Lucio Masthead Graphic
December 11, 2008
Contact: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
(512) 463-0385
81st Legislature Outlook on Issues Impact South Texas Area

Not long after we take down the Christmas trees and lights, I'll be at my desk in the Senate Chamber in Austin as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst gavels in the 81st Legislative Session on Jan. 13.

Thirty-one Senators and 150 Representatives in the House Chamber will address issues affecting residents from rural Texas to the metropolitan areas and from the border to the coastal regions.

As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I will play an instrumental role in determining our state's budget for a population estimated by our State Demographer to be 24,105,417 as of Jan. 1, 2008, indicating a growth of more than 3 million, or 13 percent, since 2000.

Depending on who's doing the counting, Texas may have a surplus of about $2 billion or so, but with the population increase and the nation's economic downturn, it will be incumbent upon us to meet our urgent needs while avoiding a deficit. The work is numerically cut out for us.

Many of those still in need are victims of Hurricanes Ike and Dolly, and those still waiting for assistance after Rita, the 2005 storm and the fourth most intensive to strike the Atlantic region. While we've almost mastered the art of hurricane evacuations and evacuee shelters, we fall short of a comprehensive rebuilding plan for the individuals, families and business owners who lose all or most of their properties when natural disasters strike.

One solution would be providing our county officials the necessary tools to better plan for development and growth. In South Texas, this effort can work in conjunction with the goal of addressing our drainage problems, since flooding was the most devastating aftermath in Cameron and Hidalgo counties from Dolly.

The state as a whole should establish a system that encourages FEMA to approve adequate aid to those whose homes are severely damaged, even if their values are lower than other homes equally ruined by the storm. The state can coordinate efforts with all involved agencies so that the distribution of FEMA funds for rebuilding residential and business communities occurs more efficiently.

We will also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of developing a building code specific to coastal properties that will mitigate hurricane damage. The emphasis must be on avoiding catastrophic property losses from major storms, something Texas greatly lacks.

Additionally, we must create ways to make homeowners insurance more affordable along the coastal area. One possible consideration is making changes to how the state uses and spends on reinsurance following a natural disaster in Texas.

Reinsurance allows an insurance company to protect itself with other insurance companies against the risk of losses. While homeowners and businesses obtain insurance policies to provide protection for various risks that include hurricanes, earthquakes, lawsuits, etc., reinsurers, in turn, provide insurance to insurance companies.

Damages from natural disasters are resulting in a very costly "insurance on our insurance," and so we are considering ways to reduce this cost.

It is also highly likely that the restructuring of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) will be addressed. Because of the huge losses caused by hurricanes on the coast this year, the fund is nearly depleted. There may be some restructuring of the fund. I will make sure that any changes are fair to those living on the coast, especially since we already have some of the highest premiums in the state.

And storms aren't the only challenges to providing livable conditions for the residents of impoverished regions. An initiative that will require our utmost attention is the Texas Bootstrap Program, created through a bill I first passed in 1999 to improve the border's lack of affordable housing.

As part of a comprehensive rural housing initiative, my goal is to strengthen the Bootstrap Program that requires sweat equity by the homeowner, and the Texas Housing Trust Fund, so that we are better able to comprehensively address the needs of distressed communities.

I am also preparing to tackle the issues of funding public education equitably and sufficiently, as well as reopening the debate on the deregulation of higher education tuition. Storm rebuilding is essential to a prospering economy, but so is education.

Our economy is directly tied to educational levels, so giving every child the opportunity to succeed begins with the money needed to offer programs in well-equipped, modern facilities. For college students, the more degree programs we offer, including those a medical school can provide, the more we will revitalize not only health care, but our area's economic vitality.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.