Friday, November 13, 2009

"The 20-cent-a-gallon state gasoline tax hasn't been raised since 1991."

Raise gas tax 10 cents a gallon? It's on table

But Dallas senator’s idea for road projects isn't on Perry's agenda


Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN — The Senate Transportation and Homeland Security chairman Friday suggested a 10-cent-a-gallon increase in Texas' gasoline tax for a system that's soon to run short of money for new roads.

The proposal touted by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, got a cold reception from GOP Gov. Rick Perry at a conference by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association.

“I'm not real fond of raising taxes when there's a recession going on. We ought to be looking at ways to cut taxes, not raise them,” Perry told reporters when asked about Carona's proposal.

Carona said there's no way around the need for new funding to relieve congestion and meet the transportation requirements of the state's growing population.

No cash by 2012

As he did during this year's legislative session, Carona noted that the highway fund at the Texas Department of Transportation will be out of money for new construction contracts in 2012.

During the session, Carona pushed unsuccessfully for local-option funding options after, he said, “current leadership made clear that there would not be support for a statewide increase at this time.”

The problem must be faced head-on in the 2011 legislative session, he said.

“By 2012, there will be no money left at TxDOT to build new roads. We'll only have enough money to maintain what we presently have. That is mismanagement on the part of the Legislature, and a situation that has to be corrected before we adjourn the next legislative session,” Carona said.

“The problem could be addressed in a responsible fashion if we raised the tax by 10 cents a gallon and then provided some sort of modest future indexing for inflation,” he said.

Any other options?

Carona said he's willing to listen to any other ideas, but added, “At this point, there's just no other solution to it.”

In order for such an idea to pass, however, Carona said it would need the support of the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker — noting tax increases must originate in the House.

Perry — who has talked often of the need for more transportation funding and pushed what proved to be an unpopular plan that included a strong component of private investment in toll roads — sounded anything but supportive.

“Going to Lubbock, Texas, and telling ‘em ‘Hey we're gonna raise your gas tax out here a dime so they can build some more roads in East Texas' is generally not a real good political sell,” Perry said.

“So it's there, and it's talked about, and it'll probably have about the same result as it has had in the last four or five years, and that's not a very ... warm welcome in the Legislature.”

The 20-cent-a-gallon state gasoline tax hasn't been raised since 1991.

Democratic candidate for governor Hank Gilbert has called for an 8-cent-a-gallon increase with automatic annual increases.

Budget pressures

The need to raise money for transportation is just one of the budget pressures facing lawmakers when they next write a two-year state budget.

The current $182 billion budget includes $12 billion in federal stimulus money that's not expected to be available next time.

In addition, a school funding measure has left the state picking up a bigger share of public education spending than it did years ago.

State revenues also are being dampened by the recession.

Sales and natural gas tax collections together fell more than $1 billion short of projections in the 2009 fiscal year, which ended Aug. 31.

State Comptroller Susan Combs said Friday that despite the slide, she doesn't expect that she'll need to change the revenue estimate for the current budget — at least not at this point.

Combs said spending also was down in fiscal year 2009, offsetting the lower tax collections. Combs said she wants to see what happens with holiday shopping and revisit the figures in February or March.

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