AUSTIN — A second special session of the Texas Legislature ended July 30 without the House and Senate accomplishing the governor-ordered task of passing legislation to fund future public transportation projects.
House Joint Resolution 2 failed on July 29. Had the proposed constitutional amendment passed, Texans would have voted yes or no to a plan to tap the state’s $12 billion Economic Stimulus (rainy day) Fund to the tune of $1 billion every year for use in transportation projects. On the House floor, Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, the primary author of HJR 2, asked Gov. Rick Perry not to call another special session on transportation right away and suggested lawmakers might do a better job next spring, after party primaries.
But on the 30th and final day, Gov. Rick Perry called a third special session to begin immediately. “When it comes to transportation,” Perry explained, “the stakes facing our state could not be higher and a failure to act now could take years if not most of a decade to correct as traffic congestion increases and harms our quality of life.”
In the third special session, some lawmakers appear ready to act in accordance with the governor’s wish for a quick and permanent method to fund transportation projects, while others will keep with constituents who are in less of a rush, possibly seeing enough at stake to warrant a longer look at the funding question and how it might dovetail with other areas of the state budget. In any case, the Legislature has about four weeks to continue working on the problem.
Combs reports condition
In a July 31 letter to the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House and members of the Legislature, Comptroller Susan Combs reported the state’s oil and natural gas production taxes are performing better than expected this year.
Combs projected those taxes to generate an additional $900 million in fiscal 2013, one quarter of which is available for general purpose spending. And that amount is in addition to the $683.1 million available for general purpose spending and not appropriated in the 2014-2015 biennium.
The additional remaining $675 million of severance tax revenue available in the current year will be part of a $2.37 billion transfer into the Economic Stimulus (rainy day) Fund in November, Combs said.
Federal relief to come
President Barack Obama on Aug. 2 signed a major disaster declaration and in doing so overruled the Environmental Protection Agency’s June decision to reject Texas’ request for relief for the town of West.
A fertilizer plant in West exploded on April 17, causing the loss of 15 lives and widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure.
Gov. Perry, members of Congress and others appealed the EPA’s ruling. On Aug. 2 Perry released a statement saying, “This, along with the disaster relief funding provided by the Texas Legislature, will help this community rebuild their infrastructure, school district and public works as quickly as possible.”
Race attracts candidates
Three current officeholders have entered the race for Texas attorney general: Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman, state Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, and state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.
Smitherman’s law degree is from the University of Texas, Paxton’s is from the University of Virginia, and Branch’s is from Southern Methodist University.
Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who has served as the state’s chief legal officer since 2002, on July 14 announced his candidacy for governor after Gov. Perry on July 8 said he would not seek another term.
DPS report DWI arrests
The Texas Department of Public Safety on Aug. 1 announced Highway Patrol troopers made 1,124 driving-while-intoxicated arrests, June 28 through July 7, the agency’s holiday-related special enforcement period.
During the 10-day period, enforcement resulted in more than 15,700 speeding citations, more than 2,400 seat belt and child safety seat citations, 720 fugitive arrests and 602 felony arrests.