Texas lawmakers offer strategies to raise road revenue

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, December 19, 2014

With the start of the regular session in Texas less than four weeks away, efforts by state lawmakers continue to roll in to help the state address a $5 billion annual shortfall in transportation funding.

Gov.-elect Greg Abbott announced earlier this month that he wants to close the Texas Department of Transportation’s annual shortfall during his first year in office. He said during a Dec. 8 press conference he is calling for adding $4 billion more per year for roads without raising taxes, fees or tolls.

He also wants to see about $2 billion annually rerouted to the State Highway Fund.

To help meet that goal, Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, has filed legislation to dedicate state vehicle sales tax to the State Highway Fund.

“The state of our highway systems shows that our current funding methods falls short and will not meet Texas’ future infrastructure needs,” Metcalf said in a news release. “We need long-term solutions, not short-term fixes.”

Two measures, HB469 and HJR53, offered by Metcalf would route the net revenue from the vehicle sales tax to highways, rather than the General Revenue Fund.

Diversions would increase by 10 percent increments each year for the next decade until all vehicle sales tax revenue is deposited into the State Highway Fund.

“This bill is a commonsense approach to a funding problem in our government,” Metcalf stated.

Voters would make the final decision on the shift in revenue in November 2015.

Voters made it clear during the November election that they want to see improvements made on the more than 191,000 lane miles throughout the state. On Election Day, a state constitutional amendment was approved to divert $1.7 billion annually in severance tax money for roads. The money now goes to the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, has also filed a bill to apply more money to roads. SB139 would eliminate diversions from the State Highway Fund to the Department of Public Safety. It would ensure that 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.

Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, has also weighed in with three pieces of legislation that address the need to boost revenue available for road and bridge work.

HB399 would phase in a transfer of vehicle sales tax revenue from general revenue to the State Highway Fund. Specifically, the shift would start at 25 percent and the amount would be increased to 50 percent over five years.

“The revenue is reasonably related to demand for highways, and transferring a portion of it to reflect a greater priority for transportation spending is appropriate,” Harless wrote in a previous newsletter.

Also included in the bill is a provision to boost the fuel tax rate by 10 cents per gallon.

The state’s fuel tax rate for gas and diesel is 20 cents per gallon. It has remained unchanged since 1990.

Harless wants to raise the rate by 10 cents to 30 cents per gallon.

“This undoubtedly will be controversial, but frankly it is the fairest of all taxes.”

A separate effort, HJR48, would mandate that certain new user fees are applied to non-toll roads. Voters would get the final say.

Vehicle registration fees would double in another bill. Specifically, HB401 would raise registration fees for an 80,000-pound truck from $840 to $1,680.

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

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