Senator Carona's Email Update
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November 2, 2007

What's New . . .

The University Interscholastic League is still in the process of implementing SB 8, which the Legislature passed last session to require random steroid testing of high school athletes. The Legislature appropriated $3 million to test up to 25,000 students annually, and at this point, 14 companies have bid to run the program for the state. Although no timeline has been developed to award the contract, the UIL plans to have a public comment period between 14-21 days. It is unlikely that the program will be implemented before the end of football season; however, the UIL plans to have the program running sometime during the current school year as SB 8 requires.

After extensive negotiations, Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, and House Speaker Tom Craddick have come to an agreement to restore the $154 million in community college funding that Governor Perry vetoed earlier this summer. Governor Perry has previously explained that he vetoed the funding because the community colleges did not use the correct formula in calculating the portion of state funding for community college budgets, specifically with regard to the state's share of health benefits. Under the terms of the agreement, the state will allocate $99 million for its share of health benefits and make a one-time payment of $55 million. The agreement also calls for the state to study the development of an incentive program for community colleges. The funds will be allocated by the Legislative Budget Board through a combination of budget execution or other existing transfer authority by September 1, 2008. The restoration will mean an additional $15.4 million for the Dallas County Community College District.

In October, it was announced that retired teachers will receive a 13th check, which will be paid sometime in January. Approximately 250,000 retired teachers will receive the supplemental check. The extra check is possible because the state increased its contribution rate to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) fund and increased investment returns to the TRS fund. I would like to emphasize that the payment of a 13th check does not require an increase in TRS contributions by active teachers. The average monthly pension check was $1,800 last year; the amount of the 13th check is capped at $2,400.

Also in October, Governor Perry named Robert Scott Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency. Prior to the announcement, Commissioner Scott had served as Interim Commissioner and was Chief Deputy Commissioner under the previous Commissioner, Dr. Shirley Neeley. He has also served as Governor Perry's education advisor and worked in the Texas Senate and the United States Congress. Commissioner Scott has indicated his initial goals at the agency will be to implement legislation passed during the 80th Legislative Session and restructure the growing agency.

Following the passage of HB 3430 during the most recent legislative session, the Comptroller expanded her agency's website to allow Texans to view detailed information on all the state's expenditures. To view the new section, "Where the Money Goes" click here.

Focus. . .

For this month's Focus, I would like to highlight the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA), which currently operates over 50 miles of toll roads in the Metroplex and has a workforce of over 700 employees. The NTTA is a spin-off of what was originally established in 1953 as the "Texas Turnpike Authority," a state agency. In 1997, the Legislature created the NTTA and transferred the assets and liabilities of the Texas Turnpike Authority to the new entity. The NTTA works to improve the mobility of the North Texas region.

NTTA covers Collin, Dallas, Denton, and Tarrant counties and is governed by a nine-member board of directors. Each of these four counties appoints two members to the board and the Governor appoints one member from a county adjacent to the four-county service area. Elected officials cannot serve as board members. To ensure continuity among the board, the members serve staggered two-year terms. The NTTA's operation is funded through revenue collected from tolls. To leverage these funds, NTTA may issue turnpike revenue bonds, which are repaid with toll revenue.

As the Texas Turnpike Authority, the organization opened several major roads such as the Dallas North Tollway and its extensions. Under the leadership of the NTTA, several new roads have been financed, designed, and constructed such as the President George Bush Turnpike (segments I-V), along with the Addison Airport toll road, the Mountain Creek Lake Bridge, and the State Highway 121 interchange with the Dallas North Tollway. You can find an interactive map of NTTA roadways, which allows you to find the fastest routes along with detailed toll information on their website. Under SB 792, which the Legislature passed this past session, the NTTA will have the right of first refusal for several upcoming toll projects in North Texas and was recently awarded the right to construct and operate State Highway 121. Additionally, NTTA has many other projects planned throughout the Metroplex. For detailed information on these projects click here.

NTTA's website has a wide variety of customer service features. You can apply for a toll-tag, which is an electronic tag linked to an individual's account that automatically debits toll charges from that account each time one goes through a toll station. When using a toll-tag one does not have to stop to pay the toll and the toll rate is slightly discounted, and you can use your toll-tag on any toll road in Texas. The website also allows you to manage your account and pay any violations. And, if you like, you can also sign up for NTTA's e-newsletter, which has a wealth of information on the status of NTTA projects and other information regarding NTTA.

Did You Know . . . ?

Comptroller Susan Combs published the annual Unclaimed Property List this past October. Examples of unclaimed property include dormant back accounts, forgotten utility deposits, old uncashed checks, unclaimed investment income, securities, and family heirlooms from abandoned safe deposit boxes. In fiscal year 2007, the Comptroller returned approximately $119 million in unclaimed property to its rightful owners. For more information you can visit the unclaimed property website. You may also call 800-654-3463 to speak to a customer service representative.

Student Opportunity . . .

I would like to remind you that the Texas Commission on the Arts is now accepting applications for its Young Masters Scholarship Program. The program provides art students in grades 8-12 financial assistance to pursue advanced study in visual art, literature, music, theatre, and dance; however, the program is not a college scholarship. Those selected will receive the title Young Master and a scholarship in the amount of $2,500, renewable up to three years. You may apply at the Texas Commission on the Arts website or call 512-936-6564. Applications must be postmarked by November 15, 2007.

In Closing . . .

If you have not taken advantage of early voting on the Proposed Constitutional Amendments, please remember to vote at your precinct polling location on election day, November 6th. To assist you with your voting, you can view an analysis of the Proposed Constitutional Amendments online.


John Carona
State Senator - District 16

Capitol OfficeDistrict Offices
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, TX 78711
512-463-3135 (fax)
8080 N. Central Expy.
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
214-378-5739 (fax)
5401 N. Central Expy.
Suite 300
Dallas, TX 75205
214-953-1886 (fax)