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Legislature to reconsider funding for state water plan

By by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Dec. 30, 2012 at 6:30 a.m.
Updated Dec. 31, 2012 at 6:31 a.m.

16 x9 legislative session

New legislation for Eagle Ford Shale

The Eagle Ford Shale has brought prosperity to DeWitt County, but many of the oil-field trucks have been wreaking havoc on county roads, while some of the tax money from the oil boom has been flowing into state coffers instead of the county it originated from.

When the legislative session convenes, DeWitt County Judge Daryl Fowler and the other members of the County Judges and Commissioner Association of Texas will be looking for representatives to sponsor legislation to make some changes, Fowler said.

They are hoping to find representatives to sponsor legislation that will re-allocate the severance tax - a tax when nonrenewable natural resources are removed - away from the rainy day fund back to the counties of origin, Fowler said.

They will also be looking to amend the property tax code, creating a definition for new minerals under the ground and giving them taxable characteristics just as is done for above-ground projects like building a new Wal-Mart or a new plant, Fowler said.

"There's a real problem in the tax code in that when we calculate our tax rate we are given some relief on increasing property values for above-ground structures, but there's no definition for minerals, so, at the precise time oil and gas are on our tax roles, they are lowering our rate and putting us in a bad position on the revenue side," Fowler said.

Neither of these bills have been filed, but Fowler said the association's lawyer, Jim Allison, will be watching the committee assignments to see who might sponsor the legislation.

In the wake of one of the worst recorded droughts in Texas history, water has become an issue that officials from water authorities and city governments are keeping a sharp eye on.

When the 83rd Texas Legislature convenes Jan. 8, funding for the state water plan will be looked at again in House Bill 227, filed by District 122 Representative Lyle Larson.

"The issue of financing has been kicked around for the last several sessions," Bill West, general manager of the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, said. "I think because of the impact of the 2011 drought that there's a collective mindset in the legislature that something has to be done."

The bill proposes to take about $1 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the rainy day fund, and allow regional entities to use that money to repair and improve their water infrastructure, Jerry James, director of intergovernmental services for the city of Victoria, said.

The infrastructure has been in need of improvement for a long time as the state's population has grown, putting more pressure on the water supply. However, a debate over who would actually pay for the regional improvements has kept the plans from getting funded.

The money from the rainy day fund will be given to regional entities, but it would be a loan that will be repaid.

"There are some key regional areas that desperately need water, and there should be means to help provide seed money to help develop those projects," West said.

James and West have been working with state government officials trying to design the funding and qualification process. West said he's fairly confident they'll get some legislation in place during this session.

"We have these statewide infrastructure needs, but Abilene doesn't want to pay for Dallas, and I don't want Victoria paying for San Antonio," James said. "With the economic prosperity we've had in the last couple of years, it has made some of this type of funding available."

More than 6,000 bills will be filed with the Legislature, James said, and he'll be watching all of them for things that could impact the water supply and other concerns of Victoria.

"We're going to look at what the state will do with funding," James said. "A lot of things have happened in the past two years. We went through a lot of changes with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Edwards Aquifer, and I think we'd like to see those changes work themselves through for a while."

Going into the session, James said the officials will be watching to make sure there isn't any legislation introduced that will undo what they have spent so much time working on.

"Sometimes, you go into the session in defensive mode, and that's where we're at with the Edwards Aquifer and environmental flows," James said. "We want to give these things time to develop."

Other legislative preview stories:

Cities to watch for unfunded mandates in 2013 session

Entertainment, downtown groups expect little change in legislative session

Officials say 2-1-1 help line funding vital

Texas Senate to consider law that bans texting and driving

Proposed bill could shake up criminal court procedure

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