OP-ED from Senator John Carona

March 17, 2009
Contact: (512) 463-0067

John Carona: Tax watchdogs get it wrong on transportation bill

The Texas Public Policy Foundation column by Justin Keener, published on Viewpoints (Dallas Morning News) on March 11, is a disappointing example of missives I have seen from self-appointed tax watchdogs.

Their misleading message relies on isolating a proposal from its context, making specious comparisons or suggesting motivations that do not exist, frequently in a sarcastic fashion that encourages cynicism toward government.

Our transportation network today does not provide the basic level of service taxpayers expect, and that is why the Local Option Transportation Act I am offering places the decision directly in the hands of the voters and works in concert with other legislation I am carrying. It always amazes me when a group is quick to blast out e-mails and press releases opposing something but is mute when alternative solutions are on the table. See, for example, my legislation stopping or reducing diversion of transportation revenues to nontransportation uses, making our transportation agencies more efficient and transparent, and calling for the full issuance of bonds already authorized by voters.

As will become apparent when the new version is rolled out today, the local option legislation is embraced not just by city and county elected officials but also by businesses and taxpayers fed up with sitting still in traffic.

Some have scoffed about raising taxes during a recession. This comment is at best ill-informed. There is never a good time to raise taxes; however, under the most optimal scenario, construction and finance options could not go before local voters for another 24-36 months, at which point most agree that the worst of the recession will have subsided. Our elected county commissioners have a long history of conservative fiscal policy. Calling an election at the height of a bad economy is an unlikely scenario, no matter when the recession ends.

Some choose to rant against rail. This approach fails to acknowledge that monies generated under this voluntary legislation can be used for most any mobility project. The process is transparent, and taxpayers get to choose when or whether projects are built.

When I reminded Texas Public Policy Foundation officials this week that the gas tax, the most efficient and low-cost means to build roadways, had not been increased from its present 20 cents per gallon since 1991, their reply was simply "you don't understand, Senator. We will not support any type of tax increase for any reason. The type, purpose or function of the tax is irrelevant."

The end result of flatly opposing taxes without considering or understanding the consequences is that new roads will be privately owned toll roads. Compare the impact of those on your household budget with the $10 additional per year you would pay if the gas tax were indexed, or some of these other methods of providing mobility were approved.

I believe in finding solutions for our problems. No action is no solution.

John Carona is chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. His e-mail address is john.carona@senate.state.tx.us.