Grassroots groups like Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom and Grassroots America - We the People were in Austin this week, calling for an end to the state's transportation debt.
Texas leads the nation in road debt, and Grassroots America - We the People says it's time that stop.
"We're trying to get our state to go to a transportation package that gets us away from financing roads with debt," said Jo Ann Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America.
Grassroots groups are asking legislators to adopt reforms that include returning TxDOT to a pay-as-you-go system, ending public-private partnerships giving control of toll roads to private corporations, and ending diversions from road user fees.
"About 47 percent of our gas tax is diverted to non-road use. We believe that the motor vehicle sales tax that's already in existence needs to be dedicated to building roads," Fleming said.
Grassroots groups believe that Texas' transportation debt is so unsustainable that eventually all new roads that are built will have to be toll roads.
State Senator Kevin Eltife recently proposed a constitutional amendment to put TxDOT on a pay-as-you-go system.
"What I'm proposing is to let the voters have a say in raising the sales tax half a percent," Eltife said in a phone interview Thursday. "All the money would go toward retiring the TxDOT bond debt early. It would pay the bond debt off 14 years early, save $6 billion."
Fleming says she supports Eltife's amendment.
"We believe that paying the debt off early, getting away from debt as a way to fund roads, and saving $6 billion dollars is a smart thing to do," Fleming said. "But we also agree that it has to be part of a package that does not include raising the gas tax and does not include raising vehicle registration fees."
But Eltife says new revenue has to be on the table.
"I want to be honest with taxpayers that we're going to have to have new revenue to fix this problem," he said. "I also support what they want to do in terms of ending diversions, but ending diversions does not create new revenues. It leaves a hole somewhere else."
But both sides agree the time to fix the transportation problem is now.
Fleming says Grassroots America - We the People also support a senate bill sponsored by Senator Robert Nichols that would dedicate motor vehicle sales tax to roadway construction and raise $3 billion over 10 years.
Eltife's constitutional amendment will have to be approved by two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate before it would go to voters in November.
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