So perhaps you've heard that there is now a third called special session this summer. Perhaps you've heard that the reason the Texas lawmakers keep returning to Austin because they can't agree on a transportation bill. This past Monday, during the 2nd special session, a transportation compromise bill was voted down in the 11th hour, despite having two special sessions and a regular session to work on a solution.
So what gives, Texas lawmakers?
Well Dewhurst, in the Dallas Morning News today, blames the transportation problem on the “socialists” who stormed the capitol on the last day of the first called special session, naturally.
“We fully thought we would be through [with the bills]that night but for a mob that took over the Senate chamber,” the Republican said. “I take full responsibility for not foreseeing the effect of the international socialist movement organizers and the different groups that simply overwhelmed our security,” he said.
Dewhurst is correct in that this failure is his fault, but instead of being a true leader, he blames other people. Instead of perhaps taking responsibility for the fact that he refused to take up the transportation bill before the abortion bill, he blames everyone but himself. This projection of blame is not surprising since he also attempted to doctor the records unsuccessfully in an effort to get the abortion bill passed.
Read more about the transportation problem below the jump. Republicans have had plenty of time to negotiate a transportation bill behind the scenes of the abortion debate throughout the entirety of two special sessions, to say nothing of the fact that they had the entire regular session to work out a solution to transportation as well.
Democrats shouldn't be surprised at this gridlock. Republicans need Democratic votes to pass this transportation bill if they cannot get to the 100 votes needed to pass the constitutional amendment alone. This could or perhaps should have been a negotiating tool on part of the Democrats when the abortion legislation was on the table. Now that the Republicans have rammed that through, it is unlikely that they can count a lot of strong Democratic support.
The problem with the transportation issue is that it only partially fixes a systemic problem. The bill diverts money that would go into the Rainy Day Fund into the state highway fund, creating a permanent source of income for the state highway fund, instead of just a one time “save it for a rainy day” expense. Regardless of a one time expense or a recurrent one, everyone agrees either solution is not a permanent fix. TxDOT has said that it needs an extra 4 billion dollars a year to just maintain their current infrastructure. The transportation bill that the legislature cannot agree on only generates about 1 billion dollars a year by diverting funds from the Rainy Day Fund.
As Speaker Joe Straus said in his press statement Monday, right after the bill was voted down, “Diverting a capped amount of money from the Rainy Day fund to repair roads is much like using a Band-Aid to cover a pothole; in the end, you still have a pothole and you've spent a lot of money without solving the fundamental problem.”
The speaker went on to say that the vote shows that lawmakers “have become increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of diverting and indefinitely dedicating funds away from the Rainy Day Fund to roads. These funds were never intended to be a stable, long-term way to address our transportation needs.”
It seems Straus is hinting that his own party's unwillingness to tax and raise revenue is the reason for this transportation funding problem. If the transportation issue doesn't get solved over the interim there will be an even more immediate need to find new and dedicated sources of revenue for roads.
The legislature should use money from the RDF but only as a one time expenditure. It is flushed with cash, and the money needs to be spent. Then lawmakers can come back in 2015 and actually create a permanent solution to the transportation funding shortfall.