May 3, 2010
It’s been said before, and Texas transportation department executive director Amadeo Saenz said it again today in Houston: The department will have no money to spend on new construction projects by 2012.
Unless, of course, the Legislature decides to spend more on roads, either by providing more for construction or by agreeing to cover debt payments so the agency can borrow more.
Neither option is popular, especially with the Legislature already facing budget problems of significant proportions.
“It’s very clear that there will be no money for new capacity beginning in 2012,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin and vice chairman of the Senate transportation committee, which met in Houston this morning.
The budget pressures comes January are going to be enormous, with some lawmakers arguing that taxes must be increased to pay for transportation and others arguing that now is no time to raise taxes on Texans. In that way, it will be a lot like any year.
Already some local governments are asking citizens to pay more in local taxes for transportation improvements. In El Paso, special taxing zones have been created to capture local taxes so they can be plowed back into infrastructure.
Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, said these local strategies prove the state has failed to meet its obligations.
“It’s important that people know if the state isn’t going to meet its obligation, then that share is coming straight to the county,” he said. “That’s a tax shift, that’s money that taxpayers at Texas level ought to be paying, instead it’s being paid at the local level. … Not enough people know that we’re dead broke in 2012.”
Local leaders in North Texas, too, have said they’d like to win authority from the state to ask voters to pay more in local taxes and fees to supplement what they say is inadequate state transportation spending.
Each of these issues will be back in front of the Legislature in 2011.