The Waco City Council on Tuesday approved a state legislative agenda dealing with schools, taxes and health care and hired a lobbyist for $120,000 to fight for the city in Austin.

The agenda, formed jointly with leaders from other local government entities, calls on the Texas Legislature to accept the federal expansion of Medicaid, reinstate funding for pre-kindergarten, expand community and technical colleges and avoid property tax caps.

City officials say these are common goals among local elected leaders and they hope McLennan County, McLennan Community College and Waco Independent School District also will vote to support the agenda soon.

Leaders from the four entities held a joint meeting last month in which they urged Waco’s legislators to take action on the slate of goals.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, and state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, have objected to accepting the federal Medicaid expansion, which local medical leaders say could greatly reduce Waco’s rate of uninsured patients.

Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said Waco leaders will continue a dialogue with them but also reach out to other state leaders.

“We’re sure going to get our issues out to all members of the Legislature,” he said in an interview.

Important precedent

Regardless of the Legislature’s decisions, local leaders have set a powerful precedent, Duncan told the council Tuesday.

“I think the willingness of these groups to work together and speak with one voice is a significant achievement of the community,” he said.

Councilwoman Toni Herbert agreed, calling the recent joint meeting “historic.” But she and other council members said that planning for the next legislative session in 2015 should begin much earlier in the process.

The city council Tuesday also renewed the contract of the Austin lobbying firm Blackridge to lobby state leaders on these and other issues relevant to the city.

Blackridge will monitor committee work and state regulatory filings. Blackridge also served Waco during the last legislative session, and City Manager Larry Groth said the firm did a good job.

“Once you start building a relationship with them, unless you’re not getting your money’s worth, you like to keep them,” Groth said.

In other business Tuesday, the council granted a city historic preservation tax exemption to Robert Tunmire for his renovation of the Migel mansion, 1425 Columbus Ave. The exemption applies to the property value added because of the work. Tunmire estimates he will spend $468,000 on the renovation.

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