Late Monday night, the House and Senate passed legislation to create a funding mechanism for urgent transportation projects across Texas. Now it’s up to the voters of Texas to approve $1.2 billion per year in additional funding for transportation.
During the second special session, it looked at times as if both houses — let alone both parties — would be able to come together and pass something to address these pressing infrastructure needs.
I’m glad that we finally passed HR 1, and I urge voters to support the constitutional amendment this November that will create a State Highway Fund and increase transportation funding by $1.2 billion per year.
Most of our current transportation funding comes from a 20% gas tax, but that hasn’t changed since 1991. With cars becoming more fuel efficient and our population booming in Texas, our funding situation has gotten worse every year.
Importantly, this is a good step away from Texas’s pattern of creating more debt to pay for our infrastructure needs. According to Rep. Joe Pickett, who authored this legislation, 30 cents of every dollar we give to TxDot is borrowed money. I am also pleased that the final legislation will not write a firm floor in the Rainy Day Fund into our state constitution. Instead, a committee of 10 legislators will set restrictions on spending if the fund is deemed too low.
However, let’s keep in mind that this is still far short of the estimated $4 billion that TxDOT says is needed merely to address our growing state’s transportation needs.
So while I’m glad that our business is done for this biennium, we will likely face these same challenges in 2015.
This bill is a step in the right direction, but we are still not keeping up with our infrastructure needs to accommodate our state’s tremendous economic and population growth. That means traffic will continue to increase, the cost of goods and services will increase, and new construction projects are likely to be tolled rather than free unless the legislature identifies more dedicated revenue sources for transportation.
Texas has so many urgent fiscal needs, from public education to Medicaid to water infrastructure. I’m glad we worked out a solution to begin to address transportation, but we’re still faced with many major challenges.