Texas voters will decide on proposal to raise billions for roads

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 6/8/2015

Texas voters will get their say this fall on using more money already available to the state for roads and bridges.

House lawmakers voted 142-1 to endorse a proposed amendment to the Texas constitution that would direct up to $2.5 billion more each year for transportation work via the state’s sales tax starting in 2018. The Senate previously backed the proposal with unanimous consent, thus clearing the way for the question to be placed on the public ballot.

The state’s sales tax now accounts for more than $27 billion annually in revenue for the general fund.

Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said Senate Joint Resolution 5 goes a long way toward alleviating the continued shortfall in funding for the Texas Department of Transportation.

“Both elected officials and the public have signaled transportation funding is a major concern and SJR5 will allow TxDOT to allocate more funds to alleviate congestion, repair bridges, and improve and maintain our infrastructure,” Simmons said in prepared remarks.

The legislative action follows Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement before the start of the regular session that he wants to close the state DOT’s $5 billion annual shortfall during his first year in office. Voters last fall helped get partway to his goal.

In November 2014, 80 percent of voters approved a state constitutional amendment to divert $1.7 billion annually in oil and gas production tax money for roads. The money previously went solely to the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

If approved by voters this fall, SJR5 would authorize the tax revenue to be used to aid non-toll road projects and to make payments on debt that the highway department has accumulated in recent years.

The proposed amendment would also tap the state’s 6.25-percent vehicle sales tax to raise another $250 million annually for road work.

Starting in 2019, 35 percent of the revenue above $5 billion that is raised each year from the vehicle tax would be used for transportation projects.

The vehicle sales tax revenue now is applied solely to the general fund to pay for state programs and education.

The general sales tax diversion would continue for 15 years. The vehicle sales tax change would stay in place for a decade.

The Legislature, however, could vote to approve 10-year extensions.

If an economic crisis occurs a provision is included to permit lawmakers, by a two-thirds majority, to cut in half the diversions for transportation.

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

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