|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Copyright 2013 - Polk County Publishing Company
Texas Legislature passes transportation bill, adjourns
AUSTIN – Polk County's legislative delegation played a vital role in getting the transportation bills through the legislature. Senate Joint Resolution 1 State Representative James White helped pass two key transportation bills, Senate Joint Resolution 1 (SJR 1) and House Bill 1 (HB 1), which control spending, reduce debt, protect the state's Economic Stabilization (or Rainy Day) Fund, and provide additional funding for transportation and brought the third special session to an end on Tuesday. "We continue to face a serious crisis in transportation," said Nichols. "Our state's population is increasing exponentially; our system is aging; traffic continues to rise; and funding for congestion relief will be at a 10 year low in a short two years. The state is also paying millions of dollars a year in debt service for transportation related debt. SJR 1 will go a long way in helping to resolve these problems." SJR 1 is a constitutional amendment. If approved by voters in November 2014, this legislation will allocate half of the revenue now going into the Rainy Day Fund (RDF) to the State Highway Fund, which provides money for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). "Because Texas has a strong business environment that encourages private sector investment and job growth, the oil and gas industry is thriving and generating revenue at a record rate, which means that we are collecting above-normal taxes from our energy sector," White said. "Texas is blessed with abundant energy resources, and our state's oil and gas industry is helping our nation and state become energy independent. As a result, our state government is bringing in lots of revenue from this part of the economy," White said. "Instead of allowing TxDOT to pile debt on future generations to maintain our roads, highways, and bridges, SJR 1 will direct nearly $1 billion more per year to TxDOT to create and restore jobs in Southeast Texas and grow our local prosperity. These are Texas taxes generated by Texas energy producers to pay for Texas transportation infrastructure to keep Texans moving." HB 1 is the enabling legislation that goes along with SJR 1. It provides a means to start putting transportation funding on a pay-as-you-go system instead of the current borrow-as-you-go system. "Out-of-control government spending and accumulating high levels of debt is all too familiar in Texas and too much like D.C.," White said. HB 1 forces TxDOT to identify $100 million in savings from bloated administrative costs and apply those savings to paying off existing debt, according to White. "Total state debt is slightly over $40 billion, and a large portion of that is for transportation. It's just not smart to fund a core government service like roads, bridges, and highways on loans from China. We can't be Detroit 'Texassized'." White said. HB 1 will also provide the Legislature with a strong fiscal constraint in order to protect the RDF balance. "While it doesn't make sense to accumulate a lot of taxpayer money in the bank at one-half percent interest but borrow to maintain our roads at 5 percent interest," said Rep. White, "Texas is a sovereign state only subject to the U.S. Constitution, which means we must have an adequate amount in our RDF to ensure that the Legislature can provide assistance to hurting Texans when unforeseen events such as hurricanes or wildfires occur and not be at the mercy of FEMA." To achieve this protection, HB 1 establishes a select committee composed of members of the House and Senate to propose a minimum balance for the Rainy Day Fund at the beginning of each regular session. This balance must then be approved by a majority of the members in the House and Senate. "I will look forward to this vote at the beginning of every session. It will set the tone for conservative fiscal policy and allow the Legislature to decrease the amount of oil and gas severance taxes going to transportation if the people of Texas need support after a natural disaster," White said. Finally, SJR 1 and HB 1 create a mechanism for identifying our longterm needs on the issue of transportation funding by tasking a select committee of legislators to provide a report on this subject by the start of the next regular session. "Oil and gas production-- and thus the taxes associated with it — follow a roller coaster pattern, so SJR 1/ HB 1 is not a long-term fix," White confessed. "However, this legislation secures an acceptable amount of cash for transportation and moves us away from debt financing, which gives the Legislature some more time to identify our transportation needs and a consistent and efficient way to fund those needs," White said. "Although TxDOT budget management has improved in some ways, it is still fundamentally flawed, and too many Southeast Texans believe that it is an oversized, wasteful bureaucracy," Rep. White explained. "I'm not comfortable just giving TxDOT a big bag of cash, but we have to keep Texans and Texas business moving, and SJR 1/HB 1 provides this balance without relying on debt and not increasing taxes on Texans to fund an agency that still needs to find its way.