Transportation funding returns to ballot for November election

Transportation funding returns to ballot for November election Transportation funding returns to ballot for November electionTransportation funding returns to ballot for November electionFor the second-straight November election, the Texas Department of Transportation is turning to Texas voters for approval of a major boost in transportation funding. Proposition7 will be on ballots statewide Nov. 3, giving voters say over a constitutional amendment that would provide
$2.5 billion annually to the State Highway Fund in Fiscal Year 2018-19, an amount that could rise to nearly $3 billion by 2020.

Proposition 7 is tied to Senate Joint Resolution 5, which was authored by state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville. SJR 5 received bipartisan support in the Legislature, garnering a 28-2 approval in the Senate and a 142-1 approval in the House. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill June 1.

“I am very excited that the House, Senate and governor were able to come together on SJR 5, which is critical for the future of transportation in our state,” Nichols said. “If passed by the voters, it would be the largest single increase in transportation funding in Texas history.”

The Frisco Chamber of Commerce has taken a position of support for Proposition 7.

Last year, the chamber also supported the successful passage of Proposition 1, which directs funds from oil and gas production taxes to state highway funding.

“Proposition 7 is key for the funding of transportation across our state, and we recognize that transportation and infrastructure are huge components of business moving in, businesses who are here and the ability for those businesses to transport goods,” said Shona Huffman, Frisco chamber director of Governmental Affairs. “Because of that, they need an effective transportation and infrastructure system.”[polldaddy poll=9115451]

Heading into the 2013 legislative session, officials with TxDOT said maintaining current congestion levels would require an additional $5 billion in funding annually. The biggest chunk of TxDOT’s $23 billion budget for the 2016-17 biennium—39 percent, or roughly $9 billion—has been set aside for maintaining and replacing the existing system.

If approved by voters, SJR 5 would start redirecting $2.5 billion of general sales tax revenue annually to the highway fund starting on Sept. 1, 2017. However, the money would only be redirected if sales tax revenue exceeds $28 billion annually.

In 2019 a portion of motor vehicle sales tax would also start being redirected to the SHF.

After the first $5 billion in tax revenue is collected, 35 percent of all additional car sales tax revenue would go to the SHF. That 35 percent is expected to translate to roughly $500 million to $600 million for TxDOT in 2020, according to TxDOT estimates.

According to the proposition, the transferred funds could only be used to pay debt; purchase right of way; and build, maintain and rehabilitate nontolled public roads.

Huffman said voters should know that SJR 5, if passed, would not raise taxes because it is only redirecting money already collected through taxes to the highway fund.

Escalating needs

Officials with TxDOT started pressuring lawmakers to address the department’s funding shortfall leading into the 2013 legislative session. That November voters passed Proposition 1 with 80 percent approval, funding transportation with an additional $1.7 billion annually from the Economic Stability Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund.

Even with Proposition 1 approval, transportation funding still fell vastly short of what was needed to keep up with demand and population growth, said Veronica Beyer, director of media relations for TxDOT.

“As Texas grows by more than 1,000 people daily, we are seeing more congestion and therefore an increasing need to build, repair and maintain our roadways,” Beyer said. “Transportation is the backbone of economic prosperity, so we must do what we can to keep commerce and goods moving.”

Funding local projects 

Because of funding shortfalls, several local TxDOT road projects have received funding from outside of the state department.

Custer Road’s $6.6 million widening project in Frisco, for instance, is being funded by TxDOT, the North Central Texas Council of Governments and Collin County. Last year the Collin County Commissioners Court also committed $50 million of the county’s reserves to go toward the US 75 widening project if needed, even after the passage of Proposition 1.

“There are some other state highways that need help, and the counties have actually had to take on those responsibilities because the state funding just wasn’t there,” Huffman said. “What [Proposition 7] will do is it will provide state funding for those state roads and will also alleviate some of that pressure that’s been on the counties to help those roads.”

Huffman said eventually more highways will have to be built to accommodate the influx of people moving into the region.

She said SJR 5 is not a divisive issue.

“It has wide support from both parties,” she said. “It had wide support in both the Senate and the House. ...It is something that we understand that we have transportation needs in our growing state, and that we need to find a way to fund them.”

By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.