AUSTIN – The Texas Public Policy Foundation expressed disappointment over today’s committee approval of Senate Bill 855, which opens the door to significant new taxes and fees in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso regions.
“Today, the members of the Senate Transportation & Homeland Security Committee approved Senate Bill 855 without ever addressing how much the bill could cost their local taxpayers,” said Justin Keener, the Foundation’s Vice President of Policy and Communications. “This bill could cost billions of dollars, yet the public won’t find out until it’s too late for them to provide input.”
The Foundation has been a leading advocate for government transparency, working closely with state and local leaders to post financial information online, and launching texasbudgetsource.com as a portal for interested taxpayers. Keener said SB 855 fails to meet even basic transparency standards.
“Entities receiving these funds should be required to post their expenditures online, something already done by Dallas ISD, the Texas Department of Transportation, and Collin County. Most importantly, there should be separate ballot items for the initial capital costs and the ongoing taxes required for maintenance and operations.”
Keener also questioned an amendment added during today’s hearing that carved out Dallas/Fort Worth Airport from the provision assessing a $2/day parking tax on all government-owned parking facilities.
“Senators said that D/FW parking fees are already high enough, and that people shouldn’t have to pay a higher rate. We believe the same is true for this entire tax bill,” Keener said. “While we and others opposing this bill have been told the transportation crisis merits a tax increase, it is ironic to hear committee members concede that taxpayers are paying too much in the current government fees to merit a further increase on their airport parking.”
Keener cited the Foundation’s research that spending by the state and local governments has long exceeded the growth of the state, as measured by population growth plus inflation. “To the extent Texas is in a transportation crisis, it is a problem of spending priorities, not of insufficient funding,” he said.
Between 2000 and 2008, the state’s total budget grew by 73.1 percent from $49.5 billion to $85.7 billion, while the sum of population plus inflation only increased by 41.3 percent over the same period. The discrepancy between spending and the population plus inflation measure is even more distinct at the local level. From fiscal year 1999 to fiscal year 2008, Tarrant County’s budget nearly doubled from $242.7 million to $461.3 million, a 90.1 percent difference in just seven years. Yet population plus inflation over the same period grew by only 54.4 percent. In Dallas, the city’s 2003 budget shows a total adopted budget figure of $1.7 billion. By 2008, the city’s budget had grown to $2.7 billion-an increase of 54.5 percent.
“While the Texas Senate is pursuing this tax bill, it will vote next week on a budget for the next two years that will continue to divert more than $1 billion of transportation funding into non-transportation purposes,” Keener said. “The Senate deserves credit for looking at rolling back a small portion of these diversions, but taxpayers deserve to see that all steps have been taken to restore transportation funding before they’re told they need to raise taxes on themselves.”
Justin Keener is Vice President of Policy and Communications for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin. More information can be found on the Foundation’s website, www.TexasPolicy.com.
– 30 –