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OPINION: State Capital Highlights: Toyota picks Plano for North America headquarters

AUSTIN — Toyota Motor Corporation on April 28 announced its decision to locate the headquarters of Toyota Motor North America headquarters to Plano.

Toyota said the move is “designed to better serve customers and position Toyota for sustainable, long-term growth.”

Within the next three years, Toyota’s three separate North American headquarters for manufacturing, sales and marketing and corporate operations will relocate to a single, state-of-the-art campus in Plano, just north of Dallas. Toyota’s North American finance arm also plans to move its headquarters to this new, shared campus.  Altogether, these moves will affect about 4,000 employees, Toyota said.

Gov. Rick Perry said Toyota is making a $300 million capital investment in the move and the state has offered Toyota an incentive of $40 million through the Texas Enterprise Fund.

“We’re proud that both the Tundra and Tacoma bear the words ‘Made in Texas’ and we’re excited our state will be the nexus for Toyota’s North American operations moving forward,” Perry said, adding that Toyota’s Texas operations presently include its $2.3 billion manufacturing facility in San Antonio that supports 2,900 jobs, and combined with its 21 on-site suppliers, Toyota supports 6,000 jobs in San Antonio.

Grand jury probe begins

A Travis County grand jury assigned with a special prosecutor convened in mid-April to examine Gov. Rick Perry’s veto last year of legislation to fund the state’s Public Integrity Unit, a division of the Travis County district attorney’s office tasked with investigating public corruption.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who heads the Public Integrity Unit, was arrested for drunken driving in April 2013, pleaded guilty, served half of a 45-day jail sentence and was released. Perry asked for Lehmberg’s resignation, but Lehmberg chose to continue in office. Perry then vetoed the Public Integrity Unit’s budget. Travis County, however, came up with money from its own budget to maintain the entity’s functions.

Decision sets coal back

Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates energy-producing industries, lamented the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-2 decision on April 29 to uphold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

“By upholding the EPA-written Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and overturning a lower court decision, the Supreme Court has made it increasingly difficult to burn coal to produce electricity,” according to a Railroad Commission statement published the day the court rendered its decision. “Going forward, natural gas, renewables and nuclear energy must shoulder an even bigger load in order to ‘keep the lights on’ cheaply and reliably in Texas, and throughout America,” the agency further stated, adding, “As a result of today’s holding, some coal-fired power plants may be forced to limit or shut down operations.”

Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas cast the dissenting votes in the 6-2 decision.

The U.S. Clean Air Act requires the EPA to write rules to enforce laws passed by Congress. The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule requires Texas, as an “upwind” state, to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions that cross state lines. Such pollutants react in the atmosphere to form fine particles and ground-level ozone and are transported long distances, making it difficult for other states to achieve air quality standards, according to the EPA.

Graduation rate is near best

According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ “First Look” report released in late April, for the class of 2012, Texas posted a graduation rate of 88 percent, tying with three other states for second highest. Iowa posted a graduation rate of 89 percent while the national average was 80 percent.

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams lauded the report and noted that Texas’ overall graduation rate exceeded the national averages release in both 2011 and 2012.

Williams also pointed out the Texas class of 2012 had the highest graduation rate in the country among African-American students and tied for the highest graduation rates for white and economically disadvantaged students.

Enforcement result comes in

Texas Department of Public Safety on April 28 announced state troopers arrested some 1,374 motorists for driving while intoxicated during the agency’s March 7 to March 23 spring break enforcement period.

A Texas Department of Transportation grant allowed increased patrols in high-risk locations during the times when alcohol-related crashes are most frequent.

Furthermore, the DPS reported, stops made during the enforcement period resulted in 18,826 speeding citations, 3,266 seat belt/child safety seat tickets and more than 23,400 other citations, plus 848 fugitive arrests and 713 felony arrests.

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