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And they’re off

The special session gets started today, with the stated goal of being done by the weekend. House Speaker Joe Straus thinks his chamber can get everything done in three days, while Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is even more ambitious than that.

“The Senate will get it done in less than three days,” Dewhurst said in a wide-ranging interview Tuesday. “I’m actually shooting for having the bills come back from committee late tomorrow afternoon, and either passing them tomorrow night or Thursday morning.”

In a series of meetings before the session begins, Dewhurst said, senators are working to resolve issues and get their questions answered before the opening gavel falls at 10 a.m.. “They may have the (three) bills virtually memorized by (this) morning,” he joked.

On the agenda: Continuing the operations of the state’s transportation, insurance and racing commissions plus two smaller agencies; authorizing $2 billion in road-building bonds that voters have approved; and continuing the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation to negotiate private-public deals to build toll roads.

You can see the Senate’s pre-filed bills here. It’s probably safe to say that all of the ones after SB3 are unlikely to be brought up for floor debate. As far as the three bills that are on the official agenda, one of them is controversial.

The special legislative session that starts today includes measures to allow private companies to build more toll roads across the state — an idea opponents have dubbed “the largest tax increase in history.”

Gov. Rick Perry, who called the special session and sets its agenda, wants lawmakers to continue five state agencies that otherwise would expire, to permit highway bonds to be issued — and to authorize the continued use of comprehensive agreements that allow public-private partnerships in development of toll roads.

He said the work, left undone in the recent regular session, can be completed in a few days.

Opponents of privately run toll roads, however, hope the idea gets anything but a short, smooth ride.

“Concerned citizens are hopping mad about lawmakers’ rush to get home for the Fourth of July holiday rather than give due consideration to what some have dubbed the largest tax increase in Texas history, selling Texas highways to PRIVATE foreign corporations that charge 75 cents PER MILE in new toll taxes to access PUBLIC roads,” said a statement from Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, which plans to be at the Capitol in full force today.

[…]

Lawmakers allowed the agreements in 2003. In the face of critics’ outcry that the state was selling key assets, they later put a moratorium on new agreements, with exceptions. The ability to enter into such agreements is set to expire this year, requiring legislative action.

A proposal by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, would extend the authorization for the agreements through 2013. It would allow specific projects that have been agreed upon by local entities to go forward. It also would allow new agreements with additional restrictions.

“We’ve been trying to work real hard to put in local control and protections for the citizens, and I think we’ve accomplished that,” he said.

Here’s what TURF had to say about Sen. Nichols’ bill, SB3. The DMN transportation blog, which notes that TURF will be rallying in front of the Capitol at 9 AM today, quibbles with some of their objections. It’s unclear to me from this article if the previous concerns about SB3 had been addressed. I’d guess the answer is yes, on the grounds that Governor Perry might have been critical of it if it contained language he wouldn’t approve. But that’s just a guess – we’ll know soon enough.

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