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Special Session Hopes to Reach Highway Agreement

Special Session Hopes to Reach Highway Agreement

The Special Session of the Legislature is hoping in the coming few days to wrap up the debate over transportation funding, but 1200 WOAI news reports that the House and Senate remain far apart on how to pay for needed highway construction.

  "We are going to have one common joint resolution and that will be decided through conference committee," State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) said Wednesday.

  That conference committee has a long way to go before it reaches a consensus.

  The State Senate favors taking nearly $1 billion a year from the state's oil and gas royalty money, money which would otherwise go into the state's Rainy Day Fund.

  But conservative Republicans in the House oppose taking any money from the Rainy Day Fund.  They instead support the end of the 'diversion' of 25% of the gasoline tax money to schools, and say all of that money should go to highways.  Conservatives say that would be the honest thing to do, because most Texans think that money is going to highways now.

  Senate conservatives say the use of oil and gas royalty money would stop if the money in the Rainy Day Fund falls below $6 billion, something Democrats oppose.

  Regardless on what plan is selected, it will have to be approved by voters in November, because it will involve amendment the state Constitution.

  The highway bill is one of the emergencies declared by Gov. Rick Perry, and failing to approve a highway bill before this special session ends on Tuesday, a third special session is likely.

  Those special sessions don't come cheap.  An analysis by a public interest group reveals that each of the two special sessions so far have cost Texas taxpayers between $1 million and $1.2 million, largely due to some sleazy pocket-lining by some members of the Legislature.

  All lawmakers are paid what is called a 'per diem,' or $150 a day to pay their expenses while they are in Austin for a special session.

  The report indicates that the vast majority of lawmakers have claimed the entire per diem for every day of the special sessions, even though most have not been in Austin the entire thirty days.

  The House, for example, was in session only seven of the thirty days of the first Special Session, and the Senate was in session for 9 days.

  With most lawmakers claiming the maximum $4500 per diem, that pushes the cost of expenses alone during special sessions to $814,000.

 

 

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