AUSTIN — Texans and all other Americans have until late June to guess how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in the multi-state case seeking to have the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional on account of federal overreach.
Last week, oral arguments were put before the high court. Lawyers, pundits and officials expressed an array of opinions about what happened in those question-and-answer sessions and attempted to divine how a ruling might affect the cost, quality and accessibility of health care, the impact on state budgets and potential effects on the November general election.
State Comptroller Susan Combs, who administers the state budget, said the Texas Legislature would “have a hard time finding future state budgets if the Obama administration’s federal health care rules are implemented.”
But some of the two-year-old, 2,400-page law, which is introduced in stages, already is in effect. The individual mandate — the part of the law that requires nearly all citizens to purchase health insurance — is not scheduled to take effect until 2014. One of the questions before the court is whether the individual mandate and other parts of the health care law could stand alone as constitutional issues.
For Combs, however, the concern she expressed on March 26 was with Medicaid spending. She pointed out that 20 percent of the state’s general revenue goes to Medicaid and that mandates in the federal health care law would cause the state to spend 37 percent of its general revenue on Medicaid alone by 2023.
While it is unclear what condition state finances will be a decade in the future, the health care law as it is today expands coverage, covers pre-existing conditions, offers discounts on prescription medications and gives tax credits to small businesses that offer health insurance to employees.
Capitol gets new monument
March 29 marked the unveiling of The Tejano Monument, a set of 11 life-sized bronze sculptures mounted on a massive chunk of pink granite on the south lawn of the Capitol.
Sculpted by Armando Hinojosa of Laredo, the monument pays tribute to the Tejanos — Spaniards and their descendants — who dwelled on the land between the Rio Grande and the Red River, and the Sabine River on the east to the Rocky Mountains, for three centuries before statehood and forward to the present day.
Necessary steps culminating in the installation of the monument were achieved through legislation passed in 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009.
AG chief: about that beef
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples on March 29 joined Gov. Rick Perry and a group of other governors at a Nebraska meat packing plant to address recent public concern about a beef product nicknamed “pink slime.”
While Native American cultures of the Great Plains have long been praised for using every bit of the bison they hunted, the presence of pink slime in ground beef sold and consumed in the United States prompted news reports that the product comes from less esthetic cuts disinfected in an ammonia solution before grinding.
Staples, referred to the product as “lean, finely textured beef” and said beef production has been slowed because of canceled orders resulting from negative media. “If these myths are allowed to persist, hard-working Americans will lose their jobs permanently, forcing us to be more dependent on foreign food sources to meet growing consumer demand for lean ground beef,” Staples said.
Perry said “retailers are effectively discarding 10 to 12 pounds of high-quality protein per head at the same time an historic drought in the Southwest has significantly reduced herd size. That’s a formula for a fairly significant price hike in beef, again, for no valid reason.”
Unemployment drops again
The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 7.1 percent in February, down from 7.3 percent in January, the Texas Workforce Commission announced on March 30. A year ago, in February 2011, the unemployment rate was calculated at 8.0 percent.
Higher speed for some stretches
The Texas Transportation Commission last week announced its approval of 80 mph designations for 54 miles of roadway in the Austin area: State Highway 130 from Georgetown to Mustang Ridge and State Highway 45SE from Mustang Ridge to Interstate 35 in south Travis County.
This was made possible by House Bill 1201, legislation that allows the Texas Department of Transportation to set speeds of up to 85 mph on certain highways designed to accommodate such speeds.