Speaker Joe Straus (R - Dist 121) is a master at kicking the can down the road. After three sessions as Speaker of the Texas House, Straus has failed to properly fund the state highway system. At the commencement of the 83rd regular session last year, he promised to end diversions of the gas tax and to make funding infrastructure - both roads and water - a priority. Neither happened.
Instead, Straus punted the funding of infrastructure to the voters with two constitutional amendment elections. After three expensive special sessions, the Texas legislature finally agreed upon a transportation funding bill that will go to the voters for approval in November. During the second special session, Express-News Austin Bureau Chief Peggy Fikac tweeted that Straus was telling senators he wants a transportation crisis in 2015 to increase pressure for taxes. So crisis creation and crisis management describe Straus’ leadership style.
The Constitutional amendment that passed would divert half of the oil and gas severance tax that funds the state’s emergency fund, or Rainy Day Fund, to roads, giving the highway department a potential boost of $1 billion annually. Lawmakers readily acknowledge it’s a stop gap measure since the agency needs $4 billion more per year.
Last year, Texas voters approved Prop 6 to further raid the Rainy Day Fund for water infrastructure. However, the legislation will largely be used for questionable economic development projects to benefit developers (like shipping water from already water starved rural Texas to urban areas) rather than shore up future water needs for existing residents.
We have a serious problem when state leaders fund ongoing core functions of government like roads and water out of our emergency funds. It’s fiscally irresponsible, period. It’s their job to fund them in the state budget, not leave the tough decisions to the voters who aren’t given any oversight over the budget process and have little choice about most funding decisions until after all the tax revenues have been spent.
The number one complaint of the public with regards to transportation is the persistent raiding of road taxes for non-road purposes. Not only is gas tax diverted so is the vehicle sales tax - combined the diversions reach $4 billion annually, which just happens to be the magic number of how much highway funding falls short.
Funding is so strapped at the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) that it’s turning paved roads back to gravel in the Eagle Ford Shale area hit hard by big rigs, and TxDOT is offloading parts of the state highway system to local governments (and hence local taxpayers) to shave maintenance costs. This is an absolute embarrassment, and Straus has done precious little to properly fund our state highway system.
Straus no San Antonio wonder
You’d think San Antonians would be beneficiaries of all sorts of pork and perks brought home to the district from the Speaker - not that we encourage pork or special favors - but San Antonio hasn’t seen any meaningful benefit from Straus’ powerful position. Take a look at the latest district statistics from TxDOT for just 2013. Ft. Worth, roughly the same size as the Alamo City, received 16% of the state’s road funds while San Antonio received a paltry 6%. This pattern is repeated year after year after year.
Given his approach during the transportation special session to starve road funds to force tax hikes, it stands to reason he’s starving San Antonio of their rightful road taxes they send to Austin in order to force toll roads and a host of new taxes down our throats to pay for roads, while the legislature under his leadership squandered an $8 billion surplus and increased spending 26%.
It’s obvious Straus is part of the problem, not the solution.
How much will Straus’ tolls & taxes cost you?
If Straus gets his way, you’ll be paying up to 50 cents a mile in new toll taxes to drive San Antonio freeways. Tolls will cost the average family $2,000-$4,000 a year in new taxes just to get to/from work. In 2013 alone, Straus moved and supported legislation for a new $10 hike in your vehicle registration fees (which will be used to build toll lanes), a bill to heist both property tax and sales tax to build toll roads, and to put Loop 1604 and 20 other Texas highways in the hands of a foreign corporation known for extracting high toll rates – charging nearly a dollar a mile to access our public roads.
These controversial contracts known as public private partnerships also contain non-compete agreements that prohibit or penalize the expansion of free roads surrounding these toll roads as well as provisions to lower the speed limits on the free routes and increase the speed limits on the tollways. All use taxpayer money to subsidize the construction and some guarantee the taxpayers will pay any uncollectable tolls and even guarantee toll road loans. Highway 281, Loop 1604, I-10, and I-35 will all be tolled in Bexar County. Using tax money to build toll roads is double taxation. If a road is built with tax revenues, it should be a free road not a toll road. These toll roads are taxation without representation. It’s time for new leadership.
Matt Beebe is a strong conservative, Air Force veteran, and small business owner specializing in cyber security who’s running to oust Straus. He shares our concerns about the massive $31 billion in road debt that’s been racked up under Straus’ leadership, and the huge sums of taxpayer money being used to prop-up toll roads that aren’t financially viable.
Beebe will fight to keep our freeways, toll-free, work to finally end the raid of our road taxes, and ensure our tax money doesn’t go to build or bail out loser toll projects. The choice is clear - Straus represents more reckless spending, more debt, and higher taxes while Beebe represents fiscal responsibility, truth in taxation, and a solvent highway program. This race has the potential to change the direction of state government more than any other House race. Make your vote count.