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Transportation funding deal completed

All over but for the voting.


House and Senate leaders reached final agreement Saturday afternoon on how to protect the state’s rainy day fund as they propose to shift half of future rainy day dollars into roads, according to an official close to the negotiations.

There would be no “floor” — or minimum balance for the state’s savings account — placed in the Texas Constitution, the source said.

Instead, the enabling bill for the road-funding constitutional amendment would say that 10 key lawmakers who monitor the budget from their seats on the Legislative Budget Board would adopt a minimum amount the rainy day fund should have. They would do that every two years, as they choose an estimate of personal income growth in Texas that defines what percentage cap is applied to certain state spending. That exercise, required under a constitutional spending limit approved by voters in the late 1970s, is usually performed by the board in November of even-numbered years, shortly before lawmakers return in January for their regular session.

Under the road-money deal, if budget board members can’t agree on a minimum balance number for the rainy day fund, then the Department of Transportation would get no new money from the proposal to split future rainy day revenues in half, with 50 percent going to roads and 50 percent going into savings. The enabling bill also would call for a joint House-Senate committee that would study transportation funding, the source said.

As leaders acknowledged Friday, the deal calls for the constitutional amendment on road funding to be set for the November 2014 ballot. That keeps it separate from this fall’s vote on a water-projects constitutional amendment. And the new money for highways couldn’t go to toll roads or to replace debt service payments from general-purpose revenue that are needed to repay some of the $5 billion of so-called Prop. 12 road bonds that have been approved by lawmakers and voters.

No guarantees that there’s enough support in the chambers to pass this – remember, it takes a 2/3 vote in each, and that means even a small number of nihilists or anyone else who just doesn’t like the deal can scuttle it. Then it goes to the voters, but not till next year. I presume the result of the water infrastructure referendum will be suggestive, if not predictive, of this amendment’s fate. We’ll know on Monday if it gets that far.

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