Q&A: Get to know the candidates for State Rep. District 26

Sarah DeMerchant
Occupation: Information Technology Executive
Experience: Bachelor of Arts degree in Computer Information Systems from the University of Houston-Downtown; Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Houston-Victoria; Systems analyst while attending graduate school; founded Fuzion Apps, Inc., home to the national award-winning app Aequitas [that] empowers users with wage data as well as resume and interview best practices and won the grand prize in the Women in Innovation Awards in the U.S. Department of Labor Equal Pay app competition.
Top priorities: First, I would seek to restore transparency and trust with respect to our community’s tax dollars. Second, since our elected representatives in Austin, like my opponent, refuse to address the issue of updating and reforming our educational funding system, I will. Our local tax dollars are being used to supplement state budget shortfalls instead of going toward educating our children, and this cannot continue. Finally, I fight for more local control in government. The residents of Sugar Land understand the needs of the community better than anyone sitting in Austin. My opponent voted against allowing local control of local matters.

Phone number: 832-819-4615
Website: www.DemocratDeMerchant.com

Rick Miller
Occupation: Leadership/management consultant; State Representative
Graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy; 30 years of service as a Naval Officer and carrier aviator holding multiple top level (CEO equivalent) leadership positions; served three times in the Pentagon and worked closely with Congress; business owner; Rotary Board of Directors; Chairman of the Sugar Creek Baptist Church Finance Committee with a $9-plus million budget; Precinct Chair; Chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County for four years before being elected to the Texas House of Representatives; Member of the House Appropriations and Human Services Committees; Chairman of the House Veterans Caucus
Top priorities:
Children and veterans; along with tax reform, proper public education funding, transportation infrastructure, addressing mental health issues, local Fort Bend County and city issues

Phone number: 281-980-0117

How do you plan to address the consistent lack in public education funding from the state?
DEMERCHANT: By getting elected. My opponent has consistently voted against public education funding by the state, which I do not believe is in alignment with the citizens of Richmond and Sugar Land. [The Texas Education Agency] confirmed just last week at the Legislative Budget Board Governor's Budget Office hearing that its two-year request has $3.8 billion less in general revenue for schools while local property values and taxes are estimated to go up 6.77 percent a year. Property owners are paying more and our children are getting less. We need to fight to ensure that financing for education is not only a priority, but that the process is open and transparent to all taxpayers.

MILLER: The current funding issues mostly stem from the funding formulas that are outdated and need revision, as well as the drastic cuts made in the 82nd Legislative Session. The past three legislative sessions have seen significant additional funding to recover from the severe $5.4 billion cut in funding that occurred in the 82nd session. The 83rd legislature restored $3.4 billion towards public education with total annual funding increasing from $50.3 billion in [fiscal year] 2012 to $60.6 billion in FY 2017. The other critical problem stems from the evolving ISD property tax issue, which is a result of the increases in property appraisals over the past years. This tax issue must be remedied with an alternative funding mechanism in order to meet the needs of the public school districts and taxpayers. I anticipate that the report and recommendations from the Texas Commission on Public School Finance will provide some viable solutions.

What are some items you'd like to see discussed during the upcoming legislative session?
DEMERCHANT: I would like to see a discussion about adequately funding public schools, ensuring special education acceptance rates are based on need and not state imposed quotas, and dialogue around how we can work to resolve the insolvency of the Retired Teachers healthcare insurance program. I would also like to see the topic of women having equal pay for equal work and for equal access to leadership opportunities in business and government made a priority. My opponent has consistently voted against the women of Texas. Texas deserves leaders that will embrace our diversity.

MILLER: I will work very hard to get my proposed CPS legislation, which focuses on the trauma each child experiences and the Trauma Informed Care training and practice that must be put in place throughout the CPS system, signed into law by the Governor, as well as the proposed legislation to help our Texas Veterans. We are proposing bills that will help our veterans with their transition to civilian life so that they can be employed and be productive and valued citizens in their communities. Other critical issues, in addition to the Public Education funding, include property tax issues; eliminating the Franchise Tax for businesses; revisions to the Medicaid Managed Care system; mental health issues; and transportation issues.

What is the biggest challenge facing District 26, and how do you plan to address it, if elected?
DEMERCHANT: Emergency Preparedness is a critical issue facing our area at this moment. During Hurricane Harvey, while our local community and neighbors rallied to support those affected by the storm, the effort from Austin was a debacle and there still is no accountability. For Emergency planning, we need to have a defined, workable plan at the local and state level to communicate with senior citizens and the visual and hearing impaired. We also need to embrace smartphone technology to send emergency voluntary and mandatory evacuation notifications.

MILLER: There are several issues related to my District, which encompasses [Fort Bend] ISD and [Lamar Consolidated] ISD. [I plan to] revise and provide adequate school funding; maintain a strong economic and business climate for the creation of jobs; [address] transportation infrastructure; facilitate the economic growth of Sugar Land, Richmond and other FB cities; [and address] Hurricane Harvey mitigation projects.

By Beth Marshall

Born and raised in Montgomery County, Beth Marshall graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in communication and a minor in business. Originally hired as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in 2016, she became editor of the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition in October 2017.


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