Editorial Roundup:

Fort Worth Star-Telegram. December 30, 2019

Fort Worth leaders, resolve to plan better for mass transit in 2020 and beyond

Here’s a New Year’s idea for Fort Worth’s elected officials and other leaders: Resolve to make public transportation a top planning priority for 2020 and beyond.

It’s too simple to say that there’s been no attention to the issue so far. Trinity Metro, the city-county public transit agency, has an ongoing master plan, and leaders are examining innovative potential solutions.

What’s missing as Tarrant County and its neighbors boom, though, is a strategy that reflects a consensus among the patchwork of governments that must work together to make major changes to how we move around our sprawling area.

And an approaching decision by the city and voters on police funding that could cut off potential long-term funding for building transit seems to be on auto-pilot, when it needs a full vetting.

Two truths should guide this discussion. The first, as any transportation planner will tell you, is that you can’t build enough roads to eliminate congestion for very long. The roads themselves invite more traffic. And building more lanes in developed areas is expensive and disruptive.

The second is that transit is important to driving economic growth. Businesses evaluate it when deciding to relocate, and future workers seem poised to make it a priority in their choices, too. If Fort Worth wants to continue to attract top jobs, it needs better public transportation options.

Major challenges and policy tradeoffs lie ahead.

The first is sprawl. Recent growth planned in Wise County is a great example of the scope of the challenge. It’s long been a rural area, far from the city center, but it’ll soon be the home of Fort Worth’s next big suburbs.

Having several cities and counties involved makes planning and coordination more difficult. Former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr thinks the answer lies in what would have once been considered “heresy:” A regional transportation agency for the west side of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“The more they can collaborate, the better off we are,” said Barr, who has made transit something of a passion. He noted with optimism that some cooperation already exists, such as between Trinity Metro and Denton County’s transit agency.

It points to a related, but broader issue: Culture. DFW — all of Texas — is built on car culture. Many of us would have to develop entirely new habits to adapt to mass transit. But as Barr notes, younger residents are more open to it, as are many of the thousands of people moving here from other states each year.

Other changes in modern life require more nuanced solutions than just building a massive rail network. The very nature of work is changing, including hours and locations. Fort Worth doesn’t have just a couple of massive job destinations to funnel riders into. Like our homes, our workplaces spread across a large area.

Then, there’s the challenge of money. For decades, Fort Worth has used some of its sales-tax flexibility for the Crime Control and Prevention District. The funding helped remove the ignominious distinction of having one of the highest crime rates among large cities.

Decades later, though, needs have shifted. The city may ask voters to continue the half-cent sales tax for another decade. That would prohibit shaving off even a small portion for transit. Voters and leaders must stop and have a conversation about where the right balance lies.

Barr, who was a council member when the crime district was created, says it’s been “extremely important” for Fort Worth. Now, it’s “time to study that and look at it very carefully,” he said.

“We’re not going to cut back crime-fighting efforts in city budget,” Barr said. “If some sales tax money is shifted to transportation, the city’s general fund has to pick up the shortfall.”

It will be politically tough. Any City Council member who votes to reduce the crime money even a bit could be open to challengers tagging him or her as soft on crime. But leadership is needed to step up and make sure both priorities are well-funded.

Good, if small, steps are underway. Trinity Metro’s DASH buses are providing new ways around downtown and the Cultural District and generating information about how to address the “last-mile” problem that plagues our transportation system. That’s when a transit option leaves a commuter with too far a walk to their specific destination to be practical. The agency is also re-examining bus routes, some for the first time in decades.

It’s a solid start. But a bigger, broader vision should be a priority for 2020 and beyond.

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El Paso Times. December 29, 2019

As El Paso heals from mass shooting, we must lead in declaring never again

The El Paso shooting memorial in the Walmart parking lot offers a hint of the work that remains in our community’s recovery.

A man stood there in silent prayer a day after Christmas. Two vases of red roses decorate the “Grand Candela” plaque. An elderly couple stood quietly along the silver railing. Three women waiting their turn to visit the site added to the solemn mood.

They treat the memorial, which is most beautiful at night, with dignity and respect.

The victims’ names aren’t on the memorial. When asked why, a Walmart employee named Jesus said: “We are waiting for permission from the families.”

The memorial also doesn’t provide an explanation of what happened on a beautiful El Paso morning when police say an alleged white supremacist traveled to our city to kill Mexicans with an AK-47 rifle.

After the shooting stopped, 22 people were dead, including eight Mexican nationals, guests in our country who came to shop for groceries.

It is our responsibility to make sure that the story doesn’t end here. There is still plenty to do to make sure their lives, their families’ loss and the community’s suffering serves as redemption from this evil deed.

We must continue to demand that Texas leaders develop strategies to reduce mass shootings. The pace of progress on this work isn't what Gov. Greg Abbott promised in the days immediately following the El Paso massacre. Grand Candela at Walm was lit Friday night ahead of Saturday's dedication ceremony.

As a community, El Pasoans have worked hard on recovery. We proved our strength by accepting the reopening of the Walmart store, we have shown our gratitude for the heroes who saved lives under gunfire, we have raised millions to help the families of the dead and wounded and we have started the process to bring the mass shooter to justice.

Mayor Dee Margo says it could be three years before El Paso fully recovers from the mass shooting. He says he is tired of funerals.

We all share that fatigue. But we have much to do. The first order of business is to reclaim El Paso’s identity as a safe, open, diverse and binational community. We have long welcomed immigrants and strangers. We need to mend those relationships and restore our feeling of security. Our instinct now is to act with caution when we see a stranger. We are trying to accustom ourselves to the sight of armed guards at the grocery store. We don’t want to look at one another differently.

We urge Abbott to release more recovery money to help our community heal. These traumatic attacks don’t get better on their own. As the trip to the Walmart memorial showed, people are still coping with loss.

We must continue to comfort the wounded victims like Octavio Ramiro Lizarde, who set a personal goal of trying to walk again by Christmas. His foot was badly damaged by a bullet, but the loss of his nephew at his side in the store remains painful. We don’t want this young man to suffer his grief alone. We support him and all the others.

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Amarillo Globe-News. January 2, 2020

Putting more info in hands of prospective college students a good thing

Choosing a course of study at a college or university is a huge decision that can be a difficult choice for many reasons, and many times, too little thought is given to how much money can be made in a particular discipline.

The years of study coupled with what will be a significant financial outlay made in pursuing a college diploma means it is more important than ever for students to understand the return they can reasonably respect on their investment.

Thanks to the Texas Legislature, prospective college students can have a better handle than ever before on the correlation between their major and their financial future. According to our report this week, wage and workforce statistics will now be more visible during the application process for Texas colleges and universities. The measure was backed by numerous business groups across the state and approved during last year’s session.

Specifically, the new law, which became effective Wednesday, means some 450,000 prospective students who use the ApplyTexas electronic college application will more easily be able to access this important data that will offer a window into likely financial implications associated with their chosen field of study. Previously, a link to the information was on the ApplyTexas.org website; now it will be on the electronic form as well.

There are those students who choose to enter a discipline unarmed with pertinent information such as the demand for their chosen major, the starting salary and compensation after gaining several years of experience. Earning a degree can then lead to possible disappointment with limited or no opportunities and lower-than-expected wages.

The new measure aims to create a better-informed student population more fully aware of the practical realities associated with specific career choices. The database offers comparisons of public two- and four-year colleges and universities in the state and includes average earnings and debt burdens for graduates of various programs.

Students are under no obligation to access the information or give it any weight at all in considering their course of study, an approach that ensures two things: anyone can still chase any dream, and everyone can choose to be better-informed about the dream’s financial ramifications, especially at a time when the cost of a college education continues to trend upward.

Those who work in the college admissions world say the vast majority of students already have given the matter thought, but the black-and-white statistics can give them one more data point most likely to reinforce their feelings. Regardless, with a decision of this magnitude, the more information readily accessible, the better.

The measure is also good for Texas, where the labor market is stretched exceptionally thin and unemployment is historically low. That means an already competitive market is even more competitive so college graduates are better served to consider how their skills, gifts and qualifications will match up with what’s most in demand.

“We need to organically grow more Texas students with certain skills that businesses are looking for,” Justin Yancy, president of the Texas Business Leadership Council, said in our story.

A better-trained 21st-century Texas workforce begins with a better-informed prospective workforce. We commend business organizations around the state for supporting this measure and the Legislature for seeing its wisdom and getting it done.