By Jeff Leach
Let’s face it: Our booming population — which is swelling by more than 1,000 people every day — presents tremendous opportunities for the future of Texas, but this growth is also a significant burden on our state’s aging transportation infrastructure.
Texas must act swiftly and responsibly to address our long-term transportation challenges. The passage of a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November will be a bold, common-sense, fiscally conservative step in that direction.
If approved by Texas voters in November, the amendment will provide an estimated $1.7 billion of supplemental funding each year to the State Highway Fund — a substantial investment in our state’s growing infrastructure demands. And it will do so without raising taxes, registration fees or creating any additional new revenue.
Here’s how it works: The measure captures a portion of existing oil and gas severance tax collections from the Rainy Day Fund and redirects that money to the highway fund. Texans can rest assured that the measure includes strong protections to ensure that the Rainy Day Fund maintains a strong balance and is able to serve its intended purpose. Another plus: Not one cent of this funding will be used for the construction of new toll roads. Furthermore, the measure requires the Texas Department of Transportation to identify at least $100 million in efficiencies to assist in reducing its long-term debt.
While legislators in other states like California and Illinois scramble to keep their residents and businesses from fleeing, we in Texas must focus on planning for growth while working to promote and protect our business-friendly climate. This means keeping taxes low, ensuring that our regulations are fair and predictable and investing responsibly in our long-term infrastructure needs in order to sustain our quality of life.
While the passage of this measure is vitally important, it is by no means the only solution. The Texas Legislature must aggressively address transportation funding during the next legislative session, which begins in January. And we should start by reprioritizing transportation spending in the appropriations process. Alarmingly, over the past 30 years, transportation spending as a percentage of the budget has decreased dramatically. This drop, coupled with our state’s exponential population growth, is the root of our transportation-funding shortfall. We should also focus on ending diversions and dedicating portions of certain existing revenue accounts, such as the motor vehicle sales tax and auto parts sales tax, toward transportation.
The passage of the constitutional amendment in November would send a clear message that Texans from across the state — of all political leanings and from cities both big and small — demand that the Legislature take on big issues in a smart and fiscally conservative way.
We lawmakers must focus on meeting the needs of the Texans who are currently here, but also on preparing for the arrival of the Texans of tomorrow. Let’s start by ensuring that they have adequate and safe roads to drive on.
Jeff Leach, a Republican from Plano, was elected to the Texas House in 2012. He serves on the Criminal Jurisprudence, Rules and Resolutions, and Urban Affairs committees.