Third special session begins with new funding for roads as top priority

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on July 30, 2013 at 2:53 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 30 at 10:27 PM

AUSTIN -- For Texas' aging highways, 2013 has been a long and arduous road. 
 
The 83rd Texas Legislature began with concern over the indebted Texas Department of Transportation, which estimated it needed an additional $4 billion a year just to keep up with current projects. Before the month of January had ended, Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) was urging lawmakers to find a solution without raising taxes or fees. 
 
"And that's going to require some creativity and some out of the box thinking," Perry told lawmakers during his State of the State address at the Texas Capitol. Transportation advocates were quick to point out the scope of the problem. 
 
"We've been working for several sessions now on how we fund our roads currently," Texas Motor Transportation Association President John Esparza told KVUE in a February interview. "Whether that's the maintenance of the existing roads, or the new roads that are needed with the thousand people that are moving to the state every day and the thousand people being born every day, we've got a lot of freight coming through the state right now."
 
Yet the regular session ended with nothing to show. Called back in special session, lawmakers reached a deal to ask voters to approve diverting a portion of tax revenue from the oil and gas industry used to fill the state's savings account to instead fund transportation infrastructure. The Senate-sponsored measure cleared the House, only to be set aside in the Senate before the filibuster against deeply controversial abortion legislation ended the session without the final vote needed.
 
The second special session saw the earlier agreement on transportation break down over the issue of maintaining a minimum balance in the rainy day fund, with a compromise proposed by the bicameral conference committee ultimately failing to clear the House with one day left in the session. Under threats of a third special session, many lawmakers suggested Perry grant lawmakers some time to regroup before calling them back to take up the issue of transportation again. 
 
"If there's an opportunity for people to talk to each other and maybe work something out before we get called back in, that might be a good recipe to get something done," state Rep. Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park) told KVUE early Tuesday.
 
As each chamber adjourned the second special session without passing transportation legislation, Perry ordered both back to try once again. The official declaration listed transportation as lawmakers' sole focus for the next 30 days.
 
"When it comes to transportation, 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," Perry said in a statement. "A plan was on the table that would have taken a significant step toward improving our roads and highways using existing revenue. Inaction is a Washington-style attempt to kick a can down the road – but everybody in Texas knows we’re rapidly running out of roads to kick that can down. For those reasons, I’m calling the Legislature back into another special session immediately."
 
At an estimated cost to taxpayers of more than $1 million, the question now is whether another 30 days with the same challenges will result in the same impasse. 
 
"Certainly he's pressing us to get this solved, but giving us very little room within which to solve this very important issue," said state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin). "So yeah, that's indeed frustrating."    
 
After assigning select committees to begin the process anew, both the House and Senate recessed until 2:00 p.m. Monday, August 5. Now a long summer at the Capitol begins.

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