After air quality funding was vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott, cities contribute money to CAPCOG program

In the days following the 85th legislative session, political junkies eagerly awaited news of Gov. Greg Abbott signing and vetoing bills. Without much pomp or circumstance, Abbott exercised his discretion over $120 million in the $217 billion budget. Among the 0.05 percent of overall funding vetoed was money for an environmental program to improve the region's air quality.

The program, destined for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, helps local jurisdictions plan for better air quality.

Abbott said he was against the program because it would fund bicycle use programs and carpooling campaigns that could be funded at the local government level.

"This program funds, among other items, bicycle use programs, carpooling awareness, environmental awareness campaigns, and locally enforceable pollution reduction programs in near non-attainment areas, which can be funded at the local government level," Abbott wrote in a statement. "Resources in the Clean Air Account should be prioritized to directly address problems in our non-attainment areas of the state so that we are better positioned to combat the business-stifling regulations imposed on these areas by the Environmental Protection Agency."

As a result of the veto, local governments have taken on the challenge of improving air quality, committing money to the Capital Area Council of Government's Regional Air Quality Program.

CAPCOG has requested $287,000 from nearly two-dozen local entities, the largest of which are Austin, Travis County, Williamson County and Round Rock.

Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan said to not contribute money to the program would likely incur a greater cost to the city going forward.

"It is a regional issue that we all must work on," Morgan said. "The cost to do business will increase without it. We've got to do our part as a city to be efficient and have a clean environment."

The city of Round Rock, the fourth highest contributor according to Morgan, approved a donation of just upwards of $13,000 to the program at a budget session.

CAPCOG Regional Services Director Andrew Hoekzema said without contributions to the program, areas could fall out of compliance with federal air quality standards and be subjected to burdensome regulations for years to come.

Hoekzema said this can be a hurdle in attracting businesses to the area and getting transportation projects funded. According to a CAPCOG study, the area could lose up to $42 billion in economic growth if air quality levels weren’t found to be up to par.