Republican senator proposes tax hike for transportation
Texas Senators Royce West, D-Dallas, Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, listen to testimony from CPRIT officials in Senate Finance on Feb. 5. TEXAS TRIBUNE PHOTO by BOB DAEMMRICH
by AMAN BATHEJA
Bucking his party and the state’s leadership, state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, filed a bill Wednesday proposing a constitutional amendment to temporarily raise the state sales tax to pay off billions of dollars in bond debt accrued by the Texas Department of Transportation.
If Texas lawmakers and then voters approve Senate Joint Resolution 47, the state’s sales tax would rise from 6.25 percent to 6.75 percent until the state raises enough money to pay off TxDOT’s debt. The move would free up $1 billion a year — now used for debt service — that TxDOT could use to expand and maintain the state’s transportation system, according to Eltife’s office.
TxDOT has said it needs $4 billion in additional revenue per year to maintain the state’s current level of congestion as the population grows. Lawmakers are considering various ideas to find the money, including raising registration fees and dedicating the sales tax revenue already collected on vehicle purchases to the highway fund.
Eltife has been an outspoken critic of the state’s tendency to issue debt to fund state services, particularly highway construction. TxDOT officials said earlier this year that the agency has about $13 billion in debt. Eltife said raising the sales tax to pay off TxDOT’s debt will pay it off faster and avoid billions of dollars in interest payments.
“None of us likes to raise taxes; however, the responsible thing to do is to pay off our credit card and return to the ‘pay as you go’ system that served this State so well for many years,” Eltife said in a statement. “It’s one option we can at least give the voters the opportunity to decide.”
Last month, state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said he agreed with Eltife that the sales tax should be raised to support transportation.
Lawmakers have filed hundreds of tax bills this session, nearly all of them designed to either lower taxes or increase exemptions.
AMAN BATHEJA reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.