Texas transportation funding plan: try, try, try again

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 7/30/2013

An effort at the Texas statehouse to help address $4 billion in transportation funding is not over.

House lawmakers on Monday, July 29, failed to secure enough votes to pass a proposal that would ask voters to authorize tapping the state’s oil and gas severance tax to boost revenue for roads and bridges. The second special session called by Gov. Rick Perry wrapped up mid-afternoon Tuesday.

The governor wasn’t happy with House lawmakers’ failure to reach agreement despite working much of the year on a transportation funding plan.

“To go home without dealing with one of the most pressing issues facing all Texans is simply unacceptable,” Perry stated.

Shortly after the House gavel sounded to end the special session, Perry announced that a third special session would begin immediately. The governor is hopeful that more time could result in lawmakers agreeing on a funding plan.

House and Senate negotiators met over the weekend to craft a compromise that would make more money available for non-toll roads and bridges.

The compromise plan called for sending half of the oil and gas severance tax revenue to the state highway fund. Specifically, the plan would divert about $850 million annually in severance tax money that now goes to the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Voters would’ve gotten the final say on the proposed amendment to the state’s constitution – HJR2 – during the November 2014 election. Initially, the question was supposed to be on the ballot this fall but lawmakers wanted to avoid putting two proposed constitutional amendments on the same ballot.

Already included on the upcoming fall ballot is a question to set aside $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund for water projects.

Negotiators also reached agreement over the weekend on a bill – HB16 – that would add a “floor” that would prevent the Rainy Day Fund from falling below a level to be set by the state Legislative Budget Board. If funds were to fall below the set level, there could be years that TxDOT gets nothing at all from oil and gas severance tax revenue.

The plans were sent back to each chamber Monday to decide whether to advance them to the governor’s desk.

House lawmakers approved adding a floor to the Rainy Day Fund, but supporters came up 16 votes short of the required 100 votes needed to advance HJR2. Proposed constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority to pass.

House Speaker Joe Straus said that House lawmakers are “increasingly uncomfortable” with diverting money away from the Rainy Day Fund to help fix roads.

“These funds were never intended to be a stable, long-term way to address our transportation needs,” Straus said in a news release.

Gov. Perry’s office indicated in recent days that he likely would call for a third special session to address transportation funding if lawmakers didn’t work something out before Tuesday’s deadline.

Straus, R-San Antonio, urged the Republican governor to give lawmakers more time.

“Until members are free to consider real options – beyond simply shuffling taxes from one purpose to another – we will not find a responsible solution to this issue.”

The governor gave lawmakers about 30 minutes before calling them back to work.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Texas, click here.

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