Emily Zieschang said she and her family are the youngest residents of Bryan’s Beverly Estates neighborhood. She spoke to College Station city councilors Thursday to “have her voice heard,” as it pertains to the recent debate over a College Station sewer trunk line that would invade her neighborhood.
“We have three children and I am pregnant with my fourth; we are the only family with children in the neighborhood,” Zieschang told the councilors during the meeting.
“I am here to say that the next generation cares about your actions and the city of Bryan’s,” she said. “Though it is just a sewer issue or a sewer line project, we care about it. … To me it is unfathomable that College Station would make a choice that would potentially impact our relationship that has been fought for, paid for, sacrificed for. If this project goes through the Beverly Estates and leaves the devastation that it will, you will not be known for the completion of a sewer line project, you will have a hand in destruction or possibly damaging the relationship that has been fought for decades.”
Following multiple public comments about College Station’s purposed sewer line that would wade into the city of Bryan’s Beverly Estates neighborhood — from both Bryan and College Station residents — the College Station City Council unanimously approved additional design and survey work for an alternative route at Thursday’s meeting.
Ten residents spoke at the meeting, including Zieschang, most of whom live on North Rosemary Drive, the proposed road in question. As the Beverly Estates neighborhood is known as historical, many of the residents who live there want to keep their neighborhood’s integrity.
Phillip Springer, a College Station resident, said he moved to town 50 years ago, and it wasn’t too long before he noticed “the anxiety between the two cities.” He said his friends in Bryan are “terrified” with the prospects of the potential sewer line and urged the council to find a better option.
The sewer trunk line would impact Beverly Estates as it would travel either behind or in front of properties in that neighborhood. During the meeting, the council approved $87,500 worth of funds to look into survey work for the back lot option near Pin Oak Creek.
They approved a change order to the design contract with Kimley-Horn and Associates of Bryan for the Northeast Trunkline Phase 4 project.
“The design will include installation of a sewer trunk line which would serve areas of the community which includes the University corridor and Northgate. This would allow for continued development in this area which will soon be limited by existing sewer capacity,” city staff stated. “After numerous discussions and meetings with the residents in and around the proposed route, the City is considering an alternative route alignment option. This alternative route would be along the back-lots of North Rosemary Drive, next to Pin Oak Creek. This alternative alignment will require additional survey and data collection work.”
City officials started to design phases for a sewage line that would eventually end up servicing the growth on University Drive and the Northgate District, serve Texas A&M property, including Hensel Park, and decommission the Hensel Park lift station, and allow investments that have currently reached $7.5 million, according to Jennifer Cain, director of capital projects for College Station.
The final phase of the sewer line has a few routes up for debate. If the sewer line were to go in front of homes in the neighborhood, the city of College Station could make use of the existing public right of way, Cain told The Eagle last month. She said the Beverly Estates Homeowners Association proposed an alternative route of going behind the properties. In order to do that, city staff would have to have 14 agreeable property easements from the homeowners, one of whom is former Bryan Mayor Andrew Nelson and HOA president Scott Hickle, who was in favor of the back lot option along Pin Oak Creek.
“Ask yourself, ‘Do I want to be part of the destruction, or do I want to support the preservation of this historic neighborhood in Bryan?’” Hickle asked the council.
If the sewer line goes the eminent domain route, it could be utilized for the alternate option (back lot), however that is not the city’s intent, Cain said previously. For the route in front (under the road), College Station would be able to complete the majority of work within the public right of way, which a public utility has the right to use, Cain said, and a public right of way is not private property.
Cain said the majority of the survey work, for the in front/under the road option, was completed in the public right of way and did not require access to private property.
Eminent domain is the legal authority that certain entities are granted that allows those entities to take private property for a public use, according to the Landowner’s Bill or Rights for the state of Texas. Private property can include land and certain improvements that are on that property.
Many of the residents who spoke wanted the council to consider a lift station, rather than the gravity flow option under the road. City staff has stated there are large costs associated with a lift station as well as upkeep. However, during the meeting, two residents near Pin Oak Creek along Vine Street and Inwood Drive in Bryan spoke out against the back lot option due to destruction of nature and flooding concerns.
James Mulvey, a resident on Vine Street, told the council to consider a lift station because it would help prevent flooding in his and his neighbors’ homes.
“I am here to bring awareness along flooding problems along Pin Oak and Burton Creek, as it relates to the proposed creek line. There are hundreds of Bryan homes that line these creeks, most of which are in the flood plain,” he said. “I have heard stories of houses flooding, garages flooding and fences getting ripped down. My neighbor on Vine Street who backs up to Rosemary [Drive] and Pin Oak Creek, his house has flooded six times, water has come up to his house up to 8 inches. I personally back up to Rosemary … and the water comes within about an inch coming into our house.”
For more information about the project, contact Susan Monnat, senior project manager for College Station capital projects, by calling 764-5028 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The council will review the survey work once it is complete at a later council meeting.
Is it a forklift? Or maybe a firefighter? What about a material handler or a piece of military equipment?
Tracks North America’s Multi-Purpose Expeditionary Platform (MPEP) can function as all of those and much more.
The MPEP is an off-road platform on which various attachments can be mounted. Tracks North America, a Bryan-College Station area company, sold its first unit in 2021 and has since delivered 25 to various customers. Because MPEP has hydraulic capabilities, a wide range of accessories can be hooked up to the platform such as a snowplow, a lawnmower and a bucket.
“There are 25 platforms that have been sold into the marketplace — 12 are in the military and the others are in the private sector … we’ve sold to smart city companies, field transport companies, and oil drilling companies,” Tracks North America CEO Caleb Holt said Thursday during testing of the autonomous capability of the MPEP at the Bush Combat Development Complex at Texas A&M’s RELLIS campus in Bryan. “We have built kits for the marines, firefighting units for the [Department of Energy], airfield damage repair kits for the Army, and now we are building kits for loading aircraft.”
The MPEP platform comes in two sizes, with the larger of the two weighing around 4,500 pounds, which is noticeably lighter than a traditional forklift or skid steer. Those can weigh between 10,000 and 12,500 pounds, according to Holt. Another feature of the MPEP is that it can be collapsed down to a height of 28 inches and is only 56 inches wide, which conforms to the required size to fit fly-on military aircraft models during transportation.
Holt said the cost of a platform for a prospective client is between $85,000 and $90,000, and that’s without the autonomous capabilities of the model that the company is currently testing. The addition of that feature will move the price per unit to between $125,000 and $140,000.
“Our end goal for Tracks North America is to produce autonomy as a service,” Holt said. “We will be able to provide hardware to customers and they will be able to make their existing equipment and systems autonomous.”
Srikanth Saripalli, a mechanical engineering professor and director of Texas A&M’s Center for Autonomous Vehicles and Sensor Systems, has partnered with Tracks North America to assist with the development of the semi-autonomous features.
“I think this [platform] is one of a kind,” Saripalli said. “There are machines like this but they are way too expensive — a half a million dollars or more or they are too big — there’s no other machine like this.”
When testing the semi-autonomous features on the MPEP, Saripalli praised the location and facilities of the Bush Combat Development Complex.
“Having such a facility, I don’t know of any other place or university that has such a cool facility,” he said. “So being able to test it here and see how well it works or how it doesn’t work, from a logistical perspective it is very nice to have everything in Bryan-College Station. We want to test it in the worst environments and this is a unique track and facility to test in.”
The Bush Combat Development Complex is a new facility that is part of the Texas A&M RELLIS campus and represents the Texas A&M University System and the state of Texas’ commitment to the nation, according to Patrick Seiber, the Public Relations Director at the Bush Combat Development Complex.
“In 2019, the Texas Legislature put $50 million toward the proving ground, where all the testing is done,” Seiber said. “Another $80 million from the Texas A&M Board of Regents was added, which went toward research, hiring and other facilities here, combine that with the $65 million from Army Futures Command strategic partnership we have and it is a powerful combination.”
Seiber added, “We hope the work done here can help provide deterrence to make [the country] so dominant so that no one wants to pick a fight with us [the nation].”
PHILADELPHIA — As political gridlock puts the government at risk of defaulting, President Joe Biden on Thursday made an opening bid with a budget plan that supposedly would cut deficits by $2.9 trillion over the next decade — a proposal that Republicans already intend to reject.
It’s part of a broader attempt by the president to call out House Republicans who are demanding severe cuts to spending in return for lifting the government’s legal borrowing limit. But the GOP has no counteroffer so far, other than a flat “no” to a Biden blueprint with tax increases on the wealthy that could form the policy backbone of Biden’s yet-to-be-declared campaign for reelection in 2024.
Striding around a stage at a union training center in Philadelphia, Biden seemed to be in full campaign mode as he spoke about his plan for the government’s finances and how his values contrasted with Republican priorities.
“I just laid out the bulk of my budget,” Biden said. “Republicans in Congress should do the same thing. Then we can sit down and see where we disagree.”
Yet the president doubted that GOP lawmakers could make their numbers match their calls for a balanced budget and he suggested that any efforts to do so could come at the expense of middle-class families.
“How are they going to make the math work?” Biden said. “What are they going to cut?”
Biden’s package of tax and spending priorities is unlikely to pass the GOP-run House or the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim edge, as proposed.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the president’s proposed deficit reduction was inadequate. “It just seems like it’s going to create the biggest government in history. I don’t think that’s what we need at this time,” he said.
In addition to deficit reduction, Biden’s 10-year budget largely revolves around the idea of taxing the wealthy to help fund programs for the middle class, older adults and families. It would raise $4.7 trillion from higher taxes, with an additional $800 billion in savings from changes to programs.
The tax increases include a reversal of the 2017 tax cuts made by President Donald Trump on people earning more than $400,000 a year.
Biden has floated a new 25% minimum tax on households worth $100 million or more. Also, the tax that companies pay on stock buybacks would rise fourfold and those earning more than $400,000 would pay an additional Medicare tax that would help to keep the program solvent beyond the year 2050. Medicare could negotiate on the prices of more prescription drugs, helping to save the government money.
Accompanying that would be $2.6 trillion worth of new spending, including the restoration of the expanded child tax credit that would give families as much as $3,600 per child, compared with the current level of $2,000. That credit would be “fully refundable,” which means households could receive all of that sum even if they don’t owe any taxes. The budget proposal would impose a $35-a-month cap on insulin prices, matching a change that Biden already put in place for Medicare recipients.
At a time of increased tensions with Russia and China, the budget shows a decline in military spending as a share of the U.S. economy over the next decade. But federal spending would be equal to roughly one-quarter of economic output as the spending on Social Security and Medicare climbs, essentially keeping the government the same size as it is currently.
The budget would seek to close the “carried interest” loophole that allows wealthy hedge fund managers and others to pay their taxes at a lower rate, and prevent billionaires from being able to set aside large amounts of their holdings in tax-favored retirement accounts. The plan also projects saving $24 billion over 10 years by removing a tax subsidy for cryptocurrency transactions.
McCarthy has called for putting the U.S. government on a path toward a balanced budget. But by refusing to raise taxes or cut Social Security and Medicare spending, GOP lawmakers face some harsh math that makes it hard to reduce deficits without risking a voter backlash before a presidential election. He has said his plan’s release was pushed back because Biden’s proposal was only now coming out.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., expressed skepticism that McCarthy has any coherent plan that House Republicans can coalesce around. “Enough with the dodging, enough with the excuses,” Schumer said. “Show us your plan. And then show us how it’s going to get 218 votes on your side of the aisle.”
Biden’s deficit reduction goal is significantly higher than the $2 trillion that he had promised in his State of the Union address last month.
With the economy already in a fragile state because of high inflation, if Biden and Congress cannot agree to raise the statutory debt cap of $31.4 trillion by this summer, the government could default on payments and perhaps shove the country into a recession.
The budget also shows the shadow of Trump’s legacy, as provisions in his 2017 tax cuts will expire after 2025. Biden wants to eliminate elements of that overhaul, arguing that lower taxes failed to produce the growth that Trump promised. But Biden’s budget does not address tax cuts that benefited households making less than $400,000: Their expiration could amount to a tax increase that would violate a pledge by Biden to only raise taxes on the wealthy.
Based off the data, the cost of extending the tax breaks for people making less than $400,000 would be $1.5 trillion, according to Kyle Pomerleau, a senior fellow at the center-right American Enterprise Institute. That would halve the deficit savings being promoted by Biden, but Pomerleau cautioned that his estimates might be high because the president’s plan includes the cost of the expanded child tax credit.
Biden’s proposal would increase the top marginal tax rate to 39.6% on income above $400,000. For households with $1 million in income, earnings from capital gains, such as stocks or property sales, would no longer enjoy a discounted tax rate compared with wages. The president would increase the corporate tax rate to 28% and increase the tax rate on U.S. multinationals’ foreign earnings from 10.5% to 21%.
In February, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the national debt held by the public will grow by more than $20 trillion over the next decade. The publicly held debt, which reflects the cumulative impact of yearly deficits, would be equal to 118% of U.S. gross domestic product, compared with 98% this year. Biden’s budget would reduce the debt, though it would still be high relative to historical levels.
The Texas A&M University System was one of many higher education systems to give testimony to the Texas House of Representatives’ Higher Education Committee on Monday.
James Hallmark, vice chancellor for academic affairs for the Texas A&M University System, spoke on behalf of the System that contains 11 universities ranging in size from 2,500 to 70,000 students with a total enrollment of degree-seeking students of over 152,000.
Hallmark laid out three initiatives for the committee.
The first was the System’s commitment to preparing future teachers by focusing on “assuring that our teachers are consistently well-prepared, stay in the field longer and meet the needs of our Pre-K through 12 students and our state,” he said. This comes at a time when a teacher shortage is weighing heavily on Texas education as a whole.
The second initiative referenced A&M’s commitment to transfer students.
“More than half of our graduates at most of our universities began as community college students,” Hallmark said. “We’re heavily invested in transfers and partnerships with our community college colleagues.”
And the third commitment referred to minimizing student cost.
“We’ve engaged in serious investigation and exploration on affordability over the past year, and the legislative action that you have before you in the House at this time is indispensable to our efforts,” Hallmark said.
Having taken the System’s affordability plan to the House Appropriations Education Subcommittee last week, Hallmark said it will move to the full House for consideration in the coming weeks.
“This plan in its entirety is central to our ability to maintain resident undergraduate tuition and academic fees at current levels for another two years,” Hallmark said. “This plan is also important for us to use other resources to address students’ cost in other ways.”
Hallmark presented the tuition and fees plan under consideration to the Board of Regents last month. The plan’s goals include reducing room and board and books and supplies costs, addressing mental health challenges, fixing advising problems that continue to be obstacles for student success and helping students deal with unexpected expenses.
“I can’t let the opportunity to pass by to thank you and all that Texas A&M does for this state,” Rep. John Raney, R-College Station, said.
Harrison Keller, commissioner of higher education for the state of Texas and chief executive officer for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, spoke on behalf of the board and the growing need for a qualified workforce.
“It’s clear that our competitiveness, our continued prosperity as a state are going to increasingly depend on an educated workforce and the contributions of our higher education institutions,” Keller said.
Over the past decade, Keller said Texas has created a quarter of all the new jobs in the U.S. and continues to add more, but the state’s long-term prosperity is dependent on both the quality and the quantity of those jobs.
By 2030, he said more than 62% of all jobs are going to require training and education beyond a high school diploma with only 48% of Texans currently holding degrees and certificates. He added that this is a conservative projection as Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission Bryan Daniel is projecting 92% of new jobs will introduce these requirements.
Thus, the 2022-2030 statewide strategic plan, “Building a Talent Strong Texas,” was born.
“That gap in credentials and skills that most Texans have versus what good jobs increasingly require is the biggest drag now on our Texas economy next to inflation,” Keller said.
Inflation and the cost of housing — rather than tuition — have been driving forces in the rapidly increasing cost of higher education, he said.
“Making sure that higher education remains affordable and provides a meaningful return on investment has to be a shared responsibility among the state, our higher education institutions and also students themselves,” Keller said.
This is where state financial aid and need-based aid come into play.
Keller said Texas currently invests more than $600 million a year in student financial aid programs that benefit over 100,000 students but does not provide enough funding to support all eligible students.
“In addition to expanding access through our state financial aid programs, it’s important that we make students aware that these opportunities are available and how education and training can lead to good jobs,” Keller said.
Two of these opportunities include the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund of $200 million focused on financial aid to improve college affordability and the Texas Transfer Grant Program for better access to need-based aid.
In addition, Keller said the Texas Leadership Scholars Program is in its pilot phase “to identify and cultivate those high-achieving, emerging leaders who come from low-income backgrounds and also improving our overall direct enrollments.”
“One of the issues we identified last session is we had surprisingly large numbers of students who were eligible for automatic admission to our universities who were low income and weren’t enrolling directly in higher education,” Keller said. “We actually have a bigger problem of high-achieving students not enrolling directly in higher education than we have a problem with students going out of state.”
To follow the Texas legislative session, visit house.texas.gov/.