Featured, from left: Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission; Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling on Thursday, June 17, 2014 at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.
Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR
With southwest McAllen as part of his House District 36, which includes a major presence of South Texas College along with key international bridges and transportation systems, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, will be a powerful asset once more for The City of McAllen and its ambitious, progressive agenda during the ongoing 140-day regular session of the Texas Legislature, which runs through May 31. Muñoz’ body of work at the Texas Capitol, in partnership with his fellow Valley lawmakers, is sure to continue registering victories, especially following his reappointment to several of the most influential House of Representatives legislative committees. Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, one of the three most powerful leaders in Texas government, on Wednesday, February 4, elevated Muñoz to Vice-Chair of the House Committee on Insurance, and also kept him as a member of the budget-setting Appropriations Committee, and the Local and Consent Calendars Committee. “I am sincerely honored and grateful to be reappointed to these very important committees by Speaker Straus,” Muñoz said after receiving his assignments. “I fully intend to represent the interests of my constituents and the greater Rio Grande Valley region as I serve on these committees. I thank Speaker Straus for entrusting me with these assignments and for placing me in a position to better serve Texas.” Muñoz’ rising star in the Texas Legislature is a definite asset to the City of McAllen’s legislative agenda, which was adopted by the McAllen Mayor and McAllen City Commission late last year. McAllen’s top state priorities will focus on the following goals: the creation of a Hidalgo County Hospital District; improving international trade and shipping with Mexico through local international bridges; seeking funding to build the first phase of a northbound commercial vehicle inspection station at Anzaldúas International Bridge; extending Ware Road (FM 2220), a primary north-south arterial in McAllen, north from Trenton Road (FM 676) to State Highway 107; building an overpass over Pecan Boulevard at the South Texas College main campus, which is one of the fastest growing in the country (32,000 students), to coincide with a $55 million locally-funded campus expansion currently underway; enhancing Texas’ relationship with Mexico, including holding high-level annual meetings in McAllen or Rio Grande City featuring the Texas governor’s office and Texas secretary of state’s office with their counterparts from Mexican states that border Texas for the purposes of discussing trade, transportation, energy, security and other bi-national issues; and seeking funding, through legislation or Texas Parks and Wildlife Department prioritization, for the construction of hike-and-bike trails in McAllen and surrounding cities.
With key appointments to powerful House committees, Rep. Muñoz well-positioned to help promote, protect City of McAllen’s legislative agenda
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
With southwest McAllen as part of his House District 36, which includes a major presence of South Texas College along with key international bridges and transportation systems, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, will be a powerful asset once more for The City of McAllen and its ambitious, progressive agenda during the ongoing 140-day regular session of the Texas Legislature, which runs through May 31.
The attorney, a proven legislator entering his third consecutive term serving portions of southern and western Hidalgo County, is part of an impressive and experienced Rio Grande Valley state legislative delegation which is coming off one of the most improbable achievements in recent history: the creation of The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and the UT-RGV School of Medicine.
If that wasn’t enough of a legislative victory, Muñoz, a graduate of UT-Austin, was also a successful cosponsor of that remarkable legislation in 2013, which dramatically gives, for the first time, the Rio Grande Valley’s premier institution of higher education landmark access to the $14+ billion Permanent University Fund.
The Permanent University Fund, also known as PUF, is used by the UT and A&M Systems, to provide additional and extraordinary financial support for landmark facilities and programs in higher education, such as the construction of the UT-RGV School of Medicine in Edinburg, now underway.
That landmark law is the result of Senate Bill 24, authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville.
In addition, Muñoz’ House District 36 features some of Texas’ most important gateways to Mexico, which, according to the Texas Tribune, is the state’s largest trading partner, and third-largest trading partner with the U.S., following Canada and China (Perry Urges Mexican President to Visit Texas Border By Julián Aguilar/September 17, 2014).
The Pharr International Bridge, the Hidalgo International Bridge, and the Anzaldúas International Bridge are located in Muñoz’ House District 36.
VICE-CHAIR APPOINTMENT SYMBOLIZES MUÑOZ’ GROWING LEADERSHIP STATUS
Muñoz’ body of work at the Texas Capitol, in partnership with his fellow Valley lawmakers, is sure to continue registering victories, especially following his reappointment to several of the most influential House of Representatives legislative committees.
Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, one of the three most powerful leaders in Texas government, on Wednesday, February 4, elevated Muñoz to Vice-Chair of the House Committee on Insurance, and also kept him as a member of the state budget-writing Appropriations Committee, and the Local and Consent Calendars Committee.
“I am sincerely honored and grateful to be reappointed to these very important committees by Speaker Straus,” Muñoz said after receiving his assignments. “I fully intend to represent the interests of my constituents and the greater Rio Grande Valley region as I serve on these committees. I thank Speaker Straus for entrusting me with those assignments and for placing me in a position to better serve Texas.”
On his appointment as Vice-Chair of the House Insurance Committee, Muñoz explained why his promotion on that legislative panel, which in 2013 had 205 bills referred to it, and approved 110 of those measures for action by the full House of Representatives, affect Texans.
“My new new role on this committee will provide me a greater voice on various issues that impact our daily lives, such as medical, health, automobile, and life insurance, as well as insurance policy structure, rates, and coverage,” said Muñoz, who maintains a major legal office in Edinburg.
The House Committee on Insurance has jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to insurance and the insurance industry, as well as the following state agencies: the Texas Department of Insurance, the Texas Health Benefits Purchasing Cooperative, and the Office of Public Insurance Counsel.
APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE DIRECTLY SHAPES $200+ BILLION STATE BUDGET
According to Dylan Matthews of McAllen, who himself in January received a well-deserved promotion as the House District 36 lawmaker’s Chief-of-Staff at the Texas Capitol, the two other legislative appointments for Muñoz are also very significant.
Muñoz once again will have sweeping influence over where the state’s estimated $200+ billion (representing state and federal revenue), two-year operating budget will be invested, and how many pieces of legislation vital to the local interests of the 150-member House of Representatives are scheduled for final action.
“The House Committee on Appropriations, with 27 members, has jurisdiction over all bills and resolutions appropriating money from the state treasury, allowing Rep. Muñoz to influence every aspect of the budgeting process for the state,” Matthews expertly explained in a respectful understatement.
That importance of the Appropriations Committee, which essentially prepares what will become the final version of the House of Representatives’ proposed state budget, is huge.
In 2013, the Appropriations Committee had 158 legislative measures assigned to it, dealing with almost every idea on seeking money for specific programs, eventually passing 22 proposals for action by the full House – including the big one, the proposed state budget from the House of Representatives.
Under the rules that govern the Texas Legislature, once the Appropriations Committee finalizes a state budget, it almost certainly will be approved by the full House of Representatives. That House budget version then goes to the Senate, which has its own budget developed by the Senate Finance Committee.
Those proposed House and Senate state budgets eventually are merged into a final version of the state budget, and will always automatically be approved by the full Legislature, then sent to the governor for final approval (the governor has the power to veto the entire budget, or portions of the budget).
For the Valley, many of the funding needs are addressed in the state budget, so having Muñoz on the Appropriations Committee literally guarantees deep South Texas Valley a vital seat at the table of financial power in the Texas Legislature.
LOCAL CALENDAR COMMITTEE VITAL FOR SUCCESS OF LAWMAKERS’ KEY BILLS
The House Committee on Local and Consent Calendar is another strength in Muñoz’ arsenal of legislative muscle for his district and deep South Texas.
Noting the Local and Consent Calendar Committee has jurisdiction over the flow of legislation to the House floor for bills that are local in character or uncontested, “the appointment will endow Rep. Muñoz with the power to impact a myriad of bills important to local communities,” Matthews reflected.
In fact, most of the top priorities for House members involved what are known as “local” proposals –
“which are bills to enact a law that applies only to a discrete community or area rather than to the entire state,” according to The Texas Legislative Council, which is the legal arm of the Legislature.
Examples from 2013 of what the Local and Consent Calendars Committee issues will be face are legislation which proposed the adoption of rules by the Parks and Wildlife Commission to protect the public water of this state from the spread of aquatic invasive species, the residency requirement for certain elective offices of certain political subdivisions, and authorizing the board of regents of the University of Texas System to acquire certain property.
2015 CITY OF MCALLEN LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
Muñoz’ rising star in the Texas Legislature is a definite asset to the City of McAllen’s legislative agenda, which was adopted by the McAllen Mayor and McAllen City Commission late last year.
McAllen’s top state priorities, as articulated by the city’s legislative and media division, led by Teclo García, Director of Government and Public Affairs, follow:
The City of McAllen is a dynamic, fast-growing city of 140,000 people that is the transportation, trade, financial, medical and retail center for South Texas. McAllen is often cited by national publications for its economic development and affordability.
The city is the front door to Texas’ largest trading partner, Mexico, connected by two international bridges. McAllen is home to 32,000-student South Texas College, a branch campus (McAllen Teaching Site) of the new UT-RGV campus, and an innovative, award-winning school district.
The city, which has higher education attainment rates than the state average, recently pledged millions of dollars toward the new UT-RGV medical school.
McAllen is a progressive, modern city with a new, award-winning $26 million new Public Library, a thriving new $70-million convention center, the newly expanded ($28 million renovation) McAllen International Airport, which is the busiest in South Texas, and a $45 million Performing Arts Center under construction.
Hidalgo County Hospital District
Seek passage of local bill that amends state law (by referendum) and would cap the district tax rate at 25 cents per $100 of valuation. McAllen supported the Hidalgo County Hospital District with a $2 million annual commitment to the UT-RGV School of Medicine. The city appoints a voting member to the hospital district board. Keeping the tax rate low is in line with the city’s low-tax policies. The hospital district would supplant the city’s financial commitment to the medical school.
Seek passage of legislation that will support the expediting of produce traffic at Texas’ international bridge crossings by funding extra hours pay for federal agriculture inspectors and entomologists, and for the possible hiring of extra personnel. The additional help would help decrease delays of valuable perishable shipments, enhance security and speed up secondary inspections. Produce shipments that are pulled for extra checks sit idle too long waiting for a decision to be made by often short-staffed federal inspectors. Supporting the initiative to cover a 150-mile area of South Texas with 18 international crossings is a value-based solution that the produce industry supports and is good for business.
Northbound Inspection Facility
Seek funding to build the first phase of a northbound commercial vehicle inspection station at Anzaldúas International Bridge. The multi-lane facility will cover all the various federal security inspections for expedited commercial traffic – in pre-clearance programs such as FAST and C-TPAT – pay processes and expedite trade for Texas business. The proposed northbound inspection facility will be state-of-the-art and built and staffed to interdict illegal activity. It will also benefit hundreds of U.S. and international manufacturers in shipping each year billions of dollars worth of goods to and from Texas that have operations in McAllen and Mexico, such as LG Electronics, Emerson, Motorola, Black & Decker, Nokia and Brunswick, among many more.
FAST is the Free and Secure Trade program, a commercial clearance program for known low-risk shipments entering the U.S. from Canada and Mexico. Initiated after 9/11, this innovative trusted traveler/trusted shipper program allows expedited processing for commercial carriers who have completed background checks and fulfill certain eligibility requirements.
C-TPAT is the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, which is part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection goals to safeguard the world’s vibrant trade industry from terrorists, maintaining the economic health of the U.S. and its neighbors. The partnership develops and adopts measures that add security but do not have a chilling effect on trade, a difficult balancing act.
Ware Road Extension/Expansion
Extend Ware Road (FM 2220), a primary north-south arterial in the City of McAllen, north from Trenton Road (FM 676) to State Highway 107 and widen to six lane divided roadway. This is McAllen’s top transportation priority. Ware Road, located on McAllen’s booming west side, connects schools, residences and businesses and its expansion promotes economic development and connectivity as the roadway originates in McAllen’s Foreign Trade Zone and provides route options for traffic and trade. Currently the roadway is one of McAllen’s most congested and hinders economic expansion and productivity in the area.
Pedestrian Safety Crossings
Seek funding to construct safety pedestrian safety crossings in heavy traffic areas in McAllen. Safety and usage are the top priorities but connectivity, student security, health and welfare, sustainability and economic development are also important factors. Building an overpass over Pecan Boulevard at the South Texas College main campus, one of the fastest growing in the country (32,000 students) would coincide with a $55 million locally-funded campus expansion currently underway. Other overpasses would also help spur residential and commercial construction and activity.
Seek and support legislation to enhance Texas’ relationship with Mexico by requiring the The Office of the Governor, The Secretary of State, and their senior staffs, along with federal relations leaders, to hold high-level annual meetings in McAllen or Rio Grande City with counterparts in Mexico’s states that border Texas for the purposes of discussing trade, transportation, energy, security and other bi-national issues. Mexico is Texas’ largest trading partner ($101 billion in exports in 2013, 36 percent of state’s total) and Mexico is the top trade partner for Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Beaumont, and El Paso. Mexico and Texas also share a 1,250-mile border, more than two dozen crossings and billions of dollars worth of tourism.
Seek funding, through legislation or Texas Parks and Wildlife Department prioritization, for the construction of hike-and-bike trails in McAllen and surrounding cities. Funding would build trails that are regional in nature to connect neighboring cities, school districts and attractions. Effort is collaborative as McAllen would team with cities such as Edinburg, Pharr or Mission on these regional projects that promote connectivity, economic development and health sustainability.
Other issues to support and track
Other issues that would be supported and monitored by the McAllen City Commission would include measures dealing with direct water re-use, the expansion of UT-RGV and its School of Medicine, the legislative passage of tuition revenue bonds to help generate new construction for UT-RGV, and provide more positive marketing for McAllen and South Texas throughout the state and beyond.
Texas Municipal League
Will work collaboratively with Texas Municipal League on its state-wide pro-city agenda. McAllen will review TML’s list of initiatives and legislation and take a position with direction from mayor and city commission.
The Texas Municipal League, which has more than 1,130 Texas cities, is an alliance that exists solely to provide services to Texas cities, which pay dues to receive a wide range of services, including identifying, proposing, opposing, and supporting legislation of importance to its membership.