Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D., an associate professor of Spanish linguistics and chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literature at the University of Texas-Pan American, on Tuesday, July 17, was appointed by the Edinburg City Council to the board of directors of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. “Over the next few years, I would like to see the EEDC expand its efforts in attracting diverse business and industry to Edinburg and make our city full participants in the knowledge economy of the 21st century,” Martínez said. “UTPA, my alma mater and my current place of employment, gives Edinburg a competitive edge over other cities in the region to attract industries with large research enterprises. As a member of the board, I will work to ensure that UTPA and its vast knowledge resources become critical incentives to attract high-paying jobs to our city.” See story later in this posting.
While Mother Nature dropped up to six inches of rain in parts of the Upper Valley earlier that morning and tore rooftops from at least three McAllen businesses, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III and U.S. International Boundary and Water Commissioner Carlos Marín on Monday, July 16, executed the long-anticipated memorandum of understanding that will allow for the rehabilitation of several miles of federally-owned river levee. Featured, from left, seated, are: Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen; Salinas; and Marin. Standing, from left, are: Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview; Mission Mayor Beto Salinas; and Hidalgo County Commissioner Hector “Tito” Palacios, See story later in this posting.
Three South Texas legislators – Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg – say that federal money to build a controversial “border wall” along 153 miles of the international border with Mexico could be better spent on more pressing national security needs, including helping Texas fight illegal drug trafficking that spells heartache, ruin, and death for countless Americans. Their comments came on Thursday, July 19, during a legislative luncheon in Edinburg. Mayor Pro Tem Alma Garza, Gonzáles and Peña are featured, sitting, first, second and third from left, respectively, while Councilmember Noe Garza (no relation to Alma) is shown standing, first from left, while Hinojosa is shown standing, fourth from left. See first story in this posting.
Edinburg lawmakers say “border wall” doesn’t tackle real border security needs
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Three Hidalgo County state legislators say that federal money to build a controversial “border wall” along 153 miles of the international border with Mexico could be better spent on more pressing national security needs, including helping Texas fight illegal drug trafficking that spells heartache, ruin, and death for countless Americans.
“We do have a drug problem: the corridors that go from the border to Houston, San Antonio, Dallas – there is a huge amount of drugs that are going through here because of the (Mexican) drug cartels,” said Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. “The state has invested about $180 million to buy helicopters, equipment, communications for the border sheriffs. We are going to hire an additional 125 Department of Public Safety officers. We are doing our part in trying to make sure the public safety issue is addressed.”
Hinojosa, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, addressed the border fence controversy during their participation at a legislative luncheon on Thursday, July 19, at the ECHO. The legislative briefing was coordinated by the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council, and by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.
Meanwhile, federal officials were reportedly backpedaling from a story published in the Houston Chronicle last week, which stated that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said some work on the high-security fence – the “border wall” to its critics – could begin in Texas before September 30 of this year.
But on Saturday, July 21, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reported that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – the federal agency charged with building the border wall – “clarified” Chertoff’s remarks, contending that work on the planned fence will not begin until sometime in 2008.
The political battle revolves around plans by the federal government to build 700 miles of additional fortified fence to run through portions of the California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas borders with Mexico.
The so-called “border wall” is being promoted as a way to help curb illegal immigration into the U.S., and also help protect the nation from international terrorists trying to sneak into the nation.
Portions of the border wall would separate populated regions of Texas, including El Paso and Laredo, and moreso, the Lower Rio Grande Valley, from Mexico.
The plan – and ensuing confusion, intentions, and even secrecy surrounding the federal bureaucracy’s intentions – have drawn strong opposition from the Texas Border Coalition, an alliance of elected leaders and economic development officials representing more than two million Texans who live in the 11 counties that border Mexico.
TBC leaders include Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, who serves as its chairman; Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos; Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa; El Paso Mayor John Cook; El Paso County Attorney José R. Rodríguez, Hidalgo Mayor John David Franz; Laredo Mayor Raúl Salinas; Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas; Maverick County Judge José Pepe Aranda; McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz; Mission Mayor Norberto Salinas; Pharr Mayor Leopoldo Palacios, Jr; Rio Grande City Mayor Kevin Hiles; Roma Mayor Rogelio Ybarra; Val Verde County Judge Manuel “Mike” Fernández; Weslaco Mayor Joe V. Sánchez; Mike Allen of McAllen, a member of the South Texas College Board of Trustees; Monica Stewart of McAllen; Pat Townsend Jr., president and CEO of the Mission Economic Development Agency, and other community leaders.
Peña criticized the planned fence as a misplaced priority.
He reminded the luncheon audience that he, along with Hinojosa and the rest of the Valley legislative delegation, in May secured $3 million from the Texas Legislature to help build a drug treatment center in Edinburg.
He noted that unlike the federal government, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Texas Legislature has a much better view of homeland security needs along the state’s border with Mexico.
“We were successful in getting the argument and money directed to the problems that we really see along the border, and those are the drug trafficking and the violence that is associated with that,” Peña said. “There are other things that we could do (with federal funds for the border wall).”
Peña, chairman of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, which considers legislation that targets criminal activities, scoffed at the notion that the border wall would result in positive accomplishments.
“We are all here, saying, ‘Come on over, we love your business, come shop Edinburg and McAllen, then we put up a fence,” Peña said. “All a 12-foot fence does, as some people like to say, is help businesses that sell 13-foot ladders. All you are going to do is give these very creative people to find other ways to come across.”
Gonzáles, whose House District 41 includes southwest Edinburg, said the border wall is being proposed for political gain, not homeland security.
“This fence, I think, it is being used as an opportunity by people who do not live along the border, and the many who do not live in Texas, to be able to go and say, ‘We did something to stop immigration,’ to pacify their constituents,” she contended. “I’m against the fence because it is not going to necessarily keep people out. It’s a fence that is going to cost billions of dollars, and it isn’t even going to be a continuous fence, it will only be in sections, so it is going to divert immigrants to different areas.”
Instead of a physical barrier, Gonzáles favors investing federal money “on a ‘virtual fence,’ which is more technology, more cameras, more Border Patrol. We need to put our money that is well-spent.
“But to those of us who have a relationship with Mexico, we do trade with Mexico, we are against it. We see how much money Mexico brings in to us, and how much we bring in to them,” Gonzáles continued. “I think the fence is going to be a huge deterrent, and that’s not even touching on all the other related issues, such as the impact on wildlife or the need to improve the (Rio Grande River) levees. I’m against the fence.”
Peña said the border wall is doomed to failure.
“If you just look at history – I’m a lover of history – the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall of England – every time someone put up a fence, it did not serve its purpose,” Peña said. “Think about the statement we send to our partners and to our families in Mexico. What a horrible statement.”
Hinojosa, who served as a U.S. Marines combat squad leader in Vietnam, was even more blunt in his assessment.
“I call it a ‘Wall of Shame.’ Our culture is here. We have family in Mexico. It is just a real bad sign. I think there is a tinge of racism in building a fence,” Hinojosa said. “I know we have the right to define our border, we have the right to defend our border, but a fence along a natural barrier (the Rio Grande River) is not what is needed. Maybe some place out in a desert, where we may need a fence, but not along the Rio Grande Valley.”
Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D., appointed by city council to Edinburg EDC board of directors
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D., an associate professor of Spanish linguistics and chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literature at the University of Texas-Pan American, on Tuesday, July 17, was appointed by the Edinburg City Council to the board of directors of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.
The Mission native and his wife, Sandra, a Reynosa native who is a homemaker, along with their children, Glenn, Jr., 6, and Emma, 3, live in Edinburg.
His appointment, which is for a two-year term, received a unanimous vote from the city council.
The EEDC administers economic development programs, primarily funded through a local one-half cent sales tax. It is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.
He succeeds George H. Bennack, Associate Director for Business Development with UTPA’s One Stop Capitol Shop. Bennack’s term ended on July 17.
Martínez joins Mayor Joe Ochoa, former Mayor Richard García – who serves as EEDC board president – Fred Palacios, and Mike Govind on the five-member EEDC governing board.
Under the charter that governs the EEDC, one of the five members of the EEDC board of directors must represent the local university.
All members of boards and commissions appointed by the city council must be residents of Edinburg, or be non-resident, tax-paying property owners of the city but residing within the extra-territorial jurisdiction of Edinburg.
Martínez, 35, graduated in 1994 from UT-Pan American with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish. He subsequently earned his Master’s of Art Degree in Spanish Linguistics from the University of Houston in 1996, and received his Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2000.
“The EEDC is a major driver for the improvement of the quality of life of the citizens of Edinburg,” Martínez said. “By attracting economic activity and facilitating new enterprises in our city, the EEDC exponentially increases opportunities for our citizens to pursue and attain knowledge, health, and wealth. As an educator, I am extremely interested in contributing to the efforts of the EEDC in improving Edinburg’s ability to nurture tomorrow’s leaders.”
“The Knowledge Economy”
“Over the next few years, I would like to see the EEDC expand its efforts in attracting diverse business and industry to Edinburg and make our city full participants in the knowledge economy of the 21st century,” Martínez said. “UTPA, my alma mater and my current place of employment, gives Edinburg a competitive edge over other cities in the region to attract industries with large research enterprises. As a member of the board, I will work to ensure that UTPA and its vast knowledge resources become critical incentives to attract high-paying jobs to our city.”
In his mid-30’s, he believes he will bring important perspectives to the EEDC.
“I am old enough to appreciate the substantial social and economic change that has taken place in the Valley over the past quarter of a century. I am young enough to process these changes as opportunities for continued growth and prosperity in our communities,” Martínez said. “I look forward to sharing my individual and generational perspectives with fellow members of the board.”
Councilmember Noe Garza, who nominated Martínez, said the university scholar’s strong connections with leaders in Mexico was one of the many strong points in his favor.
“He will be making a good contribution since he works a great deal with Mexico,” Garza explained. “Since we are working with the EEDC to bring more businesses from Mexico to locate here, he will be a good contact on our behalf since he already knows many key people in that nation.”
Garza noted that Martínez’s credentials have received widespread recognition in the university community.
“I asked key people at UT-Pan American who they recommended, especially someone who had a lot of contacts in Mexico, and his name was always coming up,” Garza reported.
Martínez said Edinburg and the Valley are playing a vital role in preserving and promoting the close ties between the U.S. and Mexico.
Economic and cultural gateway
“I believe that the economic and cultural gateway between the U.S. and Mexico is a key factor in the growth of our region. As a board member, I would like to assist EEDC in leveraging Edinburg’s proximity to the border to attract business and industry of hemispheric scope,” Martínez affirmed.
He added that he would also like to help the EEDC “in highlighting the bilingual and bicultural talents of our local workforce. My experience as a university teacher and administrator will certainly help me in this regard.”
His strong connections in Mexico include having served as visiting faculty at the Universidad Veracruzana in Xalapa, Veracruz, the Escuela Normal Superior Moisés Garza Sáenz in Monterrey, Nuevo León, and the Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí. He has also worked closely with the Universidad Valle del Bravo in Reynosa as well as the ITESM in Monterrey and the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León.
He said he hopes to use those connections to advance the mission of the EEDC.
Dahlia G. Guerra, DMA, Dean of UTPA’s College of Arts and Humanities, noted Martinez’s extensive professional body of work, including his efforts to bridge the gap for Spanish-speaking border residents needing medical care.
“Dr. Martínez’s current research focuses on the provision of language assistance services to Spanish speakers in medical settings along the U.S.-Mexico border,” Guerra stated in a memorandum on Martínez’s credentials, which she e-mailed to her brother, former Mayor García.
“Dr. Martínez has written health-related materials in Spanish and their use among Spanish speaking patients and their families,” Guerra added. “Dr. Martínez is also interested in the transfer of health linguistics research to pedagogical (teaching) contexts for the improvement of provider-patient comUpdatemunications.”
Martínez has been in charge of the Department of Modern Languages and Literature at UT-Pan American since 2004.
From 2002 to 2004, Martínez served as Assistant Professor and Director of the Spanish for Heritage Learners Program, Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
From 2000-2002, he was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages at UT-Brownsville.
EEDC powers and duties
The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation plays a key role in assisting companies to expand, while helping to attract new business and industry to Edinburg. The EEDC provides the following services:
- Site selection assistance;
- Real estate database of properties and buildings;
- Business seminars;
- Job training assistance;
- Data Information Center;
- Coordination of state and local assistance; and
- Access to business start-up resources.
In addition, the EEDC can arrange custom tours, schedule meetings with community leaders, arrange introductions to necessary business contracts, and serve as an advocate with state and local governmental entities.
County Judge Salinas, USIBWC Commissioner Marín sign memorandum of understanding on levees
By CARI LAMBRECHT
While Mother Nature dropped up to six inches of rain in parts of the Upper Valley earlier that morning and tore rooftops from at least three McAllen businesses, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III and U.S. International Boundary and Water Commissioner Carlos Marín on Monday, July 16, executed the long-anticipated memorandum of understanding that will allow for the rehabilitation of several miles of federallyowned river levee.
They were joined by U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen; Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview; Hidalgo County Commissioner Héctor “Tito” Palacios; Mission Mayor Beto Salinas; and Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 director Godfrey Garza, who each spoke briefly on the need for better flood control, and what a monumental step the MOU signing was in achieving that goal.
“What happened today is the result of hard work and collaboration,” said Cuellar, noting the numerous trips Hidalgo County officials have made to El Paso to visit with Marín, and to Washington D.C. to meet with FEMA and IBWC officials to lobby for more federal funding for the levees.
At present, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a $15.5 million appropriation for the Lower Rio Grande Flood Control Project, Cuellar said. He also noted that his colleague, U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, who could not attend Monday’s ceremony, had been instrumental in securing that money.
Cuellar added that he will do everything he can to help Hidalgo County repair the river levee system. Salinas said that the levees had not undergone any upgrades since 1967 in the aftermath of Hurricane Beulah.
“This is the biggest thing to happen to the levee system in 40 years,” Salinas said. “Fixing the levees is so important because it’s not if another hurricane happens, it’s when.”
Salinas said the memorandum of understanding will allow a non-federal source use its funds to begin fixing the levees, which are too low and structurally weak to hold back the Rio Grande in the event of a significant rain event, according to USIBWC studies.
Language was also inserted in the MOU to allow for the recapturing of federal funds by the county when the federal funds become available.
Marín said the federal government has not invested heavily in flood control for the Rio Grande Valley, but said he was committed to working on an expedited timeline to rehabilitate the most critical miles of levee.
“There’s no need for further studies,” Marín said. It could cost up to $80 million to fix Hidalgo County’s river levees, and up to $26 million to $28 million for the 12 miles of the project from roughly Peñitas to Anzalduas Dam. The $100 million bond election passed by voters last November and the potential for $15.5 million in federal funding will allow this project to finally move forward.
According to drainage district director Garza, the levees should be under construction within three to four months.
Salinas said the July 16 signing the MOU also shows FEMA, which is in the process of modernizing its flood maps across the country, that Hidalgo County does not need to be designated as a high risk for flooding.
FEMA officials verbally committed to Hidalgo County officials a week earlier in Washington, D.C. that they would cooperate with Hidalgo County’s request to hold off on releasing a new flood map and realize that the work that will soon commence on the levee should rectify the situation.
These sort of good things happen only when people team up, Flores said.
“It’s about finding a problem and building a partnership. Can you put together the right ingredients to make things happen? Everybody has to help, and everybody has to have that courage. If this levee were to go, the whole Rio Grande Valley would go. I’m glad to find a willing county judge and commissioners’ court,” Flores said.
The signing ceremony was originally scheduled to be held at 8:30 a.m. at Anzaldúas County Park in Precinct 3; however, because of severe weather, the ceremony was moved to Mission City Hall and began shortly after 9 a.m.
Rep. Peña raises more than $11,000 for reelection, according to latest campaign finance report
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Although he has no announced opponent, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, has quickly picked up more than $11,000 for his political treasury, according to a semi-annual campaign finance report that he filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
He listed $11,676.01 in contributions and $105 in expenses.
His total campaign balance was listed as $11,950.
Peña had no campaign debt, nor did he have any outstanding campaign loans.
His report lists financial contributions and expenditures from January 1 through June 30, 2007.
Since the Legislature was in session from early January through the end of May, state lawmakers are prohibited from receiving campaign contributions during that period.
Peña filed the required paperwork on July 9, ahead of the July 15 deadline for all state lawmakers and legislative candidates.
Peña, the chairman of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, is seeking another two-year term.
The Democratic Party primary election is next March; the general election will be in November 2008.
If he is reelected, he will begin his fourth term in early January, 2009.
The money was raised during a function held in the Capitol city on June 27, according to the report, which is available online at:
Peña represents House District 40, which includes all but southwest Edinburg, and includes La Joya and Sullivan City to the west, and the Delta Area communities of Elsa, Edcouch, and La Villa to the east.
House District 40 also includes mostly agricultural and ranch land stretching northward to the county line.
Peña listed his wife, Mónica Peña, as his campaign treasurer.
He also listed their home, located at 404 South McColl, as the campaign treasurer’s address.
His only campaign expenditure reported was $105, which was for a room rental at the Clarion Inn, 2200 South Interstate Highway 35 in Austin, on the day of his fundraiser.
He received four $1,000 contributions at the event, according to his campaign finance report, with the remaining contributions ranging from $250 to $826.
Former Sen. Héctor Uribe, D-Brownsville, was among the contributors, giving Peña $100.
His largest contributor was Joe A. García of Austin, the founder of The García Group, a general purpose lobby firm in Austin. He donated almost $1,900 in money and in-kind services.
Among his many clients, García represents the City of McAllen and the Texas Border Coalition.
García is a former longtime chief-of-staff to Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville.
The list of Peña’s contributors, their home town, the amount of the contribution, and the date of the contribution follows:
- Joe A. García, The García Group, Austin, $1,000, June 29;
- Texas Trial Lawyers Association, Austin, $1,000, June 27;
- Hillco, Austin, $1,000, June 27;
- American Electric Power, Austin, $1,000, June 27;
- Joe A. García, The García Group, Austin, $826 in-kind contribution for room rental and food for reception;
- Blackridge, Austin, $500, June 27;
- IBAT PAC, Austin, $500, June 27;
- Locke Liddell & Sapp, LLP, Houston, $500, June 27;
- Texas Consumer Finance Association, Austin, $500, June 27;
- Texas Manufactured Housing Association, Austin, $500, June 27;
- Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, Austin, $500, June 27;
- Texas Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, $500;
- Bickerstaff Heath Pollan and Caroom, Austin, $250, June 27;
- Judy Bruce, Austin, $250, June 27;
- Wade Long, Austin, $250, June 27;
- Dean McWilliams, Austin, $250, June 27;
- Billy Phenix, Austin, $250, June 27;
- TAADAC-PAC, Austin, $250, June 27; and
- Héctor Uribe, Austin, $100, June 27.
EEDC, Edinburg City Council enter into agreement to finish construction at air cargo facility
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
The Edinburg City Council on Tuesday, July 17, gave preliminary approval to the interim city manager to enter into a construction agreement between the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and the City of Edinburg for the completion of the Air Cargo Facility at the Edinburg International Airport.
In order to assist in final completion of the facility and related improvements, the EEDC and the city are entering into the construction agreement for reimbursement of an amount not to exceed $113,952.
Funding for this project was approved through the city’s Mid-Year Budget Appropriation for Fiscal Year 2006-2007.
Under the plan, the EEDC will enter into an agreement with Williamson Construction for the completion of the break room at the air cargo terminal facility, including walls, doors, windows, HVAC, electrical, fire sprinkler, ceilings, and hardware, for up to $113,952.
Once the work is completed, the city will reimburse the EEDC for that investment.
The 50,000-square-foot facility, slated to be finished later this summer, will provide for a multi-modal logistics and distribution center for the purposes of packaging, warehousing, storing and shipping air cargo freight.
It is part of the city’s 20-year master plan to transform the airport into a major hub of commercial freight. Freight cargo would be left at the facility, allowing commercial trucks to pick up those materials for distribution.
Once additional work on an airport apron is finished in several months, the air cargo facility will be a featured anchor of the airport, which is comprised of 580 acres located along U.S. Expressway 281, about 12 miles north of downtown.
The apron is the part of the aerodrome set aside for loading, unloading or maintaining aircraft.
An aerodrome is an area on land, ice, or water (including any buildings, installations or equipment) intended to be used either wholly or partially for the arrival, departure, movement, or servicing of aircraft.
The air cargo facility is designed to promote and develop business enterprises within the airport’s Industrial Park, which will enhance public welfare through a higher level of employment, economic activity and financial stability in the three-time All-America City.
Edinburg has designated 165 acres of land surrounding the Edinburg International Airport as an Industrial Park. Previously, the city designated the EEDC as the Port Authority to administer its user fee status designation at the Edinburg International Airport.
In February 2006, the city, the EEDC, and the United States Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) implemented construction of an air cargo facility at the Edinburg International Airport, in order to promote and develop business enterprises within the airport’s Industrial Park.
On January 10, 2001, under the provisions of Section 236 of the Trade and Tariff Act of 1984, the United States Customs Service authorized to make Customs services available at the Edinburg International Airport through a Memorandum of Agreement. On May 15, 2001, the City designated the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) as the Port Authority to administer the airport’s “use fee” status designation.
On January 11, 2001, the airport was designated as a User Fee Airport by the U.S. Customs Service. A User Fee Airport is a special designation whereby Customs are made available on a fee basis to process aircraft entering the U.S. and their passengers and cargo. Customs inspectors will be available to accept entries of merchandise, collect duties and enforce the customs laws and regulations.
The User Fee designation, the only user fee designated Airport in South Texas and one of three in the State of Texas, is part of a plan to develop the Edinburg International Airport as a commercial air cargo center in South Texas. This designation will increase commercial activity and help attract companies to locate in and develop the recently designated 165-acre Airport Industrial Park. Along with the user fee designation, the airport has been designated as a Foreign-Trade Zone, which will add to the future development of the airport.
Edinburg’s retail economy in May up 13% over same month in 2006
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Edinburg’s retail economy in May 2007, as measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses, was up 12.95 percent over the same month in 2006, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.
The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.
It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Joe Ochoa, former Mayor Richard García, who serves as board president, Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and George Bennack.
The figure translates into almost $1.1 million generated in local sales taxes in May, and sent back to the Edinburg city government on July 13 by the state comptroller of public accounts.
The local sales taxes are generated by the city’s 1 1/2 local sales tax and the 1/2 economic development sales tax that is administered by the EEDC.
Retail businesses are required to collect both the local and state sales taxes and send them to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, which soon after returns the local sales tax back to communities in the form of a rebate.
The local sales tax is used to help pay for dozens of major city services, ranging from new streets to city personnel.
In May, Edinburg’s economy generated $1,082,854.19 in local sales taxes, compared with $958,637.82 in local sales taxes in April 2006, an improvement of almost 13 percent.
During the first five months of 2007, Edinburg’s retail economy has generated almost $7.7 million in local sales taxes, up 7.5 percent over the first five months of last year, which had reached more than $7.1 million.
Edinburg registered the second-best showing in Hidalgo County in May, with McAllen outpacing all major cities in the Valley.
McAllen’s economy generated more than $4.2 million in local sales taxes in May, compared with almost $4 million during the same month last year, an increase of 5.71 percent.
According to the comptroller’s office, Hidalgo County also showed continued prosperity. In May 2007, all cities in Hidalgo County generated almost $9.3 million in local sales taxes, up 10.52 percent over May 2006, which reached more than $8.4 million.
From January through May 2007, all cities in Hidalgo County generated almost $72 million in local sales taxes, up 10.5 percent over the $64.3 million mark set during the same period in 2006.
Neighboring Cameron County also registered economic growth, according to the state figures.
In May, all cities in Cameron County generated more than $4.7 million in local sales taxes, compared with more than $4.5 million during the same month in 2006, an increase of almost 4.2 percent.
Other major cities in Hidalgo and Cameron counties reported the following sales tax figures:
•Brownsville’s retail economy generated more than $2.4 million in local sales taxes in May 2007 compared with more than $2.3 million in May 2006, an increase of 5.12 percent;
•Harlingen’s retail economy generated more than $1.4 million in local sales taxes in May 2007, compared with more than $1.3 million in May 2006, an increase of 2.59 percent;
•Pharr’s retail economy generated almost $968,000 in local sales tax activities in May 2007, compared with more than $981,000 during the same month in 2006, a decrease of more than 1.5 percent;
•Mission’s retail economy generated almost $961,000 in local sales taxes in May 2007, compared with almost $835,000 in May 2006, an increase of more than 15 percent; and
•Weslaco’s retail economy generated more than $703,000 in local sales tax activities in May 2007, compared with more than $613,500 in May 2006, an increase of more than 14.5 percent.
Statewide, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on July 13 announced that the state collected $1.63 billion in sales tax revenue in June, up 9.3 percent compared to June 2006.
State sales tax collections in June and local sales tax allocations in July represent sales that occurred in May and were reported to the Comptroller in June.
Combs sent July sales tax allocations totaling $446.4 million to cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts, up 8.3 percent compared to July 2006.
“Sales tax collections continue to grow at a steady pace,” Combs said. “Growth in the construction, oil and gas, and retail sectors are helping the current strength of the Texas economy.”
Combs sent July sales tax allocations of $304 million to Texas cities, up 9.5 percent compared to July 2006. So far this calendar year, city sales tax allocations are up 7.3 percent compared to the same time period last year.
Texas counties received sales tax payments of $27.4 million, up 7.4 percent compared to last July. So far this year, sales tax allocations to counties are up 8.1 percent compared to 2006.
Combs sent $14.7 million to 121 special purpose taxing districts, up 19.8 percent compared to last July. Ten local transit systems received $100 million in sales tax allocations, up 3.4 percent compared to a year ago.
For details of July sales tax payments to individual cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose districts, locate the Monthly Sales Tax Allocation Comparison Summary Reports on the Comptroller’s Web site at http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/allocsum/compsum.html.
The Comptroller’s next sales tax allocation will be made on Friday, Aug. 10.
Congressman Hinojosa supports legislation passed by U.S. House to ease passport backlog
By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Monday, July 16, backed legislation in the House of Representatives to ease the backlog that has made it difficult for Americans to receive passports. The legislation was unanimously approved by the House on a voice vote.
“Several months ago, my constituents began reporting to me that they were not receiving the passports they needed for spring and summer travel within the State Department’s own posted timelines,” said Hinojosa. “As spring has turned to summer, many Americans have been unable to travel abroad and have missed many business, educational, and vacation opportunities as a result of the State Department’s failure to provide them with the required travel documents. This bill will help to ease this inexcusable backlog of applications.”
Passport requests skyrocketed following the implementation of a new law requiring Americans traveling by air to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda to hold a passport. The increase has resulted in significant delays with many waiting months to receive a passport.
The Passport Backlog Reduction Act gives the State Department the authority to hire retired former staffers who are trained and authorized to process passport applications. Current law denies retirement benefits to these retirees if they exceed strict wages earned and hours worked caps. The legislation approved by the House waves these requirements and makes it possible for the retired workers to return to work and help ease the passport shortage.
“Americans shouldn’t let red tape delay or derail their vacation plans,” added Hinojosa. “My office will continue to do everything possible to ensure residents of the 15th Congressional District receive their passports in a timely fashion.
Hinojosa’s office has already assisted a number of residents who have had difficulty obtaining a passport. Any resident of the 15th Congressional District needing assistance with a delayed passport application is invited to contact Hinojosa’s office at (202) 225-2531.
Gov. Perry signs legislation by Rep. Guillen to create Rural Technology Center in Starr County
By ED SERNA
Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, July 19, ceremoniously signed House Bill 2235, which funds the construction of a Rural Technology Center in Starr County. The center aims to bridge the digital divide and will help meet the educational and workforce needs of rural Starr County.
The term “digital divide” often refers to the lack of access that some regions of the nation have to computers and the Internet, and the negative socioeconomic impact that often results from technological shortcoming.
The bill – carried by Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, in previous sessions – was authored this legislative session by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, this session. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, whose legislative district includes Starr County, was the bill’s sponsor.
“This is an initiative that I’ve been a part of for seven years now and I am glad the work of South Texas College and many others has finally come to fruition,” said Flores. “I would also like to extend a sincere appreciation to Rep. Guillen for his hard work in passing this important bill. This legislation will strengthen the region and provide some much-needed access to technology to areas that currently lack technology resources.”
The bill establishes a grant program under the Office of Rural Community Affairs to fund the construction of and equipment for rural technology centers. The Rural Technology Center in Starr County will be managed by South Texas College (STC) in partnership with local public schools, libraries, learning centers, businesses, and the local community. STC will also fund the annual operating costs. Participants will be able to learn about computers and information technology, explore related career pathways, further their education through the development of skills in the area of technology, and much more.
“I’ve always said that from an economic and career development perspective, we need to take a regional approach and find regional solutions when it comes to issues like bridging the digital divide,” said Flores. “STC’s involvement in the project is a great example of leveraging a great regional resource to generate opportunities for the region’s hard-working rural communities.”
Flores represents District 36, which includes parts or all of the Cities of Hidalgo, Granjeno, McAllen, Mission, Palmview, Penitas, and Pharr.
Gov. Perry says community colleges must follow state law, pay for own health insurance premiums
By GOV. RICK PERRY
Community colleges are the backbone of Texas’ higher education system. They offer a way for Texans to get a quality education close to home. To help them succeed, I have supported increased funding for community colleges throughout my tenure as governor. State funding for instruction at these institutions has grown by $121.1 million, or 16.4 percent, in the past 6 years, and I have proposed another $86.1 million in incentive performance funding above and beyond what the Legislature provided.
However, I have also consistently called for community colleges to follow state law by paying their share of health insurance for their employees. Unfortunately, they have been unwilling to do this. Unlike larger universities with a statewide reach, community colleges serve the needs of specific local areas. As such, they are empowered to raise taxes from the population they serve, not unlike a local hospital, school or utility district.
The colleges then pay their employees either from local taxes (combined with tuition and fees) or state funds which are allocated by the Legislature and collected from all Texas taxpayers. State law dictates that community college employees paid with state funds can have their health insurance paid the same way. However, state law also says that if community college employees are paid with local funds, their health insurance also must be paid from that same local source.
I fully support this dividing line between funding sources. If the state pays an instructor’s salary, then the state should fund his or her health benefits. However, I don’t support the notion that all Texas taxpayers should cover the health benefits of local community college employees who are not paid with state funds.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what has been happening. And this is why I vetoed a portion of community college health insurance funding for the 2008-2009 biennium.
For years, community colleges have approached the Legislature and, on the advice of their association, insisted that the state pay health insurance benefits for employees not paid by the state, but by local funds. Despite the clarity of the law on this matter, community colleges have pursued a distorted interpretation by arguing that any employee who is eligible in theory for a state-funded salary is entitled to state-funded health benefits even if they are not paid by the state. Their argument runs counter to state law.
I addressed this issue in my 2003 State of the State address, asking community colleges to pay their fair share. In 2005, the Legislature, through the Legislative Budget Board, produced an eye-opening report showing that every community college was circumventing the law, shifting millions in local health insurance costs to the state. In its 2005 budget, the Texas Senate reacted to this report by phasing out improper community college health insurance funding and reallocating those funds to the colleges for instruction. I supported this change as a reasonable approach to address the problem; unfortunately, the Texas House of Representatives did not.
Then, in 2006, the Legislative Budget Board and my office provided detailed, specific instructions to community colleges for requesting state health insurance funding for eligible employees Unfortunately, the community colleges again refused to follow the Legislature’s directives.
When my staff questioned community colleges about this issue at a public budget hearing on October 2, 2006, a representative of the Texas Association of Community Colleges responded that its mission “supersedes” the law as it is written. I wholeheartedly disagree: No community college’s mission supersedes state law. During the 2007 legislative session, my staff reminded the community colleges on the specifics of the law. My staff implored the association’s representatives to play by the rules set by the Legislature. The association refused.
As governor, I owe it to Texas taxpayers to ensure the law is followed and that taxpayer dollars are spent as the law intends. I will continue to call for increased formula funding for our community colleges because they deserve our support as they educate our future leaders. However, I will hold them accountable to the spirit and letter of the law. Community colleges are essential contributors to our state’s future success, and I remain committed to helping them maintain the highest standards in pursuit of their mission.
Gov. Perry’s veto of insurance premiums hurt community colleges, says Sen. Zaffirini
By SEN. JUDITH ZAFFIRINI
Our greatest challenge in higher education remains ensuring our schools are accessible and affordable for every qualified student.” So proclaimed Gov. Rick Perry during a 2002 address to community college officials. Unfortunately for many qualified students and community colleges around the state, the governor made this challenge even greater when he vetoed $154 million in much-needed funding to community colleges in June.
Approximately 575,000 students are enrolled at community colleges, and nearly 72 percent of college freshmen attend one. What’s more, 70 percent of higher education enrollment growth is at community colleges, which account for approximately half of higher education enrollment in Texas.
Although these institutions are critical in our efforts to increase access to higher educational opportunities and to ensure academic success, the state provides only approximately 31 percent of their funding. The remainder must come from local taxes, tuition and fees, and local funds.
To put the impact of Gov. Perry’s veto into perspective, the $157 million that he cut is more than the total new dollars appropriated to community colleges this biennium for operations and instruction.
This unwarranted and unexpected action will not only negatively affect our community colleges’ efforts to achieve the goals of Closing the Gaps, but also severely strain their resources. The grim reality is that to make up for this lost funding, community colleges will either have to raise local property taxes, increase tuition, reduce services or, sadly, do all three. Any of these options negatively will affect their ability to serve students who typically have the fewest resources to attend college. The worst result is that many students may be forced to drop out of college because of the governor’s actions.
Even more shocking is the governor’s veto message accusing the community colleges of falsifying their appropriations request. Having attended every budget hearing, I know that community college officials submitted full and accurate information in their budget requests. That the governor would accuse them of falsehood is beyond comprehension. The legislature in good faith chose to fully fund community college employee benefits with general revenue because we understand that community colleges are under-funded and over-burdened.
In addition to the $154 million for higher education group insurance, Gov. Perry also vetoed funding for new community college campuses at Alamo Community College, Austin Community College, Houston Community College, Paris Junior College and Temple College.
Because formula funding is based on student enrollment for the two years prior to the biennium, these funds are critical for the operations of new campuses that cannot receive formula funding due to the lack of student enrollment data. Gov. Perry’s veto will exacerbate the financial difficulties these community colleges will face in providing much needed educational opportunities.
As chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education, I understand the important role of community colleges in developing a well-trained workforce and in providing affordable access to higher education. Accordingly, I will continue to work with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and our colleagues who support this important funding to remedy the situation during the interim so that these institutions and their students are not penalized unfairly.
To do this will require the combined efforts not only of legislative leaders, but also of community college leaders, students and their families. Cumulatively, we must convince the governor to right his wrong by approving budget execution authority to restore these crucial funds for our community colleges and our students.
Congressman Hinojosa secures $400,000 for health care and research in South Texas
By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, July 19, announced tthat he has secured critical appropriations that would give South Texas a $400,000 boost in federal funding.
The University of Texas-Pan American and the Vannie Cook, Jr. Cancer Pediatric Clinic are both set to gain under the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill approved Thursday evening, July 17, by the House of Representatives.
Under this legislation, UTPA’s South Texas Border Health Disparities Center would receive $200,000 to implement an obesity prevention campaign targeting Hispanic and African American families. The project would be conducted in South Texas and Tennessee in collaboration with Tennessee State University. A research component would also focus on addressing chronic conditions related to diabetes.
The Hematology/Oncology Education and Research and Clinical Care project at the Vannie Cook Cancer Pediatric Clinic will also receive $200,000 in funding under the bill passed today. The money would be used to expand the pediatric center’s program to include epidemiology research, staff and patient outreach program. The Clinic is the only comprehensive pediatric cancer facility in the Rio Grande valley and serves primarily indigent Hispanic population.
“Both UTPA and the Vannie Cook Cancer Pediatric Clinic are tackling critical health issues facing our region,” said Hinojosa. “This funding will give these institutions the resources they need to do valuable research that will better the lives of all South Texans.”
These two projects are included in a $151.7 billion spending bill that funds myriad programs including education, health care, and medical research. In recent years, the GOP-led Congress significantly cut investments for priorities in the Labor-HHS-Education bill, said Hinojosa.
This year, the President has once again proposed significant cuts – proposing to cut programs in this bill by $7.6 billion below 2007, after adjusting for inflation, Hinojosa added.
“The new Democratic-led Congress is determined to reverse the pattern of disinvestment,” said Hinojosa. “This bill rejects most of the President’s damaging cuts – and instead provides a modest increase of $4.3 billion, or 3 percent, over 2007, after adjusting for inflation and population.”
In particular, this critical spending bill passed would:
•Make college more affordable – increases the maximum Pell Grant by $390, which is on top of an increase of $260 the Democratic-led Congress enacted in February;
•Help raise the achievement levels of America’s students – provides $2 billion over 2007 and $1 billion over the President’s request for No Child Left Behind programs.
•Expand access to health care for the uninsured – invests in initiatives that will provide new access to health care for more than 2 million uninsured Americans.
•Invest in life-saving medical research – reverses GOP disinvestment and provides an increase for NIH of $750 million over 2007 and $1 billion over the President’s request.
Crisis at the courthouse: No-show jurors stall justice
By BILL SUMMERS
When our founding fathers embraced this nation’s independence some 231 years ago, they understood the importance – and privilege – of a fair and impartial legal system. The right to a trial by jury is a cornerstone of our country’s judicial heritage, yet sadly, courts across the nation are struggling to fill jury boxes. The crisis at the courthouse stems from the fact that a staggering number of potential jurors simply fail to show up when summonsed.
In many Texas counties, more than 80% of those summoned ignore the call for jury duty. In fact, the notion of dodging jury duty has almost become clichéd. It’s expected that people groan with dread the arrival of a jury summons in the mailbox. But the fallout of jury no-shows is real. Our justice system depends upon fair and impartial juries and when jurors avoid jury service, the quality of justice we all receive is diminished.
Texans agree that jury no-shows are causing a crisis at the courthouse. A recent survey by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse showed that most Texas voters believe serving on a jury is an important right and that all Texans should answer the call when summoned to serve. Those surveyed also strongly agreed that no-shows hurt our civil justice system and that those who shirk jury service should be held accountable. After all, to ignore a jury summons is to be in contempt of court.
Interestingly, the majority of Texas voters underestimated the problem of jury no-shows. Almost half of voters thought the number was around 20 percent and were alarmed to learn the real figures. Texans also had pragmatic concerns that scheduled trials may be delayed if enough potential jurors don’t show up at the courthouse and that such delays could lead to a backlog of cases. Finally, voters thought that those who do answer the call could shoulder a greater burden – such as increased or repeated summons to jury duty – because others shirk their responsibility.
Clearly, Texans have strong views about jury service and its importance to our civil justice system. So one might wonder, why does the jury service crisis continue? Even after lawmakers passed a 500-plus percent pay increase for Texas jurors, courts still struggle to fill jury boxes. One possible explanation is that many Texans are simple unaware of the increase. In fact fewer than 30 percent of respondents in the survey were aware of the increase and a majority said the increase would make them more likely to respond the next time they were summoned for jury duty.
In addition to incentives to attract jurors to the courthouse, some states have enacted penalties for those who continually ignore the call to jury duty. More than half of Texans surveyed said they would support efforts to increase the maximum fine (currently between $100 and $1000) for failing to report for jury service and another majority support suspending the driver’s license of people who repeatedly fail to show.
While measures can be passed to encourage jurors, response rates won’t improve until each of us takes the responsibility as seriously as the founders did when they created our system of justice. We all need to remember, as proud Americans, that serving on a jury – and continuing the traditions on which our country was founded – will help ensure “justice for all.”
Bill Summers is founder and president of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of the Rio Grande Valley. Connie Scott is the executive director of Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse is a nonprofit, grassroots movement dedicated to making the public better aware of the cost and consequences of lawsuit abuse. With local chapters across the state, CALA counts count more than 25,000 supporters across Texas.
Congressman Hinojosa secures $2.5 million from House committee for water conservation projects
By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI
Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, announced that he has secured $2.5 million for water conservation projects in the 2008 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, which the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved on Tuesday, July 17. A total of $ $25.2 billion was allocated in this bill to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Interior, the Department of Energy, and several independent agencies. This marks a $1.2 billion increase over last year and a $480 million increase over the President’s budget request this year.
Among the funding secured by Hinojosa was a $2 million appropriation for the Lower Rio Grande Water Conservation and Improvement Act. The funding will reimburse local irrigation districts and cover expenses for engineering, infrastructure construction, and improvements for conserving and moving raw water for irrigation purposes. It will also continue previously authorized irrigation canal lining and other projects that more efficiently deliver irrigation water.
“Living in an area prone to flooding and drought is something we all face day in and day out. Therefore, we must continue to look for ways in which to improve on existing technologies, while investing in new water management systems,” said Hinojosa. “This vitally important funding will help protect the Valley’s precious water supply and make sure that it continues to thrive.”
The Lower Rio Grande Valley contains 28 irrigation districts serving the municipal, industrial, and agricultural water needs of the area. Unfortunately, funding allocated under the previous Republican Congresses did not keep pace with project activity, resulting in a backlog of reimbursements to irrigation districts totaling almost $10 million. The President’s budget proposal this year only requested $50,000. Much of the $2 million allocated for FY2008 will go toward helping alleviate this reimbursement backlog.
Another $500,000 was included in the appropriations bill for the Nueces River Basin Feasibility study. This Corps of Engineer project will be used by to study ecosystem restoration, flood control, aquifer recharge, and watershed management in the Nueces River Delta.
“These studies are an important part of an overall water management strategy that protects the vitality of our communities and the vibrant growth of the 15th Congressional District,” Hinojosa concluded. “At the same time, these conservation efforts will ensure the future availability of our natural resources and the economic success of our region for generations to come.”
Survey finds young American’s news use is half that of older Americans; teens daily news use even lower
By THOMAS PATTERSON
Most of America’s teens and young adults do not follow the daily news closely, according to a new report released on Monday, July 10, by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
The report, titled “Young People and News,” is based on a national sample survey of 1800 Americans that included teens (ages 12-17), young adults (ages 18-30), and older adults. The sample is noteworthy for its inclusion of teenage respondents, who’ve seldom been polled nationally on their news habits.
Although some observers claim that 9/11 and the Iraq conflict have sparked unusually high levels of interest in current affairs among the upcoming generation of citizens, the survey does not support the claim, at least in the context of attention to daily news coverage. Teens are significantly less attentive to daily news than young adults, who in turn pay substantially less attention than older adults. The survey found, in fact, that 28 percent of teens pay almost no attention to daily news and that an additional 32 percent are casually attentive to a single source only. Taken together, 60 percent of teens can be considered basically inattentive to daily news, as compared with 48 percent of young adults and only 23 percent of older adults.
Despite their stated preference for Internet-based news, teens and young adults were found to be twice as likely to get daily news from television. Moreover, despite claims that young Americans rely heavily on non-traditional television programs, such as Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, such programs are not a significant source of day-to-day news for the large majority of America’s teens and young adults. When teens and young adults turn to television for news, most of them rely on the same sources as older Americans— broadcast and cable newscasts. The difference is that older Americans are twice as likely as young adults and teens to regularly watch television news daily.
The Internet is making inroads as a news source. Relative to other media, teens and young adults make more use of Internet-based news than do older adults. The caveat is that overall interest in news is so much lower among younger Americans that Internet-based news, in absolute terms, gets roughly the same attention from older adults as it does from young adults and teens.
In comparison with older adults, younger Americans were relatively more attuned to soft news stories (such as the death of Anna Nicole Smith) than to hard news stories (such as the congressional vote on the troop surge in Iraq). In many cases, teens and young adults learned of soft news stories through another person rather than from news coverage directly.
The report notes that the age gap in daily news consumption is partly a result of the penetration of cable and the Internet into American society, which has expanded people’s options. In the pre-cable period, as the scholar Martin Wattenberg’s recent study found, young Americans were nearly as attentive to news as older adults. A University of Connecticut study, sponsored by the Knight Foundation, found “[a] majority of 100,000 American high school students surveyed say they’re plugged into mainstream news on the Internet at least weekly. Eleven percent say they consume news daily on the Internet.” This survey was interpreted to suggest a significant engagement with news among young people. For additional information about this report, see:
The Shorenstein Center survey found that most young Americans ignore the daily paper. Whereas one in five older adults claimed to be a frequent reader of newspapers, only one in twelve young adults and a mere one in twenty teens said they relied heavily on a newspaper—meaning that they read it somewhat closely on a daily basis.
The survey revealed that radio is an underestimated source of news for Americans of all ages. Among teens, young adults, and older adults alike, radio has a larger inadvertent news audience—people who tune in for something other than news but get the news, too—than any other medium.
The Shorenstein Center report concludes that some recent surveys have overestimated young people’s news consumption and the capacity of non-traditional media to take up the slack from young people’s flight from traditional news sources. The report concludes that most young people can be expected to continue to do what they have been doing—snatching a bit of news here and there without making it a routine part of their day.
The research was funded by a generous grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, for the consideration of the Carnegie-Knight Task Force on the Future of Journalism Education. The Carnegie-Knight Initiative was launched in 2005 and focuses on curriculum reform at graduate schools of journalism, an innovative student internship program called News21, research, and creating a platform for educators to speak on journalism policy and education issues. All of these efforts grew out of a partnership involving the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the following member institutions: Annenberg School of Communication, University of Southern California; College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin; Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University; Graduate School of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley; Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard University; Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University; Missouri School of Journalism, University of Missouri-Columbia; Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland; and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication, Syracuse University.
The report was prepared by Thomas E. Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and is available at:
U.S. House passes measure by Congressman Hinojosa to improve housing conditions in rural America
By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI
The House of Representatives on Monday, July 16, passed two bills that will greatly help the livelihoods of millions of Americans living in rural areas of the United States.
The two measures, H.R. 1980, the Housing Assistance Council Authorization Act, and H.R. 1982, the Rural Housing and Economic Development Improvement Act, were both authored and sponsored by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. They will authorize more than $95 million over the next several years to help rural housing conditions.
“Far too many of our families in rural America reside in conditions that are poor, inadequate, or run-down,” said Hinojosa, who is also the co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Rural Caucus. “These two bills will help improve overall quality of life by providing much needed resources to address the chronic problem of substandard housing in the less populated areas of this nation.”
Specifically, H.R. 1980 will authorize $10 million for FY08 and $15 million for FY09-14 to the Housing Assistance Council (HAC), a nonprofit group working to create more affordable housing throughout rural United States. Since 1971, HAC has made almost $220 million in loans to almost 1,900 organizations to create more than 60,000 homes. In the 15th Congressional district, HAC loans have helped McAllen Affordable Homes and Proyecto Azteca.
HAC will use some of the funds authorized in H.R. 1980 for below-market lending to local community- and faith-based homebuilders, with an emphasis on first-time low-income homeownership, particularly for minorities. When repaid, HAC will lend the funds again to new borrowers. The new capital will be used throughout rural America, including in five high-need areas: Appalachia, the Lower Mississippi Delta and Southeast, the Southwest border region, Native American areas, and migrant farmworker regions. This funding also will help enable HAC to continue providing financial and other aid to its national network of hundreds of rural nonprofit builders.
H.R. 1982 will authorize $30 million for the Rural Housing and Economic Development (RHED) program for FY08 and $40 million for FY09-13. This bill will provide RHED the additional funding needed to support innovative housing and economic development activities in rural areas. RHED provides capacity building at the state and local level for rural housing and economic development. Funds made available under this program are awarded competitively on an annual basis through a selection process conducted by HUD.
In its budget for FY08, the Administration proposed to eliminate many rural housing programs, including HAC and RHED. The proposed budget also called for the significant reduction of funding for the construction or preservation of affordable housing in rural communities.
“These critical programs directly impact the lives of people in areas where housing needs are very high, the development capacity is low, and conventional financing tools do not always work,” said Hinojosa. “These two initiatives will help improve the availability of affordable housing in rural America and make sure this area of our nation is no longer ignored.”