ELECTION 2014: Texas gubernatorial candidates give insight on transportation

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, August 15, 2014

A new governor will be seated in Texas following the Nov. 4 election. The candidates competing for outgoing Gov. Rick Perry’s position have track records and have weighed in on transportation issues.

The two major party candidates vying to replace him are Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis. One issue that will confront the winner is a transportation system in need of $4 billion more per year in revenue.

The Texas House is expected to propose a budget next year that uses all of the money allotted to the state highway fund for transportation.

Advocates say that devoting highway funds to transportation would increase money for roads by about $1.3 billion over two years.

Abbott, the state’s attorney general, released a list of recommendations to address issues of concern highlighted by his campaign. One issue drawing attention is transportation finance.

He said that ensuring all highway funds are applied for transportation use is the right path to take.

To address the funding hit that other agencies would feel, Abbott said the general revenue fund could be used to fill the funding gap.

“This reform is predicated on the notion that expenditures from the state highway fund should be used for constructing, maintaining, and policing roadways. Expenditures that do not meet this standard should be funded from general revenue,” Abbott wrote.

The GOP candidate also recommends amending the state’s constitution to dedicate as much as two-thirds of motor vehicle sales and use tax revenue to the state highway fund.

“Increasing the amount of motor vehicle taxes dedicated to the state highway fund could be adopted in lieu of or supplement the allocation of oil and gas production taxes to the state highway fund, which is currently being proposed to voters.

On Nov. 4, the statewide ballot will include a question that would raise $1.2 billion a year for transportation.

Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis and the rest of the Texas Legislature voted in 2013 to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2014 fall ballot to ask voters to authorize tapping the state’s oil and gas severance tax to boost revenue for non-toll roads and bridges.

If approved by voters, half of the oil and gas severance tax revenue that now goes to the state’s Rainy Day Fund would be applied to transportation.

Both candidates have covered alternative funding methods, such as public-private partnerships, to get transportation work done.

During the 2011 regular session, Davis endorsed a major transportation bill signed into law to authorize private toll roads. Specifically, the Texas Department of Transportation and local tolling authorities were given the power to sign public-private partnerships for as many as 10 toll roads.

However, she hasn’t indicated during her gubernatorial campaign whether tolls would continue to play a part in raising more money for roads.

Abbott has said his plan for funding projects would rely on revenue already available to the state.

In 2009, Davis voted in favor of a bill that became law authorizing county commissioners in Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and a few other metro areas to pursue elections to impose additional fuel taxes and vehicle fees to fund transportation work.

Davis also supported changes to speed limits in recent years. One 2011 law allowed truckers and other drivers to travel at the same speed, night and day. Speed limits on most rural highways are now set at 75 mph day and night – up from 70 mph during the day and 65 mph at night.

The 80 mph speed limit in West Texas was also applied to all vehicles 24 hours a day.

During the same regular session, Davis and other state lawmakers backed a new rule permitting TxDOT to perform engineering and traffic studies to determine where 85 mph speeds are appropriate on new construction.

If elected governor, Abbott has identified automated enforcement as an issue he wants addressed. Specifically, he said he would pursue giving voters in counties and municipalities the option to repeal red-light camera ordinances and operations. City councils would be prohibited from keeping the issue off ballots.

“While popular with government officials because of significant increases in revenue, Texas has exhibited increasing local opposition to red-light cameras,” Abbott stated.

He cited about a half dozen instances around the state in recent years where voters decided to repeal ticket camera ordinances.

For more 2014 election coverage from Land Line, click here.

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