en español: El Innovador de Texas
Texas Can Rebuild Even Stronger
Last month I announced an unprecedented plan to help hard-hit local governments whose sales tax revenue has declined since Hurricane Rita struck southeast Texas in September.
As a former mayor, I know first-hand how much local governments rely on a predictable flow of sales tax revenue to pay for routine services like law enforcement, fire protection, healthcare, trash pickup and street maintenance. I am offering local governments an option to help them with short-term fiscal problems until homeowners and businesses repair, replace and rebuild what they have lost and economic activity returns to normal.
Cities, counties and other local governments don’t need a sudden drop in sales tax revenue making it harder to recover from Hurricane Rita. Local governments and taxing entities in 22 Texas counties that were declared disaster areas can, upon request, receive additional sales tax money in November and December if their local sales tax revenue has declined compared with November and December of 2004.
This plan will make local governments whole by ensuring that they receive the same amount of sales tax revenue in November and December as they received in November and December 2004. These additional allocations will be made from the small retained balance in the Local Sales Tax Trust Fund, and local governments that accept this offer will repay the fund during 2006.
Though sales tax revenue is up statewide, November sales tax allocations to 73 southeast Texas cities, counties, special purpose districts and a transit system impacted by Hurricane Rita are down $2.3 million, or 4 percent, compared with November 2004. For 24 of the affected local entities, sales tax revenue is off by 20 percent to 73 percent.
To further aid hurricane recovery, and in response to numerous requests from officials in cities and counties affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I have also published a resource directory of federal and state economic development programs that could provide capital to help communities rebuild.
This directory highlights 20 federal and 15 state programs that provide grants and loans to businesses and local governments that could be used for hurricane recovery projects like replanting crops, repairing damaged infrastructure, rebuilding businesses and providing job training to those who lost their jobs, including hundreds of thousands Hurricane Katrina evacuees who are building new lives in Texas.
For a list of the 22 counties where local governments may be eligible for additional sales tax allocations and the directory of federal and state economic development programs, go to www.window.state.tx.us.
Our Texas economy is strong, and our overall sales tax revenue is healthy. Money is available to assist our Texas communities that were hit by Hurricane Rita and those affected by Hurricane Katrina. These programs give impacted communities the opportunity and resources to rebuild what was lost better than it was before the storms hit.
Carole Keeton Strayhorn
Researchers at Houston’s Rice University have organically engineered succinate—a chemical compound essential for building materials like plastics, drugs and food additives. They developed succinate from bacteria in laboratory tests, according to Dr. George Bennett, co-developer of the research.
The researchers modified a mutant form of E. coli bacteria to feed off of glucose and produce the succinate, something that E. coli does naturally. The bacteria uses grain sorghum rather than petroleum as fuel. For plastics and other applications, this takes the petroleum out of the picture.
“Succinate is used as a polymer,” Bennett said. “Making it out of biomass like this would make it more affordable, and it would be an alternative way to make a useful chemical without tapping into a petroleum stream.”
Kansas-based AgRenew Inc. is conducting trials to find ways to expand production, but it’s not certain when organically engineered succinate will hit the market, Bennett said.
“We would certainly like to collaborate with industries to get these going on a larger scale,” he said.
For more information, contact Dr. George Bennett,
Fill ‘er up
Higher gas prices are forcing researchers to look for alternative fuels in odd places, like the farm.
Baylor University received a $373,000 federal grant in August 2005 to research making fuel-grade ethanol, or grain alcohol, out of fiber. Other alternative fuels include high-octane corn ethanol. Using other sources such as cornstalks, wood chips and straw could be more energy efficient, said Peter Van Walsum, an environmental studies professor spearheading the Baylor project.
“It does take some energy, but the energy balance compared to corn is better,” he said. “With crude oil above $60 a barrel, the economics are getting better all the time.”
The grain alcohol fuel could reduce the amount of carbon-based greenhouse gases that cars produce, Van Walsum said.
Although ethanol creates carbon dioxide when burned, it comes from plants that remove carbon from the air, so no carbon is gained, Van Walsum said.
For more information, contact Peter Van Walsum,
Pay by finger
Out of cash? No checkbook or credit cards? No problem. A new service called Pay By Touch allows shoppers to check out with the touch of a finger.
Pay By Touch, a company based in San Francisco, installed special finger readers on retail check-out keypads that identify customers by converting a set of data points into a mathematical equation.
The readers are linked directly to a checking account, eliminating the need for identification numbers or cards, checks or credit cards. The service is free for consumers and the transactions cost businesses less than credit or debit card transactions, according to Shannon Riordan, director of marketing for Pay By Touch.
“Cost savings can be as low as 12 cents per transaction for the Pay By Touch eCheck, an automatic clearinghouse transaction,” Riordan said. “Other advantages for retailers include reduced time in line and reduced time to process transactions when using Pay By Touch.”
The service is available at Piggly Wiggly and other grocery stores in the U.S. Riordan said retail outlets in Texas would have Pay By Touch in the first quarter of 2006.
For more information, contact Shannon Riordan,
Broccoli packs punch
Broccoli isn’t just nutritious—it may help fight the spread of bladder cancer, according to a study by researchers at Ohio State University.
Their work builds on a 1999 Harvard University study that found that people who ate at least two servings of broccoli a week cut their chances of developing bladder cancer by 44 percent. The Ohio State researchers isolated compounds in broccoli sprouts that hindered the growth of an aggressive form of bladder cancer, said Steven Schwartz, a co-author of the study and professor of food science at Ohio State.
“We’re starting to look at which compounds in broccoli could inhibit or decrease the growth of cancerous cells,” said Schwartz. “Knowing that could help us create functional foods that benefit health beyond providing just basic nutrition.”
Broccoli isn’t the only veggie with health benefits, Schwartz said. Cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kale may all contain similar disease-fighting chemicals.
It’s too early to gauge just how much broccoli or other vegetables people should eat to stave off bladder cancer, Schwartz said.
This research could help the estimated 63,000 people who will be diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2006, and more than 13,000 people who will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.
For more information, contact Steven Schwartz,
An added glow
A Colorado company created lights that glow for an hour after the power goes out. The fluorescent tubes shine like normal lamps when plugged in, but during a power outage, they emit a blue-green light bright enough to see by, said inventor Charles Bolta, with American Environmental Products in Boulder.
It’s also portable—users can remove the lamp from its power source. If it breaks, the shards of lamp glow, though the company also developed a shatterproof version of the lamp, said Bolta.
“You can break them in half and they would still work,” Bolta said. “They are 100 percent fail-proof. You’d have to vaporize them.”
Bolta said the Pentagon and several other defense organizations are testing the light, which he originally developed for use on nuclear submarines. He also envisions governments using the lights in subways.
The lights cost five times more than regular fluorescent tubes, Bolta said.
For more information, contact Charles Bolta,
Feed meter by phone
In several cities around the U.S., drivers who park in some pay parking spots no longer have to fumble for pocket change to feed the meter. In Dallas, Seattle and Coral Gables, Fla., drivers can pay for some parking spots using their cell phones.
Companies that provide pay-by-phone service, such as Verrus, Park-by-Phone and Mint Inc., have drivers set up an account. Then when a driver finds a parking spot serviced by the company, the driver uses his or her cell phone to call a number provided by the company and follows instructions to pay.
Some companies bill customers monthly for parking used; others require drivers to approve a charge to a credit card when they park. Some services alert drivers on their cell phones when time is about to expire so they can call and add more time to the meter.
Services tack on a convenience fee to each parking charge, and some charge an annual fee.
Fixing bones with nanotech
The burgeoning field of nanotechnology—the fabrication and manipulation of matter on the molecular scale—has yielded a practical application that may radically alter the way physicians treat broken bones.
To treat shattered bones, doctors use artificial polymers to serve as scaffolds upon which new bone material can grow and knit together. Now a research team at the University of California at Riverside (UCR) has found that carbon nanotubes—artificially created, cylindrical carbon molecules—can be used to make stronger, safer scaffolds for bone growth.
Nanotubes are among the strongest substances devised by science, with a tensile strength more than 50 times greater than that of steel. The UCR team wants to use nanotubes to replace the naturally occurring collagen component of human bone. While untreated nanotubes will not encourage bones to harden, the team devised a chemical alteration that allows the nanotubes to promote bone growth.
Adding just 0.1 percent of nanotubes to a traditional polymer scaffold for bone growth doubles its structural integrity, according to the research team. They hope to begin testing the new scaffolds in human test subjects soon.
For more information, contact Dr. Robert Haddon,
University of California at Riverside, email@example.com
School kids in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District have an online guide to making healthy food choices. The district launched its Virtual Cafeteria for the 2005-06 school year. The interactive tool features menus, pricing and nutritional information for breakfasts and lunches at district campuses.
For information, contact Rachelle Fowler,
There may be hope for millions of Americans who worry about gaining weight during the holiday season. A new study from the University of California at Irvine (UCI) suggests that changing peoples’ memories of food can help in the battle against the bulge.
A team led by UCI psychologist Elizabeth Loftus conducted the first scientific experiment of the effect of false beliefs on people’s behaviors. The team persuaded study participants that they had become sick eating foods like strawberry ice cream or pickles when they were children. Participants later indicated they would avoid such foods, proving that false memories can influence behavior.
For more information, contact Elizabeth Loftus,
Researchers with Wildlife Management International in Darwin, Australia, are studying crocodile blood with an eye toward creating powerful new antibiotics.
Crocs have developed strong immune systems to cope with their microbe-rich environment. The research team found that croc blood serum is more effective than human serum at destroying a number of infections.
For more information, contact Dr. Adam Britton,
Wildlife Management International, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor: Karen Hudgins
Contributing to this issue: Angela Freeman, Magdalena Hamner, Ann Holdsworth, Greg Mt.Joy, Edd Patton, Clint Shields, Suzanne Staton, and Bruce Wright