State props could have major local impact

There are a handful of propositions on the ballot that could help the Rio Grande Valley recover from disasters, prevent future flooding and provide much-needed funding for cancer research and prevention.

Propositions 2, 3 and 8 on the ballot Tuesday address flood mitigation and water needs.

Proposition 2 would allow the Texas Water Development Board to issue $200 million in bonds to fund water and wastewater infrastructure projects in areas where the median household income is at or below 75% of the statewide median income level.

“This is an investment basically in the poorest communities,” state Rep. Terry Canales said. “Every community should have access to working sewage and drinking water. Those are for the health, safety and welfare of the community.”

For South Texas, Proposition 2 would serve as a funding mechanism and engine for infrastructure in colonias, he added, and encouraged voters to approve the measure.

“Hidalgo County has more colonias than any other county in the state of Texas,” Canales said.

Propositions 3 and 8 address disasters and drainage infrastructure.

Proposition 3 would allow the legislature to create temporary property tax exemptions for people with property damaged in areas the governor declares disasters.

“So when the governor makes a state declaration, we should do everything we have to do to get those people back on their feet, and temporarily allowing or getting our property taxes lowered, at least for a short duration, will allow that homeowner, who’s just been flooded, to get back on their feet,” Canales said. “And that’s what Proposition 3 does. It provides property tax relief to those people who have been affected by flooding and/or disasters.”

Hidalgo County residents experienced two such disasters in a year’s time, both of them a result of thunderstorms. Widespread flooding twice affected the Mid-Valley, a low-lying area where some of the most critical drainage infrastructure is located.

Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fuentes has made it his mission to improve drainage in the county. He’s been lobbying state and federal partners for funds to complete various large projects.

“The state has never taken on flooding as a state,” Fuentes said.

Proposition 8 intends to do that.

If approved, the measure would create a flood infrastructure fund that the Texas Water Development Board could use to finance projects following a disaster, and it would have $800 million to dish out. The money would come from oil and gas taxes already in the state’s rainy day fund and would not create new taxes.

“To create a more resilient Texas, we’ve got to have that steady funding stream or access to those funds,” Canales said. “And that’s what Proposition 8 does. By setting aside that $800 million, it allows us to strengthen the infrastructure of those flood-prone areas.”

All but one city in Precinct 1, Progreso, passed a resolution in support of the measure.

“This is critical, not just for us, but the entire state,” Fuentes said.

Of the 254 counties in Texas, 100 have experienced state or federally declared disasters, he said, and not all of them were in the coastal region.

“It’s not a partisan issue. It is something that affects everybody, so I really encourage everybody to get out and vote,” Fuentes said.

Proposition 6 addresses cancer research.

In the Valley, there are some cancers that are two or three times more prevalent than the national average.

Proposition 6 would double the budget of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), and if approved, it might fund the work that the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is doing.

The state legislature founded CPRIT in 2009 and gave it a $3 billion budget. That money, however, is running out.

CPRIT has already distributed $2.4 billion across the state to fund 1,450 projects, CPRIT spokesman Chris Cutrone said.

Proposition 6 would also allocate an additional $3 billion to the institute.

“Had somebody asked me about this prior to 2013, I would’ve not advocated for giving CPRIT any more money because of their waste and the way they were managing their funding,” Canales said. “But as of now, I can tell you that CPRIT is back on track.

“Since I was elected in 2013, the state legislature has passed a series of legislative measures that have reigned in and/or ensure that the CPRIT dollars are spent on what they’re supposed to be. And so there’s very strong checks and balances.”

CPRIT awarded grants to local entities, such as El Milagro Clinic and MHP Salud, Cutrone said.

“The majority of the current prevention programs in the RGV are being implemented by institutions from around the state, such as MD Anderson and UT Health San Antonio to name a few,” he said.

UTRGV applied for a grant, but did not get funding, said Dr. Subhash C. Chauhan, the founding director of the South Texas Center of Excellence in Cancer Research and chair of the department of immunology and microbiology at the UTRGV School of Medicine.

Chauhan is leading the first cancer research team in the Valley. He and four other cancer investigators are focusing on health disparities among the Hispanic population and examining the issue on a molecular basis.

And while Chauhan’s first proposal on behalf of UTRGV wasn’t funded by CPRIT, he is not shying away from future requests.

“I will be very aggressive in submitting grant proposals to CPRIT and we hope to have better luck next time,” he said.

CPRIT is also keeping an eye on the work UTRGV is doing, Cutrone said.

“We are encouraged by UTRGV’s growing School of Medicine and its burgeoning programs that have the potential to make an impact in cancer research,” he said. “If Texas voters approve Proposition 6, CPRIT will be exploring ways to build and expand research capabilities at universities in all regions of the state, and we expect UTRGV will be part of that conversation.”

Canales called on voters to support the measure.

“Obviously the research of cancer and cancer prevention should be one of the highest priorities considering the toll that it takes on our economy, on our medical resources, but (also) the sheer amount of life that we lose based on different types of cancer,” Canales said. “So this is an extremely important amendment.”

Lastly, Proposition 10 would allow former handlers or qualified caretakers to adopt retired law enforcement animals without a fee. And in the Valley, like most border areas, these types of animals abound.

“We have a large canine population, but believe it or not, there’s a large equine population, too,” Canales said, noting U.S. Border Patrol and other agencies use horses to patrol the area. “And so this amendment would honor the bond between the enforcement animals and their handlers by insuring the animals can retire in the homes where they live and receive continued care throughout the rest of their lives.”

The loss of revenue for the state based on those fees would be a “drop in the bucket,” he said.

“Most of the handlers, for lack of a better term, are brokenhearted when they’ve got to give up these animals. They live with these animals, they work with these animals day in, day out,” he said. “This is a common sense measure that anybody who is an animal lover, should support.”