Local option tax no good without sunset, accountability

Link to article here. How can the taxpayers support this array of tax increases when NO ONE, not even the Sunset Commission, has dug into TxDOT’s books to find the waste and abuse? Also, these could be permanent taxes even after certain projects are paid for. Any tax increase should be tied to specific projects and sunset after it’s paid for.

Posted on Tue, Feb. 17, 2009
North Texas voters could be asked to approve taxes and fees for transportation

D/FW AIRPORT — Voters in counties across the Dallas-Fort Worth region could be asked to approve new taxes and fees for roads and commuter rail as soon as spring 2011, according to supporters of a sweeping transportation bill filed Monday.Dozens of legislators, mayors and other supporters of the Texas Local Option Transportation Act gathered Monday at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. One by one, they expressed optimism that the measure will pass during the current legislative session, triggering what likely would be a multi-year process of identifying transportation needs in each county and taking the issues to voters.Senate Bill 855 would allow counties to hold elections and ask voters to raise new monies for development of commuter rail lines or to supplement funding for road projects. It’s being pitched as a remedy for North Texas’ gridlock and air pollution problems.

“If we don’t have a forward-thinking transportation system, we won’t have economic development in this region 25 years from now,” said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who filed the Senate version of the bill. The House version is being filed by Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller.

Taxes and fees

The bill would allow Tarrant County and other neighboring counties to hold local option elections, asking voters to raise a menu of taxes and fees, within these limits:

Motor fuels tax, up to 10 cents per gallon, indexed to increase gradually with a cost of living measure known as the producer price index. This is the equivalent of a cost-of-living increase for the construction industry.

“Mobility improvement fee” tacked onto car owners’ annual vehicle registration fee, up to $60 a year. This would be added to existing registration fees. In Tarrant County, fees are $51 to $69, depending on the vehicle.

Parking fee, up to $1 per hour per vehicle per parking space.

Vehicle emissions fee, up to $15 a year.

Driver’s license fee, equal to the renewal cost — currently $24 for a basic noncommercial license. This could potentially double current amount paid by motorists.

New resident impact fee up to $250, paid by car owners registering vehicles in Texas for the first time.

However, two of those funding sources — a motor fuels tax, and a mobility improvement fee — could require a constitutional amendment. The Texas Constitution currently doesn’t allow those funds to be used for transit or rail, and constitutional changes require a two-thirds vote statewide.

Carona on Monday also filed a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment allowing those funds to be used for freight and passenger rail. If that bill passes, the amendment would be placed on a Nov. 3 ballot.

If lawmakers approved the Texas Local Option Transportation Act during the current session, supporters wouldn’t anticipate widespread opposition to a constitutional amendment, said Vic Suhm, executive director of the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition.

Calling an election

Each county would identify its road and rail needs, and set up a funding mechanism to take to voters.

Elections could be called by a county commission vote. Or, counties could be compelled to call elections if presented with resolutions from cities with a combined population of at least 60 percent of the county, or a petition signed by 10 percent of that county’s voters in the most recent gubernatorial election.

A public hearing would be required before the local option election. Ballot language would include a description of each project, including cost of construction and maintenance, financing method and expected retirement of bonds.

If voters approved the measure, existing agencies would issue bonds and manage the project. In Tarrant and Johnson counties, the lead agency for transit would be the Fort Worth Transportation Authority.

More challenges ahead

Crucial to the success of the Texas Local Option Transportation Act is ensuring that small cities are comfortable with the arrangement and don’t feel they’re being pushed around by the population centers such as Fort Worth, Truitt said. That can be accomplished by careful negotiations with those cities and their county officials, she said.

“This bill is an equitable and flexible approach to a complicated region,” Truitt said.

The bill is currently written as a local bill primarily affecting counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as well as Bexar, Hays and Travis counties in the San Antonio/Austin area. Carona said he expected to continue talking with state leaders from other metro areas who also are interested in applying the legislation to their transportation needs.

Taking action locally

Supporters attending Monday’s announcement included Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who recently was appointed to the Senate transportation committee, and Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck.

Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief surveyed the bipartisan group at D/FW’s administration building and remarked that he felt like he was witnessing an historical moment — perhaps a first step in the Metroplex breaking its long addiction to the single-occupant vehicle.

Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, predicted that an improved transportation system would redefine the North Texas lifestyle and that future generations “will have trouble envisioning a time before that transportation system existed.”

Carona said many state leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry, had agreed to support the Texas Local Option Transportation Act. He said the biggest challenge for the next two to three months would be ensuring that supporters of the plan continue to pitch it with the correct message.

Mainly, he said, the key is persuading skeptics that it’s not simply a tax bill, but a legislative response to grassroots demands for a better transportation grid.

Bill Watch
SB 855: Texas Local Option Transportation Act Description: Allows counties to hold local option elections, asking voters’ permission to raise taxes and fees for road and rail projects. Options include motor fuels taxes, vehicle registration and driver’s license fees, parking and emissions fees.How to track: Go to www.legis.state .tx.us and search for Senate Bill 855 by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas.

One Reply to “Local option tax no good without sunset, accountability”

  1. rc

    This is a typical tax and spend bill that you would normally expect from Democrats but now the Republicans are chiming in with idiotic ideas. What the hell happened to the 1.2 billion dollars that President Obama allocated to Texas to be used for infrastructure improvements only. I’m tired of being taxed three times to drive on roads that are already paid for.

Comments are closed.