The Big Conversation
It feels as if the debate over how to fund Texas roads has gone on forever, but the party ended long ago. The House and Senate will get back to business at the Texas Capitol this afternoon, attempting to tackle transportation funding in yet a third special session.
The House is expected to take up House Joint Resolution 1 and the related House Bill 1 by state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, which both passed out of the Select Committee on Transportation Funding on Thursday. If approved, the plan is expected to raise roughly $1 billion of the $4 billion Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Phil Wilson told lawmakers the agency needs in order to merely maintain current congestion.
The last time such a proposal was up for consideration on the House floor, it did not go well.
Because it involves an amendment to the Constitution, the resolution requires 100 votes in order to pass successfully. Near the end of the second special session, a similar piece of legislation failed after receiving only 84 favorable votes. Supporters of the bill blame the failure on the large number of absences on the day of the vote, which should be an avoidable problem moving forward.
It's also worth noting that the new bills represent a slightly tweaked plan from the one that failed in the second special session, which is also the same proposal that the Senate quickly approved and sent to the House in the initial hours of the latest special session.
As the Trib's Aman Batheja reported, the new plan includes a provision designed to foster more buy-in on the part of the Texas Department of Transportation. It would require the to find $100 million in “efficiencies” over the 2014-15 biennium and put that money toward paying the agency’s multibillion-dollar debt. According to Pickett, this would save the agency $47 million in debt service payments.
The new plan also allows legislators more say in ensuring that diversions to the state's highway fund would not result in a diminishing of the state's Rainy Day Fund beyond their level of comfort. In a previous proposal, the Legislative Budget Board would have periodically set a minimum balance for the Rainy Day Fund, below which tax revenue could not be diverted to transportation. This time around, the idea is to bestow that power upon a select joint committee of five House members and five senators.
In their effort to finalize this bill, legislators are not expected to go slow. If a final agreement can be reached and sent to the governor with time to spare — of which there is currently plenty — in the special session, it's possible that Gov. Rick Perry might add more issues to the call. Many lawmakers are hopeful that he will consider allowing them to pass a tuition revenue bond package to help fund construction on college campuses.
Of course, after so many consecutive special sessions, many of them would also like to just go home.
• Abbott Faces Questions on Turnabout and Fair Play (The Texas Tribune): "When Greg Abbott’s spine was crushed by a falling oak tree in 1984 he had no health insurance, no paycheck and no feeling in his legs...Nearly 30 years later, as Texas attorney general and the leading candidate for governor, Abbott is facing new questions about the multimillion-dollar settlement he was awarded and about his advocacy of laws that critics say have tilted the judicial scales toward civil defendants."
• Ted Cruz made $1 million as lawyer while campaigning for Senate in 2012 (The Dallas Morning News): "Among his final clients were a businessman who pleaded guilty to bribery, a drug manufacturer that fired an employee who refused to break the law, and a company that illegally copied another’s tire design."
• Oil, gas bounty will keep on giving, studies say (Houston Chronicle): "The bonanza of energy loosed by advances in U.S. oil and gas technology appears poised to boost the industry and broader economy for years to come - a likelihood underscored by statistics in two separate consultants' reports."
• Texas DPS not talking about abortion protest (El Paso Times): "The Texas Department of Public Safety is refusing to disclose information related to a news release claiming that protesters intended to disrupt last month's fevered abortion debate with jars of feces and urine."
Quote to Note: "“We’re in Louisiana.” — Someone in the crowd at the the RedState conservative blogger conference in New Orleans on Saturday. They were shouting a response to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's observation that he was in a state that embraced conservative values, which he called "Florida."
- Davis fires up Democrats' rally, San Antonio Express-News
- Legislature's changes to Texas education go far beyond zapping of 10 STAAR tests, The Dallas Morning News
- Former Texas justice, congressman Hightower dies, Associated Press
- Politifact: State spending assessment flawed, Austin American-Statesman
- Money for DPS to Help With Backlog of Rape Kits, The Texas Tribune
- Sources: NCAA investigating Manziel, ESPN.com