To no one’s surprise, the Texas House choose easier spending over common sense protections for the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund. When given an opportunity to put a “floor” for the ESF into the transportation funding bill debated yesterday, 20 moderate Republicans sided with Democrats instead of conservatives.
During the first special session, House and Senate leaders tentatively agreed to a transportation-funding bill (SJR 2) that would have diverted half of the oil and gas severance taxes that fill the ESF into the State Highway Fund. To ensure that the ESF would still maintain a healthy balance despite half the revenue, the Senate added a provision to stop the funding diversion if the balance fell below a minimum threshold.
House members tweaked that provision when the bill made it over to their chamber, but otherwise signed off on the idea of having a “floor” in the ESF before new dollars could be diverted to transportation.
That bill later became collateral damage in Sen. Wendy Davis’ pro-abortion filibuster.
As a result, the Governor added transportation funding to the call of the second special session in addition to the pro-life legislation that was killed the first time around.
This time around, House leadership caved to Democrats and passed HJR 2 & HB 16 out of the Appropriations committee without the same constitutional protection for the ESF that was present in SJR 2. With reasonable protections on the ESF, reports say, Democrats would withdraw their support of the bill – which would have made it much more difficult to meet the 100 vote threshold needed to pass a constitutional amendment.
Freshman State Rep. Ron Simmons offered an amendment to add the safeguard provision back in, requiring the ESF to have balance equal to 1/3 of its capacity before oil & gas taxes could be funneled off. Of course, moderates seeking more sources of revenue sided with Democrats and supported a motion to table the amendment on unofficial count of 70 – 49.
Its not the first time the House has rejected protections for the ESF either. You may recall during the regular session, moderates and Democrats voted overwhelmingly to draw down $2 billion from the ESF in order to fund a water infrastructure bank, even though the state had an $8 billion surplus of general revenue at the start of the legislative session. Both chambers seemed to have trouble understanding how to prioritize spending this session as a matter of fact.
One positive to take away from yesterday is that only 92 members voted to pass HJR 2 on second reading. Because it amends the state constitution, it will require a hard 100 votes on 3rd reading in order to be submitted to the voters in November. Though with more than 20 members absent, House leadership will be whipping hard for eight more votes by the time they reconvene on Thursday.
Now’s the time to let your State Rep to know your views on HJR 2 / HB 16. Call their offices today!
Unofficial Breakdown on the motion to table the Simmons Amendment that would have protected the ESF
(Against protecting the ESF voting YEA, Support protecting the ESF voting NAY)
RV# 35 — Unofficial Totals: 70 Yeas, 49 Nays, 3 Present, not voting
Yeas – Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Anchia; Ashby; Aycock; Callegari; Canales; Clardy; Collier; Cook; Craddick; Crownover; Darby; Davis, J.; Davis, Y.; Dutton; Eiland; Farias; Farney; Farrar; Frullo; Giddings; Gonzales; González, M.; Gonzalez, N.; Guerra; Harless; Herrero; Howard; Huberty; Johnson; King, K.; King, S.; King, T.; Kleinschmidt; Kuempel; Lewis; Longoria; Lozano; Lucio; Martinez; Martinez Fischer; McClendon; Menéndez; Miles; Moody; Muñoz; Naishtat; Oliveira; Otto; Paddie; Perez; Pickett; Pitts; Ratliff; Raymond; Riddle; Ritter; Rodriguez, E.; Rodriguez, J.; Sheffield, J.; Smith; Thompson, S.; Turner, C.; Turner, S.; Villalba; Vo; Wu; Zerwas
Nays – Anderson; Bell; Bonnen, D.; Bonnen, G.; Branch; Burkett; Burnam; Button; Carter; Creighton; Dale; Davis, S.; Deshotel; Elkins; Fallon; Flynn; Frank; Gooden; Harper-Brown; Hilderbran; Hughes; Kacal; King, P.; Klick; Krause; Laubenberg; Lavender; Miller, D.; Miller, R.; Morrison; Murphy; Orr; Parker; Perry; Price; Sanford; Schaefer; Sheets; Simmons; Simpson; Smithee; Stickland; Taylor; Thompson, E.; Toth; Turner, E.S.; White; Workman; Zedler
Present, not voting – Keffer(C); Mr. Speaker; Phillips
Absent, Excused – Isaac; Reynolds
Absent – Bohac; Capriglione; Coleman; Cortez; Dukes; Fletcher; Geren; Goldman; Guillen; Gutierrez; Hernandez Luna; Hunter; Kolkhorst; Larson; Leach; Márquez; Nevárez; Patrick; Raney; Rose; Sheffield, R.; Springer; Stephenson; Villarreal; Walle