Texas has a long list of needs when it comes to paying for state priorities, while at the same time an oil and gas boom is funneling billions of dollars into the state’s rainy-day savings account.
About $8.4 billion is expected to be tucked away in that account, officially known as the Economic Stabilization Fund, by this time next year. That’s even after last year’s voter-approved $2 billion withdrawal to help fund water projects.
Voters in the Nov. 4 election will see a proposed constitutional amendment to redirect some of the money that’s been going into savings, devoting it to pay for roadway infrastructure other than toll roads.
It’s a sound proposal that voters should approve.
No one knows how much money the state might need in a financial emergency that would require dipping into the rainy-day fund. Some experts in Austin say having $6 billion on hand should get us through any hard times.
So shouldn’t some of the cash that’s flowing into savings be directed to immediate needs instead?
If so, which needs? A federal judge has ruled that Texas should put more money into public education. Health care needs are growing across the state. Child Protective Services needs more caseworkers. Mental health services need support.
The list could go on, but most of the needs have a common characteristic: Their funding must be long-term and consistent.
Texans know from decades of experience that it’s not smart to expect income from an oil and gas boom to go on forever.
There’s no reason to expect the flow of oil and gas tax revenue to slow anytime soon, Texas must be prudent.
Highway funding is a good fit.
Transportation experts say the state needs between $4 billion and $5 billion a year just to keep current traffic congestion from getting worse.
An extensive planning system, including local-level decision-making, sets up roadway projects in 10-year development cycles, which allows time to adjust to funding dips should any occur.
And roadway needs are spread throughout the state.
Some money from oil and gas taxes goes for general state spending. Of the rest, 25 percent is dedicated to education and 75 percent goes to the rainy-day fund.
The proposed constitutional amendment would change only that last number: 37.5 percent would continue to go to the rainy-day fund and 37.5 percent to highways. No toll roads would be eligible for this funding.
The Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends a vote for the constitutional amendment allocating money to highways.