Legislature doesn’t seem clear on rainy-day fund

Posted Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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It’s confusing exactly what legislators plan to do about money stacking up in the state’s rainy-day fund savings account, maybe diverting some of the future revenue to pay for transportation projects or maybe to help pay for education, or maybe making sure exactly the right amount stays socked away for that proverbial rainy day.

The Senate approved a plan this week favoring transportation, so long as the almost $12 billion fund doesn’t fall below $6 billion.

But in the process, some senators questioned whether there was any need to set the $6 billion floor or even any guarantee of saving any rainy-day money at all.

The House has yet to consider the issue, but one plan there would send half the money that’s going into the rainy-day fund to the available school fund instead.

Meanwhile, back on the Senate side, Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, said lawmakers will soon need to thoroughly study the rainy-day fund, its purpose and its revenue stream.

Uhh, good idea. But maybe if you are going to do that you should do it before you divert almost $1 billion to transportation or a like amount to public schools.

For years, this Editorial Board has said Texas must find dependable revenue to help pay for much-needed transportation projects, both roads/highways and mass transit options. That’s still needed, with transportation experts continuing to show that billions are needed just to maintain current roads and more for projects to make headway against congestion.

Similarly, there is solid evidence of need in public school funding.

And the rainy-day fund is overly fat. It’s a tempting source of problem-solving money.

But with key lawmakers at odds on what they are doing, and with acknowledgment that the rainy-day fund needs a thorough examination, the Legislature should be very cautious about its moves.

The special legislative session ends next week. By definition, special sessions are narrowly targeted and can’t handle big-picture issues. Lawmakers may take up only the topics the governor tells them to consider.

Although it is not the habit of the House to provide clarity on such issues and be quick about it, maybe that will happen in this case in the next few days. Otherwise, the special session should first do no harm.

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