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Texas Taxpayers Set to Spend $92 Million on Streetcars

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Some state lawmakers and interest groups have been making the rounds lately, sounding the alarm that Texas has no money for new roads. We are in the midst of a transportation funding crisis, they say, and Texans should kick in more tax and fee money.

This stance has, understandably, found sympathetic ears from motorists fed up with congestion on Texas roadways. But while it’s true that congestion is a matter that needs to be addressed, this problem isn’t perpetuated by a lack of funding (see here) but rather poor priorities.

Case in point: The Texas Transportation Commission’s vote late last week to spend $92 million on downtown streetcars in San Antonio.

That’s right, in a move that will do little, if anything, to reduce traffic congestion in one of Texas’ fastest growing cities, state transportation planners are directing nearly $100 million to a downtown streetcar system. Worse yet, transportation planners are doing it in such a way that makes them complicit in a gross fiscal deception.

See, city officials long ago promised San Antonio taxpayers that, if approved by voters, revenue from an Advanced Transportation District (ATD) tax would not go to pay for the downtown streetcar system. To keep their promise but still get the streetcar system, officials swapped $92 million in ATD funds with $92 million in state funds that were set aside to pay for U.S. 281 and Loop 1604. State officials should be promoting transparency, not enabling local officials in misleading their constituents.

At the end of the day though, the state is only going to solve its transportation funding needs by better prioritizing existing funds, not by continuously asking motorists for more money. In the words of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair: “It is not an arrogant government that chooses priorities, it’s an irresponsible government that fails to choose.”