WEEK IN REVIEW:
Perry Delivers State of the State; Air Quality Issues Take Center Stage
(AUSTIN) — Governor Rick Perry delivered his biannual State of the State Address Tuesday, January 27, saying the state's position remains strong, in spite of a nationwide economic crisis. Perry said Texas is doing well because of past policies of fiscal conservatism. " It was only six years ago when the 78th Legislature kicked off with a $10 billion budget shortfall," he said. "To our shared credit, we didn’t raise taxes like so many other states did then and are again contemplating today." Instead, he said, the Legislature cut spending, reformed tort laws, and created pro-business development funds, which he asserts have maintained a unique business friendly atmosphere in Texas. It is this atmosphere, if maintained, Perry told lawmakers, that will attract businesses from other states where governments raise taxes or tighten regulation to get a handle on their own budget problems.
Perry also focused on education, energy and security in his speech. He proposed a law to keep tuition at the same rate for an incoming freshman for his or her entire college career, provided he or she graduates in four years. He advocated more money for the Texas Grants program, and in-state tuition rates for military veterans from any state. Energy-wise, Perry said he wants to continue expanding the state's energy portfolio, especially nuclear and wind power, and wants to increase transmission capacity to move electricity across Texas. Perry also proposed a $32 million increase in funds to border law enforcement efforts, to help officers cope with increased gang violence in the area, and the creation of a state hurricane relief fund, to reduce Texas' reliance on federal aid to feed and shelter hurricane victims.
Also this week, Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston filed Senate Bill 119 that would have Texas adopt California's vehicle emissions standards. States have a choice, under the federal Clean Air Act, of using California's or the laxer federal emissions standards, and Ellis wants Texas to join with 12 other states in adopting the stricter standard. "It makes it incumbent on us in Texas, to be leaders in having a greener economy and doing as much as we can to reduce the number of greenhouse emissions that go into the air," he said. Under a new California standard, if approved by the EPA, new vehicles sold in Texas would have to emit nearly a third less carbon dioxide by 2016.
Thursday, the Capitol hosted events that highlighted public health and environmental issues. Proponents of a public smoking ban held a rally on the Capitol grounds, in support of legislation to make it illegal to smoke in any public place, including bars and restaurants. Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair Senator Jane Nelson wants Texas to join 24 other states in passing such a ban. "If Texans want to smoke," she said, "they can do so. But the rest of us should have the freedom to breathe in oxygen without inhaling secondhand smoke." Legislators were joined at the rally by famous cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.
Senator Kip Averitt of Waco held a press conference to announce the filing of a comprehensive bill to improve air quality in Texas. Averitt, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said the state has made progress in improving air quality, but tightening federal air standards mean more work has to be done. His bill would create a grant program to encourage the private sector to develop new efficient and environmentally sound technology, especially for stationary emission sources, such as power plants. It would also create a grant program to encourage businesses to install energy efficient appliances, and would offer a $4000 tax credit to those who buy a plug-in hybrid vehicle. Averitt said the cost of this bill is already covered by fund balances in the Texas Emission Reduction Plan, and in expected appropriations for this biennium.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 2, at 1:30 p.m.