Last Day for House to Consider Key Water Measure

Mose Buchele

The Texas House tackled many Senate measures Monday night, SJR1 was not among them.

Twice the arrival of SJR1 was announced before the House Monday night, and twice it disappeared like a stock pond in a Texas drought.

Senate Joint Resolution 1 would amend the state constitution to create two accounts to fund water infrastructure projects. That would require voter approval in November. Lawmakers in the House had been talking about this approach to water funding for over a week, but needed to negotiate amendments to the Senate version of the measure and bring it through committee before it could come to the floor.

Last Friday many thought a deal had been struck to bring the measure to a vote on Monday.

The first time the bill was announced Monday, a lawmaker rose to speak but began addressing an amendment for a different, previously postponed, bill. Confusion briefly took hold as some Representatives were unsure what bill had been brought to the floor.

The second time the bill was called it was quickly postponed till 9:00 PM and then not spoken of again on the floor of the House.

Off the floor, however, there was plenty of talk. Word at the capitol, and online, was that House Democrats may want a vote on education spending before they commit to the measure. That vote would come Tuesday.  Word also came out earlier in the evening that Tea Party Republicans, long opposed to tapping the rainy day fund, were considering a walk out if the bill was brought to the floor.

Today is the final day the House can bring the measure to a vote under House rules.  Gov. Rick Perry has said he would call for a special session if the state legislature does not find a way to fund Texas’ Water infrastructure. The Governor lauded the House earlier in the day for passing an amended version of HB4. That bill overhauls the State Water Development Board to enable it to administer funds for the water plan.

Friday, the House Appropriations Committee stripped the original SJR1 of language it contained about billions of dollars of funding from the Rainy Day fund that would go into the accounts. It also removed language about funding for transportation.

The House plans to vote on the funding issue separately as part of the appropriations process.

“This bill does not appropriate money…the money will be appropriated in a later day,” said House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie.

One reason Republicans wanted to separate out the funding from the creation of the water banks is that it might save them from breaking the state-mandated spending cap.

“The two billion dollars doesn’t go into the fund unless the fund is created by the voters,” Pitts said of the plan earlier this week.

Democrats — many of whom will only support accessing the rainy day fund only if it also means more funding for education — were less enthusiastic about the new tactic.

Friday, committee Republicans voted in favor of the measure; the six Democrats responded with present but not voting.

“Because we have all these other conversations going…I’m just going to be present on this one,” said State Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto. “Obviously I understand water is very critical to our state as is transportation, but I feel equally as passionate about education.”

KUT’s Veronica Zaragovia contributed reporting for this article.

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