Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spend the gas tax on what it’s for

At last a Texas constitutional amendment I can get behind:

A measure that would bring an end to dipping into the state gasoline tax fund to pay for several unrelated state projects in making its way through the senate Finance Committee, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Currently, the 20 cent a gallon state tax that motorists pay when they fill up at the pump pays for the Texas Commission on the Arts, the State Historical Commission, and the Automobile Theft Prevention Agency (in a sleight of hand that only politicians could come up with, the $1 fee on every auto insurance policy which is earmarked for the ATPA does not actually go to it. It goes into the state general fund, and money is then taken out of the gas tax fund, called Fund 6, to pay for the Agency).

The biggest chunk taken out of the gas tax revenue stream is $1.44 billion that pays for the Department of Public Safety.

State Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) wants to end all “diversions” except for using a quarter of the gas tax fund to help pay for public schools.

“Based on the 2012-2015 numbers, ending this diversion would free up at least $1 billion to improve our transportation infrastructure,” Perry told the Senate Finance Committee.

This is a better revenue source for building roads than diverting money from the Rainy Day Fund, a shortsighted move that I warned about last October:

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.

Now that the price of oil has halved in less than a year, drillers are finding it cheaper to coast on their cash reserves until the price rebounds. That’s smart thinking on their part, but the same can’t be said for Texas voters, who approved Prop 1 by a whopping 80 percent majority. Oil and gas severance tax revenue in the state will plummet this year, leaving little money for a real emergency, let alone road construction.

If TXDOT wants more money to build roads, they can ask for a gas tax hike to pay for it directly. Then we’ll see how eager Texans are to spend $5 billion a year on roads.

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