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Valley state lawmakers oppose budget cuts for therapy services that help 60,000 disabled children and elderly Texans – including more than 26,000 in the Valley – says Rep. Canales

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

Featured, from left: Mario Lizcano, Marketing Director, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance; Robert Martínez, M.D., Chief Physician Executive, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance; Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Thursday, July 9, 2015 at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel in McAllen for the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s 84th Legislative Session Wrap-up Luncheon.
Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

Five Valley representatives are among 28 state lawmakers who have called on the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to look elsewhere in their massive budget rather than reduce Medicaid funding for medically necessary therapy services for an estimated 60,000 pediatric and elderly Texans. According to information from the Health and Human Services Commission requested by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, more than 26,000 residents in the Rio Grande Valley would be affected by the planned rate reductions, which could go into effect on September 1. Canales, Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, were among the authors of a July 22, 2015 letter delivered to Chris Traylor, Executive Commissioner of that powerful agency, which administers Medicaid, among other major health and human service programs. “We write today in opposition to the rates proposed by the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) for physical, occupational, and speech therapy provided by Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facilities/Outpatient Rehabilitation Facilities (CORF/ORF), Home Health Agencies (HHA), and Independent Therapists,” the 28 state representatives stated. “We fear the proposed reductions will severely limit access to medically-necessary services for the most vulnerable in our state.” The legislative intervention is part of a statewide effort to protect Medicaid funding for those vital services for deserving Texans. Those cuts could involve up to $350 million in federal and state moneys for the therapy programs controlled by the HHSC. That $350 million estimate reflects the total potential impact if both rate reductions and policy changes directed in Rider 50 of the state budget are implemented. For only the rate reductions ($100 million in state funds), the total impact would be approximately $233 million. Public comment is closed, but the Health and Human Services Council will consider testimony and make the final recommendation by the time the new state budget goes into effect in about a month. Canales and the 27 other lawmakers who signed the July 22 letter to Traylor contend that the two-year state budget approved by the majority of the Texas Legislature allows the Health and Human Services Commission to come up with revenue from other sources or develop alternative financing plans to keep the funding at the same level. “Individuals to be most impacted by this proposal include children receiving services for birth defects, genetic disorders, and/or physical or cognitive disabilities,” the legislative correspondence added. “(We) think you would agree that, rather than subject them to additional barriers, we have a duty to safeguard these fragile young Texans.” Canales, Guillén, Lucio, III, Martínez, and Muñoz concluded their letter by urging the HHSC leadership “to comprehensively study the effect this level of reductions could have on access to care prior to the implementation of any cost-reduction strategy. While short-term cost containment may be possible using this methodology, the longer term cost to our state and to those most in need is potentially catastrophic.” Earlier in the spring, state legislators, led by Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, and Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, along with pediatric and elderly patients, parents, patient advocates and members of therapy provider associations, gathered at the State Capitol to begin raising awareness of those pending budget cuts, which had been included in the Senate version of the state budget, according to the Texas Association for Home Care & Hospice.

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New law, championed by Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and Rep. Canales, to help bring more jobs and benefit businesses

 

Photograph By DIEGO REYNA

Featured from left: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Agustín “Gus” García, Jr., Executive Director, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; and Carlton Schwab, President and CEO, Texas Economic Development Council, earlier in the spring in the Extension of the Texas Capitol.
Photograph By DIEGO REYNA

A last-minute parliamentary move by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, will result in the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation saving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in property tax payments that will now be invested into jobs-creation and business development in the city, Mayor Richard García has announced. Although the number is not immediately available of the economic development corporations in Texas which had been paying property taxes, as of Fiscal Year 2013, there are more than 700 nonprofit corporations in Texas which collect and administer their respective one-half cent economic development sales tax, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. The new law goes into effect on September 1. The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, governed by a five-member board of directors which features the mayor as president, is led by EEDC Executive Director Agustín “Gus” García, Jr. (no relation to the mayor). “When Gus came on board as EEDC executive director, one of the first projects he brought to the city council and the EEDC Board of Directors was the need to remove the EEDC, which is a public entity, from having to unfairly pay property taxes to other local governments,” the mayor said. “The state law that required the EEDC to pay property taxes was vague, so we supported Gus’ decision to have legislation filed to clear up that confusion. One government entity should not be paying property taxes to another government entity.” The payoff for the EEDC, which derives much of its revenue from the local one-half cent economic development sales tax, will be significant, said Gus García. “In 2012, the EEDC was paying more than $440,000 in local property taxes. This immediately triggered the question, ‘Why’?” Gus García explained. “I made some inquiries, and quickly discovered the law wasn’t clear on whether we – a government entity – should be paying property taxes.” The EEDC executive director took his findings to the city’s top elected and appointed leadership, seeking their support to have state legislation filed to resolve the controversy. “I visited with everyone of our board members, the city council and city manager,” Gus García said. “We make it a point to keep lines of communication open so that we are all on the same page when it comes to the legislative needs of the community.” The Hidalgo County Appraisal District, the government entity headquartered in Edinburg, whose powers include determining the market value of taxable property, has the authority to rule on exemptions and special valuations authorized by local entities and the State of Texas. Rather than wait until legislation could be filed, Gus García convinced the Hidalgo County Appraisal District to determine that the EEDC did not have to pay property taxes after all. “We visited with the appraisal district last year, and they were very interested in helping us. They, too, understood the contradiction of paying taxes with taxes,” he said. “As a result, in 2014, we saved approximately $330,000 because we did not have to pay property taxes.” But the uncertainty of the language in state law meant that legal challenges could still be filed against the appraisal district’s action favoring the EEDC, so the Canales’ legislation – House Bill 2305 – would still be needed, Gus García contended. With the help of René A. Ramírez, owner of Pathfinders Public Affairs, which is the EEDC’s and Edinburg City Council’s state legislative consulting team, the Canales’ measure was coordinated for drafting and filing for action by the Texas Legislature in early spring. But the measure remained stalled before the House Ways & Means Committee, with the necessary committee public hearing never being scheduled because that House panel was overwhelmed with 394 other bills requesting action. As Canales worked on dozens of other major issues, ranging from setting up a branch campus of South Texas College in the Delta Region to helping secure almost $100 million in new funding for the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine in Edinburg, the state lawmaker kept a sharp eye on amending other state legislation to include the goals of HB 2305. An amendment involves adding new language to a bill, which is an especially difficult challenge on the House or Senate floors during the final days and hours of the legislative session. But Canales was tracking House Bill 1905 by Rep. Drew Springer, R-Gainesville, which proposed eliminating certain other state and local taxes, and HB 1905 was almost certain to beat the legislative deadlines. “I went to Rep. Springer, explained the goals of HB 2305, he agreed with us, and he allowed me to add the key language of HB 2305 to his HB 1905,” Canales reported. “The need for change that was brought up by the EEDC, specifically by Gus García, drew overwhelming support in the Texas Legislature, and on Saturday, June 20, this very important piece of legislation, with statewide impact, was signed into law by the governor.”

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Sen. Hinojosa the only Valley lawmaker serving on Senate/House Conference Committee that will decide final version of Texas’ state budget

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Featured, from left: Lissette Almanza of Houston and Christopher Vela of Edinburg, both staff members for Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; and Sen. José R. Rodríguez, D-El Paso, a graduate of then-Pan American University who was raised in Alamo, outside the Senate Chamber at the Texas Capitol.

Photograph By SENATE MEDIA

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen,was one of only five Senate appointees – and the only Democrat – selected on Thursday, April 23, by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to serve on the Senate/House Conference Committee that will come up with a final state budget for the 2016-17 biennium. “I am honored to have been selected by Lt. Governor Patrick for such an important responsibility,” said Hinojosa, who is Vice-Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which came up with the Senate version of the state budget. “Through this appointment I am able to help craft a state budget that will pave the way for an educated and healthy workforce and a successful Texas economy.” A conference committee is a special legislative panel appointed by the Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House when there are differences between a Senate bill and a House bill that deal with the same issue, such as the proposed state budget that has been approved by the Senate and the proposed state budget that has been approved by the House of Representatives. On Wednesday, April 1, the House approved $209.8 billion budget, followed by the Senate, which on Wednesday, April 14, voted for a $211.4 billion budget. There are major differences in how much money is provided for certain programs and tax cuts, which resulted in the creation of the conference committee. “It is critical we work together to sort out the significant differences between the House and Senate versions to invest efficiently in our state programs so that we provide the services needed by our most vulnerable populations and that we wisely invest in infrastructure, transportation, healthcare, border security, and our students.” For example, the Senate budget proposes an $811 million increase for border security while the House budget calls for a $565 million boost. The Senate budget does not provide any increase for increasing Medicaid payments to doctors, while the House budget provides a $460 million boost. “Serious discussions will be taking place during the final budget process in the coming weeks and I am fully committed to support the funding priorities we need for South Texas and our entire state,” Hinojosa pledged.

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For Sen. Hinojosa, upcoming April 23 premiere of $42.7 million Performing Arts Complex will be one of the latest feathers in his famous legislative hat

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Featured, from left: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Dr. Francisco Fernández, Founding Dean, The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine; Mayor Richard García, who also serves as President of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors; and Richard Molina, Edinburg City Councilmember, at the UT-Pan American Ballroom on Wednesday, February 26, 2014.

Photograph By PEDRO PÉREZ, IV

Almost 10 years after the Texas Legislature first authorized the financing for its creation, the $42.7 million, 1,000-seat Performing Arts Complex at The University of Texas-Pan American will host thousands of area residents during a Thursday, April 23 debut with a Grande Premiere Concert, beginning at 7:30 p.m. (UT-Pan American will be renamed The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley in the fall.) UTPA and UT-RGV leaders are pulling out all the stops to showcase what will be a showpiece among the Valley’s increasing number of impressive centers for musical performances, sports events, and other major gatherings. The State Farm Arena in Hidalgo and the McAllen Convention Center – both publicly-owned entertainment facilities that can serve thousands of patrons per event – now share center stage with the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, the Bert Ogden Arena, set to begin construction in Edinburg, and now, the Performing Arts Complex that will serve as the heart of the local University of Texas System campus. UTPA officials on Tuesday, April 14, announced that in order to celebrate the highly anticipated grand opening of the state-of-the-art facility, they have planned a spectacular evening of the arts, starting at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 23, and featuring performances by faculty and student artists from UTPA and The University of Texas at Brownsville. Doors open at 7 p.m. for the Grand Premiere Concert, and the public is invited to be part of the free festivities. For more information or if special accommodations are needed to attend the concert, call (956) 665-5301. Mayor Richard García, who also serves as President of the EEDC’s five-member Board of Directors, said the emergence of the Performing Arts Complex will have profound and long-lasting effects on the city council’s and EEDC’s vision for downtown revitalization. “It fits in with our master plan for cultural development for our city,” the mayor said. “With the $42.7 million Performing Arts Complex, as well as the coming construction of the $68 million city-owned Bert Ogden Arena, along with the $54 million UT-RGV School of Medicine’s Medical Academic Building now under construction, and a $70 million UT-RGV science building annex approved to be built on campus, we are making our hometown the center for high-quality, family entertainment venues and educational excellence that not only improve our quality of life, but make it that much more attractive for businesses to expand and locate in our city, and with it, create more jobs and economic prosperity. García also praised the Valley’s state legislative delegation for securing more than $30 million earlier in April for a new engineering building at UT-RGV in Edinburg, a tremendous funding boost that could result in the planned development of a $50 million complex. García, who has built a statewide reputation as a leader who always shares the credit with others on major successes, said he wants one person in particular to be forever linked to the Performing Arts Complex. “We wanted this facility badly, we needed this facility badly, and the big hero on that is Sen. (Juan ‘Chuy’) Hinojosa (D-McAllen),” the mayor said. “I would love to see that facility be named after him. I have told him that in the past, and I will lead that charge because he was largely responsible for the state funding, and fighting to keep that money for the Performing Arts C0mplex.” Hinojosa was the driving force in the spring of 2006, when the Texas Legislature was at work during a special session at the State Capitol. “He was the principal legislative architect who made the state financing possible for this landmark project,” García recalled. “He successfully attached an amendment to a statewide tuition revenue bond bill. His effective move provided the needed financing mechanisms to pay for the Performing Arts Complex, which represents one of the largest infusions of financial resources by the state for new construction at UT-RGV.” Hinojosa emphasized the positive impact of the Performing Arts Complex. “This facility will attract supporters of the arts, quality performers and outside visitors. These benefits will also radiate into the community in other ways,” said Hinojosa. “I am confident the Performing Arts Complex will be top-notch, and it will bolster the local economy by attracting jobs and investment, and enrich the cultural life of the Rio Grande Valley. Investments like these are particularly beneficial because they help boost UT-RGV’s profile in the region.”

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With key appointments to powerful House committees, Rep. Muñoz well-positioned to help promote, protect City of McAllen’s legislative agenda

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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.

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