Carona moving forward on SB 855
Thu April 9, 2009 3:53 pm

Sen. John Carona tells us he believes he's resolved constitutional questions about his local option highway funding bill and will win final Senate passage on Tuesday -- though he acknowledges he expects Gov. Rick Perry to "do everything he can to derail the bill" as it moves through the House.

Perry apparently had a change of heart about SB 855 yesterday, when he realized that not only was it about to win Senate approval -- but that most of the state's large population centers had opted in.  Perry then solicited Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's help in killing the bill yesterday, prompting a confrontational meeting between Perry, Carona and Dewhurst Wednesday afternoon.

"The governor is in a bit of a quandary. He views this as a tax bill, though others of us would disagree," Carona said. (The bill requires voters to approve fees or taxes for specific projects.)  As for the rumored Perry veto, Carona says Perry "has indicated he will not make a final decision until the bill has gone through both chambers."

Carona believes that while Perry "doesn't want the bill on his desk,"  the governor will find the measure has "enormous support among public officials across the state" who are "starved" for transportation funding. Citing testimony that the state will have no way to fund new capacity after 2012, Carona says he believes his bill is the only solution to deal with what he calls "a looming crisis" with Texas highways.  The state is maxing out on its ability to borrow for highways, and public-private partnerships have been proven to be far more costly than incremental tax increases, he said.

The Transportation Committee chairman blames "raw politics" to the opposition to his bill.  "In order to get re-elected, too many legislators are willing to forgo the most practical solution in order to maintain a perfect record voting against taxes," he said. "That's not statesmanship."

Sen. Steve Ogden convinced Carona to hold off on final passage because he questioned whether the bill violated the constitutional requirement that tax bills originate in the House, and that local bills must be advertised in advance of passage. Carona said he met with Ogden and a lawyer from Lege Council this morning to put those concerns to rest.

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