In June state legislators approved Senate Joint Resolution 5, paving the way for the possibility of more funding for Texas roads.
The resolution calls for voter approval of a constitutional amendment to divert funding from the state’s general sales tax revenue to the State Highway Fund starting in 2017. SJR 5 also asks voters to approve dedicating a portion of the motor vehicle sales tax revenue to the SHF. That resolution will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot as Proposition 7.
“The two most important arguments for it is it doesn’t raise your taxes, and it doesn’t go toward toll roads,” said Jack Ladd, president of Austin-based Move Texas Forward, which aims to educate Texans on transportation issues.
He said if approved SJR 5 would provide a more dependable source of funding to the Texas Department of Transportation for the maintenance and construction of roads.
“The gas tax is losing its fervor because [automobiles]are getting more and more fuel-efficient,” Ladd said. “That’s not a dependable source of funding anymore.”
TxDOT needs about $5 billion more annually to maintain 2010 congestion levels, TxDOT Information Specialist Mark Cross said. Funding from Proposition 1—which voters approved last November to divert funding from the oil and gas tax to the SHF—helps that lack of funding.
“[The state has] suffered from a lack of reliable and sustained funding sources,” Cross said. “We have been hampered to achieve the goal of sound financing and planning of projects.”
If voters approve Proposition 7, Cross said TxDOT officials would work with the Texas Legislature to determine allocation of funding throughout the state. The agency would also work with local governments and regional metropolitan planning organizations—which coordinate regional transportation planning—to prioritize projects that could receive funding from SJR 5.
Cross said he encourages voters to educate themselves before voting.
“We’re open to whatever the public and Legislature has in mind for us to make sure we can increase the funding,” he said. “We leave the decision to state Legislature and citizens.”
Ashby Johnson, executive director of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization—which encompasses Bastrop, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties—said any projects that could be funded through SJR 5 need to be in the 2015-18 Transportation Improvement Program.
“[The SJR 5 funding] is only for right of way acquisition, construction or paying down debt,” Johnson said. “That says to me the Legislature wants this money to get spent quickly.”
Projects in the TIP are those ready for construction and could include some I-35 projects TxDOT has already taken through the environmental process, Johnson said.
If Proposition 7 does not pass, Johnson said the region would not be any worse off because CAMPO has not added any revenue from Proposition 7 into its revenue estimates.
“It’s got a pretty good chance based on what we saw from Prop. 1,” he said.
On Aug. 27, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce board of directors adopted a resolution supporting the passage of Proposition 7. Jeremy Martin, the chamber’s senior vice president of strategy, said the proposition would address two top regional concerns: affordability and enhancing infrastructure. He said good infrastructure is necessary for a viable economy.
“If we want to develop the transportation system that we want and deserve here in Central Texas, we need to dedicate more funding to it,” he said. “… Funding from Prop. 7 could further accelerate projects such as I-35.”
The League of Women Voters also has more information in a Voters Guide that you can access here.