DALLAS — Texas Gov. Rick Perry called a third special session of the Legislature Tuesday after lawmakers failed to pass an $850 million highway funding measure for a third time.
The third special session is expected to deal only with transportation.
A controversial abortion measure that prevented passage of the transportation funding in the regular session and the first special session was finally approved in the second special session. However, the state House could not muster the 100 votes needed to amend the state constitution for the transportation funding measure known as House Joint Resolution 2.
As House Speaker Joe Straus prepared to close the second special session, he announced that Perry had called a third session to begin 30 minutes after the second session.
"Did he say what it was about," asked Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston. "Are we to assume it's for transportation or has he had some other revelation?"
Straus told Dutton the call did not specify what issues the third session was to address.
After a failed vote in the House on Tuesday on the transportation issue, Perry said in a statement that "legislators have been in Austin for nearly seven months now, and to go home without dealing with one of the most pressing issues facing all Texans is simply unacceptable."
As House Joint Resolution 2 was falling 16 votes short of the number needed for passage as a constitutional amendment in the House, Texas senators debate whether to set a constitutional requirement to keep the rainy day fund at a minimum of $6 billion or more.
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Montgomery County, accused Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, of "caving" to Democrats and allowing them to spend the entire $11.8 million of the rainy day fund on some unidentified future project.
Patrick, a radio talk-show host who is running against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, was chastised by Dewhurst, the Senate's presiding officer, who called the word "caving" inflammatory.
Patrick, who claims Tea Party support in his campaign against Dewhurst's party establishment, objected to Dewhurst intervening on behalf of Nichols.
"You made comments on a point I made," Patrick told Dewhurst. "I think that was out of order."
Tea Party support for current U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz led to Dewhurst's defeat in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat in 2012.
With Texas dominated by Republicans, the intra-party battles are taking center-stage with candidates trying to prove that they are more conservative than the current elected representatives.
State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who sponsored the two measures to provide $850 million per year for transportation funding from the rainy day fund, said that another special session would be futile.
"To the governor: If you're listening, don't bring us back tomorrow," Pickett said, citing the pressure of the 2014 primaries on how legislators postured for their constituents.
House Speaker Joe Straus agreed with Pickett.
"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," Straus said.
Calling the failure to pass a bill, "disappointing," Perry said the legislature was "abdicating one of the most essential roles of state government, potentially sapping our economic momentum."
"This was an opportunity to utilize hundreds of millions of dollars in existing revenue to move forward on numerous projects across our state and begin dealing with the effects of our economic growth, and just as importantly, provide much-needed relief to working Texans everywhere who spend hours in traffic every day," Perry said.
Speculation on Perry's future accompanied the two special sessions he has called, especially with the wedge issue of abortion being his major emphasis. Perry, Texas' longest-serving governor, announced earlier this month that he would not seek an unprecedented fourth term but would decide whether to run for president again after a period of "prayer and reflection."
Advocates of the transportation legislation said that failing to keep up with maintenance and expansion of existing roadways would lead to loss of business in Texas and impede development of the oil and gas shale plays in north and south Texas.
Some Republicans, however, said that the rainy day fund should be constitutionally maintained at $6 billion. Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Williamson County, said the state would endanger its credit rating by failing to protect the fund and that passage of the measures in haste would create "a larger tragedy."