Texas Senator Robert Duncan met with local community leaders on Thursday morning, Aug. 18, 2011 for a Roundtable Discussion hosted by the Sweetwater campus of TSTC (Texas State Technical College) West Texas. The meeting took place at the campus in the President's Board Room in the Sears Building.
The Senator not only offered some oversight into the 82nd Legislative Session but also allowed for the audience to discuss important matters that impact the community.
Senator Duncan noted that during the session and especially during the special-called Legislative Session, many things were done in regards to education and the economy. While the sessions are currently in recess, the senator noted that now is the time to examine how the actions made will impact communities.
Looking back to the 2003 session, Senator Duncan recalled how similar action was taken during that time and now — periods where the budget was a pressing matter. However, the senator noted that today's economy does have the ability to recover, largely in part to the Rainy Day Fund.
Additionally, Medicaid has proven to be a big concern for the state in that today's program would be unsustainable in the long run. Impact from the federal side, such as President Obama's health care initiative, could boost state eligibility from around 70% to almost 95%. Action is being taken to control costs, but with progress still being made, the final terms and impacts on communities is still unknown.
However, the Senator did note that bold and positive moves were made regarding transportation. TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) can take more action in maintaining highways and more projects can be done which were previously unable to be performed.
At that time, Senator Duncan opened the floor for dialogue on community issues. Among the conversation was school funding on the public and higher-education planes, rural hospitals and community banking.
Funding within the public schools — in which changes have been made to adjust — has made a local impact. Also, with the standard of success being raised ever higher, the unknowns of the culminating factors have made things difficult.
The senator noted that a better approach should be made in regards to standardized testing, while acknowledging that more of a focus should be made on career and technology skills. Community colleges such as TSTC assist in stressing the workforce while keeping students locally.
While the Sweetwater TSTC campus has made consolidations and omissions in order to absolve costs, the overall results have been pleasing. TSTC President Gail Lawrence praised the senator for his instrumental work in that the school can now receive reimbursement in their assistance in job placement for TSTC graduates.
In turn, Senator Duncan praised the school for being a trailblazer in training students in skill — which four-year colleges sometimes fail to do — thus resulting in a growing workforce. He also promised to continue to work with TSTC in their endeavors.
Regarding rural hospitals, concerns were raised with the changes in Medicaid and the potential for increased enrollment. While physicians are trying to be recruited, the number of primary providers still isn't enough to meet the need.
While Medicaid, according to the senator, can be a real problem to budget, resolutions are being made though they are just in the planning phases. Because the consequences are still unknown, the senator also has concerns about how local hospitals will be impacted and asked those involved to make attempts at staying informed on the issue.
Community banking was another issue discussed within the roundtable. Senator Duncan was met with praise for his care for local banks but also with a request to the senator for no more bank regulations to be presented at this time. Not only are local banks suffering from the recent actions of federal banks which prompted the regulations, but inevitably the consumer is the one who pays the consequences.
The senator agreed on the regulations issue, citing that many of his interactions are made with community banks. Most banks within the area have been faring well despite the national economy, though the local economy is a plus for local banking right now.
In addition, concerns with veterinary care were brought up in that currently a struggle is taking place in response to animal rights groups who are opening full clinics without proper protocol. Tax-exemption status has possibly played a role in this matter but its impact is being felt locally. Senator Duncan stated that the issue needed to be addressed and thanked those for already handling other veterinary needs.
Senator Duncan closed the roundtable discussion by offering a preview of what lies ahead for Texas. While growth can prove to be positive, it needs to be consistent with what can be handled to avoid problems. Issues regarding businesses need to be re-examined to offer fair and simple changes on some rules, and Internet sales have hurt some retail businesses.
Also discussed briefly was leadership within the state, with the senator stating that seniority and experience are important to have within the ranks. Roles within the top could possibly change which include current Governor Rick Perry — as he vies for a presidential bid, Lieutenant Governor and Senate seats.