House, Senate to hash out differences on TxDOT funding bill

By Ben Wear, Austin American-Statesman

The Texas House and Senate both want to drive billions more to highway spending. How much, and how, remains unresolved.

The Senate Monday declined to accept the version of Senate Joint Resolution 5 passed by the House last week, sending the key transportation funding bill to a conference committee where the two chambers will work out their differences on the proposed constitutional amendment. It would not become law unless Texas voters also say yes in an election likely to occur in November 2016.

In March, the Senate voted 28-2 for a version that would direct half of vehicle sales taxes to the Texas Department of Transportation beginning in September 2017. That would amount to about $2.5 billion a year for TxDOT initially, according to revenue estimates by the Texas comptroller’s office.

The House version, approved 139-2 (one member who voted “no” later changed her vote), would instead tap general sales taxes, sending the first $3 billion a year to TxDOT (also beginning in 2017) and 2 percent of the rest of the state’s sales tax revenue, or about another $600 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The House legislation, carried by state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, would end the money transfer in nine years. But Pickett indicated Monday he would rather have that “sunset” provision in an ordinary state law, which the Legislature can easily change, rather than in the state Constitution.

Gov. Greg Abbott made it clear Tuesday that he wants to see SJR 5 passed in some form.

“A constitutionally dedicated, predictable and robust funding stream, along with Proposition 1 passed overwhelmingly by voters in November, will alleviate traffic congestion and stimulate Texas’ economy, bringing more jobs, commerce and visitors” to Texas, Abbott’s office said in a statement. “The governor looks forward to continuing his work with the Legislature to ensure this funding becomes law.”

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