Environment Texas
|
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Point of order kills water bill

Perry says he'll find a way to pass the $2 billion plan considered a top priority for 2013 session
By
Dave Montgomery

One of the top priorities of the 2013 legislative session- a $2 billion measure to fund state water projects- sustained a devastating setback Monday after it was knocked off the House floor on a point of order.
 
House Natural Resources Chairman Allan Ritter declared the bill "doorknob dead" after the ruling by the House parliamentarian but said there could be other options to pursue.
 
"This one's getting a little bit tough," said Ritter, R-Nederland. "The chances with the bill that we did today is over. It's dead. So what are the other mechanisms? We'll look and see."
 
Gov. Rick Perry has placed water, transportation and tax relief among his top priorities. His office warned last week that the governor will call lawmakers back into special session this summer if they fail to act on any of those issues. The current 140-day session ends May 27. "The people of Texas expect their elected officials to address the water needs of our state, and we will do just that," Perry said in a statement responding to the House action. "This issue is too important to leave its fate uncertain, and I will work with lawmakers to ensure we address this need in a fiscally responsible manner." 
 
Rainy-day debate
 
But the method of capitalizing the fund - through a proposed drawdown of the Rainy Day Fund - has ignited strong opposition that was on display in the House debate.
 
Tea Party Republicans have raised concerns that dipping into the fund could possibly jeopardize the state's Triple-AAA bond rating. "I don't want to raid the Rainy Day Fund," said Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford.
 
Democrats, who, with 55 members, had enough leverage to prevent a twothird majority required for Rainy Day Fund withdrawal, appeared unified in demanding that the Rainy Day Funds be used to help restore the 2011 education cuts.
 
Rep. Chris Turner, DGrand Prairie, the No. 2 member of the House Democratic Leadership, said Democrats support resolving the state's water problem "but not until we fund education first." The Senate, in a less contentious debate, dealt with the funding issue last week by approving a constitutional amendment that would withdraw $5.7 billion from the Rainy Day Fund, including $2 billion for water, $2.9 billion for transportation, and $800 million for public education.
 
As passed by the Senate on Monday, and earlier by the House, the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas would constitute a water infrastructure bank that will revolve funds designed to fully finance all the strategies included in the 2012 plan.
 
Environmentalists expressed a preference for the Senate version, saying it devoted almost three times the amount targeted for conservation over the 2012 state water plan.
 
"It's a historic increase in funding for conservation and sets Texas on a more sustainable path for our water future," said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas.