What State Government Does

Sep 16, 2014 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

Recent actions by state government have reinforced my belief that the state rarely does anything FOR the public; it only does things TO the public. The latest example is that Texas insurance commissioner Julia Rathgeber allowed the three largest home insurance companies to impose significant rate increases. Rathgeber could have…

Are Buses the Future of Texas Travel?

Apr 23, 2014 By Dan Solomon

Without the inefficiency of air travel and the impossibility of high-speed rail, business travelers might well be looking at a future of riding the bus between Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. 

The Transportation Problem

Aug 1, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

“Transparency” is a word that is frequently invoked in the Capitol. But it is honored more often in the breach than the observance. Take the current battle over transportation funding. The problem is that the state has chosen to finance transportation by issuing bonds. This is a clever way to…

“Responsible” Funding for Transportation

May 9, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

UPDATE: REP. DARBY HAS PULLED DOWN HIS BILL, AND IN DOING SO SUGGESTED THAT IT WOULD BE TAKEN UP IN A SPECIAL SESSION. Michael Quinn Sullivan is at it again. Writing on the Empower Texans website, he assails the House leadership for scheduling a bill raising fees for…

Engineers’ group criticizes inaction on transportation

May 14, 2010 By Paul Burka

Yes, the Texas Council of Engineering Companies has a self-interest in roadbuilding, needless to say, but so does everyone who drives on Texas roads. The point of the TCEC statement, as the headline says, is that there is a cost to doing nothing. TRANSPORTATION: THE COST OF DOING NOTHING No…

Appoint a committee, roads to follow

Dec 31, 2009 By Paul Burka

The following two paragraphs are the conclusion of an article that appeared in the Pasadena Citizen about an appearance by Kay Bailey Hutchison yesterday in which she discussed her transportation plan. The article appears on the Hutchison campaign web site: When asked about paying for transportation improvements, she was less…

How much federal highway $$$ does Texas get?

Oct 3, 2009 By Paul Burka

The Hutchison campaign’s Joe Pounder criticized Perry yesterday for getting his facts mixed up over how much Texas gets from the feds from the federal gasoline tax money it sends to Washington. Here’s what Pounder wrote: Rick Perry and his campaign are confused. They are so eager to launch negative…

The transportation debate and the state spending cap

Apr 22, 2009 By Paul Burka

The Texas Public Policy Foundation testified before the House Transportation committee this week concerning the mammoth local option transportation funding bill that has passed the Senate. TPPF's Justin Keener expressed alarm about the rising cost of government (to no one's surprise): Between 2000 and 2008, the state’s total budget grew by 73.1 percent from $49.5 billion to $85.7 billion, while the sum of population plus inflation only increased by 41.3 percent over the same period. That means the cost of government per person has gone up during this decade. The discrepancy between spending and the population plus inflation measure is even more distinct at the local level. Keener's point is that government at all levels is growing faster than the index of population growth plus inflation. This index represents what TPPF, and conservatives generally, believe the state spending cap ought to be. The question I have is whether TPPF's measure of population growth plus inflation is the best gauge of how much spending the state can afford. I believe that the answer is no. Texas already has a spending cap on general revenue. This is Article 8, Section 22 of the state constitution, adopted in 1978: RESTRICTION ON APPROPRIATIONS. (a) In no biennium shall the rate of growth of appropriations from state tax revenues not dedicated by this constitution exceed the estimated rate of growth of the state's economy. The legislature shall provide by general law procedures to implement this subsection. [Section (b) authorizes the Legislature to suspend the cap by majority vote if it declares an emergency.] Economic growth is determined by the Legislative Budget Board--not the staff, but the elected officials who comprise the board. The LBB provides five scenarios for estimated economic growth, ranging from the most optimistic to the least, and the Board chooses one. In 2007, for example, it chose the least optimistic. I believe that using the measure of economic growth has served Texas well. It is a a realistic spending cap, whereas inflation plus population growth is an ideological one, designed to achieve a predetermined outcome of less spending. Economic growth measures the ability of the state to pay for state services: greater in good times, lesser in bad times.

The local option transit tax: what it’s all about

Apr 6, 2009 By Paul Burka

I'm intrigued by SB 855, John Carona's local option tax legislation to fund transportation improvements in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso have also attached themselves to the bill. It would seem that such a bill--a tax increase! and new fees!--wouldn't have much of a chance in a Republican legislature, not to mention a Grover Norquist disciple in the governor's office--and indeed the Texas Public Policy Foundation opposes the bill. But the odds are that the bill will become law, and the reasons why explain a lot about how power works in the Texas Capitol. One of the ways power works in the Texas Capitol is that not all power originates in the Texas Capitol. This bill is sought by the business communities in Dallas and Fort Worth. The Dallas Morning News is doing the cheerleading against "job-killing" congestion. The real power in this state is the big-city business establishments. Always have has been, always will be. The Republican base will hate this bill, but they're no match for the money. First, let's hear from Senator Carona. This is his statement of intent in the bill analysis: The major urban areas in Texas face tremendous challenges with regard to funding of transportation and mobility infrastructure projects. Billions of dollars are needed to fund new, already identified highway and roadway projects, safety improvement projects, and bridges and mass transit systems such as passenger rail systems. New funding tools are needed to address these challenges, including tools for local government entities, which have transportation infrastructure obligations and responsibilities. One such tool would be the ability to raise funds through fee assessments or fee increases authorized by voter approval. However, under current law, counties, which would conduct the elections involving such measures, do not have the mechanism to call for a countywide election on the issue of fee increases. C.S.S.B. 855 provides for local options regarding mobility improvement projects in certain counties and municipalities. Here are the revenue sources contemplated by the bill:

Let the (shell) games begin

Jan 23, 2009 By Patricia Kilday Hart

In an interview with the Dallas Morning News this week, Gov. Rick Perry advocated an end to all diversions of gas tax money from the Highway Fund, which is used primarily to finance road construction. But two key senators believe the current budget estimates make that highly unlikely…