Perry wants to take lead on updating state facilities

(Editor’s Note: The Vernon Record will presenting weekly updates on issues related to Wilbarger County throughout the current legislative session.)
Problem solving.
That’s the theme State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, kept coming back to while discussing the upcoming 86th Texas Legislative Session, which began Tuesday.
“I’m excited about where we are headed. I really think there’s going to be a focus on the ‘big stuff,’” he said. “I think there’s a feeling that this is the time to come together and govern and fix some situations that won’t get better without attention.”
Four issues Perry said he hoped to lead on are a state flood plan, updating state facilities, shoring up the Texas Retirement System (TRS) and water supply development.
Perry said while we can’t prevent the next Hurricane Harvey, the state can be better prepared to prevent widespread damage. He also said that by investing in state facilities and parks, especially in rural areas, we can bring them up to date and help ensure their longevity.
He’s also working on a 16-year plan that would shore up TRS and plug the $48 million projected shortfall.
“I think the attitude is there to spend some money to fix some big problems,” he said.
But Perry said he knows legislators will also be tackling property tax and school finance reform, as well as roads and bridges – while seeking to fairly address the different needs of urban and rural areas.
“It’s just going to get more intense,” he said of the urban versus rural challenge. “Property tax reform truly is a big city versus rural thing and rural school financing is always a challenge. The devil’s in the details and it can get tricky if we’re not careful.”
Perry said it might take a special session, but he did not think that legislators would leave Austin without an agreement on property tax reform.
“I don’t know what it will look like, but I know for a fact we will have it,” he said. “There’s a call for it. As we go around and visit with people in our districts, that’s what we’re hearing.”
He predicted that there will be a change in the process for calling for a rollback election, but acknowledged that because rural counties and other taxing entities are each so unique, it will be a challenge to develop a universal approach.
He said school finance reform faces a similar challenge, but that there is a real desire to eliminate the Robin Hood system of “property rich” districts sending money to the state.
“There’s an earnest desire to fix Robin Hood,” he said. “But you can’t fix Robin Hood without money. I don’t know where that money comes from without raising taxes, but you can’t fix Robin Hood without absolutely raising more revenue.”
Perry said that for the first time in his 10 years as a state elected official he senses there is a desire to actually reform school finance.
“For the first time we’re having an honest debate,” he said. “It’s long overdue and it’s refreshing.”
He said that while school vouchers don’t seem to be at the top of many legislators’ radars, he thought the issue would come up during the session. He said vouchers make sense in some areas, but not for rural school districts.
“The November election proved that you don’t win in Texas if you don’t win in West Texas. That didn’t go unnoticed. We have some power,” he said.
Perry said there will be an ongoing effort to help improve the condition and safety of Texas roads and highways.
“The number one job of TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) is safety. The growing oilfield activity has heightened sensitivity to that,” he said.
He credited several of this region’s TxDOT offices for working together to deal with issues unique to West Texas.
“Funding is a priority,” he said of the legislature’s role in improving highway safety. “Number two is education. The low unemployment rate doesn’t create a pipeline system of trained drivers. DPS (Department of Public Safety) is working to slow people down and making sure they’re licensed. We’ve got to hold the line on weight limits on trucks. Our roads can’t take it and the heavier weights are a safety factor.”
He said there was a growing awareness of the issue and he said the legislature would focus on finding the best policies for improving road safety.
The 140-day 86th Legislative Session began Jan. 8, 2019 and ends on May 27, 2019.

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