BY STATE SEN. JUAN ‘CHUY’ HINOJOSA
Over the past weeks, I have attended several state-of-the-city addresses, and on Feb. 5 I was at the first State of the Valley discussion with county judges from throughout the region. All these events make it clear that the Rio Grande Valley is transforming and will continue to blossom economically over the next several years.
Much of the progress is due to a strong push for partnerships. For years now, we have been advocating and pushing for a regional approach to fight for our priorities because that makes the most sense. When a city in our region secures new funding for a project, a new company or business moves in, or if there’s an expansion of educational opportunities, all our region benefits.
Behind every local success is much coordination, including some from the state, which the Valley delegation of lawmakers is proud to help facilitate. Of course, it has helped that we have a united legislative delegation — locally elected officials as well as community and business leaders — working together for the benefit of South Texas.
This unity and strong advocacy for our priorities has begun getting the attention of state leadership — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus. And for the first time in history, the Rio Grande Valley had senior representation on the important Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees, as I served as vice chairmen of these budget-writing committees. It also ensured a position on the budget conference committee, which is charged with writing the final state budget.
With these positions, and with the attention from state leadership, the RGV is at the forefront of critical discussions. The result? In the past few years, we have had some major projects funded and initiatives passed that have benefited our communities. We have seen significant investments and improvements in infrastructure, public safety, education and health care.
Just last year, working with the Texas Department of Transportation and Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, we were able to secure
$150 million to expand the Pharr Interchange to address traffic congestion. In fact, that figure doesn’t include the active $200 million in construction and maintenance projects currently being administered by TxDOT’s Pharr District. This includes the funding we secured to demolish and re-construct the Bicentennial Boulevard overpass in McAllen.
Also last year, due to the partnership between our legislators, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the Texas Water Development Board, we were able to break ground in Hidalgo County on the Raymondville Drain project. This is a 63-mile drainage improvement system that will benefit Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy counties. The groundbreaking was possible due to our success in securing $17.1 million in state funds.
Our communities are safer, crime rates are declining, and our law enforcement officers are better protected due to investments we have made at the state level. In 2015 and 2017, funding was approved to add additional law enforcement personnel in South Texas. To date, the Texas Department of Public Safety has 250 state troopers patrolling border communities. We have 22 Texas Rangers focused on corruption in South Texas; additional Game Wardens conducting ground and marine patrols along our ports of entry; and TABC officers focused on combating those engaged in cartel or gang activity and using businesses to launder money. Lastly, we continued our fight against human trafficking. I was proud to support and co-author legislation that increases penalties to deter people from getting involved in human trafficking and promoting partnerships with the trucking industry by requiring training on recognizing and preventing human trafficking.
We have also invested
$3.2 million for a new DPS Law Enforcement Operations facility in Peñitas; $1.6 million in South Texas College for the Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence to locally train and retain quality law enforcement personnel; and $2.4 million for the creation and operation of the Texas Transnational Intelligence Center in McAllen. This important center will operate 24 hours per day and serve as a central repository of real-time information related to criminal activity in the counties along the Texas-Mexico border.
In working with Gov. Abbott’s office, our communities have benefitted from some of the funding approved by the Legislature to protect our law enforcement officers. The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department recently was approved for a grant of $260,000 to buy bulletproof vests for 372 deputies. Many other police departments in our region also benefitted from this grant.
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, working with our office, as well as U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar’s, and with the support from
Gov. Abbott and his staff, was able to secure $900,000 in possible reimbursement funds from FEMA to provide relief to cities and nonprofit entities who had to manage the humanitarian relief efforts due to the surge of children and families crossing over from Central America. To date, it is estimated that the City of McAllen will receive $132,000; Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, $248,926; and Food Bank of the RGV, $4,108.
Our access to health care and education have also benefitted significantly due to our partnerships and support from state leadership. The UTRGV School of Medicine is in the process of enrolling its third class of medical school students. More importantly, our hospitals are adding and expanding residency slots. This is due to their own investments, plus support from over
$10 million in grant funding from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Additionally, Texas A&M University is now in the process of enrolling students for its McAllen campus. Students from the RGV, in certain academic programs, will now be able to graduate from Texas A&M and receive the traditional Aggie ring without having to leave the Valley.
Some of our public schools have also benefitted from legislation we passed and the funding we secured. Last October, Texas Workforce Commissioner Julian Alvarez presented a $342,740 grant from the Jobs and Education for Texans Fund to PSJA. The grant will allow the school to train 180 high school students to learn manufacturing technology skills including milling operations, precision measurement, and blue print reading and drafting. This will give our students the skills they need to transition to a job in the manufacturing industry right out of high school.
The Mission Economic Development Corporation was awarded a $100,000 grant to provide cyber security training to Rio Grande Valley residents. This, along with legislation we passed that allows Texas school districts to give students a choice of taking computer science classes as core credits, will allow more students to learn these skills in high school.
All these investments have created new jobs, helped the economy grow, and helped improve the quality of life for our community, including $5 million for Quinta Mazatlán’s Center for Urban Ecology. This center will have a significant impact on the region’s economy, education and environment.
The Rio Grande Valley is a thriving region and as long as we are united and working together, we are a powerful force. The opportunities that we deserve are no longer lost.