Transportation: Spinning in Place
Thinking local on transpo taxes
The transportation committees in both houses just got rolling, so nothing major has moved yet. The toughest thing they'll have to deal with: funding the Texas Department of Transportation, which is suffering a structural money deficit that will only get worse if not fixed. A whole bunch of anti-taxers just got elected, so it's hard to imagine that the state gas tax – stuck at 20 cents a gallon since the early 1990s – will be raised.
As anyone who's ever driven a car here knows, transportation is high on Austin's list of priorities, and Kirk Watson and Eddie Rodriguez sit on the Senate and House committees respectively. Rodriguez says he's working on a local-option transportation tax bill, similar to the one from last session, which would allow city and county governments to let their citizens vote on whether to tax themselves for area transportation projects. Although last session's bill was authored by a Republican, the state GOP doesn't even believe voters should be able to decide to tax themselves, and the bill died.
"I'm not saying a local option would pass, but I want to keep the drum beat going," says Rodriguez. "I want locals to decide for themselves, whether it's a gas tax or license fees, maybe a parking fee or roadway impact fees." And he doesn't necessarily think the new tea party crowd will be an obstacle on the local option. "It's an interesting dynamic," he says. "They're anti-tax, but they like local control. It jives well with the tea party rhetoric.
"We're approaching a dangerous place in our infrastructure. Business leaders are saying we won't be competitive if we don't keep up. And there's no evidence that TxDOT any time soon will get flush with cash."
Rodriguez added that he's working with El Paso Rep. Joe Pickett on a bill (House Bill 563) to create "transportation reinvestment zones," which would let local governments capture increases in property tax revenues that go up as a result of road projects, similar to a tax increment financing district. Rodriguez also said to watch for Sen. Jeff Wentworth's Senate Joint Resolution 23, which would allow for an increase in the fuels tax. "The governor said he would veto that," said Rodriguez, "but at least we continue the conversation."