|BROWNSVILLE, October 25 - With a major push from community leaders statewide and a wide array of transportation advocates, the Texas Legislature ended a third special session last year with passage of a measure estimated to increase transportation funding by $1.7 billion annually if approved by Texas voters on Nov. 4.
The Texas Transportation Funding Amendment, Proposition 1, is the only statewide ballot proposition being presented this year and it is an easy call for any Texan who believes the state needs to improve highway safety, reduce delays and deal with aging roads/bridges. Needed area projects such as the completion of I-69 from Brownsville to Corpus Christi, East Loop project, FM 1925 project connecting Hidalgo County with Cameron County and the West Parkway project could be beneficiaries of the state having more money for highways in the years to come.
This is different from the Hidalgo County Proposition 1, which requests formation of a hospital district and tax levy. The Texas Transportation Funding Amendment Proposition 1 is not asking voters to approve any new tax. Instead, Proposition 1 would direct a portion of the state’s oil and natural gas production taxes that are collected each year to the State Highway Fund. And we believe voters should support Proposition 1 without reservation.
Key things you should know about Proposition 1 are: (1) it does not raise taxes, fees or debt on citizens or businesses; (2) these funds can only be used for new construction and highway system preservation; and (3) the money cannot be used for toll roads.
Starting next year, the Texas Department of Transportation will have less than $3 billion per year for roads, and a large percentage of that will go to preserving existing roads rather than making safety improvements or building new highway capacity. One result is that highway construction companies across the state have been reducing staff and getting lean in hopes of surviving the coming drought of new projects. Projects that looked like they were in line to be funded are being pushed out into future years.
Texas faces serious highway funding challenges including the decreasing purchasing power of highway funds. We must deal with population growth of more than 1,000 people each day, growing demand for more highway capacity, inflation, stagnant fuel tax rates and rising vehicle fuel efficiency — all of which contribute to the growing shortfall in highway funding.
Many assume that the tax on gasoline and diesel is a moving number that goes up when the price of fuel goes up. That is simply not true. The state tax on gasoline at the pump has remained the same 20 cents per gallon since 1991. The federal gas tax has not changed since 1993. As fuel efficiency increases, less fuel is purchased on a per-mile basis. More vehicles mean more congestion and more road damage but they do not generate a proportionate increase in highway funds.
The current estimate is that TxDOT needs an additional $5 billion each year (and more in the future) to make minimal additions to the system and to do maintenance. The shortfall on the preservation side has grown in part because of heavy road damage in areas with thunderous oil and gas drilling activity.
Voters can fill about a quarter of the $5 billion hole by passing the Texas Transportation Funding Amendment, Proposition 1. Our highway system needs a stable, permanent, and growing funding stream for investment in Texas highways.
The amendment on the ballot for Proposition 1 reads: “The constitutional amendment providing for the use and dedication of certain money transferred to the State Highway Fund to assist in the completion of transportation construction, maintenance, and rehabilitation projects, not to include toll roads.”
Without voter approval, total funding for new highway construction will decline dramatically over the next two years as borrowing and one-time funding sources are exhausted. Proposition 1 would allow the Legislature time to continue working on the longer-term funding shortfall. This will likely begin with a focus on directing existing transportation related revenues to highway construction.
The number of people calling Texas their home grows daily. New residents come to Texas for good jobs and a taste of the Texas way of life. They help make our state an economic powerhouse, but new Texans don’t bring any roads with them.
A “yes” vote for the Texas Transportation Funding Amendment Proposition 1 is a common-sense, pay-as-you-go way for Texans to face reality and invest in a safer, more efficient highway system.
Carlos Cascos is the Cameron County judge. David Allex is chairman of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority.