The Texas House’s chief budget writer filed legislation Friday that would allow lawmakers to claw back billions of dollars that voters approved for state highways, freeing them up for other budget needs.
Texans overwhelmingly voted in 2015 to boost funding for the state’s public roadways and bridges, which have strained under a growing population. Proposition 7 amended the Texas Constitution to route some general sales tax revenue as well as some revenue from taxes levied specifically on car sales and rentals to the State Highway Fund.
But House Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond, filed a resolution Friday that would cut that initial cash infusion, aiming to free up money at a time when cash is tight.
House Concurrent Resolution 108 could cut the first transfer under Proposition 7 of nearly $5 billion in half, but only if two-thirds of lawmakers in both the House and Senate support such a move.
It’s a prospect made possible by what some lawmakers have called a “safety valve” in Senate Joint Resolution 5, the legislation that the Legislature approved in 2015 to send Proposition 7 to voters later that year.
Zerwas' office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some 83 percent of voters supported Proposition 7, and it was widely cheered by top Texas leaders.
At the Texas Department of Transportation, agency officials have updated long-range plans with new highway projects under the assumption that the agency will have access to all of the Prop 7 money. Gov. Greg Abbott also released a proposed budget in January that called for directing all of the Prop 7 funds to TxDOT as voters intended.
“My fellow commissioners and I view this as a Texas voter mandate,” transportation commissioner Bruce Bugg, an Abbott-appointee, told reporters earlier this week.
But Texas lawmakers this session are trying to craft a budget with less money than the previous legislative session.
Tax cuts in 2015 cut available state revenues by about $4 billion, and a slowdown in the oil patch also shrunk the budgetary pie. A voter-approved transfer of funds to the highway fund would leave even fewer dollars available to put toward areas such as health care, education and the state’s collapsed foster care system.
Brandon Formby contributed to this report.
Clarification: This story has been updated to more fully describe the changes Proposition 7 made to the Texas Constitution.