One billion in gas taxes diverted AWAY from transportation last year alone!

Below is an excerpt from an article on the legislature’s lack of fiscal discipline in using our tax money for what it’s meant to fund. Transportation has some of the worst examples…it’s time our politicians pay a price!

Dedicated revenue often spent on other things
by Christine DeLoma
Lone Star Report
September 4, 2006

You can always tell when the Legislature needs cash for its priorities. It raids the countryside for hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars earmarked for specific purposes, including state parks, energy assistance for low-income Texans, and emergency medical services.

In some cases, funds left unspent in each account are used to balance the state budget.

Not that raiding dedicated funds is a new practice. Still, it’s useful to remember that in state budgetary matters there’s often more than meets the eye.

Herewith a rundown of some of the earmarked revenue sources recently used for purposes other than the ones for which they were created.

Texas Mobility Fund
This fund services debt on bonds issued to build roads. However, lawmakers last year diverted money from the mobility fund money and used it to finance the budget.

Consequently, the Texas Department of Transportation put a hold on the issuance of some road bond money because of concerns about the revenue stream that would service that debt. After negotiations between TxDOT and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the department and the Bond Review Board eventually went ahead and issued the bonds. The bonds were sold raising $1 billion.

As part of HB 3588, the 2003 omnibus transportation bill, a portion of the money raised by increased fines on bad drivers went to trauma care and another portion to the mobility fund.

Fund 6 – State Highway Fund
The State Highway Fund, aka, Fund 6, is dedicated for the construction, improvement, and maintenance of the state highway system. Funds are generated by state and federal gas tax dollars, motor vehicle registration fees, sales tax on lubricants and federal funds. The State Constitution directs 25 percent of state gas tax revenues to be redistributed to the Available School Fund and 75 percent to Fund 6.

The Legislature diverted nearly a billion dollars last year from Fund 6 to pay for non-transportation expenses including:

* $657 million for employees benefits such as insurance, retirement and Social Security for employees at the Department of Transportation, Department of Public Safety, Attorney General’s office, State Office of Administrative Hearings and the Texas Transportation Institute.

* $154 million for state employee pay raises

* $100 million for school buses

* $20 million to the Health and Human Services Commission to match federal Medicaid funds for eligible ambulance services
An organization of contractors and engineers, the San Antonio Mobility Coalition, opposes the use of Fund 6 for non-transportation purposes and has talked of a need for a constitutional amendment to prevent future diversions.

Texas Emissions Reduction Plan
Lawmakers have left over $100 million unspent in the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) account. TERP was created in 2001 to help non-attainment areas in the state reduce emissions and comply with the federal Clean Air Act. The fund generates 70 percent of its revenues from vehicle title transfer fees.

Last June, Ron Harris, Chairman of the Texas Clean Air Working Group and a Collin County Judge urged the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to seek all revenues generated from TERP in the agency’s legislative budget request.

“Our citizens are paying the fees to fund these programs and do not realize that substantial amounts of their tax dollars go unspent,” wrote Harris in a letter to TCEQ Commissioner Kathleen Hartnett White. “Also, at a time when many of our regions are struggling to develop sufficient control strategies to incorporate into our State Implementation Plans (SIPs), it is crucial that every available air quality dollar be integrated to solve our state’s air quality issues.”