In sharp contrast to this week's lively House floor debates, the Senate has been a complete snooze for the past two days. That's a sure sign that important negotiations are occurring somewhere, especially when key players are missing from the floor: Ogden, Williams, Carona. Could it be that secret transportation talks are underway this afternoon? So much for open government. (At least in the good ole' days, reporters could stake out a few offices and find these meetings. I'm certain that our elected officials advising the Capitol architects on the extension specifically requested lots of escape routes to maximize media avoidance.)
A few developments in the last 24 hours have turned up the heat on the transportation issue:
1. Gov. Rick Perry threatened this morning to call the Legislature back into special session if an agreement is not reached on HB 1892 and the transportation riders in the budget.
2. Last night, the House strongly sent a message on road financing with its rejection of Mike Krusee's proposal for an indexed gas tax and Trey Martinez Fischer's proposal for a gas tax-free summer. Both actions seem completely at odds with the popular support for a toll road moratorium -- after all, you gotta pay for the roads someway -- except that all are consistent with the House's desire to punish TxDOT.
3. Steve Ogden won approval from the Senate Transportation Committee this morning for highway reinvestment zones, which finance roads with a dedicated sales tax from the new businesses they generate. Unfortunately, a similar idea has already been rejected by the House.
As the clock continues to tick towards sine die, the debate seems to be getting more fractious. Last week, Perry called for a $2.5 billion property tax cut that has no support among Senate leaders. Less support will greet Martinez Fischer's proposed gas tax holiday, since even John Carona and Ric Williamson agree that Texas roads are underfunded by at least $40 billion. Take the desperate need for more transportation dollars, add the political climate regarding toll roads, and more tax cuts seems as practical as Christmas in July. (Santa, I suppose, would arrive with a sleigh full of highway money.) I'd bet first on a summer special session.
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