Agenda Texas: Water Funding Gets New Life

State Rep. Hubert Vo, l, D-Alief, and Chairman state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, vote to table an amendment to SB 1 on April 4, 2013.
State Rep. Hubert Vo, l, D-Alief, and Chairman state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, vote to table an amendment to SB 1 on April 4, 2013.

It looks like lawmakers have finally come to an agreement on how to fund future water infrastructure projects in Texas. Step one of the agreement was the House finally sending Senate Joint Resolution 1 to the House Appropriations Committee for a vote.

SJR 1, if approved as a constitutional amendment by voters in November, would have spent several billion dollars of the state’s Rainy Day Fund on roads and water infrastructure. But that plan wasn’t going to work in the House.

“We insisted that we were not going to start doing a referendum type of government in Texas, like they do in California," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie. "We were elected, 150 members over here and 31 members over there, to make these decisions."

And it wasn’t just Pitts. House Speaker Joe Straus echoed that call to not govern like California, which is why Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, was surprised when SJR 1 was finally sent to the appropriations committee.

 

“After the speaker and the governor came out and said that they were opposed to budgeting by referendum, that they felt that the Legislature should handle budgeting, I thought that we had a pretty good feeling of where they were and what they believed,” Taylor said.

But on Tuesday, Pitts said SJR 1 would be changed when his committee hears the bill Wednesday. Instead of it authorizing billions for water and road infrastructure, it will only authorize the creation of a constitutionally dedicated fund for water infrastructure projects. 

Pitts said the money would still come out of the Rainy Day Fund. But it will come through a supplemental appropriations bill, House Bill 1025, passed by the lower chamber last month.

"When the Senate sends over 1025 back to the House, it will include $2 billion out of the Rainy Day Fund for water — and we will pass it," Pitts said.

But to spend the money, Texans will still have to approve the constitutional proposition creating the dedicated bank account that will hold the money.

So lawmakers are making progress on a water deal. And Pitts told reporters Tuesday that he and the House and Senate budget conferees are nearing a deal on the state budget. That would keep the Legislature from needing a special session to pass a spending bill.

“I’m planning on it," Pitts said. "That’s my plan for the budget."

If only the budget were the only topic that could force a special session. The budget debate sometimes goes down to the wire, but there’s still plenty of time to get the bill finalized and on to the governor’s desk.

But beyond the budget, there’s transportation funding and the governor’s call for $1.8 billion in tax cuts. And those aren’t even the topics that could bring us back first. Earlier on Tuesday, Attorney General Greg Abbott met with House Republicans. House GOP Caucus chairman Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, said Abbott talked about two subjects that could be addressed in extra summer sessions.

“The general was discussing updates on school finance litigation and redistricting and how both of those might apply to extending our work for an additional time frame,” Creighton said. “Obviously that’s determined by the executive branch, but we did have dialog concerning both topics and how that may play into a special."

So when could a special session begin? Technically, the first day could be May 28, the day after the regular session ends. But that’s up to Gov. Rick Perry.

A quick reminder that we’re collecting questions on the Legislative session for an upcoming segment. It can be anything from how a bill becomes law to what’s the best thing to eat at the Capitol grill. Send your questions to [email protected] or tweet us @AgendaTexas.

 

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