The Texas Legislature adjourned its third special session since May on Monday night after passing a measure estimated to increase transportation funding by $1.2 billion annually if Texas voters approve it next year.
“Let’s adjourn this mutha,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, after the Senate had sent House Bill 1 back over to the lower chamber for final passage.
It was the third try by lawmakers since the end of the regular session to pass a measure to boost funding for the cash-strapped Texas Department of Transportation without raising taxes or fees.
Gov. Rick Perry praised 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.”
The latest version is estimated to raise $1.2 billion a year for TxDOT, a fraction of the more than $4 billion TxDOT has said it needs in additional annual funding to maintain current congestion levels as the state’s population grows.
The plan now requires the Legislature to vote in 2025 to continue the diversion or it would stop. It 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.
“They’re a $20 billion a year agency and a lot of us believe that they can tighten the belt,” said state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso and the author of HB 1.
A repeated sticking point on the plan has been whether and how to create some sort of minimum balance, or floor, for the Rainy Day Fund’s balance below which tax revenue could not be diverted to transportation. The version passed by both chambers Monday will require a select joint committee of legislators to recommend a minimum balance before each regular legislative session. Then members of both chambers will be given a chance to vote in favor of that minimum balance or a different balance. If a majority of both chambers can’t agree on one by the 45th day of the session, then the committee’s recommendation will be enacted.
That final provision drew the support of several House Republicans who had been wary of the plan beforehand.
About damn time. For all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that led to this “what took them so long?” compromise, it’s still little more than a Band-Aid that leaves most of the problem un-addressed and hostage to ideology. I doubt it will lead to other states to cease their badmouthing of Texas’ inadequate infrastructure as a way to undermine its appeal to businesses. But it did accomplish the task of getting everyone the hell out of town before any further wingnut wish list items could be added to the agenda. For that alone, kudos all around. The item will be on the 2014 ballot, not the 2013 ballot, so don’t look for it this November. I’m sure you’ll hear about it again before you get to vote on it.