PANEL LOOKS AT STATE FACILITIES NEEDS
|Senator Kevin Eltife, Chair of the Select Committee on Government Facilities, said the state must address maintenance needs at state buildings.|
(AUSTIN) — It is time for Texas to address upkeep on state buildings that has been put off for too long, according to the Chair of a new committee formed to consider the maintenance needs of state agencies. Tyler Senator Kevin Eltife was appointed to oversee the Senate Select Committee on Government Facilities and generate an accurate picture of how much the Legislature needs to pay to keep all state facilities in good repair. Eltife first raised this concern at a Finance Committee meeting in January, and Thursday he echoed his position that lawmakers desperately need to pay for repairs and maintenance on state buildings. "It's insane not to take care of facilities you own. If we're going to own them, we ought to maintain them," he said. "If we can't afford to maintain them, get rid of them."
Deferred maintenance refers to needed repairs or upkeep costs that agencies put off because the Legislature doesn't include enough appropriations to pay for them. This can range from a leaky roof to complete renovations, and all of the agencies that testified at Thursday's hearing had deferred maintenance costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Eltife said that the total cost of deferred maintenance has more than tripled since 2006, rising from $400 million then to more than $1.5 billion today. "People need to understand, deferred maintenance has a cascading effect," he said. "If you don't fix the roof, it's not just the cost of the roof five years out. It's the cost of the walls, it's the cost of the carpet, and repairs."
Eltife told colleagues at Thursday's meeting that after the committee determines exactly what each agency needs in postponed upkeep, he wants to develop a four year plan to address those needs. A longer term plan won't work to fix the problem he said. "You cannot put deferred maintenance on a ten year plan," he said. "What happens is it grows faster than you fix it." He also wants to consider building new state buildings. The State of Texas currently leases about two million square feet in the City of Austin. With the price of office leases skyrocketing locally, building new facilities that the state can pay off and own outright in 20 years could save taxpayer money, Eltife said.
Also Thursday, Senator Carlos Uresti of San Antonio announced that he has filed a bill that aims at encouraging state agencies to convert their vehicle fleets to run off of natural gas. SB 12 would use existing funds in the Texas Emissions Reduction Program to create a grant program that state agencies would be required to apply for. That grant money could be used to convert existing vehicles to natural gas or purchase new ones built to use that fuel. It would also provide incentives to build alternative energy fueling stations that are open to the public. Since Texas produces a quarter of the nation's natural gas, it makes sense to use it, said Uresti. "Making more use of this Texas product will put more Texans to work, " he said.
When agencies get ready to replace vehicles with new ones, Uresti said his program will supply the funds to cover the difference between buying a natural gas burning vehicle and a gasoline burning one. His program would cover such costs for an estimated 1125 vehicles per year. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who joined Uresti in support of the measure, said the ultimate goal is to have the entire state fleet operating on natural gas within ten years.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 16 at 2 p.m.