Gas tax increase in Texas' future?

W hen Texas lawmakers reconvene in 2011, a gas tax could be a major topic of discussion. The San Antonio Express News reports that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden isn't proposing a straight-ahead state gas-tax increase. Instead, he plans to offer an amendment to the Texas Constitution that would allow lawmakers to raise the gas tax a few cents a gallon to pay off debt service for road bonds financed through the highway fund.

The proposed amendment, would require a two-thirds vote from lawmakers in addition to statewide voter approval.

"Going with a constitutional amendment does a couple of things. It provides some political cover for people who don't want to be responsible for raising taxes, and it gives the voters a legitimate option: If you want us to continue to borrow money to improve the highways, this is how we propose to pay for it," Ogden told the paper.

This proposal is just another sign of the money problems facing transportation. The gas-tax fueled highway fund is projected to run out of money for new projects in 2012.

The increase would apply to Proposition 14 bonds only, which are paid off by the highway fund. The Texas Department of Transportation has the authority to issue $6 billion in those bonds, so far it has issued $4.6 billion.

According to TxDOT, the state is expected to pay $272.5 million from the $6.45 billion highway fund debt in the 2011 fiscal year. With another almost $300 million expected in 2012.

Right now the state's motor-fuels tax is at 20-cents-a-gallon, and its been the same since 1991. Each penny yields about $155 million, one-fourth of that goes to education. Ogden proposes having the extra pennies fund only debt. However he says the details of the proposal are still being worked out, but he expects to limit the tax to pay off debt at nickel-a-gallon cap.

P roNews 7 spoke with local State Senator Kel Seliger, who believes that those of us that live in rural areas will end up paying to fund projects in the big cities.

"We who live in rural area are going to pay disproporti o na tely more of the tax to build roads along I-35 and the big cities but the people I represent are probably not too fond of that idea."

Seliger also says that because there are so many rural areas in the Panhandle we use more gas.

"I think we burn more gallons per person because we have to drive farther...I think it's a discussi o n worth having. Can we reach a con c lusion now that we need to raise the gas tax? No."