Time runs out on Texas effort to divert money to transportation

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 6/26/2013

An effort in Texas to approve nearly $1 billion in funding for transportation work throughout the state failed to get a final vote before a special session ended.

The clock ran out on the special session late Tuesday, June 25, before the Senate could vote to send to the governor a measure to use the state’s Rainy Day Fund to benefit roads and bridges. Voters would have been given the final say on the diversion.

Gov. Rick Perry added transportation funding to the special session call earlier this month. It was one of multiple efforts that died because debate on an abortion bill wasn’t resolved before the midnight deadline to advance legislation.

The transportation funding measure called for amending the Texas constitution to tap the state’s oil and gas severance tax to boost transportation funding. Senate Joint Resolution 2 sought to divert about $900 million in tax money that is earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund, or Economic Stabilization Fund.

Senate lawmakers previously approved the measure but House changes made earlier in the day mandated the Senate give final approval before it could move to the governor’s desk.

Supporters say that something needs to be done to address a transportation funding crunch that has little chance of improving on its own. Specifically, officials at the Texas Department of Transportation say that $4 billion more per year is needed to maintain existing roads.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, said during previous Senate floor discussion on the bill that the state is “facing a serious crisis in transportation.”

He cited the state’s population boom, worsening traffic congestion and fewer dollars available for roads and bridges as proof that the state must act sooner rather than later to address the problem.

“These are challenges that need to be addressed ... before it is too late.”

House lawmakers amended SJR2 to specify that the Rainy Day Fund couldn’t be drained to an amount below $5 billion. The Senate version specified funds couldn’t fall below $6 billion.

All revenue routed to roads was also mandated to be used for construction and maintenance.

In the hours following adjournment of the special session, Gov. Perry hadn’t decided whether he will call lawmakers back to Austin to address transportation funding and other issues.

If lawmakers come back and approve the measure, it would be included on the fall ballot for voters to make the final decision on the redirection of funds.

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