Monday, May 21, 2007

7 days left

We're down to the final seven days of the legislative session. Rumors of the "insurgency" in the Texas House have everybody buzzing about the Capitol, watching and listening for a historic "motion to vacate the chair." I guess it would be exciting to witness history in the making. But it would most likely derail important legislation [i.e. the budget] in the process.

With one week left, only 556 House and Senate bills have been passed. Last session, 1,389 were passed. Around this time of the session, both chambers would normally work late hours and weekends to pass bills before end of session deadlines. They didn't bother working on Saturday, and they adjourned relatively early, this evening.

An amendment to temporarily stop the state motor fuels taxes during the summer was added onto another tax bill, a couple of weeks ago. The bill will be going into a conference committee between the House and Senate, soon. That's bad timing for any legislator fiscally responsible enough to remove this "gas tax holiday" provision. Regular gas is at its most expensive I've ever seen it in Austin, and I'm sure folks are seeing the same all over the state.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Who's counting?

So . . . yesterday the Senate managed to get the "compromise" transportation bill out of committee, passed off the Senate floor, and delivered to the House. That journey took about 11 hours (it would normally take weeks). The House then reported receipt of the bill, referred it to a committee of the House, held a committee hearing at 10 PM, and voted it out of the committee without amendments. All of that happended on Monday! If I understand correctly, tomorrow is the earliest that the bill could be heard on the House floor. The plan is to get the bill through final passage in the House before the Governor is forced to veto the other transportation bill [Thursday at midnight]. This bill is getting railroaded through the process, and I doubt most members of the House have any idea what the bill really does. I wonder if the bill will make it out of the House without any amendments that are unfavorable to the Senate or, worse, to the Governor.

Aside from the race to avoid a special session on transportation, there's been some drama building behind the scenes in the House--rumors of an attempt to unseat the Speaker of the House. I seriously doubt that will happen in the next 13 days, especially now that the challenger [subject of the rumor] has formally announced his intent to run for Speaker in 2009.

I can't believe there are only 13 days left. With so much work left to be done--including finalizing the state budget, which is the only legislation that must be passed--two weeks still seems like an eternity. I'm so damn ready for the summer.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Actually, it tolls for me.

The word around the Capitol is that the Governor intends to call a special session on transportation if the Legislature doesn't come up with an alternative to the big toll road bill they sent to him last week. I'm not sure if he's bluffing to get the weary legislators to concede and avoid having to stick around Austin for another 30 days after the regular session ends. Some of the Texas political blogs are saying that the chairman of the Senate transportation committee is working on a compromise bill. I certainly hope so. A special session on transportation means no summer time fun for me.

The kinda good news: there are less than 20 days left in the regular legislative session. The last few weeks tend to be hectic. Consider this. The Lege passed 1,389 House and Senate bills last session. With 19 days left in the current session, they've only passed 174 bills.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

it tolls for thee

There are 25 days left in the session, and it looks like we have our first real showdown between the Legislature and the Governor--a major transportation bill that flies in the face of the Governor’s transportation policy. Funny thing is . . . the Legislature’s offering is different than I expected. Since the last session [and over the campaign season] the message from the people seemed to say “we don’t want to sell our roads to private interests.” Or maybe it was more like, “we don’t want to sell our roads to foreign private interests.” The Lege heard the people and responded with a barrage of legislation to curtail or eliminate the state department of transportation’s ability to enter into long-term toll concession agreements with private entities. However, the bill the Lege sent to the Governor says, “we don’t mind selling our roads, we just don’t want TxDOT doing it for us.” The initial offering is a bill that, for the next two years, would prohibit the state or a local tolling authority from entering into any agreement with a private entity that allows the private entity to operate a toll road and collect the tolls, but with a number of exemptions for certain regional toll projects in the DFW area. The Governor doesn’t like this because the bill takes power to implement transportation policy away from the state [and the Executive Branch] and gives it to the locals. The Gov is expected to veto. With 25 days left, the Lege has the time and (it appears) the support to override the veto. The Governor has less time [less than 10 days now] to “influence” enough senators to block the veto [he only needs 11 of 31]. This should be interesting.