DALLAS — Texas lawmakers will get another chance to authorize $2 billion of transportation bonds and keep five state agencies in business, under Gov. Rick Perry’s call for a special session.
Perry ordered lawmakers to reconvene in Austin at 10 a.m. Wednesday. With several contentious issues to be resolved, the session could take several days, officials indicated.
When the regular session ended June 1, no bills had been passed authorizing continued operations of the Texas Department of Transportation and four other state agencies beyond Sept. 1, 2010. Without legislative authorization, the agencies would have had one year to shut down under the state’s Sunset Law. In Texas, the Legislature meets every two years in odd-numbered years.
“After speaking with legislators I am calling a special session to extend the operation of five critical agencies and help reduce gridlock by continuing to provide options for financing our state’s highways,” Perry said.
Among the major pieces of unfinished business was approving the bonds for TxDOT that had already been authorized by voters. Texas’ continually troubled transportation financing process ground to a halt with Sen. John Carona, chairman of the Senate Finance and Homeland Security Committee, threatening a filibuster.
Carona was the chief advocate for a bill that would have allowed local option taxes to finance transportation projects in urban areas. Governments in the Dallas-Fort Worth area sought the authority for regional rail and highway projects.
In the course of writing the bill, the authority was broadened to other regions of the state. However, the local option tax was dropped in a conference committee ironing out differences between House and Senate versions, prompting Carona’s filibuster threat.
Carona was on vacation and unavailable for comment on his plans in the special session.
Perry’s call specifically mentioned TxDOT’s authority to approve concessions with private developers for transportation projects as well as administration of a Texas transportation revolving fund.
The other agencies threatened with closure are the Department of Insurance, the Racing Commission, the Office of Public Insurance Counsel, and the State Affordable Housing Corp.
In his special session call, Perry steered clear of issues that caused the regular session to slow to a crawl. Using parliamentary procedures to block a voter identification law, Democrats kept dozens of routine bills from winning special passage in the final week.
The special session also has an indirect impact on Perry’s campaign for re-election since he cannot legally seek campaign contributions when the Legislature is in session.
Perry faces a tough primary challenger in U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who said Perry showed a lack of leadership during the recent session.
Lieut. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, said yesterday that “the Senate and I are ready to immediately get back to work for the people of Texas and pass the important legislation Gov. Perry has included in the call.”