The Census

Last week, the Trump Administration announced it will add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, a question that has been absent from the survey for 70 years.

The census, mandated by the Constitution to occur every ten years, determines the number of congressional seats each state gets. The information also guides federal spending based on population and need. If immigrants – and family members of immigrants – feel threatened and don’t participate in the Census, already under-represented communities will suffer even more.

And states with large immigrant populations, such as Texas, will lose out on representation and federal funding.  With 5 million immigrants, more than half of whom are not citizens, Texas will pay a very heavy price.

In a very pointed opinion piece published Monday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Editorial Board spelled it out:

“The census is a deciding factor in distributing hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending for Medicaid, food assistance, housing and other services. Any undercount of our population robs Texas of its fair share of federal funding for these critical programs.

“An undercount may also steal from Texas’ considerable political clout as the state gets ready for political redistricting, a process called reapportionment. Currently, Texas’s Washington delegation numbers 36. Whether we gain additional seats in Congress will be based on an accurate count.”

I would add that for every potential new congressional seat we don’t get, we also lose an electoral vote, reducing our impact in presidential elections.

So, what are our state’s Republican leaders doing about this unprecedented assault on our state?

Senator Ted Cruz celebrated the decision, even though it will hurt the very people he is supposed to represent.

Attorney General Ken Paxton actually advocated for this change before it was announced.

And Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick?  They are both quiet as mice – no doubt afraid to anger the Trump base by doing the right thing for their state.  And remember, Abbott’s the guy who used to brag about how many times he sued the Obama Administration.

As the Star-Telegram said, “It’s a bad idea for the nation. It’s especially bad for states like Texas.”

It used to be that when something was bad for Texas, our elected leaders would speak up, stand up and fight – regardless of party affiliation.  With this group of Republicans leading our state, those days seem like a distant memory.

Texas’ Credit Rating

Last week, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar raised concerns about the future of our state’s AAA-credit rating to members of the Senate’s budget writing committee.

During the hearing, Hegar said“I am actually very concerned…that in the very near future, if we don’t find creative ways to address these very real pressure issues, Texas can be downgraded. I want to make sure we avoid that because that is a black eye on Texas.”

What will a change to our credit rating mean for Texas? It will cost our state more to borrow money and sends a message that we have a fiscally irresponsible government.

The concerns stem from mounting liabilities — expenses that the Legislature has pushed off by using accounting tricks such as postponing payments and low-balling budget projections. Our credit rating is at risk because we have obligations that the Legislature is ignoring, including healthcare, education and transportation. Last session:

  • The Legislature postponed a constitutionally-mandated transfer of $1.58 billion in sales tax revenue to the Texas Department of Transportation
  • Thanks to Dan Patrick, the Legislature continues to under-fund our public education system and didn’t fully address the Teachers Retirement System’s funding shortfall, estimated at $700 million
  • The Legislature intentionally low-balled the Medicaid caseload projection, resulting in a likely $2.5 billion budget shortfall next year
  • The Legislature did nothing to address the Texas Tomorrow Fund shortage of $240 million 

These accounting tricks and gimmicks are not sustainable.  The Legislature is digging a fiscal hole that is increasingly difficult to climb out of.   According to the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, we will begin the next session about $7.9 billion in the hole, and that’s before we spend a dime to help the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricane Harvey. To top all that off, the Comptroller projects that we’ll have a lot less money to start with than in past years.

Despite all this, there is continued resistance by the state Republican leadership to use the Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, — projected to be $12 billion next year — to help address critical health, transportation and education needs. By the way, that’s your money the state’s Republican leadership is hoarding for political reasons.

This isn’t fiscally conservative budgeting; it’s smoke and mirrors. It’s time our state’s leaders start being honest with the people of Texas.

P.S. If you have questions about our state’s budget or the Rainy Day Fund, join me on Saturday, April 14th from 10:00 to 11:30 am at the Arlington Municipal Airport for our Town Hall. Click here to RSVP

SH 360 Update – March 20, 2018

After two-and-a-half years of construction, the opening of SH 360 South (360 Toll) is just around the corner. There are a number of updates about this project that I wanted to share with you.

As the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) approaches substantial completion of the project and opening of the main lanes to traffic, you can expect an increase of activity and even more employees and subcontractors working along the highway.

Spring rains have made it difficult to estimate the exact opening date, but TxDOT has informed me that, weather permitting, they are on target for an opening in mid-May.

Noise Barriers:

We have all seen the sound walls going up along the highway.  These noise barriers must be completed before the main lanes are opened to traffic. Following the main lanes opening, neighborhoods with the noise barriers can expect to see additional grading to maximize drainage around the walls, as well as staining of the residential side of the wall.  For the last year, my staff and I have worked closely with TxDOT to address neighborhood concerns about access behind the sound walls.  Accordingly, TxDOT will be installing wrought-iron fencing between the sound wall and the existing neighborhood fencing to prevent unauthorized access.  TxDOT and my office will share updated and final images of the wrought iron security fence with the affected neighborhoods as soon as they are available.

One of the key attributes of the 360 sound walls, unlike some other barriers on other roadways, is that each section of wall is of uniform height, as opposed to a wall that resembles a staircase.  This not only looks better; it will also provide many residences with a greater level of noise protection than is required under federal guidelines.

Improved Safety & Capacity:

Once the main lanes are open, the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) will assume responsibility for operations of the roadway.

Following the opening of the main lanes, TxDOT will continue to work on increasing capacity of city streets that intersect the project.  The anticipated completion date for all remaining work along 360 is July 31.

The complete reconstruction of the 360 cross streets is thanks to the cities of Grand Prairie, Arlington and Mansfield, as well as the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) and Tarrant County.  Each of these entities have invested millions of dollars in this project to ensure cross streets have wide bridges with larger and safer intersections.

These local partners helped ensure that bridges at Sublett/Camp Wisdom Road and Broad Street will have six lanes (three lanes in each direction) with turn lanes, and that the other bridges will have four lanes (two lanes in each direction) with turn lanes.  Additionally, each cross street will have Texas turn-arounds in each direction.  Along the frontage roads, there will be new sidewalks that are fully connected to sidewalks on cross streets and bridges. This is especially important for some younger residents of District 101 who walk to and from school near 360.

Higher Maintenance Standards: 

TxDOT has confirmed that areas inside the SH 360 right-of-way will be maintained at a higher standard than ever before. The maintenance, mowing, and litter removal will be in accordance with NTTA’s standards, which are higher than those previously in place. I am told that mowing up to the right of way line will occur anytime grass is more than 18 inches tall, as opposed to the current mowing schedule, which is limited to three times per year.  Additionally, litter will be removed when more than 20 pieces of trash are visible in a 100-foot area. These measures will help protect appearance of the corridor.

Save Money with a Toll Tag:

As you know, the new main lanes of SH 360 will be toll lanes.  The existing service roads will remain non-tolled.  If you anticipate using the main, tolled lanes, it is advisable to get a Toll Tag from NTTA if you do not already have one.  Toll rates are substantially less when using a Toll Tag than when paying by mail.  Visit NTTA’s website to learn more.

I am confident that the expansion of this well-traveled roadway will prove to be a benefit to our community by increasing mobility and safety.  I hope this information has been helpful, and I will continue to pass along updates as warranted.

Finally, as you may remember, I passed a measure last year to name the portion of SH 360 located in House District 101 the Rosa Parks Memorial Parkway. I will keep you posted on when the road is scheduled to open!

State Representative Chris Turner

She’s worried. Really worried.

Politics is really strange sometimes.  Last Tuesday, I was thrilled when my friend Beverly Powell won the Democratic primary election in Senate District 10.  Lisa and I were leaving Beverly’s victory party when I saw this tweet from the Star Telegram’s Bud Kennedy:


“That’s weird,” I thought.  “What could she have said that made it sound like she was running against me?”

I pulled up the statement and sure enough.  After a number of false statements about Beverly and her supporters, Burton turns her attention to…me.

She wrote, “…Chris Turner is also enthusiastically working for my opponent. As Democrat (sic) Caucus chairman, Turner was responsible last session for organizing their party’s lock-step opposition to legislation I coauthored that is broadly supported across Senate District 10.”

If that wasn’t enough, she went on to attack my support of fixing our broken school finance system, which is the only solution to address rising property taxes. She attacked my support of a woman’s constitutional right to choose. She attacked my opposition to the unconstitutional “show me your papers” law.

After naming me SIX TIMES in a string of false attacks, (again, I am not her opponent), Burton concluded by saying, “And now he hopes you’ll ignore the issues and send him reinforcements in November.”

She’s right on one thing. I do hope voters across our state will send reinforcements. We sure could use them in Austin.

We need more members of the Legislature who will fight for our public schools, improve access to health care and make college affordability a top priority. We also need more voices and votes against extreme measures like the so-called bathroom bill (one of Burton’s top priorities).

As probably the most ineffective legislator in the Capitol, Burton puts her extremist agenda above the interests of the women, men and children she represents. She has fought against more funding for our public schools, opposed increasing access to health care and voted against bringing good jobs to Tarrant County. And, we know she doesn’t like being confronted with inconvenient facts about her record, which is why she stormed out of an Arlington luncheon a few weeks ago when GOP County Judge Glen Whitley called out the Legislature for hypocrisy on property taxes.

I guess I wasn’t surprised that Burton came out swinging so early. With a record of failure and such a strong opponent in Beverly Powell, she is on the defense.

Between now and November 6th, I will do everything in my power to spread Democrats’ message and get voters who reject Burton’s brand of right-wing Trump-style extremism to the polls.  

Last week’s record turnout in the Democratic primary was a testament to how excited and engaged people are across our state. It’s obvious that Texans want real solutions to fix the challenges they face every day.

To be successful on Election Day, it will take hard work and it will take money. 

Help me get more voters to the polls and keep the people of House District 101 and Tarrant County engaged in this critical election

Together, we can elect more common-sense leaders like Beverly Powell and send lots of reinforcements to Austin.

Vote!

It’s not too late to vote for Beto O’Rourke for US Senate, Marc Veasey for re-election to Congress, Beverly Powell to replace Konni Burton, and Devan Allen to represent HD 101 in the Tarrant County Commissioner’s Court.

You have until 7:00 pm today. 

I know you’ve probably received a few reminders to go vote. This one probably won’t be the last. As I wrote in an email to you a couple of weeks ago, and as record early voting turnout for our party’s primary indicates, this will be a historic election

If you haven’t made it to the ballot box, it’s not too late. Again, you have until 7:00 pm today. 

Tarrant County Voters, click here for your polling location.

If you’re not in Tarrant County click here.

Now go vote.

Black History Month

Today marks the start of Black History Month, an annual celebration of African Americans’ incredible achievements and contributions to our nation’s history. During the month of February, I will highlight various African American leaders on social media and on my website. I hope you will join me in honoring these men and women and share the posts among your networks.

This Sunday, February 4th, marks what would have been Rosa Parks’ 105th birthday.  As you may recall, last year I passed a measure to name the Arlington and Grand Prairie portion of the SH 360 South extension the Rosa Parks Memorial Parkway.  This will both honor her legacy and pay tribute to the rich diversity of our community.

Over the last few months, my staff and I have worked with the North Texas Tollway Authority and Dr. Jason Shelton, the Director of the Center for American Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington, to finalize the language for the commemorative plaque that will be installed when the road is complete.  It will read:

The Texas Legislature has designated this important Southeast Tarrant County road the Rosa Parks Memorial Parkway, in honor of an American hero whose courage helped to change our nation for the better. As a black woman in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, Ms. Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man. This act of courage inspired the Civil Rights Movement, which aimed to eliminate racial discrimination and make the American Dream possible for all people. Ms. Parks’ fight for equality and fairness spanned her entire life, as she continued to tackle issues such as affordable housing and public education until her death in 2005.

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to befree…so other people would also be free.” – Rosa Parks 

This spring, there will be an event to open the highway and unveil the plaque.  As we get closer and confirm the details, I will send additional information so that you may mark your calendar.

In the meantime, I hope we can all reflect on the rich contributions of African Americans in Texas and across our nation this Black History Month.

Progress in District 101

There are major developments on two local projects my staff and I have been working on over the past few years.

As you know, curbing the reach of predatory lenders has been a top priority of mine.  My staff and the Texas 101 Task Force have worked on this issue since 2014. Last night, in a unanimous vote, the Grand Prairie City Council joined Arlington and 42 other Texas cities in adopting a Credit Access Business (CAB) ordinance. As a result of this action, those who take out payday and auto-title loans in Grand Prairie will have greater protections and will be less likely to become trapped in a cycle of predatory loan debt.

The Grand Prairie City Council deserves our appreciation and thanks for stepping up and doing what is right for its citizens and for having the political will to do something the Legislature refuses to do — stand up to predatory lenders.

What cities are doing is making a real difference, but they really should not have to be dealing with this issue in the first place.  It is the Legislature’s responsibility to regulate predatory lenders.  I hope that as more cities join Grand Prairie and Arlington by passing CAB ordinances, state leaders will take notice and recognize it is time to act.

In the meantime, I am proud to say that 100 percent of District 101 is now covered by a predatory lending ordinance! I’m equally proud that so many citizens, through the Texas 101 Task Force and other means, became involved in this issue at the local level.

Another district project that we have worked on for a while is improving pedestrian safety along Spur 303/Pioneer Parkway in Arlington.

This busy thoroughfare, located in an area with significant residential housing and several schools, needs major pedestrian improvements. These will include additional sidewalks and safer crosswalks.

In response to these concerns, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has developed an improvement plan for Spur 303, which they will unveil at a public meeting Thursday evening, January 25, from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at the Senior Recreation Center located at 1815 New York Avenue, Arlington, TX 76010.

Click Here to See the Proposed Plan 

I hope that East Arlington residents will come out and share their thoughts on the proposed plan. My staff and I will be there and we hope to see you.

If you have any questions about Thursday’s meeting, email me at chris.turner@house.texas.gov.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In my Capitol office, on the wall beside my desk, hang two pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The photograph on top is of Dr. King waving to an audience of 250,000 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. That day, he gave what many consider his most notable speech and where, in a boomingMLK National Mallvoice, he delivered the words that moved a nation.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The picture below it is of Dr. King in the Oval Office, sitting in the foreground, listening, or perhaps deep in thought. President Lyndon B. Johnson can be seen behind him.  I hung thisMLK and LBJphoto as a reminder of the progress these two made addressing civil rights and voting rights. It also serves as a reminder of the constant battle to fight for and to protect these rights.

Today, we remember Dr. King’s words, we celebrate his life and we honor his legacy. Let’s not just focus on thoughts and celebrations. Let’s act.  Let us work collectively to serve our communities and make our cities, state and country a better place for all.

The night before he tragically died, Dr. King delivered his final speech. In it, he challenged those listening to come together to work for the greater good.

He said, “Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”

These words ring as true today as they did in 1968.

I ask you to please join me in making a commitment to stand with greater determination and to help the people in our communities, our state and our nation. Not just today, but every day.

2017 Constitutional Amendment Election

This week marks the start of early voting for the 2017 Constitutional Amendment election. While these constitutional amendment elections normally don’t have high turnout rates, they’re still important for our state and our community.

The voter ID procedure for this election is the same as it was in 2016.  If you have a photo ID, you should bring it to the polls to vote. If you don’t have a photo ID, you can still cast a ballot as long as you bring other proof of identification, such as your voter registration certificate, utility bill, or bank statement. You’ll then have to sign a “reasonable impediment declaration” stating that you were unable to obtain a more official form of ID. If you have any questions on the process, please call my office or check out the good Q&A on this website, www.GoVoteTexas.org.

Here’s what’s on the ballot:

Proposition 1: Expand Property Tax Breaks for Disabled Veterans
Current law allows a disabled veteran to claim a partial property tax exemption for a home donated by a charity at no cost. The change in Prop 1 would expand current law to include any home donated by a charity for less than the market value of the residence homestead. This measure provides additional financial relief for veterans that may not otherwise be able to afford a home.

Proposition 2: Updating Home Equity Loan Laws
This amendment is designed to modernize Texas’ home equity loan process. Overall, the amendments makes five updates. First, borrowers have a lower cap on fees charged for their home equity loan, and there would be more lenders to choose from. It will be easier for homeowners to pay off their equity line of credit in advance, and under certain conditions, a home equity loan can be refinanced as a non-home equity loan. Finally, agricultural homesteads could qualify for these kinds of loans. The bill creating this constitutional amendment passed unanimously; for more details, I encourage you read this op-ed from the San Antonio Express-News that details how the changes proposed by this constitutional amendment could help.

Proposition 3: Change to Length of Service for State-Appointed Officials
The central question of Proposition 3 is whether or not an unpaid state-appointed official whose term has expired should be allowed to continue serving in that position until a replacement is named. Current law allows these officials to serve indefinitely until a replacement is named; this amendment creates a hard cut-off date for an appointee whose time has expired. If you want to ensure volunteer, state-appointed positions are properly turned over so that new volunteers can serve on them, you should vote for the amendment. If you think these unpaid appointees should be able to remain in their positions on boards and commissions until a replacement is named, then you should vote against the amendment.

Proposition 4: Requiring Notice to the Attorney General of a Challenge to State Law
This amendment simply ensures that if a state law is challenged in a Texas court, the Attorney General must be notified. There can then be a waiting period of up to 45 days of that notification during which the law itself cannot be ruled unconstitutional. It would make sense for the state to have a right to defend itself in a lawsuit brought before it and for the state to be made aware of any challenge. The 45-day delay raises fair concerns about whether or not unconstitutional laws would be allowed to remain in effect, even temporarily. However, once the state responded, that 45-day delay would be over. Additionally, the delay only applies to a final judgment “holding the statute unconstitutional.” A court could still place a temporarily hold on a law that could limit constitutional rights, ensuring it didn’t go into effect while the court case was settled.

Proposition 5: Expanding Charity Raffles
This measure expands a recent constitutional amendment that allows professional sports teams to conduct raffles at home games. The original law limited this to only well-established sports teams. Prop 5 would allow minor league teams to hold such raffles, as well as anyone hosting a motorsports racing event or professional golf tournament.

Proposition 6: Property Tax Relief for Families of Fallen First Responders
This amendment lets families of first responders who have already suffered a devastating loss ensure they have relief on rising property taxes for their home. The law would operate the just like current Texas laws that allow spouses of military men and women who die or become disabled in the line of duty to receive some exemptions on his or her property taxes. This measure is appropriate for firefighters, police officers, and all first responders who risk their lives to keep us safe.

Proposition 7: Allowing Raffles for Savings Accounts
This measure, authored by State Representative Eric Johnson, ensures that banks and credit unions are allowed to offer prizes to individuals who create savings accounts. Many Texans lack a savings account or three-month emergency fund. This measure creates an incentive for individuals who establish those accounts, thereby encouraging more cost-effective and secure ways of saving money, as opposed to seeking out predatory payday lending options.

Early voting starts today and runs through November 3rd. Election Day is November 7th. For voting locations in Tarrant County, click here.

Also, feel free to call my Arlington office if you need more information. My staff may be reached by calling 817-459-2800.

Please vote this election!

Health Care: Take Action Now!

This week on Capitol Hill, there’s been a lot of talk about the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill, the Republicans’ latest scheme to repeal Obamacare.

I know that it’s hard to keep track of all the proposals the Republicans in Washington have been floating around; however, according to every report I’ve read, this may be, by far, the most harmful plan yet.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, if Graham-Cassidy becomes law, those with low to moderate incomes, Medicaid recipients (read: seniors, people with disabilities and families with children), and people with pre-existing conditions will be the most negatively impacted. Based on Congressional Budget Office calculations of a previous measure, it’s estimated that a repeal-and-replace plan like Graham-Cassidy could mean 32 million people would lose healthcare coverage.

That’s clearly unacceptable – and that many people losing health coverage simply means that health care costs will skyrocket for everyone as health care providers provide more and more uncompensated care.  If that’s not concerning enough, the federal government will give states block grants and control of how the money is spent, the power to determine what will be covered and how much that coverage will cost. There are several problems with this. Among them, block grants would disappear after 2026, leaving states to fully cover the cost, unless Congress reauthorizes the funding. Even worse, block grants will give state leaders the power to decide whether or not insurance companies have to cover pre-existing conditions, mental health care, substance abuse and maternity care.

I am afraid of what Texas’ leaders would do with the money. Our current governor has been very vocal in his opposition to the Affordable Care Act and has refused to expand Medicaid, which would insure another 1 million Texans. That’s compounded by the fact that our state has a long history of failure when it comes to healthcare.

For example:

  • Two years ago, Texas Republicans directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to slash spending for acute therapy services for kids, resulting in thousands of children being denied access to speech, occupational and physical therapy.
  • In 2003, Republicans passed a bill that made it harder for lower-income working families to get CHIP health coverage for their kids. As a result, in the three years after the bill was signed into law, 215,729 children lost access to their health coverage.  To add insult to injury, the bill required the privatization of the implementation of the program, at a cost over nearly $1 billion that resulted in scandal and fiscal mismanagement.

It’s important to point out that it’s not just Democrats who oppose the Graham-Cassidy bill; many Republicans do too. Several Republican and Democratic governors have sent a letter calling on Senate leadership to shelve the Graham-Cassidy measure and instead work toward a bipartisan solution.

I hope more Republicans lend their voice in opposition and soon. This bill is on the fast track.

What can you do to help stop this assault on health care? Join me in contacting Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz to tell them to oppose Graham-Cassidy.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn
North Texas Office
(972) 239-1310
Washington, DC Office
(202) 224-2934

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz
North Texas Office
(214) 599-8749
Washington, DC Office
(202) 224-5922

This is a bad bill for Texas and for people across our nation. Let’s make our voices heard.

 

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