Friday, March 07, 2008

"This (the I-69/TTC) is something we never dreamed of, thought about, or wanted."

McReynolds: Expect legislative fireworks over I-69/TTC

March 07, 2008

The Lufkin Daily News
Copyright 2008

State Representative Jim McReynolds previewed the 2009 legislative session at Friday's First Friday Chamber luncheon, with the hot topics going into the biennial madhouse listed as the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor, the growing issue of water supply, and the battle over the top 10 percent rule that allows Texas high school students to be admitted to any state college if they graduate in the top 10 percent of their class.

According to McReynolds, the legislators are "not too happy" with the Texas Department of Transportation, which has been under fire for its proposed I-69/TTC plans.

"This (the I-69/TTC) is something we never dreamed of, thought about, or wanted," McReynolds said. "I have attended all the meetings in my district, and I have not heard a single person that spoke in favor of it."

McReynolds also noted that TxDOT has hired five lobbyists, an act that agencies are restricted from doing. Phillip Russell, assistant executive director of innovative project development for TxDOT, did comment late last month that the project "can be stopped," and that he believes the state transportation agency will build additional lanes on U.S. 59 instead of the huge superhighway. TxDOT will have a showdown with the state legislature next January, according to McReynolds.

"They will get their time in January of 2009," McReynolds said. "Be looking out, because there may be some explosions."

While McReynolds clearly respected the negative opinion of the project, he urged people not to take out their frustrations on local TxDOT employees.

"People are really upset about this; there were basically tractors with 'come and take it' signs on them," McReynolds said. "But don't get after the local employees because they work very hard for us, and this was not their idea."

Another issue that McReynolds discussed was the increase in importance of water rights. Last year McReynolds and other legislators fought off a bill that would have given Harris County and Houston's large population rights to water from the Neches River. The American Rivers conservation organization listed the Neches on its list of top endangered rivers in the country, due to the battle over its future.

"They tried to claim senior right, which is oldest right, to the river, but we fought them; and we know we are going to have to fight them again next year," McReynolds said. "This is the same urban versus rural battle that we have always had, but now water is an enormous issue. The things they want to do with our water benefits them, not us. We can't let that happen."

Also an issue for legislators is the 10 percent rule. Texas high school students, no matter how big or small their graduating class is, can enroll in any state college by graduating in the top 10 percent. McReynolds has shown strong favor for this but says that he expects others to challenge the rule during the next legislative session.

"These schools were built by Texas taxpayers' dollars, and I think Texas kids should have the first drink," McReynolds said. "You shouldn't have to have a dad that makes six figures to attend schools that were built on our dollars."

Other subjects McReynolds touched on included prison systems, health care, and the economy.

"Our state economy is still hot; it is doing very well," McReynolds said. "While the housing market has become a major concern the country, it isn't as bad here; and Texas is No. 1 in the nation in job growth."

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