Jim Allison, general counsel of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, was invited to testify on rural infrastructure issues before a joint hearing of the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee and the House Transportation Committee in April. He provided the following testimony:
Chair Gonzalez Toureilles and Chair Pickett and Members of the Agriculture and Livestock Committee and Transportation Committee:
My name is Jim Allison. I serve as general counsel of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas. Thank you for the invitation to present testimony concerning the impact of transportation issues on our rural agricultural economy.
Agriculture is the lifeblood of our Texas rural economy, and the county road system is a vital part of the arteries that transport that lifeblood. With over 160,000 road miles and 17,000 bridges in the county road system, agriculture relies upon the county road system for transport of its products and supplies. Unfortunately, even as demand and usage of the county road system has increased, financial support has dwindled.
The county road system receives $7.3 million annually from the state gasoline tax. This amount has remained unchanged since 1951. Additionally, the Texas Department of Transportation allocates $6 million in surplus materials annually to counties. The bridge rehabilitation program is funded 80 percent by federal grants, 10 percent by state grants, and 10 percent by county funds. This is the total state and federal support of the county road system.
County roads range from relatively unimproved surfaces maintained for agricultural and mineral production access, to high-speed, high-traffic, four-lane asphalt and concrete surfaces utilized by thousands of vehicles daily. In recent years, the demands on the county road system have increased dramatically. As growth continues in the unincorporated areas of our state, counties have been forced to construct improved roads to meet the needs of our citizens. As homes are built in the rural areas, county roads must accommodate the daily demands of school buses, commercial delivery trucks, and emergency vehicles. The costs of constructing and maintaining a modern county system are overwhelming.
Unfortunately, while the needs of the county road system have escalated rapidly, the sources of revenue have not. Counties receive a portion of the local motor vehicle registration fees, including the optional local registration fee which may be assessed by the commissioners court with 242 counties collecting this fee. Counties also receive a portion of the state truck permit fee. All other local funds must be raised through the property tax.
The county property tax remains the primary source of funding for counties to build and maintain county roads and bridges. Besides the general fund maintenance and operations property tax, a county may also adopt, following an election, the statutory special road and bridge tax (capped at 15 cents per $100 evaluation – as of 2008, 68 counties have adopted this tax) or, following an election, the constitutional farm-to-market/flood control tax (capped at 30 cents per $100 evaluation – as of 2008, 120 counties have adopted this tax).
Historically, the county road system has received some support from the state gasoline tax. In 1951, the state allocated $21.6 million to the county road system. With the adoption of the Colson-Briscoe Act to create the state farm-to-market road system, support of the county road system decreased. In 1951, the Legislature set the allocation for the county and road district highway fund at $7.3 million. This was approximately 10 percent of the $72.5 million collected from the $.04-per-gallon tax. This amount has remained unchanged at $7.3 million since 1951.
For approximately 40 years the state continued to absorb county roads into the state system to relieve county responsibility for heavy traffic. In recent years, the Texas Department of Transportation has been unable to continue expansion of the state system. Meanwhile, a state permit system adopted in 1989 has resulted in unrestricted traffic by heavy trucks on county roads. Each overweight truck inflicts as much road damage as 10,000 automobiles.
Counties cannot continue to maintain an adequate road system on property taxes and vehicle registration fees. The county road system is an integral part of our state transportation system. Additional state funding should be provided to balance the system. Counties are prepared to work with the Texas Department of Transportation and our state leadership to improve our transportation system. We recommend the consideration of the following options:
· Stop the diversion of transportation resources (Fund 6) over time;
· Index the state tax on gasoline and diesel fuel to stop the erosion of purchasing power and provide for bonding authority against the indexing;
· Increase the rate of the state tax on gasoline and diesel fuel by 10 cents per gallon and allocate the revenue to the TxDOT districts by formula to fund needed road, rail and transit projects;
· Authorize counties to hold local option elections to decide if they want to pay to fund specific transportation projects with a mobility improvement fee and/or a county motor fuel tax.
We commend these committees for their dedication to seeking solutions to these problems. Our members will present additional information at your future hearings. Please continue to call on us when we can assist your efforts in any way. Article Goes Here!