Capital Highlights December 2
AUSTIN — Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Nov. 25 announced the transfer of $3.33 billion into the State Highway Fund and into the Economic Stabilization Fund, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund.
Each fund received more than $1.66 billion, or 50% of the total transfer. The transfer amounts are based on crude oil and natural gas production tax revenues in excess of 1987 collections. If either tax generates more revenue than the 1987 threshold, an amount equal to 75% of the excess is transferred, according to an agency news release.
In November 2014, voters approved a constitutional amendment allocating at least half of these severance taxes to the Rainy Day Fund, with the remainder going to the State Highway Fund for use on non-toll highway construction, maintenance and right-of-way acquisition.
Patrick appoints committee
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Nov. 26 announced his appointment of a committee to review the history and procedures for the placement of art and other decor in the historic Texas Senate Chamber.
Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, will serve as chairman of the committee. Members appointed include Sens. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston; Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels; Borris Miles, D-Houston; Beverly Powell, D-Burleson; Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown; and Kirk Watson, D-Austin.
According to the State Preservation Board, the chamber’s two brass chandeliers have been in place since 1890 and 15 historical Texas paintings were hung in the room before 1915. Also, a portrait of Stephen F. Austin by an unknown artist behind the lieutenant governor's desk dates from circa 1836, making it one of the oldest pieces in the Capitol.
In the announcement, Patrick mentioned that in 2015, he resumed the annual practice of placing a Christmas tree in the historic chamber after many years with no tree.
Disaster funds: Plan set
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush on Nov. 21 announced the release of the state's action plan detailing the distribution and eligible uses of some $4.3 billion in Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds.
The funds, coming from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, are to be used to assist Texas communities with mitigation projects, addressing risks within the areas impacted Hurricane Harvey and floods in 2015 and 2016.
"Hurricane Harvey was a storm of historic proportions with more than $100 billion in property damage and immeasurable disruption to the lives of Texans," Bush said. "Many communities in Texas have faced repeated flooding...With this action plan, the General Land Office will prioritize large-scale projects to maximize available infrastructure funding to improve the resiliency of Texas homes, businesses and infrastructure from future storms."
Grant to enhance Lifeline
Dr. Courtney N. Phillips, Texas Health and Human Services executive commissioner, on Nov. 26 announced the agency is receiving a two-year grant of more than $3 million from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s State Capacity Building Initiative.
The goal is to increase the state’s capacity to provide free, confidential emotional support and services to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Grant funds will be used to assist Texas call centers in answering more calls from residents, reducing wait times and connecting them to local treatment facilities, support and nearby crisis or emergency service centers, Phillips said.
Health and Human Services plans to contract with four local mental health authorities to implement the grant in March 2020: The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, Integral Care (Travis County), MHMR of Tarrant County and Emergence Health Network in El Paso County.
Antitrust claims resolved
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Nov. 25 announced that his office has reached a settlement with T-Mobile resolving the state’s antitrust claims against the proposed merger of mobile wireless telecommunications service providers Sprint and T-Mobile.
According to an agency news release, the agreement is designed to prevent the New T-Mobile from increasing prices for wireless services on Texans for five years after the merger is complete.
Also, it commits the New T-Mobile to:
—Give all Texas customers access to T-Mobile limited data rate plans at a cost far below what is currently offered in the industry;
—Commit to provide 5G wireless broadband coverage to areas where most Texans live, including most Texans living in rural portions of the state within the next three years and to expand that 5G coverage dramatically within the next six years; and
—Offer Texas residents that are currently employed by Sprint and T-Mobile substantially similar employment with the New T-Mobile.