DALLAS – Texas lawmakers will reconsider several highway funding proposals when the Legislature reconvenes its special second session of the year July 9.
The 30-day special session that began Monday is focused mostly on several contentious abortion measures, but Gov. Rick Perry included transportation funding when he called the special session June 26.
A bill authorizing a total of $2.7 billion of tuition revenue bonds for more than 60 projects at state colleges and universities has been filed in case Perry can be persuaded to include that proposal in an expanded session.
The Legislature met briefly Monday but then recessed until next week. Committee hearings on bills will continue.
A constitutional amendment to divert oil and gas revenues from the rainy day fund to support highway bonds has been filed by Rep. Larry Phillips, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. A similar measure proposed in the first regular session failed to win approval before time ran out.
An identical Senate proposal was adopted unanimously Tuesday by the Senate Finance Committee. No hearings have been set for the House resolution.
The dual proposals would move half of the oil and gas severance tax revenues currently going into the rainy day fund to the state highway fund. The revenues are dedicated to highway projects and support of debt for non-toll roads.
Senate Joint Resolution 1 by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, was sent to the Senate on a 12-0 vote.
The proposed amendment would halt the diversion of the severance tax revenues if the rainy day fund drops below $4.8 billion. Nichols, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said that was unlikely.
“For the next few years, it would be no problem,” he said at Tuesday’s hearing.
If the amendment is approved by voters in November, Texas Department of Transportation would receive the first allocation in November 2014.
Another proposed constitutional amendment would levy a 0.5% sales tax to retire three programs of general obligation bonds issued by the Texas Transportation Commission since 2003.
Senate Joint Resolution 51 by Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, sets a sunset for the tax of September 2030 or whenever the debt is retired.
The bonds would be redeemed in 15 years with the additional tax revenue, Eltife said, saving more than $6 billion in debt service.
Texas currently levies a 6.25% state sales tax, with up to 2% of local sales taxes.
Putting a constitutional amendment on the November ballot will require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate.
A bill filed by Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, would divert a portion of the revenue from motor vehicle sales and rental taxes to the highway fund. The fund would receive a third of the annual revenues from the taxes above a collection threshold of $2.8 billion.
The first special session that followed the 180-day regular session dealt with congressional and legislative redistricting but ended in a packed Senate chamber with a filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth against the abortion bills. The clock ran out on the session without a Senate vote on transportation.
“I am calling the Legislature back into session because too much important work remains undone for the people of Texas,” Perry said last week. “Texans want a transportation system that keeps them moving,” he said.
Each chamber passed a version of a tuition revenue bond bill in the regular session, with $2.7 billion of projects in the Senate bill and $2.4 billion in the House plan. However, the different proposals died unresolved as the session ended May 27.
Perry declined to include the tuition bonds in the first special session despite a request to do so from 69 legislators.
Texas has $14.6 billion of general obligation debt outstanding rated AA-plus by Standard & Poor’s and triple-A by Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings.