PORT ARTHUR —
Three bills filed by State Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, could lead to profound changes in Port Arthur — and in no small measure downtown Port Arthur — if they are able to navigate the perils of the State Senate. Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, will carry the freight for Port Arthur in the Upper Chamber.
One of the bills would allow Economic Development Corporation funds to be used to help finance the building of dormitories for Lamar State. Another would allow some redevelopment projects that would be a boost to downtown. The third would allow job training that EDCs are not currently allowed to offer. That training would help equip some of the 14 percent unemployed in Port Arthur to do something more than menial work.
Sen. Williams is now representing a unified Jefferson County after about a decade of Port Arthur being in one senatorial district and Beaumont being in another. That’s a hazard of being a county that votes blue in presidential elections.
Sen. Williams has been very involved in the issues that are important to Jefferson County and may be a great help when it comes time to get the local match together for a billion-dollar-plus deepening of the Sabine-Neches Waterway. He understands how important the waterway is to commerce in Texas and may be instrumental in getting the state to help offset the couple of hundred million dollars or more we may have to come up with for the channel deepening.
Williams is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, a top-dog post that may make other senators hesitant to cross him, but one of the bills we hope he carries for Deshotel barely squeaked through the house on a 70-69 vote. See correspondent Dan Bledsoe’s excellent report on Page A1 of today’s paper for all the details. He explains how economic development officials have been very protective of the way economic development corporation funds can be spent.
Deshotel had to explain on the House floor how Lamar State doesn’t have a taxing authority like other community colleges in Texas have and it has no way to raise funds for dormitories. You might have been as surprised as I was to learn when this issue came up that about half of the community colleges in Texas have dormitories.
Lamar State President Sam Monroe explained recently to a leadership group in Port Arthur that a study done to measure demand for housing at LSC-PA revealed that 350 rooms could be filled if they were built. The goal now is to build 100 dorm rooms through a public private partnership with the Port Arthur EDC helping with the financing. After 30 years, the ownership of the dorms would revert to the college.
Imagine the impact 100 dorm rooms would have on Lamar State-PA. The nursing program is already attracting students from all over East Texas. Commercial music, instrumentation technology and other technical degrees are highly sought after. Making it easier for out-of-town students to attend LSC-PA strengthens the institution for local students. It benefits Port Arthur students for Houston students to come to Port Arthur for two years of college.
Now imagine the impact 100 dorm rooms would have on downtown Port Arthur. Those students could be the economic driver that would finally allow a restaurant to survive, a convenience to have enough business to stay open, a club to have a clientele. It would bring the energy of youth to downtown.
To get the bill passed, Sen. Williams may face opposition similar to that faced by Deshotel in the House. If the bill is changed in the Senate, then it would have to go to conference where the differences would be worked out. The bill would then face the hazard of another vote in the House. The bill passing the Senate would be good. The bill passing the Senate without any changes would be best.
One of the things lawmakers respond to is communications from their constituents. We feel sure Sen. Williams would appreciate having a good fist full of cards and letters from residents here telling how important the three bills are to Port Arthur so he could show other senators the local support the bills have. While you’re at it, drop Deshotel a note to thank him for the work he’s doing for Port Arthur.
Sen. Tommy Williams
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
P. O. Box 8069
The Woodlands, Texas 77387-8069
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Rep. Joe Deshotel
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, TX 78768
One Plaza Square, Suite 203
Port Arthur, TX 77642