Texas lawmakers finish transportation deal on third try

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/6/2013

Texas lawmakers can finally go home. After spending much of the year working on a transportation funding plan, House and Senate lawmakers voted Monday, Aug. 5, in favor of a plan that would raise $1.2 billion a year.

Voters will make the final decision on the issue during the November 2014 election.

Monday’s votes at the statehouse to pass a bill and a proposed constitutional amendment wrapped up a third special session that was called by Gov. Rick Perry to help address $4 billion in transportation funding needs without increasing taxes or fees.

The governor said in a news release that he was very pleased that lawmakers were able to increase “funding for transportation without raising taxes.” He said the action “sends an incredibly strong message that Texas is committed to keeping the wheels of commerce turning, while protecting taxpayers.”

Both chambers have spent much of the year trying to reach agreement on a plan that would ask voters to authorize tapping the state’s oil and gas severance tax to boost revenue for non-toll roads and bridges.

The compromise plan approved Monday would send half of the oil and gas severance tax revenue to the state highway fund. Specifically, the plan – SJR1 – calls for diverting about $1 billion annually in severance tax money that now goes to the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Included in the final version is a requirement to revisit the issue at the statehouse in 2025. At that time, lawmakers will decide whether to continue the diversion.

The second part of the plan – HB1 – is intended to prevent the Rainy Day Fund’s balance from falling too low. A select committee of lawmakers would be created to set a “floor” before each legislative session. The House and Senate would then decide whether to agree to the minimum balance or change it.

At any time, if the Rainy Day Fund balance falls below the threshold the diversions to transportation would stop.

Another component of the plan requires the Texas Department of Transportation to trim its current budget for non-road uses by $100 million and to use the savings to pay off debt.

Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said that while the funding plan is only a temporary fix, the changes will allow TxDOT to manage projects efficiently and predictably for the future.

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

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