State Senator Charles Perry sat down with Lubbock Lights editor Terry Greenberg to discuss this Texas Legislature session and here are thoughts frm the Lubbock-based senator who represents 51 counties in West Texas.
On session priorities
“First is property tax reform. I think everybody supports property tax reform that will look like a reduced rollback and the loss of a petition requirement for taxpayers to have their voice heard at the local taxing jurisdiction. In other words, if the taxing jurisdiction needs more money than the current rollback after we leave session, then you don’t have to have petition requirements met before you go and have a discussion about property taxes. So that’s an automatic you’re going to have an automatic election when we leave there.
Second, “School security has surfaced to be one of those priorities of the session that will be centered around behavioral health. Texas Tech has led the state in a model of how to be more preventive/predictive of kids in trouble before bad things happen and it’s beginning to look like that’s got scope-ability, we can expand beyond some of the rural school districts that it’s been piloted at very successfully.
“Third, my charge from the lieutenant governor was to draft a statewide flood plan and we now have a statewide flood plan assuming that the Legislature votes and then accordingly there is a funding requirement on what that state flood plan looks like.
“So that’s kind of what I understand the priorities of the session to be and there will be lots of Hurricane Harvey issues that are going to surface through various bills.”
His personal priorities
Senator Perry said the recent ruling the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional – even if it’s a non-binding decision … will spark Texas to take the lead.
“We need to provide actual relief for health care costs and transparency and some of the things that we know will work from a conservative perspective to D.C. because they’re asking Texas to lead on this and we have not led.
“You’ve got to have a system of transparency, you’ve got to give consumers purchasing power and decisions, you’ve got to have insurance companies come on board, and you can do it through expanded risk pools and some things Texas used to have prior to the ACA that were very effective and efficient.”
I asked the Senator about insurance pools such as Christian Healthcare Ministries and Medi-Share and other “affinity” networks we hear about where the costs are cheaper, but the patient does more paperwork.
“I think there’s room in the market for all those models. I’ve seen the Christian network work, but it hasn’t stood the test of time yet. And why I say that is when you have an unlimited cap on a catastrophic (illness) are they going to have the reserves in place to cover 100 of those individuals in a one-month time span that got on to a $2 million problem. And time will tell.
“That’s the difference of those networks and insurance, which is state and federal regulated – they have to have a certain amount of reserves to guarantee to the providers that those monies will be there.
“That said, what that model is bearing out is there’s a lot of administration that consumes the health care premiums that absolutely could be directed towards provider care. It’s kind of like the old days before government was really involved in health care, before employers were paying for healthcare. Individuals used to have those relationships with the providers directly. What those models are showing that there are huge opportunities to pull that relationship back between patient and provider and negotiate terms of payments. The providers are eating it up because they don’t have to have 30 percent of their employees working on administrative costs. So there’s a balance in there somewhere.”
Addressing unfunded mandates
“We as a state have set up retirement plans for our retired teachers, for our employees not unlike the Social Security system at our federal level. And we have let those plans, if you will, morph into things that have created unfunded liabilities. Comptroller Hegar has risen this awareness to a level where it’s reached a point of decision. So we as a state need to decide, and I’m not telling you one way or the other. But … we either decide to fix the unfunded liabilities … or we tell everybody that we didn’t really mean it and you’re going to go to the Social Security system. Every one of those decisions are a multibillion issue and I’m talking almost a $60 billion problem (in two funds).
“We can no longer stick our head in the sand and ignore whether we keep the plan or get rid of the plan. That liability exists today, that over the next 30 years we would have to fund. I’m pitching a plan that will in less than 15 sessions solve the problem of the unfunded liabilities and that’s going to require some money from the ESF funds. There can be a lot of discussion on what we spend our rainy day funds on, but I don’t know of a better place to spend it to fix a hole that’s already in existence today.
“I’ve got a $2 billion infrastructure plan where we actually go out and fix all of our state assets. Be it the Capitol, be it the military institutions … be it the Parks and Wildlife administration that we’ve shorted $625 million of fees that’s been collected … but we didn’t give it to them.
“Six hundred million of the $2 billion price tag in that plan is for mental health beds west about I-35. We don’t have enough bed space when our county sheriffs pick up people who have mental issues, they have a place to put them. So they stay in our jail cells for months on end at a huge cost to the taxpayers where maybe just a one-week stint in one of our mental health institutions could have solved that. So that’s a $2 billion price tag.
“Then you throw in the statewide flood plan and and it’s 600 million for dam rehab and maintenance. People think that’s a no brainer, right? Well, we haven’t maintained our earthen dams around the state. Plus, another $600 million to begin the process of mitigation funding for those communities in the coastal regions, so when a hurricane hits, there’s some funds available to get those people back in sync.
“So $4 billion is the price tag I’m asking for ESF transfers three or four different initiatives.”
“And none of them are a priority over the other when you look at them in totality. So the Legislature’s going have to decide on those kind of priorities. And then we’re talking fixing Robin Hood and our school finance. That’s a $6 billion price tag. How do you fix all these billion-dollar problems?
“But the good news is in this session I’m hearing it for the first time I’ve been elected, that we’re going to try to tackle some of the big issues. So that’s kind of Session 101 coming up.
Charles said he’s personally working on a number of bills, specifically mentioning one regarding voter fraud.
“We currently don’t have a system that will allow non-citizen registry. If you go to the jury pool and you tell people you’re a non citizen – those rolls exist, but they’re not being compared to voter rolls. So my law would allow the Attorney General to actually cross reference those. So if you say you’re a non citizen for jury pool purposes, but yet you go vote, those data pulls exist side by side, but they’re not currently being compared. So that bill will will do that.
“I think at last count, I had around 60 bills in the hopper to be filed out of 51 counties. Yeah, that’s my personal bill portfolio, unfortunately.”
I asked Charles what kind of push back he expects trying to get so many bills passed.
Well, I think it’s not as much push back … it’s priorities. If you live in coastal Corpus Christi, funding for a $32-billion spine to protect the port of entries is a priority. Is that something we can afford to do today? I don’t know. That will be in competition for those kind of dollars and $600 million to go and fix dams that affect every county in the state.
Getting things done
Charles said he senses more of an “appetite” to get things done this session. I asked him what’s the difference compared to the past? He talked about how much enthusiasm was generated for Beto O’Rourke, who ran against Ted Cruz for Senate and pushed people to the polls.
“It showed people want governing versus more primary-related issues. I think everybody kind of took a message away that it’s time to fix some things (because) the generals got more competitive. And I think the general sent a message we want you to go down there and fix public schools. We want you to make sure we got water, we want you to fix the flood stuff.
“It’s not that we’ve worked on things that weren’t important in the past. But from a general standpoint, from a general voter in Lubbock, Texas, it’s the things that we think we’ve got a message from they want to see.
Does he have any concern Democrats won’t work with Republicans because they feel a power shift to Texas becoming a “blue” state?
“You know, I don’t think we are on our way to being a blue state. Here’s the good thing about Texas and I can truly say this without reservation. Democrats and Republicans – and I’ll give you an example – out of the hundreds of bills we voted out of the Senate last session, I think it was 30 of them were partisan, party-line votes. So in Texas, we still work to do the good of Texans. Arguably, a lot of the things we’re talking about have always been bipartisan support. It’s been a matter of budget and what I’m hearing this year is Harvey’s opened up the discussion about what is the proper allocation of funding from the rainy day fund. The comptroller has spent his entire interim running around talking about the unfunded liability Texas is sitting on. Not unlike the federal government or any other state. But here’s the thing … Texas can actually address it.
“So we’re beginning to have some discussion about some of these things that typically going into session we have just not wanted to deal with. I think we see a window of opportunity where taxpayers are asking us to be to deal with these issues. So it’s an accumulation of a lot of different things. But the election I think, had some bearing on it.”