This year, Texans will see seven propositions on their ballot when they go to cast their votes. Burnt Orange Report is committed to providing a progressive analysis for our readers of each of the proposed amendments to the constitution. Today we take a look at Proposition 7.
Proposition 7 will read like this on your ballot:
The constitutional amendment dedicating certain sales and use tax revenue and motor vehicle sales, use, and rental tax revenue to the state highway fund to provide funding for nontolled roads and the reduction of certain transportation-related debt.
Talking to KUT, State Senator Robert Nichols called this proposition, which he authored, the third and final step to securing increased funding for transportation in Texas.
And Texas needs funding for infrastructure. In 2014, the American Society of Civil Engineers found that 38% of the roads in Texas were in need of repair, and gave the roads in the state an overall rating of a “D.”
The three steps Nichols referred to have been a series of measures taken on by the state legislature in an attempt to increase transportation funding without having to increase any existing taxes, close any tax loopholes, or dip into the billions of dollars left on the table after the budget process.
This final step would dedicate existing revenue (to the tune of $2.5 billion) from the sales and use tax to be used on transportation. It would also dedicate a portion of the revenue from the sales and use tax on motor vehicles to the State Highway Fund. Starting in September of 2019, 35% of any amount of revenue from this tax exceeding $5 billion would be dedicated to the fund. For example, should the state bring in $6 billion from the tax, 35% of the $1 billion over $5 billion would go directly into the State Highway Fund.
Proponents of the measure, including Democrats like El Paso Representative and Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Pickett, argue that we must find a solution for transportation funding and that this constitutional amendment helps to get us there. And unlike 2014’s Proposition 1, which was passed overwhelmingly by Texas voters last November, this amendment creates a more sustainable source of funding.
The proposition also places limits on what this revenue can be used to do. It can be used to create, maintain, or fix public roads, but it cannot be used to pay for toll roads. It could also be used to pay down the state’s transportation debt resulting from other bonded projects.
While funding for transportation is incredibly necessary, and the prohibition of using these funds to create more toll roads is a positive step for our public roads in Texas, there is still opposition to this solution.
Progress Texas strongly encourages voters to vote no on the measure, because it is a solution to a problem created by the legislature’s unwillingness to increase revenue. Instead, this amendment would move existing revenue around, possibly jeopardizing funding for other importation public services like education and healthcare in the future.
But the issue remains: our roads need work. The state is growing at an exponential rate, and four of the 50 most congested cities in the country are in Texas. In a political climate where creating new sources of revenue is a non-starter, the willingness of the legislature to commit to investing in infrastructure spending at all could be seen as a victory.