February 18, 2015
State Senator Kirk Watson and State Representative Donna Howard, each of whom represent portions of Travis County, recently filed SB 579 and HB 1432—identical bills that would allow the Travis County Commissioners Court to levy an additional, modest vehicle registration fee (VRF) to fund local transportation projects.
Texans have made it clear that they want to close the funding gap that TxDOT says will be needed to maintain current congestion levels. Despite passage of Proposition 1 in November, there still exists a shortfall of $4 billion. The Travis County region faces particularly tough challenges. For example, twelve of the 100 most congested roadways in the state for 2014 are located in Travis County.
Given the scope of our state and regional transportation problems, local leaders need local tools to address our needs. SB 579 and HB 1432 are designed to provide such a tool to Travis County.
SB 579 and HB 1432 are modelled after existing legislation that allows Cameron, Hidalgo, El Paso, Webb, and Bexar Counties to collect a similar VRF. Under the bills, the Travis County Commissioners Court would have to vote to levy the VRF, which would be capped at $10 unless a majority of county voters approve an increased fee of $20, indexed to the construction cost index. Furthermore, to impose the VRF, the Travis County Commissioners Court, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) Board, and the Travis County members of the CTRMA Board would all have to reach an agreement regarding the use of the related revenue, before any funds are raised. These procedures ensure our local citizens and leaders have a strong voice throughout each stage of the process.
Several counties have already used an optional VRF to create over $60 million in increased transportation funding. Although this funding would not solve all of our region’s transportation problems, it would represent a significant step forward. Recognizing this fact, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, CTRMA, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Association of Business, and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority have already agreed to support SB 579 and HB 1432. Furthermore, Representatives Celia Israel and Eddie Rodriguez have signed on as coauthors of HB 1432.
Senator Watson and Representative Howard look forward to working with the Travis County delegation and all of our local stakeholders to advance SB 579 and HB 1432, which will provide local leaders with a much-needed tool to address our region’s transportation needs.