Transportation bill also victim of filibuster on abortion bill
Senate Transportation Committee Chair Senator Robert Nichols
The Texas Rangers, the stateâ€™s premier law enforcement agency, have a saying, â€œOne Riot, One Ranger.â€ Somebody should have called that Ranger to the Senate chamber at the State Capitol Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning (July 2 and 3, 2013). An unfinished filibuster and a large and vocal crowd the likes of which have not been seen at the Capitol in recent history was in the gallery, throughout the rotunda and outside the Capitol to stall action on an abortion bill until after the midnight deadline, killing any bills that were scheduled to be heard. But, also suffering death at the midnight hour was a very special state transportation bill.
Less than 24 hours later, Gov. Rick Perry called a second special session, slated to begin at 2 p.m. on Monday, July 1. Lawmakers will again take up the abortion bill that caused the late-night, early-morning uproar, along with transportation and juvenile justice bills that were never brought up on the last day of the first special session.
In calling the second special session, Perry said Texans have made their priorities clear and among them is the stateâ€™s deteriorating system of roads and bridges. â€œTexans want a transportation system that keeps them moving,â€ Perry said in announcing the transportation issue will be part of the special session agenda.
The calling of a second special session came as no surprise. Although the filibuster and most of the noise was aimed at a contentious abortion bill, the transportation bill would have put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. The legislation would allow Texas voters to decide if they wanted some $880 million in the stateâ€™s rainy day fund to be directed to highway funding. At stake is millions of dollarsâ€™ worth of new construction and maintenance projects.
After the first special session ended with no action on the transportation bill, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Sen. Robert Nichols said he was disappointed in the outcome of the session relating to the transportation issue.
â€œCongestion on our state highways is increasing daily and the system is in need of maintenance,â€ said Nichols on Wednesday. He said the bill would have helped find â€œa long-term transportation funding solutionâ€ and that it had strong, bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
Sen. Ken Paxton urged the governor to call a second special session after the transportation bill died Tuesday. â€œWith Texasâ€™ booming population, we must pass critical legislation to provide funding for highway and road construction,â€ said Paxton.
The bill is important not only for the billions of dollarsâ€™ worth of projects that will not be funded without it, but because transportation projects historically create an abundance of contracting opportunities that translate into jobs, which translates into growing the state and local economies.
The amendment, if passed by voters, would have taken half of the balance above a $5 billion minimum that must be retained in the rainy day fund and allowed it to be used toward the more than $4 billion Texas Department of Transportation officials say they need for transportation projects in the state. It would create a dedicated funding source for transportation needs statewide. The bill had already passed the House and was facing approval by the Senate.
The rainy day fund currently stands at about $8 billion, but that is expected to grow thanks to increased oil production tax revenue.
So the issue will go back to the legislature beginning Monday, along with the juvenile justice sentencing legislation â€“ and the abortion issue again.