For the last seven months, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott have obsessed over who uses which bathroom in Texas.
While these political games have dragged on, thousands of Texas living in rural and colonia communities lack basic wastewater infrastructure and clean water in their own bathrooms. This is embarrassing, shameful, and yet another example of misplaced priorities in Austin.
Statewide, approximately 500,000 Texans live in colonias, residential areas that lack basic living necessities, like potable water and sewer systems, electricity, paved roads, or safe and sanitary housing. Despite half a million Texans lacking basic infrastructure, last month, Governor Abbott vetoed nearly $860,000 in the Texas budget for the Colonia Initiatives Program, stating that the program was repetitive.
His explanation demonstrates how little he understands the communities’ needs, and the work necessary to change these living conditions. The El Paso County Ombudsperson, Kathryn Hairston, has done incredible work for colonias in my district – coordinating local, state and federal efforts to truly transform spaces. Unfortunately, this veto will make it impossible for Kathryn and other ombudspersons across Texas to ensure that people living in colonias have access to safe water and wastewater services.
The problems of water shortages and gaps in infrastructure extend beyond the border – across the state, tens of thousands of Texans don’t have access to clean water in their homes. 34 rural water systems serving about 51,000 Texans have exceeded the federal water limit for arsenic for at least a decade – many by a significant amount. In Houston, demand for water is expected to outpace supply by nearly 35 percent by 2060. If no statewide additional water supplies are developed, water users in Texas are projected to face a water shortage of 4.8 million acre-feet per year by 2020.
And yet, through all of this, Governor Abbott considers which bathroom Texans choose to use a more pressing issue for our state.
From a broader economic standpoint, studies have consistently shown that the passage of any form of a bathroom bill would have devastating effects on our state’s economy. Major corporations like IBM have already sounded the alarm, stating they will rethink their commitment to Texas if we pass a bathroom bill. If this happens, Texas will continue to fall further behind states like California when it comes to unemployment, wage growth, and overall economic strength. Texas’ current economic ranking has already fallen to 21st in the country, down from 3rd before Governor Abbott took office. Our state’s economy is already struggling, and bathroom-related legislation will make it even worse.
Texans don’t want legislators to focus their limited time and efforts on divisive social issues that will hurt, not help, our state’s communities and our economy. We need real solutions to the reality of hundreds of thousands of Texans lacking basic infrastructure and clean water. If Lt. Governor Patrick and Governor Abbott want to discuss bathrooms, I would be happy to talk to them about the real bathroom-related tragedy in our state.