In 45 minutes, HB 1892 becomes eligible to be considered by the House (which has adjourned for the night). This the Wayne Smith bill that originally called for Tx-DOT to allow the Harris County Toll Road Authority (“Hectra”) to use its right-of-way and provide connections with state highways and later became the vehicle for Lois Kolkhorst’s moratorium on new comprehensive development agreements, and, in the Senate, for John Carona’s transportation proposals. Smith has already said that he will move to concur with Senate amendments (after certain items were stripped out by concurrent resolution). I expect the House to concur by an overwhelming margin–notwithstanding a visit to Craddick by the governor and Ric Williamson. The next stop will be the governor’s desk, where the bill faces an almost certain veto. Meanwhile, Perry and Williamson paid a call on Tom Craddick; results unknown. The governor’s man, Ken Armbrister, was on the Senate floor today, and I don’t think he was just swapping stories with his former colleagues. The possibility of blocking an override is much better in the Senate, where Perry needs only 11 votes of 31, than in the House, where he needs 100 of 150.
Meanwhile, today House Transportation chairman Mike Krusee moved Robert Nichols’ stand-alone moratorium bill out of committee, where it had been mired. Krusee, of course, is a strong advocate of Tx-DOT’s policies, so this was not the unfriendly act that it seemed. If Tx-DOT has to swallow a poison pill, better the moratorium than Carona’s multifaceted restrictions. When the time comes to fight the override, Perry can promise to sign the moratorium into law if lawmakers in either house uphold his veto. Strange things may happen before this script plays out. My friend Cliff Johnson likes to say of the “How a Bill Becomes Law” chart, “It’s not what happens in the boxes that matters, it’s what happens on the lines between the boxes.”
The biggest problem for Perry is that his natural constituency, the business communities in the two big metropolitan areas, love HB 1892, because it allows the toll authorities in Houston and the Metroplex to act as little Tx-DOTs, entering into the kind of privatization agreements with foreign companies that enraged the populace when Tx-DOT did it. And the money generated by the agreements is guaranteed to stay in the region.
Even so, this is the kind of battle Perry excels at. He has both sticks and carrots at his disposal to try to win votes. Every member fears gubernatorial vetoes of their pet bills. I think he has an even chance of making a veto stick in the Senate.