Politics
5:30 pm
Tue May 14, 2013

Agenda Texas: Water Funding Gets New Life

It looks like lawmakers have finally come to an agreement on how to fund future water infrastructure projects in Texas. Step one of the agreement was the House finally sending Senate Joint Resolution 1 to the House Appropriations committee for a vote.

SJR 1, if approved as a constitutional amendment by voters in November, would have spent several billion dollars out of the state’s rainy day fund on roads and water infrastructure. But that plan wasn’t going to work in the House.

“We insisted that we were not going to start doing a referendum type of government in Texas, like they do in California. We were elected, 150 members [in the House] and 31 members [in the Senate] to make these decisions,” House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) said.

And it wasn’t just Pitts. House Speaker Joe Straus echoed that call to not govern like California.  Which is why Representative Van Taylor (R-Plano) was surprised when SJR 1 was finally sent to the Appropriations committee.

“After the Speaker and the Governor came out and said that they were opposed to budgeting by referendum that they felt that the legislature should handle budgeting, I thought that we had a pretty good feeling of where they were and what they believed,” Taylor said.

But today Pitts said SJR 1 will be changed when his committee hears the bill tomorrow.  Instead of it authorizing billions for water and road infrastructure, it will only authorize the creation of a constitutionally dedicated fund for water infrastructure projects. 

Pitts said the money will still come out of the rainy day fund. But it will come through a supplemental appropriation bill, HB 1025, passed by the House last month.

"When the Senate sends over 1025 back to the House it will include $2 billion out of the rainy day fund for water. And we will pass it," Pitts told reporters.

But to spend the money, Texans will still have to approve the constitutional proposition creating the dedicated bank account that will hold the money.

So maybe water is getting close to a positive conclusion this session. And Pitts told reporters today he and the House and Senate budget conferees are getting very close to a deal on the state budget. That would keep the legislature from needing a special session to pass a spending bill.

“I’m planning on it. That’s my plan for the budget,” Pitts said.

If only the budget were the only topic that could bring a special session. You see, the budget debate sometimes goes down to the wire, but there’s still plenty of time to get the bill finalized and on to the governor’s desk.

But beyond the budget, there’s transportation funding and the Governor’s call for $1.8 billion in tax cuts.  And those aren’t even the topics that could bring us back first.

Earlier today, Attorney General Greg Abbott met with House Republicans. House GOP Caucus chair Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) said Abbott talked about two subjects that could be addressed in extra summer sessions.

“The General was discussing updates on school finance litigation and redistricting and how both of those might apply to extending our work for an additional time frame,” Creighton said. “Obviously that’s determined by the executive branch. But we did have dialog concerning both topics and how that may play into a special."

So when could a special session begin? Well technically the first day could be May 28th, the day after the regular session ends. But, that’s going to be up to Governor Rick Perry.

Remember: We’re collecting questions on the Legislative session for an upcoming segment. It can be anything from how a bill becomes law to what’s the best thing to eat at the Capitol grill.

Send your question to AgendaTexas@KUT.org or on Twitter: @AgendaTexas