Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Carona: "It's much less expensive to modestly raise the motor fuels tax than it is for people to pay [tolls] on a daily basis."

Legislator seeks gas tax hike to curb tolls

Carona says more roads would stay free if levy kept pace with inflation

April 3, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – Texas commuters will pay skyrocketing tolls in the future if they don't support higher gasoline taxes to build free roads today, a Dallas senator warned Monday.

State Sen. John Carona, a Republican who heads the Senate's transportation panel, said that the state's 20-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline and diesel fuel should increase yearly, in step with inflation.

Mr. Carona and House Transportation Committee chairman Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, have introduced bills to enact automatic annual increases.

However, the legislation has gone nowhere, even though voters are getting mad as they realize private toll leases could lead to decades of ever-higher tolls, Mr. Carona said.

"We cannot afford to continue to sit here and do nothing," he said.

The motor fuels tax, which hasn't been increased since 1991, raises barely enough money to cover the state's maintenance of existing roads, the senator said. So the backlog of unfunded projects grows steadily.

Mr. Carona said that there's support for his bill in the Senate but that in the House, "tax fatigue" has set in after lawmakers overhauled and increased the state business tax to reduce property taxes last year. Under the state constitution, tax bills must originate in the House.

"Currently, the political will to raise the gas tax ... just simply does not exist," he said.

Still, Mr. Carona said he thinks the public would accept paying more if it's assured the money would be used to build roads. He said that his indexing bill wouldn't eliminate the need for some toll roads but that far fewer would be necessary.

Tying the gas tax to the national Consumer Price Index would double annual revenues by 2030, Mr. Carona said. He favors using an inflation index for road construction, which is higher and would triple annual revenues by 2030.

Mr. Carona said much of the new money could be used to issue bonds, which would boost the building of free roads.

"It's much less expensive to modestly raise the motor fuels tax than it is for people to pay [tolls] on a daily basis," he said.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co. www.dallasnews.com

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