Transportation Diversions Are the Enemy of Transparency
by Ross Kecseg
December 31, 2014
Lazy politicians maintain that Texans should pay higher taxes, fees and tolls if we hope to meet roadway demand spurred by population growth. However, they fail to mention the gas tax revenue we already pay is diverted to unrelated programs with billions more spent by transportation agencies on non-road projects.
A simple example is our state’s gas tax. The legislature levies it specifically for the State Highway fund…and then diverts 52% of it elsewhere. Transportation is such a “high priority” that Republicans gleefully divert more than half of road money away from what it was created to finance—roads.
One can only imagine the waste the legislature designates to low priorities.
Meanwhile, the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT) is co-opted by Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) such as the Regional Transportation Council (RTC), that is pushing for thousands of new miles in new bike paths and pedestrian trails (aka Veloweb), parking lots and passenger rail just in North Texas.
In the City of Colleyville, TXDoT and city officials pushed for “beautification” redevelopment on a highway suffering from, according to the RTC’s own data, a decade of “declining congestion”. Mayors looking to enhance their personal political legacy lust after state pork as millions can be spent for pet projects without issuing local debt or raising local taxes in the cities they govern.
Unfortunately, the same taxpaying Texans foot the bill regardless of which government subsidizes it.
It raises the question, if TXDoT ‘doesn’t have enough money’ for roads, why are they intentionally wasting resources on beautification, hovercrafts, jetpacks and monorails? Ultimately, Republican leadership who runs the legislature is responsible for failing to end diversions and properly restrict how federal and state dollars are spent. The TexRail boondoggle in Tarrant County is a recent example.
It gets worse. The legislature allows the RTC to join the NTTA in gouging toll-road commuters with “excess tolls.” The extra toll revenue is diverted to regional transportation slush funds for projects unrelated to the toll road.
It’s not a toll. It is a backdoor tax.
Again, local politicians quietly support “excess tolling” because it gives them non-transparent access to more money without raising taxes or issuing debt in the city or county they govern—both politically unpalatable for raising revenue.
When questioned, some RTC officials such as Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley paradoxically deny responsibility and the existence of such diversions.
Careless politicians and their propagandists at the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) won’t enact reforms unless Republican leadership pushes stricter, constitutional limits on total spending growth that can’t be gamed. Without real limits, the legislature can survive on billions in surplus revenue and rainy day funds to make “band-aid” patches without ever needing to critically analyze how the rest of the $200 billion in biennial appropriations are spent.
Simply put, only limits on total spending and restrictions on transportation funds will force fiscal responsibility, not the alleged benevolence of politicians in Austin or City Hall.