News & Press: Member Update

Special Legislative Session Convenes July 18th

Monday, July 17, 2017  
Posted by: Michael Hancock
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Member Update

July 13, 2017

 

SPECIAL LEGISLATIVE SESSION CONVENES NEXT WEEK

 

Governor Abbott has called a special session of the 85th Legislature that will convene July 18. The session was somewhat deliberately caused by conservative factions of the Legislature who delayed and killed a "must pass" Sunset re-authorization of the physician licensing board in Texas. The rationale was that with the scope of a special session solely at the control of the Governor, the deck is cleared for passage of legislation supported by social conservatives that bogged down during the regular session.

 

Accordingly, the Governor has announced that after the Senate passes the medical board sunset bill, he will add other issues to the call, including

- the so-called "bathroom bill," relating to the use of bathrooms by transgender persons;

- restricting health plan coverage of abortion;

- laws regarding the reporting of abortions;

- prohibitions on the deduction of union dues of public employees;

- spending caps for state and local governments;

- expediting local government permitting;

- prohibiting local government restrictions on private property;

- educational vouchers for special needs children;

- reform of the property tax system;

- and other matters.

 

The primary issues of interest to ACEC Texas relate to property tax caps and spending caps. Any legislation that makes it more difficult for growing cities and counties to use the property tax base to respond to capital facility needs is problematic.

 

 

DID THE 85TH REGULAR SESSION GO BACKWARD ON INFRASTRUCTURE?

 

On the topic of the Legislature, since we stand between the completion of a regular session and the beginning of a special session focused largely on social issues, it is worth asking the question: How well did the 85th Legislature and the statewide leadership keep the promises they made to voters on water and transportation?

Unfortunately, the answer is somewhat luke-warm. There were some positive developments. The creation of heavy-haul corridors around some of the state’s ports will facilitate the movement of goods. The TxDOT Sunset bill reinforced the need for outcome-based planning and performance metrics.

On the other hand, several bills that would have improved state water management strategies were either caught up in political maneuvering between House and Senate or were vetoed by the Governor. These included studies on aquifer storage and recovery opportunities, establishment of a regulatory structure for utilization of brackish groundwater, and incentives for seawater desalination

In the area of mobility and highways, the 85th Legislature took at least a pause, if not several small steps backward.

To put this in context, in 2010 a group of citizens called the 2030 Committee convened to look at the state’s twenty-year transportation needs. The work suggested that the funding gap at the time was about $5 billion per year in constant 2010 dollars, coupled with continued reliance on toll strategies to fill part of the gap in metropolitan areas. It is important to note that this estimate was what it would take to keep congestion and road and bridge conditions at a 2010 level, not improve them.

So where are we in meeting this goal seven years later? To its credit, the Legislature has ceased diverting highway funds for non-transportation needs, putting about $650 million more per year into road projects. Proposition 1 in 2015 allocated a portion of oil and gas severance taxes to the state highway fund. But because of the decline in production and prices, what started at about $1.7 billion per year has declined to less than $500 million per year.

Under Proposition 7, passed in 2016, a portion – up to $2.5 billion each year - of the state’s general sales taxes will go to improving mobility. But the projection for FY2018 is that these revenues will reach only $2.2 billion, and the Legislature chose to put $300 million of the Prop 7 revenues for each year of the biennium into paying the debt service on existing bonds rather than putting it into new projects.

Finally, the Legislature chose several toll road strategies off the table. A proposal was voted down to authorize work on several public-private partnerships, which typically leverage public dollars with significant private investment. The Legislature also limited toll equity grants, under which state funds are put in to pay part of the cost of a toll facility, expanding the scope of what can be built and, again, leveraging public dollars. It is difficult to put an exact number on the leveraging effect of toll equity and CDAs, but a conservative estimate would be that over $1 billion per year in projects might be foregone that would otherwise have been developed.

So a close look at the progress toward the goal, counting forward and backward steps, would be that instead of $5 billion in new revenues in constant dollars plus continued use of tolling, the current status is around $3.2 billion to $3.5 billion ( and in 2017, not 2010, dollars), plus significant limitations on toll projects.

This analysis is not intended to diminish the effort of legislative and statewide leaders in the 2013-2017 period to fund infrastructure. But it should create skepticism about the idea that this box has been checked, that “we put $5 billion into roads and set up a water trust fund, so now these problems are addressed.” That is plainly and simply not the case.

This effort is not done (and may never be done) as long as our population grows by 1,000 people per day and a critical drought may be just around the corner.

 

OTHER

 

  • Texas A/E Industry Conference, Sponsored by ACEC Texas and Morrissey Goodale - Panel Profile. Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton, P.E., will headline a special panel on power, industry, and energy markets at this conference on October 26 in Austin. Other participants on this panel include Rich Burns, Chief Port Infrastructure Officer with the Port of Houston Authority and Lance Spross, Director of Engineering Standards and Maintenance Strategy with Oncor. Other speakers and panels will cover economic and political issues, public works markets, and more. Click here for more information and registration.

  • ACEC/TxDOT Negotiation Training: ACEC Texas is working with TxDOT on several joint training sessions on rules of the road in negotiation practices. The first is August 1 in Arlington and a second has been scheduled August 29 in Houston. More information at www.acectx.org

 

 

Calendar of Events

  • August 1 (DFW) and August 29 (Houston): Joint Negotiation Training with TxDOT
  • October 14-17: ACEC Fall Meeting (Orlando, FL)
  • October 25: ACEC Texas Morrissey Goodale, Texas AE Industry Conference (Austin)
  • November 10-11: ACEC Texas Fall Public Affairs Conference

In The News

Go to www.acectx.org for current articles on construction, engineering, public works, transportation, politics and more including:

  • Brazos River Authority provides update on water issues
  • Houston Public Works Director on administrative leave
  • Big-ticket construction, continued growth stimulate Lubbock economy
  • Travis County strikes deal with developers over failed courthouse site
  • Why Trump's infrastructure package is a hard sell for Texas
  • House spending bill to include border wall money
  • Proposed parkway to connect Katy, Fulshear
  • Here's how Texas polluters escape penalties
  • Special session: cities, counties focus on local control
  • How Austin will promote green stormwater infrastructure
  • and more . . .

ACEC Texas Chapters

 

 

1001 Congress Ave., Suite 200 - Austin, Texas 78701

512-474-1474 - fax 512-474-1490

www.acectx.org


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9/27/2017
ACEC Tarrant September Luncheon with TRA's Fiona Allen