Industry icon Tom Johnson’s name now adorns the AGC of Texas building. AGC leaders recently honored Tom, who helped grow the Chapter’s influence and impact during his 50-year career with AGC.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made a strong case for highway funding Monday (March 5) during a reception at the AGC office, emphasizing the state’s rapidly growing population requires a system that keeps people and goods moving.
“You are hard workers; you’re risk-takers; you are the builders of Texas,” he told AGC members. “You keep our economy moving because if we can’t move people and goods, we can’t grow our economy – and we have to.”
Texas was home for roughly 10 million people when George W. Bush became president in 2000, he noted. The state’s population has grown by 18 million since then and is projected to increase by another 15 million over the next two decades. The state’s $1.6 trillion economy would rank No. 10 in the world, if Texas was a country, he said, adding that the Texas economy is larger than Russia’s.
“It’s a good place to be in your business,” Patrick said.
And AGC members should feel good about recent legislation action, including the $7.2 billion budgeted for transportation funding during the 2017 legislative session. That projects to an estimated $70 billion in highway projects over the next decade. But transportation advocates must stay vigilant to make sure legislators don’t retreat, Patrick said, sharing advice he learned years ago from Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, the Senate’s transportation expert and a former Texas Transportation Commission member.
“You can’t plan a road if you get three sessions out and they pull the funding back,” Patrick said. “You have to have a steady stream of funding; otherwise, you can’t plan.
“It’s really important that your legislative agenda every session is to make sure that members don’t take the (highway) money,” he said. “It’s too important for the growth of Texas. We have to have transportation funding, and we are going to need more.”
The lieutenant governor explained why he and the governor are skittish about toll road funding – particularly for some proposed toll roads in the Dallas area. It appeared funding for those projects involved “co-mingled” money from Prop 1 and Prop 7. Those 2014 and 2015 ballot issues specifically prohibited money from those measures flowing to toll roads. Prop 1 and Prop 7 funding must not end up helping fund toll road projects because doing so would erode public trust. “And make it harder for future propositions,” Patrick said.
AGC members must continually take their case to legislators because the education process never ends, he said. And the Legislature continually changes, requiring more education.
Texas could gain close to an extra $1 billion a year in revenue by more aggressive investment of the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” Associate Deputy Comptroller Phillip Ashley told AGC members at the April monthly luncheon (Monday, April 2 at the Hyatt Regency).
The Rainy Day Fund currently holds $11 billion and earns about 1.8 percent: “The comptroller (Glenn Hager) thinks we can do a better job putting that money to work.”
The comptroller’s plan would take $3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund for “more aggressive – not reckless” investing. Projections suggest that $3 billion could generate $111 million for the 2020-21 budget cycle and close to $1 billion per year by 2030.
Texas currently has a top-rated AAA credit rating but pressures on under-funded employee pension and insurance plans could jeopardize that rating, Ashley told AGC of Texas members.
“We could do something more productive (than the current 1.8 percent interest) and earn a better return to generate additional revenue for the state, which would help address our credit rating objectives,” he said.
Retired AGC of Texas Executive Vice President Tom Johnson visited with past AGC President Phil Becker Wednesday (April 11) at Phil’s Hill Country ranch in Tarpley. Phil served as president in 1984 soon after the Texas Municipal/ Utility Branch and the Texas Highway-Heavy Branch merged. Tom credited Phil’s strong leadership in helping ensure a successful transition. “Phil is the one who made the whole program work. There’s no question about that. He was just an outstanding guy, a big thinker who was articulate and well-thought of in the industry,” Tom says of Phil.
Phil, a former municipal utility contractor, served the industry and his community well into this century – 65 years in total.
TxDOT Federal Affairs Director Andrea Lofye and Billy Cheek at the DFW luncheon
Rick Thomas demonstrates the proper way to load and tie down at the AGC Regional Safety Conference in Odessa. Approximately 150 people attended the event. Plans are underway to host a second conference this fall.