DMN Supports Vehicle Sales Tax Plan


February 10, 2015


The Dallas Morning News editorial board sees hope for more highway funding in the 2015 session of the Texas Legislature. Here is their Feb. 8th editorial:


Senate highway plan has lots going for itOne of the best things about a multibillion-dollar highway-funding proposal put on the table in Austin last week was the idea that voters would decide the matter.

The concept is this: Earmark a portion of vehicle-sales taxes for highway construction, and make the move permanent by amending the Texas Constitution in a statewide election. The yield would be an initial $2 billion a year, amounting to $25 billion over a decade.

Giving voters the final word is cause for optimism that badly needed highway dollars are on the way.

One, Texans can see with their own eyes that the highway network needs work. It could be an overburdened intersection from the 1960s, an irritating bottleneck or a bridge well past its useful age. Or it could be an ambitious proposal — such as rebuilding and decking Interstate 30 east of downtown Dallas — whose price tag might put it out of reach for years.

Second, Texans typically need little convincing on the need for highway money. They voted overwhelmingly in November to ratify Proposition 1, a separate road-funding amendment that earmarked oil-production taxes for roads.

Third, the tax would not be a new one. It’s collected now on sales of cars and trucks, new and used, with current annual proceeds of more than $4 billion going into the general fund. The proposal unveiled last week by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, would earmark all proceeds beyond $2.5 billion a year for highways. That allows the highway fund to capture all future growth and keep it secure.

Two years ago, Texas Department of Transportation planners gave lawmakers a target number for roadway money: $4 billion more a year, for expansion and maintenance, just to achieve the current level of mobility, plus an additional $1 billion for overburdened roads in the Oil Patch.

The 2013 Legislature’s best stab at that was the recently passed Prop 1, which should produce more than $1 billion a year (or until the oil boom ends). Everyone agreed that was just a start and that heavy lifting remained.

What then happened was the election of a new governor, Greg Abbott, and lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who were on board with setting highway money as a 2015 must-do, and the House’s re-election of Speaker Joe Straus, who’s always kept roadways as a priority.

It was a good sign last week that Patrick put his weight behind Nichols’ plan — the proposed amendment SJR 5 and related bill SB 5 — vowing to get them passed.

Other moves to bump up road money are in play, including a possible end to the practice of funding the Department of Public Safety out of the highway fund, whose main source of money is fuel taxes. We’d like to see that “diversion” of gas-tax money end, too, provided that it doesn’t draw money away from other vital needs.

Overall, in these early days of the 2015 Legislature, it’s encouraging to see the stars so aligned on transportation funding.

      SJR 5 and SB 5, by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would:
      1. Earmark for roads all proceeds beyond collections of $2.5 billion a year from the motor-vehicle sales tax.
      2. Raise about $2 billion a year initially, amassing $25 million for roadways over a decade.
      3. Finance only non-tolled projects.
      4. Require voter approval.
      5. Allow the revenue to help retire existing debt for highway construction.
      6. Be effective starting in the 2018-19 two-year budget, although an early start is possible.

    - Dallas Morning News