Transportation Chairman Joe Pickett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appropriations Chairman John Otto

 

 

 

 

 

Transportation Funding Gaining Momentum

 

April 24, 2015

 

The Texas House will soon take up the 2015 legislative session’s single most important piece of transportation funding legislation.

 

The House Transportation Committee, chaired by Rep. Joe Pickett, has voted out two identical constitutional amendment resolutions, clearing a path toward the House and Senate reaching a solution to the need for sustainable and long term transportation funding.

 

The committee approved Pickett’s proposed HJR 13 which would allow voters to constitutionally dedicate $3 billion a year of general sales tax revenues to building non-toll highways and to make payments on previously issued highway project debt. HJR 13 would also dedicate additional 2% of net general sales tax to transportation, generating about $650 million a year (LBB estimate). This approach would provide the predictable funding over time that is essential to the long process of planning and delivering highway projects.


The committee also approved a committee substitute for SJR 5 that erased language passed by the Senate and replaced it in total with the text of CSHJR 13. House versions of CSSJR 5 and CSHJR 13 are now the same.


Texas needs more than $5 billion a year in additional construction contract lettings to maintain current conditions on the state’s highways.


Rep. John Otto, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, signed up this week as a co-author of Pickett’s funding proposal and efforts are underway to encourage other House members to join in.  In a show of bipartisanship, Rep. Tan Parker, chairman of the House Republican Caucus and Rep. Yvonne Davis, chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus, also have said they would support the highway funding amendment proposal.

 

Because the plan is a constitutional amendment it will require a two-thirds vote for approval.  That means transportation advocates will need at least 100 votes in favor.


The Senate version was put forward by Sen. Robert Nichols, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. It passed on a 28 to 2 vote and would draw revenue from the state sales tax paid on vehicles with the first $2.5 billion a year going to the General Fund and the next $2.5 billion going to the State Highway Fund. Any additional revenue from the vehicle sales tax would be split with highways getting 50%. Both measures would require voter approval in November.


Chairman Pickett told his hometown El Paso Times that in the event HJR 13 fails to get 100 votes he will fight for passage of the Nichols’ version in the House.


Pickett told the Dallas Morning News that increasing momentum behind additional highway funding “reflects a growing realization that we really do need to make transportation a priority.”


Members of the Transportation Advocates of Texas believe either the general sales tax approach or the vehicle sales tax approach will address a critical state need and serve Texans well.  The coalition of community organizations is urging House members to vote to approve reliable constitutionally dedicated funding that will keep Texas from falling further behind on congestion, safety, interregional connectivity and deteriorating roadways.