Bill Would Keep
Austin Light Rail Hopes Alive
AUSTIN - Austin Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos announced Thursday that he would serve as the Senate sponsor of a House bill that is part of an arrangement to securing additional funding for Central Texas transportation improvements.
Taylor State Rep. Mike Krusee authored House Bill (HB) 2440 as part of an agreement with Austin Capital Metropolitan Transit Authority, often referred to as Capital Metro. HB 2440 would require any future light rail elections in Austin to be held during a general election, in November of even-numbered years. The move is intended to increase voter turnout.
Under the agreement, Capital Metro would contribute more than $120 million to finance Central Texas transportation projects.
"I think Capital Metro is providing invaluable help to solving these problems," Barrientos said. He added that the plan would focus on Central Texas' "most critical" transportation projects.
According to the Texas Transportation Institute, the Central Texas area has the lowest average speeds, highest congestion and highest fatality rate on IH 35, which runs from South Texas to Minnesota.
The plan calls for Capital Metro to use $91 million from its light rail funds to help finance other regional transportation projects. The money would be used to build and improve roads, help traffic flow by improving wreck management and fund other road projects.
Another $30.4 million from part of Capital Metro's one-cent sales tax would be earmarked for local transportation projects in the Central Texas region.
After session Thursday, Lake Jackson Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown announced an omnibus bill focusing on another of Texas' high-profile issues -- water.
A key provision of Senate Bill (SB) 2 is the creation of the Texas Water Policy Council with members from the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Department of Agriculture. Three public members would also serve on the panel. The Texas Water Policy Council would coordinate state water policy initiatives.
During session, the Senate voted to pass five bills. Another proposal, the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 716, was taken up but final vote was delayed after Senators Steve Ogden of Bryan and Carlos F. Truan of Corpus Christi raised concerns about the bill.
CSSB 716, authored by Lubbock Sen. Robert Duncan, would expand the ability of the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority to make loans to non-agricultural businesses in rural areas. Duncan said the bill is intended to help rural economic development. Ogden said he was concerned that the bill was putting the state in the "banking business," while Truan took issue with the fact that the bill did not define the term "rural," which he said should be clear.
Duncan agreed to postpone making a motion for a vote on CSSB 716, probably until Monday, so he could address Truan's concerns with the bill.
In other Senate news, the Health and Human Services Committee took public testimony on a group of bills focusing on improving healthcare and other assistance for the state's poor. Among the bills was SB 373, authored by Fort Worth Sen. Mike Moncrief, who is the chair of the committee, that would simplify the application process for Medicaid for children. The bill would allow families to apply by mail.
The Senate is adjourned until 1 p.m. Monday.