Sen. Lucio proposes measures to help distressed communities in Texas
AUSTIN, TX -- Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., (D-Brownsville) announced the filing of Senate Bill 964 and Senate Joint Resolution 27 which codify reforms developed by the Texas Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade (IRT) in its 2004 Legislative Interim Report relating to water and wastewater funds available to distressed communities.
"As Chair of IRT, I filed these two far-reaching measures to address the serious critical needs of distressed communities throughout the State of Texas and to strengthen the Economically Distressed Areas Program (EDAP)," Sen. Lucio said.
During the 79th Legislative Interim, the IRT Committee was charged by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst to "study and make recommendations for improving colonias infrastructure, including water services, wastewater services and transportation infrastructure. All recommendations should include an analysis of cost-effective alternatives for achieving results and an assessment of current efforts to improve infrastructure."
IRT was also directed to "monitor the distribution of funds from the North American Development Bank and the Border Environment Cooperation Commission. . . The Committee should make recommendations for efficient use, tracking, and leveraging of funds and for effective coordination of state policies relating to the Border region."
"I want to thank Lt. Governor Dewhurst for affording IRT an opportunity to study the needs of distressed communities," said Sen. Lucio.
"Unfortunately, our research clearly indicates that the original $250 million that the state authorized more than 10 years ago to fund EDAP is all but dried up. The basic infrastructure needs of our distressed communities are made worse by the federal government decreasing the amount of funding from historical levels for the Border Environment Infrastructure Fund," said Sen. Lucio.
The Executive Administrator, Mr. Kevin Ward, of the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) echoed Chair Lucio's assessment of unmet infrastructure needs when he stated, "I previously testified before Senator Lucio's Committee and identified $4.6 billion in unmet water and wastewater infrastructure needs in economically distressed areas statewide. Sen. Lucio's proposed legislation and constitutional amendment undertakes the effort to address these needs."
"This means that our distressed communities need for Texas to step up to the plate and address their unmet water/wastewater needs," said Sen. Lucio. "Texas has become the Lone Star State when it comes to addressing the increasing water and wastewater needs of our distressed communities and I want to thank Lt. Governor Dewhurst for the foresight of allowing IRT the opportunity to address this critical shortage of funds and allowing the voters of Texas to help themselves through a constitutional referendum," said Sen. Lucio.
TWDB Chair, Mr. Rod Pittman, echoed Sen. Lucio's comments when he indicated that "Securing the water supply and wastewater systems needs of Texas is a long-term investment that benefits the health and safety of its people and strengthens the economy of this state. The bills sponsored by Sen. Lucio will let Texas voters stand up and state that providing these basic services to all citizens of this state is a priority."
Mr. Jack Hunt, TWDB Vice Chair, commented on the need for SB 964 and SJR 37. He stated "In my seven years on the Texas Water Development Board, I have learned that the needs that exist on the border in colonias exist throughout the state. The legislation proposed by Sen. Lucio mirrors the priorities of the TWDB to address the unmet needs of economically distressed areas statewide."
SB 964 and SJR 27 incorporate the following recommendations from the IRT 2004 Interim Report.
Colonia-Related Recommendations Recognizing the serious critical needs of distressed communities, with the understanding that the federal government has reduced the level of Border Environment Infrastructure Funds, in an effort to improve the infrastructure of economically distressed regions in a comprehensive, cost-effective manner, the members of the IRT Committee recommend that the State increase the quality of life of the most needy Texans by:
- Addressing the shortfall of federal water and wastewater funds by more aggressively supplying the needed resources for distressed communities by enhancing, strengthening and refinancing Texas' Economically Distressed Areas Program (EDAP).
- Provide Texans the opportunity to approve the issuance of $430 million to $500 million in enhanced EDAP II Bonds.
- Provide that half of the funds of the enhanced EDAP II program be used for traditional EDAP communities and the other half be used for non-EDAP distressed communities in Texas.
- Provide a mechanism by which to support the issuance of bonds by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). Accordingly, provide TWDB the necessary additional bonding authority and rule-making authority to make the most of the enhanced EDAP II Bonds through grants and low-interest loans.
- Simplifying and standardizing the enhanced EDAP II program's statutory county eligibility determination by ensuring certainty in program eligibility requirements, using the guidelines of the Colonia Wastewater Treatment Assistance Program (which was set up by the federal government to complement Texas' EDAP program). In doing so, the state would eliminate the negative impact of changing county guidelines, which have varied year-by-year and have hampered TWDB's ability of identifying potential applicants. Such a reform would also mirror the program eligibility criteria of the federal Border Environment Infrastructure Fund, as determined by the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC) and the North American Development Bank (NADB) (based on the "La Paz" International Agreement, a bilateral agreement between the United States and Mexico, 32 Texas Border Counties) thus arriving at greater consistency between state and federal water/wastewater programs.
- Simplifying the income eligibility criteria and streamlining application requirements of the enhanced EDAP II program by changing the current EDAP per capita income requirements for a project area to reflect median household income, which is the standard used by three TWDB disadvantaged community programs (Drinking Water State Revolving Fund-Disadvantaged Communities program, Clean Water State Revolving Fund-Disadvantaged Communities program, and the Small Community Hardship program). This reform would provide greater access to the program for all communities and would be more readily verifiable since U.S. Census data is provided in median household income.
- Increasing the effectiveness of the enhanced EDAP II program by assisting Texas communities curtail the proliferation of future colonias, by continuing to require the adoption of the Model Subdivision Rules for communities/counties participating in the expanded EDAP program. This program eligibility requirement has been noted in a federal study as a means to ensure that colonias development does not spread.
- Provide needed corresponding resources for the enforcement of rules.
- Addressing the current lack of capacity in distressed communities to meet all program requirements by supplying the necessary managerial and technical resources needed to build capacity. Strengthen available resources to communities through TWDB in the form of additional field personnel and associated expenses to assist in the building of capacity by providing financial, managerial and technical assessments, training and follow-up assistance.