Neglect has finally gotten bad enough - gas tax increase is getting a serious look

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Privatization, Road Issues, Transportation at 6:00 am by wcnews

From this SAEN article, Legislators debate road funding, it looks like it was an interesting, in a good way, joint hearing on transpiration yesterday. It certainly looks like Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) gets it.

Texas lawmakers on Monday hammered home that without a new funding method, the Texas Department of Transportation will be unable to build any new roads beyond 2012 and will not have enough money to properly maintain existing roads within two to three years.

They also demonstrated that finding a new funding solution they can agree on won’t be easy.

Legislators on the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security and the House Committee on Transportation grappled with the use of “public-private partnerships” and comprehensive development agreements, or CDAs, that in some cases privatize toll roads.

Senate chairman John Carona, R-Dallas, chastised language often associated with toll roads — that drivers can “choose” to use them. Carona said it’s “disingenuous” to say drivers will have an option if the only way to fund new road construction is by tolling them.

“If every new road going forward is a toll road, that’s no choice,” he said.

GOP TxDOT chair Deirdre Delisi was quoted as saying in the article, a couple of times, that TxDOT has nothing to do with the decision of how money is raised for roads, that’s up to the legislature.

Looking into other potential sources of dollars, Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, asked Texas Transportation Commission Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi whether her board, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to oversee TxDOT, supported an increase in the gas tax — something Perry has said he opposes. Delisi said it’s not the commission’s role to determine how much the gas tax should be increased — that’s the legislature’s job.

Increasing the gas tax has been a political hot potato, but it’s an issue that’s gaining traction among lawmakers. It’s unclear, however, what chance it will stand during the 2011 legislative session.

What is clear is that lawmakers say they know something must be done to address the funding shortfalls. Based on anticipated, long-range price hikes, the purchasing power of the state motor fuels tax — 20 cents per gallon — is declining, Delisi said. TxDOT needs a stable source of funding, she said, though it’s not the transportation commission’s role to say where the money should come from.

The only stable source of funding is the gas tax. Which everyone should know by now hasn’t been raised in almost two decades, so of course it’s “purchasing power” has declined. The neglect has gotten so bad, that as this KVUE report states, even “..leaders of some of the biggest businesses in Texas told Senate and House committee members they’re on board too” with raising the gas tax. Most business leaders understand that roads help drive the economy and that the gas tax is the best funding option to pay for roads.

But as Texas TURF’s Terri Hall states:

Terri Hall — founder of the grassroots, anti-toll Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom — told the committees that her organization supports a statewide gas tax increase, but with certain expectations.

“What we the taxpayers cannot allow is a gas tax hike, in addition to the continuation of toll proliferation,” she said. “What we observe is a push for a gas tax increase in order to have more money to borrow against for yet more toll roads.”

I would amend that just a bit. While the gas tax should be the main source of road funding, that doesn’t mean no toll roads. (No corporate toll roads for sure). But toll roads can work in specific circumstances, and should need the support of the people where they will be built. Stopping diversions can help too, but that alone won’t come anywhere close to making up the billions that are needed. And raising fees can help some as well. But what we all have to realize, finally, is that raising the gas tax, and itemizing it to inflation, is the only way we can make up for the neglect of nearly 20 years. And it’s unlikely that electing another Republican governor will do anything to change this.

1 Comment »

  1. Eye on Williamson » Putting a finer point on transportation in Texas - TxDOT still doesn’t get it said,

    February 4, 2010 at 11:42 am

    [...] was sneaked through the legislature (see HB 3588), and wasn’t. Not to mention the fact that Delisi said just this past Monday that funding is not part of TxDOT work. Based on anticipated, long-range price hikes, the [...]

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