The first week of April has been extremely busy at your State Capitol. This week I took steps to assist East Texas counties that contain national forests, worked to bolster the stability of the disaster relief staging site in our district, and voted for a state budget that is fiscally prudent and reflective of our Texas values.
Keeping What’s Ours: I convened a meeting with Sen. Robert Nichols’ office, Gov. Rick Perry’s staff and former Houston County Judge Lonnie Hunt to talk about the federal government’s recent decision to request a retraction of certain monies appropriated to East Texas counties. Several East Texas counties receive national forest payments, which go to local county and school budgets in an attempt to provide compensation for having nontaxable federal land.
Unfortunately, the federal government has recently decided those funds are now subject to sequestration and could potentially have to be returned to Washington, D.C. Both Sen. Nichols and I believe that it is crucial to keep the governor and his staff informed of the importance of this issue, and to have Texas work with the other 40-plus states that are impacted by this decision in encouraging the federal government to reconsider. I will continue to monitor this issue closely in the weeks to come.
Disaster Support and Staging: I also met this week with Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, as well as Cynthia Leon, the chair of the Texas Public Safety Commission. I visited with them about ensuring the long term stability of the State Disaster Support and Staging Site in Lufkin.
Several years ago, Lufkin was designated as one of only two locations in the state to house one of these facilities. I was encouraged by the meeting and feel good about the importance being placed upon this facility, which houses food, water, medicine and important supplies to be dispersed should Texas experience another natural disaster or experience a terrorist attack upon those vulnerable assets along our Texas Gulf Coast.
The Budget: After close to 12 hours of debate on the House floor, SB 1, the state’s budget bill, was passed 135 to 12. In this bill, we were able to restore funding to a number of programs important to East Texas.
In public education, the House voted to restore $2.5 billion in general revenue, and put another $2 billion in public education to fund student population growth. The budget also provides additional funding for the Teacher Retirement System so that we can help our retired educators who have not received a cost-of-living adjustment in more than a decade. Additionally, the budget increased funding for our local libraries, which also suffered substantial cuts last session.
As part of the budget, the House voted to increase the pay of our state’s correctional officers, DPS troopers, game wardens, and more than doubled the grant funding available to our volunteer fire departments.
Appropriations were added to women’s health care to help fund breast and cervical cancer treatment and prevention, and the House also was able to guard against cuts to family violence programs. Additional funding was approved for foster care programs, and multiple measures were put into place to help combat Medicaid fraud and abuse, something I’ve been deeply concerned about.
And in an effort to protect one our state’s greatest natural resources, I was able to help secure additional funding specifically for Fort Boggy State Park in Leon County.
While I was pleased the budget restored funding for critical programs subjected to deep cuts during the last session, it’s important to know we were fiscally conservative and didn’t spend all the funds available to us. In several areas, we cut or reduced funding to programs that we thought were overfunded or underachieving.
Serving on the Appropriations Committee during this session has been an informing and educational experience. Having a hand in the process of putting together our state budget, I was reassured, and want to assure all Texans, that this budget lives within our means and reflects the priorities of our great state. During the process there were many worthwhile areas of need, as well as many hard decisions that had to be made. Exceptional budget item requests far outweighed the state’s revenue, but at the end of the day, I believe my colleagues and I made fiscally prudent and wise decisions.
Mobile District: Our District Director, Linda Parker, will be making the rounds again this month. She will be at the San Augustine Courthouse from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, and at the Leon County Courthouse from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 17. On April 24, Linda will be at the Houston County Courthouse from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and will finish the day at the Trinity County Courthouse from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Trent Ashby is the Texas state Representative for
District 57 that includes Angelina, Houston, Leon,
Madison, San Augustine and Trinity counties. His email
address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He and his staff are available during the week at (512) 463-0508 or 634-2762.