Texas lawmakers will try again today to pass a bill to pay for a billion dollars a year to ramp up the construction of new roads and bridges in Texas, but Tea Party and conservative Republicans are already predicting defeat for the favored proposal, to divert the money from the state's oil and gas royalties, money which would otherwise go into the Rainy Day Fund reserve account.
""We got 84 votes last week, there is no turning around, we're done," said State Rep Joe Pickett (D-El Paso), who is pushing the bill in the house against headwinds from Republicans and conservatives who say raiding the state's long term reserve fund amounts to 'stealing from our grandchildren.'
If Tea Party Republicans are to support the Pickett proposal, they are demanding a 'hard floor' on the amount of money which would have to remain in the Rainy Day Fund or the diversions would stop.
In the Senate, the bill has had no trouble getting the two thirds majority needed to pass, according to State Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), it's Senate sponsor.
"A billion dollars a year, the way TxDOT works, they do a ten year plan" Nichols said. "That is ten billion dollars in new projects they would put onto the books."
Republicans point out that $1 billion isn't that much money when it comes to road building...pointing out that the proposal to expand Loop 1604 alone is budgeted at $2.2 billion. They say it isn't enough to justify raiding the state's reserves.
Conservatives favor instead ending the diversion of 25% of the current gasoline tax revenue to education, and using 100% of the 20 cent a gallon gas tax for highway projects.
San Antonio State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon last week introduced a bill to raise that gas tax from 20 cents a gallon to 30 cents.
Another headwind that supporters of the bill will face will be the get 100 votes in the House.
When the proposal came up before in the House last week, more than twenty House members were not in the Chamber. House Speaker Joe Straus says under the rules, to approve a Constitutional Amendment, two thirds of the total House must approve, not just two thirds of the House members who happen to be present.
"Our part time legislators can't be here every day," Straus said. "It is going to be tough to pass something that requires a hard 100 votes."
Some lawmakers have openly expressed opposition to the fact that they are currently in the middle of the third Special Session. They were called right after the regular session ended in late May, meaning lawmakers have been in Austin non stop since January, neglecting their business and their vacation-ready families back in their districts.
Nichols says that is no excuse.
"I am really shocked that so many people who have been elected take off when they need to be here," he said.