An item on the meeting agenda for the board of directors of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) raised more than a few eyebrows in Austin this week and was seen as cause for potential concern for coastal residents. The agenda filed with the Secretary of State for the March 25 TWIA board meeting listed as the first item for consideration and action to “review options for addressing the current financial condition of the Association and alternatives including supervision, conservation and rehabilitation in receivership.”
It was that last reference to “rehabilitation in receivership” that introduced an element of uncertainty into the equation. Coastal residents depend on TWIA as the state’s windstorm insurer of last resort, and there is little sympathy from many inland legislators to their plight. The impact of any move into receivership is unknown but if the agency essentially declared bankruptcy, it could affect property owners all along the Gulf Coast. One thing this agenda posting will do is guarantee that what might otherwise be a routine session of an agency board meeting will be carefully scrutinized by the interested parties.
On the higher education front, the House voted overwhelmingly this week to approve HB 1000, which would create a massive new University of Texas institution in the Rio Grande Valley. The new university would consolidate UT-Pan American in Edinburg, UT-Brownsville and the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio’s regional campus in South Texas, which would evolve into a medical school.
Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, the bill’s lead author, said, “It’s an overused phrase, but this bill is a game changer.”
Significantly the new university would be supported by the Permanent University Fund (PUF), which supplies money generated by oil revenues on public lands to the UT System and the Texas A&M System. The PUF does not provide any funding to other public universities in the state of Texas.
Gov. Rick Perry in his State of the State address in late January signaled his approval for PUF funding for the new school. In a statement released after the 149-0 vote in the House, he said “Expanding higher education opportunities in South Texas is a critical next step in one of the fastest growing regions of our state.”
Sources said the new university eventually could enroll 29,000 students and feature one of the largest concentration of Hispanic students of any school in the country.
In other higher education news, last month the Office of the Governor announced the appointment of Cliff Thomas Jr., Judy Morgan and Elaine Mendoza to the Texas A&M board of regents. They were confirmed by the Senate Nominations committee a week later.
It was again suggested with these nominations that Perry tended to favor lavish donors for appointments. As the Texas Tribune noted in 2012, “Over the past decade, the men and women chosen by Gov. Rick Perry to govern state universities have given his campaigns at least $5.8 million. … About half of the governor’s appointed regents gave to his campaign; of those who gave, the average total given was about $64,000.”
A spokeswoman for Perry denied any connection between the donations and the appointments. “The governor appoints people to boards and agencies based on their qualifications and nothing more,” said Catherine Frazier. “It’s their right to contribute to his campaign based on what they think of his leadership.”
Last month, The Texas Independent reported that new Regent Cliff Thomas Jr. and his wife have donated $326,000 to Perry since 2000, including $100,000 in 2009 and 2010. Thomas’ donations make him the biggest Perry campaign contributor on the A&M Board of Regents, who together have given Perry more than $1 million.
Thomas of Victoria is owner and CEO of Thomas Petroleum, Speedy Stop Food Stores and C.L. Thomas Inc. — which together comprise a fuel lubricant and chemical distributorship and chain of convenience stores.
Texarkana’s Morgan is owner and president of Jack B. Kelley Enterprises Inc., a commercial transportation company based in Amarillo. Morgan’s husband, Jim, has contributed more than $18,300 to Perry’s campaign, including expenses for campaign events in 2002, 2006 and 2009.
Mendoza is a former vice chair of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, and president/CEO of Conceptual MindWorks Inc., a company focused on electronic medical records. Mendoza has made no contributions to Perry.
James Shannon can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 249, or by e-mail at james [at] beaumontbusinessjournal [dot] com.