Tuesday PM March 13th, 2007

Critics slam Halliburton's decision to open Dubai corporate office...Governor Rick Perry to dedicate a Texas A&M-related engineering facility in Qatar...Potomac Economics report finds TXU manipulated Texas electric market in 2005...

Halliburton's critics are blasting its decision to shift its Houston-based CEO to the Arab boomtown of Dubai. They call the move positively un-American. But the Texas oil services giant might be going where the buyers for its oil and gas services happen to be: the Middle East. Dalton Garis is an American energy economist at Abu Dhabi's Petroleum Institute. He points out that "there's not much oil in Texas any more.'' He adds that "Halliburton is in the oil and gas industry and--guess what?--60 percent of the world's oil and gas is right here'' in the Persian Gulf. "If they didn't move now,'' he says, "they'd have to do it later.'' Halliburton has close ties to the U.S. military and the Republican party--Vice President Dick Cheney was once its chief executive--and it's considered one of America's most red-blooded companies. Company officials caution that Halliburton, which has operated in Dubai for more than 40 years, will remain a U.S. corporation for tax purposes and keep most of its leadership in Houston. But Halliburton's announcement sparked a tough response from Democratic party leaders. They say Halliburton's biting the taxpayers' hand that fed it more than $10 billion in military contracts in Iraq--some of which was handed over without competitive bidding. Other Texas oil stalwarts have already moved to the Gulf. Houston-based Schlumberger Limited--which is the world's top oil services company--has a large presence in Dubai.

Governor Rick Perry is heading for the Middle East to help dedicate a Texas A&M-related engineering facility in Qatar. His wife, Anita, is going along. Perry also will meet with government officials and private companies in the region to promote investments in Texas. The itinerary includes stops in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The Perrys also will visit Texas troops stationed in the Middle East. They return March 21st. The new half-a million square foot engineering facility in Education City is on the outskirts of Doha, Qatar. The project involves Qatar and A&M--Perry's alma mater. The state's non-profit group dedicated to business development--called Texas One--will pay the travel costs of the Perrys.

Governor Perry says a special election will be held May 12th on a proposed constitutional amendment for property tax relief. The measure involves extending public school property tax rate reductions to elderly and disabled residents of Texas for the 2006 and 2007 tax years. Perry backs the measure. The governor last year signed a more than $15 billion property tax cut into law. But critics say some disabled and elderly residents didn't benefit from the tax cuts because their rates were already frozen.

Texas is ending its rocky relationship with a consulting firm hired to privatize its social services eligibility system. The cancellation of the contract with Accenture comes after failed attempts to renegotiate the contract. It also comes after more than a year of complaints from lawmakers, gubernatorial candidates and advocates for poor families. It also marks a major change in an experiment that was being closely watched by other states. The State Health and Humans Services Commission signed an $899 million deal with Accenture last year. Among other things, the company was to run a new computer system. That was supposed to let Texans apply for Medicaid, food stamps, temporary assistance to needy families and other benefits by phone, online or in person. But problems quickly emerged when the project was tested in Travis and Hays Counties early this year, and the commission chief indefinitely delayed its implementation. Critics have blamed a consortium of companies put together by Accenture for big enrollment declines in the state's low-cost health insurance program for the children of the working poor.

An outside expert finds TXU Corporation manipulated the Texas electric market in 2005. The report released by state regulators say Dallas-based TXU cost consumers $70 million and gave the company $20 million in extra profits. But a spokeswoman for the utility says TXU believes it followed Public Utility Commission rules. TXU's Lisa Singleton says the company is eager and open to discussing the matter further with PUC staff. The report could complicate TXU's pending $32 billion sale to a group of private investors. The report by Potomac Economics says TXU sold power at inflated prices and caused electricity prices to rise 15.5 percent during a four-month summer stretch. The PUC will decide the penalty. The maximum possible fine is $25,000per day--per violation.

A fire from a gas line accident in rural Parker County continued burning today. Nobody was hurt in yesterday's fiery accident at a job site north of Weatherford. More than half-a dozen vehicles went up in flames. ConocoPhillips says a third party contractor working in the area hit their eight-inch line that carried propylene--a type of natural gas liquid. Authorities have said they're letting the line burn itself out.

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