Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

August 22, 2013

Cook defends State Home

By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — Texas Rep. Byron Cook gave a legislative briefing to the executive board of the Corsicana/Navarro County Chamber of Commerce Thursday, detailing some upcoming events, and recounting some of what went on in the regular session this past spring, as well as the two special sessions.

Although his meeting with the board was to talk about legislative issues, he actually spent most of his time talking about the possible decision by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to close the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center. The TJJD board is expected to meet on Friday, Aug. 30. They’ve been told they must recommend one of six facilities for closure by Sept. 1.

“When you start analyzing it you can’t make any link to benefit the clients or the state,” Cook said.

Cook has spoken to the chairman of the TJJD board, as well as the senator who sponsored the “close a facility” bill, along with the Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor. The Legislative Budget Board, headed up by the Lt. Governor, has to approve any closures.

Closing the Corsicana facility won’t save the state any money, and could harm the residents there, who need specialized attention and treatment, Cook said. Having enough beds at another location doesn’t mean the inmates will be treated the same as they are in Corsicana, he said.

“I think what will happen is over time it’s becoming clearer to the leadership that there’s no benefit and it’s actually putting these kids at risk,” he said. “I’m confident the evidence is overwhelming that it would be a bad decision from the standpoint of the kids and the state.”

Cook also addressed the fall election on the courthouse reconstruction, which he said would be a missed opportunity if voters reject it.

The state is offering a $4.5 million grant to help with the project, something Cook said would be a one-time-only offer, since he believes that program will be short-lived.

“I hope people will take advantage of that,” he said. “If not, there are plenty of other counties that would be happy to take advantage of it.”

The second special session, which was only about transportation funding, ended shortly after it began with approval of a bill to take $1.2 billion out of the Rainy Day Fund for transportation, if voters approve it in 2014.

“The transportation, to me, was one of our disappointments,” Cook said.

This fall, voters will be asked to vote on moving $2 billion from that fund into a special water development fund. The money could be used to make loans to water providers who need to replace aging pipes or water treatment facilities. In the Rainy Day Fund the money earns about 1 percent, but in the water fund it could earn 4 to 5 percent, Cook said.

“And the failure rate on paying the money back is zero,” he said.

“We’re very challenged in this state as far as water resources,” Cook told the board. “There’s nothing more important that we can do is fund the water resources for the future.”

“Transportation, water and electricity, these are things our economy is based on,” Cook said.

In the regular session, the legislature also granted some small business tax relief and “meaningful” education reforms, Cook said. “We put a greater emphasis on dual credit.”

Cook said that his oldest daughter made the most of dual credit and only had to spend two and a half years at Texas A&M to get her degree. He estimated that saved his family about $30,000.

“Dual credit will save you more money than anything else you can do,” he said.

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Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “soundoff” to this article? E-mail: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com