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TxDOT bill still in jeopardy as deadline nears

Monday, June 1, 2009 by Austin Monitor

The sunset bill for the Texas Department of Transportation was a back-and-forth tug of war between the House and the Senate on Sunday as lawmakers raised the stakes in a battle over whether regions like Austin should have the right to tax themselves to pay for various transit projects.

The culmination of this fight won’t be complete until today, when observers will find out whether Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, really intends to make good on his promise of a filibuster of a version of the TxDOT sunset bill that stripped out his preferred provision of a local option gas tax.

Over in the House, Reps. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso) and Carl Isett (R-Lubbock) have insisted the chamber has the votes to pass Carona’s gas tax and don’t want members forced into what would be viewed as a tax vote, whether or not the tax is voluntary and a preference of local voters.

Carona even left open the option that he would filibuster the sunset safety net bill, the bill that includes all sunset bills in their original form. That bill is intended to be a fail-safe measure if either chamber votes down any of the sunset bills. The danger – if Carona filibusters that bill, too – is that the Texas Department of Insurance sunset bill will not be covered in either chamber. That means that it could be another four years before TDI is overhauled.

Late last night, Pickett threatened to pull down the pared-down version of the TxDOT sunset bill and allow the chamber to take a vote on the Senate version of HB 300.

Amid the legislative slaughter, bills to allow more incentives for solar energy and to tighten regulations on the state’s electric co-operatives have died.

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