Senator Huffines Warns More Funding Needed

During final debate before the 31-0 Senate vote in favor of sending Proposition 7 to the voters there was a warning from Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas County, a member of the Senate Transportation Committee.

 

Speaking to fellow senators he pointed out that the target before the Legislature was a shortfall of $5 billion a year. "But it is important to recognize that that number did not include not going forward with more toll roads.  It did not include not selling more paper and leveraging up that number.  And we have achieved or are coming close to achieving the $5 billion number with your leadership.  But I think it is important for members to know that we are still going to be short going forward if we are not going to build any more toll roads and if we are not going to sell any more paper," he said.


He said he was hoping that the 2015 legislative session would focus on transportation and praised the work of Sen. Robert Nichols his leadership in addressing funding. He said he had hoped the session would resolve highway funding issues "once and for all, rally funding them fully so that we don't have to deal with it again for another decade."

 

"I think it is important for members to know that we are still going to be short going forward," Huffines said.  "We have neglected our infrastructure for 30 years.  We have neglected TxDOT for 20 of those 30 years.  As you know it used to make up 30% of our budget while today it makes up about 7% of our budget.  Now going forward it is going to make up a lot more but it is important to keep in mind that it is not enough money and that we are going to have to come back and deal with this issue in the future."

 

In praising Nichols he concluded, "I really do appreciate all of your leadership and I am really honored to be on that committee.  And thank you for all you have done for transportation – moving us to the 22nd Century is important."

Texas Makes Major Headway on Funding Gap

 

August 28, 2015

 

The Texas Department of Transportation has made the point that approximately $5 billion a year in new and sustained annual funding is needed to keep congestion levels and pavement conditions in our state from deteriorating further.  The Texas Legislature took major steps this year to address this minimum funding need.

 

Lawmakers heard the message sent in 2014 when 80% of the voters passed Proposition 1 to increase highway funding.  Legislators responded with two more measures this year that will add new predictable funding streams.  At the end of the 2015 legislative session they decisively passed SJR 5, a two-part proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution that would direct  billions each year to the State Highway Fund. The Texas Senate voted 31-0 and the Texas House voted 141-1 to send the package to voters.  It will appear as Proposition 7 on the November 3rd ballot along with six other proposed amendments.

 

Constitutionally Dedicated Funding
The Proposition 7 highway funding proposal would dedicate up to $2.5 billion a year in state general sales tax revenues to the State Highway Fund for construction and maintenance of non-tolled highways and bridges. This revenue would start flowing to the Highway Fund in FY 18.

 

No sales tax would go to the Highway Fund in a specific year if a major recession caused sales tax revenues to drop below $28 billion for that year.  Additionally, lawmakers by a two-thirds vote could cut the $2.5 billion by up to 50% in any given year.


The second part of Proposition 7 provides an opportunity to capture some of the future growth in motor vehicle sales tax revenues and dedicate it to highway projects.  Voters would instruct the state to transfer 35% of the growth in this revenue stream above $5 billion annually beginning in FY 20.  This is estimated to produce about $430 million for the Highway Fund in the first year and will increase as vehicle prices increase and more vehicles are purchased.  Neither component of Prop 7 represents a tax increase to consumers. The amendment would have the $2.5 billion provision expire in 2032 and the vehicle sales tax provision expire in 2029.  However, the Legislature can by simple majority vote extend both in 10 year increments.


Ending Diversions From the Highway Fund
Eliminating a long-standing source of frustration, legislators also passed a budget that stopped the diversion of about $650 million a year in revenues from the motor fuel tax and vehicle registration fees going to non-highway spending – primarily for the Department of Public Safety.  They also passed HB 20 that prohibits future diversions.  The result is more sustainable and long-term funding for transportation projects.

 

Last year’s Proposition 1 constitutionally dedicates a portion of each year’s oil and natural gas production taxes to the State Highway Fund.  That amounted to $1.7 billion in 2014 but with lower oil prices is projected to be about $1.2 billion in each of the next two years.  This funding stream could be higher or lower in future years.

 

Texans Get A Chance to Say “Yes” to Sustained Funding
In combination, the proposed Proposition 7 sales tax dedication, Proposition 1 revenues and the end of Highway Fund diversions will eventually add up to the $5 billion a year minimum highway funding need identified by TxDOT. 

 

The leadership of Senator Robert Nichols and Rep. Joe Pickett, chairmen of the transportation committees in each house, was a central factor in this achievement, as was the strong support of Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus.

 

By approving Proposition 7 on November 3rd, Texans will address a critical state need and reduce the severity of our transportation funding shortfall.  They can join lawmakers in approving dedicated funding that will keep Texas from falling further behind on congestion, safety, interregional connectivity and deteriorating roadways.