FEATURED: The annual Lighting of the Letters takes place on Friday, February 15, 2019, on the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley campus in Edinburg outside of the Fieldhouse. The university and its School of Medicine were among the top Rio Grande Valley legislative priorities which received vital funding in the Texas state budget, which went into effect on Wednesday, September 1, 2021, according to Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.
Photograph By DAVID PIKE
Texas state budget provides $364.3 million for UT-Rio Grande Valley, including $72.8 million for School of Medicine, announces Sen. Hinojosa
Texas’ $248 billion budget for the next two years, which went into effect on Wednesday, September 1, 2021, fully funds public education, contains investments in higher education, increases money for mental health, and covers the costs for many Rio Grande Valley priorities, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, has announced.
“One of the most important responsibilities of the Texas Legislature is to pass a two-year state budget that is fiscally responsible and takes care of the needs of Texans across the state,” said Hinojosa. “I was honored to work with my Senate colleagues and with the members of our South Texas legislative delegation to ensure that our Rio Grande Valley priorities remained financially supported in the budget. Overall, we were successful in maintaining or increasing financial resources for our important needs.”
All of the Rio Grande Valley state legislators voted for the final version of Senate Bill 1, which is the state budget. Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville, was recorded with an excused absence for the final vote in the House of Representatives on Senate Bill 1.
Rio Grande Valley priorities that received funding in the state budget included increasing money at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley by $29 million for a total of $364.3 million.
This increased funding includes support of the School of Medicine which saw an additional $3.8 million for a total of $72.8 million.
The budget also includes $1.9 million for the Cervical Dysplasia Cancer Immunology Center, which will be further enhanced by the recent announcement by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley of their plans to build new cancer and surgery center in McAllen.
“The medical school continues to help us transform the region and increase access to care for our families here at home,” said Hinojosa, author of Senate 24 in 2013 which created the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine. “Our delegation continues working to secure the partnerships and investments necessary to fund top-notch facilities and recruit world-class doctors for our region.”
As the author of Senate Bill 24, Hinojosa was the legislator who filed the bill and guided it through the legislative process (also called the primary author).
A bill is a type of legislative measure that requires passage by both the Texas Senate and the Texas House of Representatives and action b the governor in order to become effective. A bill is the primary means used to create and change the laws of the state.
“Filed” is used to refer to a measure that has been introduced into the legislative process and given a number.
Funding for the statewide Graduate Medical Education program, which helps pay for doctor residency slots across Texas, also increased by almost $42 million for total funding of $199 million.
Since 2014, DHR Health and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine have been awarded more than $48 million in Graduate Medical Education grants, significantly increasing the number of doctors in South Texas.
Anchored in southwest Edinburg, with a growing presence in neighboring McAllen, DHR Health offers some of the most comprehensive medical care on the U.S. southern border, with more than 1,400 nurses and 600+ physicians providing care in 70+ specialties and sub-specialties.
DHR Health is the flagship teaching hospital for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and encompasses a general acute hospital with the only dedicated women’s hospital south of San Antonio, a rehabilitation hospital, a behavioral hospital, more than 70 clinics Valley-wide, advanced cancer services, the only transplant program in the Rio Grande Valley – and the first and only 24/7 Level 1 Trauma Center south of San Antonio.
Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Ltd (“DHR”) and its general partner, RGV Med, Inc. (“RGV Med”) own and operate a 519 licensed bed general acute care hospital located at 5501 South McColl in Edinburg. The facility is one of the largest physician-owned facilities in the United States that began as an ambulatory surgery center in 1997.
Beginning in 2013, the 83rd Texas Legislature appropriated $14 million to support several efforts to increase the number of first-year residency positions available in the state.
A resident doctor is a medical school graduate and doctor in training who is taking part in a graduate medical education (GME) program. Health care facilities commonly refer to resident doctors as “residents” and first-year residents as “interns”.
In 2015, the 84th Texas Legislature streamlined these efforts and appropriated $53 million to increase the number of first-year residency positions and to establish new residency programs. The 85th Texas Legislature increased funding to $97.1 million to continue support for the program in the 2018-2019 biennium. The 86th Texas Legislature continued support for the program, appropriating $157M for the 2020-2021 biennium.
The state budget also includes funding for facilities and infrastructure in Hidalgo County.
The South Texas International Airport in Edinburg was allocated $5 million which is in addition to the $5 million from the previous budget approved two years earlier. These funds will be combined to build a hangar for the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Military Department, and for other emergency response needs in the region.
Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, serves as Chair, House Committee on Transportation, which has jurisdiction over legislation that affects transportation systems throughout Texas.
“Over the years, I have seen firsthand the growing importance of the airport in Edinburg,” said Canales. “The airport serves as an important base for regional air medical services and operations by the Texas Department of Public Safety, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and the U.S. National Guard. When we invest in the South Texas International Airport, we invest in the safety and security for the entire South Texas community.”
The South Texas International Airport at Edinburg is a 580-acre, user-fee airport, as designated by the U.S. Customs Service, as well as a Foreign Trade Zone. It is a notable asset to the City of Edinburg’s economic development and is poised to become significantly more important to the Rio Grande Valley and the Texas border region in the foreseeable future.
Based on this vast and open land characteristic and its adjacency to the hurricane evacuation route (Interstate 69C/US281 ), the airport has been designated as an evacuation hub for the Lower Gulf Coast and the Rio Grande Valley by the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management and the State of Texas Military Forces. This designation emphasizes the importance of the airport in the event of natural disasters.
The budget authorizes the Texas Water Development Board to award up to $10 million for the Raymondville Drain project and it directs the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to award $3.5 million for the Center for Urban Ecology at Quinta Mazatlán.
The Raymondville Drain Project currently exists as an authorized federal project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the Project for Flood Control, Lower Rio Grande Basis.
Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 is the lead sponsor, and once constructed the project will address regional stormwater management, environmental mitigation and preservation, and protection and provision for economic development.
Quinta Mazatlán is the McAllen Wing of the World Birding Center under the stewardship of the City of McAllen. Its mission is to preserve the 1930s adobe estate and the native plants and animals of the Rio Grande Valley, by providing a sanctuary for environmental education, eco-tourism, and inspiration to people of all ages.
“These investments in our facilities and our infrastructure will create jobs and help improve the quality of life in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Hinojosa.
Another accomplishment during the 87th Regular Session – which took place from January 12, 2021, through May 31, 2021 – was the continued funding for Border Infrastructure (Rider 11b), which has led to $60 million per biennium (two years) being allocated by the Texas Transportation Commission.
A rider is a legislative directive, inserted in the General Appropriations Act following appropriation line items for an agency, that provides direction, expansion, restriction, legislative intent, or an appropriation.
The term also applies to special provisions at the end of each article and general provisions in the General Appropriations Act.
The General Appropriations Act (GAA) is one of the most important legislation that the Texas Legislature annually passes. It defines the annual expenditure program of the state government and all of its agencies, boards, and commissions.
“This past year, $17.5 million of Rider 11(b) funds were combined with $4.5 million of Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization resources to pay for the Anzalduas bridge project,” said Hinojosa.
The Anzalduas International Bridge is an international bridge over the Rio Grande River, which connects the western outskirts of both the city of Mission and the city of Reynosa.
The budget also includes $500,000 for the Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant Program which will help expedite the flow of commerce and produce at the ports of entry.
The Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant Program, authored by Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, helps speed up the safe and efficient entry of Mexican farming products into the United States through the Pharr International Bridge, was approved by Texas Legislature in the Spring of 2021.
The state budget includes funding for border security and public safety including $1 million in grants for the Border Zone Fire Departments; $500,000 for the Texas Transnational Intelligence Center in McAllen; and, $10.1 million for local border security grants.
Lastly, the approved budget increased funding for public education by $2 billion which includes $664 million for targeted programs to help students and schools affected by the pandemic; includes $8.4 billion in behavioral health funding across 25 state agencies; and, includes $1.25 billion for financial aid programs for students enrolled in a higher education institution.
CREATION AND FINANCING OF FOOTBALL, WOMEN’S SWIMMING AND DIVING PROGRAMS, MARCHING BANDS TO BE VOTED UPON NOVEMBER 8 THROUGH NOVEMBER 10 BY STUDENTS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS RIO GRANDE VALLEY
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley UTRGV’s Student Government Association (SGA) on Tuesday, September 7, 2021, voted to support a student referendum that will provide an opportunity for the student body to cast its vote on the expansion and creation of programs aided by an increase to the intercollegiate athletics fee.
The university’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and the Division of Strategic Enrollment and Student Affairs proposed the referendum the previous week during a Student Government Association meeting.
The Student Government Association will establish an elections committee to finalize details for the special election, to be held from Monday, November 8 through Wednesday, November 10, 2021.
Chasse Conque, Vice President and Director of Athletics, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said the referendum serves a much broader purpose than solely creating and expanding new programs.
“The goal of this referendum is part of UTRGV’s bigger goal to enhance the university experience not only for our campus community but also for the Valley communities we serve,” he said. “We are grateful to the Student Government Association for providing this initial support, and for allowing our student body to be involved in such a transformative opportunity.”
The referendum seeks to increase the intercollegiate athletics fee by $11.25 per credit hour (capped at 12 hours). Funds generated by the proposed fee increase will allow for the expansion and addition of the following programs on the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley campuses:
• A Division I FCS football program.
The NCAA’s Division I is divided by the FBS and FCS. FBS stands for Football Bowl Subdivision and it gets its name for the numerous bowl games that teams play at the end of each season that generate hundreds of millions of dollars. The FCS is the other subdivision of NCAA’s Division I. It stands for Football Championship Subdivision and was known as Division I-AA from 1978-2005. The main difference between FBS and FCS is how a final winner is determined. … FCS teams can only have 63 players on scholarship, while FBS football teams can have 85.
• A Division I women’s swimming and diving program.
• Marching bands on both the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses.
• The university’s spirit programs on both the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses.
Current students who remain within the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley established Guaranteed Tuition and Fees program will not have to pay the fee increase because of the university leadership’s promise to never raise a student’s tuition or fees during that period.
The proposed increase would start in Fall 2022. The fee would affect only:
• New incoming students; and
• Students outside of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Guaranteed Tuition and Fees program
Dr. Maggie Hinojosa, Senior Vice President, Strategic Enrollment and Student Affairs, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said officials are committed to working with the student body on this initiative and to keeping tuition and fees affordable for students.
“We are number one in the country for lowest student debt among all public institutions, and we pride ourselves on the programs that allow us to keep debt low,” she said. “This fee increase was carefully developed with two things in mind: providing the necessary funding to help create and expand the new programs, and ensuring that the increase will not affect our ability to remain one of the most affordable universities in Texas.”
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley leaders say the new programs, among other things, will create numerous new opportunities for students and the people of the Valley by:
• Expanding access to athletics throughout the Valley, as the football team plans to play in Brownsville and Edinburg with marching bands performing, and the swimming and diving team will compete in the new natatorium being built in Pharr. Free transportation will be provided for students to home football games on the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses. Students will receive free admission to all home football games and swimming and diving competitions.
• Creating nearly 500 new opportunities for student involvement, with more spirit program members; marching band participants; football and swimming and diving student-athletes; additional student athletic trainers and student managers; and student employment opportunities.
• Enhancing school spirit and pride on the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses and throughout the Valley with performances by its marching bands and expanded spirit program.
• Increasing enrollment and providing more funding to the university, not only through tuition but also through formula funding which determines state allocations.
• Boosting the local economy and creating more job opportunities for University of Texas Rio Grande Valley students, alumni, and community members.
Luis Moreno and Patrick González contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).