Carona Says He'll Filibuster TxDOT Sunset Bill

Senator angered by removal of local-option gas tax

Sen. John Carona (seated), talking with Austin Sen. Kirk Watson, another strong proponent of the local-option gas tax
Sen. John Carona (seated), talking with Austin Sen. Kirk Watson, another strong proponent of the local-option gas tax (photo by John Anderson)

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, ran into opposition for his local-option gas tax and it got stripped in conference committee from House Bill 300, the Texas Department of Transportation Sunset measure.

In response, Carona has announced he'll filibuster the bill and sink it altogether.

The local-option measure would allow residents of certain large metropolitan areas to vote on whether to raise gasoline taxes in their area to fund local transportation projects. Opposition, including from Carona's own party, have misleadingly portrayed the option as an attempt by the Legislature to actually raise taxes itself.

Asked by reporters if he would try to "talk Sen. Carona down" from the filibuster, Sen. Glenn Hegar Jr., R-Katy, the author of HB 300, said, "I think we're not at the end of the session. When we sine die is the end of the session. You have to have hope. We couldn't do this job without hope."

The Senate just recessed for two hours (beginning at 2:30pm). Presumably, somebody (maybe several somebodies) is going to be having a conversation with Carona.

Carona's press release announcing the filibuster is after the jump:

Why I Will Filibuster the TxDOT Sunset Bill, by Senator John Carona

There is an old Italian saying: Dai nemici mi guardo io, dagli amici mi guardi Iddio. It means "I can protect myself from my enemies; may God protect me from my friends!"

It's no secret by now that the conference committee report contents were not what I was led to believe, and that the report was signed and filed before I was ever shown the decisions. What we have is a deal negotiated in bad faith. I can handle the personal and professional insult involved; after all, there is another Italian saying:

Quando finisce la partita, i pedoni, le torri, i cavalli, i vescovi, i due re e le due regine tutti vanno nello stesso scatolo.

When the chess game is over, the pawns, rooks, knights, bishops, kings, and queens all go back into the same box. We will recover and work together again, and the Senate will survive.

Unfortunately, the practical effects of HB 300 for Texas transportation are negative and still must be addressed. For example, in the absence of the Local Option Transportation Act, other provisions included in either the House or Senate bill but discarded by conferees such as Local Participation take on new importance and should have been adopted. Had I known LOTA would be stripped, I would have pressed that point.

If HB 300 dies, the only real loss is the enabling legislation to issue Proposition 12 bonds. Frankly, given the debt service entailed over time, there is a good argument to putting off this debt until we can pass legislation reducing or eliminating transportation diversions, legislation I filed, but mysteriously came to a stop in the House.

It further appears that the Senate conferees ended up giving away the store. The fatal flaw in HB 300 is buried in the process for determining whether the state or the MPO picks the projects. HB 300 has the Transportation Commission developing criteria for selection and placement of projects in the Transportation Plan, which is good. However, for the major funding categories the Commission must then use the MPO's priorities unless they conflict with federal law or rule. Finally, the department "shall use the planning organizations' project lists to create the statewide transportation program and budget." Through these steps, found on page 38 of the side by side, the conferees complete the transfer of decision making authority from the state level to the MPO, which in my view is the wrong direction.

Accordingly, here is how I will proceed today.

First, I will read the bill to the body. HB 300 on conference committee report is 344 pages long, which is even bigger than the infamous HB 3588 by 10%. Given that the House bill came to the Senate with over 100 amendments stapled to the back and not rolled in, there has never been a compiled version that makes sense, entire sections of law are repealed by handwritten notes in the margins, and we have barely had the bill long enough to absorb so much as the table of contents, you can expect this effort to take a while.

In that process, we will explore a few of the very curious provisions of this bill. For example, why would there be a provision inserted after Senator Hinojosa was appointed to the committee that addresses a TCEQ permit currently in litigation and if passed, I am told would put a constituent of Senator Lucio's out of business?

Why if LOTA was so impossible, would there be a provision appearing for the first time in the conference committee report that enables the El Paso County Commissioners, without a vote of the citizens, to increase vehicle registration fees by an additional $50?

If rail transit in North Texas is too much for the House to vote on, why would the conference committee report include a first-ever provision directing the route of a rail line serving Irving?

Second, I will describe for my colleagues in detail the development and content of the Rail North Texas proposal, so they can fully understand and appreciate the resolve of local leaders, businesses, and taxpayers in North Texas to have this opportunity.

Third, I will address the knee-jerk, self-professed tax watchdogs whose outcry on the local option transportation act betrays either ignorance of the session or a callous use of LOTA as a straw man to garner headlines and addresses for their mailing lists. I will do that by reminding my colleagues of the content, analysis, and fiscal impact of legislation I proposed that would end diversions and index the motor fuels tax.

Fourth, I will share with each Senator the projects in their districts that are unfunded, and that this legislation will do little to address.

Fifth, I will return to the reason LOTA is so important, the state of transportation funding today. There are many resources that detail the funding crisis, such as the 2030 Report and the Governor's Business Council report, and I look forward to disseminating that information.

Of course, Texas is not alone in these needs, and there are voluminous reports from at least two national select committees that shed light on our failing infrastructure finance systems.

I hope at that point I have not run out of time in the session because I have some other items to discuss, but I am inspired by the memory of Bill Meier, who from the desk right behind where I sit today, talked for 43 hours. Let's see how I do.

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