Senate Vote Opens Door to Use of Highway Bonds
AUSTIN - Legislation authored by Brownsville Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., to allow the state to issue bonds to finance road construction was approved by the Senate today.
The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 241 would allow the use of bonds. The Committee Substitute for Senate Joint Resolution (CSSJR) 10 proposes an amendment to the Texas constitution to remove the bond prohibition. Because the Texas Constitution prohibits the use of bonds to fund highway projects, the change required two pieces of legislation.
If Lucio's legislation is approved by both chambers of the Legislature and signed by Governor Rick Perry, the proposed constitutional amendment will go before voters in November.
During floor debate, Senators David Cain of Dallas and Jon Lindsay of Houston spoke against the bill, while Bryan Sen. Steve Ogden, who, along with El Paso Sen. Eliot Shapleigh and Laredo Sen. Judith Zaffirini, coauthored the legislation, complimented Lucio on the proposals.
Floor amendments sponsored by Lucio were added to both pieces of legislation. The amendments are intended to ensure that rural road investment does not suffer as a result of using federal bonds to finance highway construction.
Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff, who has opposed the use of bonds in the past, said he encouraged Lucio to add the amendments to address the concerns about rural roads.
"That was the concern that I had with the GARVEEs," Ratliff said. "He agreed to accept the amendment and so it became something that I could allow him to pass."
GARVEE (Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle) bonds are used to fund road construction in other states. They are issued in anticipation future federal highway funds that can be used to pay off the bonds.
"I have said before that I don't believe that this measure is nearly as beneficial in regard to stretching our highway dollars as the proposal, the constitutional amendment, which will allow us to build roads partially funded by tolls, partially by taxes," Ratliff said. "I think that that measure is much more important so far as stretching our dollars than GARVEEs or any other proposal that's out there."
Lucio said the legislation provides Texas with other options to fund highway construction. He pointed to congestion, particularly in border areas, as evidence of the need for new ways to fund highway projects.
"We're talking about a permissive bill here, an option that TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) would have, to be able to have innovative financing for our highway system," Lucio said.
"I'm trying my very best not only to address (border) issues, but also, with this legislation, the entire state of Texas."
Earlier, the Senate for the first time this session voted against taking up a bill for consideration. CSSB 272, authored by Dallas Sen. John Carona, deals with interest rates charged on some unsecured loans and regulation of lenders. When the bill was first debated in Wednesday's session, several senators argued that it did not do enough to protect consumers, leading Carona to leave the bill pending.
A bill that was passed Tuesday took on greater importance to its author, Lubbock Sen. Robert Duncan, after the announcement of a Texas Supreme Court ruling that upholds the strength of liability waivers signed by employees of companies that do not participate in the state workers compensation system.
Under Texas law, employer participation in the workers compensation system is voluntary. Duncan said the bill, CSSB 624, would void those waivers and send a clear legislative intent for the Supreme Court to follow. CSSB 624 has been passed to the House.
Also in today's session, the Senate unanimously adopted Senate Resolution 595, a measure honoring Cesar Chavez. A migrant worker, Chavez is remembered for organizing other migrant farm workers. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor, by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Chavez died in 1993.
In other Senate news, Waco Sen. David Sibley held a press conference to announce Senate Bill 1783, a bill intended to make advanced telecommunications services, such as high-speed Internet access, more available in rural areas. The bill would also reduce a tax on consumers telephone calls.
Sibley, said the Business and Commerce Committee he chairs would begin hearings on the bill next week.
In committee news, witnesses from across the state were at the Capitol today to give testimony before the Committee on Redistricting. More than 200 attended the hearing.
The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on a group of bills dealing with nursing homes and the elderly, and the Education Committee held its second hearing in a series dedicated to exploring options for funding health insurance for public school teachers and school district employees.
The Senate stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Monday.