A Very Special Sine Die
Governor gets all of what he needed, none of what he wanted from special session
By Richard Whittaker,
12:34PM, Fri. Jul. 3, 2009
Well, Gov. Rick Perry said he wanted a short special session, and the Legislature gave him one.
He said he wanted them done in three days: They went one better, and got done in two.
He wanted four measures passing and, well, they gave him two.
It was a real session. Bills were passed, plus a stack of resolutions. There were some press conferences, a gig by the Bad Precedents, and even a sine die party, courtesy of the Legislative Study Group.
However, Perry had asked for four measures to be dealt with: Release the Prop. 12 transport bonds; Set up the Texas Transportation Revolving Fund; Pass the Sunset rescheduling bill; And extend the moratorium exemptions for a handful of private-equity toll roads.
Lawmakers gave him the bonds and the Sunset bill, which everyone agreed were essential state business, and went home. Not that Perry seemed to notice. Based on his Twitter feed, the state's top politician spent the day spent the day with some puppies.
So was it worth coming back? "You mean driving all of the 17 minutes from my house to the Capitol?" said Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin.
It was, she added, necessary to finish the bonds and the Sunset bill, both of which were pending from the regular session "There was no non-legislative solution to these two things that we'd left undone. So we had to come back, and I guess now is better than later," she noted.
The only slight hiccup was when Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, called the Senate Finance Committee into meeting so he could see the entire engrossed text of House Bill 1, (the bond bill minus the revolving fund) and review all the amendments. That took a whole 10 minutes.
As for the failure of that fund and the CDAs, Bolton put that down to "a trust issue, at least in part," and that both issues deserve a full interim study and a proper, non-pressurized debate. "I don't possibly see how we could have a three-day session and do something as controversial and potentially volatile as the CDAs and the toll roads."
Ultimately, the House and Senate agreed to transfer the $1 billion planned for the revolving fund over to the State Infrastructure Bank. The CDA measure, however, was completely dead, and arguably the direct lobbying by anti-toll groups like Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom played a role. According to Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, his office, and those of some other members, had been "inundated" with calls on the issue.
Even so, both Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus said they were happy with the session because all the legislation that passed or failed did so with mo muss, no fuss, and unanimous voting at every step. "I worked hand in glove with the House and I'm really proud of what we've gotten done," said Dewhurst. With the new data that had been provided about the CDAs in question, he said "the projects that were exempted and open for comprehensive development agreements under Senate Bill 792 of the 2007 session don't expire until September, 2011. There's plenty of authority that, if the local agencies or TxDoT wanna, go build 'em they can go build 'em."
Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, had his name attached to the CDA measures in Senate Bill 3, and even though it failed, he said he was "very pleased" with the way things had gone (nothing to do with the fact that it was Nichols that authored his own moratorium on private equity tolls roads back in 2007). He added, "I think the Lieutenant Governor put it real well. If we do not have projects that are going to be delayed and there's not urgency, three days is too short a period of time to do major reform packages."
However, he pointed out that the second part of SB 3 was the primacy bill. "If we believe in local control, then the local communities need to be able to decide whether or not the want a toll road or not. If they want a toll road, they should have the right to decided if they want to do it themselves, let the state do it, or whatever their desire is. That is is not currently the case," he said, adding that he will bring that back next session.