Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Go big, or go to the big house

While 16 employees of the City of Houston's public works department face criminal prosecution for allegedly stealing copper, brass and other scrap metal from city work sites, a handful of state legislators have profited handsomely from windstorm insurance fees and commissions.

The city workers allegedly took scrap metal from work sites, in city-owned trucks, and sold it at area scrap yards. If the allegations are true, those workers defrauded the citizens and taxpayers of Houston by siphoning away revenue that could have been used to fund city services.

The state legislators, who oversaw the insurance industry in the state, made their money either by selling windstorm insurance to homeowners or through litigation over damage due to Hurricane Ike. The vice-chair of the House Insurance Committee, Craig Eiland (D-Galveston) picked up $627,000 in legal fees as the result of a class-action suit filed by homeowners who lost everything. The head of the joint committee overseeing windstorm insurance, Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) made $390,000 in commissions for selling windstorm policies between 2006 and 2010. Todd Hunder (R-Corpus Christi) who used to be a lobbyist for the windstorm insurance industry made $65,000 mediating windstorm cases and another $8,750 for other cases.

The city workers will be prosecuted. The legislators will be wined and dined by lobbyists. The city workers face jail time. The legislators will attend fundraisers. The city workers thought they could game the "system" - they were wrong. The legislators thought they could game the system - they were right.

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