Yesterday TxDOT Executive Phil Wilson was in the Senate Transportation Committee pleading for money for transportation in Texas, TxDOT Director Calls for Stable Highway Funding System.
At the Senate Transportation Committee’s first meeting Wednesday morning, Davis said it’s important to strike a balance as they decide ”whether we’re going to create the revenue sources needed to provide the infrastructure that the state so desperately needs.”
TxDOT has accumulated almost $13 billion in debt since it first started borrowing from the general revenue fund in 2004, Wilson told senators earlier this month. Nine years later, it’s still paying off that debt.
TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said the agency needs at least $4 billion more each year to cover road expansion and upkeep. The proposed $20.8 billion budget would set aside just under $2.5 billion to repay debts, but caps the new construction budget at just over $1 billion.
“I think that really puts in perspective the situation that TxDOT finds itself in today, with an extremely large amount on the debt service side and a limited amount on the new construction side,” Davis told Wilson. “In my perspective we’ve really gotten upside-down in terms of providing the support for this agency that’s needed, and for you to conduct what we expect you to do.”
Gov. Rick Perry has proposed spending $3.7 billion from the Rainy Day Fund on Texas transportation, but that would still come up short of Wilson’s request for TxDOT. Perry has suggested spending the money on building new highways and bringing old roads up to code for projects like Interstate 69.
Here are a couple of suggestions from the Transportation Committee chairs in The Lege.
Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, chairman of the House transportation committee, and Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, chairman of the Senate transportation committee have proposed a constitutional amendment to spend sale taxes collected on vehicle purchases for roads. That money is now dumped into general revenue and spread throughout the state budget.
Dedicating car sales taxes to roads could send billions to highway construction every year, Phillips said.
“If the Legislature does not find (road) money, this state will have massive transportation gridlock,” Phillips said.
House Speaker Joe Straus has said lawmakers may consider raising the $25 cost Texas driver pays to renew their license. Proposals to increase that fee by $8 filed in 2011.
As for getting money from the Economic Stabilization Fund, aka Rainy Day Fund (RDF), there are many things competing for that money – education and water are the big ones. Of course these needs did not just pop up, they’ve been around for a long time. What we haven’t had is leadership that’s willing to address them. The only way our state’s needs will be addressed in this session is if the wingnuts relent, Plenty of Money in State Coffers, but Not to Spend.
Two years ago, Texas lawmakers didn’t have enough money to spend. Now, it seems, they can’t spend all the money they have.
Now they’re fenced in by self-imposed spending caps, the need to fill some of the gaps in the current budget, and a school finance lawsuit that could require a multibillion-dollar remedy this year.
They’re allowed to break that law, but only by coaxing a majority of those tightfisted conservatives elected by voters who told them to shrink government.
The list of important programs and services begging for dollars — in 2011 and now — is about the same: education, health care, transportation and water, to name a few.
That puts an odd spin on the budget being written now, at a time when the state’s economy is pretty good. To those seeking support for particular programs or services, things haven’t changed.
The money is not there when the state’s fortunes are bad, and it is not there when the state’s fortunes are good.
With so much money in the RDF and so many serious needs for that money, we are again reminded of how the leadership of this state has been intentionally neglecting the needs of this state for some time. The reason these problems have been neglected is because of ideology. If the politicians running our state were concerned about what’s best for Texas, they would not be neglecting these serious issues.
Even though there’s plenty of money coming into the state, and billions in the RDF, only The Lege can authorize spending that money. And a state government that’s ideologically captive will not allow that money to be spent on the neglected needs of our state. We all know that the GOP in Texas has an aversion to “taxes”, but it looks like fees they are fine with. Of course that’s largely and distinction without a difference. While increasing some fees and ending diversions will add some money to transportation, it’s pretty clear it will not come close to adding the kind of money that Wilson says we need.
The ruling party in this state has been telling us for years that we don’t have a revenue problem in this state but that we have a spending problem. It should be obvious now that’s not the case. But they’re locked in an ideological box and when reality doesn’t match their ideology they don’t have a plan to get us out of it. The GOP’s ideological reliance on tax cuts to fix everything means they’re blind to all other remedies.