Texas prefiles set up to aid roads

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, November 21, 2014

In the two weeks since Texas state lawmakers could start prefiling bills for consideration during the upcoming regular session, at least a dozen measures have been filed that address revenue enhancers for transportation projects.

On Election Day, voters approved a state constitutional amendment to divert $1.7 billion annually in severance tax money for roads. The money now goes to the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Lt. Gen. Joe Weber, USMC, Retired, recently said passage of the constitutional amendment is a “good first step toward finding sustainable funding to meet Texas’ transportation needs.”

Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, filed two of the first pieces of legislation that are intended to help the state address $5 billion in transportation funding needs without increasing taxes or fees.

SB184 and SJR15 are billed as providing $620 million annually in additional highway funding by ending a number of longstanding budgetary diversions that draw fuel tax dollars away from the State Highway Fund to boost other state agencies and projects.

He said the two measures “represent a commonsense approach that’s capable of adding millions of dollars in new highway funding without raising taxes, issuing new debt or building toll roads.”

On the House side of the capitol, Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, filed a bill that would create a vehicle-miles traveled tax to replace fuel tax collection. All revenue raised would be required to be used solely for road maintenance.

Multiple measures would rely on the transfer of motor vehicles sales tax revenue to bolster transportation funds.

Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, filed a bill that would reallocate all sales tax revenue on motor vehicle sales from the state’s general revenue fund to the highway fund.

Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, has offered two methods to boost highway funds. HB202 would send 50 percent of the sales tax revenue to highways. HB203 would target all tax revenue from the sale of motor vehicle parts and tires for non-toll roads.

Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, filed two proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. HJR27 would phase out over 10 years the use of revenue from vehicle registration fees and the fuel tax for purposes not related to the highway fund.

HJR28 would specify how revenue from vehicle registration fees, certain motor vehicle-related taxes, and certain revenues received from the federal government may be used.

Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, has offered a bill that would eliminate diversions from the highway fund to the Department of Public Safety. SB139 is intended to ensure available funds are applied solely for road work.

Currently, a portion of the highway fund pays for the highway patrol.

Perry also filed a proposed amendment to the state constitution, SJR12, to end the diversions.

Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, wants to end transfers of fuel tax revenue to other budgets. Specifically, SB61 would eliminate the diversion of 25 percent of the revenue that now goes to schools and instead keep the money for the highway fund.

State lawmakers can begin discussions on transportation funding options once the Legislature convenes on Jan. 13, 2015.

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