Lawmakers to determine fate of transportation amendment on sessi - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Lawmakers to determine fate of transportation amendment on session's last day


The second special session of the 83rd Texas legislature ends at midnight Wednesday morning with one key piece of legislation still left unpassed.

The fate of HJR 2, a constitutional amendment that would dedicate more funding to transportation, still hangs in the balance in the session's final hours.

It's important to note that five weeks ago, this legislation was nearly on its way to voters, having passed both chambers with the two-thirds majority needed for constitutional amendments.

But it got derailed because of the abortion filibuster that ended the first session, and now, while Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has said he expects the Senate is expected to pass the resolution Tuesday, Monday's 84 to 40 vote in the House fell short of the needed super majority to put the resolution on the ballot.

The resolution would dedicate 50 percent of the oil and gas severance tax that goes to the state's rainy day fund to transportation.

Lawmakers expect the resolution to raise about $840 million each year over the next two years. State Senator Robert Nichols told us in June that the resolution is important because the state's current funding system, which pulls money from the state and federal gasoline tax and from the vehicle registration fee, isn't raising enough to keep the state from borrowing money to pay for roads.

"The largest item in our transportation funding is our cost to preserve the system. We have over 80,000 miles of highways, not counting county roads, just the highways that the state maintains," Nichols said in a phone interview on June 20. "And the cost to maintain those, or preserve them, every year goes up because they're getting older, they're getting more traffic on them."

This session, the resolution has been changed to include what's called a floor on the Rainy Day Fund that would keep funds from being transferred to roads if the Rainy Day Fund fell below a certain amount - a compromise which has concerned some lawmakers in both parties.

While Governor Perry has said he would call a third session if the resolution doesn't pass, it's not clear if or when he actually will bring lawmakers back to Austin to find a transportation funding fix.

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