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The Brief: April 10, 2013

Lawmakers haven't ignored transportation this session, but big plans for infrastructure funding may have stalled.

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The Big Conversation

Lawmakers haven't ignored transportation this session, but big plans for infrastructure funding may have stalled.

With about six weeks left in the session, some lawmakers say the Legislature may fall short of finding the $4 billion per year that the Texas Department of Transportation has said it needs to keep congestion around the state from getting worse, as the Tribune's Aman Batheja reports today.

Though efforts that would create an infrastructure fund using $1.7 billion from the Rainy Day Fund and end $400 million in gas tax diversions could still pass, other ideas — like dedicating vehicle sales tax revenue to fund highway projects — appear to have lost momentum.

"I don’t think we’re quite there yet, and quite honestly I think it takes a session or so to quite understand that," state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said at a Tribune event last week. 

Phillips said many of the proposals would be hard to sell to some House members, especially the chamber's freshman Republicans. The perception that the state is already awash in new transportation projects may have also drained the issue of urgency.

But legislators like state Sen. Robert Nichols, who filed the vehicle sales tax bill, say the state can't afford to wait.

"Can we take care of it next session? ... The answer is no, we can’t," said Nichols, R-Jacksonville, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. "We need to take care of it this session because you cannot just spin on a dime and do a transportation project."

Capitol Notes
Compiled from Tribune reports

•    Senate Passes Bill to Keep UT's Top 10 Percent Cap: "The Texas Senate approved a bill on Tuesday that would allow the University of Texas at Austin to maintain its cap on automatic admissions no matter the outcome of Fisher v. University of Texas."

•    House Panel Grills CPRIT Oversight Committee: "Members of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas’ oversight committee were grilled Tuesday by a House panel that asked about their involvement with an affiliated foundation’s decision to rebrand itself."

•    HOA Accountability Bill Stirs Debate at Capitol: "A bill by state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, would make homeowners associations more financially accountable. But HOA interest groups say the bill is unworkable and punitive to volunteer board members."

•    Catholic Leaders, Faithful Rally at Capitol: "Texas Catholics rallied at the capitol Tuesday for Catholic Faith in Action Advocacy Day, calling on legislators to tighten abortion restrictions and improve access to health care, among a wide variety of issues."

Texas news from across the state and around the web

•    Immigration talks see accord on ag workers (San Antonio Express-News): "An apparent agreement involving agriculture workers and growers was reached Tuesday as Texas lawmakers separately filed a border security bill in advance of the upcoming debate on immigration reform. A final resolution between groups representing agricultural workers and growers could develop within the next few days. Negotiations were continuing on Capitol Hill."

•    Rare gay rights bill passes Senate committee (Austin American-Statesman): "In a state where attempts to expand gay rights have hit a wall of conservative Republicans, a Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bill to provide a new legal protection for sexually active gay teens. Under Senate Bill 1316, gay and lesbian teens who engage in consensual sex with each other can escape prosecution on a felony charge of sexual indecency with a child — as long as they are over age 14 and are within three years of each other in age."

•    Anti-incumbent super-PAC returns with sights on new targets for 2014 (The Hill): "The anti-incumbent super-PAC Campaign for Primary Accountability is coming back for 2014 after shutting down last election cycle — and it’s already making a wish list of targets, including Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas)."

Quote of the Day: "I may go down fighting on this issue, but I will never apologize for trying to reach out and help families who are desperate for their children to have chance they never had." — State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, on Tuesday at a Senate Education Committee hearing on his controversial tax credit scholarship legislation


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