Legislative Update on Transit Bills

Monday, April 03, 2017 8:28 AM | Anonymous

 

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE on TRANSIT Bills:

Members and friends of transit, as you know we are closely following those bills filed during the legislative session that would have a negative impact on transit. One of these, SB 385 filed by Senator Konni Burton, would require a local election of the voters in each municipality before a transit authority could accept federal funds for rail. It has the potential to kill or greatly delay the planned second DART alignment in downtown Dallas (D2), the Cotton Belt rail project, potential expansion by the DCTA, and possibly delays in completing TexRail.

The Cotton Belt, in particular, could be delayed should S.B. 385 pass and an election be required by each city to approve acceptance of federal funds, including federal loan proceeds from the RRIF loan that DART is seeking to help finance the 26-mile Cotton Belt project from Shiloh Road in Plano to DFW International Airport. It would be particularly devastating if one city along that corridor defeated the federal funds acceptance proposition and essentially block a project from proceeding forward. The bill was passed out of committee on a 6-3 vote. A few positive and helpful developments have occurred. It appears now that all of the MTAs are engaged with their various delegations about the potential negative impacts of SB 385. DART, DCTA, Capital Metro, San Antonio, and Houston Metro are all in discussions with their Senators. All of this activity, while independent by each agency, is helpful to raising concerns about the bill with their members.

Senator Burton also filed another bill, SB 386, currently in the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, also targeting federal funds (Sens. Huffines and Taylor are on IGR from our delegation). This is the bill that provides that a political subdivision may not use federal funds to make payments for a debt obligation of the political subdivision. That bill also specifically repeals DCTA’s language in Ch. 460 that allows them to use federal funds to make payments on their debt obligations. The question would be does DART use federal funds to pay back debt obligations and the answer would certainly be “yes” for paying back a RRIF loan, so SB 386 is a bad bill as well that will have to be watched carefully. It was referred to IGR on Feb. 1 but has not been heard as yet.

The other critical issue that must be carefully monitored is the suggestion by the Dallas police and fire pension fund, with support from several Dallas Councilmembers, that elections be held in November to authorize the diversion of 1/8 of the DART sales tax to help bail out the deeply troubled pension fund. Representative Dan Flynn has scheduled a hearing on his Dallas pension fund bill for Monday afternoon. His bill does not include funding from DART. However, it is possible the bill could be amended. We will have to continue to monitor this bill and other germane pension bills very closely and any budget riders as well for the remainder of the session. We are told that retired police and firefighters are blanketing the halls of the capital and eager to give testimony. Our legislative delegation members need to hear from us regarding the damage the diversion of the DART tax could inflict.

We urge you to communicate with your legislators about these issues, visit the following website to find your legislator http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/.

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