AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- The Texas House approved a new funding stream for highways and bridges on Thursday, sending the proposed constitutional amendment to the Senate.
Lawmakers rallied to exceed the two-thirds majority needed to divert money away from the Rainy Day Fund, chalking up a 108-25 vote. Whether the measure becomes law, though, is ultimately up to voters in November.
The measure aims to solve two problems with how the state pays schools and roads. Experts say Texas needs an additional $4 billion a year in new spending to maintain the existing transportation system, but some of the gasoline taxes intended for road maintenance currently goes to public schools.
The Republican-controlled Legislature is opposed to raising taxes, so they need to shuffle existing revenues.
Under House Joint Resolution 2, the state would divert $800 million a year in oil and gas taxes paid by drilling companies from the Rainy Day Fund and instead send it to the Available School Fund. About $800 million in gasoline taxes, paid by consumers at the pump, would no longer go to public schools but to transportation, as originally intended.
"When we go to the tax pump, not all of the taxes we pay for gas tax goes to roads ... what we are saying it that all of the gas tax should go to roads," said Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, and author of the resolution.
Tea party members, though, oppose the measure because they worry about what happens when oil and gas revenues drop off. They want to set a bare minimum for the Rainy Day Fund and to look for a long-term solution to paying for roads.
"You need to have at least $2.2 billion of (oil and gas) revenue before one penny will go into the Rainy Day Fund," Plano Republican Rep. Van Taylor said of the plan. "We are taking about a very volatile revenue stream ... we're jeopardizing any revenue going into the Rainy Day Fund."
Democrats also sought assurances that public schools would not see cuts as a result of the shift.
Pickett said education was protected by the proposed constitutional amendment, and he rejected setting a minimum balance for the Rainy Day Fund until lawmakers could take a closer look at what that number should be.
Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Lewisville, said he's been assured that the Senate will not pass out a bill that does not have a floor in it. That chamber takes up the matter Friday.
The Rainy Day Fund is set out in the Texas Constitution, so any attempts to change it must be made with an amendment. A two-thirds majority is required to move an amendment out of the Legislature and a simple majority of voters is needed to ratify it.
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