Texas Legislature

Texas Lawmakers Want Money For Transportation Without Raising Taxes

Analysts say Texas needs $5 billion a year to maintain traffic congestion at its current levels.

Mandell-St-bridge-over-the-Southwest-Fwy-Hwy-59-N-800px.png
From the Mandell Street bridge over the Southwest Freeway (U.S. Highway 59 N). Image credit: 
James Fremont/fickr

Special Coverage Of The 85th Texas Legislative Session

Special Coverage Of The 85th Texas Legislative Session

 

Janet Kelly has been driving Houston’s freeways for the past 35 years. And she’s out there a lot. Kelly runs an air conditioning company in northwest Houston and she also teaches a fitness class for seniors. She says her daily commute takes her on multiple busy freeways.

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“I take I-10 to 610 North to 290 and get off at West 34th Street.”

And as the years go by, Kelly says the traffic is only getting worse.

“I was coming over here today and I looked at the people going down 610 South, trying to get on the ramp to go to 610 South, and it was backed up, like, two exits. I was like, oh, you poor people. And it was completely stopped, and I was going past them at 30 miles per hour on I-10.”

610 and I-10 are just a couple of the busy roadways maintained by TxDOT.  

The newly-passed initiative known as Proposition 1 will divert oil and gas revenue from the state’s rainy day fund and put that money toward roads. The measure is expected to bring in about $1.7 billion this year for projects around the state.

But the amount of revenue that goes into the fund depends on the price of oil. And now that prices are falling, what happens next year?  

Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Moseley talked about it at an event here in Houston.

“What that means is, due to the formula and the floor that’s in place to replenish the Rainy Day Fund, we may not have significantly new dollars next year for mobility funding.”

The state Comptroller’s office estimates next year’s contribution could drop to $1.2 billion. But analysts say the state needs close to $5 billion a year just to maintain congestion at its current levels.

The task of making up the difference now falls to lawmakers like State Senator Sylvia Garcia. We caught up with her at the same event.

“It’s a challenge to balance all the needs and stay within a budget. It’s no different than at home. Everybody wants something but you’ve got to pay for it.”

The Houston Democrat expects lawmakers will rally around a measure supported by Governor Abbott that would dedicate a portion of the motor vehicle sales tax to highway needs.

Bills have also been filed to stop the diversion of gas tax money to agencies other than TxDOT. The 20-cents-a-gallon flax tax hasn’t been raised in two decades. Garcia explains:

“And it will be a conservative approach in that it’s not going to increase any taxes. It will not create a new tax. It will be about making sure that the dollars that should go there, go to the transportation fund.”

But what if that’s not enough, and at what point do you ask Texans to pay more taxes? West Houston Republican Representative Jim Murphy says you have to set priorities first.

“We’re approaching a time of record state revenues. So let’s make sure we’re addressing the most important things first. And once people are assured the priorities are in place, then I think they’d consider making changes to revenues. But until that time comes I don’t think you’ll see any real changes.”

Meanwhile back in northwest Houston, Janet Kelly says she’s trying not to panic when her teenage son gets behind the wheel.

“I try not to let him see that because I know all the things that can happen and how crazy some of these drivers are out there. And it’s not your own driving skills. It’s being aware of things other people can do that can create havoc. And there are a lot of people out there.”

And there could be many more people on the roads in the years to come. Some estimates predict Texas could grow by millions of new residents over the next few decades.

 

This story was informed by sources in Houston Public Media’s Public Insight Network ®. To become a news source or share your expertise, go to www.houstonpublicmedia.org/pin.

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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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