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Point of Order Blocks Water Infrastructure Bill

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April 30, 2013

By Andy Marshall


AUSTIN, Texas: Democrats raised a parliamentary point of order on Monday to kill a Republican attempt to use the "rainy day fund" to fund water infrastructure projects. Prominent Republicans including Governor Rick Perry, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, and Texas House of Representatives Speaker Joe Straus had made the plan one of their 2013 legislative priorities, but tea party activists actively opposed it. In an op-ed which ran in The Monitor over the weekend, Perry argued for the need to improve the state's water infrastructure by , "If we don’t deal with this problem now, it holds the potential of inflicting catastrophic damage upon our economy and our very way of life."[1]

Filed by Representative Allan Ritter (R) on January 10, House Bill 11 would make $2 billion from the economic stabilization fund, the official term for the rainy day fund, available to the Texas Water Development Board for implementing water projects.[2] The funds would be used as seed money to create a bank that would enable local authorities to implement tens of billions worth of projects.[3]

On Monday, the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation issued a press release opposing HB 11, advocating that the state use only $200 million for water projects and do so from general revenue instead of pulling from the rainy day fund. TPPF Vice President for Policy Chuck DeVore, a former California Assemblyman and U.S. Senate candidate, argued that the Texas Legislature should live within its means just like every Texan must, and so it should only spend the general revenue it is has available under the state’s constitutional spending cap."[4] Tea party groups urged their members to contact their legislators to vote against the measure, and some conservative Republican legislators associated with the tea party opposed the measure.

The Democrats expressed support for water funding but opposed using the rainy day fund for water infrastructure only without also increasing funding for public education. Represenative Sylvester Turner (D) called for a 2-2-2 plan, using $6 billion from the rainy day fund to allocate $2 billion for roads, $2 billion for water, and $2 billion for education.[5] After several previous Democratic points of order had been overruled during debate, Turner raised a point of order "against further consideration of CSHB 11 under Rule 8, Section 21 of the House Rules on the grounds that the general appropriations bill has not yet been certified by the comptroller."[6] Following the parliamentarian's advice, Speaker Straus sustained Turner's objection and referred the bill back to the Appropriations Committee.

HB 11's prospects look bleak. A two-thirds majority is needed to pass it, meaning that the 95 Republicans, even if they were united in support, could not pass it without some Democratic votes. Following the bill's failure, Perry released a brief statement, saying, ""The people of Texas expect their elected officials to address the water needs of our state, and we will do just that. This issue is too important to leave its fate uncertain, and I will work with lawmakers to ensure we address this need in a fiscally responsible manner.”[7]

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