By Karnes County Judge Barbara Shaw
Karnes County is in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale. We have a great deal of production taking place in our county, which means we have a large number of heavy vehicles transporting rigs and drilling needs to various locations within our county. Incidentally, county roads are not surfaced to maintain under these types of conditions.
Many of our roads have become laden with large ruts and potholes, meaning they are not very friendly to local traffic. In many instances our county roads are not passable for average cars and trucks due to damage caused by the heavy equipment. Other small-town county judges are facing the same issues, and we found that we needed to become proactive in trying to recover a portion of funds from the hundreds of millions of dollars that our constituents pay in severance tax for production.
Hence, several of us headed to Austin to visit with our lawmakers.
When it comes to testifying before the Legislature, you do not pick a convenient time to go. Rather, you must testify when the bills are on the calendar, and you never know how long you will have to sit there before you testify.
I testified before the Texas House of Representatives on Keffer’s H.B. 2300 (April 3) and the Texas Senate on Uresti’s S.B. 1747 (April 10). Uresti’s bill was set for 7:30 a.m. I testified for both bills, and during my testimony I attempted to paint a picture of shale life for those in Austin.
In the shale areas, we are struggling with rising death rates and failing roads – not a healthy combination. Unfortunate things happen when roads are bad. A bus carrying children had an accident on one of our county roads, and seven children were hurt; thankfully none of their injuries were serious.
Between Karnes, DeWitt, and McMullen counties, more than
$500 million in severance taxes were paid into the state. Technically, this means that the state is benefiting from our devastation in the shale areas.
Preparation for testimony is relatively simple: Just tell the truth. Let the House/Senate know what is going on in the county you represent. It is imperative for county judges to become involved, as no one knows the activity and struggles better than you. It is our job to carry the message to Austin in order to properly represent those we serve.
When I go to Austin, I pay my own way. I receive the same amount of travel as my fellow court members on a monthly basis. The only time I am reimbursed for travel/hotels outside of that is when I attend conferences (same as the commissioners). When I go to Austin, I am funded by the “Shaw Family Fund.” However, prior to the shale there was probably not a great need for many trips/stays in Austin.
There are some frustrations when testifying. For example, it is difficult to explain a situation to someone who is clueless as to what you are trying to explain. Pictures and words cannot convey a message like visits and day-to-day living. I wish more of the people making decisions for our counties and utilizing funds from our counties would actually come take a look at what we face every day. On a positive note, we did accomplish something. There is some money for county road funding coming out of this legislative session. This is a first and great accomplishment for struggling shale counties.