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Perry adds road funding to special session

CHRIS TOMLINSON,Associated Press


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Halfway through the special session, Gov. Rick Perry asked lawmakers on Monday to come up with new funding for transportation projects.

In a statement Perry said the state's growing economy and population made additional spending on roads and bridges necessary.

"As we enjoy the benefits of a booming economy, we have to build and maintain the roads to ensure we sustain both our economic success and our quality of life," Perry said.

In January, Perry called on the Legislature to take $3.7 billion from the state's rainy day fund for infrastructure. Lawmakers agreed to ask voters to approve spending $2 billion from the rainy day fund for water projects, but they did not pass a bill for highways.

Perry called the Legislature into special session on May 27 to approve new political maps, a process that has turned out to be slow-going. Special sessions may only run for 30 days, so lawmakers only have 15 days left to finish redistricting and approve more money for roads.

The governor's announcement also follows close on the heels of conservative criticism that the state is spending too much money this year.

Perry's call will give lawmakers a lot of latitude, saying that they should pass "legislation relating to the funding of transportation infrastructure projects."

State transportation leaders told lawmakers during the regular session that Texas needs to spend about $4 billion more per year on roads, even after a decade-long spike in highway construction and maintenance.

Phil Wilson, executive director of the state Department of Transportation, warned that without extra money, the state faces a "perfect storm" of more people using Texas roads, increased construction costs and unreliable federal funding that could leave motorists stuck in traffic.

The agency manages nearly 200 million miles of roads and more than 50,000 bridges. The agency largely relies on a 20 cents-a-gallon fuel tax that hasn't been raised since 1991.

Since 2003, the state has also used bonds and other short-term revenue sources to build and maintain roads. But much of that money will be gone by 2015, and state lawmakers are considering ways to pay for a transportation system that Perry and others say is vital to the state's economy.

When asked whether the governor would add additional items to the special session, spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said this was all "for now."
 

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