GOP Plan to Use $6B From Rainy Day Fund for Water, Road Projects

Texas voters would be asked to authorize $6 billion from the state's Rainy Day Fund to pay for water and road projects under a new Senate plan that stands out among the biggest proposed takes from the politically volatile emergency piggybank in recent years.

A bill by Republican state Sen. Tommy Williams, the chief budget-writer in the Senate, earmarks $2.5 billion for water projects and $3.5 billion to improve deteriorating and congested highways.

Texas voters would have to approve both measures with constitutional amendments in November.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the proposal late Wednesday. The Senate Finance Committee, which is chaired by Williams, is scheduled to take up the measure Thursday morning.

The price tag is by far the most money the GOP-controlled Legislature has suggested taking from the stockpile of excess oil and gas tax receipts this session. The fund balance is expected to grow to nearly $12 billion if left unspent.

In his State of the State speech in January, Gov. Rick Perry proposed using a total of $3.7 billion from the fund for state infrastructure.

Perry and other state leaders have been loath in recent years to use the fund -- including in 2011 when the state faced a $27 billion shortfall. Lawmakers wound up slashing $5.4 billion from public schools, leading teachers and Democrats to criticize Perry and top Republican for not using the fund to avert those cuts.

Republicans have argued that the fund was created for one-time expenses and natural disasters, and not recurring costs such as school funding. Calls to restore money to school districts by tapping the fund have persisted even into this session.

Williams' proposal would create separate water and transportation funds. The state water plan lists $53 billion in projects that have taken on heightened urgency by lawmakers in the wake of a historic Texas drought.

Momentum to put more money toward transportation projects, on the other hand, has struggled to gain traction in the 140-day session that ends next month. The Texas Department of Transportation has said it needs an extra $4 billion annually to keep up with maintenance and a booming Texas population.

A provision in the bill prohibits the money from being spent on passenger rail.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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