By Gene Terry, TAC Executive Director
In the movie, “Field of Dreams,” Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, hears a voice out in his cornfield. The voice is, of course, James Earl Jones, because after all, he is Darth Vader. I digress. The voice says, “If you build it, they will come.” Well, the movie goes down all sorts of rabbit holes but in the end, Kinsella builds a baseball field in the middle of his corn and people flock to see it. He built it. They came. James Earl Jones is seldom wrong.
People are flocking to Texas and I don’t blame them. It’s a great place to live. If we assume that this new population is a representative cross section of America, it’s no surprise that we see some percentage of criminals, folks with mental health issues, lawyers, mechanics and a whole array citizens – all who need state and local government services. You have probably seen this phenomenon in your area. Here in Travis County, we have a daily influx of new people who are all lost and right in front of me on my daily commute to the office. All that to say, we are and will continue to experience this growth and the increasing demand for services.
The impact of unfunded mandates is serious and we actively voice our concerns about it. But the truth is there are other issues influenced by the new folks that will have an impact just as onerous as unfunded mandates. You know what they are because you have to cope with them daily. Providing indigent health care, dealing with the impact of mental illness on the court system and in the jail, providing transportation infrastructure, coping with growing and shrinking populations and the subsequent growing and shrinking tax base, and keeping up with the rapidly changing demands for technology. We need to be talking about all of these issues and many more that are too numerous to list. We have more than one strategic problem and we need more than one solution.
I wonder how many people realize that counties pay for all state and federal elections from the county treasury. Go into any State District Court and the only “state employees” in the room will be the District Judge and the District Attorney. Everyone else is paid by the county, including the jury. Most pulp wood logging happens on a county road, not a state highway. Most drilling activity occurs in the remote areas of the county. County roads are essential to the Texas economy’s vitality. Ask any school bus driver. Subdivision development in the unincorporated areas of the county pose additional challenges that prove difficult due to limited ordinance power.
We have more problems than just the cram down costs associated with unfunded mandates. Don’t get me wrong, those expenses are crippling. But we need to start seriously talking about other issues too. They will affect you and your counties for years to come. It’s never too early to start the discussion. Oh, and by the way, even if you don’t build it, they come anyway. Just drive around Austin sometime. Sheesh.