In 2013, we have an estimated annual letting of seven billion dollars. This is the highest letting our industry has ever seen from TxDOT, and we are happy to have it. But one good year will not undo the damage our industry has suffered from years of underfunding. Our challenge next year is to bring that fight to the legislature, and we had better come prepared. Make no mistake, even with a $7 billion letting just behind us, this is going to be a battle for the future of our industry.
Beginning in January of 2012, we dispatched AGC staff on recon—identifying our needs, mapping out the political terrain, and cataloguing other political forces willing to stand with us.
If you believe heading into next session is like heading into battle, then the Highway Funding Task Force is our armory. We have spent 2012 sharpening our arguments, honing our message, and stockpiling our defenses in preparation for the task ahead. With these weapons, we have set out on a two-pronged attack: grassroots and legislative.
For our grassroots initiative, we created The Cost of Doing Nothing tri-fold. The document details the effect highway underfunding has on Texas households. It may surprise your neighbors to learn that less than fifteen dollars a month in taxes will save them almost a hundred a month in maintenance fees, wasted gas, and wasted time. And yet despite this, legislators are being coerced into signing “no new tax” pledges for fear of angering their constituency. This is our problem to fix. It is up to us to convince our neighbors, friends, and communities that the gas tax is designed to SAVE us money, and that any reasonable increase in highway funding will do just that.
The Chapter developed several vehicles to facilitate the dissemination of our ground campaign. One of which you are hopefully already aware is the “Texas Infrastructure Now” brand, managed by Texas Good Roads. TIN has a website, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn presence, to be used by all Texas citizens eager to learn more about how highway funding can help their bottom line. For those of you who have social media presence, I encourage you to become a part of this effort and enlist your friends into the TIN community. The TIN site (www.infrastructuretexas.org) has a legislative action center, similar to our own on the AGC website, which will instantly deliver letters to our legislators on relevant highway funding issues.
A more concentrated vehicle for the ground campaign is our coalitions work group. For each coalition identified as prohighway funding, we have assigned a member to convey our message. This includes the tri-fold and the Texas Infrastructure Now media. In concert with the Road Show that will occur later this year, we expect to get as many people in our communities on our side so that come session, we will have the numbers needed to overcome this “cut, cut, cut” hysteria.
Our grassroots campaign is designed to convince our communities that highway funding is in their collective best interest. This will give our legislators the political coverage they need to make some real progress on highway funding. But we also have a direct campaign for the legislature, which we expect to roll out now that the primaries are over (for the most part).
AGC members and staff are working on a massive database connecting our individual members with our state legislators. We will use this database to schedule meetings for our other deliverables in our “armory”: The Cost of Doing Nothing fourpager and book.
The four-pager is a detailed list of the major reasons why our highway funding is in the state it is in, why our dollars aren’t extending as far as they used to, and why we need to prepare for a devastating drop in funds if our legislators fail to act on the state’s behalf. It provides just a margin of the firepower the book has but is designed to accompany the book and provide a more measured dose of intel.
And finally, the grandest weapon in the armory, The Cost of Doing Nothing book. This is our daisy cutter. At ninety-two pages and sixteen sections, this baby holds the key to any and all arguments for increased highway funding and can track all money going into and out of the Highway Fund. For the men and women who make the decisions, this book uncovers and lays out all relevant discussions on the state of our highways, and it details what steps are needed to keep Texas moving in a manner befitting one of the largest economies in the world.
As the title of this article translates, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” For those of you who have been to the meetings, you know we have taken this ancient Latin advice to heart. We are prepared. As we launch the second prong of our offense, I hope you will lend your support to these measures. If we are not louder and scarier than our opponents, then we will fail.