Just imagine if you were still making the same amount of money you were in 1993. Would you still be able to eat, pay your bills, survive? It’s pretty clear what the answer is. That’s what has happened with transportation funding in Texas. The gas tax is the same now as it was in 1993, and since then the price of everything else has gone up. No one in Texas should be wondering why our transportation infrastructure in Texas is having trouble surviving. Via the Texas Tribune.
Federal and state gas taxes remain the primary revenue source for road construction and maintenance, but they are widely viewed as inadequate for the state’s needs. Texans pay 38.4 cents in federal and state taxes per gallon, a figure that hasn’t changed in nearly 20 years despite inflation, rising construction costs and the improving fuel efficiency of cars. And the state’s 20 cents-per-gallon gas tax is lower than the national average of 29.7 cents per gallon, according to the Legislative Budget Board.
The Texas Legislature, though, is unlikely to approve raising the gas tax for the foreseeable future, lawmakers and political observers say. Past efforts to raise fees or taxes have failed, in part, due to criticism that a large portion of the gas tax is currently diverted to spending on things other than roads, such as funding the Department of Public Safety and public education. But ending the diversions also faces an uphill battle, because those areas of government that rely on some of the gas tax would have to find new funding to replace it.
That should make it crystal clear to everyone why very soon we won’t have any money in Texas to pay for new roads or maintain existing ones. It’s easy, (and I’ve done it), to simply blame neglect. But that’s too easy and it lets the real culprit, or culprits, off the hook. The real culprit is ideology and greed, and our political system taken over by the wealthy and corporations. (See, University of Texas Rootstrikers: Why I Joined the Movement).
It’s hard to understand why more people don’t have a problem with the corporate takeover of our government. We’ve gone so far from where we once were, using a pay as we go system, to pay for our needs. And we understood that prices rise and things cost more over time.
But that’s no longer how we operate, especially in Texas. It’s been chronicled here and elsewhere over the last 8 years how a minor increase in the gas tax, then indexed to inflation, could have prevented this crisis in Texas. Instead our leaders have tried what amount to the “to good to be true” schemes our parents warned us about as children.
Many of us have realized it, but our leaders have not. It’s painfully obvious that, no matter what happens in three weeks, that’s all were likely to get in the near future. Here are a few snippets from the business lobby’s recent Op-Ed on the subject, More public-private deals can help with Texas road needs.
Texas is facing a transportation crisis.
By this time next year, the state will have exhausted its funds for new roads, with only enough to maintain the highways we have, and we’ll soon run short of money to do even that.
Major funding sources for highway development — the gas tax and vehicle registration fees — can no longer keep pace with our transportation needs.
Highway funding has been covered primarily by the gas tax. However, this tax doesn’t go as far as it once did, even if it weren’t diverted to other priorities, which has been the case for years in Texas. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the gas tax buys only about half the construction materials it did 20 years ago.
To keep pace with population growth and upgrade existing highways, Texas must explore creative ways of funding its roads.
In recent years, the Legislature has authorized the Texas Department of Transportation to partner with the private sector to meet the state’s most pressing infrastructure needs. Thanks to those public-private agreements, Texas has become a model state for infrastructure finance. Public-private partnerships offer the opportunity to create real, innovative and sustainable transportation infrastructure solutions, without raising taxes.
Several privately-funded transportation projects in Texas are on track to unclog some of the most heavily congested stretches of roadway in the state, while employing more than 400 Texas firms during construction.
These partnerships are part of the solution to getting us where we need to be — further down the road toward effective solutions to today’s transportation challenges. They also can jump-start economic growth, not only by creating jobs, but by delivering faster, more efficient transportation systems to connect Texans and build our communities.
The state also is considering turning to public-private partnerships to handle routine repair and maintenance work on various roadways. These are projects Texas sorely needs and could not afford through tax revenues alone.
At the same time, we will call on legislators to pass a modest increase of $50 in the vehicle registration fee. While no one likes new fees, the cost of doing nothing is far higher.
The major points are:
- We have a funding crisis.
- The gas tax can’t buy what it used to because it hasn’t been raised in almost 20 years.
- Because of this crisis we must get creative(?) and, essentially, privatize TxDOT.
- It’s implied that because of privatization there were 400 jobs created that wouldn’t have been created if we’d used tax money to build roads (WRONG!).
- And oh, by the way, were going to raise fees – but remember it’s not a tax (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).
The only difference between a fee and a tax, for Republicans, is that no one has signed a pledge to Grover Norquist not to raise fees. But the truly tragic part is that essentially privatizing TxDOT will only cost us all more money, in the long run, while driving down the quality and level of service, as it always does. It’s also likely force all the workers who currently are employed by the state into jobs working for corporations that pay less and offer less, or no benefits. Call it the “Wal-Mart-ization”, if you will, of transportation in Texas.
It’s really sad that few, if any politicians, talk about this. We used to take pride in our highways in Texas, they were some of the best in the nation. Now they’ve been sacrificed to profit, greed and ideology.