DALLAS — For the second time in a month, the Texas Legislature ran out of time to approve $900 million per year for transportation as a special session ended with a dramatic showdown over abortion.
Needing one final state Senate vote on House amendments, Senate Joint Resolution 2 was caught behind the debate over a restrictive new abortion bill that prompted a 13-hour filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.
After Republicans managed to break Davis' filibuster with less than three hours left in the session, Democrats led by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, managed to run out the clock as protesters in the gallery filled the Senate chamber with chants and cheers so loud that proceedings could not continue.
Republicans claimed to have voted to pass the abortion measure, but Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the presiding officer of the Senate, confirmed Wednesday that the vote came after the session had ended at midnight.
On the original calendar, the last vote on the transportation measure was scheduled to come before the abortion debate. However, Dewhurst scheduled the abortion measure Senate Bill 5 first, despite Davis' plans to filibuster.
Amid criticism for his management of the last day of the special session, Dewhurst, a failed candidate for the U.S. Senate last year, blamed "an unruly mob" in the galleries for the chaotic ending of the session.
After the session ended without a final gavel at midnight, senators and staff remained in the chamber until 3 a.m. trying to understand whether the abortion measure had passed or not.
The transportation measure, and another bill involving sentencing guidelines for 17-year-old convicted murderers never made it to the floor.
SJR 2, the proposal to provide $900 million of annual funding from the revenue stream that makes up the state's rainy day fund, has also fallen short of final passage as time expired in the regular session May 27. The measure had passed both the House and Senate and needed only joint approval of amendments.
Gov. Rick Perry then called the special session to approve a redistricting bill that also failed to come to a vote in the regular session. Perry then added transportation and the divisive issue of abortion, ignoring calls for tuition revenue bonds for colleges and universities that need the money to expand.
As of Wednesday, Perry had not announced a decision of whether to call another special session.
SJR 2 would dedicate half of all oil and gas severance taxes currently transferred to the economic stabilization fund, commonly known as the rainy day fund, to the state highway fund. The measure also allows the state highway fund to repay principal and interest on bonds.
"In addition to its current funding, TxDOT needs a revenue stream that allows for future planning to address its growing needs," said Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, the bill's sponsor. "According to the State Comptroller, SJR 2 would provide at least $900 million per year for the state highway fund for next two years.
The measure would halt any deposits in the highway fund if it would take the rainy day fund below $6 billion. The rainy day fund is expected to reach about $12 billion at the end of the fiscal year.
However, $2 billion has already been dedicated to a water bond fund that did win passage in the regular session. That measure needs voter approval as a constitutional amendment Nov. 5.