DALLAS – After a long series of detours, the Texas Legislature on Monday defeated a compromise measure to provide $850 million per year for transportation funding as their second special session this year neared its end.
House Joint Resolution 2 failed to gain the required two-thirds approval in the state House, marking the third time the measure lapsed on the last day of a legislative session. It failed in regular session and in an earlier special session.
House and Senate conferees had hammered out a pair of bills to allow the Texas Department of Transportation to tap the state’s $11.8 billion economic stabilization – or rainy day – fund while retaining a formula to limit the amount that can be used.
The compromise measure also would have postponed a public vote on the proposed constitutional amendment until November 2014 instead of this November.
With another proposed constitutional amendment that would provide $2 billion of bond authority for Texas water projects, some lawmakers were concerned that voters might not favor two major spending measures on the same ballot.
The proposed transportation amendment was contained in HJR 2, with additional provisions in House Bill 16.
Under HJR 2, the state highway fund would have received half of the oil and gas severance tax revenue earmarked for the rainy day fund. That would amount to about $850 million a year and would increase in November 2014.
In the Senate’s amended version of the bill, the funding formula would halt if the rainy day fund fell below $6 billion. That was the major source of disagreement between the House and Senate. The House version did not contain a floor for the rainy day fund.
Under the compromise in HB 16, the floor of the rainy day fund would have been set every two years by the 10-member Legislative Budget Board. If the rainy day fund were to fall below the shifting level, then the money that otherwise would go to the state highway fund under HJR 2 would be cut.
House members argued that the existing requirement for a two-thirds vote in each house to spend any money from the rainy day fund provides enough protection against squandering the savings.