Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Prop 1

The constitutional amendment providing for the use and dedication of certain money transferred to the state highway fund to assist in the completion of transportation construction, maintenance, and rehabilitation projects, not to include toll roads.

Last year, the Texas Water Development Board secured Texas voters’ approval to use $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to fund water infrastructure projects. Now the state Department of Transportation wants a crack at the Rainy Day Fund to the tune of $1.7 billion per year over the next 10 years.

As gargantuan as that number sounds, it only represents a third of the $5 billion TXDOT wants every year. Prop 1’s boosters acknowledge it is a “first step,” but the new revenue stream needs more strings attached than “not to include toll roads.” If only this portion of TXDOT’s budget is sequestered for non-toll road construction, what assurances do Texans have that the other two-thirds won’t go to toll road construction? (Planned Parenthood uses this accounting trick to claim the government doesn’t fund abortions, when indeed the subsidies of other services is what enables them to provide abortions.)

Traditionally the state highway fund has been replenished by the gasoline tax, which was set in 1991. Fifteen cents per gallon in 1991 is not worth half as much today. The shortfall has been partially covered by bonds and toll roads, the latter of which has been an expensive failure. The toll road around Austin, one of the most congested cities in the state, is expected to fall 70 percent short of expected revenue this year. It turns out drivers would rather risk being delayed half an hour on Interstate 35 than pay $14 in tolls going one way.

Prop 1 puts much of TXDOT’s revenue on collections from the oil and gas severance tax, which is bloated right now due to the Eagle Ford shale boom. Not only is this a sketchy revenue stream to base a 10-year budget outlook on, but it removes the onus of road funding from those who use the roads—that is, motorists. Dissociating road funding from road users is guaranteed to desensitize the public to the high costs of highway projects by sticking the bill to someone else.

New highways don’t relieve congestion, the secret wish of everyone who has to deal with rush-hour traffic on a daily basis. They encourage more growth and more sprawl. You can’t traverse a space without running into the people who live and work in that space.

Before TXDOT gets paid, Texas needs a growth strategy better than more suburbs and more toll roads. Then, it needs a funding mechanism that’s fair to the people the highways serve. Prop 1 is not the answer.

Related: Taxpayer advocate Terry Hall gives good reasons to oppose Prop 1.

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