Transportation deal dies

Technically, it’s not dead till sine die, but it sure is on life support.


A compromise plan to spend $848 million on Texas highways just landed in a ditch.

House members voted down a plan to split oil and gas production money between the state’s economic stabilization fund and highway spending. It needed 100 votes to pass and got 84.

The rebuke of a compromise plan worked out this weekend means a third special session might be on the horizon. Gov. Rick Perry said he would call lawmakers back if they failed to solve the state’s transportation spending shortfall.

The compromise plan, based on a proposal by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, split the oil production revenues between the so-called rainy day fund and transportation spending. To protect the rainy day fund, the Legislative Budget Board, an 18-member commission of lawmakers that oversees state finances, will annually set a minimum needed for the rainy day fund. If revenues are projected below that level, the board could recommend the money not be transferred to transportation funds.

The compromise plan drew opposition from both those who demanded a stronger minimum cap, often referred to as a floor, and those opposed to any limitation.

The Statesman has more.

Gov. Rick Perry’s office has not said if he will call members back for a special session, but promises a statement soon. In the meantime, House members have made it clear they don’t want to see the Capitol again anytime soon.

“Governor, if you’re listening, don’t call us back tomorrow,” bill sponsor state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said from the podium shortly after the unsuccessful vote. Maybe next spring, when we’ve slept a bit.”

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, followed shortly with this in a prepared statement:

“Diverting a capped amount of money from the Rainy Day fund to repair roads is much like using a Band-Aid to cover a pothole; in the end, you still have a pothole and you’ve spent a lot of money without solving the fundamental problem. Legislators know that Texas needs a much more comprehensive approach to funding our growing state’s growing transportation needs, and another 30-day special session will not change that.”

The House will return at 2 p.m. Tuesday. And the Senate might even yet take a vote on HJR 2, despite its less-than-dim prospects in the House (a member of the prevailing side, the 40 no-voters, could bring it up for reconsideration Tuesday, but House members said nothing of the sort will happen).

Both chambers passed House Bill 16, the companion bill, which would create a House-Senate interim committee to study transportation funding. Perry’s office has not indicated if he will sign the bill.

The Trib notes that the vote was 84-40, so either there were a lot of abstentions or a lot of absentees. If the latter, there could possibly have been a successful vote if enough members had showed up. I suspect, however, that the absentees were missing for a reason. I suppose anything can happen today, but it sure ain’t looking good for this plan. I’m not too upset about because it was a jerryrigged compromise of a band-aid, and maybe this failure will convince legislators that they need to take a more fundamental approach. But no one’s ever gotten rich betting on the Lege to learn lessons and do the right thing, so I’m not holding my breath on that score. Nothing to do but wait and see what happens next. The Highwayman has more.

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