Transportation Priorities Advanced by Legislature

November 1, 2011


Important incremental gains in financing improvements to our state's transportation infrastructure were achieved during the 82nd Session of the Texas Legislature.


The Transportation Advocates of Texas say the state achieved much more than anticipated entering a legislative session with estimates of a $27 billion budget shortfall. The following are a few of the Legislature's transportation accomplishments:

Important Bond Financing:  
The remaining $3 billion of Proposition 12 bond authority, approved by 63% of voters in 2007, was authorized in the budget.  This one-time infusion of bond revenue ensures funding for new projects for at least two more years. So, instead of running out of money for new projects in 2012, there is now revenue for new projects until 2014.


This is not a long-term solution.  We believe there are better alternatives to borrowing and making decades of interest payments.  Faced with the alternatives, it was absolutely necessary this time. Legislators have a chance between now and the 83rd Session in 2013 to identify stable sources of additional revenue to fund transportation. Legislators understand how important it is that we adequately fund transportation but have failed to act on sustainable funding.


An example is this important exchange between the Chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, Tommy Williams, and the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Steve Ogden, on April 4, 2011: 


Senator Williams:  “We need to provide TxDOT a robust, predictable, sustainable funding stream for new construction.  The current gas tax is inadequate… it is totally consumed for maintenance only.  I doubt we can do it this session but it needs to be a priority next session."  


Senator Ogden:  “We have a structural problem with the gas tax.  It just does not provide enough revenue to fund our transportation needs.  We have three or four proposed constitutional amendments pending in senate finance now that need some work but that can be refined to help begin to address this problem yet this session.”   


Greater Tools for Local leaders:
Local governments were granted more tools for transportation projects by the passage of HB 563 - transportation reinvestment zones (TRZs).  Additional revenue generated from development projects beyond what is generated today can be captured for local projects.  TRZ financing will allow local entities to set aside a portion of sales tax growth, or property tax revenue growth, for infrastructure projects in fast growing areas. 


Additional Public-Private Partnerships:
The TxDOT Sunset Bill allows additional comprehensive development agreements (CDA’s).  CDA’s are also commonly referred to as public-private partnerships that allow projects to be built sooner through the availability of private equity.  Legislators determined that in a number of specific areas around the state projects need to move forward sooner rather than later to provide traffic congestion relief in high growth areas.


The Great Outstanding Issue:
Texas has yet to identify a stable source of additional revenue that can meet the transportation needs of a rapidly expanding population. Fuel efficiency and hybrid vehicles reduce gas tax revenue -- and the state fuel tax rate has not changed in 20 years. Whether it is through taxes, fees, tolls or other sources of revenue, further delays in providing additional financing will inevitably result in more traffic congestion. By one estimate we under-fund roads by $8 billion every year. The problem will only get worse. Congestion will get worse. Economic losses will get worse. Rural connectivity will get worse. Road conditions and road safety will get worse.  And the cost associated with doing nothing means one day the price tag will be worse.


Going forward:
That’s why the Transportation Advocates of Texas continue to grow and strengthen a coalition of business leaders, public officials, transportation organizations and concerned citizens to raise the visibility of the coming transportation crisis. 


We appreciate the leadership of Senator Williams (R-The Woodlands) and Senator Ogden(R-Bryan). We are grateful for the efforts of Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) Representative Larry Phillips (R-Sherman), Representative Joe Pickett (D-El Paso), Representative Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), Representative Linda Harper-Brown (R-Irving) and Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen). Thanks also to the many more who toiled to address these issues, and who know this state cannot sustain its economic vitality on the back of crumbling, crowded and under-funded infrastructure.