The Woodlands, April 3 – State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-The Woodlands) told The Golden Hammer Sunday afternoon, “My goal for the upcoming committee hearing on Senate Bill 1964 would be to restrict the entire forest to its current use, which is undeveloped, until the Texas A&M System talks about its preferences and has a conversation with the local community in The Woodlands and Conroe area directly.” Creighton said, “I’m trying to listen and have a good barometer for what the people in my District want.” Creighton discussed several pending bills he has authored.
Jones State Forest
Creighton authored Senate Bill 1964 which would allow the Texas A&M University System, which owns the land of the W.G. Jones State Forest that stretches north and south of F.M. 1488, to lease the property for academic, educational, and “private commercial uses.” The last category has evoked a firestorm of local response, including two petitions on change.org that now have more than 10,000 signatures of local residents who oppose Creighton’s bill. Yesterday, Creighton met with a group of residents from the F.M. 1488 area and has said, “I hear loud and clear what the people in my District want me to do. I had wanted public input, which is why I filed this bill, and I’ve certainly accomplished that. It’s been great.” Creighton said, “I have all the evidence I need to present to the Texas A&M University System what people want. Clearly, people want the ‘commercial use’ language removed and want a more measured and conservationist approach.”
Texas A&M’s current use of the Jones State Forest property is restricted to “agriculture, education, forestry, and demonstration.” Creighton has heard from many people in his District who want to restrict Texas A&M’s use of the land. “My only option to get that done would be during the Texas Legislative Session, because the Woodlands Township doesn’t have jurisdiction over something like that. I want to see the land of the Jones State Forest stay in a scenic and undeveloped state until Texas A&M and my constituents agree any a long-term plan.”
Senate Bill 2 in trouble?
Senate Bill 2, the property tax relief and property tax reform bill, of which Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) is the primary author, has passed the Texas Senate, by an 18 to 12 vote. As Creighton has explained, the bill contains two broad areas of law. The legislation would limit government tax rate growth to 4% per year unless the people within that jurisdiction vote to approve the higher rate. The proposed legislation also contains some appraisal district reform by moving appraisal districts towards boards of directors which the citizens would elect.
The Texas Association of Counties and the Texas Municipal League, both pro-government growth and spending lobbying groups, strongly oppose Senate Bill 2. For that reason, Creighton has expressed “concern” whether the bill can pass through the Texas House of Representatives. “TAC and TML don’t want that bill to happen. Local taxpayers want the proposed tax reform but local government leaders generally oppose it,” the Senator added.
Creighton explained that “many rural counties are very protective of their tax bases because those tax bases are not growing, so they need some other means, such as tax rate increases, to grow their tax collections.” The Conroe City Council passed a resolution opposing SB 2, while the County Commissioners Court has passed a resolution broadly supporting “property tax relief” but not supporting SB 2 in particular. County Judge Craig Doyal has made clear he supports increases in County government spending, despite the calls of Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark, and many local citizens for substantial spending reductions.
Creighton believes that the some of the appraisal district reform measures in SB 2 have a better chance of passing the Texas House than does a limitation on the growth of tax rates. “It’s going to be tough to pass in House. I’d give it a 50-50 chance which is better than it was at the beginning…That’s partly because Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott both support the bill.”
Texas Open Meetings Act
The Golden Hammer asked Senator Creighton whether anyone has requested that he file legislation to amend the Texas Open Meetings Act during this Legislative Session. Creighton responded no one has made such a request, despite the pendency of the TOMA Trial, also known locally as “The Trial of the 21st Century,” the criminal case against County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, and local political consultant Marc Davenport.
Creighton said, “No one has requested any changes with TOMA.”
Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District
Both Senator Creighton and State Representative Will Metcalf (R-Conroe) have filed bills to change the Lone Star Groundwater Conservative District from an appointed to an elected board of directors. Metcalfe’s bill calls for a 5-person elected board, while Creighton’s bill calls for a 7-person board, with five members elected at-large in Montgomery County and two members elected in the City of Conroe and the Woodlands Township, respectively.
“I’m worried that a 5-member board is too small and would allow for a small majority to control such a power entity. I want a bigger board makeup. With the amount of water that Conroe and The Woodlands pump, it’s important for those big entities to have a big voice,” Creighton explained regarding his version of the bill.
Port Finance Legislation
On March 30, 2017, the Texas Senate voted 31 to 0 to approve Senator Creighton’s bill, Senate Bill 28, to provide an additional financing mechanism of Texas ports. In his original “Author’s Statement of Intent,” Creighton stated:
“Texas ports are responsible for over 30 percent of the Texas gross domestic product and are integral to the Texas manufacturing and energy miracle that sustained the Texas economy through the depths of the economic downturn. However, Texas ports and manufacturing face an unprecedented competitive threat as ports in neighboring states are beating Texas in the race to improve their depth and infrastructure to meet the opportunities created by the new, deeper Panama Canal. S.B. 28 clarifies that Texas Mobility Funds can only be used for construction or improvements of public roadways that will enhance connectivity to ports. S.B. 28 creates a ship channel improvement revolving fund to assist local sponsors in deepening and widening projects.”
Creighton explained, “I love working on infrastructure. I’m fascinated with the PanaMex ships coming through the Panama Canal. The problem is that smaller states are beating Texas ports because they’ve received more infrastructure funding during the 8 years we suffered through the Obama administration.”
He noted that 90% of non-perishable goods sold in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston metropolitan areas come from the port at Long Beach, California, even though the ports of Houston and Beaumont are number one in the nation in overall tonnage. The problem, however, is that with the new locks installed in the Panama Canal, much larger ships are able to carry such goods and they cannot come into the Port of Houston, where the main channel is not deep or wide enough to accommodate those vessels. “My legislation establishes a Texas Port Revolving Loan Fund and a mechanism for that program to work and establishes qualifying uses for those types of bridge loans. Although Texas’ relationship with the federal government is improving, the Obama administrative favored more liberal states such as Georgia with port infrastructure funds. My program will help boost Texas ports with infrastructure financing. The financing would not come from state tax dollars but the program would merely establish a mechanism to ensure low-interest loans are available for our local ports,” Senator Creighton explained.
“Lieutenant Governor Patrick made my bill a high priority for the 85th Legislature, because it’s a great example of his commitment to infrastructure development for the entire state,” Creighton said.
Creighton is hopeful that SB 28 or a very similar bill will pass the Texas House. House Speaker Joe Straus appointed a special committee on ports during the 85th Legislature, so he also has made some commitment to “make something happen with respect to ports,” Creighton predicted.