The majority of the news in this issue clearly focuses on recent actions at the State Capitol. There is mounting support from both house and senate members for passage of a new water plan. Statements have been made from both sides of the rotunda that to pass a fifty-year water plan and not fund it would be totally irresponsible. The committees that have received testimony from the Texas Water Development Board have expressed disappointment that none of the $6 billion Water Development Board bonds authorized by the public have been put to work. There is a strong push being made to get the Water Development Board to issue those bonds and get the projects moving.
The Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker of the House have all indicated strong support to take money from the Rainy Day Fund and use it for water projects. When you combine the bond proceeds along with the Rainy Day Fund money, you can see that local entities will have available to them resources to move forward on many of these water projects.
At the chapter fly-in, the Speaker reiterated the importance of water and highways. He talked about the need to provide strong, new, and lasting funding for the road program in Texas.
The Lt. Governor has made a similar announcement, and the Governor has already endorsed the possible use of Rainy Day Funds in a loan bank program in which cities, counties, and others could borrow money for construction and then pay it back over an extended period of time.
At a recent hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, Chair Tommy Williams outlined a possible scenario to fund the road program. His solution includes removing the diversion of highway funds (Fund 6) from the Department of Public Safety budget. In his opinion, the Texas Department of Transportation budget should fund only the policing of highways, which will cost approximately $200 million a year. Currently the DPS funding uses $680 million per year from Fund 6. This obviously would provide an additional $460 million per year for construction in the highway program. In addition, he is supportive of moving the pass-through-toll program out of the highway fund and into the new Infrastructure Bank fund.
The third leg of the stool would involve either adjusting the current registration vehicle fees or possibly combining vehicle registration and vehicle inspection into one fee that would be based on a combination of type of vehicle, amount the vehicle carries, and age of the vehicle, as well as the miles traveled by the vehicle. A good example prepared by TTI shows that over 800 million in new dollars per year would be realized if you were to exempt the first 4,000 miles and charge three-tenths of a cent for the miles above the 4,000 miles for highway use. If a person travels 15,000 miles a year the additional fee would be roughly $18. It is hard to imagine that anyone would object to an $18 per year increase in the cost of operating your automobile in exchange for maintaining the rapidly deteriorating highway system.
It is still too early to forecast what the final funding program will look like; however, it is fair to say that both members of the house and senate are encouraged about the amount of support from the public in support of increased funding.
There has been the usual social-type legislation dealing with minority business and training that have been introduced; however, to date there are far fewer pieces of legislation that are being considered than we have had in previous years.
The fly-in was a huge success. The program started with a briefing from the Legislative Drafting and Review Committee Chairman Bob Lanham and a few encouraging words from President Joe Forshage. The luncheon was followed by an incredibly supportive speech by Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives Joe Straus, and then Executive Director of the Texas Department of Transportation Phil Wilson. The reception including our members, legislators, and their staff, was very positive. Because of the great job in disseminating information about our highway program shortage of money there seems to be a good understanding on the part of the elected officials about the need to get behind Drew Darby and Tommy Williams to develop a meaningful program of funding so we can maintain our mobility.
Other legislative issues, like modifying construction manager at risk, a review of the comprehensive development agreement program, and a discussion on the design-build effort will continue to take place. It is, however, premature to forecast legislative action at this time. The Chapter will continue to work on these on behalf of the industry. We will have a better idea of our funding future in the next issue.