DALLAS - The Texas Transportation Commission has a new lease on life and $2 billion more in bonding capacity available after a two-day special legislative session that ended Thursday, but some funding methods remain in limbo.
Lawmakers last week refused to authorize new private-public toll concessions and rejected a revolving fund of bond proceeds that could have been used for tollways. But they did reauthorize several state agencies that were set to be shut down under the state's sunset provisions.
Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, dropped the toll road bill after learning that regional toll authorities saw no need for the so-called comprehensive development agreements. With the recession lowering revenues for tollways, private developers are less eager to enter into the agreements than they were a few years ago.
Carona, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, has brokered deals in previous sessions on difficult transportation issues but could not develop a comprehensive bill in the regular session that ended June 1.
Lieut. Gov. David Dewhurst, who chairs the Senate, noted that the upper chamber "determined no legislative action is necessary in this session" on authorizing comprehensive development agreements.
Gov. Rick Perry's call for the special session last month included creation of a revolving fund made up of proceeds from the $2 billion of Proposition 12 bonds that the special session authorized.
However, lawmakers feared that the revolving fund would be used for toll projects, so the bond funds were channeled to a more controlled account. An amendment to the funding measure bans the conversion of free roads to tollways.
Although Perry said he was pleased with the session's outcome, he added: "I had hoped to reduce uncertainty regarding several major transportation projects across the state by extending the comprehensive development agreement authority for local and state transportation agencies."
Up to $5 billion of Proposition 12 bonds were approved by voters in 2007 but needed legislative authority before they can be issued. Lawmakers approved issuing $2 billion of the general obligation bonds.
The bonds will be issued in the name of the TTC on behalf of Texas Department of Transportation, but no schedule of issuance has been set.
"We'll issue as needed," said TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott.
One of the most critical of the three agenda items was the reauthorization of five state agencies, including TxDOT, that were scheduled to go out of business in 2010. Under the sunset law, TxDOT and its supervisory board, the TTC, were to close unless the Legislature agreed to keep them open.
The other agencies authorized for another two years were the Department of Insurance, the Office of Public Insurance Counsel, the Racing Commission, and the State Affordable Housing Corp.
Meanwhile, local government officials in North Texas said they were already preparing to reintroduce their proposed local option transportation tax that died in the regular session and was not reconsidered in the special session.
The local option tax, backed by Carona, is designed to circumvent lawmakers' opposition to increasing the fuel tax statewide. The state fuel tax has not been raised since 1991 as construction needs have risen sharply. Revenue from the fuel tax has also fallen as drivers use more fuel-efficient vehicles and drive less in the current economy.