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Senator Rodney Ellis

SB5: Dedicated funds poor policy

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Transportation funding is an important issue for our state, and it must be addressed. Infrastructure investment is key to creating good paying jobs and ensuring Texas remains competitive in the 21st century economy. But so is investing in our human infrastructure, through quality educational opportunities and better health care for Texas families. We can and should invest in all these priorities to build a better future for all Texas families.

So I cannot in good conscience support legislation that will restrict the ability of future legislatures to meet our state s’ needs. The voters sent us here to make hard decisions including allocating money to address our state’s needs.

Dedicated funds are poor public policy simply because they limit flexibility. This year’s critical need may not be as critical next year, and funding cannot follow problems. By constitutionally dedicating this funding, we’re creating a new multi-billion dollar hole that s’ going to be difficult to fill during years when the budget is tight.

Historically, dedications of revenue for a particular purpose have limited the Legislature’s flexibility in appropriating funds based on budgetary need and in utilizing the balances for other government purposes. The Legislature has a tendency to appropriate whatever is available from the dedicated funds, rather than what is necessary.

About three-fourths of our state’s budget is currently dedicated funding, and adding transportation funding to the amount of restricted dollars only ties future legislature’s hands. When coupled with the promise of large tax cuts, we’ve got to start asking how we can afford locking this funding when we clearly have huge unmet needs in the state: from our unconstitutional and underfunded public school system, to the highest rate of uninsured in the country, to skyrocketing tuition that’s pricing working families out of higher education.

Just like any other agency which goes through the budgeting process, TxDOT should have to make its case each session regarding its funding needs, and it should be accountable for how those dollars are spent. The Legislature needs to maintain the flexibility to base appropriations on budgetary needs rather than basing expenditures on revenues received for a dedicated purpose.

I want to be certain that we are moving forward with a thoughtful and sustainable plan to address all our state s’ needs, including transportation. Just this week, the Legislative Budget Board released a report on options to increase revenue available for transportation infrastructure, many of which do not include dedicating existing funding. I hope my vote against this bill will allow for continued discussion on these issues.

As read on the floor of the Texas Senate in response to passage of SB5, March 4, 2015

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