September 28, 2022 540 PM
When driving through the roads of Far West Texas, it’s easy to see Texas’ history in its small towns, ranches and desert land. But if you look a little closer, you’ll see the future too. There’s a unique charm about rural Texas. But along with that charm come unique challenges.
With the 88th Legislative Session quickly approaching, it’s important to get our boots on the ground and learn more about the challenges and how to address them from those who know the community the best –– the residents. That’s exactly what our office did last month. From the art oasis in Marfa to the small town of 1,050 in Fort Davis, and the distinct deserts of Hudspeth and Culberson County, our office spent a week traveling in Far West Texas to hear firsthand about some of the most pressing issues in their respective communities. Even amid campaign season, the issues we heard from rural Texans are not partisan issues, they are kitchen table issues. After insightful conversations with constituents, stakeholders and elected officials, this is what we learned:
- Water infrastructure needs major upgrades. To this day, many rural communities still struggle with access to clean water. Currently, the drought has plagued most of our communities, and access to water has been strained even more. It’s important we invest in clean drinking water and wastewater infrastructure for our rural communities and ensure Far West Texas gets its fair share of funding through the Texas Water Development Board for local clean drinking water and wastewater projects.
- Affordable healthcare is extremely limited. Texas has the largest uninsured rate in the nation. In Far West Texas and rural Texas, the uninsured and access to healthcare rates are even worse than the state average. Rural communities across Far West Texas continue to be faced with rural hospital closures, physician shortages, and medically underserved areas. No Texan should have to make the unfortunate decision of letting their health issues worsen or taking on the expense of traveling hundreds of miles to access quality care. Fighting for our rural communities to ensure rural Texans are not left behind and have access to affordable healthcare is imperative.
- Rural schools need more help. An investment in our schools is a direct investment into our future. Consequently, insufficient funding will continue to enhance the teacher shortage, increase class sizes, and worsen school safety and mental health issues among our students. It’s also critical we block any private school vouchers that would pull critical funding from our public schools in Far West Texas. Our students and educators can succeed in any public school as long as they have the resources to support them.
- The lack of adequate broadband is pervasive. Broadband is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity. Most of the rural population cannot participate in remote learning, telemedicine, or e-commerce due to the lack of affordable high-speed internet. While the Texas Legislature took action to expand high-speed internet access across the state last session, there’s much work to be done to secure affordable broadband infrastructure in rural areas.
- Rising costs are pushing out lifelong residents. While Presidio County’s burgeoning art scene has become an economic engine in rural Texas, tourism and rising property taxes are pushing out locals who have lived there all their lives. Its art-led growth has brought unintended consequences, causing housing prices and property taxes to skyrocket as demand from wealthy newcomers soars.
- Our region can’t afford to delay construction of the Presidio International Bridge. Improving the bridge is a top priority for the state due to its projected economic impact, however, the construction process has been delayed due to the bridge’s unique binational ownership. While the bridge is poised to be a leader in border crossings and a major facilitator of U.S.-Mexico trade, the bridge’s outdated infrastructure is causing long wait times that are stifling the flow of traffic. I have been advocating and working with TxDOT officials, local stakeholders, and Governor Abbott’s office to move this Presidio Bridge expansion forward.
Ultimately, investing in rural Texas is a win for all Texans. The interdependency between urban and rural areas shapes state policies and programs to reflect and respond to the unique challenges Far West Texas faces.
When rural Texas thrives, all of Texas does too.
When I was elected to represent Senate District 29, I took an oath to fight for the needs of the great, hardworking people who make up the district. As we quickly approach the 88 Legislative Session, I look forward to continuing upholding that oath and working with my colleagues in the next legislative session to bring impactful change to Rural Texas.