"Politicians need to have the courage to say what the needs are and explain how the state will pay for them."
August 15, 2007
By GREG JUNEK
Tyler Morning Telegraph
Toll roads will not solve Texas' roadway woes, state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, told the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors on Tuesday.
The state must take care of its infrastructure needs, and Eltife said he has always supported indexing the gasoline tax to inflation to ensure funding to handle those needs.
"I think we need to get back to the basics in this state and pay for road and bridge improvements," he said.
"We ought to index the gas tax to inflation, we should build our own roads," Eltife said. "The toll roads are a piece of the puzzle; without question they're a piece of the transportation puzzle in the state of Texas. But 20 years ago we were the envy of the country because we paid cash for all our road improvements."
Paying cash for roads and bridges is the "conservative thing to do," he said. Borrowing money is not.
Texas has not raised the gasoline tax in nine or 10 years, and it is falling further behind on its infrastructure needs, Eltife said, adding politicians need to have the courage to say what the needs are and explain how the state will pay for them.
Until Texas does that, it will continue to fall behind in infrastructure, he said.
"You're not going to get there when you only have 30 percent of the funding you need in TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) to fund it," he said. "And the answer isn't to hide behind toll roads and selling toll roads to private contractors."
Eltife said this makes no sense.
"Toll roads are a huge cash cow for this state," he said. "Why do you want to give that future cash to a private contractor? We are not a broke state; we have a lot of money. We can go borrow $3 billion to build those toll roads, and in 20 years when they're paid for that cash stream will go to TxDOT for future road improvements."
Eltife also mentioned a couple of disagreements with Gov. Rick Perry, one being his opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor, which Perry supports.
He also said he was disappointed in Perry's veto for community college insurance funding, which will cost community colleges more than $157 million. Some in the audience applauded when Eltife said he and others would work to restore it.
"He didn't save the taxpayers a dime," Eltife said. "We run around preaching lower property taxes and lower tuition for students and public education for everyone. That veto will cause property taxes to go up and it will cause tuition to go up - the two things we're preaching against. That money needs to be restored, and hopefully we'll get that done."
Eltife said other accomplishments included an increase in the state's contribution rate to the teacher retirement system, although improvements still need to be made.
"The state has got to meet its obligations for retirement accounts just like any other business, and it's time the state quit playing smoke-and-mirrors with these accounts and properly fund them," he said. "We have the money, there's no reason not to fund them and there's no reason for our retirees not to get a cost of living increase."
He said improvements also included an 86 percent increase in the Parks & Wildlife budget, a $3 billion allocation to ensure the state delivers on property tax cuts and beefed-up funding for Child Protective Services.
The Legislature did not arrive at a solution to any of the appraisal system issues, Eltife said, adding appraisal caps will not work. The answer is comprehensive reform on how property is appraised.
"If you want to solve the problem, you should have disclosure and tie it to CPI (consumer price index)," he said. "So if you buy a house for $100,000, it goes on the tax rolls for $100,000 and then it can't go up more than the consumer price index every year. And what that will mean is that you grandfather what's existing and some day we won't need appraisal districts at all."
Eltife said this is just an idea, but the state needs a comprehensive fix.
"The sound bites you hear are not going to solve problems," he said.
Also Tuesday, the chamber board approved the appointments of Aubrey Sharpe and Jim Lambeth to the Tyler Economic Development Council board of directors.
It oversaw Contactor of the Month awards for June and July to Paula Fambrough and Lynda York, respectively; and the Volunteer of the Quarter Award to Greg Kimmel.
Chairman Tony Cain also announced its Tourism Award would go to Jean Birdsong of Candlewood Suites.
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