Senator Carona's Email Update
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January 6, 2006

What's new . . .

The Texas Tax Reform Commission held hearings in December in Victoria and Corpus Christi to take testimony on recommendations on changes to the state's tax structure. As you may know, Governor Rick Perry formed the commission, which is composed of business leaders from throughout the state, to develop proposals to modernize our state's tax structure and lower local property taxes. There are seven more hearings scheduled for this month. If you would like to participate in a hearing, the closest venue to our area is in Waco, on January 18, 2006 at 5:00 p.m., location to be announced. For more information on the commission and a list of future hearings, click here.

Following the Supreme Court's ruling on school finance, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst announced the creation of the Senate Select Committee on Education Reform and Public School Finance. In announcing the formation of the committee, Lt. Governor Dewhurst said he would like, "the committee to continue work on a public school finance plan that puts additional resources into public classrooms, tied to greater accountability and performance, cuts property taxes, and closes business tax loopholes."

SB 410, which was passed during the 2005 Regular Session, directed the State Board of Pharmacy to list on its website the Canadian pharmacies which had passed the board's inspections and from which Texas residents could purchase prescriptions for long-term conditions. Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion on December 21, 2005, finding that the state law directly conflicted with federal law, which only allows importation of prescription drugs under certain conditions. The opinion will prevent the State Board of Pharmacy from creating the program.

The United States Congress has passed a bill that will provide reimbursement for the costs of educating Katrina evacuees. Following Hurricane Katrina, Texas schools have spent an estimated $64 million on educating Katrina evacuees, as of December 1. Under the bill, Texas schools will receive $6,000 for each displaced student and an additional $1,500 for special needs students.

Governor Rick Perry recently announced a $71 million initiative to strengthen math and science skills among secondary students. The program will create 35 math, science, engineering, and technology academies throughout the state, aimed at students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and the Texas Education Agency, will each contribute $20 million to fund the initiative.

Focus . . .
State Auditor's Office

The State Auditor's Office (SAO) is the independent auditor for Texas state government. The SAO operates under the direction of the Legislative Audit Committee, which is composed of the Lt. Governor, the Speaker of the House, the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, one Senator appointed by the Lt. Governor, the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The State Auditor's Office is charged with ensuring the effective management of state resources. To carry out this responsibility, the SAO has been given the authority to conduct audits and investigations of all state agencies, institutions of higher education, and other recipients of state funds. Findings of such audits are available to the public and indicate whether resources are managed effectively and efficiently, state funds are being expended appropriately and lawfully, and intended objectives are achieved.

In carrying out audits, the SAO has identified five areas of risk. These are financial management and accountability, strategic human resources and people management, contract and grant administration, information resources and technology, and performance measurement and management. Within each of these areas, the SAO has determined that the state is vulnerable to inefficiency, mismanagement, waste, and fraud.

To address the five major risks and any other sources of inefficiency, waste, or fraud, the SAO has adopted four main strategies or services: assurance services, which ensure the quality and accuracy of information used by the Legislature and agency management; educational services, which assist agencies and universities in achieving expected results; advisory services, which help correct weaknesses and improve organizational performance; and classification and workforce information services, which help improve the management of the state's workforce.

All audits and reports are available over the Internet. Recent audits and reports include an audit of the Comptroller of Public Accounts' tax settlements over the past six years and an audit on the Health and Human Services Commission's consolidation of administrative support functions.

Did You Know . . . ?

The Texas Commission on the Arts has developed a "Tool-Kit" for non-profit arts and cultural organizations. Covering a wide range of topics, including fundraising, marketing and advocacy, the kit promises to be a much-used resource, and the Commission hopes organizations will adapt it to suit their own needs. For the complete "Tool-Kit," click here .

Student Opportunities . . .

The Texas General Land Office is accepting submissions from children in grades K through 6 for its annual Treasures of the Texas Coast Children's Art Contest. Two winners from each of Texas' 24 planning regions will be chosen, and from these 48 winners, the grand prize winner will be selected. The winning works of art will appear on a calendar that will be distributed throughout the state. Click here for an entry form and more information.

In Closing . . .

I am pleased to tell you that the Lt. Governor has appointed me to the Texas Legislative Council, which provides bill drafting, computing, research, publishing, and document distribution services to the Texas Legislature and legislative agencies. The council also serves as an information resource for state agencies, the citizens of Texas, and others as time and resources allow. Now we are anticipating the announcement of other Senate committee appointments and will look forward to reporting these to you in the next edition of the Email Update.

Happy New Year!


John Carona
State Senator - District 16