The 83rd Texas Legislature has already called for spending to improve the state’s water infrastructure. Now, Governor Rick Perry’s saying the economy depends on another major investment:
“We’ll have to deal with our transportation needs if we want to keep our winning streak going," Perry said. "I mean that is just the facts.”
Where Does the Money Go?
So how will the legislature react? Well a good place to start is in the office of the Senate’s Transportation Committee member Robert Nichols. And the first question to ask: Does the Texas Department of Transportation have the money it needs to maintain our roads?
"Not on a permanent basis at all," Nichols said. "We have a fundamental problem, and that is the revenues that TxDOT have long term do not allow enough money to maintain and preserve the system, while adding the additional new capacity that we need."
House Transportation Chair Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) said TxDOT has between $3 and $7 billion in transportation needs. So it will be up to Phillips, Nichols and others figure out how to pay for it.
"I have proposed a constitutional amendment to take the current sales tax that you pay on your vehicles, and dedicate them to the roads that they're dependent upon," Nichols said.
The tax currently brings in about $3 billion dollars a year. Nichols' bill would gradually shift that money away from the state's general fund and fully into TxDOT's budget. He said over 10 years that would bring $13 billion to TxDOT.
But as always, there are competing interests for state dollars. House Speaker Joe Straus has placed water infrastructure above roads for this session – although Nichols says transportation can't wait anymore.
"Roads have been waiting for a number of years now," Nichols laughed. He said the state does have to fix it's water infrastructure.
"We've got several issues the legislature fundamentally needs to tackle this year. And not just kick the can two years down the road."
But Nichols believes the state can work on water and roads in the same session.
Following the Session
On average 6,000 bills are filed during a legislative session. Even experienced lawmakers have a hard time keeping up with which bills are up for votes or making their way in committee hearings.
So how do you follow the topics you’re interested in, all by yourself, without a staff or lobbying firm to help you keep up? One place to start is the Texas Legislative website. KUT's Ben Philpott and KUT's State Impact reporter Mose Buchele give a quick tour of the site below.
Let us know what you're following this session. Email us at AgendaTexas@kut.org