Tell Sen. Williams to Close the Transportation Funding Gap!
by Luke Bowen on April 2, 2013 at 2:12 PM
Everybody remembers the "fiscal cliff" situation at the federal level not long ago. In the debates, Republicans wanted to cut spending, while Democrats wanted higher revenues (taxes) in order to maintain (and even increase) spending. Well, here in Texas, some lawmakers are calling our transportation crisis our own "fiscal cliff of highway funding," including Senator Tommy Williams, who is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Texas currently has the highest amount of road debt in the nation, and has seen an explosion of toll roads across the state ever since fuel tax diversions away from the State Highway Fund became commonplace ten years ago. Over the years, these diversions have used the fuel tax for non-transportation purposes to fill holes in the budget for the funding of programs like public employee pensions and benefits, while the intended recipient of the funds - the Texas Department of Transportation - is left with a credit card which is soon to be maxed out.
To summarize the situation: Rather than saving money in general revenue by cutting useless state agencies and programs like the Commission on the Arts, Emerging Technologies Fund, Major Events Trust Fund, and Texas Film Commission, the Texas government instead chooses to finance one of its core functions - road building - with debt and tolls, and use the money originally intended for road building to finance programs that are not core functions of the government.
Currently there is a $4 billion funding gap in Texas' transportation funding. We could easily fund this without new taxes and fee increases by ending the raids on the fuel tax revenue, and by dedicating the vehicle sales tax revenue to fund transportation. Sen. Williams, as chairman of the Finance Committee, has the power to do this, but has not yet done so. Instead, the Senate version of the budget doesn't change the fuel tax diversions and does not dedicate the vehicle sales tax to transportation funding. Sen. Williams' plan for transportation funding is to instead raid the Rainy Day Fund (Governor Perry has endorsed a similar bill which would also encourage tax hikes to bail out toll projects, as well as another bill, which would create bonds that could take 100 years to repay), while in the recent past, he has also expressed a desire to almost double the vehicle liscense fee.
The Rainy Day Fund should be used for emergencies. It should not be used to finance one of the core functions of government. Transportation is a basic and essential function of the government, and one that the government should take seriously when passing a $195.5 billion budget.
Call Sen. Williams' office and let him know how you feel:
Capitol office: (512) 463-0104
The Woodlands office: (281) 364-9426
Beaumont office: (409) 896-2350
Suggested script: "Please fund transportation with no new revenue or increased fees, and without raiding the Rainy Day Fund. Fill the $4 billion gap by ending diversions of the fuel tax for purposes other than transportation, as well as dedicating toward transportation the revenue from the vehicle sales tax."