Four Price - Texas State Representative, Republican, District 87 | Local legislators discuss state's big issues during WT event

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Local legislators discuss state's big issues during WT event

February 7, 2014
Amarillo Globe-News

By Mollie Bryant


What are the best solutions to some of Texas’ biggest issues, such as infrastructure, an arguably underfunded public education system and rising health care costs?

State Reps. Four Price and John Smithee and state Sen. Kel Seliger provided their thoughts on those subjects and more Friday during TribLive — an event hosted by The Texas Tribune and West Texas A&M University in WT’s Legacy Hall. Evan Smith, CEO and editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, moderated the conversation.

Following several years of staggering drought, state legislators approved the funding of a water initiative that will devote $2 billion to water-related infrastructure projects.

“I think the key going forward is to try to pay as much of this cost each year as we can, to keep up with the problem instead of putting it off ’til tomorrow,” Smithee said.

Price said the legislature avoided unpopular measures, such as a bottled water tax or tap fee, but he thinks the public may go for similar ideas in the future.

“I think Benjamin Franklin said that we know the worth of water when the well runs dry,” he said.

“So if we were in a crisis stage, we certainly would be able to communicate that and hope they’d understand. I think after the drought of 2011, the state recognized everyone was affected.”

Legislators also passed a law that has resulted in an educational overhaul, paving the way for fewer standardized tests and new graduation requirements for high school students.

The Legislature also returned about $3.4 billion into public education after Austin District Court Judge John Dietz ruled the state’s school finance system unconstitutional.

“I’m a fan of the lawsuit because I don’t think you’ll ever find a political solution within the whole of the Legislature because, for instance, our problem is the formula that’s in place now,” Smithee said.

“I think it discriminates against rural school districts, but it also discriminates against slower-growth districts.”

Another challenge for Texas is its growing number of uninsured in a state that already has the highest rate of residents without health care in the country.

“Nobody wants to go without health care,” Seliger said.

“The question is who pays for it. The truth is, it’s going to be businesses and people with jobs who are going to pay for it, and that’s why the current system in place is a real job-killer.”

But covering the costs of health care, public education and infrastructure are a challenge, and Price, Seliger and Smithee reject the notion of raising taxes to increase revenue for the state.

To fund future infrastructure projects, Smithee advocated across-the-board budget cuts and Price recommended “(separating) the wants from the needs.”

The Texas Tribune series is hosting similar events with legislators across the state as election season approaches. Smith said its TribLive events, and others like it, are important for our government.

“The reality is democracy, as corny as it sounds, demands that people running for elective office stand in front of voters and say, ‘Here is what I believe,’ and answer questions from voters,” Smith said.

“There are a lot of really important conversations that need to go on in communities like this one and around the state that are not happening, and you kind of have to force them to happen.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.