Eddie Lucio Jr.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Rep. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) filed a bill Thursday to raise minimum wage in Texas from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour.

The minimum wage for federal contract workers increased to $10.10 per hour after President Barack Obama passed an executive order in January.

Houston Tower, Rep. Lucio’s legislative director, said Lucio aimed to follow a national trend.

“Right now, roughly 75 percent of the public, according to some polls, is in favor of a raise of the minimum wage, and, while that may not say exactly the amount, we’re running off the what the federal government has done, as well as other states,” Tower said.

Plan II and economics sophomore Alexander Chase said he works at Which Wich and earns $7.25 per hour. Any increase in minimum wage would help him cover more of his expenses, Chase said. 

“I feel like raising the minimum wage to $10.10 … is not only reasonable, but has been needed for some time,” Chase said. “The fact of the matter is that wages have to keep up with rising costs of living.” 

Chase said he has worked in the food industry for two years, and the minimum wage has not increased during that time. The money he currently makes does not adequately help him pay his bills, Chase said.

“Given [the] costs of living, … any jump up at all is necessary,” Chase said. “$10.10 is not only reasonable, but probably a good starting point for discussion.” 

The bill is aimed at helping those who continually work hourly jobs, Tower said. 

“Down in the district, there are quite a few folks that are just working minimum wage jobs,” Tower said. “There’s all types of hourly jobs, and just putting a raise to the minimum wage would obviously put more money in their pockets, while at the same time … not losing jobs.” 

A rise in the minimum wage could possibly increase unemployment among low-wage earners if businesses do not find it profitable to hire more workers at a higher wage, according to economics professor Matthias Kehrig.

“My understanding is that this is a state-wide wage, and such a uniform measure is rarely appropriate,” Kehrig said. “$10.10 might be an appropriate minimum wage in places like Austin, but too high for small towns [and] rural areas. So workers in rural areas that have few job prospects already will most likely suffer.” 

Tower said Lucio expects resistance but plans to work with stakeholders on both sides to reach a solution.

“If you look at the national debate on [minimum wage], you can probably see quite a bit of how it’s going to play out,” Tower said. “There will be some resistance, and we understand that, and that’s to be expected. However, something like this is an issue that’s going to help the middle-to-lower class, lower income folks, and that’s really who he’s trying to help out.”

Bills filed in both houses of the Texas Legislature on Monday would lead the UT System to consolidate its institutions in the Rio Grande Valley into one entity.

The bills would bring UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen under the administration of one institution and give that institution access to the Permanent University Fund. The fund, established by the Texas Constitution, allocates money to the UT and Texas A&M systems.

It is unclear how much the initiative will cost, but the regents approved spending $100 million over 10 years to help transform the Regional Academic Health Center into the proposed South Texas School of Medicine, which will be part of the consolidated university.
The bills would direct the UT System Board of Regents to establish a temporary advisory group that would design, develop and choose a location for the proposed medical school.
“We believe the students of South Texas deserve access to a first-class education and that this new, PUF-eligible university will have a magnificent impact on the educational and economic opportunities in the region,” Board Chairman Gene Powell said in a statement released Monday.

In January, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa told the Senate Finance
Committee that the System will seek $10 million per year in state general revenue funds to assist the consolidation and the establishment of the medical school. 

The UT System is not currently seeking state funds to pay for the UT-Austin
medical school, which will use revenue from the regents, the regional Seton Family of Hospitals and property tax revenue collected by Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district. At the Senate Finance Committee meeting, Cigarroa said the Rio Grande Valley does not have the tax base necessary to support such an arrangement.

Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, who filed the bill, said the city may have to create a special taxing district that would help fund the medical school but that the school would have to seek revenue from additional sources such as philanthropic funds.

“We cannot raise the kind of money you could raise in Austin or El Paso or Houston or Dallas, so we are going to have to be creative about other kinds of funding packages,” Oliveira said.

Oliveira said the bill filed by Rep. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, to establish a UT System law school in the Rio Grande Valley is not related to the consolidation bill but said the proposed law school could be part of the consolidation.

According to each bill, students already enrolled at UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville before the bill takes effect would be allowed to enroll at the new university. The bills state that the new university will hire as many faculty and staff as possible from the abolished universities.

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said it is too soon to tell how the proposed school’s administration would include administrators at UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center.

“There will be some consolidation but it is premature to discuss details, as a bill to create the university still has to be passed by a two-thirds vote of both chambers in the Legislature,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

The House bill is authored by nine representatives including Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee. 

The Senate bill is authored by four senators: Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville; Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

The initiative has support from outside of the legislative branch and the UT System. 

During his State of the State address last week, Gov. Rick Perry said he supported allowing the schools to have access to the Permanent University Fund.

“This area of the state is critical to our state’s future,” Perry said, “and our investment in the children of South Texas will be returned a thousand-fold.”

Printed on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 as: Bill proposes merging Valley schools