Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sen. Hegar: "If you want to make changes in TxDOT, now is the time."

Visiting State Senator addresses Corridor concerns, college funds


El Campo Leader-News
Copyright 2007

While still staunch in his opposition to the Trans Texas Corridor, District 18 State Senator Glenn Hegar said the proposal has started a dialogue important to the state's transportation future.

Hegar offered his opinions on transportation, junior college funding and a variety of other topics as the featured speaker at Wednesday's El Campo Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture Legislative Luncheon, held at the El Campo Country Club.

In his presentation, Hegar described the efforts taken by the legislature to pass the public/private moratorium on toll road construction for the next two years. After Gov. Rick Perry initially vetoed the measure, he said, the legislature still had enough time to pass the bill to stop such development for the next two years.

He added the Texas Department of Transportation is currently going through a sunset review, which the senator said happens every 12 years.
"The review is used to decide if an agency should continue, needs to be abolished or combined with another agency. If you want to make changes in TxDOT, now is the time."

Among the discussions is if public/ private toll road projects should come under the jurisdiction of TxDOT or local transportation authorities. Hegar said the question impacts his district indirectly since two of his counties border Travis County and another three touch Harris County.

Following the luncheon, Hegar explained more of the state's transportation needs.

The biggest challenge facing TxDOT is funding issues, he said, particularly relating to the continued growth in the state's population, which is expected to increase from the current 24 million to 40 million by 2040.

"We have a funding problem in that we have money to maintain the state's current road system, but we don't have the funds to add capacity," he said.

"And we're looking at a real funding problem in the future. While people don't like the idea of the Corridor, I think it has been beneficial in that it has state officials talking about future needs. Personally, I think most people want to see additional lanes of traffic added where needed; just not to the extent proposed by the Corridor project."

During the presentation, Hegar linked the transportation issue to eminent domain reform.

One reform package was vetoed by Perry in part because of a rider he added to a House Bill that would have required property owners receive more notice and fair value for condemned land, he said.

The rider he attached to the bill would have restored access rights that have been "eroded by the legislature and the courts" since 1995, Hegar said.

Under the proposal, the state would have to guarantee the same access to a property after condemnation as before.
"I equate it to the state using eminent domain to take control of your front door and denying us the use of it," he said. "They can say you get in and out through the window with no problem, but I see that as being diminished access."
In generally outlining the responsibilities of the Texas House and Senate, Hegar said the main accomplishment of each legislative session is approving the state budget.

"The number one job we do is to determine where your money - your tax dollars - go," he said.

Breaking it down, he said 47 percent goes to education, 26 percent to Medicaid, another 6 percent to other health care issues, 13 percent to transportation and economic development and 6 percent to criminal justice.

Of the funds themselves, he said the first third comes from the federal government with the remainder generated by the state.

Of those funds going to education, Wharton County Junior College will receive its share despite the Governor's funding veto of employee insurance, Hegar said.

"We're very close to getting it fixed for next year and not creating needless staff cuts, tuition increases or college district tax increases," he said.

"Taking any action that would negatively impact any of those would be directly opposed of the goals of the legislature to increase higher education in the state and hurt our efforts," he added. "We still have some problems to solve during the next legislative session, but my goal is to see the junior colleges in my district to get adequate funding so they don't have to struggle to maintain their operations."

He added if a resident of his district is having a problem, they should contact his office for assistance.

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