Gov. Rick Perry yesterday expanded the agenda of the current special legislative session on redistricting to include highway funding, and today he added two more unrelated topics: abortion regulation and mandatory life imprisonment for 17-year-olds convicted of capital crimes.
Legislation to provide more highway funding already has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee for a hearing tomorrow afternoon. SJR 2, a proposed constitutional amendment by Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), would add as much as a billion dollars a year for highway construction, in perpetuity, by diverting half the oil and gas revenue that would otherwise go into the Rainy Day Fund.
We will have more to say tomorrow about this attempt to make a preemptive claim on oil and gas revenue for highway construction rather than letting the funds flow into the Rainy Day Fund. Meanwhile, we are reminded of what the Texas Forward revenue-reform coalition (in which Texas AFT is an active participant) had to say about a similar proposal during the regular session. Texas Forward supported using the Rainy Day Fund both for human and physical infrastructure in Texas rather than hoarding billions of dollars while vital needs, such as for education and health care, go unmet. In addition to considering use of the Fund for water and transportation needs, Texas Forward contended, state leaders should also support use of the historically high Rainy Day Fund balance to reverse fully the public education cuts that occurred in 2011 and to ensure access to health-care coverage for low-income Texas families.
The Texas Forward revenue-reform coalition also presciently said that disputes over the appropriate use of Rainy Day Fund money will continue so long as the legislature fails to address the larger structural issue: the state’s inequitable and inadequate revenue system. Shuffling money among under-funded programs will work only so long to conceal the true need for more state resources, supported by taxes that are imposed equitably on families of different income levels and businesses in different sectors.