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Agency will accept written comments through Nov. 19

Friday, October 18, 2002 by

Attendance was sparse at a Thursday night hearing on changes to the rules for protection of the Edwards Aquifer. Austin City Council Member Daryl Slusher was one of six speakers at the hearing held by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The agency was formerly known as the TNRCC.

Slusher presented several initiatives—expressing some surprise at the small turnout. He warned TCEQ officials that some of his proposals would be beyond the scope of their authority under current state law. “I want to lay out a broader strategy that I think is needed in conjunction with stronger TCEQ rules,” Slusher said. “Without stronger action, I think we face a polluted aquifer . . . as well as the eventual demise of Barton Springs as a place for swimming. I believe that a stronger state role in protecting the aquifer and granting more power to local governments is essential to the aquifer’s survival.”

He specifically cited the need for more water-quality control measures for new highways built by the Texas Department of Transportation, as well as existing highways. He also urged the state to promote the use of native plants and landscaping (similar to the City of Austin’s Grow Green Program http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/growgreen/native.htm) and urged the Legislature to allow local governments to raise money specifically to purchase land for conservation. “An approach that would not require state funds would be for the Legislature to authorize a point-of-sale fee on real estate transactions,” Slusher said. “This could be done as a local option and would not require any appropriation by the state.”

Slusher’s calls for the state to do more were echoed by Environmental Board Member Tim Jones, Brian Dudley with the Friendship Alliance of Hays County and Hays County resident Terry Tull. “There’s clearly a need to improve the level of enforcement and the standards we apply,” said Tull. “The Edwards Aquifer is in decline. We’ve got to do something.”

The state agency will be accepting written comments on the aquifer-protection rules through November 19th. Floyd Marsh, General Manager of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, told TCEQ representatives his agency would likely be submitting material before that deadline.

North Austin forum features Senate,

Barrientos, Bentzin still civil; Baxter

missin g

Not too many sparks flew when Senator Gonzalo Barrientos and his Republican opponent, Ben Bentzin, faced each other last night at a forum featuring candidates for three different state offices. But budget issues seemed to be the main battleground for the two Senate candidates, as well as for District 46 and 48 House candidates.

Democrat Ann Kitchen squared off with her District 48 opponent Michael Badnarik, a Libertarian, during the forum held at Lanier High School, but did not have to contend with her Republican challenger, Todd Baxter, who had a prior engagement.

The forum began with Dave Nalle, another Libertarian, trying to convince North Austin Civic Association members, who organized the event, why they should vote for him over Dawnna Dukes, the Democrat representing House District 46.

But Barrientos had the last word, correcting the spin he said Bentzin put on his leadership efforts in the Senate. Bentzin said that Barrientos had not served on a Senate committee in several years, to which Barrientos responded, “it’s election time!” He chalked Bentzin’s remark up to campaign rhetoric, pointing out that he has served on the Senate Finance Committee for many years.

When asked if the City of Austin would suffer by losing the seniority of a veteran Senator to a freshman, Bentzin noted examples of highly effective freshmen legislators. He said effectiveness and leadership are what matter. He insisted that Barrientos has not chaired committees or shown strong leadership abilities in the Legislature during his several terms in office.

Bentzin stressed that with 31 members in the Texas Senate, it’s important to develop close personal relationships with other members and work together with them to be effective. He said that is his style, and it’s why he will be an effective Senator, suggesting that Barrientos is neither prone to compromise nor a good team player.

Barrientos did not quibble. “You never compromise before you get to the table,” he said.

Bentzin stressed that “divisiveness and partisanship in the Legislature will hurt you . . . it will cost you.” He then said his opponent’s past methods of getting the budget back in healthy shape included raising gas taxes, rental car taxes, motor vehicle registration fees, professional’s fees and drivers’ license fees. “You’ve seen school taxes rise by 70 percent in four years,” he said, noting that those tax dollars don’t even stay in the district where they are collected.

When asked how he would deal with the budget crisis, Barrientos said he would move to freeze all non-critical state hiring and eliminate unnecessary programs such as cloud seeding for weather control. He said the state is facing a $5 billion-plus shortfall, but as a member of the Finance Committee, he’s worked to overcome similar budget crunches in the past.

“Balancing the budget is as much common sense as it is dollars and cents,” he said. Barrientos said he would work to cut waste and duplication from the budget and strive to make sure everyone pays their fair share by eliminating tax loopholes.

Bentzin said, “Our challenge is one of prioritization.” He said his experience in the corporate world, as an executive with Dell Computer, qualifies him to help balance the budget. “Working at Dell, our challenge was to deliver more and better customer service with less money.”

Budget talk also loomed large in the House candidates’ statements, with Kitchen saying, “The first order of business is to squeeze every last dime out of our budget.” She said she’d do this by cutting the cost of prescription drugs and making sure existing taxes are fair. She said she was opposed to a state income tax and any new taxes that would make it more difficult on homeowners and small business owners.

Kitchen said the budget was the toughest challenge in the upcoming legislative session. “You’ve probably heard the next session described as ‘The Perfect Storm,’” she remarked.

Issues she would focus on include the Robin Hood school program, which is not about rich and poor districts, she said. “This is about making sure all of our kids have access to a quality education.” Insurance reform and transportation problems are also on her priority list, she said.

Her opponent Badnarik said that as a Libertarian his fundamental issue is “the law of property.” He didn’t shy away from an opinion on the Robin Hood plan. “This is a blatantly Socialist piece of legislation and I’m embarrassed it was made into law,” he said.

To illustrate his point on how harmless decriminalization of recreational drugs would be, he asked for audience participation. If it were decriminalized, “how many people in this room would start using cocaine?” he asked. No one raised a hand.

And on taxes: “Definitely no new taxes,” he said. “The private sector is a much better regulator of those dollars.”

Kitchen said eliminating unnecessary costs and stopping insurance companies from dropping clients after they file claims would help insurance reform. “We need to have standards in place on mold remediation,” she said.

Badnarik also expressed concern about the insurance industry. “I don’t know if mold is growing faster than it was five years ago, but mold litigation is,” he said.

Dukes also put budget woes high on her list. The next legislative session will be one of the toughest, she said, with a budget shortfall possibly as high as $12 billion. “The bottom line is, we don’t have the money.” But like most of the other candidates she said she does not support a state income tax. “Let me calm your fears,” she said, stating that such a move can only come with voter approval.

In her view, the Robin Hood plan serves some districts well and others poorly. On the other hand, her Libertarian opponent Nalle said the system is just not working. He said it seems to be bringing the quality of education down. The solution, he said, is private schools. “Privatized business does things better, especially in schools,” he noted.

On the subject of municipal, county and state governmental bodies working together, Nalle was outspoken. “I see the City of Austin government as being a problem,” he said. “The City of Austin has a lot of ideas and plans that are not well thought out . . . SH 130 is a great example of this,” he said, “it’s a disaster waiting to happen . . . a classic example of Austin finding the wrong solution.”.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hyde Park Baptist Church in court . . . State District Judge Pete Lowry heard arguments yesterday from lawyers for the City of Austin and the Hyde Park Baptist Church over what rules the city should follow when deciding how big the church’s planned parking garage should be. Area neighborhood groups are not involved as parties but are eager onlookers, hoping the city wins the case. Its outcome will determine whether the garage will hold only a few more spaces than the current surface lot or many more spaces. Lowry took the matter under advisement . . . Free aquifer lecture today . . . UT Geology Professor John M. Sharp, Jr. will give a lecture on the Edwards Aquifer at 7pm tonight at Welch Hall, room 2.224, on the UT campus. There will also be a reception from 5:45-6:45 pm in the 2nd floor foyer. The reception will feature “hands-on activities” and information. The title of Sharp’s speech is “The Edwards Aquifer: Will there be water for Texas?” After the speech, instructional materials will be given to K-12 teachers . . . Kirk Watson fundraiser . . . Attorney General candidate Kirk Watson will hold what is probably his final pre-election fundraiser tonight from 6-8pm at Cedar Street, 208 W. 4th St . . . Lakeway forum tonight . . . The Lakeway Activity Center will host a candidate forum beginning at 7pm this evening. Candidates for County Commissioner Pct. 3, Senate Dist. 14 and House District 47 are expected to appear . . . Democratic Early Vote Rally . . . Democratic candidates will be urging voters to get to the polls at a rally scheduled for 11:30am to 1pm Saturday at Pinky’s parking lot on E. 7th Street. On Monday, the Gonzalo Barrientos Campaign will hold a noon rally at Wooldridge Park across from the Travis County Courthouse. Senate challenger Ben Bentzin, who hopes to unseat Barrientos, will address the I-35 & Airport Association at their meeting Monday, beginning at 6:30pm. The association meets at 4911 Harmon . . . Sign hearing postponed . . . A hearing over the city's ordinance against “bandit” signs scheduled for Thursday in the court of Federal Judge James Nowlin has been re-scheduled for November 12th. Both the City of Austin and the Travis County Republican Party agreed to the postponement. Judge Nowlin issued a temporary restraining order last week prohibiting the city from enforcing its ordinance against signs in the public right-of-way. Since the hearing was re-set for after the election on November 5th, that means the city won't be removing any campaign signs. Republican Party leaders had claimed that their candidates would be harmed if the city took down the improperly posted signs so close to Election Day.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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