Can The Deeply Divided Texas Legislature Agree On Transportation Funding?

Lawmakers in Austin hope the third time is a charm as they get ready for a third special session that reconvenes next week. At issue is transportation funding.

Lawmakers were deeply divided on how to shift about $900 million dollars a year for highway repairs and improvements.

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston says the House failed to win enough votes to approve a constitutional amendment for that:

“I think a lot of that disagreement was within the Republican caucus in the House side. And then there were differences between what the Senate wanted and what the House wanted, so time ran out to iron out those differences.”

She says there are stark disagreements on where to get that funding.

“We have to iron out what transportation bill we want in the Senate, or whether or not we’re going to take up with the Senate wants, but there’s some pretty significant difference dealing with placing a floor on the Rainy Day Fund. That’s something that the Senate wants, something that the House does not want, and then even on the House side within the Republican caucus, they’re divided on that issue.”

State Sen. John Whitmire, D says the matter might have been resolved had enough lawmakers showed up to vote:

“I’d be one thing if they’re there voting against proposals, but when they’re not there and the Constitutional amendment requires two-thirds of both houses, I’m a little lost for understanding how people just don’t show up. They were 16 votes short, 25 members not there. I don’t know how they’d have voted if they were there, but it’s kind crazy.”

State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands says he’s afraid lawmakers would rather increase taxes than dip into the Rainy Day Fund.

“Texas has the 14th highest tax rate in the United States right now, by the time you combine property taxes and our state sales tax.”

Hernandez: “So you’re afraid that lawmakers are going to wind up passing a measure to raise taxes?”

Toth: “That’s what they’re trying to do, and conservatives have to stand up and fight them. That’s just all there is to it.”

Toth thinks there may be enough votes in the Senate but not the House.

UH Political Science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus says philosophical differences are not only being split between the parties, but within the party:

“That’s something that has really held up the transportation issue. You’ve got some members of the Republican caucus who are willing to buck their party and go against some of the big picture items that their parties are putting out there on principle. And, partly it’s due to the kind of ideological differences within the party, and partly it’s due to politics, though that’s something that’s certainly been characteristic of the last couple of sessions.”

Experts say Texas need to spend an extra $4 billion on roads and bridges.