ELECTION 2015: Texas voters will decide this fall on two transportation questions

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Monday, August 03, 2015

Voters throughout Texas will cast ballots this fall on issues that include transportation.

Proposition 7 on the state ballot is a legislatively referred constitutional amendment. If approved by voters, money already available to the state would be sent to the state highway fund.

Specifically, up to $2.5 billion more each year would be directed for road and bridge work via the state’s sales tax starting in Sept. 2017.

The state’s sales tax now accounts for more than $27 billion annually in revenue for the general fund.

Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, has said the proposed amendment to the state constitution would go a long way toward alleviating the $5 billion annual shortfall in funding for the Texas Department of Transportation.

“Both elected officials and the public have signaled transportation funding is a major concern,” Simmons said in previous remarks. “(Prop. 7) will allow TxDOT to allocate more funds to alleviate congestion, repair bridges, and improve and maintain our infrastructure.”

Voters last fall got the ball rolling in bridging the transportation funding gap. In November, 80 percent of voters approved Proposition 1, which authorized the diversion of $1.7 billion annually in oil and gas production tax money for roads. The money previously went solely to the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

If approved by voters this fall, Proposition 7 would authorize sales tax revenue to be used to aid non-toll road projects and to make payments on debt that the highway department has accumulated in recent years.

The state’s 6.25-percent vehicle sales tax would be tapped to raise another $250 million annually for road work.

Starting in September 2019, 35 percent of the revenue above $5 billion that is raised each year from the vehicle tax would be used for transportation projects.

The vehicle sales tax revenue now is applied solely to the general fund to pay for state programs and education.

The general sales tax diversion would continue for 15 years. The vehicle sales tax change would stay in place for a decade.

The Legislature, however, could vote to approve 10-year extensions. In addition, if an economic crisis occurs, a provision is included to permit lawmakers to cut in half the diversions for transportation.

Also on the fall ballot is a question to change the threshold for private road work in the state’s smallest counties.

Proposition 5 would authorize counties with fewer than 7,501 residents to construct and maintain private roads. Permission would only be provided when a “reasonable charge for the work” is imposed.

Currently, counties with populations of less than 5,000 are permitted to construct and maintain affected roads.

Revenue raised from private road work could be applied for rights-of-way acquisitions and repairs on public roads.

Advocates say it is often difficult to find private contractors available to perform maintenance work in affected counties. As a result, the local roads are often poorly maintained.

They say the change would help small counties get needed road work finished.

Opponents say that existing rules are intended to help ensure that public funds are not squandered. In addition, they say it would be an encroachment on private enterprise for counties to get involved in private construction.

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