Joe Straus’s enemies are out in force once again, trying to make a mountain out of a molehill — namely, the issue of diverting gasoline tax revenue to other uses. Let me state unequivocally that diversions are a phony issue. They are not an affront to transparency. The only diversion in the state budget that matters is the use of gasoline taxes to pay for the cost of operating the Texas Department of Public Safety, which amounts to a billion dollars every biennium, more or less. Yes, this is a diversion, but a necessary one. If budget writers did not employ the diversion, they would not have the funding to be able to fully fund DPS, and highway safety would suffer.
The most recent attack on Straus is not very persuasive. Terri Hall, a toll road gadfly in San Antonio, charges, “Straus has failed to properly fund the highway system.” But the funding of the highway system (or any other budgetary issue) is not the province of a single official. It is a joint effort of the House, the Senate, and the governor. In fact, Straus is the only high state official who has been concerned about infrastructure day in and day out. Perry has been AWOL on the subject for years. Straus embraced the issue in his address to the Legislature after he was reelected speaker in 2013. Where has Perry been? Where has David Dewhurst been? Anyone who followed the 83rd Legislature knows it was Straus who put infrastructure issues on the table from day one, most notably water and highways. Nevertheless, Hall charges, “Straus punted the funding of infrastructure to the voters with two constitutional amendment elections.” This isn’t punting. This is getting things done. Had it not been for Straus, there would be no Texas water plan today. Had it not been for Straus, there would be no upcoming constitutional amendment election to fund transportation, as meager as the funding is.
Look, I get it, this is politics. But the idea that Straus “punted the issue of infrastructure” to the voters is utter nonsense. He punted nothing. What he really did was put infrastructure at the front of the legislative agenda, and as a result, the 84th Legislature will begin its session with the vital issues of improving our highways and addressing our water needs front and center, where they belong.