Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, stopped by the Tyler Morning Telegraph Tuesday to talk water and the upside of passing Proposition 6 in November.
Proposition 6 would effectively create the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas, which would free up $2 billion to provide low-interest loans for water projects.
Straus said he believes Texans are aware of the state’s water woes and expects Proposition 6 to pass but that he is traveling the state to create conversation about water. Straus said water is too important to leave to chance and has urged state legislators and elected officials to support Proposition 6 publicly. He said 150 of the state’s 181 legislators have
“I’m optimistic but take nothing for granted,” he said. “I just want to get the word out about how important this is.”
Straus said the state’s water plan has existed for a long time but that a lack of financing stalled projects and has not been prioritized by state leaders during recent legislative sessions.
Polling for the proposition is positive, Straus said, but most Texans don’t relate personally to the need to improve the state’s water infrastructure – they turn on the tap and water flows.
Straus said people understand there is an ongoing drought. People have heard 90 percent of the state has been affected by it. They’ve seen the $11 billion in statewide agriculture loses and billions lost in other industry, including timber.
“But (water) still doesn’t rank in the top issues people feel, yet,” he said. “The state is growing by around 6 million people every 10-12 years. That will continue and our water supplies aren’t keeping up. It’s absolutely critical to the economic future of the state that we implement the water plan.”
The revolving $2 billion fund would help projects approved by regional water development boards and the Texas Water Development Board meet early financial needs. The $2 billion, which came from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (Rainy Day fund), would leverage around $50 billion for projects over the next five decades, he said.
The loans would be paid back to the fund via revenues generated by projects.
Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, sat in on the meeting and said the recent experience with statewide drought should be a wake-up call for all Texans.
“We have to do something at the state level to help locals jumpstart and build reservoirs, and that’s what this revolving fund does,” he said.
If Proposition 6 passes, Straus said, the state would encourage cooperation among regions to identify, construct and share projects that will provide meaningful capacity to those areas and the state.
Eltife said the loans would give local officials incentives to move projects along that have lingered in various planning stages for decades.
Straus said major agriculture, business and conservation groups are supporting Proposition 6.
But voter turnouts are typically abysmally low when constitutional amendments are the lone statewide consideration. In 2011, fewer than 700,000 Texans, or 5 percent of the state’s 13 million registered voters, cast ballots to decide 10 constitutional amendments.
Straus said he would continue to round the state in support of the proposition, which has garnered little statewide interest and defend its merits amid possible opposition or misinformation.
“I hope Tyler and East Texas turn out and vote for the future of the state, for their kids and grandkids and for the economic development and lifestyle for everyone in the state,” Straus said.