Texas lawmakers still at impasse on road funding


CHRIS TOMLINSON,Associated Press WILL WEISSERT,Associated Press



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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The heads of the Texas House and Senate expressed confidence Thursday that both chambers will reach an agreement boosting funding for road construction by $800-plus million annually, but an impasse on how best to do that remains unresolved.

Time is running out on the second special session of the summer, even though lawmakers have completed everything on their legislative to-do list mandated by Gov. Rick Perry except for passing a major transportation funding proposal. Perry’s office says if the legislation is not passed he will summon lawmakers back for a third, 30-day special session.

Still, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus suggested that won’t be necessary.

“I am advised that we have had good discussions with the House members this week but still have a couple of unresolved issues, which I am confident we can fix,” Dewhurst, who oversees the Senate, said in a statement.

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Straus, a fellow Republican, told the House: “We’ve made a lot of progress and I look forward to continuing our cooperative approach with the Senate.”

The chambers already have approved additional transportation funding but differ on where the money should come from.

Both plans, meanwhile, call for increasing road and bridge funding by at least $800 million per year. State transportation officials say that $4 billion in additional annual spending is needed to meet infrastructure demands and reduce traffic congestion given Texas’ booming population.

Rather than simply allocating the money, both the House and Senate plans propose constitutional amendments that require voter authorization on a November ballot.

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The Senate proposal would divert some of the money from oil and natural gas taxes that currently goes into the state’s cash reserves, or Rainy Day Fund, and instead use it to pay for building roads and bridges. The plan also creates a funding floor of $6 billion for the Rainy Day Fund and would stop diverting money to maintain that balance.

The House, meanwhile, seeks to scrap a longstanding policy of diverting a portion of the state’s gasoline tax to public schools and instead use the money for roads. It would then reimburse schools by diverting money from the Rainy Day Fund. The lower chamber proposal contains no minimum balance for state’s reserves.

Democrats complain that the funding is only a quarter of the amount needed by roads statewide and that more money is needed for education.

Even Straus hinted he was not entirely pleased with the plan.

“I appreciate all the hard work and the suggestions from each House member on this problem, which begins to resolve only one-fourth of the transportation needs of our state,” he said.

Dewhurst said final votes on the matter could come Friday afternoon in the Senate. Straus said his chamber would finish with “final votes” Monday.