TxDOT Administration Representatives pose for a picture with a $500,000 check from AGC of Texas towards the TxDOT Cares Hurricane Harvey Employee Relief Fund. The fund was created by Bruce Bugg, Jr. recently appointed chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission. He was not able to create the fund in his official capacity and instead did so as a private citizen. Within two days, AGC had funded enough to provide each displaced TxDOT employee in the path of Hurricane Harvey with $5,000 to help with expenses related to Hurricane Harvey. From left to right: Randy Hopmann, Bill Hale, Lauren Garduño, and Texas Transportation Commission Chairman J. Bruce Bugg, Jr.
THE 85TH REGULAR SESSION OF THE TEXAS Legislature, which ended on May 29, was a busy time filled with good news for TxDOT. Just to give you an idea of how busy the session was, our State Legislative Affairs staff monitored 880 bills that had the potential to directly affect the agency or that could impact transportation policy in Texas.
But the star of the session’s activities – at least as far as transportation goes – was the passage of S.B. 312, or TxDOT’s Sunset Bill. As you may know, TxDOT has undergone Sunset review three times in the past decade – 2009, 2011 and in 2017. Sunset is the Legislature’s review of state agencies. This time the department has gotten a huge vote of confidence from the Legislature and will continue operations for another 12 years. That’s a standard review period for agencies. And it signals that the Legislature is confident in TxDOT’s ability to manage the billions of dollars that the agency has and will receive over the next few years.
While the big news of S.B. 312 was our 12-year review date, the legislation also codified some of the work we’re already doing, like continuing our work on a performance-based funding allocation and project selection process. It also required TxDOT to implement additional penalties when construction contractors do not meet project schedules.
S.B. 312 also included some other big changes for our transportation partners, contractors and toll customers.
The legislation prohibits TxDOT from awarding a highway construction, maintenance or highway improvement contract unless the contractor on the project, and their subcontractors, participate in the federal government’s Verify Employee Eligibility or E-Verify system, an internet based program that assists businesses in validating employee information.
Aside from Sunset legislation, the second biggest session item that affected TxDOT was the passage of the state budget. In it, the Legislature appropriated $26.6 billion over the biennium to the department. That’s an increase of about $3.5 billion from the last two-year budget cycle. The increase is due in part to an increase in Prop. 1 and Prop. 7 funds.
Of that $26 billion, $2.5 billion was appropriated from Proposition 1, an amendment that was approved by voters in 2014. Prop. 1 provides a portion of oil and gas severance tax revenues to transportation.
This session also saw the first issuance of Prop. 7 monies. That constitutional amendment transfers some state sales and use tax revenue to the State Highway Fund.
Before the start of the session, Comptroller Glenn Hegar estimated that $4.7 billion in Prop. 7 monies would be available for transportation over the course of the fiscal 2018-2019 biennium, but statewide budget challenges led the Legislature to reduce TxDOT’s appropriation to $2.9 billion. The Legislature also directed TxDOT to use $613 million of the funding to pay debt service on previously issued Prop. 12 bonds.
And while the appropriation was less than originally estimated, this session’s budget writers suggested that the 86th Legislature provide the balance – about $1.8 billion – to TxDOT in the 2020 fiscal year. If next session’s legislators agree, that will mean additional money for TxDOT as another provision of Prop. 7 takes effect that fiscal year. That condition transfers a portion of the state’s vehicle sales and vehicle rental tax revenue to the State Highway Fund.
This legislature also helped us advance our information technology infrastructure. It granted our request for $33.5 million to replace up to 40 legacy engineering operating systems. Our new Modernize Portfolio, Project and Workflow Management system will replace TxDOT’s outdated transportation project planning software, and provide transparency in performance measurement.
While those are just the highlights of the last regular legislative session, it was a positive one for TxDOT, the primary result being that it will help us stay on the path of delivering a safe, reliable and integrated transportation system to Texas.