New residents help make Texas an economic powerhouse but they don't bring any roads with them.

 

 

 

 

 

WSJ Shines a Light on Funding Shortfall

 

May 9, 2014

 

Texas is grappling with how to pay the price of prosperity.

 

That is the bottom line of an in-depth front page piece in the Wall Street Journal that explores the fact that Americans have been flocking to Texas in search of a piece of the state’s booming economy at the same time that much of the rest of the country has been struggling.  Now the state is seeing crowded highways and other pressures that come with growth.

 

Texas has been experiencing population growth – particularly in the state’s major metropolitan areas and in the Lower Rio Grande Valley which is made up of a dozen mid-size cities.  People are coming to Texas because of the promise of jobs and a lower cost of living.  The state added 310,000 jobs in the past year and has an unemployment rate that is near the “full employment” range.  A Federal Reserve Bank report estimates that about one quarter of the people who migrated to Texas from other states in the 2006-2012 period came from California.  A recent announcement by Toyota that it is moving its U.S. headquarters from California to Plano will add to that number.

 

The Journal writers observed that the size and pace of the population spurt is becoming more difficult to manage, presenting public officials with a challenge: How to beef up public infrastructure without straying from their small-government philosophy.


"We are already straining our systems for water, power, schools and roads," said Texas State Demographer Lloyd Potter. "And they'll continue to be stressed unless we invest more heavily."


Here is another point made by the WSJ story:
“On the state level, Texas spends less per resident than all but three states: Florida, Georgia and Arizona, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of the most recent state-government finance data from the U.S. Census Bureau. It ranked 45th in the nation in per-capita highway expenditures in 2012, spending about $260 per person, less than California's roughly $300 and well below the $493 spent by Oklahoma, according to the Journal analysis.


“Texas lawmakers and citizens generally oppose raising taxes, but many say state or local governments have to find a way to fund additional investment in roads and other public infrastructure.”


"We all want to go around and beat our chest that Texas is the best place to do business, but we need to pay for the infrastructure needs that go with growth," says Republican state Sen. Kevin Eltife of Tyler.


Ken Allen was formerly HEB Grocery Co.’s head of transportation logistics and now consults for the company on transportation issues.  He said HEB Grocery Co., which has more than 350 stores in Texas and Mexico and $20 billion in annual sales, has become so frustrated with traffic congestion in its home state that it recommends increasing state gasoline taxes to fund construction and maintenance.


"Higher tax rates would cost us millions of dollars a year, but the cost of congestion is a hidden tax," says Mr. Allen. "We are behind in Texas on infrastructure and are getting more behind every year."


Sen. Eltife said he favors a modest increase in gas taxes or temporarily raising sales taxes to fund highway needs.  Sen. Robert Nichols told the Journal that most legislators oppose funding transportation by increasing taxes because of concern it could imperil job growth.

 

(Wall Street Journal - April 28, 2014)