In the nearly 60 years since the birth of the American interstate system, the federal government has played an increasingly large role in paying for the country’s transportation network. What has not grown with the federal government’s role is its ability to actually solve our transportation problems.
Washington’s faults are rooted in both structural and political shortcomings.
Congress sends transportation money to the states through outdated and politically driven formulas. By any reasonable measure, the ratio of dollars sent back to Texas does not represent Texas’ proportion of transportation needs.
We’ve subsidized other states for too long. Congress simply won’t tackle the fundamental fairness issue.
Fuel tax revenue has not kept up with highway budgets. In response, Congress has injected general revenue into the Highway Trust Fund.
Alongside other budget tricks, these infusions kept the federal money flowing (barely).
Billions of dollars later, it’s clear that regardless of which party controls the White House or of Congress, Washington is the wrong place to look for help with our transportation problems.
States are taking matters into their own hands. Almost a dozen are studying a mileage tax. Others are raising their gas tax. Texas has the opportunity to embrace a different solution.
In November, Texans will vote on a constitutional amendment to provide billions of dollars more in reliable transportation funding — an estimated $1.4 billion in the first year alone — without creating new taxes, fees or debt.
The amendment, Proposition 1, would authorize annual disbursements from the state’s oil and gas production tax collections to the State Highway Fund. The amendment would mark a serious step toward meeting our funding needs.
After the November election, the ball is back in the court of the Texas Legislature.
Texans need to demand more from their new governor, new lieutenant governor and their legislators. The Texas Department of Transportation needs to be given clear goals to which it will be held accountable and the resources and authority to meet them.
Creating a sustainable transportation program for Texas will mean supporting flexibility for communities and recognizing that what works in Amarillo, for instance, may not be the best solution for the San Antonio suburbs.
Modern transportation customers need to make their voices heard.
Florists, plumbers, manufacturers and realtors need to join with contractors and engineers to call for increased investment in the infrastructure we will all use.
Texans have to expand the transportation discussion.
Deirdre Delisi is the former chairwoman of the Texas Transportation Commission.