Nichols answers common questions about Texas government
As I travel across Senate District 3, people often ask me questions. My favorite was from an elementary school boy who asked if I knew George Washington. I'm sure to that kid, I did seem as old as the first president.
Some questions are asked over and over again. These are important questions about the nature of state government and the future of Texas. As a reader of this column you are probably curious about the same things. In this month's column I am going to answer the top five questions I hear from people in Senate District 3. I hope you find the answers helpful, but if you don't see your question here please feel free to call or write my office.
1. Is the Trans Texas Corridor really dead? Many Texans were relieved to hear the Texas Department of Transportation would not be building the Trans Texas Corridor. However, some wondered if the plan was really cancelled or simply delayed. I can reassure you the Trans Texas Corridor is not just temporarily gone but has been buried six feet deep. Not only has the Texas Department of Transportation cancelled the project, but last session legislators repealed the body of law that even made the project possible. There are absolutely no plans to revive the Trans Texas Corridor.
2. Wasn't the lottery supposed to fix our problems with education funding? Recent record-breaking jackpots created a renewed interest in the state lottery and with that a renewed interest in how lottery money funds education. In 2010, the lottery had about $3.74 billion in sales. After subtracting prize money, administrative costs, retailer costs, and a small amount for the Texas Veterans Commission, education received about $1 billion. While this money helps fund education, it is only a small part of the $25 billion the state will spend on education this year.
3. What is the state doing about illegal immigration? While immigration is ultimately a federal issue, Texas cannot afford to wait for Washington to take action. As a state we are spending more than $100 million a year to increase security at the Texas border, have tightened controls on state identification cards, and passed legislation requiring voters to present photo identification as a way to help guarantee only citizens cast a ballot. More work still needs to be done. I continue to support legislation outlawing sanctuary cities in Texas.
4. How big is the district you represent? In 2011, state and house seats were redistricted to reflect population changes reported in the 2010 Census. Senate District 3 went from 16 counties to 19. While some senators in population-dense areas represent an area you can view from a tall building, Senate District 3 is more than 16,000 square miles. That is bigger than nine states and the equivalent of 16 Rhode Islands. It has a population of more than 840,000 people and more than 100 school districts.
5. Why does the Texas Legislature only meet every other year, and why don't legislators meet more often? In their wisdom, Texas' founders had a strong suspicion of government and did not want a centralized power with too much authority. The Texas Constitution is particularly long and complex because our state's forefathers did not want the state to have any powers that were not expressly spelled out. In that spirit, they only called on the Legislature to meet every odd year for just 140 days. Not only did this limit the time legislators could create new laws, it also allowed for elected officials to be citizen legislators. Because Texas senators and representatives do not live and work in Austin full time, they stay close with the people in their district where they live and work. Also, because legislators work in other professions besides lawmaker, they better understand the challenges and pressures faced by Texas families and businesses. I believe this leads to better representation. Legislative committees meet during the interim to study issues before the legislative session.