Toll Roads Encounter Major Legislative Roadblock
By Jeff Wentworth
State Senator, District 25
If public participation is a sign of a healthy democracy, then when it comes to toll roads, our state’s legislative process is, as we say in Texas, “healthy as a horse.”
Few issues have generated the number of phone calls, letters, faxes and emails to my office as toll roads have, and few have engendered such passionate objections. Although some who called are in favor of toll roads, an overwhelming number are not.
While it may surprise those who oppose toll roads, there are Texans in other parts of the state who do not object to them; in fact, some would like to see more constructed. Because Texas is such a large state, it is inevitable that ideas and interests will collide in the legislative process.
To ensure that toll road opponents’ views are considered by the Legislature, I co-authored Senate Bill 1267. If passed, this bill would place a two-year moratorium on state commitments to private companies building toll roads under contract with the state and on the sale of existing toll roads to private entities.
The provisions of Senate Bill 1267, which has 24 senators as co-authors, also propose a complete and thorough study of transportation issues. A similar bill, House Bill 2772, has been filed in the House of Representatives.
Other bills have been filed in both the Senate and the House that would impact toll roads, such as prohibiting the conversion of state-owned roads to tollways.
In addition to being adamantly opposed to paying a toll to drive on a Texas road, many of you object to the routine practice of diverting gasoline tax funds and other transportation-related tax funds to other budgets, such as those of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Texas Historic Commission (THC).
No one should argue the importance of both of these agencies and the work they do; however, I believe General Revenue Funds should be appropriated for their budgets. To that end, I authored Senate Bill 1075, which would limit the use of gasoline tax funds, as well as funds from motor vehicle registration fees and taxes on motor fuels and lubricants, to highway maintenance and construction. A constitutional amendment will be necessary for this bill to become law.
Senate Bill 1075 would not impact the gasoline taxes that are currently earmarked for education. The Texas Constitution mandates that one-fourth of the net revenue from the motor fuel tax be allocated to the Available School Fund. To reallocate those funds would require a constitutional amendment. I do not expect that Texans will vote to take money away from education, even for road construction and maintenance. This bill has been referred to the Finance Committee, and a similar bill has been filed in the House of Representatives.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, I am happy to report that Senate Bill 1267 was voted out of that committee on April 4. It will now be voted on by the full Senate, yet another sign that representative democracy is alive and well in Texas.