Ben Philpott

Senior Reporter, State Politics and Policy

Ben Philpott covers politics and policy for KUT. He’s also co-host of The Ticket 2016, a podcast produced by KUT and the Texas Tribune covering the presidential election. Ben has been covering state politics and dozens of other topics for the station since 2002. He's been recognized for outstanding radio journalism by the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters and has been named Radio Journalist of the Year by the Houston Press club four times.

Before moving to Texas, he worked in public radio in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Ala., and at several television stations in Alabama and Tennessee. Born in New York City and raised in Chattanooga, Tenn., Philpott graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in broadcast journalism.

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Sunday Morning Brief

Jan 23, 2011
Picture by KUT News

Good morning from the KUT Newsroom.  We hope the high cedar and mold counts don't have you feeling like us (nothing like going through a box of tissue first thing in the morning).  Anyway...plenty of news to pass along this morning.

Austin ISD Goes Over Facilities Plan...again:

picture courtesy Michael Williams


Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams appears ready to make his campaign to replace U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison a full time job.  Ross Ramsey over at KUT's political reporting partner The Texas Tribune, says Williams will resign his commissioner's seat to focus his efforts on the race for higher office.

picture courtesy of The Texas Tribune

The referees have been named for the election battle between State Representative Donna Howard (D-Austin) and her Republican challenger Dan Neil.  Texas House Speaker Joe Straus sent out an e-mail today with a list of the 9 lawmakers on the House Select Committee on Election Contest.

Photo by KUT News

The Texas Senate was expected to take up its rules for the 2011 legislative session today.  But, they did not.  In fact they gaveled in and gaveled out in 10 minutes.  

Photo by KUT News

Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus held their 1st weekly breakfast of the 2011 legislative session today.  After the meal (which included eggs, according to Speaker Straus) they met with the Capitol press corps to say basically the same thing they've been saying for the last years:  The state will balance the budget without any revenue increases.  

Texas Governor Rick Perry has handed out the first assignments for lawmakers in the 2011 legislative session.  In separate speeches before lawmakers in the House and Senate, Mr. Perry announced he was making the protection of private property rights and eminent domain along with abolishing sanctuary cities in Texas emergency items for the session.

Image by Dave Burnstein for KUT News

Texas comptroller Susan Combs estimates the state will generate $72.2 billion to spend on the 2012-2013 state budget. That's $5.6 billion less than the nearly $77.8 billion the state was certified to spend last legislative session two years ago. (Read the revenue estimate report here.)

The Comptroller says the state will bring in $76.5 billion over all, but Texas is already $4.3 billion behind on its current budget. The difference amounts to $72.2 billion.

KUT News

Ever since Arizona passed its controversial immigration law last year, some Texas lawmakers have been chomping at the bit for their chance to push similar legislation here.

U.S. Capitol
Image courtesy Andy-Beal

According to a new Rasmussen poll, the more things change in Washington, the more voters do not expect better results.  

Governor Perry on Election Night
Picture by KUT News

The 1st Sunday of 2011.  I hope more and more of you will resolve to start off your Sunday checking out the KUT News blog to see what's going on around town.

Taking a look at the top stories today:

Map of the population changes from 2000 to 2010
U.S. Census Bureau

UPDATE:  U.S. Census interactive map added at 12:50 p.m.

Texas now has 25,145,561 residents.  That number was released this morning by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The additional 4-million residents the state has added since 2000 brought an additional 4 U.S. House seats to the state.  Those seats will be divvied up during the 2011 Texas Legislative session. 

The Texas Capitol
Picture by Erik Reyna for KUT News

State House member Warren Chisum (R-Pampa) says he has collected a enough signatures to force the Republican caucus to take a vote on who will be the next House Speaker

In a e-mail statement released this morning, Rep. Chisum says the party needs the caucus to meet to select "one conservative candidate" for Speaker of the House. 

Dan Neil, the Republican in the race for House District 48, has filed a challenge against Democrat State House member Donna Howard.  Howard won re-election by 16 votes on Election Day.  That number was trimmed to 12 during an official re-count.  Now, Neil says a number of factors have lead him to file the challenge.

The Texas Capitol
Picture by KUT

In a move that seems to be becoming a holiday tradition, the Texas Department of Public Safety released it's annual call for Texans to avoid Mexico over the holidays.  DPS sighted increased violence, kidnappings, assault and rape along the boarder as reasons Texans should stay away.

In a press release today, DPS Director Steven C. McCraw says that while the department knows people safely travel and vacation in Mexico on a daily basis, the increase in violence is also a reality.

Alfie and Oreo put aside their differences in an effort to get adopted
picture courtesy the Austin Humane Society

Workers and volunteers at the Austin Humane Society will spend the night at the shelter to honor all of the animals that will be homeless during the holidays.  The 5th annual sleep over starts tonight at 7 with a visit from Santa.  After the jolly fat guy poses for pictures with the shelter pets, the dogs will be allowed to run around an indoor dog park.  While all cats will be allowed to roam around the shelter as well.  Shelter staff and volunteers will spend the night all around the shelter, including dog kennels, cat rooms and play areas

KOOP Radio Turns 16

Dec 16, 2010
The KOOP logo
Logo courtesy KOOP

The Austin city council passed a proclamation today to recognize KOOP radio's 16 years of public service broadcasting in Austin. KOOP delivers an eclectic mix of music and public affairs programming, all created and run by station volunteers.

Kim McCarson is the station's executive director, one of its few paid positions.  She says KOOP is the only cooperatively run station in the US.

Jennifer Gale resting under a tree in Austin TX
Photo courtesy Dentler

The Austin city council opened today's council meeting with a tribute to Jennifer Gale.  Gale was ever-present at council meetings and ran for Mayor and several other elected positions over the years.  She was also homeless.  Gale was found dead two years ago tomorrow in front of a church near the UT-Austin campus.

Dan Patrick

The Tea Party played a big role in this year's national and state elections.  Now, one Texas lawmaker hopes to strengthen the loosely structured group's voice at the Texas Capitol.  In a release today, Tea Party caucus chair Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) announced the first 49 members of the caucus.  Sen. Patrick said he wants the caucus to keep the power the party showed at the polls going during the 2011 legislative session.

AG Abbott greets Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum outside courthouse
Photo courtesy Texas Attorney General

Attorneys General from Texas and 19 other states appeared in federal district court in Florida today to argue over the constitutionality of President Obama's new federal healthcare law.  Today’s oral argument was the final court proceeding for the suit.  U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson is expected to rule on the law’s constitutionality sometime next year.

Dollar bill cut by scissors
Courtesy the Texas Tribune

The Texas Legislative leadership has sent a letter to state agencies announcing another round of immediate budget cuts. In the letter, Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus directed each agency to propose another 2.5% in cuts for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year.

A release today said the cuts were needed, even though sales tax receipts have improved, to prepare for budget reductions in the 2012-2013 biennium.

Even while calling for additional cuts, Gov. Perry had a sunny message: