Friday, July 10, 2009

Life in the slow lane

How about we first start with the money collected by the State in gas tax stays with TxDOT for roads and the like instead of going into the general fund?

That way the money stays and addresses the problems it was designed for.


State leaders fail on TxDOT repair

Editorial-Express News

Three items were on the agenda of last week’s brief legislative special session in Austin. In reality, however, they all essentially addressed the same issue — transportation.

House Bill 1 was the enabling legislation for a constitutional amendment approved by Texas voters in 2007 that authorizes the state to issue up to $5 billion in bonds for road improvements. It passed.

House Bill 2 was a measure to extend the lives of five state agencies slated for sunset, most notably the Texas Department of Transportation. It passed.

House Bill 3 would have continued controversial public-private road construction partnerships known as comprehensive development agreements. It failed.

While lawmakers whittled around the edges of the state’s huge transportation problem, no one — starting with Gov. Rick Perry — was willing to take a real stab at it. The problem, however, cannot be ignored.

The Texas Department of Transportation estimated in 1997 that the state needed to spend $11 billion annually on transportation infrastructure over the following decade. A 2007 study by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs found actual state spending for the period was $3.1 billion annually, or a shortfall of almost $8 billion per year.

Last year, a committee of civic and business leaders appointed by Texas Transportation Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi conducted a new assessment of transportation infrastructure needs through 2030. The 2030 Committee estimated Texas will need to spend $313 billion, or more than $14 billion annually. TxDOT’s entire budget for 2008 was $8 billion.

The funding shortfall and legislative diversions of motor fuels tax revenue are part of the transportation problem. Another part is TxDOT itself which, last year, the Sunset Advisory Commission had recommended for major organizational and functional reforms.

Despite a plethora of bills and debate about how best to reform TxDOT during the regular session, no legislation was passed. That is in part what necessitated a special session that enabled the highway improvement bonds, but otherwise did nothing to confront the chronic underfunding of road projects in Texas.

Failing to address the problem, as Gov. Perry and the Legislature have done, only makes it worse. Every year that passes puts Texas billions of dollars further behind the transportation infrastructure curve. That’s a problem worthy of a special session.