Texas House Advances Big-Dollar Water Fund Bill
Amid a worsening drought, the House overwhelmingly approved a plan to seed the state water plan with $2 billion today. Rep. Allan Ritter (R-Nederland) and his legislative allies shrugged off attempts by their Republican colleagues to significantly alter the legislation. House Bill 4 would create a water bank to pay for water supply projects from new reservoirs to conservation efforts. The proposal has received broad support from business groups, environmentalists, Democrats and Republicans spurred into action by drought and water scarcity. The 2012 state water plan estimates that over the next 50 years, Texas’ water supply will decrease by 18 percent while water demand will increase by 27 percent.
“We can’t control when it rains, but we can control how we use water,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas in a statement. “State funding can help cut water waste, improve water conservation, and steer Texas toward a more sustainable water future.”
Despite the bill’s easy passage (there were 146 ‘ayes’ and just two ‘nos’), tea party-oriented members launched a challenge to key provisions in the bill-and spectacularly failed in what was another defeat for ideological enforcers like Michael Quinn Sullivan and Texans for Prosperity’s Peggy Venable, whose involvement in the spoiler effort lurked just beneath the surface of the debate.
Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) led an effort to remove a key water-conservation provision. HB 4 has earned the support of some conservationists because Ritter included a stipulation that at least 20 percent of the funding go toward water conservation. King’s amendment would’ve gutted that requirement. King’s fellow legislators didn’t buy it though; the amendment was killed with a vote of 104 to 41.
Rep. Van Taylor’s (R-Plano) proposed amendments didn’t go over so well either. Taylor, for one, wanted to ban the transfer of Rainy Day Fund money to get the water bank rolling.
Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), in a moment of political drama, called Taylor out for being what he called “disingenuous.” He asked Taylor if, should his proposed amendment pass, he intended to vote for HB 4. Taylor replied that he would still not vote for the bill.
Larson blew up. “If you’re not going to vote for the bill and you’re offering up amendments, I think everyone in this body needs to recognize that. The idea of an amendment is to make the bill better … and what you’re doing I believe is disingenuous, to step up and offer amendments for political reasons, to try to gain some kind of favor instead of trying to make the bill legitimately better.” The House shot Taylor’s amendment down with a vote of 127 to 18.
House Bill 4 has survived relatively unscathed. Next up: House Bill 11, which would authorize the actual transfer of $2 billion to water fund from the state’s (irony alert!) Rainy Day Fund.