February 4, 2009

From the desk of Allen Vaught

Hot Topics for the 81st Legislative Session – Part 3

This article is the third in a three part series discussing legislative “hot topics” that will most likely take center stage during our current legislative session. In this article, I will cover transportation issues.

I expect that transportation will be a prominent issue this session. Transportation is a broad subject. The areas you are probably most familiar with are licensing of private passenger and commercial motor vehicles and the regulation and control of traffic on highways. However, transportation in Texas also includes the maintenance of roads, bridges, ferries, railroads, street railway lines and interurban railway lines; regulating steamship companies, water transportation, aviation, airports, metropolitan transit; and the oversight of the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Transportation Commission.

When you put all of these areas of transportation on the table and you understand that a large chunk of funding comes from the federal and state gas tax, you can see the writing on the wall. There is a funding crisis for our Texas roads. The move toward more fuel efficient vehicles means less gasoline consumption. Less consumption creates less revenue from the gas tax. One proposal already filed this session will index the gas tax to an indicator. The figurative and literal million dollar question is which individual or combination of indexes gives the best result to meet our funding needs. Other states have tried similar approaches tying any increase in the gas tax to the consumer price index, the rate of inflation. In other states the index is paired with the price of oil. Fortunately for those residents there was a cap which unfortunately was reached within in a month as oil prices rose this summer.

Another major issue during the session will address ending the diversion of the gas tax from non-transportation related spending. The Texas Department of Transportation is currently under sunset review, and one recommendation is to create a transportation commissioner. Other recommendations can be read through this report http://www.sunset.state.tx.us/81streports/txdot/txdot_dec.pdf.

We will also be looking at funding options for a regional rail plan. A proposal by the Regional Transportation Commission would like to give each county the local option to raise revenue for transportation through various means listed on page 15 of this resolution http://www.nctcog.org/trans/committees/rtc/Ref.Itm_5.1.hndt.rtc121108.pdf.

Finally, I will be working with others on legislation this session that will begin to change the perspective for our transportation needs. The problems we are facing in transportation are a regional issue. We will need to work on addressing the inequity issues between cities incorporated in a mass transit authority (MTA) and those regions that are not currently contributing to an MTA. We need to address funding that is quickly declining for our roads and work on reducing traffic while cleaning our air.

Again, in no way are these articles meant to be a final list of legislation that will be introduced, but rather an overview of possible ideas that may be considered this session.

I welcome your thoughts and ideas regarding issues for the 81st legislative session. If there is something specific you would like to see addressed, please email my office at District107.Vaught@house.state.tx.us with the subject line 81st Legislative Session Topics.

As always, please feel free to contact my office at (214) 370-8305 with any questions regarding these or other state issues. I look forward to hearing from you.