With road and bridge safety at the forefront of concern for many people, a leading state lawmaker in Texas is calling for protections to make sure transportation dollars aren’t routed for other uses.
Senate Transportation Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas, wants an amendment made to the Texas Constitution to prohibit lawmakers from diverting fuel tax revenue to pay for expenses other than construction and maintenance of transportation projects. He said the practice has become routine in the past few years.
“That’s going to be probably the most important single issue in this next session,” Carona told The Dallas Morning News. The next regular session convenes in 2009.
The state’s fuel tax revenue a year ago accounted for nearly $3 billion for transportation-related expenses. The funds already are restricted to transportation but changes made at the statehouse have steadily expanded the definition of what can be considered “related to transportation.”
An example is that the motor fuels tax pays for the bulk of the Department of Public Safety’s annual budget, The Morning News reported.
The most recent budget for the state included nearly $1 billion in fuel tax revenues that went to other uses than transportation projects, Carona said. Instead, he said the money could have been leveraged with bond debt to pay for nearly $10 billion in road work and repairs.
An amendment to the Texas Constitution would require two-thirds of House and Senate lawmakers to be in agreement. It must then go to the ballot where a simple majority of voters would need to approve the change.
Carona said the bridge collapse in Minneapolis is likely to draw renewed attention to inadequate funding of roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure. In the months to come, he anticipates the issue will be a hot topic at state capitols and in Washington, DC.
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– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor