When questioned about state funding of education, I have often said the cost of ignorance is far greater than the cost of educating young people in Texas. One only has to compare our prison system to our schools. We pay as much as $40,000 a year to incarcerate a young person and $8,746 per year to teach one. Even so, our legislature seems intent on continuing to squeeze both public and higher education. The cost of Texas being without an adequately prepared workforce in the next generation will be a tremendously high, the price paid for doing nothing.
A similar situation exists with our highways. Basically, our highway tax is a gasoline tax that was based on our needs more than 20 years ago. Our current leadership, because of their aversion to being accused of passing new taxes, has chosen to borrow money for a highway program through a bonding program, which represents a major departure from longstanding Texas policy of not going into debt for ongoing needs of the state.
Unfortunately, not only has our motor fuel tax proved to be inadequate for modern times, but our bonding program has also been exhausted. The future of our state highways looks terribly bleak. It is even questionable as to whether or not our current funding levels will be able to maintain the highway system that once was the envy of the nation.
It seems our current legislature and state leadership does not mind taking money from the pockets of Texas taxpayers so long as it is not called a tax. College tuition has almost tripled, cost of electric services doubled and almost every state license has increased in cost. Money for construction of new highways seems to be OK so long as it is called a toll or user fee.
Estimates from groups knowledgeable about Texas’ transportation needs indicate that necessary maintenance of freeway exchanges will cost more than $250 million, which involves widening existing urban freeways $11 million per lane mile, and rehabilitation of disintegrating farm-to-market roads at $1.5 million per lane mile. Clearly, the future cost to Texas’ economy will be staggering if nothing is done.
Adding to the inadequacy of a motor fuel tax passed more than 20 years ago is the fact automobiles, due to federal regulation, are using less and less fuel per mile. Many costs associated with the lack of adequate roads and highways in Texas include time wasted by sitting in traffic, the adverse effect on the state’s environment due to huge urban traffic jams, lives lost because of the lack of safe roadways, and serious accidents, which are estimated to cost $6.5 billion each year.
Our legislature needs to revamp and modernize our tax system. It is certainly past time for our elected officials to take a realistic look at the future of Texas and make a reasonable increase in the motor fuel tax in order to maintain the level of transportation services now available to Texans. Spending money for a future, modern highway system is not a waste, but an investment.
Carl Parker has practiced law in Port Arthur since 1958. He is a 1958 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. Elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and the Senate in 1976, Parker continued to practice law while writing and sponsoring hundreds of bills that became laws relating to every aspect of life in Texas, including many regarding consumer safety. His e-mail is cap1934 [at] aol [dot] com.