It took the state Legislature only a day to agree on the lone item on the agenda for the third special session, which Gov. Rick Perry had called to tackle the transportation funding issue.
Lawmakers reached a deal that could provide an extra $1.2 billion a year for transportation needs through a constitutional amendment.
State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, authored the proposal. He says he’s happy with the outcome, although the Texas Department of Transportation has said that it needs $4 billion a year to keep up with road maintenance and congestion.
“This didn’t happen overnight. And so to go from zero to $4 billion in one session, I don’t think anybody could have lived through the pain that that would cause. It’s going to take several sessions to completely go back to a pay-as-you-go system if that’s what we want to do.”
The money would come from oil and gas revenues diverted from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. However, voters will have the last word on this in the November 2014 general election. But Pickett says he’s optimistic that Texans will understand the benefits of the measure,
“…when people around the state learn that a lot of the money that Texas has had available is going to pay debt instead of actually building roads, and that this plan is to reduce debt, put cash into the system and that their taxes and fees have not been increased to do this.”
State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands says the final product is even better than what was initially proposed.
“Initially thought it’d only be about $800 million – still a lot of money. But thanks to the incredible growth of money coming in from the oil and gas severance tax, it’s more like $1.2-1.3 billion. It’s a huge, huge win for transportation.”
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, calls it a big step in the right direction. But he also says it’s not guaranteed that voters will follow along with the Legislature because later this year they will be asked to vote on spending money to deal with the state’s water problems.
“The water item is a debt item. This item also is involving spending a considerable amount of money. I think most folks in Texas realize by logic you get what you pay for.”
The transportation bill also requires TxDOT to come up with $100 million in savings and spend that money to pay off long-term debt.