AUSTIN — On a unanimous vote of 8-0, the U.S. Supreme Court on April 4 affirmed that states may continue to draw legislative districts based on total population.

In the Texas case, Evenwel v. Abbott, the question presented to the high court on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas was whether the one-person, one-vote principle of the Fourteenth Amendment creates a “judicially enforceable right ensuring that the districting process does not deny voters an equal vote.”

Court documents explain the basis of the case this way: “In 2013, the Texas Legislature enacted a state Senate map creating districts that, while roughly equal in terms of total population, grossly malapportioned voters. Appellants, who live in Senate districts significantly overpopulated with voters, brought a one-person, one vote challenge, which the three-judge district court below dismissed for failure to state a claim. The district court held that appellants’ constitutional challenge is a judicially unreviewable political question.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the court’s main opinion, stated that “nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates — children, their parents, even their grandparents, for example, have a stake in a strong public education system — and in receiving constituent services, such as help navigating public-benefits bureaucracies. By ensuring that each representative is subject to requests and suggestions from the same number of constituents, total-population apportionment promotes equitable and effective representation.”

However, while the court affirmed that to draw districts based on total population remains constitutional, it did not suggest that to draw legislative districts based on the total number of registered voters would be unconstitutional. 

Revenue report comes in

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on April 4 announced state sales tax revenue in March totaled $2.17 billion, up 2.1 percent compared to March 2015.

“The modest growth in sales tax collections for March was in line with expectations and comes after five consecutive months of declining sales tax revenues,” Hegar said. “Stronger growth in receipts from the retail trade, restaurant and construction sectors was offset by continued weakness in net collections from oil and gas-related sectors.”

Total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in March 2016 is down 3.2 percent compared to the same period a year ago. Sales tax revenue is the largest source of state funding for the state budget, accounting for 56 percent of all tax collections. 

Business growth noted

Secretary of State Carlos Cascos on April 7 announced a 9.9 percent increase in the number of new, for-profit Texas businesses in March compared to the same month last year. 

The secretary of state’s office processes new business filings. Some 16,511 certificates were filed in March, a required step in creating new Texas for-profit corporations, professional corporations, professional associations, limited liability companies and limited partnerships. That was almost 1,500 more entities created than in March 2015. The March 2016 numbers also reflect a 7.7 percent increase from February 2016 filings of for-profit business formation totals.

“Our office not only saw growth in new businesses created in March, but we also see a continued trend of increased business formations,” Cascos said.

Furthermore, as the end of March was also the end of the first quarter of calendar year 2016, Cascos noted that during the period his office accepted a total of 46,117 certificates, a 10.5 percent increase compared to the first quarter of 2015. 

‘Don’t Mess’ turns 30

The Texas Department of Transportation launched its “Don’t Mess With Texas” anti-litter campaign in 1986 with a Cotton Bowl television spot featuring “The Eyes of Texas” played by legendary Texas blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.

According to an April 6 TxDOT news release posted in advance of an April 9 statewide litter cleanup, nearly half a billion pieces of visible litter still pile up along state-maintained highways in Texas each year. Seventy percent of this litter is small trash such as napkins, cigarette butts and fast food wrappers. In 2015, litter cleanup efforts cost $32 million. Violators can face fines starting at $500.

With a nod to that auspicious beginning three decades ago, Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin III reminded citizens the campaign “is more than an iconic slogan, it’s an appeal to our Texas pride to keep our great state beautiful and litter-free. It also serves as a reminder that each of us has a responsibility to put trash where it belongs and not toss it alongside our roadways.”

Ed Sterling — Texas Press Association — Director of Member Services

305 S. Congress Ave. Austin TX 78704 — Office (512) 477-6755