The day before Texas lawmakers begin considering a major transportation bill, state leaders made a concerted push for the measure as part of a larger effort to boost much-needed highway funding.
At a speech before state transportation groups on Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott touted his $4 billion transportation plan as a “historic and unwavering commitment” to improving Texas roads. Abbott called his proposed budget — which would dedicate half the revenue from the state's vehicle sales tax to transportation, and end diversions of gas tax revenue to purposes other than transportation — a “no-brainer.”
“Everyone agrees that money that was raised for roads should be spent on building roads,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Senate Transportation Committee will consider a bill authored by committee Chairman Robert Nichols and backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that mostly mirrors Abbott's proposal.
Soon after Abbott ended his speech on Tuesday, Nichols and Patrick held their own press conference with a group of state business leaders.
Patrick said he viewed Nichols’ proposal as a priority for the session and predicted lawmakers on the committee will overwhelmingly vote to move it to the Senate floor.
“It’s my plan if we have the votes next week to bring it to the [Senate] floor and pass it,” Patrick said.
Nichols said he was tweaking his original proposal, which would have dedicated any vehicle sales tax revenue beyond $2.5 billion annually to the state's highway fund. Currently, all of the vehicle sales tax collected — about $4 billion annually — goes into the state's all-purpose general revenue fund.
Under his new version, the first $2.5 billion in car sales tax revenue would still go to the state’s general fund. The next $2.5 billion collected would go to the state highway fund. And any revenue collected beyond $5 billion a year would be split evenly between the general fund and the highway fund.
Nichols said the change is to ensure both that general revenue continues to grow and that if car sales tax revenue drops, transportation funding would be impacted first.
“We can delay the construction of a bridge or a road a year or two, but kids still have to go to school each year,” Nichols said.
Earlier this month, Abbott named transportation one of five emergency items to be fast-tracked by the Legislature. He has previously proposed dedicating two-thirds of the car sales tax, or more than $2 billion a year, to the highway fund.
Abbott said his transportation plan “fits neatly within the budget” he laid out last week.
“The budget can sustain dedication of one half of the motor vehicle sales tax to building roads. Not only can it — it must,” he said. “Building roads is something that Texans have been clear that they are demanding."