LONE STAR ON THE RISE
Houston — The oil gushers may be gone, but the Texas energy boom lives on. In 1981 it is not the puncture of geologic formations by grinding drill bits that drives the Lone Star State.The oil reservoirs that spewed like black fountains from the Texas landscape after the turn of the century have probably seen their better days.
Today, Texas throbs with a new kind of energy -- that of people and ideas. Housing developments, office buildings, and industrial plants all seem to sprout as naturally as cactus flowers in the spring. And there is the tide of fresh new faces -- men, women, and families seeking new opportunities here and being greeted with a warm "howdy" and scarcely a discouraging word.
"Think of Texas as a country," this reporter was advised not long after moving here. What sounded like braggadocio at the time proves more true each day:
Along the humid Gulf Coast weather-worn shrimp boats share the bays and estuaries with gleaming, modern refineries and petrochemical plants. In the western regions ranchers on horseback against the open sky cut an image of the cowboy of today. In the panhandle grain farmers help feed a hungry world. To the south, bleached architecture and animated conversations in Spanish bespeak a Mexican heritage so strong that one can begin to see why some people consider the border as artificial -- "like a fence through our backyard," as one Mexican-American put it.
But it is all Texas -- bound by vitality and an optimism that have made the state a standout in growth and increasing prosperity in a nation that searches for ways to restore those qualities.
"There is an attitude here that is different. . . . It's very positive," says a Houston banker who moved here from Michigan four years ago. "People want to do things of a grand and great style."
At the same time, the Texas success story is entering a new phase. While people in the rest of the nation don western wear, ride mechanical bucking bulls , and dance the cotton-eyed Joe, this state is shedding some traditions to make way for the future.
The crux of the change is a growing awareness that the rapid, relatively unrestrained growth of the 1970s has caused some problems that must be addressed and, at the same time, has set the state on top a fast-moving wave that requires more foresight than in the past to prevent it from crashing or unexpected shoals 10 or 20 years from now.
"We're going to try to engineer and plan for growth in a constructive way," says Gov. William P. Clements Jr.
This does not mean bigger government, Mr. Clements insists, but rather government that better anticipates the changes that lie ahead.
Governor Clements has established the Texas 2000 Commission to identify the key issues facing the state over the next two decades.
In the small town of Simonton, out-of-state businessmen from a convention in nearby Houston pile off a bus for an evening of rodeo. Wobbling on stiff new cowboy boots, some debate whether it is proper to wear their also-new Stetsons indoors.
But as the evening wears on, their self-consciousness wears off. By closing time they are whooping and cheering with unrestrained delight -- like children at Disneyland for the first time. One could not help but wonder who in that group might soon be his new neighbor.
After all, in Houston and surrounding Harris County alone, about 200 newly registered vehicles pour onto the streets each day. Indeed, most of the metropolitan areas of Texas are expanding fast, with migrants from nearly every region of the United States.
This success story is no tall tale. American migration patterns in the 1970s -- from North to South, East to West, and urban to rural -- all benefited Texas with a burgeoning population of relatively well-educated, opportunity-seeking new residents.
The newcomers have blended well in a social environment that has long encouraged and valued entrepreneurship and individual initiative.
Through most of the 1960s Texas was a net exporter of people. In the 1970s, however, the state population swelled by more than 27 percent. In two decades Texas has climbed from the nation's sixth most populous state to third, behind California, and New York. If the New York population continues to fall, as it did over the '70s, Texas will likely surpass that state before the turn of the century.
With the swell of people has come new political and economic clout. Texas will pick up three more congressional seats as a result of the 1980 census. And -- with Texan George Bush as vice- president and James Baker III as White House chief of staff -- the state now has closer ties to Washington than it has had since the administration of Lyndon Johnson.
The economic barometers are also impressive. Texas, even with its population expansion, maintains an unemployment rate typically a percentage point or two below the national average. Per capita income was blow the national average in 1970 and now exceeds it. And Texas ranked 41st among all states in per capita taxes in 1979, largely because there is no state income tax.
"People are coming here very clearly for jobs," says Jan van Lohuizen, a pollster with V. Lance Tarrance & Associates of Houston.
However, the real lure of the job market here is the perception that work can yield more than a paycheck. "To many, this is the land of economic opportunity, the last frontier," says Mr. van Lohuizen.
In many respects, the frontier still exists.
A tourist site always at the top of the list for Texans is the Alamo. The crumbling adobe facade in San Antonio, frozen in time with modern- day plaster, is surprisingly small when seen in person. Yet is seems to loom large in the Texas consciousness -- a monument to a group of frontiersmen who stood against all odds. "It's an appropriate symbol of what we still believe in," says one proud native son.
Across the rugged, sparsely populated regions of west Texas, an isolated windmill, a dilapidated barn, and miles of barbed wire suggest that times change slowly here.
"lot like it was when I grew up," says Rice University sociologist William Martin. "My family history is of men who wouldn't stand for someone telling them what to do."
In many cases that fierce independence is just as strong today.
Still, the frontier of Texas today is unfolding mostly in the cities, where 80 percent of the population now lives. While many of those cities are awash in material wealth, other important ingredients to the "quality of life" are suffering, in the view of many Texans.
A stark contrast emerges, State opinion surveys, according to Mr. van Lohuizen, continue to show strong support for low taxation, suggesting no weakening in the widely held view that "less government is better government." At the same time, survey respondents want better government services.
In the marble Capitol in Austin, legislators ride herd over one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. But they remain a part-time body, meeting every two years for 140 days. There is no thought of that changing.
Yet, in the capital city there is a blacklash against the fast rate of growth of the local population, which is driving up housing prices, creating congestion , and making good jobs harder and harder to come by. Many cars in Austin now sport bumper stickers that claim "No Vacancy."
"There is a real antigrowth sentiment building here," says one local observer. Indeed, some believe growth could be a pivotal issue in the city's mayoral race this spring.
The tradition of limited government has brought another type of unwanted development -- growing federal intervention.In the past year federal court rulings have:
* Opened Texas public schools to the children of illegal aliens who before paid tuition.
* Mandated sweeping improvements and expansion of bilingual education in the state.
* Required broad reform of the Texas prison system.
Yet, even those who criticize the state's progress on social issues say the economic boom has brought impressive gains.
"Hispanics in urban areas are benefiting from the growth. There are more jobs, better wages, and a rapid increase in political participation as a result, " says Ruben Bonilla Jr., president of the League of United Latin American Citizens and a Texas resident.
Hispanics represent 22 percent of the Texas population and are clearly gaining more political influence. San Antonio is a prominent example of a city where Hispanics have built grass-roots neighborhood organizations that together make up one of the city's most powerful political constituencies.In fact, a leading contender in the San Antonio mayoral race is Henry Cisneros, who, if elected, would be the city's first Hispanic chief executive.
A good view of this state's tremendous resource wealth can be had along the Gulf Coast.Nor far offshore is an oil derrick. Commercial and recreational fishing boats stream by. Bird watchers crane to identify migrating flocks heading south for the rich marshlands that line the coast.
But it isn't a quiet scene. Cars and jeeps roar across the beach, testimony to the state's view that resources are there to be used, and access to them sould be -- if possible -- unrestrained.
Texas has been able to absorb tremendous development and economic expansion over the past 20 years without much environmental degradation, according to Richard Lowerre of the Sierra Club. But as growth has transformed the state from a rural-based economy to an urban one, "traditional attitudes are going to have to change," he believes. The state will have to preserve and protect its resources or face real restraints to further growth, he asserts.
"We're in for some major readjustments," agrees economist Charles Holt of the University of Texas Bureau of Business Research. "We need to recognize that congestion, pollution, and rising costs can and will become drags on further growth and on the quality of Texas life."
The most critical environmental issue facing the state, most analysts agree, is a shortage of water. Governor Clements recently endorsed the funnelling of surplus state revenues into a new water trust fund. The money would be used for water projects to meet future demand.
Texas consumes an estimated 17.5 million acre-feet of water annually, 70 percent of it from aquifers.While water demand is projected to rise substantially over the next 20 years, aquifers are being depleted and under current water-use trends would be able to make ony about two-thirds, their current contribution in the year 2000.
Farmers in the western part of the state draw irrigation from the Ogallala aquifer, but that resource is being drained and by 2000 could support only about 60 percent of the current irrigated farm acreage in the area.
The outlook for many cities is little better, with some facing the "strong potential for serious water-supply shortages in the immediate future," warns Dr. Herbert Grubb of the Texas Department of Water Resources.
Texas is involved in a number of development and planning projects to achieve solutions to the water problem. But analysts agree that action must be swift to avoid shortages.
Another important resource issue is how the state will cope with its declining oil and natural gas production. It is not expected to be a riches- to-rags story, but, as oil and natural gas wells yield less, there could come a time when their revenue contribution to state coffers falls. So far, rising energy prices have more than offset the production decline, and mineral revenues still account for about 20 percent of state funds.
If this revenue source falls, it could force the state to tamper with its tradition of low taxation and raise revenues with a personal income tax, corporate income tax, or new severance taxes on coal and uranium.
On the highways around Lubbock, the 55- mile-per-hour posted speed limit seems to be merely a suggestion -- one that most of the drivers in their full-sized American automobiles and pickups choose to ignore.
Driving habits, like the cotton fields that spread across the flat, wind-blown landscape of the high plains, do not appear to change much from one generation to the next.
However, in Crosbyton, not far from Lubbock, a large solar collector shows people here are plenty willing to experiment and change. Soaring utility bills prompted Crosbyton seven years ago to pursue a radical solution -- replace the municipally owned power plant with a solar energy facility. The goal is not yet achieved, but the town remains enthusiastic about the prospects.
What excites the community is not just the idea of lower fuel bills, but also , explains a local official, the chance to "become pioneers again."
As Texas looks to the future, it does so with the conviction that continued growth is good -- and with every intention of preserving the state's reputation as an economic frontier.
To achieve this, however, many analysts see a need for a pioneering spirit in finding new ways to cope with the strains of growth.
Looking at how other states and regions over the years have responded to periods of rapid expansion and prosperity, Victor L. Arnold, director of the Texas 2000 Commission, asserts that there often was "massive expansion of programs that required public expenditures." That began a cycle of ever-higher taxes that rpoved detrimental over the long run, he believes.
"To grow or not to grow is not the relevant question here," says Mr. Arnold.Rather, the central question is to sort out the "appropraite role of government" in providing new kinds of support for communities as they expand, he says.
The demands will be sizable. The population is projected to grow as much as 50 percent over the next 20 years. That could require creating 170,000 new jobs annually and providing public education for 50 pe cent more children, according to Mr. Arnold.