Dolia González, mother of Edinburg war hero Alfredo “Freddy” González, is comforted by Gov. Rick Perry as they both look at the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor, the state’s highest recognition for valor, which was posthumously bestowed upon the national war hero by Perry at an historical event at Cats Stadium on Monday, February 4 – the 40th anniversary of the young Marine’s death in action in Vietnam. “The story of Freddy González will be told as long as there is a Texas,” the governor said. Featured, from left, are: Commander R. Alistair Borchert, Commanding Officer of the USS González, a $900 million guided missile destroyer named in honor of the Edinburg native son; Dolia González; the governor; Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; former Texas Longhorn head coach Fred Akers, for whom González played quarterback when Akers was head coach for the Edinburg Bobcats; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Edinburg school district superintendent Gilberto Garza, Jr.; and Letty Garza, KRGV-TV anchorwoman who served as the the mistress of ceremonies. See story later in this posting.
Hundreds of area residents looked on from the stands at Cats Stadium in Edinburg on Monday, February 4, to bear witness to a ceremony honoring the late Marine Sgt. Alfredo “Freddy” González as a Texas hero. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, a former U.S. Marine squad leader in Vietnam, was one of the dignitaries to participate in the event. Hinojosa was a high school quarterback for his hometown of Mission and he remembered playing against González, the quarterback for Edinburg’s only high school back in the 1960s. “I am very proud of Freddy González, and of his mon, who gave up her son so we can enjoy our freedom,” Hinojosa said. “As I stand on this football field today, I can feel Freddy’s spirit. From this community, we produce people who are young, raised by our families, but who are willing to become adults and fight for our country. For us, there would be no freedom, no America, if it were not for people like Freddy González.” See story later in this posting.
Janiece Longoria, a daughter of the late Sen. Raúl Longoria, a longtime Democratic political leader in Hidalgo County, on Friday, February 1, was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, to the University of Texas Board of Regents for a term to expire February 1, 2011. Longoria, who was raised in Pharr before leaving the Rio Grande Valley to attend the University of Texas at Austin and the UT Law School, currently resides in Houston as a partner in the law firm of Ogden, Gibson, Boocks & Longoria, L.L.P. She succeeds Robert Estrada of Dallas, whose term had expired. Estrada is formerly of Brownsville.Fittingly, her first meeting as a UT regent was held in Edinburg on Wednesday, February 6 and Thursday, February 7, when the governing board held one of its rare session out of Austin. See story later in this posting.
Place 4 City Councilmember Alma A. Garza, who also serves as mayor pro-tem, on Thursday, January 31, asked hundreds of her friends and family members at her campaign kick-off at the ECHO to support her bid for a new, three-year term during the May 10 city elections. She noted that the city’s continuing strong economy – low unemployment rates, major new commercial and residential projects, strong retail and medical performances – is among the many good reasons for voters to keep her in office. Garza will be facing Johnny Rodríguez, CEO of Austin Personnel Services of Edinburg, who is making his first run for elected office. “We have 100 days until May 10 – 100 days to run this election,” she rallied her troops. “I take nothing and no one’s vote for granted. Please note that in the next 100 days I will be runing con todo mi corazón (with all my heart). See story later in this posting.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee, grills officials with the Texas Department of Transportation, disputing the agency’s claims that it no longer has necessary funding to continue work on public roads, though it continues to spend tax money to support toll projects. “I am dismayed that the legislature didn’t receive accurate information regarding TxDOT spending,” Zaffirini said on Tuesday, February 5, during a joint legislative hearing in Austin of the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Transportation Committee. “It is crucial that we get to the bottom of this, as projects across the state are being delayed or cancelled.” To her left is Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and to her right is Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan. See story later in this posting.
Democrat Criss champions civil rights, equal justice as controversy faces GOP-led Texas Supreme Court
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
With the Texas Supreme Court, which features all Republicans, suddenly under growing controversy and public scrutiny, Judge Susan Criss, D-Galveston, continues to pick up support from labor and minority organizations for her record and focus on civil rights and equal justice.
Criss, a veteran district judge, who is also a former prosecutor and former defense attorney, is seeking the March 4 Democratic Party primary nomination for Texas Supreme Court, Place 8.
The Texas Supreme Court is the highest civil court in the state. It is made up of a chief justice and eight justices elected on a statewide ballot. Currently, all members of the court are Republicans.
Five Democrats, including Criss, are seeking their party’s nomination to unseat two Republican incumbents in the November general election.
Her campaign has focused on her legal credentials and experience.
“Sadly, there is a joke going around our state that speaks volumes about the current Republican Texas Supreme Court,” Criss said. “Someone wanted to know when can anyone ever win in Texas Supreme Court?’ The answer is, ‘when two insurance companies sue each other.'”
She also noted that both the mainstream news media and Internet news sites owned, by citizen journalists, are raising concerns about the alleged ethical lapses among the Republican high court.
As part of her appeal to working families, in mid-January, Criss received a duel endorsement, along with 13th Court of Appeals Justice Linda Yañez, from the Texas AFL-CIO.
In late January, Criss, had enough significant support among the delegates of the Tejano Democrats, a statewide organization, that Yañez, a Latina from Edinburg, did not get the endorsement of the organization.
“There may be some who did not expect me to continue campaigning among Tejanos once an Hispanic woman filed to run against me. Anyone who thought that did not know me,” said Criss. “I have too much respect for my Tejano friends and family to write them off during a primary.”
A screening committee for the statewide group, led by Frumencio Reyes, the legal advisor for the Harris County Tejano Democrats, had recommended a dual endorsement for both women.
“I am very proud of the support and friendships I have in the Hispanic community across this state,” Criss added. “And I am proud of the work I have done to increase access to justice for Hispanics.”
She added that she has also received endorsements from the San Antonio Stonewall Democrats, the National Association of Social Workers/Texas Chapter and the Capitol Area Asian Democrats, the Capital City Young Democrats, the Houston GLBT Caucus, the Austin Gay Lesbian Political Caucus, and the Austin Stonewall Democrats.
The Tejano Democrats, meeting in Austin on Thursday, January 24 and Friday, January 25, did endorse Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, for president, and supported Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, for U.S. senator.
According to her website, http://www.JudgeCriss.com:
Criss served as assistant district attorney in Galveston County from 1986 to 1997 before being elected to the 212th District Court in Galveston County, where she handles felony criminal and civil cases.
Criss has spearheaded tougher sanctions against sex offenders and fought for stronger child protections, and directed the Gulf Coast Task Force on Jail Diversion for the Mentally Ill, a groundbreaking group that seeks to secure treatment for non-violent mentally ill offenders in the community while saving taxpayers money and freeing up jail space for violent criminals.
She has been recognized around the nation for leadership on behalf of women judges and the recruitment of minorities for careers in the law.
As part of that commitment, Criss recently called on the University of Texas System to support the creation of a UT Law School in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which is predominantly Hispanic.
“Of the more than 77,000 lawyers in Texas, only 14 percent are from minority populations, according to a report produced last spring by the State Bar of Texas,” said Criss. “Yet more than 59 percent of Texas schoolchildren are considered to be from minority populations, and Mexican Americans make up one-third of our state’s population. We need to encourage more minority students to pursue careers in the law.”
Her dedication to minority issues and protecting working families also stems from her family, including her father, former Rep. Lloyd Criss, D-Galveston, who in the 1980s helped shape legislation she says freed thousands of Texas farm workers from working conditions she called “slavery.”
After earning a BA in Government from the University of Texas at Austin and a law degree from the South Texas College of Law in Houston, Criss started her legal career as a law clerk in the Texas Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Division and has also run her own private practice.
Recognized nationally as an advocate for fairness and equal opportunity in the justice system, Criss has received numerous awards, including the 2005 People Making A Difference Award from the Fred C. Johnson Foundation, the 2004 Outstanding Woman Officeholder in Texas Award from the Texas Democratic Women Association, and the 1994 Outstanding Young Lawyer of Galveston County Award.
Pd. Pol. Adv. by Susan Criss Campaign; Lloyd Criss, treasurer; PO Box 16474, Galveston,TX 77552
Gov. Perry pays homage to Dolia González for “giving incredible gift of her heroic son” – Freddy González
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Under a bright South Texas sun, the late U.S. Marine Sgt. Alfredo “Freddy” González of Edinburg, who was killed in action in Vietnam so that dozens of the men under his command would live, was publicly recognized for his valor on the 40th anniversary of his death by Gov. Rick Perry.
The historical event, which marks the first time that a Valley resident was bestowed with the state’s highest medal for valor, took place at Cats Stadium in the mid-afternoon of Monday, February 4.
The stadium was chosen at the wish of his mother, Dolia, because he had played quarterback for the Edinburg Bobcats in the mid-1960s – a site his mother said was important to him.
Hundreds of visitors and dignitaries from throughout the Valley gathered at the stadium for the ceremony.
Perry, and Dolia González, dressed in dazzling white, were joined by some of South Texas’ biggest political leaders, including Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, who last spring passed a legislative resolution to bestow the medal in memory of the fallen Marine.
The Texas Medal of Honor, the state’s highest honor for military service, has been awarded to five servicemen prior to González.
“Genuine American hero”
Perry, who flew in to Edinburg from the State Capitol in Austin to keynote the ceremony, said González was “a genuine American hero.”
But the governor, himself a former Air Force pilot, said his mother was as much a hero in the eyes of a grateful nation.
“You gave our country the most incredible gift that a mother can give, and this is her son – her heroic son,” Perry told her. “Alfredo Cantú González was shaped by the love and the care that filled your home, and he was no doubt inspired by your personal integrity.”
The governor praised the region that helped mold the young Marine.
“Freddy González was also shaped by the town in which he grew up, surrounded by the hard-working people of the Rio Grande Valley, where he learned the lessons of perseverance in the face of adversity,” the governor noted.
“The story of Freddy González’ heroism is part of our nation’s rich history,” the governor said. “It is an essential piece of our state’s proud heritage, and it gives us pause to wonder what we would give to preserve the freedom of others. We owe Freddy González and others who serve like him our admiration for their bravery.”
Hinojosa, a former U.S. Marine squad leader in Vietnam, was a high school quarterback for his hometown of Mission and he remembered playing against González, the quarterback for Edinburg’s only high school back in the 1960s.
“I am very proud of Freddy González, and of his mon, who gave up her son so we can enjoy our freedom,” Hinojosa said. “As I stand on this football field today, I can feel Freddy’s spirit. From this community, we produce people who are young, raised by our families, but who are willing to become adults and fight for our country. For us, there would be no freedom, no America, if it were not for people like Freddy González.”
“Though he be but small, he is fierce”
Other dignitaries in the procession included: Mayor Joe Ochoa; Mayor Pro Tem Alma A. Garza; Councilmember Noe Garza; Edinburg school board secretary Ciro Treviño; Edinburg school board vice-president Omar Palacios; Congressmen Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview; Rep. Juan Escobar, D-Kingsville, and Commander R. Alistair Borchert, Commanding Officer of the USS González, a $900 million guided missile destroyer named in his honor.
Although Mrs. González was scheduled to address the audience to end the presentation, she had asked coaching great and former Texas Longhorns coach Fred Akers, who was Freddy’s head coach in Edinburg, to speak on her behalf.
Akers said he always remembers González as a man among men, driven by loyalty and honor.
Quoting Shakespeare, Akers said of the young man who was physically smaller than other players, “though he be but small, he is fierce.”
Mrs. González: “Symbol of sacrifice”
Peña said he was proud to have authored the legislation last spring that resulted in the Legislative Medal of Honor being bestowed in memory of Freddy González.
Pointing towards the deep blue sky that dominated the scene, Peña noted that just a few days earlier, the weather had been cold and raining.
He said he was concerned that the big event would be dampened by inclement weather, and shared his fear with Mrs. González.
“We were worried, but she said, ‘Don’t worry Aaron, I will pray to Freddy, and I will pray to God, and hope that we have a good day,'” Peña recalled. “Now, did God answer your prayers today, Mrs. González, with a bright South Texas sun and a warm breeze coming from the gulf?”
Peña said the event was designed to “recognize a symbol of sacrifice, of service to country. But I would also like to recognize another symbol, and that is the families who sometimes silently suffer along with their young sons and daughters who serve their country. Today, there is no greater symbol for our entire South Texas region than Dolia González.”
Peña said many people can relate to the heartbreak that Dolia González has endured for four decades.
‘Today, we remember how difficult his mother must have felt way back then. Like anyone who has lost a child, the pain is unbearable. She said, “I wanted to just stay home, I didn’t want to go out and meet people,” Peña recalled. “But one day, she had a dream, and her son appeared to her in that dream. He said, ‘Mom, you have much work to do.’ And for 40-some years, Dolia has known the symbol that she has provided, and so as we honor her son, we also honor our wonderful Dolia González for her 40 years of service.”
Freddy González biography
The governor also provided the following biography of the young man’s inspiring life:
González was born in Edinburg in 1946 and raised primarily by his mother. He grew up picking cotton with his family and playing football at Edinburg High School. Following high school graduation, González enlisted in the Marine Corps.
He first was assigned to the Headquarters and Service Company, First Reconnaissance Battalion, First Marine Division, as a rifleman. On Jan. 1, 1966, González was promoted to Private First Class and transferred to Company L, Third Battalion, Fourth Marines, Third Marine Division in Vietnam as a squad leader.
In October that year he was promoted to Lance Corporal, and the following December was promoted to Corporal. González completed his tour of duty in Vietnam and returned to the United States in February 1967. He was stationed with the Second Battalion, Sixth Marines, Second Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. González became a Marine instructor at Camp Lejeune to prepare soldiers for the guerilla warfare faced in Vietnam.
Though he had not intended to return to war, after learning of an ambush which wiped out an entire platoon, including men who had served under him during his tour of duty, he requested a transfer and another tour in Vietnam.
He spent May and July of 1967 in a staging battalion at Camp Pendleton, California, during which he was promoted to Sergeant. González was then assigned as a platoon commander to Company A, First Battalion, First Marines, First Marine Division in Vietnam.
Band of Brothers
On January 31, 1968, González’ unit was involved in the initial phase of Operation Hue City and deployed by truck convoy to reinforce other units fighting in the city. The convoy was attacked near the village of Lang Van Lrong and drew heavy enemy fire.
González immediately positioned his men and directed their fire until the area was free of enemy snipers. The convoy moved on and was attacked again after crossing a river south of Hue. A Marine standing on a tank was wounded and fell to the ground in a position exposed to enemy fire. González ran to the soldier, picked him up and carried him to a protected area. During the rescue, González was wounded by fragments of exploding grenades. As the convoy was pinned down by an enemy machine gun bunker up the road, González led his platoon to the bunker and destroyed it with hand grenades.
The convoy eventually reached Hue, where González and his unit fought against heavy enemy resistance. He was seriously wounded on Feb. 3, but refused medical treatment in order to stay with his men. The following day, his unit was pinned down by a large enemy force and suffered heavy casualties.
González used several antitank weapons against heavily fortified enemy positions while exposed to enemy fire. He held back the enemy advance and destroyed an enemy rocket position before he was mortally wounded. González was hit by the last rocket fired by the enemy, and died in the Saint Joan of Arc Catholic Church, where he had taken cover.
A grateful nation
For his actions between January 31 and February 4, 1968, González was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
His Medal of Honor was presented to his mother on October 31, 1969, by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew at the White House. In 1996, the USS Alfredo González, a guided missile destroyer, was commissioned in Corpus Christi. There is a permanent display of his uniform and medals at the Hidalgo County Historical Museum.
In Edinburg, Freddy González Elementary School and the Alfredo Cantú González American Legion Post are both named in his honor. Students at Edinburg High School can receive the Alfredo González Athletic Award. The Alfredo Dining Hall at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi is named for him, as is Alfredo González Boulevard at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. There is also a Freddy González Drive in Edinburg. González is buried at the Hillcrest Cemetery in Edinburg.
John Flores, author of When The River Dreams: The Life of Marine Sgt. Freddy González, contributed to this article.
Eddie Sáenz criticizes Rep. Peña for receiving $50,000 campaign donation from Republican group
By KELLY FERO
Democratic challenger Eddie Sáenz on Tuesday, February 5, called on his opponent, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, to return tens of thousands of dollars in campaign cash that he pocketed in January from Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick and three major Republican donors.
“These special interests are working against South Texas,” Sáenz said. “Their money fuels everything from Swift Boating our presidential candidates to siphoning millions of tax dollars out of our public schools for their private-school voucher schemes. It’s time to assure voters that you will put South Texas first and your Austin Republican friends last.”
A defunct political action committee was revived in Austin this week and seeded with $250,000 from Craddick – $50,000 of which has been sent to Peña to run negative ads against Sáenz. The PAC is also funded by three of the Republican Party’s top donors.
Sáenz said one of the PAC’s funders also showed up on Peña’s latest campaign report via a $10,000 cash donation from Houston builder Bob Perry, the single-largest contributor to the Republican Party of Texas and the man who funded the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth attacks against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004.
The other two funders of the revived PAC are James Mansour, one of the state’s strongest supporters of private school vouchers, and Michael Stevens, a major Republican donor in Houston.
“To pocket this cash from these special interests who are trying to destroy our public schools and our public health is an unacceptable insult to every hard-working South Texas family,” Sáenz said. “My opponent should have the courage to do the right thing for once and give the money back.”
Sáenz is chairman of board of governors – an advisory panel – of South Texas Health Systems and is an advocate for a veteran’s hospital in Hidalgo County.
Sáenz is backed by mayors and community leaders throughout the district who are eager for a full partner in their efforts to create jobs, expand access to quality health care, improve public schools, make college affordable again for middle-class families, and improve vital public services.
Owner and chief executive officer of one of South Texas’ leading civil engineering firms, Sáenz is a recognized expert in helping cities, school districts, and other public entities improve their operations and basic services.
Sáenz is a former chairman of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Border Infrastructure Coalition Transportation Committee, and the Edinburg 2020 Action Committee. He also served on the board of directors of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.
A graduate of McAllen High, he earned his degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1982. He is a member of the National Society of Professional Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Texas Society of Professional Engineers. He and his wife, Cassandra, and their teenage daughter, Cassie, live in Edinburg.
The Democratic primary is scheduled for March 4. Early voting begins on Tuesday, February 19.
Public service, roots in the community, driving forces behind Mayor Pro Tem Alma Garza’s reelection bid for Edinburg City Council, Place 4
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
With family roots that run deep in the development of Edinburg, Mayor Pro Tem Alma A. Garza on Thursday, January 31, announced her bid for re-election to the city council, Place 4, on the May 10 ballot, saying she wants to continue serving the community that has done so much for her.
“It’s true what they say – public service gets in your blood,” Garza told several hundred supporters at her campaign kick-off, held at the ECHO. “But what I have learned in my time as a city councilmember is that city government is not just about streets and buildings — it is about our people.”
Key economic indicators, reflected in low unemployment rates, major new commercial and residential projects, and strong performances in the retail and medical care sectors of the local economy, are among the many good reasons for voters to keep her in office.
Plus, there is no substitute for experience, she added, citing her hands-on experience in shaping city policies.
“Growing up here, I never realized what it took to run the city, the planning that has to be done,” Garza said.
“I have learned more about wastewater treatments, lift stations, engineering, contracting, and building structures than I ever thought I would learn in this lifetime.”
Garza’s professional career has focused on court reporting, which involves making a verbatim record and transcription of legal proceedings.
She serves as assistant court coordinator for Hidalgo County District Judge Thomas Wingate, who was appointed last year by Gov. Rick Perry to lead the 430th District Court.
“I plan to use my experiences (on the city council) to make sure that we take responsibility for our taxpayers’ money, and preserve our environment while promoting smart growth,” she continued. “I can’t take credit for this, but I heard a quote today, and it rings so true: ‘Today’s excellence is tomorrow’s mediocrity if we cease to change and grow.’ I thought this was so true, I had to use it tonight.”
She will be facing Johnny Rodríguez, CEO of Austin Personnel Services of Edinburg, who is making his first run for elected office.
Garza also is the only woman on the city council, a fact that was brought up by Estella L. Treviño, executive director of the Edinburg Housing Authority, who endorsed Garza during the political event.
“Every city commission should have at least one lady on it, especially one of Alma’s character,” Treviño remarked. “She comes from an outstanding family.”
Garza is one of the two daughters and two sons raised by Dr. Omar and Dora Garza, for whom she had high praise, crediting them for being loving parents.
Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, who introduced Alma Garza to the gathering, echoed Treviño’s sentiments.
“Our community faces many, many challenges as we get bigger,” said Peña, who is in his own reelection battle against Eddie Sáenz, also of Edinburg. “We have to elect people who care about the community first, and themselves second, and that is what I have seen in the Garza family and in Alma Garza.”
A good personal reputation is very important, as well as being a political asset, with her campaign literature emphasizing positive moral traits: honesty, integrity, sincerity.
“I wrote my speech today, and I kept thinking that the first reason I wanted to run was to show people that not all politicians are bad, they can be trustworthy,” Garza said. “I love this city, and I want to make sure that we take good care of it.”
Garza was appointed to the city council a little more than two years ago, when then-Councilmember Ricardo Rodríguez, Jr. resigned in October 2005 in order to begin what would be a successful campaign for judge of the Hidalgo County 92nd District Court.
As required by state law, she had to run in a special election on May 13, 2006 to finish out Rodríguez’ three-year term, which ends this coming May.
She drew no opponents in the May 2006 special election.
The man who secured her appointment to the city council – then Mayor Richard García – was among the supporters at her campaign kick-off, along with Councilmember Noe Garza (no relation to Alma) and Councilmember Gene Espinoza. Those three city officials, along with then-city councilmember Eddie Cisneros-Johnson, voted to appoint her to the five-member council.
Espinoza, a sales manager for Rio Grande Steel, LTD of Edinburg, is facing Leonel Guerrero, a local pharmacist, for the Place 3 on the city council.
Guerrero kicked off his campaign on Wednesday, February 6, at the University of Texas-Pan American Ballroom.
Alma Garza’s campaign speech was short on political rhetoric, but long on gratitude, humility and humor.
“I am truly humbled and energized by your heartfelt support,” she told the audience. “I want to thank everyone here.”
Near the end of her polished speech, as she thanked her family, especially her parents for their “undying support,” her voice hushed with emotion, struggling to tell the audience that “you all mean so much to me, but I’m not going to cry.”
Her supporters rallied behind her, applauding loudly for her show of humanity, when someone in the crowd proclaimed, “Hillary!”, a reference to Sen. Hillary Clinton’s now famous show of emotion in January that many say helped the New York presidential candidate win the Democratic Party primary in New Hampshire.
Garza rebounded effectively, showing the politician’s skills she has come to master by immediately poking fun at herself as she regained her composure.
“It’s fake!” she smiled broadly, then without missing a beat, joked again:
“Never mind, it’s not sincere,” she beamed, waving her hand as if she was wiping away imaginary tears, drawing a roar of laughter from the crowd.
Edinburg school board could receive update on February 12 regarding disputed election changes submitted to U.S. Department of Justice
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
A key update on the legal paperwork filed by the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District seeking federal approval to increase the length of the terms of all seven school board members to four years from its current three years, and to change the election date to November from May, could come before the local school board as early as Tuesday, February 12.
The final decision won’t be publicly finalized until the school district posts its meeting agenda by 5 p.m. on Friday, February 8. That notice will be posted in front of the Administration Building, located at 411 North 8th Avenue.
Responding to a public request for information, Jacques Treviño, the legal counsel for the Edinburg school board, on Tuesday, February 5, announced that the seven-member ECISD governing board – and the community – will probably receive the first public briefing on the status of the application during the board’s next regular-scheduled session on February 12.
The application, Treviño noted, was sent via e-mail in early January to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
All changes to elections in Texas and numerous other states must receive pre-clearance, which is approval, by the DOJ before they can go into effect.
The DOJ solicits comments for and against all plans affecting elections, and if it finds that a plan discriminates against racial or language minorities, the federal government can sue to block any changes
Treviño’s responses, also received via e-mail, come after three Edinburg school board members announced on Monday, January 28, that they had asked the DOJ to throw out the plan that favors the longer terms and changing the election date.
Jaime Chavana, Greg García, and Robert Peña, Jr. are challenging that proposal, approved by a divided school board on Tuesday, December 11, in correspondence sent with their signatures on Monday, January 28 to Christopher Coates, Acting Chief of the Voting Section, Civil Rights Division, which is part of the DOJ.
The three trustees raised numerous objections, centering around their belief that ECISD voters were not properly notified by the school district of the plan for the changes, and that voters should have had the final say through an election on the plan.
The four-member majority of trustees, however, said they based their action on the legal advice of Treviño, who is an expert in public school laws. They also noted that their hand was forced by the Texas Legislature through the passage of Senate Bill 670, which was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry late last April.
SB 670 also means there will be a school board election every November, but in the case for Edinburg, another state law prohibits any school board from having 50 percent or more of their members up for election at one time.
In order to avoid that conflict, the plan submitted to the DOJ calls for either Peña or García having their term extended to less than four years, while the other one will wind up with a term of five years, before they (or their successors) eventually wind up with four year terms, like the rest of their colleagues.
Treviño recommended, based on advice from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, that the two men draw lots to see which one of the trustees would get the initial shorter term and the initial longer term.
However, neither trustee was able to participate in several lot drawings late last year which were organized by the school board’s lawyer, based on advice from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.
In the following question and answer sequence, Treviño provides the community an advanced look on what is going on regarding this growing political controversy.
The question-and-answer format featuring Treviño’s responses follow:
I am writing on behalf of the Edinburg Consolidated Independent District regarding your request for an update on the drawing of the school board trustee lots. Yesterday (Monday, February 4), I had a meeting with Mr. Gilbert Garza, Mr. Mario Salinas, and Mr. Gilbert Tagle regarding this matter. We attempted to contact you by phone but there was no answer. I was asked to give you a response to your questions and the numbered answers will correspond with your numbered questions.
(Garza is ECISD superintendent; Salinas is Assistant Superintendent for District Administration; and Tagle is the school district’s public information officer.)
Following the 4-3 vote on these two items in early December, there were at least two unsuccessful efforts that I attended to have lots drawn, to determine the length of the terms, of Robert Peña and Greg García. Why was this lot drawing required?
As you are aware, a meeting was held with legal counsel for the Secretary of State and various options were presented. One of the options was the plan that was subsequently approved by the (ECISD) board. In discussing that option and in order to equalize the makeup of the board to a 4-3 split in accordance with Sec. 11.059 of the Texas Education Code, drawing lots was a suggested method of doing so. This suggestion was made by the Secretary of State’s Office.
Was there ever a successful lot drawing done regarding the length of the terms of Robert Peña and Greg García, when did it occur, and who participated?
No, there has not been a successful drawing of lots.
Question No. 3:
Under what state law was the drawing of lots by school board members authorized or required?
I believe I answered this question in number 1.
Question No. 4:
If either, or both, Robert Peña and Greg García did not participate in the drawing of the lots, does that mean that any required paperwork from the school district sent to the Department of Justice be considered incomplete or invalid?
The (school) district has forwarded the resolution as passed by the (ECISD) Board of Trustees to the United States Department of Justice for its review. It will be up to the Department of Justice to determine if the resolution is incomplete or invalid.
Question No. 5:
If either, or both, Robert Peña and Greg García did not participate in the drawing of the lots, does that mean that the school district’s 4-3 vote on extending the length of the trustees’ terms and changing the election date is now invalid?
I do not believe that fact that Mr. García or Mr. Peña have not drawn lots invalidates the resolution.
Question No. 6:
Had the school board in December voted to take no action, and remain with the three-year terms and May election date, under what state law(s) would the school board, school district administration, and/or school district been punished, and what would that punishment entail?
The school board took action on this matter to change the length of the terms of office to four years based on information provided by the Texas Attorney General, the Texas Association of School Boards, and the Texas Secretary of State. The education code does not specify any penalty that a school district would incur for failing to keep the status quo. However, the Attorney General’s Opinion was very clear that school districts such as ECISD would be required to switch to a four year term.
Question No. 7:
What happens now, or has occurred since the December 4-3 vote, regarding any information sent by the school district to the Department of Justice for its approval of these two major changes affecting the trustees and school board election date?
The information was submitted electronically and it will take up to 90 days for the Department of Justice to reach its decision. The school district will just wait for a response. The district may also submit addtional information during the pendency of the DOJ’s decision.
Question No. 8:
Since the December 4-3 vote, have any or all of the school board members been receiving updates, from the school board leadership on this issue, and are copies available of those communications to the general public. If not, why not, please?
To my knowledge the school board leadership has not provided any update regarding this matter. I am not aware of any written communication by the school board leadership regarding this matter.
Question No. 9:
Any key points that I may have missed in my questions that any of you feel are important for the public to know?
The school district is currently working the the Hidalgo County Elections Department to develop a joint election agreement. The (ECISD) Board will be given an update on that matter at the Tuesday, February 12 meeting.
Hidalgo County will get levee, not border fence, says Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas
By CARI LAMBRECHT
“Build levees, not walls,” has been Hidalgo County’s motto since the federal government’s plan to build 70 miles of fencing from Roma to Brownsville was revealed in May 2007.
On Friday, February 8, that saying is not just a motto, but a reality, as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the acceptance of Hidalgo County’s alternative plan — an 18-foot concrete flood protection structure — as opposed to border fencing. The structure, proposed by Hidalgo and Cameron counties, along with the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission, will be constructed on seven segments, totaling 22 miles of river levee, in Hidalgo County.
The federal government will not construct a fence in Hidalgo County.
DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff made the landmark announcement at the U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector Headquarters in Edinburg to a crowd of local, state and federal elected officials and media from around the nation.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, and Gov. Rick Perry also took part in the official announcement. USIBWC Commissioner Carlos Marin and Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos also attended the announcement.
Chertoff said the levee structure would serve the Border Patrol’s operational needs and the community’s needs to upgrade the levees to protect from national disaster. He explained the timeline for construction of the 22 miles of vertical wall levee would be by the end of 2008, which is the same timeframe in which Hidalgo County intends to complete the most critical 18 miles of IBWC owned levee in the western part of the county. The two projects are separate, but complimentary to one another.
Chertoff singled out the work of the Hidalgo County judge and the HIdalgo County Commissioners’ Court for its “vision and energy.”
Perry added: “It’s been their input that really created the stimulus … They understood there was a solution not only to securing the border but allowing the economy to continue to grow.”
Salinas said some of the benefits to the locally devised plan are that the structure will use existing right of way and landowners like the ones in Granjeno will not have to give up their property. The structure will help secure the border without putting up a fence that would be detrimental to wildlife on the river and trade relationships with Mexico. The plan is also less costly to taxpayers. The rehabilitation of the entire river levee system was estimated to cost $125 million, and this partnership puts Hidalgo County significantly closer to its goal of fixing the entire system.
“We are pleased that an agreement has finally been reached,” Salinas said. “Everyone came together on this important issue and, working together, we found a win-win solution. This solution will help us concentrate our work on the other sections of the IBWC river levee that need to be fixed.”
“This is a great day, but there is still more work to be done,” Salinas added. “The entire levee system is a federal responsibility. We are still seeking to recapture local funds for the miles of IBWC levee that aren’t part of DHS’ plan. We are confident our federal elected officials, who have done so much work for us already, will continue to be part of our team and work to continue the economic vibrancy of this region. We hope, too, that Hidalgo County’s solution to the border fence will become a model for other communities who also don’t think a fence is the right fit for them.”
Janiece Longoria, daughter of late Sen. Raúl Longoria, appointed to UT Board of Regents
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Janiece Longoria, a daughter of the late Sen. Raúl Longoria, a longtime Democratic political leader in Hidalgo County, on Friday, February 1, was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, to the University of Texas Board of Regents for a term to expire February 1, 2011.
Longoria, who was raised in Pharr before leaving the Rio Grande Valley to attend the University of Texas at Austin and the UT Law School, currently resides in Houston as a partner in the law firm of Ogden, Gibson, Boocks & Longoria, L.L.P.
She succeeds Robert Estrada of Dallas, whose term had expired. Estrada is formerly of Brownsville.
Fittingly, her first meeting as a UT regent was held in Edinburg on Wednesday, February 6 and Thursday, February 7, when the governing board held one of its rare session out of Austin.
H. Scott Caven, Jr., chairman of The University of Texas System Board of Regents, issued the following statement regarding the appointment of Longoria.
“Governor Perry’s appointment of Janiece Longoria to the UT System Board of Regents is great news for all of us in the UT System family,” Caven, Jr., said. “Ms. Longoria’s vast experience on numerous civic boards and charitable organizations will serve us well, and I, along with rest of the board, look forward to working with her as we continue to advance higher education excellence in the state.”
Her father also was a longtime presiding judge of the 139th Hidalgo County District in Edinburg.
He began his career in politics in 1960, serving six terms in the Texas House of Representatives until 1982, when he was elected to the Texas Senate. Raúl Longoria served until 1981, when he resigned to become 139th District Court judge until his retirement in 1994.
He passed away on May 7, 2001, at the age of 80.
According to her biography provided by Perry and her law firm:
Janiece Longoria is an honors graduate of the University of Texas, and received her J.D. from the University of Texas in 1979. She has extensive experience in commercial litigation in both state and federal court, with a concentration of experience in securities litigation, and securities arbitration. She has significant experience in arbitrating cases before the National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. (NASD), the New York Stock Exchange, (NYSE), and the American Arbitration Association (AAA), and in representing broker-dealers and associated persons in regulatory proceedings before the Securities Exchange Commission, the NYSE, the NASD, and the Texas Securities Board.
She is a member of the American Bar Association’s Securities Law Section, the State Bar of Texas, and is a Fellow of the Houston Bar Association and Houston Bar Foundation. She is a member of the Legal and Compliance Division of the Securities Industry Association and has been a frequent contributor to the annual broker-dealer survey of litigation published by the SIA. Her commercial litigation experience also includes significant representation of clients in the energy industry, including representation of companies in oil and gas exploration and production.
She also serves on the Board of Directors of Centerpoint Energy, Inc., the third largest publicly traded natural gas delivery company in the U.S., and the provider of electricity transmission and distribution service for the Houston metropolitan area and natural gas distribution service in Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. As a member of the board of directors, she serves on Centerpoint Energy’s audit and finance committees.
She also serves as one of seven Commissioners for the Port of Houston Authority, the world’s 10th largest port, and on the board of directors of The Greater Houston Partnership, where she is active on the World Trade Division Supervisory Board. She also serves on the Board of Directors and the Executive Committees of the Galveston Bay Foundation and the Heritage Society of Houston Harris County. She has formerly served as a director of numerous other charitable organizations including the Houston Symphony, The Houston Symphony Endowment, Texas Accountants & Lawyers for the Arts, The University of Saint Thomas President’s Advisory Council, Contemporary Arts Museum, and Cultural Arts Council of Houston.
Sen. Lucio delivers impassioned plea to UT regents to transform RACH into full-fledged medical school
By DORIS SÁNCHEZ
Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, on Thursday, February 7, challenged the University of Texas Board of Regents at their meeting in Edinburg to “remember the Rio Grande Valley” when it comes to deciding where the next medical school should be established.
“I am here to offer you a challenge as you set your priorities for the UT System,” said Lucio.
He welcomed newly appointed Regent Janiece M. Longoria, daughter of former Valley legislator and Judge Raul Longoria, and praised the Board of Regents, Chancellor Mark Yudof and President Bill Powers for their current leadership while recognizing the long history of cooperation from the UT System over his 20 years as a legislator.
“I especially acknowledge the efforts of former Chancellor Bill Cunningham in championing the vision of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC), which I now intend to expand into a four-year medical school by re-filing Senate Bill 420 (80th legislative session), the bill to establish the University of Texas Health Science Center Rio Grande Valley (UTHSC-RGV),” said Lucio.
Lucio voiced his concern that in the last six months, he has read in the press of a UT initiative to train first- through fourth-year medical students in Austin. He also drew attention to plans by the Texas A&M University System of expanding its enrollments in the same area, with the possibility of establishing a Round Rock branch of its medical school.
He then mentioned that a 2002 study by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recommended that the next medical school should be located in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso, as they were the most deserving areas of the state.
“Texas has 152 physicians per 100,000 patients and nationally, that figure is 250 per 100,000,” explained Lucio. “In the upcoming session, the Texas Senate is going to look very carefully at the most efficient way to meet the physician shortage in this state.
“As a state senator I applaud this effort to train more medical students for the delivery of health care,” he said. “However, I believe the UT System can both increase enrollments at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, as well as train first-, second-, third- and fourth-year medical students here in the Valley.”
The Texas Department of State Health Services found that the ratio of primary care doctors to patients was only 47 per 100,000 in 1996, and that number has increased to 125 per 100,000 in Cameron county and 105 per 100,000 in Hidalgo county, principally because of the RAHC. Those figures still lag far below state and national levels.
“A medical school would mean a better ratio of doctors to patients in South Texas,” noted Lucio. “We need to work together now to develop the model to make this happen. I believe the Valley is ready to do whatever it takes to partner with the UT System. If everyone in the Valley makes a health sciences center the number one goal, the right infrastructure could be put in place.”
Lucio reminded the regents that he represents the most impoverished area of the state, and yet one of the fastest growing both in Texas and in the country.
“One of my major concerns is the disparity in our region compared to other regions of the state in terms of professional schools and the lack of opportunities to pursue those studies,” he added, “This is alarming and we must address it!”
The Senator concluded by saying that both UT campuses, UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American in Edinburg, have come a long way in the last 20 years. He then paraphrased a line from Robert Frost’s poem: “We have miles to go before we sleep.'”
Sen. Zaffirini accuses TXDOT about misleading lawmakers, public about need for toll roads
By BRENT WHITAKER
The Senate Finance and Transportation Committees on Tuesday, February 5, held a joint hearing in Austin to investigate the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) claim that it does not have sufficient funds to continue adding lanes and building new highways in Texas.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee, joined 19 members of the two committees to question officials from the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), the State Auditor’s office, and TxDOT regarding TxDOT’s claim that it no longer has necessary funding to continue work on public roads, though it continues to spend tax money to support toll projects.
“I am dismayed that the legislature didn’t receive accurate information regarding TxDOT spending,” said Zaffirini. “It is crucial that we get to the bottom of this, as projects across the state are being delayed or cancelled.”
During the 80th Legislative Session, funding was appropriated at the level TxDOT requested, and it became apparent later that the agency over-planned and committed to too many projects.
After Amadeo Sáenz, TxDOT Executive Director, admitted that the problem was caused by poor planning and said the agency accepted responsibility for the problem, Zaffirini reprimanded agency representatives for being “intellectually dishonest with the public.”
In 2007, the Texas Legislature increased TxDOT’s funding by $1.1 billion to $16.7 billion, a 6.3 percent increase.
“Their problem,” Zaffirini said, “is that they planned poorly and disregarded legislative intent. Many of us believe that this is a ploy to pressure legislators to approve toll roads.”
She produced a “TxDOT Point Paper” dated Dec. 5, 2007, that listed five factors for TxDOT’s cash flow problem:
First, the agency blamed the U.S. Congress and the “uncertainty of federal
funds.” This includes a projection that the Federal Highway Trust Fund “will go $4 billion in the negative in 2009”, current rescissions in previously promised contract authority of $666 million for Texas and a potential $950 million in rescissions by 2009.
Second, the agency blamed the legislature for moving state transportation dollars to pay for other state priorities and for imposing a broad moratorium on “certain financing tools,” an obvious reference to toll roads.
Finally, the agency blamed inflation and increased maintenance needs.
Zaffirini stressed that the talking points never expressed the agency’s responsibility or remorse for causing the problem.
Senate Finance will continue to work with agency representatives, the State Auditor’s Office, and the Legislative Budget Board throughout the interim to improve the agency’s internal controls.
“We must restore faith in the information that TxDOT presents to us as we prepare for the 2009 session to ensure that these type of problems do not happen again,” Zaffirini said.
TxDOT internal memo first revealed possible shortfall in transportation funding
The Senate Finance Committee’s joint hearing on Tuesday, February 5, with the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee focused on hearing testimony relating to a possible shortfall in transportation funds for 2008-2009.
A Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) internal memo issued in November last year warned district engineers of an impending shortfall in road construction and maintenance fund for the upcoming biennium. Tuesday’s hearing gave TxDOT officials an opportunity to explain how the agency arrived at its prediction of a shortfall.
The memo, issued on November 30, 2007, said that due to inflation, diversion of federal funds, and diversions from the state’s transportation fund, TxDOT would be short of the money it needs to adequately address transportation issues. According to the memo, TxDOT may have to cut funding in critical areas, like right-of-way acquisition and road maintenance. Legislators budgeted $16.9 billion to transportation needs last session in the general appropriations act; coupled with more than $3.2 billion in concessions paid to the state from private road construction process and $3 billion in bonding authority over the next two years, TxDOT has about $23.2 billion in funds for the 08-09 biennium, according to Thomas Galvan of the Legislative Budget Board.
Legislators expressed confusion over the predicted shortfall. “There is a disconnect between what we appropriate, and what TxDOT does,” said Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden of Bryan. Legislators must craft an appropriations bill, he said, where the appropriated funds match internal procedures at the Department of Transportation.
Other lawmakers put more blame on TxDOT.
“I don’t have a lot of confidence in what’s coming out of that shop,” said Sen. Tommy Williams, R-Woodlands. “I think there’s a very serious issue as to whether we have proper control of this agency.” He recommended an immediate audit of TxDOT to ascertain the actual shortfall, if any.
Ogden pointed out to TxDOT commissioners that they had not included billions in bonding authority granted in the general election last year. He added that economic stimulus of new road construction would offset interest costs to infrastructure projects. He asked commissioners to go back and review their revenue forecasts, and decide whether they will issue the additional bonding debt available to them to make up any shortfall.
Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website’s audio and video archive pages.
More students will have access to higher education, says Congressman Hinojosa
By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI
Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness, on Thursday, February 7, applauded the passage of legislation that would address the skyrocketing cost of college and open the doors of higher education to more students that ever before.
The College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, introduced by Hinojosa and Rep. George Miller D-CA, was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives on the evening of February 7. The bill would strengthen the nation’s higher education programs and make college more affordable and accessible for America’s low-income and minority students.
The legislation also contains measures to curb the skyrocketing cost of college. A recent report released by the College Board revealed that tuition and fees at four-year public institutions in Texas increased by 8 percent – after inflation – over the last two years. On average, college costs have risen nearly 40 percent in the last five years.
“Students are graduating with more debt than ever before and many are skipping college altogether because they don’t believe they can afford it,” said Hinojosa. “It is high time we restore consumer confidence and increase accessibility to our higher education system.”
“The health of our nation depends on our ability to prepare our students for the 21st century economy. We need smart strategies that will boost our educated workforce and secure our competitive edge for years to come,” continued Hinojosa. “This bill answers these challenges by expanding educational opportunities and preparing more college graduates who are ready to fuel our globalized workplace.”
The College Opportunity and Affordability Act is a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965, the primary law aimed at expanding college access for low- and middle-income students. It was first signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson as a part of his Great Society domestic agenda.
The College Opportunity and Affordability Act Will:
• Rein in Skyrocketing College Prices
Over the past several months, American families have been bombarded with reports of rising tuitions costs. The legislation passed today would supply more transparency to the system and provide students with a consumer-friendly website containing information on college pricing and the factors driving tuition increases.
Hinojosa also noted that the bill would encourage states maintain their commitment to funding higher education. States that don’t provide enough money for higher education could lose federal dollars. At the same time, the bill would provide incentives, such as additional need-based aid, to keep their prices in check.
• Restore Consumer Confidence
Troubling revelations about the student loan industry prompted Hinojosa and other lawmakers to include protections to clean up corrupt practices in student loan programs and safeguard students from aggressive lender marketing practices. The bill requires better consumer disclosures and protections on private student loans. It also provides students with information about their borrowing options when taking out and repaying student loans, no matter if the loans are federal or private. It promotes financial education about lending practices for students and families.
• Increase and Simplify College Access and Affordability
The legislation would increase the authorized Pell grant maximum to $9,000, a boost which would help thousands of low-income students afford a college education. The bill streamlines FAFSA, the notoriously complicated federal student aid application process. It also creates an easy-to-navigate two-page FAFSA-EZ form for low-income families.
• Expand Access for Low-Income and Minority Students
Hispanics continue to have the lowest levels of education attainment of any group in the country. Hispanic students earn only 6 % of bachelor’s degrees, 4 percent of master’s degrees, and 3 % of doctor’s degrees. To address these dismal statistics, Hinojosa was able to include several initiatives to boost Hispanic student achievement, including the first ever $125 million authorization to establish graduate programs at Hispanic-serving Institutions (HSIs). HSIs enroll almost half of all Hispanic college students.
Hinojosa also successfully boosted the authorization for undergraduate HSI programs to $175 million. This increase would directly affect UT-Pan American, Texas State Technical College in Harlingen, and 42 other HSIs in Texas.
• Increase opportunities for veterans
Currently, 95 percent of Armed services personnel sign up for the GI Bill when they enlist. Nearly 440,000 service members are expected to seek its benefits this year, which represents a 21 percent increase from 2001. This legislation recognizes America’s collective obligation to the men and women returning from war and seeking to resume their lives. It establishes a new scholarship program for veterans and their families. It ensures fairness for veterans in student aid. It also authorizes Centers of Excellence for Veteran Student Success to provide a one-stop support system on campus to help veterans succeed in college and graduate.
• Boost America’s competitiveness
The impact of UT-Pan American’s HESTEC program may soon be felt well beyond the Rio Grande Valley. The annual science and technology conference, which draws over 30,000 participants every year, was the inspiration for a $10 million federal grant program in the bill that will enable the creation of similar models at Minority-serving Institutions around the nation. The goal of the program would be to encourage young people, especially minorities, to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. The bill would strengthen our nation’s workforce and economic competitiveness by boosting foreign language educational opportunities.
UT System Regents, meeting in Edinburg, revise distribution policy of the Permanent University Fund
By ANTHONY P. de BRUYN
The distribution rate for The Permanent University Fund (PUF) for fiscal year 2009 was increased from 4.75 percent to 5.0 percent on Thursday, February 7, by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System following a review of the current distribution policy.
The action, taken at a meeting of the board in Edinburg, does not represent a permanent change in the payout percentage. Instead, it provides guidance to the Board as it conducts its annual review of the distribution policy of the PUF.
The move to increase the payout this year was prompted by several years of impressive investment returns and reflects the Board’s philosophy of providing UT institutions with additional financial assistance when it determines such resources are available.
“Given the unprecedented increase in revenues from operations on the West Texas lands due to increasing energy prices, the realization of five years of outstanding returns from investments managed by UTIMCO, and our shared understanding that UT System institutions require additional funds to advance academic excellence, the Board feels now is the time to increase the distribution rate of the PUF,” Regents’ Chairman H. Scott Caven, Jr., said.
“While the Board’s decision today will result in additional revenue for UT campuses in the near term, it is important to note that our action today does not represent a permanent increase in the distribution rate, but rather calls for a more comprehensive annual review of the distribution policy by the Board of Regents as part of our continuing fiduciary obligation to grow the fund while protecting it from inflation so that it may continue to benefit future generations of students,” Caven said.
The increase in the payout rate to 5.0 percent is expected to yield an additional $27 million for FY 2009.
In making the motion to establish the revised distribution policy and formula for the PUF, Caven directed that the new revenue resulting from the increase in the payout be directed toward expanding the UT System’s faculty recruitment and retention efforts. The portion of the increase directed to excellence funding at UT Austin will be used to expand the faculty and provide other services to students.
“The UT System and its institutions remain committed to providing an affordable and quality education for its students,” UT System Chancellor Mark G. Yudof said. “As a very large portion of our endowment is restricted for specific purposes and cannot be used to mitigate increases in operational expenses typically funded from tuition and fee revenues, the Board’s decision to increase the payout in the short term will help our campuses meet strategic goals such as growing and retaining faculty and infrastructure needs.”
The Texas Constitution of 1876 established the PUF through the appropriation of land grants previously designated to The University of Texas, as well as an additional 1 million acres. Another state grant of 1 million acres was made in 1883. PUF lands, which today consist of more than 2.1 million acres located primarily in West Texas, are managed by the UT System under direction of the Board of Regents. The lands are managed to produce two income streams: one from oil, gas and mineral interests, and the other from surface interests, such as grazing.
The state constitution restricts the income stream from the PUF to be used for the payment of principal and interest on bonds for capital construction at eligible UT System and Texas A&M University System institutions. Any residual distributions after payment of the debt service on the bonds are used to fund academic excellence programs at UT Austin, Texas A&M University and Prairie View A&M University, as well as oversight responsibilities at the UT System administration.
The Constitution directs the UT System Board of Regents to establish a distribution policy that provides stable, inflation-adjusted distributions to the Available University Fund (AUF) and preserves the real value of PUF investments over the long term. The last time the Board adjusted the distribution policy was in 2001 when it increased the payout percentage from 4.50 percent to 4.75 percent.
Serving the educational and health care needs of Texans for more than 125 years, the UT System is one of the nation’s largest higher education systems with 15 campuses – including nine academic and six health institutions – and 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.