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Travis Commissioners hear ‘realistic’ forecast on 2011 Legislature

Friday, October 1, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Travis County Commissioners got a preliminary look Thursday at what the Texas Legislature could have in store for local municipalities in 2011. It was a surprise to none of them that the news was fairly grim.


The briefing was by the county’s intergovernmental relations coordinator, Deece Eckstein, who also delivered a draft of Travis County’s legislative agenda for the upcoming session. That document contains a detailed look at what could the priorities and positions for the county as state lawmakers go about their business.


Along the way, Commissioners emphasized the importance of having an alert network of allies who will be able to help it navigate through what promises to be a rough session at the capitol.


Eckstein told the court that something of a perfect storm was waiting for them on Congress Avenue. “It will be a tough legislative session because of the looming shortfall in the state budget and because the legislature also has to deal with redistricting.” 


Still, he delivered a full agenda. New this year are calls to “support legislation to amend the medical examiners’ statutes to promote best practices throughout the state while preserving local control and flexibility; support legislation giving counties the necessary tools to manage growth, protect property values, and preserve quality of life in the unincorporated areas; (and) support legislation that would allow counties to offer specialized retirement packages to early retirees.”


Eckstein added that much of what he brought to the court followed along the lines of what Travis County had attempted during the last legislative session. However, given this year’s particulars, he also asked the court for a bit of extra independence.


“What we’re going to try to do is move more flexibly,” he said. “We will bring bills to the court and ask for the court’s support during the session…but what’s going to be more important is the general policies that the court has directed the (office of intergovernmental relations) to try and advance on behalf of the county.” 


County Judge Sam Biscoe highlighted the need for Travis County to work with similar urban areas. “Do we have a close enough working relationship with the (Texas Conference of Urban Counties) and the Texas Association of Counties to urge them and us to put in place some sort of networking strategy that…positions us to respond to legislation that we believe may impact us?” he asked. “It seems to me that the times that counties have been successful have been when the elected officials in the various jurisdictions contacted their own legislative delegations.”


Eckstein responded that though the “outlines of that sort of system are already in place,” his office intended “to have it operating much more effectively this session.”


After he testified, Eckstein told In Fact Daily that the county’s approach would be a combination of proactive and reactive strategies.


“I think we’re trying to be very realistic. The state is in a huge budget crunch, (and) we’ve got redistricting, which completely absorbs all of the attention of the legislators,” he said. “So we’re trying to be very realistic about, number one, protecting the county from the legislature pushing stuff downhill towards us—particularly with respect to unfunded mandates or removing money for programs that they are really responsible for or that they partner with the county on. Our number two priority is to try and pass some legislation in the midst of all the noise that they are going to be dealing with.”

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