Ballot issue would dedicate highway money
Texas will be able to do a better job of planning and building highways if voters approve Proposition 7 in the upcoming election, according to authors of the ballot measure designed to dedicate a small portion of the sales tax revenue for transportation projects.
Prop 7 would generate $2.5 billion a year for roads and bridges from the state’s general sales tax revenue and a smaller portion from the sales of motor vehicles. The road revenue would be constitutionally dedicated and would help pay for road and bridge construction and maintenance without raising taxes or fees. The funding could not be used for toll roads.
Early voting for the Nov. 3 election opens on Monday, Oct. 19.
“Roads are not Republican or Democrat. They belong to everybody,” said Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, author of the proposition.
“We are trying to get back to a pay-as-you-go system,” Sen. Nichols said of highway construction. “You can’t fund roads on a two-year funding plan. It takes five years or longer for environmental studies, design work, engineering, right of way acquisition and actual construction.”
Nichols served on the Texas Transportation Commission before his 2006 election to the Texas Senate.
“Our road system is a core function of government,” Nichols said, pointing out that individuals cannot build roads, and counties cannot extend highways beyond their own jurisdiction.
State gasoline taxes, a major funding source for road construction, have not been increased since 1991 when then-Gov. Ann Richards signed a 5-cent hike to 20 cents per gallon. Without additional funding, the state has relied on borrowed money and toll roads to build highways to accommodate ever-increasing road traffic.
“Prop 7 says that transportation is now a priority instead of a second thought,” said Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, House sponsor of the measure and chairman of the House Transportation Committee. “There isn’t anyone in Texas who thinks that congestion, safety or new capacity isn’t important. Everyone does.”
Only 1 of 181 Texas legislators opposed putting the measure on the ballot for Texas voters to decide this fall.
Safeguards embedded in the legislation would allow lawmakers to scale back the money dedicated for transportation projects if the state’s economy falters.
“All we are doing is taking the success of the Texas economy and dedicating a portion of it to transportation,” Pickett said.
Prop 7 also would help deal with traffic congestion in the state’s urban areas in addition to addressing safety and road maintenance issues in rural Texas.
“The fatality factor on a two-lane road verses a 4-lane divided highway is 5-to-1,” Sen. Nichols said. “People are dying on two-lane roads in Texas.”
Prop 7 Highlights:
**Would dedicate a portion of the state’s general sales tax revenue for the State Highway Fund beginning in Sept 1. 2017.
- The dedicated amount would be $2.5 billion per year – after the state sales tax revenue reaches $28 billion. (This threshold should be easily met each year … absent a serious economic downturn).
- This Prop 7 provision expires in 2033. However, the Legislature may, by a majority vote, extend this provision in 10-year increments.
- Beginning Sept. 1, 2019, 35 percent of all motor vehicle sales, use and rental tax revenues in excess of $5 billion also will be deposited into the State Highway Fund. This provision expires in 2030. However, the Legislature may, by a majority vote, extend this provision in 10-year increments. (The $5 billion threshold also should be easily achieved).
- The Legislature may reduce up to 50 percent of the deposits by a 2/3rds vote of each chamber for the budget year that they are in when they vote – and also for the next biennial budget – for a total of three years. Money deposited to the State Highway Fund could only be used to pay for constructing, maintaining, or acquiring rights-of-way for non-tolled roads, and to pay transportation-related bond debt.
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