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A Donor State Texas is Not, But That Doesn’t Mean We Have Adequate Funding

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Prior to the Bush administration, Texas was a donor state, getting less money in federal reimbursements than it sent in gas tax. Since the election of George W. Bush, however, Texas has consistently received more money than it paid into the Highway Trust Fund. To be clear, we are not a donor state. They do not exist in this country regarding highway funding.

In 2010, Texas received $3.2 billion in federal aid for highway construction from fuel tax and general revenue receipts, a 122% return on our federal reimbursements. When Congress took up MAP-21, there was an attempt to roll back the amount of money spent on highways so that expenditures would match gas tax receipts. I was shocked to see eighty-two Republicans vote for this initiative. The Texas Congressmen voting against our program were Michael Burgess, John Carter, Michael Conaway, John Culberson, Bill Flores, Kay Granger, Jeb Hensarling, Kenny Marchant, Michael McCaul, Randy Neugebauer, Pete Olson, Ted Poe, Lamar Smith, and Mac Thornberry.

Fortunately, the 323 Congressmen who voted to sustain our program prevailed. Soon after, when it came time for concurrence to the conference report on MAP-21, Congress voted to maintain full funding levels for the next twenty-seven months. Still, several of our own congressmen voted against the highway bill: Conaway, Burgess, Gohmert, Neugebauer, Olsen, Paul, and Thornberry. Senator John Cornyn also voted against the bill.

In trying to determine why we had Texas members vote for a reduction of funding, as well as against the bill altogether, we discovered that it was a group of organizations supporting complete reduction of government spending, no matter how those cuts would affect the country. They are known as 501(c)(4) non-profit organizations in Washington.

The Heritage Group, for example, warned members of Congress that if they voted against the reduction or voted for the highway bill it would be a “mark” against their record as fiscally conservative. Unfortunately, some of the west Texas congressmen like Randy Neugebauer and Mike Conaway continued to vote against the highway program even though their districts are totally dependent on highways. The Heritage Group and Club for Growth have also involved themselves in major senate and congressional races throughout the United States. A perfect example was their push to prevent Lt. Governor David Dewhurst from becoming the Republican nominee for the United States Senate. As a result of several factors, Lt. Governor Dewhurst was soundly defeated by groups like the Tea Party, the Club for Growth, et cetera, that all claimed victory for Ted Cruz. There was a sense that the far right had indeed captured the Republican Party, and that a vote for any form of support for federal programs would be sudden death.

In actuality, there are many of us who feel that the campaign strategy used by the two candidates played a far greater role in the end result than either the Tea Party or the various trade groups supporting comprehensive reduction in all federal government sectors. Lending to that belief was the recent victory of Congressman Mica, who received a similar challenge in Florida. The key to this victory was a strong grassroots campaign. We have learned that money alone will not win elections. In recent measures placed before the public, like the one in Georgia designed to pay for increased infrastructure with regional or local taxes, it failed miserably due to lack of grass roots organizations. Issues and races today must have both grass roots and money.

That leads me to my key point, which is this: We must continue to show our financial support in these races. However, we must also encourage our employees to register to vote and encourage them to use the tools available through Texas Good Roads to advise congressmen and senators of our strong wishes for a continued full funding of our highway program. When we come into the next state legislative session, it will be vital that each of you encourage your employees to register to vote and provide them with the help to make their wishes known for increased funding of our state highway dollars.

We will have twenty-seven good months of over $3 billion in federal aid funds. If we expect to have a meaningful maintenance and connectivity program throughout the state of Texas, we are going to have to develop additional state dollars. In the past eight years we have been dependent on bond money to support our state match, and we have exhausted our borrowing capabilities. Now, we must look for additional revenue.

Finally, a special thank you to all members who supported our Scholarship Gala. Our scholarship fund will receive over $500,000 thanks to your generosity. We have over fifty young men and women that receive $8,000 per year from the fund. It is something we can all be proud of.

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