AUSTIN - Intense negotiations on compromise transportation legislation continued Thursday, a day after Gov. Rick Perry threatened to call a special session on the issue.
Senate Transportation Committee chairman Sen. John Carona said the sides were close to an agreement, though his House counterpart wasn't as optimistic.
“We are very close, however we’ve been close before,” said state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock. Asked if thought the deal could be completed before the session ends on May 28, he said: “It’s 50-50.”
The dustup involves a sweeping bill the Legislature sent Perry earlier this week that would put a two-year moratorium on most new privately financed toll road projects and give local authorities more power over toll projects in their areas.
The legislation also would tighten controls on comprehensive development agreements, used in contracts for private-public road building.
Those agreements have attracted the attention of multinational consortiums willing to pay large sums up front for the right to operate roads and pocket the tolls for decades to come. That has outraged residents and lawmakers who say drivers will become hostages to the private companies, forced to pay increasingly hefty tolls.
Perry says parts of the bill could delay or derail highway projects and jeopardize federal transportation funding. He said Wednesday that he is willing to call a special session if he vetoes the legislation and lawmakers override him.
The legislative leaders and Perry spokesman Robert Black said the negotiating team had made progress in the past 24 hours.
Carona said the deal likely will involve passing another bill by early next week and recalling the one Perry objects to once he agrees to allow the new version to become law.
He said both sides will have to make concessions, and the bill will still address issues such as the length of contracts and buyback provisions. Local authorities likely will wind up with more power, he said, but not as much power as they’re currently seeking.
“As all things down here, there is a solution in the middle,” said Carona, a Republican from Dallas.
One major concern of the bill's opponents is that it could hinder the development of the Trans-Texas Corridor, a combined toll road and rail system that would whisk traffic from the Oklahoma line to Mexico.
Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos and the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority on Thursday asked Perry to veto the bill because they fear it could impede the development of the Interstate 69 corridor in the Rio Grande Valley.
“Instead of striving to satisfy the short-sighted expediencies of the day, let's do what's right for Texas and our millions of commuters,” Cascos and mobility authority chairman David E. Allex said in identical letters.
Senate leaders have repeatedly denied that the bill would affect projects like the I-69 corridor or hinder the state's ability to collect federal funds. Each side had its own interpretation of a set of letters from the U.S. Department of Transportation discussing the questions.
Carona said he hopes to push a compromise bill through the House and Senate quickly enough to get it on Perry’s desk before Wednesday. That would mean the Legislature would still have the ability to override a veto if the governor took that route.
If the negotiations fail, the governor can call an unlimited number of 30-day special legislative sessions.
But Black was optimistic on Thursday that that wouldn't be necessary.
“We’re very confident that we’re going to get something that solves the problems,” he said.
The transportation bill is HB1892.