After a grueling regular session and three called sessions, numerous calls to action, and an unprecedented amount of member involvement, the 83rd is officially over and Chapter members have exactly one moment to congratulate themselves on a job well done before the next grassroots education campaign begins.
Chapter members did an outstanding job mobilizing its forces before the session to create sufficient public interest in highway funding that the legislature felt compelled to address it. And indeed, there was near unanimous agreement that highway funding was a priority, though the means to do so was widely debated, not only among the different chambers and different parties but within them, as well.
This required the Chapter to redouble its efforts in search of a viable road plan that would stand up to the myriad of criticisms and concerns from the House and Senate, as well as from the Speaker, Lt. Governor and Governor. This proved difficult but ultimately attainable, though it took three special sessions and the imminent threat to legislators of botched summer vacation plans to make it happen.
The final, and for many members, crowning, achievement was SJR 1 in the third called session, which will let the people of the state of Texas decide whether the state highway fund can access funding from the state’s rainy day fund.
If approved, the measure will provide the highway fund with revenues from the rainy day fund currently estimated at $1.2 billion annually. The measure will be on the ballot in November 2014.
In addition, two measures approved by the legislature during the regular session also increased TxDOT funding: $400 million to displace DPS diversions from the highway fund, and a $450 million appropriation for rebuilding the damaged energy roads.
In regards to water funding, the legislature also approved a measure that will ask voters to decide on a measure that would provide $2 billion, also from the rainy day fund, to finance projects in the state water plan. More on this in The Importance of Water Funding on page 18.
For the more legislative-minded members, below are the major funding bills from the regular session and their fates:
SB 1 (Appropriations Act)
The highway fund realized an overall increase of $471 million over the biennium to address diversions for the Texas Department of Public Safety.
HB 1025 (Supplemental Appropriations Act)
TxDOT New Maintenance Contracts Strategy received $225 million over the biennium to use on state roads affected by increased oil and gas production.
HB 1025/SB 1747
TxDOT will administer $225 million in the Transportation Infrastructure Fund in a grant program for county roads affected by increased oil and gas production. Counties in the affected areas must establish a county energy transportation reinvestment zone in order to provide matching funds in an amount equal to at least 20% of the state grant. TxDOT shall develop policies and procedures to administer the grant program and distribute funds according to the following allocations:
• 20 percent according to weight tolerance permits
• 20 percent according to oil and gas production taxes
• 50 percent according to well completions
• 10 percent according to the volume of oil and gas waste injected
HB 4/SJR 1
Voters will be asked to approve a transfer of $2 billion from the state Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF or “Rainy Day” fund) to the State Water Infrastructure Fund (SWIF). The SWIF is a revolving loan fund to finance projects and implement the state water plan. The election will occur on November 5, 2013.