A Democratic group reacted to Republican Gov. Rick Perry bringing his move-to-Texas pitch to Maryland by airing an ad on Baltimore radio stations.
In the ad from the Texans for America’s Future PAC, two men point out Texas’ shortcomings. Among the criticisms: “Thanks to Perry’s bad budgeting, the highway department has to convert some modern paved state roads back to gravel.”
The Texas Department of Transportation has revealed plans to convert to gravel some paved roads battered by heavy trucks traveling to oil and gas fracking sites.
And did this decision result from Perry’s “bad budgeting”?
Jeff Rotkoff, Austin spokesman for the group, reminded us that as governor, Perry signs lawmaker-advanced state budgets into law. More specifically, Rotkoff said, news accounts show that TxDOT cited finances as a reason to gravel the selected roads.
On July 25, TxDOT’s chief engineer, John Barton, told the agency’s oversight commission that a dozen farm-to-market road segments, adding up to 83 miles of pavement, were in such poor shape that they were not worth repairing, the Statesman reported in a news article posted online that day.
“We’re at a point where it’s really not safe to have them be asphalt,” Barton told the Texas Transportation Commission.
A month later, though, the agency announced a pause, saying that aside from more than three miles of damaged roads that had already been converted to “high-end gravel,” it would enter a two-month review period for the other proposed conversions to see if county governments stepped forward to pay for maintaining the paved roads, the Statesman reported.
Several news accounts said budgetary pressures played into the initial decision to gravel roads.
A July 26 Houston Chronicle news story, for example, quoted Barton as saying: “Our resources are being strained to the point we are having to make difficult decisions.”
The July Statesman story said that “TxDOT, thanks to more than $20 billion of borrowing, has had a several-year surge of road building, but that bubble of money is due to pop in the next couple of years.” The newspaper described TxDOT executive director Phil Wilson as saying that unless lawmakers found new TxDOT funding sources, the agency’s existing level of road contracts, about $6.2 billion this year, would fall to $2.5 billion by the 2015-16 fiscal years and stay there.
A Sept. 11 San Antonio Express-News news article quoted Barton as telling residents at a community meeting about the asphalt-to-gravel plans: “If resources were different, different decisions would be made.” The story also quoted Wilson as saying the intent is to repave the roads in the future when funding is available.
None of that news coverage referred to Perry as being to blame for TxDOT’s budget crunch.
Perry has long opposed pitches to raise the state’s gas tax, which would generate more money for roads. But he’s also called for money for building and keeping up roads.
In his Jan. 29 State of the State address, Perry urged lawmakers to shift $3.7 billion from the state’s rainy day fund to make one-time investments in road and water projects. Perry also called for ending the diversion of tax revenue from the state’s highway fund, which he said would free up $1.3 billion every two years for road maintenance and construction.
Lawmakers later agreed to prevent the diversion of $400 million from the highway fund through 2014-15 and also sent voters a proposed constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would shift $1.2 billion a year in “rainy day” funds to building and maintaining roads and acquiring related right-of-ways.
We consulted Tim Lomax, a senior research engineer at the Texas Transportation Institute, which says it annually works on hundreds of transportation-related research projects.
Lomax, who said he has worked on projects for TxDOT, said he doubts budgetary moves by Perry drove the roads-to-gravel decision. Instead, he suggested, TxDOT rationalized that keeping the particular roads paved didn’t make sense.
“Those roads are difficult to maintain,” Lomax said. “They could keep pouring money into those roads and still struggle to keep them up. … The specifics are (that) if this oil and gas development is going to continue; they’re going to have to keep going out there to repair those roads or they’d have to spend a whole bunch of money to keep those roads in good shape. … Why would you invest a whole bunch of money in a road to make it solid and then five years from now, it isn’t being used or not being used for what it was designed?”
Our ruling: The PAC blamed “Perry’s bad budgeting” for decisions made by TxDOT. We saw no sign of Perry playing more than his role of signing budgets into law. Significantly, Perry sought billions of dollars in additional road funding from the 2013 Legislature.
While this claim has a pebble of truth, we stripe it as Mostly False.
Texans for America’s Future
Statement: “Thanks to Perry’s bad budgeting, the highway department has to convert some modern paved state roads back to gravel.”