Texas’ economic growth doesn’t come without a price.
As Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson says (link below), more than 1,000 people are moving to Texas every day and they aren’t bringing their roads with them.
While major Texas cities lead the nation in creating millionaires — http://www.cnbc.com/id/102012485 — the state hasn’t kept pace in road construction. Urban legend has it that the airline lobby stunted highway construction for years. Whether that’s true or not, it is a fact that since 1987 Texas has been diverting gas tax revenue that in theory should be used on road infrastructure to other agencies, totaling about $ 800 million per year on average.
For the past ten years, construction to address congestion on Texas highways has been funded with bond proceeds and debt. Today, bonding programs have been exhausted and funding levels, compared to the last decade, will decline 50%, leaving nothing for new construction.
Proposition 1, a constitutional amendment on the Texas ballot in November, can change part of that. It will allow the Comptroller to allocate to the State Highway Fund one-half of the amount of general revenue from oil and gas production taxes currently transferred to the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
How much are we talking about? The State Comptroller recently estimated that an additional $ 1.7 billion from the oil and gas severance tax will be available for road construction if Prop 1 passes.
Both funds will now benefit from the incredible growth in the state’s energy sector, fueled largely by hydraulic fracturing in shale reserves throughout Texas. Today, Texas energy is so prolific that in 2013 Texas produced 29% of the nation’s marketed natural gas and 34 percent of its oil. http://www.window.state.tx.us/comptrol/fnotes/fn15Q1/fuel.php
The Rainy Day Fund hovers around $ 10 billion and is growing quickly; Prop 1 allows Texas to do something smart with a portion of the extra cash — build roads — without raising taxes, taking on new debt, or adding tolls.
And even that is only a portion of what we need; the Texas Department of Transportation conservatively estimates we really could use $5 billion annually in additional funding.
But Prop 1 will be a good start.
What more can be done? Next year the State Legislature may consider whether to dedicate the sales tax on motor vehicles to transportation, which could mean up to $3 billion in new revenue to the Highway Fund, and ending budget diversions altogether, another $650 million per year.
With the energy sector booming and the Texas economy otherwise healthy now is the time to meet the demands of a growing population. As Texas continues to attract more companies and the associated jobs and families, most agree that infrastructure — particularly roads and water — will be critical to maintaining our competitive edge.
Check out Ray’s message here: http://youtu.be/XpB6b6uUjVo; let’s roll.