Texas Senate approves diverting money to transportation

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Texas Senate moved forward a transportation funding plan that would dip into the state’s Rainy Day Fund to benefit roads and bridges. Voters would get the final say.

Meeting in special session late on Tuesday, June 18, the Senate voted to advance to the House a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution that would tap the state’s oil and gas severance tax to boost transportation funding. Senate Joint Resolution 2 would divert about $900 million in tax money that is earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund, or Economic Stabilization Fund.

Supporters say that something needs to be done to address a transportation funding crunch that has little chance of improving on its own. Specifically, officials at the Texas Department of Transportation say that $4 billion more per year is needed to maintain existing roads.

“We’re facing a serious crisis in transportation,” Sen. Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, said during Senate floor discussion on the bill.

He cited the state’s population boom, worsening traffic congestion, and fewer dollars available for roads and bridges as proof that the state must act sooner rather than later to address the problem.

“These are challenges that need to be addressed ... before it is too late.”

SJR2 specifies that the Rainy Day Fund couldn’t be drained to an amount below $6 billion. It would also mandate that all revenue routed to roads must be used for construction and maintenance.

If approved by state lawmakers, the issue would be included on the fall ballot for voters to make the final decision on the redirection of funds.

Another effort would keep more money for transportation.

Texas law routes 5 cents of the state’s 20-cent-per-gallon fuel tax rate to education.

House Joint Resolution 16 calls for putting some Rainy Day Fund toward education. The shift would end the diversion from the fuel tax.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Texas, click here.

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