Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"This is a bad idea, a bad concept. It is insanity, and it should be stopped."

Private toll roads 'insanity,' Eltife says

State senator also says he's 'embarrassed' by cut in community college funds

July 25, 2007

The Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2007

Texas toll roads, teacher accountability and water conservation plans were among a laundry list of issues that state Sen. Kevin Eltife brought Tuesday to Longview's Summit Club as guest speaker of the Governmental Affairs Luncheon.

Sponsored by the Longview Partnership, the luncheon event was well-attended and informative, said President Kelly Hall.

Eltife, R-Tyler, recapped the just completed 80th legislative session while providing a preview of the next session in 2009.

Hall said about 150 people packed the Summit Club to hear the senator on a day when it is usually hard to draw a crowd because of competing civic club meetings.

"I think I want to move to Longview. I never get this big of crowd in Tyler," Eltife said.

Eltife said he served on four "of the hottest" committees during 2007: the Senate Business and Commerce, Finance, Natural Resources and Nominations.

He said there were many issues that came before the committees that affected East Texans. Among those was Senate Bill 3, which deals with the management and development of the state's water resources. The bill, which the Texas Legislature passed into law this year, takes a comprehensive approach to the state's water policy, which includes stressing conservation, providing for future sources of water, and maintaining the ecological balances in our state's current natural water resources. Ninteen sites across the state have been designated as reservoir sites, though reservoirs might not be built at any specific site.

The big issue in the water bill is the Marvin Nichols Reservoir in Bowie County, which would address the long-term needs of the Dallas area.

If built, Eltife said, the Dallas area would benefit from the reservoir more than rural areas such as Longview.

Eltife crafted an amendment to the bill stipulating that Region D, which includes rural areas such as Longview, had the right to 20 percent of the water from the proposed Marvin Nichols. Region C, which encompasses the Dallas area, would pay all cost of construction, operation and maintenance of the site.

"If the Marvin Nichols is built, then we will be guaranteed some of that water and will not have to pay," Eltife said.

The senator said he had, and would continue to vote for, what he believed was best for his constituents — even if that put him in a negative light.

Eltife said he could not support Senate Bill 1643, which called for teachers to be held accountable based on some yet-to-be-determined benchmark.

Because the bill did not specify what the benchmark would be, Eltife said he could not support it.

Under the bill, a state agency such as the Texas Education Agency would determine the benchmark in the future.

"They would not tell us the benchmark for what they would hold the (teachers) accountable. As far as I am concerned, you can blow the TEA up and I will be happy with that," Eltife said.

Eltife said he wanted to see local school districts determine what their teachers would be accountable for.

For his stance on the issue, Eltife said a series of negative ads were ran, but the intent backfired.

"If anybody thinks they are going to change my vote by negative ads, they've got a screw loose," Eltife said. "The lesson is I'm going to do what I think is best for us. I can't be bought, and you cannot steal my soul."

The senator said he is opposed to building toll roads and turning them over to private contractors because the state would not have control over toll amounts, or the roads.

"This is a bad idea, a bad concept," he said. "It is insanity, and it should be stopped."

Instead, the gas tax should be increased to keep up with inflation to allow the state to build bridges, intersections, expanded roadways and outer loops.

"If you go to the pump, you fill up, you use the road, you need to be willing to pay," he said.

Eltife said the state should increase its contribution to the teacher retirement system, and that Gov. Rick Perry's veto on community college funding was a disaster.

"I am embarrassed by it. He cut $150 million to $160 million in funding," Eltife said.

In June, Perry line-item vetoed $154 million that had been budgeted to fund community college employees' health insurance benefits.

"If you are a community college board, you are looking at having to raise tuition or property taxes to make up for the funding cuts," Eltife said.

Keith Honey, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, said it was refreshing to have the senator as the group's guest speaker.

"If there is anyone here who does not know where he stands on issues, it's your fault," he said.

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