Sen. John Carona’s SJR 8, which allows the gas tax to be indexed to the rate of inflation, is traveling in the fast lane (is there such a thing as too many traffic metaphors?) since Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst referred it to Carona’s own Transportation Committee, instead of the not-so-friendly Finance Committee. “That assures we’ll get to debate it on the floor,” Carona says. “It certainly assures it won’t die in committee.”
The indexing proposal is just one part of what Carona hopes will be a complete overhaul of Texas transportation funding this session. His local option bill (SB 855), which has been embraced enthusiastically in North Texas, could move the state away from a statewide model of funding by allowing voters in each urban area to decide how much to tax themselves for specific highway projects. Meanwhile, indexing the gas tax will produce badly needed revenue for rural areas.
“It’s the only option,” Carona said, noting that Gov. Rick Perry has said he would veto a statewide gas tax increase. Carona, who says recent polling shows the idea is popular, predicted the bill will be expanded to include all of Texas’ major urban areas.
Carona also said he has been working with Finance Chair Steve Ogden to resolve their differences over gas tax diversions. The two are in agreement about a budget rider subjecting TxDOT to a McKinsey & Co.-type organizational audit. He also wants to change the law to allow a non-engineer to head the agency. “It’s time for a true CEO type as head” as well as a sophisticated CFO, since a recent state audit report dinged TxDOT for poor audit procedures, Carona said. “We need someone with organizational experience at the top.”