TxDOT sunset bill dies in conference(3)

A conference committee between the Texas house and senate failed to agree to send a reform bill for the Texas Department of Transportation to Governor Rick Perry for his signature. With it died a controversial measure to limit the use of PPPs for toll road projects that had been included in it.

A controversial measure to limit the use of public-private partnerships (PPPs) for toll road projects in Texas has failed to reach Governor Rick Perry for his signature after a larger bill in which it was included died in conference.

House Bill 300 – a 246-page overhaul of the state’s Department of Transportation (TxDOT) – passed both the Texas House of Representatives and the Senate earlier in the state’s legislative session but died in conference amid disagreement between the two chambers over gas tax increases and highway construction bonds.

A conference session is the process by which the legislative chambers iron out the differences between versions of a bill passed in the house and senate. A bill must be signed off by the conference committee in order to advance to the governor for enactment into law. House Bill 300 failed to get that sign-off.

The bill also included the text of Senate Bill 17. Senate Bill 17 would have limited the use of comprehensive development agreements between public and private sectors, a form of PPP, by granting public entities the right of first refusal for developing toll road projects before they are tendered to the private sector. It also requires private sector operators to set a purchase price up front for their concessions if the state ever needs to terminate the contract early, as opposed to paying fair market value, and limits the duration of non-compete clauses to 30 years.

The bill, however, may still be resurrected soon. Texas’ legislative session ended on Monday without legislative action to extend the life of five state agencies undergoing the state’s sunset review process, among them TxDOT. The failure of House Bill 300 means that the agency’s future is in limbo and the governor may have to call a special session to reconsider the legislation before the legislature’s next regular session, which begins in 2011. 

“I think it’s way too early to be making any calls on special sessions,” Texas Governor Rick Perry said at a press conference on Tuesday. He cautioned, though, that he never rules out the option of a special session and may do so if he deems it appropriate.

Gov. Perry also sought to reassure the public that TxDOT will continue to function despite the legislature’s failure to pass House Bill 300.

“We’re going to keep building roads and maintaining the highways for Texas. The idea that somehow these agencies are going to go away, that’s not going to happen,” he said.

He also expressed frustration that a last-minute compromise measure to extend the life of the agencies did not pass the legislature.

“I thought I was watching an episode of Lost for a moment. I have no idea what they were thinking or why they did not want to pass that resolution,” he said.

“You can just take that oatmeal over there to the trough so many times and if they’re going to drink they’re going to drink and I think they decided they’re not going to drink,” he added.