Advocates' Legislative Agenda Calls For

Sustainable Revenue Sources for Transportation

December 7, 2012


The Transportation Advocates of Texas board of directors have adopted a legislative program for the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature that calls for passage of long-term, sustainable, growing sources of revenues to fund transportation.

A letter to member of the Legislature signed by TAoT’s officers begins,   “Our concern is the absence of an adopted funding plan by the Legislature to maintain, rehabilitate, modernize and expand the Texas transportation system to serve a growing economy and population.”

TAoT’s goal is to assist the Legislature in developing a sensible funding plan for transportation and to support enactment of measures to implement that plan.

“The viability of stop-gap measures to fund transportation has come to an end; incurring more debt is imprudent. The time has come to re-establish pay-as-you-go funding for transportation and to rely on the tried and true ‘user pays’ principle of funding transportation. The cost of doing nothing is greater than the cost of solving the problem--bad public policy that we should change,” the letter reads.

Jim Reed, TAoT Chairman, said those in the organization believe there are a myriad of ways to generate revenue to fund transportation investment, and TAoT members are prepared to discuss the pros and cons of each with lawmakers.

Some of the measures TAoT finds worthy of serious consideration this session include:

Use transportation revenues to fund transportation
All revenue from transportation fees and taxes should be used to fund maintenance, rehabilitation, modernization and expansion of the transportation system, including revenue from the vehicle sales tax, the motor fuels tax and the vehicle registration fee. The Legislature should make a commitment to achieving this goal within five years and begin the transition in the appropriations act for the next biennium. Growth of the Texas economy will provide revenue over time to fill the hole in the General Revenue Fund.

Authorize CDA funding for additional projects
Much of the new transportation system capacity added in recent years has been done through public-private partnerships (Comprehensive Development Agreements). This tool is an important one in funding large projects. The Legislature should authorize a limited number of additional projects recommended by TxDOT and MPOs for CDA procurement.

Increase the vehicle registration fee
The vehicle registration fee has not been increased since 1985. Texas ranks 43rd out of 50 states in transportation tax and fee burden. The Legislature should add $50 to the annual vehicle registration fee.

Capitalize the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund
The 79th Legislature and Texas voters approved the creation of the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund to enhance public safety and improve freight movement with new rail improvements that enable through freight traffic to bypass inner cities. TAoT supports appropriating $200 million to the Rail Fund.



Here is the adopted Legislative Program in full:




While Texas has built one of the best transportation infrastructure systems in the country, the cost of maintaining,improving and expanding it has now exceeded the resources committed to it. Other concerns are that the value of the gas tax to the state is steadily declining, road and bridge infrastructure approaching their design life is beginning to crumble, congestion on our roads is geometrically increasing, and we have reached our borrowing limits with debt payments of almost $1 billion a year.

Transportation Advocates of Texas encourages the Texas Legislature to engage in a rigorous and substantive discussion about how to preserve our transportation assets as well as how to meet the increasing demands of future growth and commerce. To that end we support meaningful legislation that will preserve the heritage of the "user pays" for access to the states roads, bridges, rail lines, and airports. A long term, sustainable, growing source of revenue needs to be identified and enacted. Existing revenue generated from taxes, fees or receipts that are related to transportation should be deposited in the state highway fund and not diverted to other purposes.

Legislation that addresses TAoT concerns and goals will be identified or drafted for consideration by the relevant committees, then by the House and Senate to send them to the Governor for signature. The legislative solution to Texas transportation needs could take many forms or approaches. TAoT offers these suggestions as starting points:

1. End the diversion or appropriation from the state highway fund to any agency other than the Texas Department of Transportation. The TxDOT appropriation bill should contain clear, precise and measurable outcomes for the funds appropriated to each agency line item.

2. The sales tax currently collected from the sale of new or used vehicles is a "user fee". The sales tax collected should not be deposited into general revenue as it is now, but deposited into the state highway fund. To lessen the general fund impact, the transfer could be scheduled over 4‐5 fiscal years, beginning in calendar year 2014. Growth of the Texas economy would replace the amounts redirected from the general fund to the highway fund for this user fee.

3. The cost of major capacity improvement or highway reconstruction projects can easily exceed the $1 billion mark, with some reaching several billion dollars. Those major projects now require a combination of federal, state and local funding sources. Increasingly private capital is seeking a stable environment for investment of fiduciary or investment funds. The Legislature should continue the approval of a limited number of additional projects recommended by local elected officials and MPOs that can utilize innovative financing mechanisms to assemble the capital necessary, including private capital, to make the projects viable.

4. Freight mobility is becoming an increasingly visible goal to enhance our state's economic
competitiveness. Enhancing the state's rail infrastructure is key to relieving growing pressure on our highways. Adequate funding to accomplish that goal in partnership with the freight rail entities should be addressed.

5. Vehicle registration fees have a direct correlation to the users of the state's transportation infrastructure. That fee structure has not been reviewed or increased for over a decade. Increasing the vehicle registration fee by $50 a year, or more, should be considered.

6. There are other responsible and reasonable options such as increasing the gas tax, which has not been changed since 1993, that could be considered but have been omitted from these proposals. TAoT seeks to work within the framework of solutions that are viable for the 83rd Legislative Session.