By Andy Sevilla
Cutting regulatory red tape, smart economic development policies, education, transportation and primary care are among Texas Association of Business’ legislative priorities this year, according to a presentation to the Buda Chamber of Commerce.
“TAB (Texas Association of Business) is essentially your state chamber of commerce. And our number one priority is business advocacy. Our second priority is creating a great business climate,” Aaron Cox, vice president for TAB chamber relations told the Buda Chamber of Commerce at its monthly luncheon last week.
TAB lobbies legislators at the Capitol on behalf of chambers of commerce.
“This year, we decided that in the midst of many, many things going on, our agenda in the state of Texas — for businesses in Texas — needs to continue to be focused on jobs,” Cox said at the luncheon.
Cox said TAB will commit to continue creating an atmosphere where Texas is growing, businesses are coming in, employment is high and investment is ever-present.
To get there, Cox said TAB will lobby to cut regulatory red tape, maintain smart economic development policies, improve education and accountability, improve and increase the state’s transportation system, and address Texas’ primary care shortage, among other things that are still fluid as the 84th Legislature settles in.
While attracting capital investment and job growth demands a regulatory environment that offers stability and predictability, Cox said some adjustment to codes and other portions of the state are warranted.
He said the state’s permitting process is not up to par, and often takes longer than needed. It could take up to three years for permits to be issued, and matters could further delay when complications, like complaints and objections from uninvolved parties, arise.
“We need to streamline some of those things,” Cox said.
The state’s permitting process has at times benefitted other states that court businesses interested in locating or investing in Texas, he said. Louisiana has guaranteed some business interests a quick turnaround with permitting when Texas takes too long, or matters become complicated, Cox said.
In Buda and Kyle, some developers and business owners have complained of the tumultuous and often difficult waters there are to navigate when looking to locate in either city.
Each city’s planning and zoning commissioner, however, tends to lean developer-friendly, recent years’ records have shown; and matters become more complex during deliberations on the councils’ desk.
Recently, in Buda, the council has twice denied deciding rezoning for a project looking to locate on FM 967, just north of Cole Springs Road.
The property owner of a three-quarter-acre tract of land adjacent to the Creekside Villas Senior Village is seeking to rezone that property from multi-family residential (MFR) to arterial/commercial/retail/office (C2/R2) to make way for a coffee or sandwich shop.
Council members have delayed voting on the rezoning until it becomes clear what specific business may move in to that parcel, to unequivocally determine traffic impact and safety concerns.
Kyle leaders also have twice denied a massive truck stop project looking to locate on the southern edge of the city, near its border with San Marcos.
Many area residents have complained of safety concerns, traffic, potential for increased crime and conflicts with the city’s master plan.
With new council members at the helm in Kyle, it is anticipated that the project could come before the legislative board for a third time, perhaps with a revised plan easing concerns raised during the first two failed attempts at rezoning.
Cox also touted a need for smart economic development policies at the state level.
“Continued prosperity definitely requires economic development that allows businesses to flourish,” he said. “But we want to ensure that we’re doing that in a way that promotes a high standard of living and economic health, and some real economic change.”
TAB will continue its support for maintaining the Enterprise Fund, which has helped locate some businesses to Hays County. TAB also will support economic development incentives for ventures including film, Cox said.
“There is a huge benefit in communities and in states where arts are very important to the quality of life, to the income that’s associated with those,” he said.
In Buda, Kyle and San Marcos it is not uncommon to see Hollywood movies and television shows shoot scenes for their projects. Officials have said that contributes to local governments’ revenues, as sales tax collections increase, hotel/motel tax dollars come in, and tourism is promoted.
Cox said part of maintaining smart policy will include a fair tax environment.
“We are blocking things that are going to increase the burden on business,” he said. “We were going to take a strong look at the franchise tax and look to bring that down to lessen the burden on business.”
Also, TAB will look at some “non-traditional” approaches to economic development, Cox said, including the group’s proposal of Smart on Crime, which looks at emphasizing probation, instead of incarceration, in cases where it is appropriate an effort to keep a workforce.
“If someone went to jail for having a small amount of a controlled substance, we’re not excusing that, but it doesn’t mean that they should go to prison for ten years, and not be working, not be contributing to society,” he said.
Jailing offenders in Hays County is a particular issue as the local facility is overcrowded and millions of dollars are spent housing inmates elsewhere.
Education also will be in TAB’s radar this legislative session.
“High quality education is the foundation,” Cox said. “It is what we will live and die by. It is training a workforce that will be able to be productive and to be healthy in terms of the citizenry.”
Improving and increasing the state’s transportation system also is paramount for jobs and a flourishing business climate, Cox said.
“Congestion has gotten to a point where we cannot perform critical business issues,” he said. “We have to be able to move people and products. It’s an absolute in this world, and without it our economy could potential run into a halt.”
Cox said widening and expanding lanes is not enough. TAB will support increase funding for transportation to address the needs of the future, not just today, he said.
For business to work in Texas, employees have to be healthy and vibrant Cox said. And Texas’ reality is that there is a shortage of primary care doctors and nurses, he said.
The new medical school being constructed in Austin was greeted with much fanfare and excitement, but TAB opposed its building.
Cox said what has been done is the construction of a medical school, but not an increase in medical residency slots in the state. He said all of the data shows where doctors do their residency is likely where they will set up practice.
“We’re creating doctors for Michigan and Arizona and California,” Cox said. “But we’re not really helping our own problem.”
Cox said affordability and access to healthcare also is important to TAB.
“We want to ensure that we look at those others within the system that are able to provide care,” he said. “So expanding the opportunities for nurse practitioners to do more things. Do we really need a doctor to write a prescription for an antibiotic for a child with an earache or an ear infection?”
TAB also will look at tackling 2014’s biggest polarizing issue — Affordable Care Act.
While Cox would not comment on the details of TAB’s plan, because it’s still changing, he said, the group has set up a private health exchange due to the state’s lack of setting up a public one.
Cox said TAB’s private health exchange works much like the federal one, and is accessible to any member of the association.
Cox said TAB will pursue many more legislative items, but those will be cemented once the session is in full swing and lawmakers are assigned committees.
Texas’ 84th legislative session began Jan. 13 and will run through June 1.