State Representative District 15 candidates talk flood mitigation, public education funding

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Two candidates are vying for the position of State Representative District 15 and will be on the ballot in the Nov. 6 election.

Lorena Perez McGill and Steve Toth are both running for the position, currently held by State Rep. Mark Keough-R, The Woodlands, who is not seeking re-election this year. Instead, Keough is running for the position of Montgomery County Judge.

To view a map of District 15, click here.

Lorena Perez McGill
Democratic candidate for State Rep. District 15
281-944-5503
www.lorenafortexas.com
www.facebook.com/lorenafortexas.com

Occupation: lawyer

Experience: Before moving with my family to The Woodlands, I was legal counsel at the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C., where I gained expertise in resolving complicated disputes between companies, governments and individuals. I understand the value of starting with small agreements and building upon those to untangle larger issues. I also believe that representation requires engaging all across our community, and I advocate that the bedrock of our democracy is an informed electorate. I engage with voters from both ends of the political spectrum—from people I meet at school football games, to residents in apartments and low-income housing, to prominent business leaders, to all faith communities. Everywhere I go, I ask which issues are most important to them, and I listen to their answers. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t—but as a representative it is important to listen to all voices.

Top priorities:
• Make bi-partisanship the rule: I will only file bills that have a republican co-sponsor. Let’s work together and stop the political games.
• Give all business a seat at the table: Hyper-partisanship has pushed business out of the room and is costing Texas jobs. We need those driving our economy to have a full seat at the table.
• Address uncompensated care: Uncompensated hospital bills are driving premiums even higher. It’s time to collect federal reimbursement dollars to relieve pressure on businesses, families and taxpayers.
• Stop double-taxing us on schools: The state’s failure to fund schools is driving property taxes through the roof. And the state’s failure to reform school finance has districts across the state losing millions [of dollars].
• Champion flood mitigation and infrastructure development: The state’s infrastructure is aging and hasn’t kept up with growth. Let’s stop the cycle of flood and fix — because it’s not a matter if it will flood again, but when.

What is the first piece of legislation you would file if elected?
McGill: I would seek the counsel and mentorship of senior legislators who authored the many bills introduced in 2015 that sought to expand Medicaid and close the coverage gap. In particular, I would like to reintroduce [House Bill] 3845, which was noted for its bipartisan support—essential for any bill I file. Access to affordable, quality healthcare for all Texans is too important an issue to drag our feet or reinvent the wheel. Thorough healthcare bills have already been filed and their intent is clear: Reduce uninsured patient costs to save our public hospitals and secure healthcare for more than 1 million Texans who need to see a doctor. The path to fixing these issues will require significant debate and negotiation, and I am committed to getting the deal done.

What would you do to prevent future flooding in your district?
McGill: The 86th legislative session must work towards a statewide, comprehensive flood mitigation plan including updated flood maps, improvements in the dam safety program, and environmental regulations to guarantee our rivers and creeks are dredged and maintained. We need whole-watershed solutions to be successful, which will cross county borders and require local and state officials to work together. Water is blind to bureaucratic or [municipal utility district] boundaries. I will work with legislators at the state level to unlock state and federal funds for flood mitigation. Once projects are identified, we need to work closely with the Army Corps of Engineers and other experts about how to best order projects so that we maximize time and dollars.

What, if anything, should be done to improve the public education funding system for districts statewide?
McGill: In 2011, our legislature cut contributions to our public schools by $5.2 billion. This, during the decade when 850,000 new students entered our school system. Yet, even with this funding shortage and recapture—Robin Hood—driving up property taxes, the [Texas Education Agency] recently announced it will ask legislators for $1 billion less for 2018-2019. Our schools are in crisis, yet our state leadership continue the drive to the bottom. Conroe ISD, where my kids go to school, currently receives less than 25 percent of its budget each year from the state—next year will be even less when we enter the recapture program. Extremists… push friendly-sounding vouchers or “school choice” policies that would ultimately draw more money away from public schools to fund private schools with tax dollars. I will work to restore public school funding by closing the “Equal and Uniform” corporate tax loophole.

Steve Toth
Republican candidate for State Rep. District 15
281-770-7287
www.SteveTothForTexas.com
www.facebook.com/SteveTothTX

Occupation: business owner

Experience: Former member of the Texas Legislature, Johnson & Johnson practice management consultant, Apple Orthodontix director of marketing, Danka Office Imaging Houston area sales manager, Harris Poll director-technology vertical, Emergency Ministries founding board member, The Woodlands Church pastor of Marriage and Family Life ministries, Mighty Oaks chairman of the board.

Top priorities:
• Property tax reform
• Road funding
• Reforming and funding [Teacher Retirement System] Care for our teachers—they should be moved to the [Employees Retirement System] Care plan along with other state employees.
• Flood mitigation

What is the first piece of legislation you would file if elected?
Toth: [I would] file legislation requiring all Texas counties to enact an active shooter response plan similar to what I’ve organized with Sheriff [Rand] Henderson in Montgomery County.

What would you do to prevent future flooding in your district?
Toth: [I would] put pressure on our county commissioners court to enact an updated thoroughfare plan followed by a flood mitigation plan.

[I would] vote to increase funding for future flood mitigation projects.

[I would] pressure the San Jacinto River Authority to follow through on its original charter to actively work on flood mitigation.

What, if anything, should be done to improve the public education funding system for districts statewide?
Toth: The maintenance and operation portion of local property taxes needs to shift to the state of Texas. The current funding scheme leaves [independent school districts] and the state blaming one another for lack of funds. Let’s take the burden off of local property tax payers and move it to the state.

Of the 1,247 [independent school districts] in Texas only five use 100 percent of their cost of education index money in the classroom.

[Conroe ISD], to its credit, is one of only five that prioritizes the classroom over the football field. Schools that use these funding mechanisms from the state that are meant for the classroom should not be rewarded for misappropriated funds.

We need to put an end to unfunded mandates from Austin and Washington [D.C.]. Local teachers and parents are more adept at defining the curriculum requirements of our community. Unfunded TEA and Department of Education mandates adds upwards of 15 percent of each [independent school district’s] budget.

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Hannah Zedaker
Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a full-time reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. She covers business, transportation, health care and other local news, specializing in Shenandoah City Council and Montgomery County nonprofit organizations.
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