Texas State Rep. Jim Dunnam
Tax, tax, and more tax
On the final day of the 12th Annual Transportation and Infrastructure Summit in Irving, TX, attendees got an earful from state legislators, most of whom endorsed a local option menu of taxes to fund roads and rail as well as endorsing more toll roads. Rep. Jim Dunnam, Chair of the House Select Committee on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), had the chutzpah to come right out and say he opposed the local option tax because it would fracture our state highway system and make it impossible to ever raise the statewide gas tax again, endangering rural areas. He instead offered what he feels is the best and most affordable solution, a referendum to raise and index the gas tax.
Rep. Joe Pickett, Chair of the House Transportation Committee, announced his committee is putting out a call for any new ideas for funding options, hoping to get consensus through a more collaborative process than Perry’s usual dictatorial style — cramming toll roads, particularly privatized toll roads (called CDAs or PPPs) down Texans throats.
Senator Kirk Watson, Vice Chair of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, acknowledged that pushing toll roads has been “one of the most vitriolic processes I’ve ever been a part of.” He also quipped, “In fact, I can only mention the word toll because I’m out of my district.” Watson also reflected on the fact that “we take credit for our successes as if we did it, but really our success today is largely due to decisions that were made before us, generations ago.” He warned the next generation may not inherit the excess capacity on our roadways as we have.
Watson actually told the transportation businesses and employees in the room “to elect into office those who reflect what the people in this room want to see happen…we’re going to have to make people take the ‘responsible action.’”
“Make people” vote to raise taxes, Senator? He was referring to the local option menu of new tax hikes that the tax-averse Texas legislature failed to pass, and “responsible action” is code for passing it. Apparently Senator Watson is in need of a Town Hall meeting for a reality check.
While we know there is a funding problem at TxDOT, giving the State a free pass on its responsibility to fund STATE HIGHWAYS and to give local governments the ability to regularly put tax hikes on the ballot, essentially guarantees no road will EVER get fixed until government strong-arms taxpayers into voting for an array of tax hikes.
We’re all too familiar with the tactics of government and how it stuffs its coffers…starve all necessities (teacher pay, police/fire, roads) so that they can continue to use it as an excuse to raise taxes. Heaven forbid that our bloated government actually trim the fat and tighten its belt as we have to!
Senators Robert Deuell, Eliot Shapleigh, Florence Shapiro and State Representative Larry Phillips rounded out the panel moderated by Irving’s own Rep. Linda Harper-Brown. Shapleigh and Shapiro made forceful pleas in support of local option taxes.
With more transportation tax hikes promised and with no indication that any lawmakers intend to curb the reliance on tolling, the sale Texas highways to private corporations, or even ending the gas tax diversions, the grassroots army needs to be ready for battle for the next legislative session in 2011.