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More emergency funds could be cut

Thursday, April 21, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Capitol Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) may have dodged a bullet when state Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin) offered an amendment to the state budget bill replacing funding for area 911 call centers. That funding had been cut from the upcoming Texas budget. Now, however, more drastic reductions could be on the way.


According to Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, CAPCOG Executive Director Betty Voights expressed her concerns to the organization’s executive committee. “This is one of those deals where clearly there are good intentions, but the harm may be greater than losing the 911 money, based on the (CAPCOG’s) interpretation of impact,” he said.


Voights concerns came up as part of the Travis County Commissioners Court’s weekly legislative briefing on Tuesday. County Intergovernmental Relations Director Deece Eckstein and legislative consultant Greg Knaupe also offered the commissioners an update on the state’s budget process and a look at three bills that could have implications for Travis County.


The court had signaled its opposition to the 911 cuts with a March resolution. Workman offered his amendment – which would take the exact amount required to keep the 911 stations open from the Governors’ Criminal Justice Division – a few weeks after that. More dramatic cuts appear to remain.


Biscoe pointed out that these cuts could extend to the Regional Law Enforcement Academy that CAPCOG maintains for its members. “The other little fact that I think is important is (that) we don’t use the law enforcement training center because we have our own,” said Biscoe.


Eckstein told the commissioners that new reports had the Texas Senate adding as much as $12 billion back into the state’s budget. Still, he noted, the next biennium would be a slim one. “We’re still talking about backing away … even from the current budget,” he said.


Knaupe said that a select committee “that is dealing with non-tax revenues” is looking at cutting back on state tax abatements. He told In Fact Daily that, though he doesn’t know which programs are under the microscope, there is a “laundry list” of candidates.


“As recently as this morning, I’m starting to hear more and more that some of those tax exemptions are getting strong consideration from members of the Senate,” Knaupe told the court. “Essentially the discussion is, ‘Well, if they are exemptions that would bring in a lot of revenue that could also potentially be harmful if we do away with those exemptions; maybe we should try just a two-year moratorium.’”

However, on Wednesday, the Austin American-Statesman reported that the bill coming out of the Senate had delivered no such moratoriums.


The commissioners decided not to take any action on the bills Eckstein brought to their attention. Eckstein asked if the county would like to try to opt out of a piece of legislation requiring regions with a population of over 1 million to use only a seven-day pay week for some of their employees. Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt came out against the idea.


“I think that we are a big county now, and to pretend otherwise is inappropriate,” she said.


County Judge Sam Biscoe agreed. “The census will take care of this issue for us,” he added.


Meanwhile, the commissioners decided to take a wait-and-see approach to a bill that would allow county commissioners courts to make unilateral exemptions to their burn bans. County Fire Marshall Hershel Lee noted that, as it is written, the bill would “muddy up the water as far as enforcement of your order, when you order outdoor burn bans.”


According to Lee, Travis County already allows for some of the exemptions allotted in the bill.


They opted for the same strategy on a bill that would seek to bypass U.S. Department of Justice pre-clearance for state redistricting efforts and send Texas’ maps directly to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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