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What Good Are Low Taxes When Every Public Highway in Texas Becomes a Toll Road?

Texas sure likes to brag about all the people we’ve got moving to the state, how business is better than anywhere else in the country and jobs are more plentiful. But with great numbers of people comes great responsibility for accommodating the strains that all these new people place on our infrastructure.

Unfortunately our state lawmakers can’t agree on a way to pay for any of it. Yesterday, they failed to pass a measure that would have funded transportation needs — road construction and maintenance — by diverting money from the Rainy Day Fund. A reluctance to do that makes some sense, since we might end up needing that Rainy Day Fund for, you know, a rainy day.

As Paul Burka writes on his TexMo blog, we’re in need of a more permanent solution to our problems:

What are “real options?” The only way the transportation crisis will ever be solved is by identifying a long-term revenue source. That source exists. It is called the gasoline tax. As is well known to any student of Texas government, the gasoline tax has not been raised since 1991. It isn’t a perfect tax, by any means; as cars become more efficient, the gasoline tax produces less revenue per highway mile. Even so, a ten-cent increase in the gasoline tax would allow TxDOT to plan for the state’s future transportation needs, which is more than it can do today. The ruinous alternative is to issue bonds and go into debt, which is exactly what we have been doing. Why this passes muster as “conservative” escapes me, but that’s how we do it, and that’s why our highways resemble parking lots. Or we can go back to building toll roads and trying to convince the public that a toll isn’t a tax. Good luck with that.