With a major push from community leaders statewide and a wide array of transportation advocates, the Texas Legislature ended a legislative session last year with passage of a measure (SJR 5) estimated to increase transportation funding by $2.5 billion annually from the state sales tax plus and additional varying amount would come from the motor vehicle sales and rental tax if approved by Texas voters on November 3.

Early voting begins October 19-30 and so we urge everyone who votes early to support Proposition 7.

Proposition 7 is an easy decision for any Texans who believes the state needs to improve highway safety, reduce delays and deal with aging roads/bridges. The amendment would authorize a new, stable source of funding for Transportation in Texas, dedicated to the construction and maintenance of roads. Needed area projects such as the completion of I-69 from Brownsville to Corpus Christi, the East Loop project to the Port of Brownsville, the FM 1925 project connecting Hidalgo County with Cameron County, I69 from Pharr to Three Rivers, the U.S. 83 La Joya Relief Route, I-2/I-69 interchange improvements in Pharr, SH 68 Donna to Edinburg as well as many other projects could be beneficiaries of the state having more money for highways in the years to come.

Voters are not being asked to approve a new tax.  Instead Proposition 7 would direct a portion of the state’s sales tax collected each year to the State Highway Fund. Voters should support Proposition 7 without reservation. The amendment would provide a significant step toward meeting the unmet needs for transportation projects in Texas.

Key things you should know about Prop 7 are: (1) It does not raise taxes nor is it new debt on citizens or businesses; (2) these funds can only be used for new construction and highway system preservation; (3) the money cannot be used for toll roads; (4) monies used to reduce congestion and improve safety.

TXDOT’s annual budget allotment for road improvements is shrinking every year and this will help close the burdening gap that will allow us to see improvements quicker in our communities. Currently a large percentage of the existing budget with the Department goes 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. A staggering statistic based on the estimated amount of people moving to this state every year is that there will be close to 20 million added vehicles by 2040. Because of this we reiterate that Proposition 7 will help Texas create the infrastructure it needs to accommodate its expected growth. Under Proposition 7, $2.5 billion would be deposited into the state highway fund from state sales tax revenues above the first $28 billion dollars collected that year. In addition, 35 percent of the net revenue derived from the motor vehicle sales tax and rental tax above the first $5 billion each year would be deposited into the state highway fund. For the Rio Grande Valley that means that millions of dollars will trickle down to help improve our infrastructure. Many assume that

Voters can fill the funding shortfall by passing Proposition 1. Our highway system needs a stable, permanent, and growing funding stream for investment in Texas highways. We applaud the Governor and the lawmakers in Austin for addressing this continued priority for Hidalgo and Cameron Counties.

When voters go to the polls they will be asked to vote for or against the following: “The constitutional amendment dedicating certain sales and use tax revenue and motor vehicle sales, use and rental tax revenue to the state highway fund to provide funding for nontolled roads and the reduction of certain transportation-related debt.”

Without voter approval of Proposition 7 total funding for new highway construction will decline dramatically over the next two years as borrowing and one-time funding sources are exhausted. Proposition 7 will allow the Legislature time to continue working on the longer-term funding shortfalls. This will likely begin with a focus on directing existing transportation related revenues to highway construction.

The number of people calling Texas their home is growing fast. 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. New Texans don’t bring any roads with them. This amendment will help us solve part of this problem.

A “yes” vote on Proposition 7 is a common-sense, pay-as-you-go way for Texans to face reality and invest in a safer, more efficient highway system.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this guest column shows Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia and Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda.