Last week the Republicans officially took over both houses of Congress.

Now what?

I have some advice for the Grand Old Party: Go long on the Grand, and shelve the Old.

Stand for something new and inspiring. Be the party of Growth and Opportunity.

And tell the people about it.

It’s a message that can win the White House and keep Congress for the next decade.

Call it a freshening of the brand, call it strategic messaging, call it marketing and advertising, but mostly call it overdue.

The private sector does it every day out of necessity. Otherwise, you’re lost in the marketplace. Identifying what you’re selling, your market, the best way to say it, and whom to say it are part of any successful business plan.

Think about some of the great branding campaigns and what they meant for the long-term success of the company: Intel Inside, Have A Coke and A Smile, Don’t Leave Home Without it (American Express), A Diamond is Forever (DeBeers), Think Different (Apple), Tastes Great, Less Filling (Miller; a personal favorite). And oh yes, Nike has a few.

They resonate with people years later.

If necessity really is the mother of invention, Republicans are going to have to do more than roll out legislation for the Keystone Pipeline, as great as it may be, and wait for President Obama to veto it.

Better, the GOP should refresh its brand for the long-term benefit of the country.

Before I lay out the blueprint to save America (you’re welcome, by the way), let’s get a couple key premises on the table:

1) Why do I care? Well I have to confess to being pro-growth, pro-opportunity, pro-business and pro-problem solving with creative communications. And even though the Republicans just took over Congress, they still don’t have an identifiable message as far as I can tell.

My personal beliefs align most closely with those of the Republican Party if you believe in the principles on which our country was founded, for example individual liberty, sovereignty of the people, federalism, state’s rights, limited government represented by our democracy (as messy as it is in practice), and private property.

And it’s really not a hard call if you contrast those basic beliefs with a Democratic Party veering toward socialism and an imperial government, the antithesis of why the U.S. was founded in the first place.

2) Who cares about growth and opportunity? How about immigrants, particularly the most important demographic in politics today, Hispanics. (disclaimer: Hispanics today aren’t voting commensurate with their population but that will change. And, if you look at the 2012 election results, Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for President Obama. Why?).

Opportunity is tried and true, it draws people, it conjures the imagination and inspires big dreams. It’s why people come here and don’t leave (and by the way, why 1,000 people per day move to Texas, but I digress).

3) Why is the Republican Party considered the party of business? Maybe it’s best described by this constitutional principle (if you’re into that sort of thing):

The highest level of prosperity occurs when there is a free-market economy and a minimum of government regulations. Prosperity depends upon a climate of wholesome stimulation with four basic freedoms in operation: 1. The Freedom to try. 2. The Freedom to buy. 3. The Freedom to sell. 4. The Freedom to fail. (www.freerepublic.com).

I’m personally a believer that business, commerce, trading stuff for stuff, and the profit motive underlying are all largely good. It’s what creates the wealth that allows us the creature comforts we enjoy, to take care of those who can’t do it for themselves, and allow the U.S. to support most of the free world in some fashion. We the people get to choose within the marketplace and reign in the rogues as needed (see Wall Street, circa 2008).

Republican objectives need to be wrapped in a broader message if not a full-scale branding campaign so stay with me for a minute on the big message – Growth and Opportunity – and underlying principles that accompany them.

Heck, include Mom, Apple Pie and the Flag for all I care. Isn’t the American Dream why we’re all here or want to be? Isn’t that what the revolt was all about? We get to pursue happiness, for goodness sakes, and even have the right to choose it.

Call it American Revolution 2; after all, while it’s not King George, other countries are nipping at our heels economically (BRIC and now the Middle East oil squeeze) and educationally (we’re being substantially out-performed in the STEM subjects).

We are the world’s greatest innovators. Of the most valuable private companies in the worlds, 9 of the top 10 are American (through Q3 2014; Financial Times Global 500). Of the world’s most valuable brands, the Top 7 are American. Our gross national product is #1, according to the United Nations, and it’s not even close, almost double that of #2-ranking China, which is nice.

So capitalism has worked from that perspective.

For another perspective, we’re # 10 in the so-called Prosperity Index that measures the success of countries based on 89 different economic analysis variables in industry, education, health, freedom, opportunity, and social capital. (Business Insider).

Prosperity may be overrated. Anyway, get the people on your side and make it happen.

We’re entrepreneurs, innovators, risk-takers, mavericks. It’s part of the American DNA.

Isn’t opportunity another word for liberty and what the revolutionaries fought for, and what (presumably most) Republican elected officials campaigned on?

Do we all need a history class?

So let’s say we can agree that growth is good since jobs and output drive the economy in a positive direction and it’s worked out well for America so far.

So how should the GOP define opportunity? I say keep it simple:

1) Individual Freedom and Jobs. Everyone should have the chance to get a job or start a business. If you’re willing to work, this is inherent in our capitalist society. But what tools do we need.
2) Education. Everyone should have the chance to get a post-secondary education. That’s a traditional University, community college, vocational school, or the like. And everyone should be encouraged to go. In fact, we should require the government to pay for it if, for example, that person will do a minimum of 1 year of service, whether it be military or charitable (the Israel model). We do it for secondary education, but that’s not good enough today. Remember this constitutional principle: A free society cannot survive as a republic without a broad program of general education. This was a worthy goal in 1776 and needs to go farther today as we operate in a global economy.
3) People first. The constitutional principle of popular sovereignty says that the authority of the government is created and sustained by the consent of its people, the source of all political power. We are a republic; our elected officials represent us. If they forget that, remind them (you can do it nicely, but it should be done).

This could solve a lot of things.

Public policies should support these core principles. For example, the phrase “rule of law” in our constitution refers to the idea that laws are to be followed and that they apply equally to everyone. People obey the law and not the whims or a ruler. Further, no one is above the rule of law. This can certainly be applied when it comes to protecting private property rights which I suspect is favored by a large majority of the country.

Another application of this concept is economics and how to fund our federal government. Everyone needs to be invested, have a stake in what we’re doing. Today, almost one-half of the country is paying no federal income tax (note: not including payroll taxes and state taxes; federal taxes only). The income tax is a mess; we need to get away from our so-called “progressive” income tax and find some other way, like a national sales tax (w/exceptions), for all to pay a share. During WWII everyone pitched in and patriotism was at an all-time high. Our current revenue model is unsustainable and trending the wrong way; we can’t have half of the country pulling the wagon and the other half riding… The wagon won’t move.

That said, the income chasm is growing between the rich and poor – we need to figure out why and how to fix it. Not to make it equal – it will never be equal, we’re not a socialist country. But, we need to pay attention to the underlying causes.

Yes, we should account for enlightened evolution; beliefs held by a society in 1776 can and should change over the course of 238 years. But the basic principles on which the country was founded should remain constant. This is not Europe and I refuse to believe that most Americans want it to be.

So, I’m proposing a GOP refresh. Repeat after me — Growth and Opportunity.

Just Do It.

If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary…. [But lacking these] you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” – James Madison

For the first time in a decade Texas will have a completely new leadership lineup in statewide offices. While the new Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and others have their own bona fides and policy priorities, the ideology won’t change much.

Republican’s continue to dominate statewide offices and the Legislature. This should be good news for Texas business, and may even be good for long-term GOP strength given how (relatively) well they did with Hispanic voters and women.

The policy climate will still center on less of most things (taxes, regulations, spending) and more of some things like jobs and growth.

Governor-elect Greg Abbott is ideologically quite conservative and while he may not be as singularly focused on economic development as Rick Perry, attracting companies to the state and their jobs will remain on the short list of his priorities.

Lt. Governor-elect Dan Patrick won impressively against a sitting Hispanic Texas Senator. What may surprise some is that Patrick is a pro-life candidate who campaigned on immigration reform, lower property taxes, and school choice (he’s been a strong advocate on this issue in the Texas Senate). Some exit polls suggest that Patrick may have won as much as 46% of the Hispanic vote, much more than even George W. Bush’s 40% in his 1998 re-election, considered a major milestone at the time.

The Texas economy benefits from huge tax revenues from pulling oil and gas out of shale formations throughout the state and the state budget remains firmly in the black, allowing Texas to offer incentives for corporate re-locations and expansions on at least an even playing field with competing states.

That’s together with a policy climate that includes no state personal income tax, a nominal corporate tax, a reasonable regulatory environment, and low cost of living.

A brief summary of the election:

Statewide
Greg Abbott won the governorship with 59.28% of the vote.
Dan Patrick won the lieutenant governorship with 58.16% of the vote.
Ken Paxton won the attorney generalship with 58.84% of the vote.
George P. Bush (son of Jeb) is the new Land Commissioner, winning handily.
All other Republican statewide candidates won their race by at least a 15-point margin.

Congress
As Texas’ senior Senator, John Cornyn, appears poised to move into the # 2-ranking role in the U.S. Senate Republicans pulled off one upset in a far west Texas congressional district and now hold a 24-12 edge in the U.S. House.

Texas Senate
In a critical state senate race, Konni Burton (R) took back the seat in Tarrant County (SD 10), previously held by Democrat and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, winning with 52.83% of the vote in a swing district. Republican incumbent Joan Huffman (SD 17 – Houston) was challenged by a well-financed opponent but won easily with 63.34% of the vote.
In two earlier special elections for the state senate this year, Republicans Brandon Creighton in SD 4 and Charles Perry in SD 28 won their races handily.
These wins increase the Republican majority in the Senate from 19 to 20 (in a body of 31).

Texas House
There were several contested races for the Texas House; Republicans increased their majority in the House from 95 to 98 members (in a body of 150). In a critical race in Galveston and Chambers County (HD 23), Republican Wayne Faircloth won an open seat formerly held by a personal injury trial lawyer who did not run for re-election.
Republican Rick Galindo in Bexar County (HD 117 – San Antonio) challenged incumbent Democrat Phil Cortez, whose campaign was financed by the Texas Trial Lawyers Association. This is a swing district with a large Hispanic population and Galindo won with 52.69% of the vote.
Another key House race was in South Texas (HD 43), in which Republican J.M. Lozano won with 61.42% of the vote. Lozano first won election to the House in 2010 as a Democrat, but then became a Republican and won election as a Republican in 2012 and again this year.
The Galindo and Lozano victories suggest Republicans are making inroads with Hispanic voters. Interestingly, five of the contested House races won by Republicans were in Dallas County, which Obama’s Battleground Texas made “ground zero” in its attempt to turn Texas blue:
HD 102, Republican Linda Koop won with 62.49% in an open seat.
HD 105, Republican Rodney Anderson won with 55.44% in an open seat.
HD 107, incumbent Republican Kenneth Sheets won with 55.01%.
HD 108, Republican Morgan Meyer won with 60.67% in an open seat.
HD 113, incumbent Republican Cindy Burkett won with 59.42%.

When the 84th Texas Legislature convenes in January 2015 there will be new faces in every statewide office (all GOP); Republicans will have increased their majority in both chambers; only one major “crisis” looms (school finance); and expect the legislative agenda to focus on education (a Governor-elect Abbot priority) and additional funding for infrastructure like roads, water and energy. Overall, Texas should be alright.

Texas’ economic growth doesn’t come without a price.

As Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson says (link below), more than 1,000 people are moving to Texas every day and they aren’t bringing their roads with them.

While major Texas cities lead the nation in creating millionaires — http://www.cnbc.com/id/102012485 — the state hasn’t kept pace in road construction. Urban legend has it that the airline lobby stunted highway construction for years. Whether that’s true or not, it is a fact that since 1987 Texas has been diverting gas tax revenue that in theory should be used on road infrastructure to other agencies, totaling about $ 800 million per year on average.

For the past ten years, construction to address congestion on Texas highways has been funded with bond proceeds and debt. Today, bonding programs have been exhausted and funding levels, compared to the last decade, will decline 50%, leaving nothing for new construction.

Proposition 1, a constitutional amendment on the Texas ballot in November, can change part of that. It will allow the Comptroller to allocate to the State Highway Fund one-half of the amount of general revenue from oil and gas production taxes currently transferred to the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

How much are we talking about? The State Comptroller recently estimated that an additional $ 1.7 billion from the oil and gas severance tax will be available for road construction if Prop 1 passes.

Both funds will now benefit from the incredible growth in the state’s energy sector, fueled largely by hydraulic fracturing in shale reserves throughout Texas. Today, Texas energy is so prolific that in 2013 Texas produced 29% of the nation’s marketed natural gas and 34 percent of its oil. http://www.window.state.tx.us/comptrol/fnotes/fn15Q1/fuel.php

The Rainy Day Fund hovers around $ 10 billion and is growing quickly; Prop 1 allows Texas to do something smart with a portion of the extra cash — build roads — without raising taxes, taking on new debt, or adding tolls.

And even that is only a portion of what we need; the Texas Department of Transportation conservatively estimates we really could use $5 billion annually in additional funding.

But Prop 1 will be a good start.

What more can be done? Next year the State Legislature may consider whether to dedicate the sales tax on motor vehicles to transportation, which could mean up to $3 billion in new revenue to the Highway Fund, and ending budget diversions altogether, another $650 million per year.

With the energy sector booming and the Texas economy otherwise healthy now is the time to meet the demands of a growing population. As Texas continues to attract more companies and the associated jobs and families, most agree that infrastructure — particularly roads and water — will be critical to maintaining our competitive edge.

Check out Ray’s message here: http://youtu.be/XpB6b6uUjVo; let’s roll.

Charles Schwab becomes the latest Fortune 500 company to announce a major investment in Texas, and they’ll get help from state and local government to do it.

The question being debated: is the loss of significant tax revenue worth the job creation? Put another way, do these deals really offer a return on this kind of investment (ROI) by the government. And can the state and local municipalities compete for re-locations and expansions without them.

The deal is this: Schwab plans to create 823 technology-centered jobs over a period of 10 years and make a capital investment of $ 196 million dollars in equipment and a new building in North Austin; in return, the city of Austin and Travis County will provide 3.3-3.6 million dollars in the form of property tax abatements for the new building. The state’s Texas Enterprise Fund will provide $ 4.5 million in direct cash investment for the project.

A county economic analysis says Travis County would see a net benefit of $ 2.5 million tax dollars after allowing for costs associated with various services to support the growth.

The company will also create 445 jobs in El Paso and make a $ 21.5 million dollar investment in that city, for which the Enterprise Fund will provide $ 1.45 million.

The Texas Legislature is also looking hard at the value of incentives, including the Enterprise Fund and myriad other state programs (http://governor.state.tx.us/ecodev/edt_incentives/). The interim Texas House Select Committee on Economic Development Incentives recently heard testimony on the topic and will continue its work leading to the regular state legislative session beginning in January of 2015. By the way, State Tax Notes says Texas is 7th in the U.S. in the amount of incentives and subsidies it provides for economic development.

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/politics/texas/article/Future-of-state-economic-incentive-programs-up-5642487.php

Proponents of incentives argue that the positives outweigh the negatives by 1) creating jobs to support long-term economic growth; 2) creating a positive net return for taxpayers from the economic activity generated by the job creation; and 3) incentives tie the company to a particular market with specific long-term obligations — from the number of jobs, the amount of investment, employee benefits packages and more that the company must meet in order to qualify for the deal.

Local business leaders say the City of Austin has made money on every one of the 20 incentive agreements it’s done over the past ten years with some of the leading companies in the world like Apple, Samsung, Visa, Facebook, HID Global, Legal Zoom, Hanger Orthopedic and now Schwab, pointing to the City’s $14 million budget surplus in fiscal 2013-2014.

Supporters also note the creation of “pathways to prosperity” these jobs offer those in a community without a high school or college education.

Some conservative economists beg to differ on the need for incentives. At the Select Committee hearing, Bill Peacock of the Texas Public Policy Foundation said this: “Texas should reduce or eliminate current economic development programs while restraining growth in overall government spending and regulation. This is the path toward expanding the prosperity of all Texans.”

With no incentives, what else could keep Texas attractive to expanding or re-locating businesses? There are rumblings of eliminating the state’s business tax – aka the Texas Franchise Tax — altogether.

http://tpr.org/post/coalition-rallies-dump-state-franchise-tax-2015-legislative-session

Those in the middle say that incentives aren’t an “if” proposition but a “when;” that incentives should only be used for companies that provide significant or unique opportunities to grow and/or diversify the economy.

Craig Casselberry
(512) 762-7366
cc@quorumpublicaffairs.com

Despite all the talk of California’s decline, there’s one area that could eventually turn the tide back to the Golden State’s favor – higher education.
While Texas has become the model state for job creation – leading the country for what seems like the last decade – the Lone Star State would do well to emulate California’s education ecosystem to maintain its long-term economic competitiveness.
The state of California has two things Texas (and the rest of the country for that matter) needs more of – technical talent and venture capital. And, one could argue, both of those stem from a priority commitment to higher education.
In fact one of the country’s most successful investors (who ironically re-located from California to Texas in the not-too-distant past) told me recently that higher education is the most critical component to a competitive economy and sustained job growth because it’s the development of technical expertise and commercialization of products and services with genesis on campuses that attract the venture investment that creates jobs and communities.
Venture investors and companies like to stay close to each other, a key reason Silicon Valley has become the epicenter of disruptive technologies.
California learned early that a healthy higher education ecosystem could be a catalyst of sustained growth. The University of California system itself is among the best in the world, with 10 designated Tier I research Universities, more than any other state.
And for a time the Golden State reaped its rewards, growing into one of the world’s largest economies during the mid-20th Century. Hewlett Packard and Apple, the space program and even automakers, benefited from government research that turned into heavy research and development investment in the 1950’s and 1960’s, starting with Project RAND (now the RAND Corporation) in 1945.
California wisely recognized the potential of research, and more importantly how to use that research to create wealth.
Stanford has set the benchmark for technology commercialization – turning research into business plans that find a market. With a market comes venture investment to spur growth, which leads to jobs the creation of wealth and ultimately communities, like the Silicon Valley we see today.
It’s not surprising that company founders of Google, Yahoo and many others were educated in Palo Alto.
And while the seeds of Facebook were sown at Harvard, the social network pioneer benefited from its re-location to Silicon Valley, gaining the technical talent and venture capital it needed for growth.
Despite its success in education, the California economy will continue to lag if its political leadership won’t get out of the way. More taxes and regulation on entrepreneurs that risk capital and create jobs just plays into the hands of those who are competing for jobs in other states; those policies have certainly been a boon for Texas. And by the way, it’s not “stealing” jobs if you ask nicely and simply offer a better, more competitive deal. That approach often leads to “yes.”
As Margaret Thatcher once said, “the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”
Texas’ public policy, on the other hand, is built for growth, with a low tax burden, reasonable regulations and support for small businesses. The culture is entrepreneurial, and we’re investing in infrastructure to support population growth, with a multi-billion dollar commitment to water in 2013, along with transportation and energy.
In Texas, at least, sustained economic growth means supporting encouraging entrepreneurs who create jobs, not punishing them.
While Texas has led the nation in job creation for about the past decade, to fill those jobs we’ll need a skilled workforce, and to grow the companies, more venture capital.
In higher education, Texas isn’t there yet but we’re gaining. In fact Texas just passed California as the national leader in technology-related exports.
Our two flagship state universities are Tier I status – along with the University of Houston and private Rice University in Houston – but there’s more ground to cover. In the last decade the state has focused more on commercialization, and we’re seeing progress locally. In response to the energy boom in west Texas, Midland College, Texas Tech, and the University of Texas-Permian Basin have started energy-oriented academic programs to develop homegrown talent (incidentally, Midland, Texas now has a higher per-capita income than does Silicon Valley according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis). In 2013 Texas also approved legislation to create a new ‘super University’ in south Texas to train our growing Hispanic population.
While anxiety about California’s future is certainly legitimate, the Golden State still has a solid foundation on which to build, and a lot to teach Texas and the rest of the country about the right formula for sustained success. To paraphrase a Texas coaching legend, if California higher education isn’t in a class by itself, it certainly doesn’t take long to call the roll.

Craig Casselberry
512-762-7366
100 Congress Avenue, Suite 2100
Austin, TX 78701
http://www.quorumpublicaffairs.com

https://quorumadvisor.wordpress.com/

Twenty years is a long time.

Think about it. When I opened the doors as Quorum Direct, Inc. in February of 1994 the Dallas Cowboys were still relevant in the NFL; Hillary Care was preceding Obama Care as the national health plan that left the rails; my ‘company car’ was a re-tread Mercury Marquis (the average age driver of which was 70 years old; I was 30), our Texas Longhorns still had 3 more years with the coach who would PRECEDE Mack Brown, who himself maxed out four years ago; and the # 1 song on the Billboard charts was The Sign by Ace of Base.

Incidentally if you’ve been thinking about them, here you go:

Quorum was founded on the premise that grassroots lobbying would eventually overtake traditional lobbying as the best way to impact public policy first, and second that practice would soon devolve to the state level – and the big states first — since the concept wasn’t common beyond the Beltway.

Some would say we were ‘first in’ this new world of influence in Texas. Fortunately, my path crossed some visionary Houston tort reformers and we were off and running.

Twenty years later, Thomas B. Edsall with the New York Times opines on ‘The Unlobbyists’ (December 31, 2013):

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/01/opinion/edsall-the-unlobbyists.html?ref=opinion&_r=0

According to Edsall, “the action has shifted (away from the traditional lobbyist) to what is known in the business as strategic advice: how to convince and mobilize voters and opinion elites in support of the client’s agenda..”

It’s what we do, working outside the Capitol Dome, helping clients identify a target Audience, the right Message to communicate, and the Influencers who can best carry that message forward.

Speaking of signs, 2014 adds to 7 so I’m expecting at least a lucky year; though if luck is indeed what happens when planning meets opportunity we’ll do some of that too.

The most recent was a year that saw Quorum Public Affairs grow significantly.

The venture capital firms we represent are investing in strong Texas small businesses, and we added clients in manufacturing, financial services, health care, technology, and homeland security.

We’re helping companies re-locate to the Texas market by facilitating business alliances and relationships to help them grow. Companies like LIN Media – with 43 TV stations in 23 cities – and Top Golf, which has deftly combined a game of leisure with a night club and is growing quickly, re-located their corporate headquarters to Austin and Dallas respectively. Two California-based companies for which we’ve helped develop relationships are on the way in 2014. Google, Apple, Chevron, GEICO, Oracle, and Shell made significant investments in major Texas markets. Texas is investing in them, too, through the state’s Texas Enterprise Fund, Emerging Technology Fund and other incentives.

On the policy front, Texas is streamlining the way it delivers health care; cutting taxes for small businesses, investing in infrastructure like water and roads, and making it attractive for companies to move or expand here.

Interim legislative committees will be looking at issues across the board, with emphasis on a tax and regulatory environment that supports Texas’ competitive economic advantage in culture and cost; it’s a growth agenda and Texas continues to be a destination state.

We’ll continue to do what we do best: helping companies navigate political, legislative, and regulatory challenges. We do it well, we know the state of Texas from one end to the other, and our network of relationships is second to none.

Some call it strategic communications. We call it public affairs.

All in all, we’ll call it a sign of things to come.

With Governor Perry’s announcement today that he’ll serve out his term through 2014 but won’t seek re-election, it’s timely to look back on highlights from the 83rd Texas Legislature, how the state is positioned in key areas, and the public policy climate that will almost certainly be the foundation for his future plans.

Taxes

The Legislature cut taxes and fees by $ 1.3 billion, a figure that includes a $ 300 million rebate to electric consumers.

House Bill 500 permanently exempts businesses that have less than $1 million in gross receipts from the state’s franchise tax (also referred to as the “margins” tax) and provides a $ 1 million expense deduction for small businesses.

The Legislature also cut business taxes by an additional $ 714 million on a temporary basis– by 2.5% and 5% over the next 2 years – some targeted to specific industries.

An additional $ 350 million in tax incentives was passed. Effective September 1, companies can take a sales or franchise tax credit for research and development. There are also incentives for bringing large data centers to Texas and encouraging investments in cable TV, internet access, and telecommunications.

Incentives for re-locating and expanding companies

In total, Texas has 23 different incentive programs for companies of all sizes – those now in Texas and those re-locating here.
The Legislature extended the Texas Economic Development Act – Chapter 313 agreements – that allows school districts to reduce a company’s property valuations up to 90 percent for 10 years.
Companies like Samsung, Toyota and Apple and others have used these breaks to re-locate to Texas or expand. Texas-based companies are also eligible for incentives.

As of September 1, companies can also deduct their moving expenses from the franchise tax.

The Legislature added $ 50 million to the existing $ 7 million in the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, targeted to early-stage companies, re-appropriated $ 120 million in unspent balances for the Texas Enterprise Fund (the “deal closing” fund generally for larger expansions or re-locations), and added $ 95 million in film and video incentives (contingent on adequate tax receipts).

The Major Events Fund was extended to help communities host high-profile events like the Super Bowl, All-Star games, NCAA events, Formula One, as well as smaller conventions if they meet a $1 million threshold in additional revenue.

Education

There is a clear sense that with the current surplus in the Texas budget – estimated at about $ 8 billion at present — now is the time to invest in education.

CEO’s, entrepreneurs and investors — particularly those from the coasts — tell me that education is the most critical investment in a healthy economic future (which sounds logical as long as that state doesn’t tax and regulate its companies to death).

This session, lawmakers approved an additional $ 3.4 billion for schools for the current biennium.

They also reduced requirements for standardized tests from 15 to five needed to graduate from high school and added options to the uniform 4×4 graduation plan that allows students discretion in choosing a course of study to help with career training. For example they may select an ‘endorsement’, such as Business and Industry or STEM as a specialty on top of the foundational courses.

For the first time since 1995, charter schools may expand but school choice for parents of public school students – now commonly referred to as scholarships rather than vouchers – was not approved.

In higher education, a measure requiring universities to offer students the option of a fixed rate tuition for four years was passed, as was a new UT system university and medical school in south Texas.

The University of Texas system, Texas Tech, Texas State, University of Houston and University of North Texas systems have announced fixed rate tuition programs. Related, thirteen Texas institutions are offering $ 10,000 degree programs.

Infrastructure

The Legislature approved $ 2 billion to help local governments build pipelines, desalination plants, and other water projects, subject to voter approval in November.

Funding for roads and other transportation projects totaled just over $ 800 million, including about $ 425 million to fix roads stressed by heavy gas production in energy regions of Texas.

Another $ 4 billion for road construction now being considered in a special legislative session

Workforce training

The Texas Fast Start program will accelerate training for workers by allowing them to advance through classes as they master the related skills.

The Texas Workforce Commission and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will collaborate with community colleges and technical institutions to create programs for high demand fields as identified by local employers.

The state will also continue to offer grants to buy equipment required to teach technical classes.

And five (5%) percent of the state’s skills development fund will be available for joint-credit courses at high schools and post-secondary institutions leading to licenses and certificates required for technical jobs.

In sum, while the Governor didn’t announce today what those plans may be, my best guess is that it will have something to do with this — http://www.texaswideopenforbusiness.com — and recognition like this:

http://chiefexecutive.net/texas-is-the-best-state-for-business-2013

Craig Casselberry
512-762-7366
cc@quorumpublicaffairs.com

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