MCALLEN, RGV – Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez says the level poverty in the Rio Grande Valley must be drastically reduced if the region is to prosper economically.

Cortez gave the wrap-up remarks at a luncheon hosted by the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. The event featured a Q&A with Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, with questions posed by retired UT-Rio Grande Valley politics professor Jerry Polinard.

“I have been in my job for about seven months now and I have identified certain things. If we are going to have economic opportunity in Hidalgo County there are two things we need to do. One, we need to increase our revenues. The other part of the equation is to reduce the expenses,” Cortez said.

“I am going to tell you that the biggest obstacle that we have going forward is that we must reduce the rate of poverty that we have in Hidalgo County.”

Cortez pointed out that level of poverty in the United States is 14 percent while the rate in Texas is about 17 or 18 percent.

“We have got a 38 percent poverty rated in Hidalgo County,” Cortez said. “People in poverty restrict economic growth. It puts a great burden on government.”

Cortez then ran through some of the numbers.

“We (Hidalgo County) spend $15 million serving 5,000 people that are indigent for healthcare. We spend $7 million defending criminals that could not afford to pay for lawyers. We also spend $8 million picking up trash in the rural areas because people cannot afford to do it. So, if we are going to have prosperity in Hidalgo County we have got to solve the problem of poverty.”

Cortez said everyone in the community can help reduce poverty.

“Who is responsible? Here is the answer: we are all responsible, we are all going to have to get together, form coalitions, work with government, work with our universities and help ourselves. If we start reducing the level of poverty here in the Rio Grande Valley, especially in Hidalgo County, you are going to see that economic needle move forward.”

This is not the first time the county judge has put eliminating poverty at or near the top of his political agenda. Just before he took office in January, Cortez made similar remarks at a McAllen Chamber of Commerce governmental affairs committee meeting.

Wednesday’s luncheon was held at the Double Tree Suites in McAllen. At the event, Cortez said he needs the help of the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and everybody in the room.

“I am going to be calling on you because one of the things we have to overcome is, we have to gain the respect and confidence of people. If you think we have people that are unethical and all that, we can never get there. So, I have to win your confidence. That is going to take a lot of work on our part. But, I am going to come out to you and ask for your help,” Cortez said.

“So, together I think we can do this and I look forward to this. The Hispanic Chamber is a big contributor to the success of our community and I want to thank San Juan Economic Development Corporation for investing in this and all of you for being here. The fact that you are here today tells me there is a hope for us. You are here today because you care.”

San Juan EDC co-sponsored the luncheon.

Earlier in the meeting, Judge Cortez praised Congressman Gonzalez for his leadership. He recounted a story when Gonzalez was first running for Congress.

“I thought of the toughest question I could ask him: you are running as a Democrat, when your party differs from you, what are you going to do?”

Cortez said Gonzalez did not move in lockstep with his party, which is a good thing.

“What we needed was a leader and that is what we got,” Cortez said.