Saturday, January 26, 2013

Locke Lord Top Law Firm Lobby Practice

Locke Lord Again Named No. 1 Texas Law Firm Lobby Practice; 5 Public Law Members Included in Capitol Inside’s Top Rankings

January 25, 2013 – Locke Lord is the No. 1 law firm lobby practice in Texas and has held this top spot for the last decade, according to Capitol Inside’s 10th Annual Texas Lobby Power Rankings. In addition, Partner Robert Miller, Chair of Locke Lord’s Public Law section, is ranked No. 5 out of approximately 2,000 Texas lobbyists, and four additional Public Law lawyers and professionals from Locke Lord are listed in the Power Rankings.

Capitol Inside, a closely followed Texas political and governmental affairs website based in Austin, calls Locke Lord’s Public Law team “the epitome of teamwork in the public advocacy profession here.”

The publication credits Miller as “the traffic cop maestro of a Locke Lord team that’s been ranked first on the Law Firm Lobby Practice list for most of the past decade,” and states that Miller has “amassed a significant amount of the clout he wields by virtue of the strength of the team that he’s personally crafted and its members’ unique abilities and individual riches.”

“Our Governmental & Public Affairs Practice continues to get outstanding results for our clients and has raised the bar on best practices and ethical standards in lobbying,” said Firm Chair Jerry Clements. “This is an incredibly strong showing – by the team and so many of its individual members – and reflects how well-respected our Public Law section is and why it’s the go-to lobbying team in Texas.”

Miller has established a stellar reputation in the last 25 years via his lobbying efforts on behalf of local, state and federal governments, as well as public and private concerns. He successfully worked to keep the Houston Astros in Houston through creation of a Sports Authority, which led to the construction of a retractable roof stadium. He has also served in a variety of top level leadership positions, including four years as chair of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas. Miller writes a popular and well-read Texas Public Law Blog called “View From the Gallery,” which is distributed and posted on Locke Lord’s homepage.

Also cited in this year’s Texas Lobby Power Rankings are:
  • Governmental Affairs Consultant Yuniedth Midence Steen is ranked No. 15 on Capitol Inside’s Hired Guns list. She is former Chief of Staff to State Sen. John Whitmire and        has been with Locke Lord for more than 12 years. Capitol Inside calls her “one of the Austin lobby’s youngest superstars” as well as one of the best and most popular lobbyists in Austin, and the second highest-ranking woman on the Hired Guns list, predicting she will rise to the Top 10 in the next two years.
  • Gardner Pate is No. 5 on the Rising Stars list. Capitol Inside says Pate has emerged “as the GOP’s leading expert on political money issues and ethics law in Texas. Pate’s expertise in that area has been in increasing demand despite the fact that he’s only 30 years old.” Pate is chief campaign finance advisor and attorney for the Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott Campaign and also serves as campaign finance advisor for the Comptroller Susan Combs Campaign and numerous Texas legislators.
  • Senior Policy Advisor Walter B. Smith Jr., who works out of the Firm’s Austin and Washington, D.C., offices, is ranked No. 17 on the Rising Stars list. He is a former aide to Congressmen Henry Bonilla, Chet Edwards and Larry Combest, and was an appointee of President George W. Bush to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he served as a legislative liaison between the Administration and the House and Senate.
  • Consultant Nef Partida is No. 6 on Capitol Inside’s Consultants Who Lobby list. He has served as a communications consultant and strategist to Republican and Democratic campaigns.

    Capitol Inside's Lobby Power Rankings

Friday, January 18, 2013

Serious Issues for the 83rd Texas Legislature

2013 is upon us, which means one thing:  the 83rd Texas Legislature has convened! 
There only bill the legislature must pass is a balanced budget for the 2014 - 2015 biennium.  Texas Constitution Article 3, Section 49a(b) states that "Except in the case of emergency . . . no appropriation in excess of the cash and anticipated revenue of the funds from which such appropriation is to be made shall be or is valid." 
Fortunately, Texas’ revenue forecast is robust.  Comptroller Susan Combs currently estimates that the state will have an $8.8 billion cash surplus at the end of the current biennium on August 31, 2013, and $101.4 billion in revenue will be available for the next biennium -- a 12.4% increase over the current biennium.  The Economic Stabilization Fund, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund, is also projected to contain $11.8 billion at the end of FY 2015.
However, Texas’ spending demands are also robust.  Medicaid requires an additional $4.7 billion by the end of March or the program will run out of money.  Appropriators intend to reverse an accounting shift that originally delayed by one day a $2.3 billion payment owed to the public schools on August 31, 2013, so that the expenditure would not be made until FY2014.  Throw in costs for the recent wildfires and criminal justice healthcare cost increases, and the legislature will probably need to pass a $7 billion supplemental appropriations bill by the end of March.
After passing the supplemental appropriations bill, the legislature will still have approximately $5 billion more available this session than it did in 2011.  Some of the major issues competing for those dollars are education, transportation, water -- and tax relief.
Approximately 600 hundred school districts are suing the state claiming the current method of financing the public schools is unconstitutional.  The lawsuit is likely to be ultimately decided by the Texas Supreme Court sometime next fall.  Most observers expect the school finance system to be held unconstitutional, requiring the legislature to meet in special session and appropriate billions more to the public schools.  Accordingly, expect the legislature to reserve some of the available dollars to meet an anticipated adverse court judgment on education funding.
The 2011 legislature did not fund approximately $5.4 billion that would have been due to the public schools under the then current school finance funding formulas.  There have been calls by Democrats, teacher groups and others to restore the $5.4 billion, but legislative leadership so far has thrown cold water on that proposal.  However, the legislature is expected to fund enrollment growth for the next biennium.
The legislature must address a large and growing highway construction and maintenance funding shortfall.  Under current funding projections, by 2014 we will be barely able to maintain our current highway system and there will be no money for new construction.
The current gas tax of 20 cents per gallon has not been raised since 1991, and it is the primary source of state funding for State Highway Fund 6.  Revenues are shrinking even as the number of vehicles on Texas’ roads increases, because cars are much more fuel efficient and there are a growing number of alternative fueled vehicles.  Proposals to increase revenues for transportation infrastructure include eliminating diversions from the State Highway Fund to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Education Agency and others; dedicating some or all of the 6.25% motor vehicle sales tax to highway funding; and increasing motor vehicle registration fees by $50.
Texas is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, with 1,200 people a day moving to Texas.  By 2040, Texas is projected to have a population of 35.8 million -- up from 25.1 million recorded in the 2010 census.  As our population grows, there will be increasing demands on state water resources by residential consumers.  The demands of industry, agriculture and the environment for water also continue to increase.
The Texas Water Development Board has developed a state water plan to address Texas’ future water resource needs.  The plan has a $53 billion price tag, which has not been funded.  Yet the 2010 - 2011 drought, the worst 1-year drought in the state’s history, has provided legislators impetus to beginning funding the plan.
Multiple proposals have been made to withdraw up to $2 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund to provide seed capital and begin a revolving loan program for water infrastructure investments.  With the backing of legislative leadership, look for Texas to initiate funding of its water plan this session.
Tax Relief
The rosy revenue picture has also led to calls for tax relief.  Proposals include phasing out the margins tax and raising the school property tax homestead exemption.  Eliminating the margins tax entirely would cost $5.6 billion.  Increasing the homestead exemption to $25,000 from its current $15,000 would cost $1.2 billion.
Speaker Joe Straus has said that “Texas needs to get serious about serious issues.”  With seasoned leadership from Lt. Gov. Dewhurst on the other side of the rotunda and a strong revenue forecast, look for the 83rd Texas Legislature to begin tackling some of the serious issues facing our state.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Port of Houston Logjam has Broken!

Janiece M. Longoria is expected to be elected Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Port of Houston Authority next week.  A joint meeting of the Harris County Commissioners Court and Houston City Council is planned for January 8 at 9:30 a.m. at the County Administration Building.  Mayor Parker and Judge Emmett will preside over the meeting.  If Commissioner Longoria is elected, she will be the first woman to Chair the Port Commission as well as the first minority. 

Longoria was originally appointed to the Port Commission by Houston City Council in September 2002. Since 1997, she has been a partner in the law firm of Ogden, Gibson, Broocks & Longoria, L.L.P., where she focuses her practice on the trial, arbitration and appeal of a broad range of commercial litigation cases. Earlier in her legal career, Longoria was a city of Houston municipal court judge, and a prosecutor in the Harris County district attorney’s office.
Longoria also serves on the Board of Directors of CenterPoint Energy, Inc., and previously was a Regent of the University of Texas Systems from 2008 – 2011.  She is the daughter of the late Sen. Raúl Longoria, a longtime Democratic political leader in Hidalgo County.
She will be replacing James T. Edmonds, who has served as Chairman since June 2000.  Chairman Edmonds did not seek reappointment.