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TEA'd Off Americans

San Antonio Tea Party Calls for End to Debt and Toll Road Madness

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April 15, 2013 | 1585 views | Post a comment

San Antonio, Texas - The San Antonio Tea Party, which supports "Fiscal Responsibility," today called for an end to the "Debt and Toll Road Madness" that state officials have left citizens with because they have no other policy in place. The group calls for the legislature to find $4 billion in new revenues for new road capacity, even if it requires an increase to the gasoline tax and registration fees, which have not been adjusted for inflation since 1987.

"Texas must have a long range transportation funding commitment that allows us to stop our reliance on debt and tolls, and return to a pay-as-you-go system of public access, free roads" said Jeff Judson, Senior Vice President of the SATP. "The legislature must stop passing short term funding gimmicks that don't meet these needs," he continued.

Judson, who chairs the Transportation Citizen Lobbyist Committee for the SATP, said the group endorses House Bill 3157, which would capture the motor vehicle sales tax and dedicate it for roads. The funds, however, need to be deposited to Fund 6.

"Roads are a constitutional core function of state government that almost every Texan uses more than any other state function" said Judson. "But state elected officials have allowed highway gasoline taxes and other user fees to erode with inflation. They have then filled the funding hole with huge amounts of debt and unsustainable toll roads that cost drivers 10-30 times more than gasoline taxes and registration fees."

"We categorically oppose new taxes to grow the size of government. But debt is a hidden tax, and toll roads paid for with debt and taxes is triple taxation. With proper restrictions, the new spending we advocate will actually shrink government, and grow road capacity." (Government will shrink by capturing funds currently going into general revenue and dedicating them to roads.)

Because of inflation, the gasoline tax and registration fee is not even enough to pay for the maintenance of our roads. This is fiscally irresponsible. So by default today, all roads are built with debt and are tolled because no other funds are being appropriated for new capacity. Federal and State transportation planning rules require that funding sources be identified in 10 and 25 year plans, but if there are no funds, then every project must be tolled.

Texas is currently the largest debtor state in the country for roads as a result of our over-reliance on debt. There is no better example of the "debt and toll road madness" than HB 3363 and SJR 139 that create "Century Bonds" - a new category of state bonds that have a 100 year maturity. It will cost Texas taxpayers $25 billion to pay off $5 billion of such bonds because of the huge interest costs.

The current funding shortfall is $4 billion/year largely because the gasoline tax and registration fees have never been adjusted for inflation since 1987. Short-term funding of toll roads with debt is the most expensive way to build roads and tax dollars are being wasted.

Although we have avoided increases in the gas tax, and some drivers have been able to avoid toll roads, paying for debt and tolls will be far more expensive to the average driver. With no long-range funding source available, virtually all major highway expansions will now be tolled -- so avoiding tolls will be unlikely for Texas drivers; 500 toll projects are currently planned across the state! While gas taxes and registration fees cost the average driver 1.5 cents per mile, toll roads now cost 15-50 cents per mile to drive on.

Texas must have a long-range transportation funding commitment that allows us to stop our reliance on debt and tolls, and return to a pay-as-you-go system of public access, free roads with no debt. The legislature must stop passing short term funding gimmicks that don't meet these principles.

Among such short-term policies being discussed -- which only kick the can down the road include:

One-time funding from the Rainy Day fund for general capacity improvements.
Putting funds in the State Infrastructure Bank to loan to local communities leading to more debt and toll roads.

Placing more short-term funds in the Mobility Fund for toll roads.

Wasting highway user fees on public transit, bike paths, and sidewalks.

Here is the future we want for Texas:

Constitutionally dedicate an increasing revenue stream over time that adds $4 billion per year by the end of the decade for new road capacity. Constitutionally restrict these funds to be used only on non-tolled, public access roads, with no use of debt financing.

End gasoline tax diversions to DPS and other uses that do not add new highway capacity.

Capture and dedicate funds from the existing Motor Vehicle Sales Tax, restricted as above, to create a new revenue stream that automatically adjusts for inflation and grows with population.

If the above fall short of $4 billion in new funding, then -- and only then - do we endorse adjusting highway user fees (eg., gasoline tax, vehicle registration fees) for past inflation. At least $2 billion must come from existing revenue, the total amount must be constitutionally restricted per above and approved by the voters.

Revenue capture and any tax or fee increases should be phased in over several years to soften the impact on taxpayers, on the state budget, and on the road design and construction market.

Bills that contain elements of the principles above include: HB 3157/HJR 136, HB 3664, HB 287/HJR 68, SB 782/SJR20.

For further information contact: Jeff Judson, Senior Vice President, San Antonio Tea Party: or call 210-822-1292.

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