STATE WATER PLAN FUNDING BILL BEFORE SENATE PANEL
(AUSTIN) — A Senate Finance subcommittee considered a bill Monday that would take $2 billion from the state's Rainy Day Fund and use it to pay for water infrastructure costs. State leadership, citing predictions that the state population will grow more than 80 percent over the next 50 years, have highlighted future state water needs as a critical issue for this session. Governor Rick Perry even broke with his past position in his January State of the State address to advocate using some Rainy Day Fund money to pay for water infrastructure needs. The bill before the Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters would do just that.
SB 22, by Horseshoe Bay Senator Troy Fraser would use that money to offer state assistance, an estimated $27 billion over the next 50 years, to help municipal and regional water planning authorities to implement their water plans. The $2 billion would work in conjunction with another $6 billion in bonding authority, approved by the voters two years ago, to offer subsidized loans to these local bodies. This bill will also rely on the passage of SB 4, currently before Fraser's Natural Resources Committee, which would create the actual fund structure where the $2 billion would reside.
Fraser told subcommittee members that this process of creating a water plan began in 1961, turned into a statewide plan in the form of Senate Bill 1 passed in 1997, but has yet to receive full funding. The estimated cost of fully funding the plan through 2060 is $53 billion, and Fraser said now is the time to pay for it. "The price tag on the state's water plan increases every time it is published, so we cannot afford to wait any longer," he said.
SB 22 remains pending before the subcommittee. If it gets passed by that body it would still face two more votes, one in the full Finance Committee and then one in the full Senate before it would head over to the House. Fraser said that the House is working on its own version of the bill and a final product to go before the Governor would be a compromise between those two plans.
Also Monday the Senate welcomed its newest member, Senator Sylvia Garcia from Senate District 6 in Houston. That seat became vacant when Senator Mario Gallegos died in October of last year of complications from a 2007 liver transplant. Garcia, a former Harris County commissioner, won the special election runoff on March 2 and was sworn in Monday. Garcia will be one of seven women serving in the Texas Senate and is the first woman to represent her Senate district.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday March 12 at 11 a.m.