April 6, 2009
There are a couple of dates every session that aren’t on the legislative calendar but seem to settle on most folks who care about what they’re doing up here.
The first comes early in the session, when you’ve filed a bill or a set of bills that you just know will solve problems that people have been trying to figure out for years. It’s like a combination of the first day of spring and the end of a detective story: you’ve solved the mystery, the session looks bright and exciting, and you can’t wait for things to get moving.
The second comes weeks or months later, about the time you start to realize that your Sherlock Holmes-quality bills (I always preferred that Watson guy) aren’t moving as fast as they could be, or should be, or need to be to make it over the finish line.
Watson Wire readers may remember the first, good moment of this session. Well, with just 57 days left, the second, scary one is descending fast.
This feeling is particularly ominous when it comes to bills that take new approaches to problems that many people are concerned about and want to solve. These aren’t partisan fights that suck up so much air and energy in the Capitol – rather, they’re common-sense solutions that simply haven’t been tried before.
The fact that some folks are just used to fighting about this stuff probably doesn’t help. It also doesn’t help that so much of our time is spent listening to dogmatic statements from groups that exist solely to make dogmatic statements and enforce devotion to dogma. And then there are the groups that don’t see it as good enough to win – they want to see the other side lose.
Still, it feels like a deleted nightmare ending from “Cold Case” or “CSI,” where a judge or jury says, “Wow, now I get it. All of that makes sense, but I just don’t think people are ready for that.”
The former, Senate Bill 541, was heard in the Senate Business and Commerce Committee a couple of weeks ago but has yet to get a vote in committee so it can be passed on to the full Senate.
The latter, S.B. 1923, has come out of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee and will be eligible for a vote shortly.
Here’s why these bills really should pass:
When it comes to energy, there are so many things people agree on that it’s amazing we’re still working on them at the Legislature. Just about everyone wants to do more on 21st Century clean energy, to do it through the market, to stick with what’s working, and to improve on past efforts.
My Made in Texas bill gets to a lot of these goals all at once. I’ve worked with a diverse crowd of people and we’ve checked most of the boxes on how to do this thing right.
The plan boosts jobs and economic development by providing incentives for Texas companies to use products made in Texas when they build alternative energy generation. It also builds on another innovation – the requirement that utility companies diversify their energy portfolios to include more 21st Century sources – to increase investments into solar power.
We know this tool works; it made Texas the national leader in wind energy generation. And we know we’ll need solar and other technology, given the massive investment that’s going into it around the world.
That basic approach – stick with what works and make some improvements to do what we need to do – shouldn’t be very controversial, right? Well, it is. This bill needs to get moving. But right now, it’s being victimized by some folks who can’t even admit that what’s happened with wind is a good thing and by others who seem to be unable to grasp that the opportunity is there.
In the world of transportation, the phrase “rail relocation” ranks just below “free money” in popularity.
Relocating railroads clears up congested lines, moves dangerous cargo away from cities and towns, moves trucks off the road and cargo onto trains, clears up treacherous railroad crossings, draws matching money from the industry, and opens up lines for commuter rail and whatever else. Plus, Texas voters created a Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund in 2005.
So you’ll find more people against puppies and kittens than against rail relocation.
The problem is that, like so many other things where the legislature promises something and then fails to deliver, the state has never put money into the fund. There weren’t enough resources to address all of Texas’ needs, no one wanted to starve the road system, and no one wanted to raise fees or taxes.
Well, I’m happy to say, my rail relocation bill solves all of that. It doesn’t raise fees or taxes. It doesn’t try to fix everything – just gets us started with a limited revenue stream. And, most importantly, it doesn’t take effect unless the state can prove that it’s spending at least as much on roads in the next budget as it is right now.
The bill was voted out of committee last week, which is a great step. But it still has a long way to go. Worse yet, it received a couple of “no” votes from people who I know support rail relocation.
A concern is that despite the bill’s commitment to protect the road system, even more money should go to highways – in other words, that every transportation dollar should go to roads.
I’m a big, big supporter of the state doing a better job in dealing with highways. In fact, I’ve stated pretty clearly that I think the leadership has failed in its responsibility.
But the truth is that there will never be enough money for everything, so Texas can either invest in a comprehensive transportation system – making a targeted, leveraged investment that attracts private funds and solves many problems at once – or the state can keep doing what it’s been doing, even knowing how poorly it’s worked.
Unfortunately, the status quo has always been a powerful force at the legislature, even among some who know it won’t succeed.