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With Credit Cards Maxed Out, TxDOT Looks for New Revenue

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John Whitmire
State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston)

In a somewhat awkward exchange on Monday afternoon, the Senate Finance Committee lectured the Department of Transportation’s executive director for his presentation about the agency’s massive lack of funding.

TxDOT has relied on bonds to fund road projects, which essentially means the agency has maxed out its credit cards. In addition to its incoming revenue, the agency needs an estimated additional $4 billion annually. Though budget writers could use the Rainy Day Fund to pay for transportation needs, the senators seemed to agree that a sustainable source of revenue must be established.

Phil Wilson, TxDOT’s new executive director, didn’t adequately express the dire needs of the agency in his testimony, according to Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston). Wilson said a bubble will burst if the agency doesn’t receive adequate funding, however he didn’t press the senators to establish a sustainable revenue stream. Whitmire said the body language of Wilson and the others testifying seemed to be resigned and not excited about the agency’s lack of funding.

“Y’all just sit there like you kind of accept it,” Whitmire said, later adding. “Talk about how severe things are. The economy of the state is about to go to hell.”

Wilson said the agency has been explaining its plight for years and is worried because of how integral transportation infrastructure is to Texas’ economy.

“We’re very concerned,” Wilson said. “If the testimony didn’t reflect that, then I did a bad job explaining it.”

But Wilson wasn’t concerned enough to offer even one suggestion for a sustainable revenue source. Wilson obviously wanted to avoid that awful three letter word—tax. Wilson’s fear of proposing new tax revenue looked foolish when Tyler Republican Sen. Kevin Eltife did just that. Eltife said creating a tax revenue for the agency is essential and should have been created years ago, before the debt piled up.

“I just think we need to emphasize the amount of debt we’ve put Texas in,” Eltife said. “Sometimes the conservative thing is to pay cash.”