awards from the Texas Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors for excellence in programming.

ECN 12 tied with the City of Allen in bringing the most awards – eight each – from 20 categories of competition sponsored by TATOA, which is an organization dedicated to educating local government officials to better serve their citizens in the development, regulation, and administration of cable television and other telecommunications systems.

The TATOA 2007 Conference was held in Austin on August 2nd and 3rd.

The Edinburg Cable Network is funded by the City of Edinburg, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, and the University of Texas-Pan American. It’s equipment and studio are currently located inside the International Trade and Technology Building on the campus of the University of Texas-Pan American. However, once the new Edinburg City Hall opens in the coming months, ECN will be moving to the new city facility.

Mayor Joe Ochoa, who in the 1990s led efforts to create ECN 12, praised the awards as part of the city’s and EEDC’s efforts to deliver public information to residents.

“Felicidades! The staff and ECN 12 is always working quietly behind the scenes, and rarely do we notice them until they ask those important questions that give our citizens a better perspective of events or news in our community,” said Ochoa. “Their professionalism and quality of information provided to the pubilc merit the accolades presented to them.”

In addition to being mayor, Ochoa also serves on the five-member board of directors of the EEDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the city council. Former mayor Richard García is president of the EEDC board of directors, which also includes Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and Dr. Glen E. Martínez, Ph.D.

ECN 12 placed ahead of several other larger cities with larger populations, including Allen (population: 73,298), McKinney (107,530), Denton (109,530), and even Houston (2,144,491).

“We are extremely excited about to have won these awards,” said Evelyn Escamilla, ECN 12 director. “We do our best to bring the citizens of Edinburg quality and informative community news. It’s nice to have other broadcasters from throughout Texas give us this recognition.”

In the past four years, ECN 12 has won more than two dozen statewide awards for their programming, she added.

Escamilla credited city leaders with enabling ECN 12 to stay up-to-date with broadcasting technology.

“We couldn’t produce the kind of quality television we do if the mayor and city council didn’t support our efforts,” she said. “They have enabled use to keep our equipment and technology state-of-the-art to bring residents the best community television.”

Mayor Pro Tem Alma Garza added, “I’m not surprised that ECN 12 has won so many awards. They have a fantastic staff, from the director to the cameramen, and everyone in between. The work hard and attend most every meeting in order to keep our citizens informed and up-to-date with what’s going on in Edinburg.”

The categories and number of entries in which the Edinburg Cable Network placed first, second, or third follow:

Community Event Coverage, 18 entries:

  • 1st Place: Edinburg Cable Network – Valley Symphony Orchestra;
  • 2nd Place: City of Allen – Allen USA Celebration; and
  • 3rd Place: Edinburg Cable Network – Texas Cook ‘Em.

Public Affairs, eight entries:

  • 1st Place: City of Allen – Allen City Council Meetings;
  • 2nd Place: Edinburg Cable Network – City Council Meetings; and
  • 3rd Place: City of Farmers Branch – City Council Preview and Recap.

Documentary – Social Issues/Profiles, three entries:

  • 1st Place: Edinburg Cable Network – Uninsured Border;
  • 2nd Place: City of McKinney º McKinney: Unique by Nature; and
  • 3rd Place: City of Denton – Fry Street Farewell.

Public Health/Public Safety, four entries:

  • 1st Place: City of Plano – Shattered Dreams;
  • 2nd Place: Edinburg Cable Network – Drink Driving Demo;
  • 2nd Place: City of Houston – Red Light Cameras; and
  • 3rd Place: City of Houston – Waugh Bridge Bats.

Special Audience, six entries:

  • 1st Place: City of Allen – In Memory of..
  • 2nd Place: Edinburg Cable Network – Baseball Summer Camp; and
  • 3rd Place: Edinburg Cable Network – Fire Safety Show.

Magazine Format Series, six entries:

  • 1st Place: City of Allen – Access Allen;
  • 2nd Place: City of Denton – DTV Newsbreak; and
  • 3rd Place: Edinburg Cable Network – ECN 12 News Update.

A complete list of all categories and entries are available at: http://www.tatoa.org/index.html

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Hidalgo County Judge Salinas sets up Internet site – http://www.judgejd.com – to help reach more constituents

By CARI LAMBRECHT

What goes into the making of decisions that affect hundreds of thousands of people? What are government officials doing when they aren’t in the office? What goes on behind-the-scenes?

The answers to these questions can now be found online at http://www.judgejd.com, a Web log, or “blog” launched by Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III.

The first informational post to http://www.judgejd.com went up on August 2. Salinas explained why has introduced this Web site:

“After watching the presidential debates recently broadcasted on CNN and YouTube.com, it reminded me of how locally we need to catch up with advancements in communication technology. There are vehicles of communication out there we have not taken advantage of, and, for that reason, we— meaning myself, my staff and all whoever chooses to participate — have decided to introduce this blog. The idea has been in the works for awhile, and I’m glad we’ve finally been able to make it a reality. The purpose behind this site is so that your government can receive input directly from you.”

Since his first post, Salinas, with the help of his staff, has posted stories, press releases, speeches, article excerpts, photos and even videos about events and issues affecting Hidalgo County. The site has already achieved more than 900 hits, most of them after it was recently linked to the Hidalgo County Web site (http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us). People have also posted comments and questions about such topics as personal hardships and drainage.

“I’m amazed at the response so far. It’s been very positive, but at the same time, not a lot of people know about this blog yet, and I want to the word to get out,” Salinas said. “I want to hear peoples’ ideas and their concerns. I may not be able to respond to every single person out there, but any vehicle for better communication is a step in the right direction.”

Salinas asks that people use the blog responsibly. He does not want it to become a political pulpit, but rather a forum for exchanging ideas and allowing people more access to their government. Media should not use the blog to post interview questions either.

“I do feel like I am putting myself out on a limb,” Salinas said. “Blogs have been around now for the better part of this decade but you don’t see too many elected officials with one. I’m going to take a chance on this, and we’ll see what happens.”

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UT-Pan American’s annual operating budget surpasses $229 million, up 10.3 percent

It will cost more than $229 million to run The University of Texas-Pan American between September 1, 2007 and August 31, 2008, according to the 12-month, 2008 fiscal budget approved in late August by The University of Texas System Board of Regents.

The new budget is part of a $10.7 billion budget that will run the UT System statewide, which includes nine academic campuses and six health institutions. It is one of the nation’s largest higher education systems.

According to the UT System budget, operating budget highlights for the local university include:

U. T. Pan American’s vision is to be a premier learner-centered research institution that aligns resources to its priorities identified in the 2008-2009 Compact with the U. T. System:

•Improving graduation rates;

•implementing the institution’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP);

•Increasing research and doctoral programs;

•Increasing the production of STEM majors; and

•Improving organizational processes and structure.

Revenue

Total operating revenue is projected to increase by $9 million (7.4%). Formula-driven state appropriations funding of $57 million in FY 2008 represents an increase of 2.7% over fiscal year 2007.

The gains in the Operations Support and Teaching Experience formulas were partially offset by a reduction in the E&G Space Support formula. The only change in non-formula general revenue is the Research Development Fund, accounting for a $438,000 (202%) increase. In addition, the Higher Education Assistance Funds (HEAF) allocation will increase from $8.5 million to $12.8 million (50%).

Tuition and fees are estimated to generate $51.4 million, an increase of $7.8 million (17.9%) over the previous fiscal year. Designated tuition revenue is estimated at $34.1 million dollars and will continue to be capped at 14 hours to encourage timely graduation.

The designated tuition rate is increasing from $63.15 to $79.15 per semester credit hour, but is still relatively low compared to that of other institutions. In addition to modest contributions from three course fees (Art, Physics and Geology, and Communications) and a program fee (Psychology), the major new fee effective this Fall is the Recreation Center Fee ($75 per long semesters and $35 per summer session), estimated to generate income of $3 million.

Although enrollment trends suggest a 2% growth rate, the FY 2008 budget was built on a no-growth scenario. Funds transferred from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will increase by $2 million due to an increase in the Texas Grant program.

Federal Sponsored Programs are expected to decrease by $1.5 million from the FY 2007 budget, but this is expected to be more than offset by increases in State Sponsored Programs ($2.1 million, including TEXAS Grants) and Local and Private Sponsored Programs ($346,000).

Auxiliary revenue is expected to remain steady.

Expenses

Budgeted Expenses (including transfers for interest on debt) are increasing by $21.4 million (10.3%) for FY 2008. Merit adjustments equal to 3% of eligible faculty and staff salaries are included. $301,000 is budgeted for reclassification and equity adjustments, plus $60,000 for “living wage” adjustments. Faculty salary expenses, including merit and new positions, are increasing by $2.876 million (6.8%). Additional staff positions (25 FTEs) totaling $813,000 are budgeted.

Key initiatives being funded include $287,000 in Graduate Differential Tuition revenues set aside to support graduate program enhancements, $422,000 in funding for new academic programs, and $100k for employee development. The new Quality Enhancement Program (QEP) developed during recent reaccreditation efforts is being funded at $497,000.

An estimated $2.7 million of designated tuition will be set aside for need-based student financial assistance, an increase of $1.2 million over FY 2007. Also, $100,000 is budgeted for additional undergraduate graduation and retention efforts, and $260,000 is set-aside to boost recruitment.

As part of a $350,000 reorganization and marketing effort, the Division of External Affairs will be split into the Division of Community Engagement and the Division of University Advancement. In general, the former will carry on public service activities, allowing the latter to focus on development and marketing.

$1.7 million is budgeted for operating the new Wellness & Recreational Sports Complex opening this fall, with an additional $910,000 for debt service. Overall, debt service will increase by $3.9 million, mostly due to additional tuition revenue bond obligations. Finally, the increase in HEAF funding allows the institution to address critical capital needs, including $1 million planned toward facilities renewal.

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UT System regents approve $10.7 billion operating budget for its 15 campuses and institutions

The University of Texas System Board of Regents has approved a $10.7 billion operating budget for the 2008 fiscal year, which began on September 1. The new budget represents a 6.6 percent increase, or $656 million, over the previous fiscal year.

“The budget represents increased investments in education, research and health care,” said UT System Chancellor Mark G. Yudof. “We are proud to serve Texas in all of these areas and we believe that every dollar invested in them is paid back many times over in better educated young leaders, new discoveries that improve our economy and quality of life, and a healthier and more productive Texas.”

More than 80 percent of the increase was distributed among five primary areas of the budget: patient care (up $132 million, or 5 percent); research (up $97 million, or 6.2 percent); instruction and academic support (up $162 million, or 5.7 percent); scholarships and fellowships (up $38 million, or 18 percent); and plant operation and maintenance, including depreciation and interest expenses ($108 million, or 7.8 percent).

Increases in instruction and hospital and clinical expenses are primarily associated with new faculty and staff positions needed for rising student enrollment and growing patient care. Physical plant operations and maintenance at the institutions increased largely because of growing depreciation charges and additional interest expenses.

Revenue from health care, sponsored programs, state appropriations and tuition and fees represent 84 percent of budgeted revenues. State appropriations are $1.9 billion for Fiscal 2008, up $194 million from the Fiscal 2007 budget. State appropriations represent 18.3 percent of the System’s expense budget, up from 17.5 percent in Fiscal 2007.

The UT System’s six health institutions account for more than 64 percent of the overall operating budget. At $2.57 billion, UT M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has the largest budget of the System’s 15 health and academic institutions. The institution with the second-largest budget is UT Austin ($1.85 billion), followed by UT Medical Branch at Galveston ($1.45 billion) and UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas ($1.41 billion).

For Fiscal 2008, flexible tuition at academic institutions will generate about $65.9 million of new funding, which will be distributed in the following areas:

•49.6 percent for new and existing faculty

•21.6 percent toward scholarships and financial aid

•12.5 percent toward new academic and student services initiatives

•10.6 percent for existing staff merit and benefit increases

•5.7 percent for campus infrastructure

The portion of the budget that will fund the UT System’s general administration functions rose 6.8 percent to $35.2 million for Fiscal 2008. General administration is funded mostly from public endowment income generated by the Available University Fund. The increases in administration will go primarily toward staffing for new strategic initiatives, merit increases for existing staff and related benefits.

The UT System has an annual operating budget of $10.7 billion (FY 2008) including $2.3 billion in research funded by federal, state, local and private sources. Student enrollment exceeded 190,000 in the 2006 academic year. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and educates nearly three-fourths of the state’s health care professionals annually. With more than 80,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

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Sen. Hutchison says she will “vigorously oppose” any TxDOT efforts to toll existing highways

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Friday, August 31, said she would vigorously oppose any effort by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to toll existing interstate highways.

“I will vigorously oppose any effort by the State of Texas to buy back existing interstates and convert them into toll roads,” Hutchison said. “Texans should never have to pay twice for a highway and I will fight any such efforts.”

TxDOT released their legislative agenda in a report called “Forward Momentum” in February which seeks changes in federal law that would allow such buybacks for the purpose of tolling interstate highways, pending approval by local governments.

Hutchison has long fought against tolling existing interstate highways, and successfully passed an amendment in the 2005 highway bill which would have prevented states from tolling interstate highways that have already been paid for, but House conferees did not agree to it.

“I intend to immediately introduce as free-standing legislation my amendment that the Senate passed in 2005 to specifically prohibit states from tolling existing interstate highways,” Hutchison said.

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Texas Democratic icons Briscoe and Hobby endorse Rick Noriega’s exploratory bid for U.S. Senate

By JAMES ALDRETE

Texas Democratic icons Gov. Dolph Briscoe, Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who briefly served as Lt. Governor as well, have endorsed Rick Noriega, a state representative from Houston, as the next United States senator from Texas.

Noriega and Mikal Watts, a San Antonio-based trial lawyer, are both considering running for the March 2008 Democratic Party nomination to challenge Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

(Editor’s Note: Locally, Watts has been endorsed by state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III; Rep. Aaron Peña, D-McAllen; Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa; and Hidalgo County Democratic Party chairman Juan Maldonado, among others.)

Standing together earlier this month at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, where Noriega served as incident commander when the facility was turned into a shelter and emergency support network in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, these icons that represent over three decades of Texas leadership called for a restoration of forward looking leadership that responds to the needs of the people.

“What we have here today is more than a list of endorsements,” Noriega declared. “It is a history lesson that teaches us that Texas stands at its greatest when we plan for the future, bring people together, and hold our government accountable.”

Under the weather with a fever, Briscoe, who occupied the Governor’s Mansion from 1973 through 1979, sent a written statement that paid tribute to Noriega’s service in the military and humanitarian leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “These times call for a leader like Rick Noriega, a leader with character, a leader who understands Texans are not afraid of the future, and we’re not followers,” Briscoe stated.

Ellis recalled how Noriega has lived out the warrior’s ethos, ” leave no man behind”, from the battlefield to the legislature and in the community.

“In the legislature, Rick fought to all Texas children had health insurance. And here in this very building, the George R. Brown Convention Center, he proved that compassion is not a weakness, but part of the very fabric of who we are as Texans,” Ellis explained. “That’s the type of leadership we need in the United States Senate.”

Hobby, who served Texas from 1973 to 1991, spoke directly to Noriega’s appeal statewide.

“It’s time for a U.S. senator who can bring Texans together,” Hobby declared. “Rick Noriega earns respect for the strength of his convictions, for rejecting the politics of personal destruction, and for his courage to speak to a higher calling in all of us.”

Noriega promised that as his exploratory campaign continues to gain momentum, “Texans will get a chance to see the many faces and many perspectives that our campaign represents.”

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The critical role of American workers in times of tragedy

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

Labor Day memorializes the American worker. This year we should pay special tribute to those who assist victims of catastrophes.

On the night of September 15, 2001, two weeks after Labor Day, the Queen Isabella Causeway was ripped apart after a string of barges crashed into it. Unable to see the danger that lay ahead, several motorists plunged into the dark waters of the Laguna Madre while driving across it.

All of us were still shaken by the events of 9/11, so this loss of lives tore the hearts of Texans throughout this state.

In 2003, I had the distinct privilege of honoring the victims, their relatives and the survivors of this horrific accident in our state Capitol by offering Senate Memorial Resolution 565.

Those recognized were Jackie Golterman and her three-year-old grandson William Welch, who lost both parents—Chealsa (Golterman’s daughter) and Barry Welch. Also present were Clarissa Hinojosa Arellano, Gaspar Hinojosa II, and Omar Hinojosa who lost their father, Gaspar S. Hinojosa. Daisy Harris-Read and Pat Harris stood for their brother Robert Harris, who was then the Port Isabel Fire Marshal. Gustavo A. Morales Jr., a survivor, and his wife Idalia, were in attendance. Two other survivors who were not present but still honored were Brigette Goza of Port Isabel and René Mata of Laguna Vista.

I also passed Senate Bill 139 that changed the name of the Causeway to the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge.

The recent collapse of the Interstate-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis was a grim reminder of our own South Texas loss. While our hearts went out to the people of Minnesota and concern for bridge safety raised alarms throughout the country, this incident highlighted again the value of people employed as firefighters, medics, law enforcement officers, medical professionals and so many others who provide highly-skilled services mixed with a great deal of compassion.

These first responders, along with the many professionals who provide follow-up care, play a critical role in this country, especially when catastrophes like these occur. While many boldly risk their lives to save those of complete strangers, others provide acute medical care that often prevents death and helps heal serious injuries.

Federal, state and local officials also provide the leadership and coordination necessary during these difficult times. They too are to be commended, and I did so during the Queen Isabella ceremonies both in Austin and on South Padre Island during the official renaming.

It is often said that the American worker is the backbone of our country. I add to this statement that the worker is also the heart of America.

And what better way to respect hard-working taxpayers than to ensure them that their tax dollars are being properly utilized, including for bridge safety.

I, for one, will be proactive and continue to push for safer bridges in this state. I want assurance that the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge is continually inspected and properly maintained, so that the tragic night of September 15 will never be repeated. But if we are ever faced again with another catastrophe, even a hurricane, we know we can count on those skilled and dedicated to help save lives and offer assistance.

During the memorial ceremony for the families of the Queen Isabella disaster, I said, “For this reason, I stand before you today and ask that you honor the memory of the deceased and all those who did everything in their power to lessen the pain for all of us.”

I know that the families of the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge victims, as well as those impacted by the Minneapolis bridge collapse and 9/11, are grateful to the many who assisted in various capacities.

This Labor Day my family, my staff and I want to let the families of the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge tragedy know that that they are frequently in our thoughts and prayers, and that their memories of their loved ones will live forever in the hearts and minds of our community.

I encourage everyone to remember the contributions of the American worker, while many of us enjoy this three-day holiday. I wish everyone a blessed and safe Labor Day.

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Harlingen Mayor Boswell applauds plans for expansion of Harlingen VA Clinic

By CHRIS BOSWELL

The proposed plan by the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand the Harlingen VA Clinic into a 158,000 square foot South Texas VA Health Care Center is great news for this community, South Texas and especially for veterans. It means that health care services available locally and conveniently for veterans will increase very dramatically and rapidly.

(The plan was unveiled at a Harlingen news conference on August 20.)

As proposed, the current clinic will increase its size from 11,700 square feet to 34,660 square feet by December of 2007. That expansion, occupying most of the ground floor of the new Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) building, is already underway and will provide additional primary and specialty care services currently not offered anywhere in the Valley for veterans.

The second phase of the plan would be to expand into the second floor of the new RAHC building by December 2008 bringing the total combined square footage space to 55,660. This additional space will allow for new services such as cardiology, pulmonary, endocrinology, gastroenterology, oncology and much more. In addition to the CT Scan, pharmacy and on-site laboratory scheduled to open with the first phase, the second phase will bring MRI capabilities as well as nuclear medicine scans and EEG and EMGs.

Subsequently, a third phase envisioned as a build out from the existing facility would expand the South Texas VA Health Care Center to a total of 158,000 square feet with the new space dedicated to Outpatient Surgical Services, Operating Rooms and Recovery Beds. As planned, the third phase could be ready by December of 2010 and is designed to eliminate the need for 95 percent of all travel to San Antonio by South Texas veterans.

This plan and facility also evidence a major commitment by the Department of Veterans Affairs to employ more physicians, technicians, nurses and other health care professionals dedicated to our local Veterans’ needs. The South Texas VA Health Care Center will not only be huge physically it will have a huge impact on the delivery of essential health services to our Veterans.

Also significant is the increased development of the partnership between the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), including the RAHC, Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Community. At the briefing by the VA on Monday, Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, UTHSCSA president, spoke of the impact of the synergy between the medical school there and the Veterans’ Hospital on the San Antonio community and economy.

Everyone present at the August 20 announcement was excited about the opportunity to bring the academic environment of the RAHC together with delivering greatly expanding health care services for veterans. The new South Texas VA Health Care Center is but one example of the opportunities made possible by having a world class medical education and research facility in Harlingen working hand in hand with our excellent hospitals, physicians and clinics.

I am personally grateful to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo/McAllen) for bringing the results of the VA study and recommendation to our community and our veterans so quickly. And our community and I should also remain grateful to all of the hard work of other lawmakers who are working together so diligently to increase and improve health care opportunities for our Veterans.

Along with Senator Hutchinson and Congressman Cuellar, they include Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), Congressmen Rubén Hinojosa (D-Mercedes) and Solomon Ortíz, state Senators Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) and Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen), and state Representatives Juan Escobar, (D-Kingsville/Willacy County), Eddie Lucio III (D-San Benito), Aaron Peña (D-Edinburg), Kino Flores (D-Palmview), Verónica Gonzáles (D-McAllen) and Armando Martínez (D-Weslaco).

We have a great medical community in Harlingen. I am convinced that economic development opportunities and our quality of life will be greatly enhanced by our partnership with UTHSCSA and the RAHC. While the South Texas VA Health Care Center is a tremendous step forward for which we are grateful, we should and will remain vigilant in our efforts to improve local healthcare availability and facilities and the access to that care for all of our citizens including our existing and future veterans.

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Sen. Cornyn praises Alberto Gonzáles, who resigned as first Hispanic to serve as U.S. Attorney General

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Monday, August 27, made the following statements regarding the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzáles.

“Alberto Gonzáles, the highest ranking Hispanic to serve in a President’s Administration, is a decent and honorable man who has served his country at a difficult time when we are engaged in a global war on terror. His resignation marks another casualty of the hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington that does not serve the best interests of the American People.

Despite countless hearings and subpoenaed documents, it’s clear that the Attorney General did not interfere with ongoing investigations and prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys. Rather, his mistake was underestimating the ferocity of relentless partisan attacks and not preparing more to address them. Perhaps because their attention was distracted by 300 other investigations already launched by the Democratic majority, the Justice Department did a very poor job in responding to these spurious charges.

To be clear, Senate Democrats control a Senate at a period of historic low regard by the American people for the very reasons that bring us where we are today. Now, the question is: once the President chooses a new nominee – will they conduct a fair confirmation process, or will they continue the partisanship and endless investigations that have been the hallmark of this Congress. Since taking power over 200 days ago, Democrats have opened more than 300 investigations and held more than 600 oversight hearings, while their other notable accomplishment is renaming 20 post offices.

“The American people deserve and demand bipartisan action on the many important issues facing our country today. It is my hope that the poisonous and partisan atmosphere that has surrounded this Congress will be lifted and my Democratic colleagues will work with Republicans in the best interests of the American people. ”

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AG Abbott: Heart defibrillator manufacturer corrects device defects, Texas to receive $390,000 settlement

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and 35 state attorneys general on Thursday, August 30, reached a $16.75 million settlement with the maker of an implantable heart defibrillator. State attorneys general took legal action against Guidant Corp. for marketing the unmodified device even after the manufacturer discovered and corrected a circuitry problem that could have caused the device to fail. Guidant learned of the problem in 2002.

The settlement involves one defibrillator, the Ventak Prizm 2 DR Model 1861, which is commonly known as the Prizm. Typically, surgeons implant defibrillators in a patient’s chest to monitor abnormal heart rhythms. If the patient’s heart stops, the defibrillator delivers a small jolt of electricity that is intended to resume normal heart functioning.

“Texans expect the manufacturers of critical health care devices to immediately disclose serious problems with their products,” said Abbott. “Today’s settlement ensures that Guidant will implement new measures to protect patients in the future. We will continue working to protect the health and safety of all Texans.”

Texas’ share of the settlement is $390,000. The entire $16.75 million sum compensates the states for attorneys’ fees, consumer protection enforcement, consumer health education programs or other beneficial programs permissible under state laws.

Under the terms of the settlement, Guidant is required to extend its existing warranty program to allow purchasers to repair or replace their Prizms with a new device within six months of today’s judgment. Approximately $1 million of the settlement will be set aside to reimburse consumers on a pro rata basis for direct patient costs that exceed the $2,500 warranty supplement cap in Guidant’s warranty program. Affected patients should have already been notified by their physicians if they received an unmodified device.

Guidant must also evaluate data on the products’ performance and worldwide failure rates. The company also agreed to post notices on its Web site within 30 days of any modification to correct failures in any of its defibrillators.

Guidant is a wholly owned subsidiary of Boston Scientific and is one of the world’s three largest manufacturers of implantable heart defibrillators.

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Federal court upholds ‘one state under God ‘ In Texas Pledge Of Allegiance

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Tuesday, August 28, prevailed in federal court, where a North Texas couple tried to prevent schoolchildren from reciting the Texas Pledge of Allegiance.

A federal district judge ruled against David Wallace Croft and his wife, Shannon, who sought a preliminary injunction because the Texas Legislature recently added the words “one state under God” to the state Pledge. Solicitor General Ted Cruz argued on the state’s behalf.

“With today’s ruling, a federal judge denied the plaintiffs’ attempt to prevent Texas schoolchildren from pledging their allegiance to ‘one state under God’ – just as they pledge to ‘one nation under God,'” Abbott said. “The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held patriotic acknowledgments of the Almighty such as these are completely consistent with the U.S. Constitution. Texans can rest assured that we will continue vigorously defending their children’s ability to recite the state Pledge of Allegiance each morning.”

The plaintiffs, both professed atheists, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Their children are students in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District.

The voluntary, teacher-led recitation of the Texas Pledge typically follows the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms across the state. According to the state’s brief, the Legislature added the words “one state under God” to acknowledge the tradition and religious heritage inherent in America’s founding.

The state contends the Texas Pledge is an acknowledgment of patriotism and citizenship. It is a practice that mirrors the Declaration of Independence’s self-evident truths that citizens are “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The Attorney General’s brief argues that, instead of conflicting with the First Amendment, the Pledge reflects the constitutionally protected freedom of religion.

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AG Abbott reminds Texans of their legal protections under state’s “right-to-work” laws

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Sunday, September 2, marked the Labor Day weekend by reminding Texas workers that the state’s “right-to-work” laws protect them from compulsory labor union membership. Last month, the Office of the Attorney General obtained court orders protecting employees in two Texas cities from being forced to join a labor union or pay union dues.

“State law guarantees important right-to-work protections for Texas workers,” Abbott said. “Texans have the legal right to work without being forced to join a labor union or pay union dues. The Office of the Attorney General will take all necessary measures to enforce the law and protect Texas workers.”

In July, the Attorney General filed enforcement actions against the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America as well as employers in Corpus Christi and El Paso. According to court documents, the defendant entered into illegal collective bargaining agreements at two facilities operated by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. After the Office of the Attorney General obtained injunctions against the employers, both took steps to prohibit enforcement of the unlawful provisions. The state’s lawsuits against the union are pending.

The Texas Labor Code provides employees the freedom to join a labor union, but protects workers from being threatened, coerced, intimidated or forced to join a union or pay union dues. Under Texas law, “The right to work is the right to live.” The Attorney General continues to investigate whether similar violations are occurring in other parts of the state.

To better assist Texans who want to report a possible violation of the state’s right-to-work laws, the Office of the Attorney General has implemented an online complaint feature on the agency’s Web page at http://www.oag.state.tx.us. Texans can also lodge a complaint by calling (800) 252-8011.

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