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Texas looks to voters to ensure billions for highway funding

Facing a population and economic boom sufficient to give Texas seven out of the top 15 fastest growing cities, state legislators are looking to voters to direct more revenue to build more highways, but without raising new fees or taxes.

Texas has responded to the boom by building toll roads, wider highways, and some mass transit options in a few cities, but the state DOT and many state legislators feel that Texas isn’t building what they need to serve the 1,500 new residents moving there everyday — and they’re on the lookout for more money.

Texas currently has what they call a “rainy day” fund replenished with revenue generated from gas and oil drilling taxes and fees. The fund has been used in the past to help fill budget gaps and avoid budget cuts during economic slumps.

The legislature has placed a measure on this November’s ballot (Proposition 1) amending the state constitution to divert half of these funds for the next ten years to a State Highway Fund, to be used exclusively for highway construction, repair, and maintenance. This fund could not be used for toll roads.

Texas’ gas tax is currently set at 20 cents per gallon and was last raised in 1991. The coalition urging its passage says that Proposition 1 will raise an estimated $1.7 billion within the first year.

Both Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott and his Democratic opponent Wendy Davis are supporting the measure while campaigning for office. Organized support comes from Move Texas Forward, Texas Future, Transportation Advocates of Texas, and a broad range of trade associations, chambers of commerce, and other advocacy groups across the state.

Directing a portion of money generated by the very thing driving Texas’ economic boom right now (oil and gas) into the transportation network seems rational. However, it would be even smarter to leave those dollars flexible enough to address pressing needs in the transportation network wherever they arise, not just on the highway system. With several large and growing metropolitan areas, the state is going to need to invest in trains, bus lines, freight projects, passenger rail to connect cities, and local street networks as well.

The Houston Chronicle describes opposition to the proposal as “token and largely unorganized.” President of the Houston Property Rights Association, Barry Klein, hoped for a defeat so it “would force transportation official to confront their spending demands, possibly leaving the state better off when it comes to prioritizing projects.”

Transpo Vote 2014 promo graphicFor more on important ballot measures to watch this Nov. 4, visit our Transportation Vote 2014 page.

To better serve the states and localities stepping up to try and raise revenue to invest wisely in transportation, we are hosting the Capital Ideas Conference in Denver, Colorado on November 13-14 shortly after this year’s election. If you’ve been working on a transportation measure as part of a funding campaign, working to overcome a legislative impasse, or defending a key legislative win, this conference will offer a detailed, interactive curriculum of best practices, campaign tactics, innovative policies, and peer-to-peer collaboration to help your initiative succeed.

4 Comments

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  2. JimV

    3 years ago

    I strongly encourage every Texas voter to cast a “No” ballot for the statewide Constitutional amendment boondoggle in November in spite of their natural inclination and strong desire for betterment of conditions in the state road system. A “Yes” vote will primarily fund continuation of a longstanding “build it and they will come” induced-development syndication-kickback scheme triggered by a stimulus effect of new-alignment road projects in largely undeveloped fringe areas of every metropolitan region where political and economic insiders previously acquired lands in anticipation of value enhancement from the impending approval and then existence of said road projects.

    If this funding was focused solely toward improved operation, maintenance and reconstruction of the existing road network, I’d be all for it 110% — but far too much of the new money will be allocated to an array of new-alignment “congestion relief” or “economic development” projects promoted by development and construction interests or eager-to-build highway department engineering staff (the remnant left from the Texas Highway Department glory days, anyway), so I’m not a supporter.

    To be blunt, I consider this Legislative sleight-of-hand as another example of gross political malfeasance that will primarily benefit a very select group of the state’s citizens who play a high-level “real money” game well above the public’s awareness and repeatedly launder a significant share of their profits from the enhanced-value syndication into targeted charitable and political contributions, all of which are designed to further deepen the insiders’ influence for the next round — especially to promote local bond issuance to make actual development feasible, provide lobbyists and favored “think tank” institutions with cash, or elect and appoint the kind of folks who will continue the game). The only way to kill such a corrupt institutional environment is to first expose its corrupt nature, then consciously and deliberately change the rules governing the hidden game’s stimulus trigger to prevent continuation of the same-old “business as usual” practices — and a “No” vote on this Constitutional amendment would assertively begin that process.

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  4. Irvin Dawid

    3 years ago

    Before one slams this blatant money grab, one should consider the ‘toll’ (a dirty word now in the Lone Star State, apparently) that the energy industry is taking on roads in the form of large trucks, particularly rural roads which are not well maintained, I hear.

    I do see a nexus in using some of the royalties collected from oil and gas extraction for road maintenance. In addition, as a Californian, I am envious – Texans have the good sense to tax their extraction industries, i.e., charge a royalty – we have yet to do that in the Golden State, yet we’re the third largest oil producer in the nation! Go figure.

    Thus, one could make the argument that this tax revenue should maintain roads. Yes, the preferable source of revenue would be to raise the 20 -cent excise tax, tenth lowest in the nation.

    The loser in this will be the rainy day fund, and with the energy industry’s revenues now plunging due to falling oil prices, it does not bode well for the future of this fund.