Texas transportation funding could take a $2.3 billion haircut under a resolution filed Thursday by the state House’s budget chief.
House Concurrent Resolution 108, authored by state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, would instruct the Texas comptroller to cut by half the money going to the state highway fund under Proposition 7. Texas voters overwhelmingly passed that constitutional amendment in 2015, directing to the Texas Department of Transportation all state sales tax revenue above $28 billion each year, up to a limit of $2.5 billion per year.
That amendment would generate $2.2 billion for TxDOT in fiscal 2018 and the maximum $2.5 billion in 2019, according to estimates from the state comptroller’s office in January. That would bring TxDOT’s total revenue for the coming biennium to $28.2 billion, according to the budget bills filed in the House and Senate earlier this session, an increase of $3.5 billion.
But the 2015 legislation that led to the constitutional amendment, authored by state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, provided what was in effect a rainy day escape clause that allows the Legislature to cut TxDOT’s Prop 7 funding by up to 50 percent.
HCR 108 would be the mechanism for that change, and it would require a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the Legislature for passage. It doesn’t require the governor’s signature as is the case with House and Senate bills.
A 50 percent cut, as envisioned in HCR 108, would take $1.1 billion in 2018 and $1.25 billion in 2019 from TxDOT and provide it instead to the state’s general fund, added money that could be spent on education, social services or other state needs in what is shaping up to be a tight budget.
Budget writers in the Legislature are trying to close a several-billion-dollar budget gap (the shortfall’s size varies between the two chambers) caused, in great part, by the diversion to TxDOT of the sales tax money. Zerwas, as Appropriations Committee chairman, is in charge of writing the House version of that two-year budget.
“I’m adamantly opposed to this,” Pickett said Friday. “We’d be breaking our promise to the people right off the bat.”
The Texas Transportation Commission has been working on a $70 billion, 10-year highway plan that has virtually doubled over the past year, primarily due to expected funds over the next decade from Prop 7.
Pickett noted that the proposed state budget working its way through the Legislature already would have TxDOT pay $300 million a year in debt payments using Prop 7 money. In previous sessions, the money for those payments — retiring more than $4 billion in TxDOT debt issued through a constitutional amendment passed in 2007 — came from the state’s general fund instead of from TxDOT funds.
“I told people transportation needs to take its fair share in future years if the budget is really bad,” Pickett said. “But it’s not really, really bad, and they’ve already taken $600 million” over the next two years.
Zerwas wasn’t available for comment Friday.