FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 24, 2014
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
The next time you hear from me we will have begun the 84th Legislative Session. Set to last 140 days during odd-numbered years, the session is the time the Texas Legislature must pass a two-year budget as well as to address existing laws and consider new legislation.
During session, I will be writing this column weekly to keep you up to date on what is going on at your State Capitol.
Here are five things happening around your state:
1. Additional Money for Border Initiatives
In December, the Legislative Budget Board approved a $86.1 million plan to continue the state's border security surge through August 2015. This additional funding will provide more than 600 additional Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers. These troopers will replace the current 1,000 National guard troops which were deployed by Governor Perry earlier this year.
In addition to new shallow-water boats, this money will also be used to install 4,000 new surveillance cameras in the Rio Grande Valley as well as stretch across the entire border from El Paso to Brownsville. These cameras will work as replacements to observation posts currently manned by National Guard troops. These cameras are motion sensitive, monitored 24/7 and produce still photos.
2. SWIFT Loans Available
Recently I participated in a press conference in Lufkin to announce that funding through the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) was now available. Texas voters approved the constitutional amendment that created SWIFT in November 2013, which enabled a onetime investment of $2 billion for low-cost water project loans in Texas. SWIFT has allotted $800 million to fund projects in 2015 and expects to have that same amount available every year for the next 10 years.
Any political subdivision of the state or a non-profit water supply corporation with a project included in the 2012 State Water Plan can apply for SWIFT funding. For any entity interested in submitting an application you can visit the Texas Water Development website at www.twdb.texas.gov.
3. Setting a Balance
The Senate and House Joint Select Committee to Study the Balance of the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), which I serve on, recently set the adequate balance of $7 billion which must remain in the state's ESF. With this balance set, the Texas State Comptroller's office was able to transfer the $1.7 billion, appropriated by Proposition 1 and approved by voters, to the State Highway Fund. This money will be used for the construction and maintenance of the state's non-tolled highways and bridges.
The select committee is required to meet, at the end of each even-numbered year, to determine and adopt for the next state fiscal biennium a sufficient balance of the ESF. This balance must be enough to ensure an appropriate amount of revenue is available in the fund. If the fund's balance falls below the minimum balance, transfers to the State Highway Fund must be reduced or stopped until the ESF's balance is higher than the floor again.
4. State Affairs Hearing
The Senate State Affairs Committee, which I serve on, met at the beginning of December to discuss the financial health of the pension and health care programs administered by the Teacher Retirement System and the Employees Retirement System. While performing better than most states, both programs have challenges that must be addressed. The state must better balance its assets and liabilities to safeguard these programs.
Senate District 3 is home to more teachers and state employees than nearly any other senate district. As I serve on this committee and represent the people of East Texas, I will continue to work to ensure the state honors the promises made to keep healthcare affordable and pension funds solvent.
As people are making resolutions for the new year, my staff and I are putting into place the resolutions and ideas we have had during the interim. With each bill we file and in each issue we work on in the upcoming session, I keep in mind that because of your feedback I have a better understanding of what is needed for East Texas.
I would encourage you to come to the Capitol during this upcoming session and be a part of the legislative process. If you are unable to make it to Austin, you can call or write to my office to share your opinions and concerns about pending legislation. It has been an honor to serve as your state Senator for the past seven years and I look forward to this next year and working together to make a difference for our state.