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Trans-Texas Corridor to die under TxDOT sunset bill

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sunset bill will, if nothing else, put the final nail in the coffin of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

A fatigued-looking Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy), who already has carried the Texas Department of Insurance sunset bill through the Texas Senate, was in front of the Transportation & Homeland Security Committee Monday morning to discuss a hybrid version of House Bill 300 and companion Senate Bill 1019 yet to be amended.

The one place where the House, Senate and constituents agreed was that the Trans Texas Corridor had to go. Comprehensive development agreements, or CDAs, might continue, but the Trans-Texas Corridor as envisioned no longer existed under either version of the bill, Hegar said.

“It really has been an albatross around the neck of the agency,” Hegar said.

Hegar and colleagues, Sens. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), and Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso), have worked almost non-stop for five days in work groups and private conversation. The work was time consuming, and the proposed hybrid bill still leaves plenty of room for discussion.

The tart-tongued Chair, Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas), did not miss a chance to chastise his colleagues on the other side of the chamber, noting the House had held onto its version of the sunset bill for 17 of the 20 weeks of the current session.

Hegar offered his own zinger. He noted that 177 out of 200 offered amendments had attached to the sunset bill. Not only had the House thrown in the kitchen sink, Hegar opined, but they also had unloaded the refrigerator, then jumped in the car and gone down to the grocery store, where they walked up and down the aisle with a shopping cart, throwing two or three things into the basket at a time.

“Then, before they paid or checked out, they ran out the door,” Hegar said, to the laughter of his Senate committee audience.

To be fair, the Senate has its own grocery list. Like the House, it intends to attach just about every unresolved bill it has sent over to the other chamber for consideration. Right now, the bill is 304 pages. It could be longer.

The amended version of CSHB 300, plus any approved Senate amendments, will come out of committee on Wednesday. Amendments were due Monday afternoon. The proposed Senate version in CSHB 300 includes the following:

  • Maintaining a five-member Governor-appointed Transportation Commission. Commissioners would serve two-year terms. If the Governor failed to fill a slot, the Lieutenant Governor could fill the slot, with no need for Senate confirmation;
  • Providing an extensive review of engineering staff, in an amendment drafted by Watson and Nichols, that would guide a future staffing plan at TxDOT;
  • Creating a 22-member legislative oversight committee that would include the two full transportation committees, plus the chairs of Finance and Appropriations. The oversight committee would meet on a quarterly basis to discuss sunset review, plus other proposed agency changes;
  • Proposing limits on lobbying and marketing that prohibit the passage of legislation. Employees who participate in such activities can be dismissed.

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