Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Co-sponsor of TTC-enabling HB 3588 wants to build toll roads, and then divert toll tax revenue to other state agencies.


Texas can solve the problem of financing road construction

March 25, 2008

State Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, TEXAS SENATE
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

Recently, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), in its effort to address the highway construction needs of our state, alarmed many in the Legislature and many more in my district. This is counter-productive and unnecessary. I want to report to you what can be done to get things back on track.

TxDOT is not "out of money" and can lift its current moratorium on new construction by selling $1.5 billion of voter-approved bonds. Concerns have been raised on repayment of this large sum of money. In response, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Tom Craddick, House Appropriations Chairman Warren Chisum, and myself as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee recently wrote a letter to TxDOT Chairwoman Hope Andrade. We informed her that $300 million has been appropriated to TxDOT for debt service and committed to increase funding for TxDOT in the next biennial budget.

Last November, Texans overwhelmingly approved another $5 billion in general obligation bonds for highway improvements. During the next session, which begins in January, the Legislature will pass a bill authorizing TxDOT to sell these bonds and use the proceeds for new road construction.

Later this month, the Senate Finance Committee will examine additional financing methods. Specifically, I want to explore the possibility of investing a portion of our state's trust funds (i.e., Employees Retirement System, Teachers Retirement System, Permanent School Fund, Permanent University Fund) in TxDOT toll projects. The argument for this is straightforward. If it is such a great idea for foreign companies to invest in and profit from our roads, why isn't it a good idea for our retired teachers and state employees to invest their trust funds in and profit from these roads?

These same trust funds currently make large investments in real estate and infrastructure outside of Texas. I think some of this money should be invested in Texas and that this would be a "win-win-win" situation. Roads will be built, the trust funds will get a guaranteed return on their investment, and the toll revenue would benefit public education in Texas.

The problem of financing the construction of Texas roadways can be solved. The solutions that I propose do not require new taxes, sales to private concerns, or destruction of the countryside with Trans-Texas Corridors a thousand feet wide. Let's stop arguing and get to work on solutions that Texans will support.

Ogden is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

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