Texas House District 54 will see a new face no matter the winner of the Nov. 6 midterm election as newcomers Dr. Brad Buckley, R-Salado, and Kathy Richerson, D-Bell County, face off for the seat.
Buckley, a former Killeen Independent School District board member and Killeen veterinarian, defeated incumbent Rep. Scott Cosper, R-Killeen, in a May 22 runoff for the nomination.
Richerson ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
Buckley has far outpaced Richerson in campaign financing throughout the race and stands as a frontrunner for the seat.
Richerson, a goat farmer and former Realtor, has run a relatively quiet campaign, with few public appearances.
How will you work to ensure that District 54 residents have access now and in the future to affordable, clean drinking water? As a state representative, what specific legislation do you support to ensure greater local control over water rights?
Buckley: I will lead the effort to coordinate local stakeholders and legislators in protecting our current water supply, promote sensible conservation efforts, protect and study our aquifers, invest in research and development of new technologies, improve water testing and notification, and encourage regional planning and cooperation concerning our water resources. I will work closely with the TWDB to implement, improve and develop the State Water Plan and support the SWIFT program to provide financial resources to help develop water infrastructure of the future.
Richerson: Our population is expected to double by 2050 and we are already exceeding our supply. The Texas Senate Natural Resources Committee controls legislation related to water resources. The last legislature fully funded $762 million for a new reservoir system in the Brazos River Authority. Property owners own the ground water under their land (well water). The Brazos River Authority controls the distribution of surface water. I believe Killeen and Lampasas need voting members on their board of directors. Georgetown already has one. Individuals can help by learning conservation and management.
Killeen and surrounding cities have been hard hit by a 100 percent disabled veteran tax exemption that strips millions from area governments. What specific legislation do you propose or support to address that gap in property tax revenue while maintaining those benefits for veterans?
Buckley: I will offer up and support legislation to reimburse our local municipalities for the disproportionate fiscal impact created by the exemption. The State of Texas and our economy greatly benefits from veterans that choose to make Texas their home and I support the property tax exemption. However, the state should honor those that have served and sacrificed by fully reimbursing the communities in which veterans choose to live, especially those disproportionately impacted. Local communities must not be hindered financially and left unable to provide the services, amenities and quality of life that benefit all citizens.
Richerson: We will need to work with legislators from around the state who are similarly impacted by this unfunded mandate. We need to close the loophole that does not reimburse cities whose boundary lines don’t adjoin military bases and we need to be reimbursed 100 percent. It is true that we greatly benefit from our population of highly skilled, educated and trained military retirees. The state of Texas also benefits.
Adequate infrastructure is a significant factor in attracting and retaining businesses in any given city. How will you work to ensure that the state and local infrastructure in Killeen is fully functional and meets the demands of new businesses Killeen hopes to attract?
Buckley: Infrastructure maintenance, improvement and expansion is crucial in creating an environment that is conducive to economic growth. Economic growth creates jobs, expands the tax base and enhances economic activity that leads to sales tax growth and growth in other revenue streams. I will support legislation to keep the Texas economy strong, support Killeen’s efforts to acquire road funding, coordinate projects between the city and Bell County, and work with TxDOT to advocate for the needs of our area. I will also work tirelessly to increase the reimbursement from the state for the Disabled Veteran Property Tax Exemption thus increasing revenue for the city.
Richerson: We have the roads, I believe we have some bridges in need of attention. We have colleges and great hospital systems. I believe we need to promote an infusion of money into research and healthcare based on new technology like stem cell and robotics which could benefit our aging population. We have one of the most affordable places for home ownership which is a big attraction for people looking to relocate. I would like to see more money for small business who hire and train locally.
The funding of school districts was a major concern during the last session. What measures do you support to not only ease the burden of school funding off property taxpayers but support better teacher pay and effective district programs?
Buckley: School finance reform is crucial if we ever to achieve real property tax relief. The state must increase its share of funding and stop increasing the burden on local property owners. I pledge to fight to make public education, our students, teachers, and parents a priority. The Texas Constitution mandates the proper funding of our schools and the Supreme Court has held that funding must be fair and equitable. Teacher pay increases are vital if we are to keep the best and brightest in the classroom and recruit the next generation of educators. I believe that HB5 was a great start in reducing the high stakes testing in our schools.
Richerson: School funding can not be resolved until the leadership in Austin stops stripping the money for public education out of the state budget. The state has been removing funding for public education from the state budget and pushing the burden onto local taxing authorities and causing the rise in local property taxes. This is a failure of leadership at the state level.
According to a report from the Commonwealth Fund, a non-partisan health care research nonprofit, the state of Texas ranked 44 out of 50 states for its overall healthcare system, ranking particularly low in access and affordability. What is your plan for the state to promote more affordable and accessible healthcare for Texas residents?
Buckley: Access to care could be improved if more primary care providers were available in underserved areas. Increasing the number of resident slots for medical students seeking a career in primary care and using incentives to encourage practice in rural and underserved areas would be helpful in improving access. Also, utilizing highly trained allied healthcare providers in underserved areas is important as well. As far as affordability is concerned, encouraging preventive care to avoid costly ER visits, partnering with non-profit and community clinics to provide low or no cost care, and allowing for more customized insurance products that are appealing to the young and healthy is a good start in lowering healthcare costs.
Richerson: The failure of healthcare outcomes in the state of Texas is also a leadership problem. Our governor refused to take the Medicaid expansion which would have given another 1.1 million Texans health insurance. This cost us $100 billion of our own money the federal government was willing to return to us. Our governor refused to take our own money. Leadership says Medicaid recipients are lazy losers. Fact is 70 people are people in nursing homes, 50 percent are newborn babies and some of the funds cover therapists and school nurses for children in public schools with disabilities. Also, they have turned funds over to Managed Care groups which shave costs by simply denying people any help.