It appears legislators stand at a roadblock regarding transportation funding. While both chambers officially stand in recess for a week, informal discussions on how to move forward are already underway.
A quick recap of what’s taken place so far:
The Senate passed SJR 1 early in the second special session, proposing to divert half of the oil & gas severance taxes to the State Highway Fund, so long as the Economic Stabilization Fund has a minimum balance of $6 billion. That bill was sent over to the House and referred to the Appropriations Committee, where’s it’s been sitting ever since.
Meanwhile, the House passed a more complicated version of what the Senate sent over to them. Instead of diverting half of oil & gas severance taxes to the State Highway Fund, HJR 2 would divert that money into the Available School Fund (which feeds the state’s public education system). Additionally, the 25 percent diversion of gas tax revenue that currently funds public education would be rededicated to transportation.
One thing that’s missing in the House version (HJR 2) is a protection for the ESF if the balance in the fund dips too low. Without it, the ESF would only be replenished at half the rate it does today, endangering our state’s credit rating and potentially putting the state at risk if we were ever to suffer a severe economic downturn or natural disaster.
Thankfully, the Senate wants nothing to do with the House’s proposal and unanimously sent the language of SJR 1 back to the House almost as soon as they received HJR 2 this afternoon.
On the surface, it appears that the House and Senate stand at a legislative roadblock, but legislators from both chambers have already been delegated authority to negotiate unofficially with one another beforehand. That mean’s the legislative process will start to move very quickly when they come back from recess.
It also means taxpayers must start talking to their elected officials now about the importance of protecting the ESF, before negotiations are finalized.
You can call your legislators and tell them how you feel about protecting the ESF via the Capitol Switchboard at 512-463-4630.