“Suicidal” was how state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, chose to describe himself for supporting an increase in the Texas state fuel tax earlier this month.
Although no bill has been proposed — and one probably won’t be this legislative session — Texans need to find a new revenue stream for transportation, Aycock said.
Texans pay 38.4 cents of every gallon of gas they purchase to a combination of state and federal taxes.
The Texas Department of Transportation, which gets much of its funding from the tax, is $13 billion in debt and is losing its ability to issue more, the Texas Tribune reported last month.
At 20 cents, Texas is in the midrange of state fuel taxes, far below New York and California, which pay 51.2 cents and 50.6 cents, respectively.
The tax has not been increased in 22 years, when a gallon of gas cost about a dollar, Aycock said.
Texas is also a “donor” state when it comes to the blanket 18.4 cent federal fuel tax, because it gives more than it receives.
In 2009, Texas received just 83.5 percent of what it paid in federal fuel taxes, costing Texans about $672 million, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin defended Aycock after Austin-based conservative blogger Michael Quinn Sullivan criticized the lawmaker last week for supporting the fuel tax increase.
“Jimmie Don is one of the few people down there that are smart enough to do what’s right,” Corbin said.
“It’s probably what is fiscally conservative but most of the people down there are going to do whatever it takes to get re-elected.”
Killeen has almost $150 million in local and state funded transportation projects on the books for the next 10 years and many of those projects are funded through the city’s property taxes, Corbin said.
State funded pass-through financing projects, such as the $18 million State Highway 195 and 201 overpass and Rosewood extension projects, have contributed to TxDOT’s mounting debt.
Sullivan said TxDOT debt is caused by a broken spending system and, until it is fixed, Texas lawmakers should not consider raising taxes.
“Before we put more money into the system, let’s spend the money better,” Sullivan said.
More than 24 percent of the state fuel tax revenue funds public schools.
Sullivan said that an additional 20 percent of the tax revenue funds non-transportation-related expenditures such as the Department of Public Safety and elaborate rest stop facilities.
“Rest stops used to be a wooden picnic table and a bathroom, now they are these big Taj Mahal-looking places,” Sullivan said.
“Let’s put 100 percent of those dollars into road and bridge construction and then find a stable and efficient source of revenue.”
Both Aycock and Sullivan agree that the fundamental problem with the fuel tax is that it was created when car manufacturers and consumers were not worried about fuel efficiency.
“As vehicles get more miles per gallon and more cars are on the road, the price of steel and concrete continues to go up, labor costs go up, so you can’t continue to fund transportation like you used to,” Aycock said.
Aycock said he never signed a pledge to not raise taxes, as Sullivan’s letter insinuates.
“I am flexible and willing to look at all kinds of options,” Aycock said. “But we need to consider new sources of revenue for transportation.”
Aycock said the proposal would likely be a combination of a fuel tax increase, registration increase and other fees.
“The fundamental question is not where it is going to come from but that there needs to be a new revenue stream for transportation,” he said.