Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bishop Mike's Gathering

Good hearted Bishop Michael Pfeifer convened a meeting of Concho Valley leaders. They came from Robert Lee, Bronte, Menard, and Miles. Elected officials included Rep. Drew Darby, Tom Green County Judge Mike Brown, and San Angelo Mayor Alvin New. Each had a few minutes to make remarks.

Bishop Pfeifer cited the impetus for the gathering, a discussion with Alvin New. The meeting focus-- quality of life and issues of development.

Alvin New spoke to a process for local leaders to collaborate on quality of life, water & economic development. He encouraged cohesiveness and cooperation.

Drew Darby noted we're all in this together and leaders have to make decisions. He projected the number of West Texas representatives (excluding El Paso) in the Texas House will drop from 20 to 18 due to population changes. He said the divide in the legislature was more urban vs. rural than Republican vs. Democrat. Darby spoke to transportation, water, education, economic development and higher education/community colleges. He stressed the importance of vision, initiative and action. Redistricting will be a stark contrast to any uplifting vision, given its messy, partisan nature.

Mike Brown spoke of unincorporated communities within the county and the challenges of financing public service expansion in these areas. As granting agencies restrict funding to one project, the County cannot go after outside funds for multiple unincorporated areas. This means improvements, like fixing Christoval's water quality issues, take place over multiple years. Judge Brown noted the high number of guardianships in the county, over 500. He cited that 70% of the budget is justice related. Another large budget item is County Indigent Health. He cited his working with this author to make the program a model within the state.

Bishop Pfeifer revisited quality of life, noting his work with Census representatives to ensure an accurate count for our community. Census results can help our area obtain funding and emerge in better shape after redistricting. He worked to elevate the discussion around three pillars, communication, cooperation and collaboration. He described cooperation as sharing common issues, stressing collaboration involves working together to address them. He used the image of a blind folded woman with scales in one hand and a sword in the other. This represents Justice. Should the scales get unbalanced, the sword of justice will fall. Quality of life equals the common good. It involves basic needs like health, life and water.

The bishop opened up the discussion at this point. Topics included economic development, water, rail infrastructure, highway construction, public transportation, sports facilities, housing and child care.

Health care was mentioned twice. John Jacobs from Robert Lee mentioned that residents came to San Angelo for health care. Bronte's Tammy Thorn cited the high number of uninsured residents and the lack of doctor or pharmacy services in Coke County. The only facet picked up by other leaders was patient's transportation needs, available via Thunderbird.

As health care was a minor topic in the session, I held my question. Representative Darby kindly gave me time after the meeting. I asked about prospects for Children's Health Insurance in the coming legislative session. He stated he strongly supports CHIP, even in a tight financial environment. Darby noted the $28 billion burden on Texas from federal health reform.

I shared how prior CHIP changes, greater premium sharing and higher deductibles/co-pays, by the Texas legislature impacted local enrollment, virtually cutting it in half from 2002 to 2007. Would those return?

It remains to be seen, however Darby indicated the general trend would have the legislature putting more responsibility on the individual. Arizona eliminated its CHIP program, giving 100% responsibility to children and their parents.

Texas will likely walk back on its CHIP promises. Leaders did it before when revenue was tight. Given revenue budget shortfalls, Darby believes things look even tighter. It's the era of individual responsibility, which seems to fly in the face of the Bishop's common good. The blindfolded lady may need to raise her sword of justice.

Update: A KLST report on the meeting is available here.

Update 1-3-11:   The City of San Angelo plans to increase Miles water rates by 113%.  This follows the City's increasing health insurance for early retirees by as much as 58%.

Update 3-5-11:  Texas state legislators proposed cutting Medicaid by 10%.  The City of San Angelo caused 192 people to lose health insurance with their premium increases.  Forty five were employees/retirees and 147 were dependents.  The Tom Green County Indigent Healthcare program budgeted $458,000 for 2011.  It spent $1.96 million in 1999.  The Bishop's concerns have realized.  How might the sword of justice swing?

Update 3-29-11:  Area health providers held a press conference on draconian Medicaid budget cuts and their corresponding job decimation.  Bishop Pfiefer contributed a piece on water for the paper, which ran on 3-23.

Update 8-26-12:  Rep. Darby illuminated his transportation concerns, which the Standard Times endorsed.

Update 11-22-13:  Texas State Rep. Drew Darby is facing a felony charge after he attempted to take a weapon through a security screening at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport this month

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