Talking Travis: Mark Strama

District 50 rep talks interim planning and his Sunny Day fund plan

Rep. Mark Strama talks to Rep. Stephen Frost while his deskmate Rafael Anchia studies bills (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

Call him Chairman Mark Strama. When Speaker Joe Straus first announced that he was instituting a new House Technology, Economic Development & Workforce Committee, it was half-jokingly nick-named the Mark Strama committee. When he got the job as chair, it seemed the only person it surprised was Strama. “I wish it had been my idea,” he said. "Amazingly, I had people looking out for me." Mixing green collar jobs and long-term economic develpment is, he has repeatedly said, right in Austin's sweet spot and essential for the future of the state. Plus, he added, "It's exactly the area I want to work on." The downside is that because it’s a new committee, there was a settling-in period, defining its new role and making sure it got the right bills. So he’s already looking ahead to the 2011 session. "When you have an interim to prepare for a committee, you can prepare an agenda better than when you get the assignment when the session has already started."

Rep. Mark Strama and Mayor Will Wynn (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The interim will allow him to work on "a much more aggressive agenda." He already has targets, all working to the goal of making Texas a more tech-savvy state state. They include extending broadband provision to under-served areas, commercializing university R&D, and expanding pre-K teaching provision. Current research shows that period in a child's development may be as important as the time covered by K-12 "but what we provide for them is care-taking and not education," he said. It's less how much money the state spends, but where it spends it. "More than half the [Texas] Workforce Commission’s budget is federal child care, and that gives people the ability to work and provide for their families but we’re not doing enough with those federal dollars to make sure those kids are in school."

Of course, he's still got a lot of work to do this session if he's to salvage high priority bills, like the green jobs training in HB 516 and the solar improvement provisions in HB 2573: At this late stage, it will probably take some complicated legwork and amendment-drafting to get motion. But his most ambitious plan may be the Sunny Day fund in HB 4325. He explained, "We take a billion dollars from the Rainy Day fund and use it for matching dollars for competitively awarded federal stimulus money. As you know, the stimulus has a ton of money that flows to states, no matter what. Then there's money with strings attached. Then there's a third pile of money, as big as the other two, that is awarded competitively. Some states will get it, some states won't. Some cities will get it, some cities won't."

He admits that Texas has to box clever to get that cash: Swing states can make a strong political case, while solid blue states like California can make the loyalty argument. "Texas doesn't have either of those arguments," he said, "But we can got to the feds and say 'We think you should invest that money here because you'll get 33% more because we'll put some of our spending in it.' That's a compelling argument."

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