Primary election campaigns are under way, and the GOP race for District 128 is generating most of the buzz. Incumbent state Rep. Briscoe Cain is facing a spirited challenge from Baytown councilman Bob Hoskins.
The rapid economic growth in this area is producing some growing pains. Voters should harangue both candidates for answers on a variety of issues.
First, what do they plan to do about the Interstate 10 bridge over the San Jacinto River? It just isn’t enough to ask TxDOT to consider a new or wider bridge. TxDOT is not flush with funds for new projects, and much of their existing money is already earmarked for other projects.
The state gasoline tax has been stuck at 20 cents per gallon since the 1990s. If you adjust for inflation, it only brings in half as much money as it did in the late 20th century, but the state continues to add people, cars, and trucks.
The increasing use of toll roads is a direct result of the state’s unwillingness to raise gasoline taxes to pay for new road projects. The Highway 99 connection to the Grand Parkway is just the latest example of toll-funded projects in this area.
Second, do the candidates support the Ike Dike? Hurricane Harvey has raised concerns about flood control, and the state and county are moving in the right direction, but don’t forget about 2008.
If Hurricane Ike turned a bit and hit Galveston Bay directly, that could have led to catastrophic flooding of the petro-chemical facilities along the ship channel.
County, state and federal government planners have been kicking around the idea of building a dike across the bay to protect the area from storm surges, but no one wants to pay for it.
Third, how do they plan to fund public schools in the future? In the 2019 session, state lawmakers cut school property taxes significantly. To make up for the local revenue loss, the state upped their share of school funding by several billion dollars.
No complaints about that, but the state used surplus budget dollars to pay for the property tax cut. There is no dedicated source of revenue to pay for these property tax cuts beyond 2021.
If the state economy slows down and tax surpluses dry up, where will they find the money? Will good economic times last forever?
Fourth, what do they plan to do about increasing pollution? Over the last few decades, the quality of the air and water in the community has gradually improved, but pollution levels have shot up recently.
Involuntary or accidental releases have gone up a lot, so much so that it is getting harder to believe that all of the releases are accidental.
No doubt both candidates will promise to increase funding for TCEQ to pay for improved air monitoring, but that misses the broader point.
Is either candidate willing to strengthen the regulatory power of TCEQ? The state’s top environmental cop does not have a sterling reputation for protecting public health. It sees its role as a protector of industry.
As long as the TCEQ is a toothless agency, more air sensors are not going to solve the problem, especially when industry knows it will not be held accountable for releases.
Press the candidates on these issues, and don’t let up.
Dr. Steve Showalter is a government professor at Lee College in Baytown.