Special Session
10:45 am
Fri July 19, 2013

House And Senate Transportation Bills Set For Duel In Joint Committee

Update (2:30 p.m.): The Senate took the house transportation plan, replaced it with their own funding mechanism, and then passed it on a unanimous vote.

The original House bill's plan to end the gas tax diversion has been eliminated, and the Senate has elected to go with the 50-50 oil and gas industry tax split in their own version of the bill. The Senate also established a $6 billion floor for the Rainy Day Fund, which must be maintained for the State Highway Fund to get the money from the oil and gas industry tax.

The changed bill now heads to a joint committee of five senators and five representatives.

Original Post: The transportation funding bill in the Texas House has won final approval in the chamber on a 108-25 vote even with threats from Republican leadership in the Senate about one of the provisions

Currently, 20 cents from each gallon of gas purchased goes to the State Highway Fund, but five cents of that gets redirected to education. The bill by Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, would end the five cent diversion, sending the full 20 cents per gallon to the State Highway Fund.

The plan also takes a portion of the money that helps fill up the State Rainy Day Fund -- the oil and gas industry's severance tax -- to provide schools with the money they would’ve received from the gas tax.

Some in the Texas House like Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, predict sudden death for the bill in the Senate. Simmons proposed an amendment to establish a floor for the Rainy Day Fund, which failed to pass.

"I’ve had multiple senators tell me, including the lieutenant governor himself today, that they will not pass a bill out of the senate that doesn’t have a mechanism similar to this," Simmons said.

Though there is an issue with the floor for the Rainy Day Fund, Pickett is confident that they are moving in the right direction.

"It may not be everything you want today," he said, "but there’s not a single member in here that can’t go home and defend that we’re ending one of the biggest diversions that we’ve had for years and years and years. That we’re doing something for transportation."

There is also the Senate’s version of the transportation funding bill, which takes a 50-50 split of the same oil and gas tax revenue stream that feeds the Rainy Day Fund.

The Senate plan has a floating floor for the Rainy Day Fund while the House plan takes 25 percent of that same funding source but has no floor.

The Senate’s version would provide about $900 million a year for the Texas Department of Transportation while the House bill provides $800 million a year. Both plans have a restriction that the money could not be used on toll roads.