Clearing up rumors and setting the record straight was high on the priority list for the town hall meeting held last week as state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie addressed a modest crowd at the library meeting room.
“I know many of you have heard we didn’t do much this session and that some of us were the reason that things didn’t get accomplished, so I’d like to take the time to clear some of those issues up,” Pitts said.
One of the issues Pitts said he was proud to talk about was the decrease in property taxes, caused by using about $14 billion of state funds to help bring the cost down for property owners.
“This is something we felt was important and when you look at your property tax bills, I hope our efforts are noticeable,” he said.
Moving on to public education, Pitts was clear on his stand on the TAKS test.
“We spent a lot of time on this issue and came up with what we think is a better system. The TAKS test will be abolished in favor of an end of the course exam by 2011-2012. It may take an additional session to tweak the system and adjust areas the need attention,” he said.
Several retired teachers were at the meeting and were particularly interested in the efforts made to increase their rate of pay after not seeing an increase in the past five years.
“The problem has been that the system was not actuarially sound and the board cannot increase the annuity until it is, but that could happen as early as next year and when it does, the board can go ahead with the increase instead of waiting for the legislature to approve it,” Pitts said.
The issue of abuse allegations regarding the Texas Youth Commission was a concern for Pitts as he explained the steps that have been taken to improve the situation.
“Obviously we had a very unfortunate situation there, but we have cleaned house and appointed a completely new board to try and move in the right direction. We want to focus more on rehabilitating these kids and not just shoving them in detention centers and forgetting about them,” he said.
An ongoing issue that Pitts felt didn’t get the attention he had hoped for is border security.
“There were bills filed that didn’t see the light of day,” he said.
The lawmakers did secure $100 million to help sheriff’s agencies along the border fight the war on drugs and stop the frequency at which they enter the U.S.
Other issues covered were:
Transportation issues, especially those dealing with the Trans Texas Corridor, remained unsettled as law makers passed several bills only to have them vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry.
“What we had asked for was a moratorium to see if the issue could be handled differently. We didn’t ask to stop the progress, but put it on hold while we looked into it further. TxDOT and the governor’s office do not acknowledge there is actually a moratorium in place, but we think otherwise,” he said.
Several clean air and water bills were passed, including one sponsored by Sen. Kip Averitt, who is pushing to help the environment by getting older model cars off of the roads. The program will see the state purchasing those vehicles from owners to help them purchase newer cars that have less of an impact on the environment.
Lawmakers took several historical sites that previously had been under the State Parks care and gave them to the state Historical Commission for upkeep and care. Funds to help with these projects were also given.
The one issue Pitts said he was most upset about was a bill vetoed by Gov. Perry to help with funding for local community colleges that may see the institutions look to tuition hikes or an increase in fees to help make up for the loss. Pitts said that he has spoken with the education commissioner to help find a way to make up for those lost funds and is hoping for a prompt response from the commissioner and other lawmakers to address the issue.