FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 27, 2007
AUSTIN, TX -- State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. voted today in favor of the State Budget Bill (Conference Committee Report to House Bill 1) totaling $153 billion for the 2008-09 biennium. The amount reflects an increase of $10 billion or 7 percent from the 2006-07 biennial level. The approved budget excludes the $14.2 billion for property tax relief passed earlier in the session.
"As a member of the Finance Committee, I am thankful that the conferees approved a proposal that will provide nearly $10 million to improve and renovate our Harlingen-South Texas Hospital, solving a 10-year funding problem. I am proud of my son, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III -- a member of the House Appropriations Committee -- whose efforts helped this and other goals become reality. I am equally elated that we were able to receive an additional $5 million for the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) sites in Harlingen and Edinburg, which will allow for improved health services for the people of the area," said Sen. Lucio.
A huge success this session includes $7.2 million in new money for the Texas A&M University System Health Science Center - Irma Rangel School of Pharmacy in Kingsville. Student financial Aid was increased by $140 million for a total funding of $533.8 million, representing an increase of 35 percent to serve 80,000 students in FY 2008 and 83,000 in FY 2009.
Non-profit zoos across this state and South Padre Island will benefit by a couple of proposals authored by Sen. Lucio. "Of the two million dollars that we were able to set aside for non-profit zoos in Texas from local matching grants, $600,000 is earmarked for the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville. Together with the $300,000 matching grant for Sand Source Studies (to develop an inventory and preliminary dredging plan to nourish Gulf of Mexico beaches), the zoos and beaches in Cameron County will greatly benefit from this appropriation," explained Sen. Lucio.
As Chairman of the Senate International Relations and Trade Committee (IRT) and as a member of the Finance Committee, Sen. Lucio was able to get many of the proposals IRT recommended to the Legislature funded in the State Budget. IRT recommended a significant increase in funds for the Bootstrap Program via an increased appropriation to the Housing Trust Fund (HTF) and the necessary funding to reinstate the Office of the Attorney General's Colonia Prevention Law Enforcement Investigators.
"I had requested $30 million for the Housing Trust Fund. Although we were not successful in obtaining complete funding, we were able to garner an additional $5 million to double existing resources for the Bootstrap Program to provide affordable housing for low-income households. I thank Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for his support of this funding," said Sen. Lucio. "The constituents I represent all along the border region also thank the Legislature for funding IRT's recommendation to reinstate the Attorney General's Office Colonia Investigators with nearly half a million dollars to enforce our colonia prevention laws."
Another appropriation in the State Budget recommended by IRT and authored by Chairman Lucio improves the outlook of colonia residents by providing the necessary debt service ($4.4 million) for water and wastewater services bonds ($37.5 million for the biennium). Sen. Lucio's Senate Joint Resolution 20, which proposes a constitutional amendment to authorize $250 million in additional general obligation bonds for the economically distressed areas program, will provide essential water and wastewater services to distressed areas of the state.
The Legislature also approved IRT's recommendation and Chairman Lucio's proposal to provide the necessary debt service to issue another $43 million in bonds for the Colonia Road Access Bond program. "With these $43 million, we are continuing our effort started in 2001 to build needed roadways in our colonias," stated Sen. Lucio.
The Senator further noted, "From the budget that will be going to the Governor's desk, we made it possible to add 127,000 more youngsters to the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by allowing a one-year enrollment period rather than the six-month period, which caused many children to be dropped from the rolls. We funded CHIP at $2.1 billion, representing an increase of $213.2 million for perinatal services, dental premiums, caseload increases, cost growth, as well as rate restorations and increases. This appropriation also includes an increase of $89.5 million to change certain CHIP eligibility standards."
Money was also made available for more children throughout the state to receive dental health care from mobile dental units with an appropriation of $150 million.
Medicaid services will see an increase of $2.3 billion at all Health and Human Services agencies to address the caseload increases and fund acute care cost growth.
"Our teachers and state employees will see small raises. Teachers will average about $425 extra per year. The state's contribution for retired teachers increased from 6 percent to 6.58 percent. I will continue to work towards raising teacher salaries to be comparable with the national average, and to increase retired teachers' pensions, because this is not satisfactory in my view," said Lucio. "I strongly believe we should approve a yearly cost of living adjustment for them."
School Facilities Funding, or IFA, was funded at $87.5 million, showing an increase of $37.5 million.
Sen. Lucio was "pleased to work alongside Sen. Juan 'Chuy' Hinojosa to secure $49 million for the new regional Department of Public Safety facility in McAllen and $456,000 million for a drug incinerator for the border.
"I thank Sen. Steve Ogden for his leadership as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, as well as my fellow Senators for their hard work on developing this budget," added Sen. Lucio. "It doesn't meet every need that I would like to see met; however, we have set aside funding to improve or continue valuable programs that will provide housing, water and wastewater services, increased health care programs and funding for future expansion of medical facilities in South Texas.
"I especially want to thank Gov. Dewhurst for my appointment to the Senate Finance Committee and for my IRT Chairmanship, which allowed me the opportunity to deliver so many programs and initiatives for the benefit of the entire border region and for economically distressed areas of the state," concluded Sen. Lucio.