Texas state Sen. Bob Deuell invoked an historic quotation recently to underline the important role water issues will play in the 2005 Texas legislative session, scheduled to begin in January.

“Someone once said: ‘150 years ago Texans were fighting over water and carrying guns. So nothing has changed,’” Dr. Deuell said at a recent agricultural issues meeting on the Texas A&M-Commerce campus.

Deuell, who serves as vice chairman of the rural issues caucus, said legislators face the daunting task of assuring adequate water for the state's cities without impinging on private property rights.

“We need to deal with the rule of capture (which gives property owners the right to capture as much ground water as they can from their own land). Is it a good thing? It is a property rights issue as well as a water issue.”

Deuell said the legislature likely will look at water marketing, selling and transferring water from one area of the state to another. “Controversies have arisen already over T. Boone Pickens' efforts to pump water from the Panhandle to cities. We'll be trying to sort that out.”

He said the legislature likely would address desalinization and water district rulings. “Some recent water district decisions have fostered complaints,” he said. “There is no doubt in the 2005 legislative session that water will be a key issue.”

As will school finance. “I don't anticipate a special session this year to deal with school finance,” Deuell said. “We're still working on it but the rumor of a November special session probably will not materialize.”

Limited options

He said the legislature has a limited number of options to finance the state's school systems, including income taxes, property taxes, business taxes and sin taxes (taxes on such things as alcohol, cigarettes and gambling devices).

“We need to protect our rural school systems,” Deuell said, “and I don't think the Robin Hood system (through which more well-to-do counties must help fund counties with smaller tax bases) will remain in effect in a year. We have to decide how to replace it and that will be a tough issue.”

He said rural concerns remain important to the Texas legislature. “We considered more than 90 bills during the last session that dealt with rural life,” he said. Primary rural issues include health care, roads and water.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com