DALLAS – The Texas House and Senate are moving toward final approval of an $800 million transportation funding measure that passed the Senate on Friday with an amendment that limits use of the state’s rainy day fund.
With the House in recess until Thursday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, presiding officer of the state Senate, wants conferees to resolve differences in the two bills so that both houses of the Texas Legislature can approve the measure by July 26.
“We have 11 days to resolve some significant differences with the House on transportation,” Dewhurst said after a unanimous vote to approve House Joint Resolution 2 as amended. “Between now and next Wednesday I’m confident that the House and Senate can resolve these differences.”
The bill is part of a special session that ends July 31.
The Senate vote without debate came a day after the House mustered more than the required 100 votes for passage of a proposed constitutional amendment, though conflicts over how to use the state’s rainy day fund remain unresolved.
The Senate amendment would prevent diversion of revenue for transportation from the rainy day fund if the nearly $12 billion fund falls below $6 billion. The House version does not include that limit.
House and Senate conferees were named to work out the differences in the two versions of the bill that failed to reach final passage in the regular session of the legislature and a special session called by Gov. Rick Perry in June.
Lawmakers, meeting in their second special session, have already passed the abortion restriction legislation that tied up the first special session, preventing passage of the transportation measure.
If passed, HJR2 would ask voters in November to approve amending the constitution to raise about $800 million for the state’s highway fund through shifting revenue streams from oil and gas production taxes and fuel taxes.
Sponsor state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, emphasized that the resolution would not raise taxes or fees but would reduce the state’s tolling of new highways and issuance debt through the Texas Transportation Commission.
The Texas Department of Transportation estimates that it needs $4 billion in additional funding each year to keep pace with traffic levels across the state.
In the regular session, lawmakers passed a constitutional amendment that would tap the rainy day fund for $2 billion for a water bond program. That proposal will appear on the November statewide ballot.
The 30-day special session called July 1 will end July 31, though Perry could call a third special session if the transportation measure does not pass. No other measures stand in the way of the transportation bill at this point, though some lawmakers have urged Perry to add tuition revenue bonds for the state’s 62 higher education institutions to the call.