AUSTIN (AP) — The Texas Legislature convened for a third special session in a row Tuesday to deal with transportation funding.
Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers back after they failed Tuesday to garner enough votes to approve a constitutional amendment to divert $840 million a year for roads and bridges by diverting money away from the Rainy Day Fund.
The House and Senate gaveled back into session within minutes of receiving Perry's proclamation calling them back to work. Speaker Joe Straus immediately adjourned until next week allowing the Senate to take the lead on the legislation.
The Senate suspended the rules Tuesday afternoon to immediately refer the amendment and the enabling legislation to the Finance Committee pass a constitutional amendment and accompanying legislation. The committee completed its work in 10 minutes.
That allowed the full Senate to return and take up the bill again.
"This is the identical language that the conferees agreed on (in the second special session)," said Sen. Robert Nichols, the author the measure.
The constitutional amendment allows 50 percent of the oil and gas tax revenues that currently go into the Rainy Day Fund to instead go to roads and bridges, except toll roads. The legislation requires the 10-member Legislative Budget Board to set a minimum balance for the Rainy Day Fund, that when hit would cut off the flow of money to transportation.
If approved by voters on a 2014 ballot, it would have freed up at least $840 million annually — less than a fourth of what the state needs to maintain its current road network.
The measures will face conservative opposition. Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, voted against the measures and tried to add an amendment that would put a firm minimum balance for the Rainy Day Fund in the Texas Constitution. The Senate rejected Patrick's amendment.
How the measure will do in the House, where the same measures failed to win enough support on Monday, will have to wait until next week.
"It is clear as you get deeper into the summer that to have 150 members here is not going to happen," Straus said. "There's several members who have family illnesses that they're attending to, there's members whose families are going back to school shortly. There's a lot of reasons why members who are part-time legislators can't be here every day so it's going to be tough to pass something that requires a hard 100 votes."
He added of the proposed constitutional amendment: "I can't promise you we'll get there, but the members will make a good faith effort to try to find the votes necessary for something that we can pass that will do something to improve transportation."
Lawmakers finished the regular session May 27 but were called back by Perry for two additional, 30-day sessions to pass legislation on abortion, transportation and juvenile justice. The other measures have all passed, except for the transportation package.
The last time it had three special sessions was in 2005-2006 over school finance issues.
A majority of lawmakers supported the constitutional amendment that would divert 50 percent of the oil and gas taxes flowing into the Rainy Day Fund and use it instead for roads and bridges. But to place the measure on the ballot for voter approval, it must first receive two-thirds support in both the House and Senate.
The measure had the votes in the Senate, but not the House where conservatives and Democrats opposed the deal.
Activists have called on Perry to add additional items to the agenda, among them proposals for tuition revenue bonds to allow public universities to raise more money and a law allowing people to carry concealed handguns on campus. Perry could also add additional abortion legislation, an issue that brought the Legislature international attention last month.