It’s an “off” year, so unlike several state officials, Phil King isn’t running for anything.
He’s still stumping his district, however, selling water.
King, who represents Parker and Wise counties in the Texas House of Representatives, spoke at the Paradise Chamber of Commerce luncheon Monday and stopped by the Decatur Lions Club meeting on Wednesday.
He reviewed the highlights of this spring’s legislative session, but mostly he talked about Proposition 6, the proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot which would fund the state’s water plan.
“We should be thankful for the drought for this reason,” he said. “It’s finally got the entire state focused on this issue of water.”
King called the State Water Plan a “pretty elegant design” in which regions and communities have outlined long-term plans for projects to build reservoirs, lay pipelines, build and improve water and wastewater plants – whatever assures clean water for Texans.
The plan was created back in the mid-1990s and the structure is now virtually all in place. There’s only one problem.
It was never funded.
“It’s been sitting out there for almost 20 years now, begging for the billions of dollars it would take to fund it,” King said.
Cost is one of the reasons no money has been set aside for the plan. King also points out that most legislators represent urban areas, not farms and ranches where the drought is deeply felt.
“Water’s real important to those of us who live out here,” he said. “We’re on wells, trying to find a source of water and all that. But most legislators are in urban areas. They turn on the tap, water comes out, the world’s good and everything’s fine. They’re not recognizing the problems we deal with.”
King said “it’s just one of those things that is easy for the Legislature to kick down the road.”
But the drought has finally gotten severe enough that the Legislature was able to focus and pass the bills that will go into effect if Prop. 6 gets voter approval.
“We will ask you to let us take $2 billion out of the state’s savings account, and put it into an infrastructure bank – basically a revolving fund bank for our local communities,” King said.
The funds would be available to communities, regional areas, cities, water districts and other entities, to help them leverage the funding to build water projects. “Weatherford, Decatur, Bridgeport – all of these communities will be very, very eligible for this,” King said. “It fits what we need.
“It allows us to have no-interest and deferred-payment financing to build water projects, whether it’s a pipeline to the Tarrant Water Board, participate in the construction of a reservoir, whatever the need may be.”
King said financial experts say the $2 billion, over 20 years, will work out to $27 billion in water construction projects.
“If it works right, it will literally take water funding for the state of Texas off the table for at least the next 10 years,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to do that with cash on hand and not have to raise taxes. It’s a great opportunity.”
The money would come from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” – which he said is still well above the levels the state really needs in order to be ready for a natural disaster, an economic downturn, or a sudden need in some area.
“Currently we have a savings account of about $8 billion,” he said. “It’s growing so fast that it’s too large – it really needs to be about 5 percent of our budget, which would be about $5 billion. We estimate it will be between $12 and $14 billion by the next session.”
Early voting opens Oct. 21.