Joey Gomez

State legislators representing Edinburg are predicting a larger “piece of the pie” for funding in the area with a month to go before the 81st Legislative Session convenes in Austin.

Funding infrastructure for businesses and municipalities to sustain growth is a priority, according to state Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg. Legislators have been working hard to keep ahead of current economic woes nationwide, and ease the impacts of devastating hurricanes on infrastructure costs in the area, he said.

“I think we’ll be able to get a bigger piece of the pie, and we did that last session where we a got a good portion or share of the budget compared to other regions, I predict we will be able to do that again,” Peña said. “The economy is sputtering, and the hurricanes have caused infrastructural costs, and the tax system did not reach the amount of revenue we expected.

“There are some real challenges, but I think we are ahead of the game,” Peña said.

Following the previous session Peña had said his greatest achievement was securing funding for a $3 million Substance Abuse Facility in Edinburg. He was also successful in getting $750,000 for the Museum of South Texas History.

He also succeeded in acquiring $45 million for a Department of Public Safety center in Hidalgo County, $5 million for a DPS facility in Rio Grande City, and $10 million for the South Texas Hospital in Harlingen.

“We continue to advocate that Texas grows because South Texas continues to make money. We really are, in addition to big cities, the engine that run the state,” Peña said. “Our trade with Mexico, and with Canada, are what’s driving Texas. We are the heart that is keeping Texas going.”

The city unveiled its legislative agenda at a luncheon on Dec. 5. The City of Edinburg has outlined its agenda focused on at least four priorities which include economic development, tax and appraisal caps, education, and parks and recreation.

The most important, according to state representatives, includes funding to upgrade the South Texas International Airport in north Edinburg. The city is asking for money from Governor Emergency Funds (GEF), and TxDOT for the building and maintenance of a key hangar facility.

The city is also asking for about $40 million from the U.S. Department of Defense and FEMA for drainage improvements, runway extension and other associated improvements at the airfield.

At issue is the recent submission of two separate Approprations Request Forms for FY 2008 and 2009 to Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, for the $40 million to improve the airport. Only $850,000 has been earmarked for the facility, but that has yet to be allocated.

“I think the airport is going to be really important,” said state Rep. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen, whose district also includes parts of Edinburg. “Expanding the runway, the hangar, all of that is important not just for emergency preparedness but to have trade continue to be first and foremost, which is important to the Valley.”

The city is also seeking support for continued funding of the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF), the Texas Skills Development Fund, and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund.

Mayor Joe Ochoa, the EEDC, state legislators, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry officially announced in July that Brazil-based Santana Corp., South America’s largest denim fabric manufacturer, and fourth largest in the world, would also be the first in the Valley to receive TEF funding.

Santana is expected to open its plant in the city’s North Industrial Park in 2009. The TEF was created by Perry to attract business to the state. Santana will be investing $150 million to launch the plant, but the city predicts a $270 million annual impact for the city and surrounding area.

“I think it’s going to be tough for the state all around,” Gonzales said. “But I think an area that shows a lot of growth, and an increase in population should be taken into consideration first for funding because you don’t want to stifle that growth.

“If you’re looking at that as a way of measuring who should get money then I think the Rio Grande Valley in general should be at the forefront,” she said.

Also on Edinburg’s Legislative Agenda:

The city proposes to create legislation that would require the State of Texas to reimburse local governments for transporting mentally ill patients to the nearest MHMR facility.

There is no legal requirement to transport the mentally ill, and the city has absorbed the cost of transporting these individuals to the nearest facility, which is often in San Antonio, according to city officials.

Edinburg is also proposing to create a Texas run low cost spay and neuter program through the Department of Health. Legislation should be created mandating that the state create the program, and or subsidize the city’s cost associated with animal control.

The cost associated with sending animals to the animal shelter has reached about $70,000 a year, or $56 per animal, according to the city.

The city is asking lawmakers to support legislation to allow volunteer firefighters to get free tuition, and to support tax exemptions for diesel fuel for fire fighting apparatus.

Edinburg is asking legislators to support funding allocated for the Texas Recreation Parks Account Program, and support laws that would create a constitutional dedication of sporting goods sales tax revenue for state and local parks.

The City of Edinburg is also supporting the University of Texas Health Science Center’s Legislative Appropriation requesting $10 million for the 2010-2011 biennium.

Funds will support further recruitment of clinical scientists to enhance the RAHC Medical Research Division in Edinburg.