en español: El Innovador de Texas
Solutions, Not Smoke and Mirrors
Texans have got to have significant, long-term cuts in skyrocketing local property taxes, not a “smoke and mirrors patch.”
Supervision and management of all the state’s fiscal concerns is a primary duty of the Comptroller. As the state’s chief fiscal officer, it is my responsibility to tell the people of Texas the truth. The tax increase plan proposed and imposed by our Governor is fiscally irresponsible. It includes an unconstitutional income tax on partnerships and unincorporated associations, it is the largest tax increase in Texas history at a time when we have the largest budget surplus in history and it leaves the largest hot check in Texas history.
The average Texas homeowner will see only a $52 property tax cut this year under Gov. Perry’s plan with most of our senior citizens and Texans with disabilities getting zero dollars in property tax cuts on their bill.
The Governor’s plan is a staggering $23 billion short of the funds needed to pay for the promised property tax cuts over the next five years. There is no economic miracle that will close the gap this plan creates. There are only two ways to close a chasm of that magnitude—future tax increases that are being hidden from Texans now or massive cuts in essential state services.
We need long-term solutions, not a temporary fix! We have the money to address our needs, but we must have the will to make the smart choices for the long term. We can really fix our school finance system, really cut property taxes, rein in government spending, crack down on criminals who abuse our children, and repeal the largest tax increase in Texas history.
In addition to the $8.2 billion surplus, I have recommended long-term “Strayhorn Solutions” that include an additional $8 billion in cost savings and new economic revenue generators that include eliminating the Governor’s taxpayer-funded Texas Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund, and his Washington, D.C. lobbying contracts.
Texas taxpayers want common-sense fiscal responsibility, not a plan that bankrupts our children’s education and their future. I believe that Texans will not accept a plan that contains massive tax increases and a $23 billion hot check, while delivering only paltry teacher pay raises, a pittance of property tax relief that will evaporate almost immediately, punts our problems to tomorrow and postpones only temporarily additional court action.
Texas is great, but we can do better.
Carole Keeton Strayhorn,
A solution in sight
Why mess with daily or monthly disposable lenses when permanently implanted ones will do the trick?
Ophthalmologists at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center are using an implantable collamer lens, or ICL, to replace or reduce the need for glasses.
Rather than reshaping the eye, as in laser surgery, the UT doctors are permanently placing the artificial lens in front of the eye’s natural lens, said Wayne Bowman, an ophthalmologist and professor with UT Southwestern Medical Center.
After the lenses were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December, Bowman completed the first ICL insert in February 2006. The procedure takes between 10 and 15 minutes, and the patient sees the improvement soon after, Bowman said.
According to the FDA, a clinical study of 294 implanted patients showed that 95 percent of patients had 20/40 or better vision after the surgery. Fifty-nine percent had 20/20 or better vision after three years.
For more information, contact Dr. Wayne Bowman,
Students who forget their wallets don’t go hungry at the University of North Texas (UNT). The school is one of two colleges in the nation using a biometric payment system.
Students create a debit account, deposit funds, then purchase food and other services at university cafeterias and 32 other area businesses with the touch of a finger.
UNT began using the system, operated by food services vendor Sodexho, in January 2006. About 700 students’ fingerprints are registered in the system. Gonzaga University in Washington is the other school using it.
“We are looking at using [the technology] instead of ID cards for cafeteria passage, door passage and instead of RFID [radio frequency identification] for handicapped passage,” said Chuck Fuller, UNT’s assistant vice president for business services. “We would like to reduce some of the fraud you get from people passing IDs around; it’s kind of hard to pass a finger around.”
Fuller said the system has worked well in a retail environment, but is not ideal where there’s no backup system.
For more information, contact Chuck Fuller,
Wheeling and dealing
Automobile titling and registration in Tarrant County, Texas, contributed more than $300 million in revenue from more than 1.6 million motor vehicles in 2004, according to Betsy Price, tax assessor-collector for Tarrant County. All those titles and registrations meant papers—and lots of them—to be shuffled and sorted through to keep up with business, Price said.
To ease the paper load and better serve customers, Price and her office contracted with Texas-based Ciber Inc. to develop a software system to accurately track license plates, windshield stickers and transfer forms.
For about $50,000, MVITS—Motor Vehicle Inventory Tracking System—eliminated much of the paperwork and gave local dealers an easier way to communicate with the tax office. Dealers enter their information into a computer, save it to a diskette and bring it in. MVITS has freed up staff and is well worth the investment, Price said.
For more information, contact Betsy Price,
Human organs grown in the lab
Researchers at North Carolina’s Wake Forest University School of Medicine have created a working, transplantable human organ in the laboratory.
The team built bladders that have functioned normally in human subjects for nearly five years.
The process begins with a small sample of bladder tissue taken from the person who will receive the new organ. After cultivating these cells for about a month, the research team “seeds” them on a scaffold made of a biodegradable polymer. The entire organ can be grown in two to three weeks.
Finally, the bladder is wrapped in a membrane taken from the abdomen that supplies the organ with oxygen and nutrients. In time, the new bladder grows its own blood vessels and functions normally thereafter, the team said.
The new technique could be a lifesaver for people who suffer from bladder cancer and other diseases affecting the organ.
The Wake Forest team is extending the technique to other organs and has already produced kidneys that appear to function normally in cows.
For more information, contact Dr. Anthony Atala,
Wake Forest University School of Medicine, 336-716-4131
Paint it black
Ring-free movie theaters and schools may become reality, thanks to a high-tech paint that stops annoying cell phone signals. Using nanotechnology, the science responsible for inventions such as stain-resistant pants and golf balls that stay on course, New York-based NaturalNano has been developing the powerful paint that blocks cell phones, WiFi and other electronic devices on demand.
But nervous moviegoers need not worry—police and fire calls can still permeate the special paint.
“[The system is] smart enough to know the difference between an eavesdropper, for example, and a 9-1-1 call,” said Robert Crowley, president of AMBIT Corp., which licensed the cellular transmission technology that routes the signals to NaturalNano.
“The advantages of preventing interference to lifesaving medical equipment in hospitals, for instance, is obvious, and there is an urgent need to protect these kinds of sensitive devices and control cellular and other radio transmitters, when appropriate,” Crowley added.
For more information, contact Robert Crowley,
A robotic treadmill could help patients who suffer from partial paralysis due to spinal cord injuries.
Researchers at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center developed the computerized treadmill, called the Lokomat. A 12-week test on patients using the Lokomat showed increased activity in the cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for muscle movement and motor learning. The study followed four spinal-cord injury patients with varying degrees of paralysis.
Patients walk on the device, which supports their weight in a harness, while robotic devices control their limb movements on the treadmill, said Dr. Patricia Winchester, chairwoman of physical therapy at UT Southwestern Allied Health Sciences School. The device provides sensory information to the spinal cord and brain and signals the body to take steps.
After training, patients who showed the most progress in completing a simple task—such as flexing their ankles—showed increased activity in the cerebellum. Only patients who showed a substantial change in the cerebellum improved their ability to walk.
For more information, contact Connie Piloto,
Making Styrofoam mortal
One of the most enduring inventions of the 20th century is polystyrene, the basic ingredient in Styrofoam. For recyclers, that endurance is a problem.
Worldwide, more than 14 million tons of polystyrene are produced annually, with 99 percent ending up in landfills and taking thousands of years to decompose, if at all, according to the University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland. But European scientists have found a way to turn polystyrene into biodegradable plastic.
A research team headed by Kevin O’Connor, a lecturer in the UCD’s School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and researcher at the Centre for Synthesis and Chemical Biology, worked with Walter Kaminsky, an expert in chemical degradation of plastics with the University of Hamburg, Germany, to develop a method to transform polystyrene.
First the team heats the polystyrene until it breaks down into an oil. The team then feeds the oil to soil bacteria, Pseudomonas putida. The bacteria transform the oil into a biodegradable, heat-resistant plastic that can be used for a variety of products.
For more information, contact Kevin O’Connor,
With the increasing popularity of global positioning systems (GPS) in personal vehicles, it’s no surprise school bus manufacturers such as IC Corp. are including such systems as a standard feature of their school buses.
“Every day, school bus officials around North America have a general idea of where their buses are, but with this technology, they can log onto the Internet and find out specifically where any school bus is located in real time, including reading all of the specs on how the school bus is performing and a history of stops along the bus route,” said Michael Cancelliere, vice president and general manager of IC Corp.
The system can track late buses and help discover security breaches, but it’s becoming increasingly popular as a fuel and maintenance management tool, too. By providing up-to-the-minute information about the fleet’s mileage, battery power and any engine problems, transportation officials can arrange maintenance as needed rather than when it is scheduled, according to IC Corp.
For more information, contact Michael Cancelliere,
Houston is known for its soaring temperatures, but city officials are hoping to make it a “hot spot” for wireless Internet activity. The city requested proposals for a network that would cover downtown and would be free for city government and public places, such as libraries and parks. Local businesses and residents would pay a reduced rate, according to the plan.
For more information, contact Richard Lewis,
City of Houston, firstname.lastname@example.org
Stroke patients who restrained their strong arm during a two-week period of intensive therapy experienced a significant improvement in their weak arm, according to a study published in Stroke.
“People who had been told by their physicians and therapists that there was no hope are now offered hope of improving their independence and quality of life,” said study leader Edward Taub, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
For more information, contact Edward Taub,
The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center reported that low doses of statins—drugs that reduce LDL, or “bad cholesterol”—also can reduce the risk of coronary disease. For Caucasian study participants, a 15 percent cut in LDL levels reduced the risk by 50 percent; for African Americans, a 28 percent cut slashed the risk by 88 percent.
For more information, contact Dr. Helen Hobbs,
Editor: Ann Holdsworth
Contributing to this issue: Angela Freeman, Magdalena Hamner, Karen Hudgins, Greg Mt.Joy, Edd Patton, Clint Shields, Suzanne Staton, Bruce Wright and Laura Zvonek