The state budget will, as usual, command a lot of attention from Texas state legislators when they convene for the 83 Legislative Session in January.
Also likely to show up on the agenda will be groundwater, animal rights and more eminent domain issues, says Norman Garza, associate legislative director, State Affairs, Public Policy Division, for the Texas Farm Bureau.
Garza, speaking at a recent training session for the Texas USDA Office of Dispute Resolution in Salado, said legislators will take up budget issues such as Medicaid, public school finance, transportation infrastructure, and water infrastructure. “We’re also concerned about more cuts to our programs and more fees.”
Of crucial concern will be discussion to determine how the state will finance the State Water Plan, which will require $53 billion for infrastructure by 2060. That’s what’s needed to guarantee the 8.3 million acre-feet of water necessary to meet anticipated demand.
“The cost of doing nothing,” Garza said, would be “$116 billion in lost income; $9.8 billion in lost state and local and business taxes; and 1.1 million lost jobs.”
Financing options could include: Tap fees, surface water fees, electric meter fees, bottled water sales tax, water and wastewater service sales tax and a state sales tax. The latter would not be a popular option.
Ad hoc revenue funds and the state’s rainy day fund are other possibilities.
Other issues the 83rd legislature likely will consider include common carrier permits. “How pipeline companies prove they are common carriers to gain eminent domain authority is a big question,” he said. “State statute already requires it, but the issue needs an administrative process.”
Groundwater regulations, animal rights activities from the likes of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and new eminent domain issues will also vie for Texas state legislators’ attention.
Texas Farm bureau is also following several regulatory issues, including drought management rules through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Of concern are surface water vegetation, irrigation impacts and spring flows, Garza said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Endangered Species Act also concern the Texas Farm Bureau. An issue with a salamander in the Williamson County area and ongoing concerns with the Lesser Prairie Chicken in the High Plains bear watching, too.
EPA pesticide use regulations, potential for an FDA feral hog eradication program using nitrate, and chronic waste disease in deer may be on the agenda as well.
Garza said TFB also pays attention to population dynamics. “Texas population shifts will mean less rural representation,” he said.
Redistricting in 2011 resulted in “shifting political power.” The area known as the “Golden Triangle,” including the metropolitan areas of Dallas/Ft. Worth, San Antonio, and Houston, mostly contained within three interconnecting Interstate highways—I-35, I-45, and I-10—accounts for most of the state’s representatives. Garza said 17 of Texas’ 36 U.S. congressmen represent the population along the I-35 corridor. Another 10 congressmen represent the area around Harris County—the Houston area.
“Within that triangle is where political power will reside,” Garza said. “Rural representation is decreasing.”
The Texas State Legislature also consists of many new members, a challenge for Texas Farm Bureau as they try to educate the mostly urban representatives on the vital importance of agriculture to the state’s economy.
He said the role of TFB continues “To be the voice of Texas Agriculture. Our vision is ‘to benefit all Texas through promotion of a prosperous agriculture for a viable, long-term domestic source of food, fiber and fuel.’”