Four-term State Representative Patrick Rose, left, has drawn an opponent for the 2010 Democratic Primary in Andrew Backus, right, a board member of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
Four-term State Representative Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) has drawn an opponent in the March primary.
Andrew Backus of Driftwood, a long-time Rose opponent in matters of local groundwater management, filed his intention to run with the Texas Secretary of State on Dec. 15.
Backus is a member of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) board, which is responsible for water conservation in the western portions of Hays County. HTGCD and Rose have been at odds over the kind of authority the board should be granted by the state.
Backus has expressed support for ad valorem taxation authority for the district and increased metering of non-exempt wells, while Rose has cited “property rights concerns” about more HTGCD authority and has publicly stated his opposition to the district having the power to tax property.
Backus did not answer numerous requests for comment.
Rose campaign representative Randy Thompson said he would not speculate on Backus’s platform beyond the HTGCD matter, adding that Rose has high approval in legislative District 45 on a broad range of issues.
“I’m just saying that (HTGCD authority is) one policy debate about one issue, and the district as a whole is concerned about not only water, but it’s concerned about jobs, transportation, healthcare, the budget, education,” Thompson said. “And that’s what this election is going to be determined on, and whether or not Representative Rose has done a good job and should be reelected. And I think history has shown that he has a good job.”
Rose originally won the seat in a tightly contested 2002 election against then-incumbent Rick Green (R-Dripping Springs). Rose has won three elections since in notoriously purple Hays County, which anchors his district. The district also includes Caldwell and Blanco Counties.
During the 2009 state legislative session, HTGCD attempted to get Rose’s and State Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) to support a bill allowing the groundwater district to hold an election so residents within its jurisdiction could determine whether to allow the district to tax property.
HTGCD’s legislation also proposed to allow its board members, who are elected officials, to vote on whether to institute other funding mechanisms, such as an increase of the new well construction and utility connection fees to $400 each from $300.
The two fees now constitute the groundwater district’s only sources of funding other than grants. HTGCD’s proposed legislation would have allowed board members to implement a new well owner registration fee of up to $125 and a well production fee of 17 cents per thousand gallons of pumped groundwater.
Wentworth and Rose declined to support HTGCD’s legislation, offering a bill that would have allowed HTGCD to generate up to $100,000 per year for two years by charging utility customers served by wells pumping more than 25,000 gallons per day a $2.00 per month fee to finance a study of the aquifer. Rose and Wentworth disagreed with the district’s assessment that it needs at least $400,000 per year to effectively manage groundwater production.
HTGCD’s enabling legislation, which lacked a provision for the district to collect ad valorem taxes, charge well production fees, or require permitting of domestic wells pumping less than 25,000 gallons, was ratified by the 77th Legislature in 2001. The residents of the proposed district then confirmed its existence in an election on May 3, 2003, by a vote of 1,702 to 883.
Backus’ wife Jean is campaign treasurer for Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs), who has supported the maximum amount of authority for the district as allowable under Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code. Ford said in March that full Chapter 36 authority for HTGCD was politically impossible before voting for a resolution in support of more limited authority for the groundwater district.
At HTGCD’s Dec. 10 board meeting, Rose announced that he and Wentworth intend to support more funding authority and power for HTGCD, including full Chapter 36 authority, if a stakeholder group recommends it. The individuals and entities Rose and Wentworth chose to be in the stakeholder group are intended to represent the conservation community, the community-at-large, the realtor or the business community, water suppliers and elected officials.
Texas State’s River Systems Institute Executive Director Andrew Sansom, who the legislators chose to direct the stakeholder process, said he hopes the stakeholders can reach a consensus by Fall 2010.