State Capitol Highlights: Grand jury indicts governor on counts

By Ed Sterling

AUSTIN — A Travis County grand jury on Aug. 15 indicted Gov. Rick Perry on two felony counts: abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.

Count I alleges Perry, on or about June 14, 2013, intended to harm Rosemary Lehmberg, Travis County district attorney and chief of the state’s Public Integrity Unit, by intentionally or knowingly misusing public property in withholding funding approved by the Texas Legislature for the operation of the Public Integrity Unit.

Count II alleges Perry by means of coercion and in his official capacity as a public servant threatened to veto legislation funding the Public Integrity Unit unless Lehmberg resigned as district attorney.

Lehmberg was arrested for drunken driving in April 2013. She served a short jail sentence, publicly apologized, underwent counseling and returned to her elected post as district attorney and chief of the Public Integrity Unit, a division of the district attorney’s office that investigates and prosecutes criminal activity involving state government and state government officials.

Lehmberg refused to resign. Perry reacted with a line-item veto of the funding approved for the Public Integrity Unit ($7.5 million) in the state’s 2014-2015 general appropriations bill, SB 1. Perry explained the veto this way: “Despite the otherwise good work the Public Integrity Unit’s employees, I cannot in good conscience support continued State funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence . This unit is in no other way held accountable to state taxpayers, except through the State budgetary process. I therefore object to and disapprove of this appropriation.”

Mary Anne Wiley, general counsel for Perry, issued a statement saying, “The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution. We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail.”

Panel votes for censure

The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations on Aug. 11 met and voted 6-1 to admonish and censure University of Texas System Board of Regents member Wallace L. Hall Jr. of Dallas “for misconduct, incompetency in the performance of official duties, or behavior unbefitting a nominee for and holder of a state office.” State Rep. Charles Perry, R Lubbock, voted against the action.

Hall, who was appointed as a regent by Gov. Perry in 2011, reportedly has been conducting an independent investigation of UT’s fundraising and other activities. Allegations against Hall are detailed in a motion 28 pages in length.

The motion also directs two of members of the committee, state Reps. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, and Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio, to monitor the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System, The University of Texas System and The University of Texas System component institutions.

Notes get highest ratings

State Comptroller Susan Combs on Aug. 12 announced Wall Street’s three biggest credit rating agencies have given their highest ratings to Texas’ 2014 Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes._These annual, one-year notes, Combs explained, are sold to help fund school payments and manage cash flow between the start of the fiscal year and the arrival of tax revenue later in the year._Combs said the ratings reflect confidence in Texas and its economic growth. The state’s sale of $5.4 billion in Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes will be conducted Aug. 26 with repayment scheduled Aug. 31, 2015, she added.

Economy adds jobs in July

Texas Workforce Commission on Aug. 15 announced the state’s economy added 46,600 seasonally adjusted non-farm jobs in the month of July and the unemployment rate was 5.1 percent in July, while the national unemployment rate was 6.2 percent.

Texas employers have added 396,200 jobs over the last year, a 3.5 percent annual growth rate, said Andres Alcantar, chair of Texas Workforce Commission. “The Texas economic engine is strong, with every major industry posting positive annual growth in July,” Alcantar added.

Also, all of the major industries in Texas expanded during July, with professional and business services adding 10,600 jobs in the month.

RRC elects Craddick chair

Christi Craddick of Midland on Aug. 12 was elected chair of the three-member Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that oversees the regulation of the oil and gas industry. She succeeds fellow member Barry Smitherman at the post.