Economy

 Ben Philpott

Work in Progress

The latest employment numbers show that more Texans than ever before have jobs, but the state is still struggling with its highest unemployment rate since 1987. Ben Philpott of KUT News and the Tribune reports on the good and bad news in the latest stats.

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Ready, Set, Grow

The economic slump is still being felt around Texas and the country, but industries and data are reporting positive signs. KUT’s Mose Buchele reports on what to make of potential green shoots.

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 Graphic by Employee Retirement System of Texas

Benefits and Drawbacks

The insurance plan for state employees will have a $140.4 million shortfall next year — and that's the least of its problems. The projected shortfall for the two years after that is $880 million, and it will take another $476 million to replenish the legally required contingency fund. The Employee Retirement System and state leaders are surprisingly mellow about the red ink, saying growth in the cost of health benefits has actually stabilized at around 9 percent. But steady and large increases in costs threaten to erode the program, leaving policymakers to consider cuts in benefits, to negotiate lower prices or to find vast amounts of new money.

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TribBlog: An Off-Track Bet

The Speaker doesn't have anyone studying gambling in advance of the next legislative session, and a leading Democrat says legislators ought to get together on their own to consider the issue.

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 Jacob Villanueva

The Shell Game

If history is any guide, the Legislature will turn to accounting illusions to mask large portions of a budget shortfall of at least $11 billion. Trouble is, such trickery is a bet on the economy roaring back to life — and that's no sure thing.

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 Jacqueline Mermea

TribWeek: In Case You Missed It

E. Smith interviews Gov. Rick Perry for the Trib and Newsweek, Philpott dissects the state's budget mess in a weeklong series, Hamilton looks at whether Bill White is or was a trial lawyer, M. Smith finds experts all over the state anxiously watching a court case over who owns the water under our feet, Aguilar reports on the battle between Fort Stockton and Clayton Williams Jr. over water in West Texas, Ramshaw finds a population too disabled to get on by itself but not disabled enough to get state help and Miller spends a day with a young man and his mother coping with that situation, Ramsey peeks in on software that lets the government know whether its e-mail messages are getting read and who's reading what, a highway commissioner reveals just how big a hole Texas has in its road budget, Grissom does the math on the state's border cameras and learns they cost Texans about $153,800 per arrest, and E. Smith interviews Karen Hughes on the difference between corporate and political P.R. — and whether there's such a thing as "Obama Derangement Syndrome." The best of our best from April 19 to April 23, 2010.

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 Bob Daemmerich

The Road Funding Hole

It's no secret the Texas Department of Transportation is broke. Texas Transportation Commission Chair Deirdre Delisi tells the Tribune's CEO/Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith just how broke the agency is.

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TribWeek: In Case You Missed It

Grissom on the fall of Norma Chávez; M. Smith and Ramsey on the runoffs, the results, and the aftermath; Hu on the Tea Party's birthday party; Thevenot and Stiles on the path between schools and prisons; Ramshaw on prosecutors' reaction to helping hands from Austin; Hamilton on self-appointed lawyers; Galbraith on property rights and power lines; Aguilar and Grissom sit down with the mayor of Juárez to talk about his crime-ridden city; Kraft on telling the stories of Texans and other Americans who died in Vietnam; Ramsey on slots and horses and casinos; and Hamilton goes on a field trip with Jim Hightower to hear the history of populism. The best of our best from April 5 to 9, 2010.

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What are the Odds?

Start with a shortfall and a Legislature that doesn't want to raise taxes, then dangle budget-balancing money from "volunteers" — a.k.a., gamblers. With that strategy, promoters think they've got their best shot in years to legalize slot machines while adding $1 billion a year to state revenues.

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TribWeek: In Case You Missed It

Grissom on her two hours in Juárez, Grissom, Ramshaw and Ramsey on four of the runoffs on Tuesday's ballot, Ramshaw on the religious experience that is voting for Dallas County's DA and an energy regulator's play for a job at the entity he regulates, Mulvaney on the Texas Senate's biggest spenders, Aguilar on whether — as U.S. officials claim — 90 percent of guns used in Mexican crimes really flow south from Texas, M. Smith on the continuing Texas Forensic Science Commission follies, Stiles on how inmates spend their money behind bars and how counties are responding at Census time, Hamilton on the creative accounting and semantic trickery that allows lawmakers to raise revenue without hiking taxes when there's a budget shortfall, and Hu on Austin's first-in-the-nation car-sharing program. The best of our best from April 5 to 9, 2010.

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 Graphic by Matt Stiles

The Senate's Biggest Spenders

The 31-member body spent nearly $16 million last fiscal year on travel, staff and office expenses, according to records from the office of the Secretary of the Senate. Overall spending by individual senators ranged from $206,000, by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, to $637,000, by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.

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A Taxing Session?

Lawmakers will find themselves in a multibillion-dollar ditch when they return to Austin in January 2011. Constitutionally, they can't write a deficit budget, so they're expected to use not just cuts but revenue raisers to keep the books in balance. Ben Philpott, who covers politics and public policy for KUT News and the Tribune, filed this report.

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TribBlog: Holding Steady

Texas unemployment held steady at 8.2 percent last month, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. That's the same seasonally adjusted rate as in January, December, and November, but it's up from 6.8 percent in February of 2009.

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 Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

Ranking the Recession

A new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas compares the 2008-09 recession to other downturns — and puts it at the top of the list. Ben Philpott filed this report for KUT News and the Tribune.

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