Sales tax for transportation is not likely

Posted Tuesday, Jul. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, may believe he has a good idea in proposing a temporary increase in sales taxes to pay off transportation project debt built up since 2003, but he doesn’t.

It might sound like a good idea to pay off that debt — which has grown to more than $14.6 billion, according to a state comptroller’s report issued last year — and return to a pay-as-you go system of transportation project funding, but that’s not the smartest way to pay for long-term infrastructure.

It may seem like Eltife’s bill is something legislators would seriously consider in their current special session. After all, Gov. Rick Perry has told them to use part of their time during the 30-day session to come up with a new transportation funding plan.

But the cards are stacked against this one.

Right off the bat, Eltife’s proposal runs head-on into one of the thickest brick walls imaginable to the Texas Legislature: the word tax. As in “no new taxes.”

Next, Perry himself voiced a sharply different philosophy earlier this year. In an April 12 speech to the Texas Lyceum Association’s Public Conference in Austin, he proposed a plan to take on more debt in a time of cheap money.

“We can take advantage of these historically low interest rates, and use long-term bonds to capitalize an ongoing, revolving infrastructure fund,” the governor said.

“In essence, we can lock in these projects at the interest rates and construction costs of today when the cost of both are significantly cheaper than they will be in the very near future.”

Finally, there’s another transportation funding plan on the table that is virtually complete and enjoys the approval of a majority of members in both the House and Senate.

The plan by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, would divert some of the oil and gas tax revenue that now goes into the bulging rainy-day fund and use it instead for building, maintaining and acquiring rights of way for public roads.

The Nichols plan was approved by the Senate in the just-finished special session, passed the House in a slightly different version and was pending reconsideration in the Senate when time ran out on the session last week.

The Nichols plan looks like a winner.

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