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By W. Gardner Selby March 25, 2015

Senate advances road-funding plan

Accepting the 2014 Republican gubernatorial nomination, Greg Abbott said Texas needed more spending on roads, but he wouldn't be urging a tax hike for that.

"And my plan will build the roads for the Texas of tomorrow without raising a single penny of taxes, fees or tolls," Abbott said at the June 2014 Republican Party of Texas convention.

And in February 2015, Abbott said in his State of the State address to lawmakers that his proposed 2016-17 state budget "adds more than $4 billion a year to build more roads in Texas without raising a single penny in taxes, fees, tolls or debt."

Rather, Abbott said, he counts on money expected to flow to road projects thanks to a constitutional change approved by voters in  November 2014 plus a proposed change in law ending the diversion of tax revenue intended for roads and adoption of a proposal dedicating half of the state's proceeds from motor vehicle sales taxes to fund roads.

Abbott also designated transportation among his emergency topics for the legislative session.

Governors propose; legislators embrace or oppose.

Even before Abbott spoke, Republicans leading the Texas House and Senate indicated agreement on ending the diversion of tax revenue from transportation projects. In January 2015, House leaders unveiled a proposed 2016-17 budget ending tax diversions and yielding more than $1 billion more for roads, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Also, on March 4, 2015, the Senate approved legislation that, in a couple of years, was predicted to provide an additional $2 billion or more for Texas roads by redirecting vehicle sales revenues to the Texas Department of Transportation.

The votes were 28-2 on a bill and a proposed constitutional amendment, both authored by state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, with action expected next in the Texas House.

Under Senate Bill 5, the approved measure, the first $2.5 billion of annual revenue from the state's 6.25 percent tax on vehicle sales would continue to go to the state's general fund. The next $2.5 billion would go to TxDOT's state highway fund, where it could be spent on maintenance, expansion and new construction of non-tolled highways. These changes would take effect in 2017-18.

If state revenue projections hold, TxDOT could get as much as $2.5 billion in the first year after the law takes effect.

The proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 5, would cement the redistribution of revenue, assuming voters approve it in November 2016, and hence exempt the additional highway spending from counting against the state constitution's spending cap.

We mark Abbott's Promise In the Works

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