Flagship legislation for West Texas billed as the “GROW Texas fund” died on the House floor Friday as State Rep. Tom Craddick (R–Midland) challenged the constitutionality of an amendment by State Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R–Odessa) that sought to completely rewrite House Bill 2154. Craddick was the primary coauthor on the bill with Landgraf.
HB 2154 was created as the answer to the long-standing complaint that West Texas needs to keep more of the state revenue generated from West Texas energy production to meet increasing demands from population growth, particularly wear and tear on roadways.
The proposal came in two parts: a constitutional amendment (House Joint Resolution 82 by Craddick) and enabling legislation (HB 2154) jointly carried by Landgraf, Craddick, and over 20 other representatives. The constitutional amendment required the state comptroller to allocate a portion of the general revenue into the GROW Texas fund, which would then need HB 2154 to disburse the funds back to West Texas for transportation, public safety, and education needs.
In rewriting the bill via a committee substitute, changes were made to the study commission, and all of the original language that actually allocated the funding was deleted. Once the legislation made it to the House floor, Landgraf introduced a floor amendment that completely rewrote the legislation once again; his amendment was added quickly and without opposition.
The latest version of the bill now created a new 13-member “task force” appointed by the head, unelected bureaucrats of a host of statewide entities, including the Texas Education Agency, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, and various institutions of higher education. The task force would then work with local governments to identify and implement social welfare type programs to help meet the increased need for education, health care, and workforce training.
The group was notably not tasked in dealing with transportation and public safety needs as included in the original bill text.
In addition, Landgraf’s latest version also contains a legislative select committee similar to the one contained in the original bill, however it made substantial changes to how the committee works. The 10-member legislative committee would be appointed by the speaker and the lieutenant governor, who would be required to ensure the members of the committee reflect the “ethnic and geographic diversity” of the state.
The select committees would conduct interim studies but, once again, the bill failed to contain any of the original provisions that actually allowed for GROW Texas funds to be distributed back to West Texas.
Before Landgraf could then lay out the rewritten bill for final passage the next day, Craddick stormed to the back microphone, interrupting Landgraf and abruptly challenging the constitutionality of Landgraf’s changes on multiple grounds. In an instant, Landgraf’s changes were ruled unconstitutional and the bill was irrevocably dead.
Passage of the GROW Texas fund was highly anticipated by many in the Permian Basin. Texas Scorecard spoke with local officials who described what the loss of the legislation means to West Texas:
“It’s no secret that the western side of Texas is being short-changed on infrastructure funding, and we rely on our legislators to secure the desperately needed funding to keep up with the energy-related growth in the Permian Basin,” stated Ector County Judge Debi Hays.
Lubbock County Commissioner Jason Corley weighed in, saying, “The longer the state delays getting us funding will only result in more lives lost on dangerous roadways that cannot handle our economic growth.”
Representative Landgraf responded just before this article was published to inquiries from Texas Scorecard, saying, “I’m not sure why a point of order was called” (referring to Craddick’s actions). “[Craddick] asked me to pull down the bill, but it was too important to the people in the Permian Basin to wave the white flag on a bill that could help our highway infrastructure.”
Landgraf went on to say his “amendment language was designed to be stronger than the mere ‘study’ that emerged from the Appropriations Committee.” When pressed further about changes to the bill that prevented any funding from being allocated for the next two years, Landgraf laid blame on members of the Appropriations Committee, stating: “[Appropriations] apparently only wanted to allow HJR82 to move forward if it was not accompanied by enabling legislation.” He went on to say he considered adding the enabling provision in the floor amendment but decided against doing so because it would jeopardize the constitutional amendment. It was unclear exactly how that would happen, with the constitutional amendment already having passed the House a week earlier.
“If all that’s going to be done is a study, we don’t require an act of the Legislature to do that,” Landgraf said in closing. It is also unclear how Landgraf’s amendment was more than another proposed “study.”
Texas Scorecard will continue to provide updates on this story.