McALLEN, RGV – State Rep. Armando Martinez, vice chair of the House Committee on Transportation, has announced some of the top transportation agenda items for the next legislative session.

They are: consideration of a 20 cent state gasoline and diesel tax, paying off debt service for previously issued highway bonds, dedicating sales tax on new and used vehicle purchases to transportation and paying off debt, providing local-option elections on local increases to motor fuels tax to fund local transportation projects, auuthorizing additional sales tax for transit, allowing counties to impose vehicle-related fees such as registration fees, within their jurisdiction, and dealing with road damage due to energy development.

Martinez, D-Weslaco, gave the keynote speech at last weeks’ Border to Border Transportation Conference hosted by the Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization. It was held at the McAllen Convention Center.

State Representative Armando 'Mando' Martinez gives the keynote address at the 5th Annual Border to Border Transportation Conference.
State Representative Armando ‘Mando’ Martinez gives the keynote address at the 5th Annual Border to Border Transportation Conference.

Martinez has made available his speech to the Rio Grande Guardian. We post it here in its entirety:

1. The Importance of Transportation to Texas

a. Purely based on size, transportation by highway is extremely important to Texas. Our state is one of the largest in the United States, in fact it’s the largest state in the contiguous 48. There are approximately 80,000 miles of state maintained highway in Texas. That is a about 200,000 lane miles of pavement that require maintenance.

b. But transportation is important not only because of the size of our state, it is also important because of how many people live and travel in our state. In 2013 the population of Texas was estimated to be just below 26.5 million people. Another 1,200 people join this population every day, either by birth or by moving to Texas. Our population is expected to double in the next 25 years. Texas is growing at one of the fastest rates in the country.

c. The trucking industry is the backbone of both our state’s and country’s economy. In 2012 alone, Texas export revenues totaled $265 billion dollars – the most in the country. According to the John Esparza, the President of the Texas Trucking Association, trucking accounts for 1 out of every 16 jobs in Texas.

d. In the United States, 1 of every 7 jobs is transportation related. Transportation- related goods and services accounted for over $1 trillion dollars of the US Gross Domestic Product in 2002. This was more than 10% of our GDP.

e. In 2010, the “Trade, Transportation, and Utilities” Industry accounted for 18.5% of Texas’ Gross Domestic Product, the biggest mark in the state.

2. Funding Shortfall

a. Without Proposition 1 our state would have $4 billion dollars short per year for current maintenance and congestion levels.

b. With increased heavy truck traffic due to energy development, an extra $1 billion dollars per year is needed to rehabilitate deteriorated roads. In total, before Proposition 1, Texas was $5 billion dollars per year in the hole when it came to transportation infrastructure funding. Over a 20 year period, the shortfall was projected to total $315 billion dollars in funding.

c. Our state’s gas tax has not increased since 1991, and the value of that tax is even lower when adjusted for inflation. That 20 cent tax, when adjusted for inflation, equals only 9.2 cents in 2014 dollars.

i. In 1960, 1/3 of the state budget went to transportation. Today, it is closer to only 9% of our budget.

d. The state used to employ a pay-as-you-go method but in the last dozen years or so we have used a debt and one-time funding method.

e. Since 2001, Texas has used multiple one-time funding injections into the state highway fund to try and manage our debt. In 2003, Proposition 14 allowed for TxDOT to issue short term notes or borrow money to fund highway improvement projects.

f. This has resulted in $25.6 billion dollars of additional funding going to our roads. Of this amount, $17.9 billion is debt, including road bonds. To finance this debt the state pays a little more than $1 billion dollars per year.

3. Proposition 1

a. Proposition 1 is not the full solution to the funding problem. Proposition 1 was a constitutional amendment passed by voters this last election with 79.78% of the vote

b. What Proposition 1 does:

i. In 1988 Texas established a $1.13 billion dollar floor for the Oil & Gas Severance Tax. Any amount above that floor, prior to Proposition 1, was divided between education funding and the Economic Stabilization Fund, better known as the Rainy Day Fund.

1. 25% went to education; 75% to Rainy Day Fund.

ii. Proposition 1 changes that division to include funding for the state Highway Fund without reducing education funding.

1. 25% education; 37.5% Highway Fund; 37.5% Rainy Day Fund

iii. Funding is limited in use.

1. None of these funds can be used for toll road projects and it cannot be used to issue more debt.

2. TxDOT is required to find $100 million dollars in savings, of which none may come from transportation projects.

c. It is expected that in the first year of Proposition 1, the state Highway Fund will receive $1.7 billion dollars of funding. For every year following that, it is estimated that it will receive over $1 billion dollars in new funding.

4. Transportation Projects Statewide

a. New Harbor Bridge in Corpus Christi – $700 million dollars

b. Expand I-35 to 8 lanes in Waco – $280 million dollars

c. Managed lanes in I-35E in Dallas and Denton Counties – $4.7 billion dollars

d. Upgrading the I-69 system, which includes US 59, US 77, US 281, US 84, and SH 44, to interstate status – $16.4 billion dollars

e. Adding capacity to Loop 1604 in San Antonio – $2.8 billion dollars

f. Grand Parkway in Houston – $3.8 billion dollars

g. Texas-Oklahoma Rail

5. Transportation Projects in the Valley

a. IBTC/SH 365

b. SH 68

i. SH 68 provides an alternative northern route to I-69/US281 directly from the Donna International Bridge.

c. SPI 2nd Causeway

i. A 2nd causeway to South Padre Island. FM 1925 is a true regional project that connects the second causeway to SH 68 and I-69.

d. From 2000 to 2010, the Valley population increased by 300,000 people. That is a 30% increase in population in 10 short years. It is time for our to look at alternative means of transportation here in the Rio Grande Valley: mass transit.

e. In 2007, HB 2510, authored by myself and passed by the legislature, established within our 3 county district a rail district authority board for passenger rail. It is time to broaden our scope to where we have one agency overseeing and coordinating mass transit – a Regional Transit Authority.

f. Currently there are many different groups that provide public transit services in the region but there is no mechanism for them to formally collaborate and propose solutions to the region’s transit challenges.

g. A Regional Transit Authority, or RTA, would provide Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy counties with the option for providing regional public transit. Municipalities that already provide public transit would not be interfered with and there is the option of coordinating services with the RTA. In summary, an RTA would simply provide a mechanism for the region to collaborate and join together in providing transit services to the public.

6. Issues for 84th Legislative Session

a. Increasing 20 cent state gasoline and diesel tax

i. Pay off debt service for previously issued highway bonds.

b. Dedicate sales tax on new and used vehicle purchases to transportation and paying off debt.

c. Local-option elections on local increases to motor fuels tax

i. to fund local transportation projects

d. Authorizing additional sales tax for transit

e. allowing counties to impose vehicle-related fees such as registration fees, within their jurisdiction.

f. Deal with road damage due to energy development.