EULESS -- Texans could face higher annual motor vehicle registration fees in coming years to raise new revenue for roads.
Transportation Commission Chairman Ted Houghton of El Paso floated the idea Thursday in Euless, where he spoke to about 200 transportation advocates from Dallas-Fort Worth. Houghton offered a preview of issues likely to be discussed in the months leading up to the 2013 Legislature.
He noted that although the commission chairman is prohibited from advocating for or against laws that would raise transportation revenue, he will suggest to lawmakers that it's time to raise revenue for highways and other transportation projects.
He told a joint meeting of the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition and Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition that, while it's not realistic to push for an increase in the motor fuels tax, higher registration fees may be feasible.
'We need revenue'
For example, he said, an increase of $50 per car could generate up to $14 billion for transportation projects. The precise amount would depend on how much of the money was spent outright and how much was leveraged with other pools of money.
"We need to start talking about it with our representatives and senators, a revenue increase at this time," Houghton told the group at Texas Star Conference Centre in Euless. "We have bonded money. We have gone into debt. The Texas House and Senate have graciously given us the $3 billion in bond financing we need. But that's debt financing. We need revenue."
The state's gas tax has been 20 cents per gallon for two decades, and elected leaders have repeatedly said there is little chance of an increase in the coming years. Drivers also pay 18.4 cents per gallon in federal taxes.
For many Texans, a $50 yearly increase would nearly double what they pay for registration.
The amount depends on the type and age of the vehicle and the county. But generally, most cars and pickups with a gross weight of 6,000 pounds or less are charged a flat $50.75. Including state and local charges and a mailing fee that many owners pay, the final tab can be as high as $63.75 in metro areas such as Tarrant County.
Heavier vehicles pay a base rate of $54 to $840 plus fees.
Houghton noted that the increase could be much smaller than $50, depending on the wishes of legislators. Residents of Hidalgo County in South Texas, for example, pay an extra $10 a year under a pilot project to raise transportation revenue there.
Phil Wilson, the Transportation Department's new director, also addressed the crowd and spoke about his efforts to modernize the agency.
Several Dallas-Fort Worth transportation advocates questioned the state leaders and expressed concern that by allowing toll roads in North Texas they might miss out on some of the future funds that are disbursed statewide.