GUEST VIEW: What happens in Austin affects Odessa

In January, the Texas House and Senate convened for the 85th Legislative Session. For the next four to five months, Texas Legislators will file bills, debate and vote on issues that will directly affect every Texan. One of the many purposes of the Odessa Chamber of Commerce is to stay on top of legislative issues that can affect Odessa and Ector County, both positively and negatively.
One of the most effective ways to get our needs and concerns to our Legislators is the “Midland/Odessa Legislative Days”, which was held on Feb. 6 and 7. More than 100 Chamber members from Odessa and Midland joined together in Austin to meet with and discuss issues pertaining to our communities. These Chamber members do this at their own expense, taking time away from their own businesses.
The two-day event kicked-off with an evening reception where dozens of Texas representatives and senators, along with their staff, mingled with our local delegations and heard our concerns pertaining to various issues such as oil and gas, utilities, healthcare, transportation and education.
The following morning featured a breakfast with Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar as the keynote speaker, informing the group of the latest state budget issues and the economic impact that the State of Texas has on our national and global markets. The delegation then moved to the Capitol building for a briefing session with our own representatives: Rep. Brooks Landgraf, Rep. Tom Craddick and Senator Kel Seliger. Speaker of the House Joe Strauss also welcomed the group and thanked us for showing all of Texas how Odessa and Midland are working together to make the Permian Basin a better place for all to live and work. Odessa and Midland representatives were recognized on both the House and Senate floors by our respective elected officials, again showing all Legislators that the two communities are partnering for a united front. The day concluded with a lunch featuring Railroad Commission Chairwoman Christi Craddick, who spoke of the importance of the oil and gas industry and how the Permian Basin remains strong and vital to this economic driver.
All of this face time with our local and state Legislators was made possible by the efforts of your Chamber of Commerce. We act as the catalyst in bringing together each taxing entity, educational institutions and major industry leaders to discuss legislative priorities for the session. It is vital, as citizens and taxpayers, that we stay abreast of local legislative concerns the possibility of a more than 52 percent cut in resources for UTPB that could do away with nursing or engineering programs, as well as staffing positions; the ability of Odessa College to meet workforce skills demands, increase dual credit and expand educational opportunities; maintain and increase funding for Texas Tech Health Sciences Center at the Permian Basin to support residency positions in our region; stand behind the Texas Education Code, which calls for funding ECISD’s more than 17 percent rapid value decline, which equates to more than $25 million over the past two years; provide more funding for trauma, Medicaid and uninsured patients at both of our hospitals; and transportation funding for improved access on local and state highways in our community.
These are just a few of the very important issues that our local entities are facing in the next few months. What happens in Austin now through the end of May will have a direct impact on Odessans. It is up to us to act now and make our voices heard. I urge you to contact not only our own House of Representatives and Senators, but others who are on respective committees that decide the fate of these issues. Feel free to contact the Odessa Chamber of Commerce at 432-332-9111 and we are happy to provide names and contact information regarding which Legislator sits on what Committee. Each Legislative session brings uncertainty for these taxing entities, as their funding is left in the hands of our elected officials.
It is our job as their constituents to let them know how we feel and what we want done with our tax money. It is our duty over the next few months to reach out, be heard and make our thoughts known. There is too much on the line to sit back and be a bystander.
Austin Keith is the board chairman of the Odessa Chamber of Commerce.