Abbott to seek sec­ond term

In re-elec­tion bid, gover­nor pro­poses help for veterans

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - CITY | STATE - By Mike Ward

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott, us­ing a red-white-and­blue Veterans Day event to of­fi­cially file for re-elec­tion, Satur­day un­veiled a plan to put Texas’ mil­i­tary ser­vice personnel at the “front of the line” for ex­panded state ser­vices and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, tax breaks and ex­pe­dited health care ser­vices.

His plan also calls for the all-vol­un­teer Texas State Guard to be more than dou­bled in size, from about 2,300 sol­diers to 5,000, to al­low the state to re­spond faster to emer­gen­cies and dis­as­ters.

It also would pro­vide con­tract in­cen­tives for busi­nesses re­lo­cat­ing to Texas through the Texas En­ter­prise Fund to hire more veterans.

Abbott filed for a sec­ond four-year term by sub­mit­ting more than 6,000 signed pe­ti­tions to Repub­li­can Party of Texas Chair­man James Dickey, rather than sign­ing a form declar­ing his can­di­dacy. It’s the first time in re­cent state history that a gu­ber­na­to­rial

can­di­date has done that, aides said.

In other fil­ing ac­tion Satur­day, in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick said he filed for re-elec­tion and Grady Yar­brough, a re­tired ed­u­ca­tor who ran un­suc­cess­fully last year for the Texas Rail­road Com­mis­sion and un­suc­cess­fully in 2012 for the U.S. Se­nate, filed to run as a Demo­crat for gover­nor.

Fil­ing for 2018 midterm elec­tions in Texas — cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from Congress to the gover­nor’s man­sion to the Leg­is­la­ture to lo­cal county court­houses — ends Dec. 11.

Abbott says his pro­pos­als to help veterans would ful­fill a key cam­paign pledge of his. “When I launched my re-elec­tion cam­paign this sum­mer I made a prom­ise to el­e­vate Texas to even greater heights,” he said.

“I promised to strengthen our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, crack down on gangs and vi­o­lent crime and grow our econ­omy and create more jobs. And I also promised to do more to em­power our veterans, whether they are re­turn­ing to the work­force after their ser­vice, look­ing to be­come an en­tre­pre­neur and start a busi­ness, or try­ing to get ac­cess to the health care they need.” 1.5M vets live in state

While many of the de­tails in Abbott’s plan need the ap­proval of the Leg­is­la­ture or lo­cal of­fi­cials, the gover­nor said he is con­fi­dent that they will draw sup­port from law­mak­ers and the pub­lic.

Sta­tis­tics show Texas is home to the sec­ond largest num­ber of veterans in the United States, after Cal­i­for­nia — and the most, if World War II veterans are not in­cluded. More than 1.5 mil­lion veterans are re­ported to live in Texas.

Un­der Abbott’s pro­posal, Texas would fully fund the veterans men­tal health pro­gram at the state Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mis­sion, dou­bling the num­ber of ex­sol­diers who can re­ceive care with an ad­di­tional $10 mil­lion in state fund­ing.

Of­fi­cials said the pro­gram now serves about 152,000 veterans.

Men­tal and be­hav­ioral health pro­grams for veterans would also be en­hanced un­der the pro­posal, and the state would push to al­low fed­eral Veterans Ad­min­is­tra­tion ben­e­fits to be used to visit pri­vate health providers, as a way to avoid long lines at VA hos­pi­tals and medical cen­ters.

Abbott said that could have the great­est im­pact in the Rio Grande Val­ley, where the clos­est VA fa­cil­ity is hours away in San Antonio.

Un­der Abbott’s plan, lo­cal tax­ing au­thor­i­ties would be al­lowed to grant per­sonal prop­erty tax ex­emp­tions of up to $30,000 to vet­eran-owned busi­nesses dur­ing their first five years of op­er­a­tion.

“For a small busi­ness with a lot of phys­i­cal in­ven­tory, such as a restau­rant, this tax re­lief could be the dif­fer­ence be­tween an un­af­ford­able dream, and a thriv­ing en­ter­prise,” Abbott’s pro­posal states. “A vet­eran-owned busi­ness would, un­der the ex­ist­ing def­i­ni­tion in Texas law, be a busi­ness in which each owner is a vet­eran.”

In ad­di­tion, lo­cal tax­ing en­ti­ties could grant busi­nesses a $15,000 re­duc­tion on the as­sessed value of their com­mer­cial prop­erty for each new vet­eran they hire — not to ex­ceed $300,000 per prop­erty or 20 per­cent of the prop­erty’s to­tal as­sessed tax­able value.

Lo­cal oc­cu­pa­tional li­cens­ing and regis­tra­tion fees could be waived for veterans. State grants to as­sist veterans with le­gal is­sues — pri­mar­ily in ac­cess­ing mil­i­tary and other ben­e­fits and em­ploy­ment is­sues, among other mat­ters — would be dou­bled to $3 mil­lion. ‘Fill­ing in the gaps’

The plan also would create a spe­cial 22-mem­ber gu­ber­na­to­rial com­mis­sion to “sup­port the U.S. mil­i­tary in Texas” in prepa­ra­tion for ex­pected ad­di­tional base clo­sures in com­ing years, to min­i­mize the loss of ad­di­tional fa­cil­i­ties.

Texas’ 15 ma­jor mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions gen­er­ate more than $136.6 bil­lion in eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in the state each year, and add $81.4 bil­lion to the gross state prod­uct, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 re­port by state Comp­trol­ler Glenn He­gar.

Jeffrey Cle­land, a for­mer Marine cor­po­ral who man­ages the mil­i­tary ser­vice ini­tia­tive at the Ge­orge W. Bush Cen­ter in Dal­las, ap­plauded Abbott’s plan as a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward for Texas veterans.

“This is go­ing above and beyond what a lot of states do,” he said, not­ing that the plan will al­low the state to tap the myr­iad tal­ents that veterans have to of­fer. “It’s great.”

Dave Lewis, di­rec­tor of veterans pro­grams for the VetS­tar health ser­vices pro­gram in Lub­bock, echoed that sen­ti­ment.

“This plan in­volves fill­ing in the gaps where the VA strug­gles … and it will al­low the state to make veterans suc­cess­ful,” he said.


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