Last week, on the first day of the 83rd Legislative Session, we highlighted some of the priorities of the first four (in alphabetical order) of our seven distinguished members of our Democratic delegation from Travis County. In case you missed that installment, here is the link. We asked each of our legislators to send us an example of one area of focus, and we posted the excellent responses from Representatives Dawnna Dukes, Donna Howard, Elliott Naishtat and Eddie Rodriguez.
Now one week into the Session, with Republicans talking about tax cuts instead of using an existing surplus to restore the slashed budgets for education and other social services from 2011, we have the rest of our Democratic champions — Representative Mark Strama and Senators Kirk Watson and Judith Zaffirini. Travis County is proudly blue, and we know our legislative delegation is fighting for us. We thank them!
Representative Mark Strama (Dist. 50)
The power of redistricting resides with the Texas Legislature. Strama says the current redistricting process — conducted by politicians who have an inherent self-interest in the outcome — inevitably yields a contentious, partisan fight that takes up time that should be dedicated to the critical policy issues facing the people of Texas. Even worse, he says, protecting incumbents has led to the creation of districts that are stacked to favor one party or the other, resulting in an increasingly partisan Legislature that fails to represent the moderate beliefs held by most Texans. Strama says House Bill 145 and House Joint Resolution 38 would give voters the chance to take the power of redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature and give it to an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission. Though no redistricting process is completely problem-free, an independent commission would allow voters to choose their political leaders, rather than allowing politicians to choose their voters.
Senator Kirk Watson (Dist. 14)
As he always says, Senator Watson loves Texas, but he also thinks that, in many ways, Texas can do better for its people and its future. One of those areas is how the state spends taxpayers’ money. Watson intends to build this session on past successes in making state government more honest, open and accountable. He will continue the work he has done through multiple sessions to stop wholesale diversions of dedicated state funds. The state continues to collect money that is meant for dedicated purposes, such as parks and trauma care, and then divert it to other things. The total for such diversions in the current budget is about $5 billion. While it’s been acknowledged that Watson has been right on this issue, some continue to fight the change he seeks. He promises to keep on working to ensure that ending diversions will be a top priority.
Senator Judith Zaffirini (Dist. 21)
Redistricting brought Zaffirini into a portion of Travis County. She may be new to Central Texas, but she’s not new to the Senate or to the fight for higher education. Her Senate Bill 26 would authorize universities to issue tuition revenue bonds (TRBs) to fund critical capital projects, such as libraries, student resource centers, classrooms and laboratories. Traditionally passed by the Legislature every four years, the last TRBs were authorized in 2006. The incredible growth in enrollment in the state’s higher education system has placed tremendous strains on existing infrastructure and now necessitates new and renovated facilities. Projects will be submitted to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and scored on factors including need and benefit. The scores will be the basis for the bill to be debated.