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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen – Start Your Engines!

The Texas House is scheduled to convene Monday afternoon and take up SJR 1 relating to transportation funding and SB 1, its enabling legislation.  As we motor through the Third Called Session, let’s consider the long and winding transportation funding road the Texas legislature has been on this summer.

Additional transportation funding ran out of gas in the Regular Session.  Neither the House nor the Senate was able to pass legislation to provide TxDOT the additional dollars it needs annually to maintain our existing roadways and keep up with population growth.

During the First Called Session, SJR 2 by Nichols passed both the Senate and the House, as amended, and was eligible for Senate concurrence on the last day of the session. SJR 2 would have taken one-half of the revenue currently transferred to the Economic Stabilization Fund and dedicated it to transportation funding.  However, SJR 2 became stuck in traffic behind SB 5 relating to the regulation of abortion, and SJR 2 crashed on the Senate floor in the ensuing road rage of that chaotic evening.

HJR 2 then took a drive through the Second Called Session passing both the House and the Senate, and the differences between the bodies were resolved by a Conference Committee Report (CCR).  HJR 2 again would have taken one-half of the revenue currently transferred to the Economic Stabilization Fund and dedicated it to transportation funding.  All that remained was for 100 House members and 21 Senators to vote to adopt the CCR.  Only 84 House members voted yes, 40 voted no, 23 were absent, and transportation funding again reached the end of the road, this time on the House floor.

Gov. Perry immediately called the legislature back for its monthly commute on transportation funding (Third Called Session) on Tuesday of this week.  The Senate suspended all rules, gunned SJR 1 into the fast lane, and raced it over to the House containing the exact same language as the previous CCR.  The House will now start its engines at 2 p.m. on Monday and take up SJR 1.

Will this SJR 1 lap through the House have a different ending and cross the finish line with 100 votes, or will the summer transportation odyssey continue?  It is clear that the House leadership is unenthusiastic about passing SJR 1.  It is also clear that the relationship between the Governor and the Speaker is strained.  Right now we have a contest of wills where one side doesn’t want to pass transportation funding in this manner, and the other is saying I will keep you in Austin until you do.  Something has to give.
Monday should be another fascinating day at the legislative race track.  House leadership has to decide whether they want to pass the bill, or do they want to resolutely kill it.  They have the votes to do either.  But, if they are not decisive, SJR 1 will spin out on the slick House track tantalizingly close to the finish line and we will be back for a Fourth Called Session.

UPDATE 8/2:  Thank you for the blog entry on the transportation bill. As you can imagine Sen. Nichols is hopeful this thing can get done next week. I did want to mention one thing I noticed in your report. The House committee passed HJR 1 out yesterday, not SJR 1. Unfortunately that means if it passes on Monday we will have to pass it through our process (which should not be an issue) in the Senate. I am unaware of a House rule that would allow Pickett to swap out the HJR for the SJR unless Phillips reconvenes his committee and votes out the SJR.

For what it's worth....

Thanks-

Steven J. Albright, MPA
Chief of Staff
Office of Senator Robert Nichols