8/22/2008Texas Leaders Agree to End Raid on Transportation Funding
Texas leaders agree to end the raid on gas tax funds while promoting the continuation of tolling through other means.
The top three legislative leaders in Texas agreed to a plan that would put an end to the practice of using state gas tax dollars to fund certain expenses unrelated to transportation. Governor Rick Perry (R), Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst (R) and House Speaker Tom Craddick (R) sent their proposal in the form of a letter to Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Deirdre Delisi sent Tuesday. The letter contained two proposals that suggest the leaders would back down from existing policies that promote the use of toll roads throughout the state and one that would advance the cause of tolling.
The leaders first agreed to ask the legislature in the 2009 session to stop funding state police forces with money raised from motorists for road construction. If approved by lawmakers, the change would be implemented as part of the commission's ten-year plan for overhauling transportation funding priorities. The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a free market think tank, praised the proposal.
"We are pleased to see agreement to fund DPS from general revenue instead of gas taxes the public expects to be spent on road construction," TPPF Vice President Justin Keener said. "We urge the department to establish objective criteria and be diligent in separating needs from wants so that money is not squandered on pet projects that do little to address mobility. As with all taxpayer funds, these large amounts of money must be carefully prioritized to get maximum benefit for the taxpayers."
The leaders also agreed to authorize the sale of $1.5 billion in bonds authorized by the voters in 2003 for road building. In February, Dewhurst and Craddick had complained that the governor's appointees at the Texas Department of Transportation forecasted a $3.6 billion shortfall in transportation funding as a means of drumming up support for toll roads, ignoring more than $8 billion in funds available from Proposition 14, mobility fund proceeds and general obligation bonds.
Although the proposals to use bond funding and end the raid on transportation funding appear to change the policy of promoting toll roads, the leaders endorsed a significant expansion in tolling authority. In the letter, the leaders also proposed to "create a Transportation Finance Corporation or similar entity that will allow public Texas-based investment funds to invest directly in Texas transportation projects that offer a potential solid long-term return." These financing entities are solely designed to construct new toll roads, or fund the imposition of tolling on existing roadways.
The full text of the leaders' letter is available in a 123k PDF file at the source link below.