Log in

Top Stories        News         Sports


Both chambers file budgets

Write a comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

My Five CentsThis week we celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a visionary leader and made an invaluable impact on our country. Here are five things happening around your state:

Budget filed in both the House and Senate

Now that the members are sworn in and both the governor and lieutenant governor are sworn in, the legislature can begin the work of the people. The first step is the filing of the budget by both the House and the Senate on their respective ideas of what the budget should be. This week, Rep. Greg Bonnen and Sen. Joan Huffman each filed their versions of the budget in their respective chambers. The senate budget, Senate Bill 1, includes $15 billion for additional property tax relief, including $3 billion to increase the homestead exemption to $70,000, fully funding public education, $3 billion in additional funds to invest in the state’s mental health resources, $600 million for school safety initiatives, $500 million for Gulf Coast Protection District projects, and much more. This document highlights the priorities of the legislature. The process of building the final budget takes weeks of committee hearings and deliberations between the Senate and the House and will likely take most of the session to complete. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the budget for the next biennium.

Houston Astros honored in Senate

This week, the Senate hosted the Houston Astros to celebrate their World Series championship. Members of the team were honored with a resolution on the Senate floor and they also brought the World Series trophy. The Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in six games to win their second championship. The final game of the series was played at Minute Maid Park in Houston last November. The series was also notable for having the first World Series no-hitter since 1956. A combined effort from four Astros pitchers achieved the feat in Game 4. Congratulations on an amazing season and World Series win.

TxDOT makes $250million available for transportation alternatives

TxDOT announced the agency is making $250 million available for sidewalks, bike lanes, shared-use paths, and other projects to enhance walking and biking transportation options across the state. The federal funding is aimed at reducing the number of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, which have risen in past years. The funding will help communities plan and build walking and biking infrastructure. TxDOT is hosting virtual workshops to help municipalities and organizations as they apply for this funding. To learn more, visit


State parks celebrating 100 years

This year is the Centennial Celebration of Texas State Parks. To commemorate 100 years, every state park will host at least one special event in 2023. In January, many state parks in North Texas and on the coast are hosting fishing events for kids. There is also a photo contest with a new theme for each season of the year. Participants have the chance to win a State Parks Pass, a $100 HEB gift card and more. The Bullock Texas State History Museum is also hosting a new traveling art exhibit that features more than 30 Texas State Parks. Thirty notable Texas artists were commissioned to create works celebrating parks across Texas. The exhibit runs in Austin from January 7 to April 30 and will then travel to several museums later this year and next year. It will be on display in Tyler in 2024. There is also a commemorative book that highlights the collection and is available online to purchase. For more information on events happening at parks near you, visit www.TexasStateParks.org/100years.

DETCOG helps challenge federal broadband map

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission released a broadband coverage map that suggests most of Deep East Texas has access to broadband. Members of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) have encouraged the community to challenge the maps, as they are misleading and do not accurately reflect the reality of broadband access, especially in rural areas. The map was compiled by using data from internet service providers in the area. The coverage map will help determine how much funding states receive from the federal government for broadband projects. It’s important that the maps accurately reflect access in the state. Challenges can be issued based on whether if a provider denies your request for service, has a waiting list longer than 10 days, or requires extra fees for installation. For more information, to see the map, and to verify and challenge coverage areas, go to https://broadbandmap.fcc.gov/home.

Sen. Robert Nichols represents Senate District 9, which includes Polk County, in the Texas Legislature.

  • Hits: 576

Senate opens session with money in bank

Write a comment

User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

Money Stock

By Richard Lee
Senate correspondent

AUSTIN — Lawmakers working on the next biennial budget will have more revenue to work with than ever before thanks to strong sales tax collections and a record-breaking budget surplus.

State Comptroller Glenn Hegar laid out his biennial revenue estimate on Monday and it was another upward revision for the remaining cash balance from the current ‘22-’23 budget: $32.7 billion.

Sales tax collections were up an astonishing 26 percent, doubling the previous record. In all, Hegar said that legislators will have a little more than $188 billion in discretionary general revenue as they work on budgets for state services.

“The disruption of the pandemic gave way to vigorous economic growth that kept our state in a national leadership role, helped drive record revenue collections, provided an astonishing cash balance, and left us poised to fill Texas’ rainy day fund to the brim for the first time since that fund was created 34 years ago,” he said.

The comptroller attributed the excellent fiscal situation to the state’s business-oriented conservative fiscal policies.

It’s very likely that a large portion of that surplus will go towards property tax cuts, a consistent goal of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who sets the agenda for the Senate. Property tax relief was at the top of the list of session priorities Patrick laid out in at a November press conference.

In past sessions, Patrick has presided over a chamber that has increased the homestead exemption, that amount of value a homeowner is able to write off before taxes, up to $40,000. Patrick said he’d like to see another increase in that exemption, but that there’s more the state can do.

“We need to do more than just the homestead exemption, whether that’s a one-time dividend paid to taxpayers — that’s a little difficult to do constitutionally — but we need a robust property tax cut for everyone in the state,” he said.

Other priorities laid out by the lieutenant governor include funding for school safety, improving electric grid reliability, and continued funding for state border security efforts.

Despite the numbers on the positive side of the state ledger, Patrick said the Senate would stick to its conservative budgeting philosophy.

“It may not be the largest surplus ever, I think California had a larger one, but they weren’t very smart,” Patrick said. “They spent all the money and then they ended up in a big hole. We’re going to be smart.”

Also this week, the members of the Senate drew lots to determine term length. Senators serve four-year terms, but staggered in such a way that only half of the chamber’s seats are up for election in a given cycle. This changes after the decennial census when all districts are up for election.

In order to restore the two-year stagger, every 10 years members draw for terms. Drawing envelopes from a glass bowl next to the Secretary of the Senate’s podium, members learn if they are guaranteed a four-year term or if they must decide whether to stand for election in just two years. It’s fairly high stakes for a single roll of the dice, but the members have traditionally greeted it with good humor, with cheers for the winners of four-year terms and light ribbing for members who are less fortunate.

In committee news, the Senate will reopen the redistricting process completed by the legislature in the October ‘21 special session. Pandemic-induced delays pushed the release of census data back months, making it impossible to draw maps before the 87th regular session ended in June.

Because the constitution requires that redistricting take place in the first regular session following the US Census, there is some concern that the maps used for the ‘22 elections might face some legal peril.

Redistricting Committee chair and Houston Sen. Joan Huffman said that out of an abundance of caution, they are going to repeat the process, including public hearings, to ensure that the new maps meet the letter of the Texas constitution.

The first of these hearings, which will permit Texans to testify virtually, are slated to begin on Jan. 25 and run through Jan. 28.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday at 10 a.m.

  • Hits: 725

Pigs in a blanket are NOT kolaches

Write a comment

User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

Chris MetitationsBy Chris Edwards

A while back, one of my colleagues brought back a box of some of the yummiest kolaches I had ever wrapped my lips around. He’d just returned from a sojourn to deep Czech country here in Texas, and the resulting raspberry and apricot baked goodness was a welcome gift.

Now if you are reading this and thinking “raspberry…apricot? Them ain’t kolaches,” then you need a bit of education.

You see, the creations advertised by East Texas doughnut emporiums as “kolaches,” are, in essence, pigs in a blanket, and while those can be quite tasty, they are NOT kolaches.

While kolaches are a Czechoslovakian creation that arrived here in Texas in the 1800s along with thousands of Czech immigrants, the sausage-filled impostor is unique to Texas, and actually called a klobasnek (pronounced CLOW-boss-neck).

From what I have found, the consensus of rumor places the creation’s origin in the town of West (also home to the popular travel stop, the Czech Stop, where legit kolaches, among other baked nifties, can be obtained) in the year 1953 at a joint called The Village Bakery.

The real birthplace of the real deal kolache, from what I’ve found, is in the Moravia region of the Czech Republic.

Sandy Ferrell of Czech Please Microbakery in East Mountain, located between Longview and Gilmer, makes fresh, delicious kolaches five days a week, along with klobasneks. Ferrell said she has made it her mission to teach East Texans what a real kolache is.

“Most East Texas bakeries have mistakenly named their ‘pig in a blanket’ as a kolache,” she said.

Although I am not of Czech heritage, I still cringe at the inaccuracy each and every time I see a sign proclaiming “Donuts and Kolaches” in front of a business, only to discover that there are no kolaches to be found.

I can, however, see how the term klobasnek may not be as marketable as the word kolache, which has miraculously made its way into the household vernacular of basic white East Texas culture, although in an incorrect fashion.

What has happened is an example of semantic change, which is what happens in language with the evolution of words, on occasion; to when the modern, widely accepted meaning of a word is radically different from the original usage.

This presents a problem in this case. With millions of Texans, as well as out-of-state visitors, enjoying tasty, albeit incorrectly labelled, treats, what is there to do in order to preserve heritage and accuracy for the next generation?

I’ve often said that if I were to run for office, my platform would be to make barbecue poor folks’ food again. I’m pretty sure that the statement “Make Brisket $1.87/lb. Again” would look amazing on a red baseball hat, but it’s also possible that a platform of “Pigs in a blanket are not kolaches” would also be a good fit for such a medium.

Maybe, just maybe, a group of Czech Texans should mount a campaign to right this wrong. That would carry much more weight, and maybe in the future, patrons of bakeries and donut shops all over this great state can enjoy both kolaches and klobasneks, both labelled and marketed by their proper names.

  • Hits: 2206

From the ridiculous to the really ridiculous

Write a comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas

It may come as a surprise to some that my first real not-under-the-table job was working in the food industry.

Starting off as a dishwasher, it wasn’t long till I graduated to cooking, and ultimately baking, for a restaurant that at the time was one of the most popular places to eat in town.

Aside from steam tables, pots and other equipment, used primarily for vegetables, the main cooking surfaces were heated by gas, as is the case with pretty much every restaurant in the history of ever.

When looking for places to live, one of the chief things I look for is gas ranges, because I learned how and prefer to be cookin’ with gas.

Little did I know that I was signing my own death warrant.

You may be aware that the federal government is mulling a decision to ban natural gas stoves from pretty much everywhere. This stunning attack on preference is based on weird research and is of great concern to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a group of unelected busybodies who “work to save lives and keep families safe” by “issuing and enforcing mandatory standards or banning consumer products.”

These are the people that require warning labels on coffee cups to remind you that hot coffee is hot, or on infant strollers to remind you to remove a child before folding the stroller.

The gas stove has been a thorn in the side of officials for years, and the reasons for this are as varied as they can be. Use of gas stoves is, according to whatever expert that is amenable, a threat to global climate because of its use of fossil fuel; racist, according to Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., because they are a “cumulative burden on minority and low-income households,” or dangerous and deadly, according to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, because they emit nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide, which cause cardiovascular problems, breathing illnesses and even cancer.

So, of course, it’s in our best interest that this is all done away with, because heaven forbid we make our own decision on this. It’s like the parents who punish all the kids for the one who snuck the cookies.

In the words of the hangar manager in “Central Intelligence,” I am made up of questions.

Chiefly, how is it that a group of unelected busybodies, using sketchy research, are able to decide what appliance I’m able to use, as if I am unable to make a decision myself about my health and how I treat it? I can’t believe that society as a whole is that ignorant as to need to be told not to eat Tide pods, or that dishwasher manufacturers must build machines using a minimum of water so as to not destroy the environment, or that the incandescent light bulb uses too much electricity and moving to LED or some other type will cut carbon emissions and save the planet.

Even more questionable is an agency, any agency, that finds a problem, real or perceived, and launches itself into savior mode without thought of the long term. Just because a panel like the Consumer Product Safety Commission was created by government doesn’t give it the power of government; that still resides with the people. Yet in order to further an agenda of mostly living to be re-elected, elected officials will jump on the bandwagon of “Hey! We did this for you! We thought of the children!” while carving away more and more of your liberty.

Think of the consequences of such a sweeping ban. The entire restaurant industry will be devastated. Metalworking will become a thing of the past, so say goodbye to steel mills and the entire state of Pennsylvania. Additionally, converting everything to electric will require a whole lot of new stress on an already unstable grid, which cannot convert itself to all electrical, cause that’s not how electricity works.

Then there will be all kinds of exceptions carved out for special interests, people who just can’t operate without the benefit of fossil fuels, and the only losers in this whole scenario will be the taxpaying public.

It’s one thing to tell me the risks and allow me to make my own decision, which is how things should be.

The Constitution as I read it doesn’t say the government must swaddle us in its protection from any and all threats of technology, just from enemies foreign and domestic.

Tony Farkas is editor of the San Jacinto News-Times and the Trinity County News-Standard. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  • Hits: 457

Back at the bills

Write a comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

My Five CentsI hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year. The new year brings a new legislative session, so I’ll be spending time in Austin working on your behalf over the next 140 days.

Here are five things happening around your state:

Legislature convenes for 88th Legislative Session

The Texas Legislature is officially back in session. Both the Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives gaveled their respective chambers into session on Tuesday, Jan. 10, opening the 88th Legislative session. The entirety of all the House and Senate members were sworn in on opening day, as every member was elected in November following redistricting. Work now begins on a multitude of issues ranging from the state’s budget, education, transportation, and more.

Senators draw lots for term lengths following redistricting

On the second day of session, each senator took part in a once-a-decade event. Every 10 years, the U.S. Census is released and states go through redistricting. As such, every member of the Senate must run for reelection regardless of when their four-year term would end. When members are elected and sworn in, the Texas Constitution dictates that senators are divided by lot into two classes. Half the members will be given a two-year term and the other half will serve a normal four-year term. The members who have two-year terms will, upon reelection, serve four-year terms. This is to ensure that only half the senate membership is up for reelection in any given election year. I’m happy to report that I drew a four-year term and am honored to continue to serve the people of East and Southeast Texas.

Comptroller Hegar

releases Biennial Revenue Estimate

Texas Comptroller Hegar released the biennial revenue estimate earlier this month, which is a projection of how much money the state has to spend over the next two years. He said the state has $188.2 billion available to spend for the 2024-2025 biennium. The estimate includes a $32.7 billion surplus from the last two years, which is credited to economic growth, gas prices, inflation, and other economic elements. This is the largest budget projection legislators have ever received. However, the legislature will only spend what is necessary after careful consideration. It is also more than the Texas Constitution will legally allow legislators to appropriate without bypassing the spending cap. Last session, we passed Senate Bill 1336 which limits increases of state expenditures by tying the cap to population growth and inflation. The legislature can only exceed the spending cap by adopting a resolution that identifies an emergency and is passed by 3/5th of the members. Texas’ budget surplus comes at the same time that other states are battling severe budget deficits. California is facing a $22.5 billion deficit and will be forced to make cuts in the coming year.

New laws took effect January 1

Starting Jan. 1 of this year, several new laws that were passed during the 2021 legislative sessions took effect, including laws on property tax reform and reforms to the judicial branch, among others. The property tax bill, Senate Bill 12 authored by Sen. Bettencourt, provides school district tax rate reduction for homesteads owned by elderly or disabled persons. Texans statewide received a similar reduction after the 86th Legislature, but that effort inadvertently left out elderly or disabled homesteads.

Another provision going into effect creates 10 district courts, five statutory county courts, one statutory probate court, and one criminal magistrate court. It revises jurisdiction of certain courts and the duties of other courts. Additionally, the law, House Bill 3774 authored by Rep. Jeff Leach, makes revisions to the forensic science commission, specialty court programs, and the protective order registry.

Legislature to take up redistricting again to ensure constitutionality

As you may recall, the legislature passed newly drawn district maps during a special session in 2021 based on the census. However, the Texas Constitution states in Article 3 Section 28 that “the Legislature shall, at its first regular session after the publication of the each United States’ decennial census, apportion the state into senatorial and representative districts.” The census was released later than usual in 2021 due to COVID-19. Therefore, the 88th legislative session is technically the first regular session after the publication of the census. So, out of an abundance of caution, the Senate has voted to take up redistricting once more to ensure the legislature has met its constitutional requirements.

Sen. Robert Nichols represents Senate District 9, which includes Polk County, in the Texas Legislature.

  • Hits: 585