Just two years ago, Texas voters were presented with a constitutional amendment to dedicate a portion of oil and gas severance taxes to highway and mobility projects. Over 80 percent of voters approved.
Last year, another constitutional amendment for transportation was put before the voters to dedicate a portion of general sales taxes and motor vehicle sales taxes to highways. An even greater portion of voters — 83 percent — approved Proposition 7.
Texans clearly want more of their current tax dollars spent on improving their ability to move people and product; roads are critical to our economic viability and quality of life.
The greatest portion of these revenues are scheduled to be received into the State Highway Fund in the next fiscal year and the Texas Department of Transportation has projects lined up that are ready to commence.
But during this tough budget year, it is not clear whether the 85th Legislature will keep the promise to put all of the dedicated money toward highways.
The initial versions of the state budget introduced this year in the House and Senate would take $300 million each year from the Proposition 7 funds to pay off previously issued debt instead of allocating the funds as promised toward new projects. And some members of the Legislature have raised the question of whether some portion of the money should be “clawed back” to spend on other state needs, with Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond, filing HCR 108 to do this. Still others have discussed re-starting the practice of diverting highway funds to pay for the Department of Public Safety, a practice that the Legislature stopped in 2015.
These discussions need to stop, and the Legislature needs to keep its promise to improve mobility for Texas drivers. The funds that are being reallocated to transportation amount to less than two percent of the state’s total budget; and the transfer was overwhelmingly directed by voters.
Furthermore, as critical as the new funding is, it is far less than the annual $5 billion inflation-protected funding needed.
There is much more to do to meet Texas’ long-term transportation funding needs. But if the 85th Legislature is not going to take another step forward, they at least need to not take a step backward by failing to fully fund Propositions 1 and 7 as Texas voters directed.