The third and final special session of the 83rd Legislature is over, and the result is an opportunity for voters to approve $1.2 billion in additional funding for roads in November 2014. Taken together, the special sessions established that Rick Perry remains unchallenged as the dominant figure in Texas politics. Forget all that talk about his being a lame duck. He was completely in charge, to the very end, when he declined to add tuition revenue bonds to the call, much to the dismay of the higher education establishment. Nor did he grant Dan Patrick’s wish list of conservative issues.The highlight of the final day of debate in the House was a flare-up on an amendment by Tracy King that would have prohibited TxDOT from going ahead with its plan to convert some existing paved roads to gravel roads. Harvey Hilderbran, Steve Toth, and other members were horrified by the idea, as if it were the end of western civilization as we know it. But in the end, the amendment failed, TxDOT had its way, and the final version of HB 1 passed with 106 votes.
Joe Pickett did a workmanlike job of guiding HB 1 to its passage through the House. Some Democrats, Senfronia Thompson foremost among them, were not thrilled with $1.2 billion of Rainy Day Fund money going to roads. If the fund is going to be tapped, they would prefer that it be tapped for education (perhaps as soon as a school finance lawsuit reaches the courts).
So the work of the 83rd Legislature is done. It was one of the most productive regular sessions in a long time: lawmakers restored deep cuts to education and Medicaid; allocated $2 billion for water projects pending voter approval, reworked the fundamental aspects of public education accountability, and gave a funding boost for highways.
What’s next? The focus of Texas politics will soon turn to elections and the upcoming races for statewide offices. The horserace is on.
AP Photo | Eric Gay