The Big Conversation
For transportation funding, it turns out that the third time was, indeed, the charm.
After failing to do so in two previous special sessions and one regular session, lawmakers managed to pass a measure estimated to increase transportation funding by $1.2 billion annually — if Texas voters approve it next year.
And then, they immediately adjourned sine die.
Some lawmakers had been pushing Gov. Rick Perry to add more items to the agenda, such as tuition revenue bonds or campus carry legislation. But after his office indicated that there were no other additions planned, legislators took the opportunity to head home.
Thus endeth the third special session. Spanning a single week with a tally of accomplishments exactly as long as its initial to-do list, it will likely be remembered as the most decisive and efficient special session of the summer season. It certainly wasn't the most dramatic.
As the Trib's Aman Batheja and Alexa Ura reported, the plan approved Monday, which would provide roughly one quarter of the funding the Texas Department of Transportation says is necessary to maintain current congestion levels, involved two related pieces of legislation, Senate Joint Resolution 1 and House Bill 1.
If a proposed constitutional amendment is approved by voters in 2014, the legislation calls for the state to begin diverting some oil and gas production tax revenue currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund to road construction and maintenance. A select joint committee of legislators will recommend a minimum balance for the fund to make sure the diversion, which will be revisited in 2025, does not diminish the fund to a point of discomfort.
Perry issued a statement praising both chambers for “increasing funding for transportation without raising taxes, which sends an incredibly strong message that Texas is committed to keeping the wheels of commerce turning, while protecting taxpayers.”
In his own statement, TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said that the Legislature's "commitment to funding transportation is a significant step in advancing key mobility and maintenance projects into the future."
The plan also requires TxDOT to find $100 million in “efficiencies” over the 2014-15 biennium and put that money toward paying the agency’s multibillion-dollar debt. While Wilson begind his search for savings, with the bills passed and the session over, many lawmakers are now free to begin their own respective quests for re-election or higher office.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, for example, said on Monday that she is in the process of deciding whether or not to run for her current seat — or for governor.
• Perry vetoed wage bill after getting letters from retailers (Houston Chronicle): "Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill that would have let victims of wage discrimination sue in state court after receiving letters against the measure from the Texas Retailers Association and five of its members, mostly grocery stores, according to records obtained by the Houston Chronicle."
• Plan would give $1.8 million from Travis taxpayers to smaller Public Integrity Unit (Austin American-Statesman): "The unit would have $2.5 million to operate, with about $1.8 million coming from taxpayers and up to $734,422 from a fund of forfeited property that District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg controls. In June, Gov. Rick Perry cut the unit’s $3.7 million annual budget for the next two years after Lehmberg refused to resign following her drunken driving conviction in April."
• Texas high school students to learn new graduation plan (The Dallas Morning News): "Texas eighth- and ninth-graders getting ready to go back to school need to add an item to this year’s to-do list: Getting clear on a new graduation plan. HB 5, the sweeping education bill passed last legislative session, killed what was called the “four-by-four” and replaced it with something more flexible."
Quote to Note: "Let's adjourn this mutha.” — State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, as the third special session drew near to its end.
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