Thursday, August 21, 2008

Three Amigos "agree to work together."

Big 3: Boost highway funding now

August 21, 2008

By Mike Ward
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

With budget limitations slowing highway building as needs continue to grow, Texas’ top three leaders — Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick — today proposed sweeping policy changes to jump-start renewed construction.

In a letter to Texas Transportation Commission Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi, the trio proposed significant changes in how Texas pays for the roads it builds and said they have “agreed to work together” to make changes.

Otherwise, they warned, the state’s “ability to fund needed transportation projects in the future is limited” — thanks to cutbacks in federal highway funding, limitations of existing state funding programs, growing construction costs and population growth that continues to outpace planning for new roads.

Highlights of the new plan:
  • Stop funding the Texas Department of Public Safety with gas tax funds, and divert those millions to road construction. DPS could instead be funded with general revenue tax funds.
  • Create a special Transportation Finance Corporation to allow Texas-based investment funds to directly invest in state transportation projects.
  • Authorize perhaps as much as $5 billion in bonds for additional highway construction projects. Voters approved a constitutional change in November 2007 to allow these bonds, but legislation is still needed to authorize them.
  • Within the next month, sell up to $1.4 billion in bonds already authorized for construction bonds “to ensure that greater road funding levels are maintained through the fall and spring” until the other changes can be made.
“We believe these measures to be a good start to addressing the long-term challenges of financing a world-class transportation system,” the letter to Delisi states.

However, the letter continues, because an ongoing analysis will show that “more is needed … we intend to keep working toward consensus on additional solutions to further ensure that this state and its communities have access to the necessary funding tools to meet our transportation needs.”

No immediate word from legislative leaders on the proposal.

© 2008 Austin

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