My five cents...
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I am thankful for many things. As Veterans Day approaches, I am grateful to the men and women who have made many sacrifices to help defend our freedom. I am also thankful that while our federal government was shut down, your state government was still hard at work for the people of Texas.
During this last month, I submitted ideas for issues to be studied during the interim to the Lieutenant Governor. I wanted to share some of these suggestions with you, as those that are chosen could potentially lead to legislation during the 84th Legislature.
1. Additional Revenue For Transportation
In Texas, the state fuel tax, federal fuel tax and vehicle registration fees provide the primary source of highway funding. However, these fees have remained constant over the last two decades while population has increased. As vehicles have become more fuel efficient, these revenues are paying for less. Though the legislature has authorized close to $20 billion in transportation related debt over the past years to cover the cost of construction and maintenance for highways due to a shortage of funding, this cannot continue.
The Texas Department of Transportation needs at least $4 billion a year in additional revenue to maintain existing roads at current levels of road condition and congestion. While voters will have an opportunity to address about 25 percent of this problem in November 2014 by supporting Proposition 1, we must identify additional revenue to address our current and future needs that is predictable, transportation related and constitutionally protected.
2. Access To Reliable Electric Generation
We have all experienced the hot days of summer, where the sound of the air conditioner struggling to keep our homes cool is a constant companion. During those times it's hard to overstate the importance of a reliable electric system in our state. Every day approximately 1,200 new people move to Texas. Combine this with the fact the average family of four consumes about 1,000 kwH of electricity each month and it's not hard to understand with the increase in demand and the closing of older generators, we need to find ways to implement a proper infrastructure to ensure every person and business in Texas has access to reliable electricity.
3. New Resources For Medically Underserved Rural Areas
Lack of medical resources in rural areas has long been a problem in Texas. While incentive programs currently exist to bring doctors to rural and underserved areas which have limited access to healthcare, there is still an unmet demand. This issue is further complicated when hospitals have to close their doors due to lack of funding, or costly regulations become too burdensome. We need to examine our current programs and how they are funded, as well as what incentives are being offered to doctors to practice in these communities to ensure they are operating as they should.
4. Overregulating Our Natural Resources and Businesses
Sometimes laws are passed that have good intentions, but later create unintended consequences. This can unfortunately be the case when it comes to environmental regulations and permitting procedures. We often need to go back and ensure the laws are actually doing what they were intended to do, and have not created undue hardships for those who must follow them.
For example, I have asked the Lt. Governor to examine what federal and state environmental regulations may hinder economic growth and industry. Many East Texans are familiar with the addition of the Texas golden gladecress and Neches River rose-mallow to the endangered and threatened species listing. This is one instance in which new construction of water reservoirs, timber operations and other industries which create jobs for our communities can be impacted by these regulations. We must ensure we address any issues that may generate barriers to job creation in Texas while maintaining a quality environment.
5. NASA Aerospace Scholars
NASA's Johnson Space Center has announced the 15th year of Texas High School Aerospace Scholars. Those selected will utilize their math and science skills by completing various Web-based assignments throughout the school year, and then travel to the Johnson Space Center in Houston during the summer to work alongside their peers, NASA scientists and engineers to explore opportunities to send people back to the moon, Mars and beyond.
High school juniors who are U.S. citizens and Texas residents must submit their applications by the deadline of November 15, 2013. More information and applications for this exciting program are available at http://HAS.aerospacescholars.org.