read: "The constitutional amendment creating the Texas Mobility Fund and
authorizing grants and loans of money and issuance of obligations for financing
the construction, reconstruction, acquisition, operation, and expansion of state
highways, turnpikes, toll roads, toll bridges, and other mobility projects."
Proposition 15 Passed: 67.3% Yes
We're often told that everyone knew that Proposition 15 was enabling the
Trans Texas Corridor. Below is a House briefing paper on the then proposed
constitutional amendment. Nowhere is there any reference to the proposed
construction of the Trans Texas any other corridor.
HOUSE BRIEFING PAPER
Creating a highway bond fund and allowing state spending on toll roads
(SJR 16 by Shapiro/Brimer, et al.)
Texas Constitution, Art. 3, sec. 52-b requires the Texas Turnpike Authority (TTA)
or its successor agency to repay to the State Highway Fund any monies spent by
the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) on toll roads, toll bridges, or
turnpikes. Art. 8, sec. 7-a dedicates three-fourths of net motor-fuel tax
revenue to the highway fund (designated by the Comptroller's Office as Fund 6),
which also receives revenue from motor-vehicle registration fees and sales taxes
on lubricants. Fund 6 money may be appropriated only for specific
Art. 3, sec. 49 of the Constitution prohibits state debt, generally requiring
that voters approve bonded indebtedness before the state may incur it. Sec. 49-j
limits annual state debt payable from state general revenue to 5 percent of the
annual average amount of nondedicated general revenue for the three preceding
Proposition 15 would add Art. 3, sec. 49-k to the Constitution, creating the
Texas Mobility Fund in the state treasury. The Texas Transportation Commission (TTC)
or its successor would administer this revolving fund to finance acquisition,
construction, maintenance, reconstruction, and expansion of state highways,
including design and right-of-way purchases. Money in the fund also could be
spent on public toll roads and other public transportation projects.
TTC could issue bonds pledged against the fund to be repaid from the fund
balance. Bond proceeds could be used for refunding obligations and related
credit agreements, creating reserves, and paying issuance costs and interest on
The Legislature could dedicate to the fund one or more specific revenue
sources or portions of other state revenues, as long as the sources were not
otherwise dedicated by the Constitution. Motor-vehicle registration fees and
taxes on motor fuels and lubricants could not be dedicated to the fund.
Dedicated revenue would be considered appropriated when received by the state,
deposited automatically into the fund, and used as provided by Proposition 15
and any law enacted under its authority without any further appropriation.
The dedication of a specific source or portion of revenue, taxes, or other
money could not be reduced, rescinded, or repealed unless two conditions were
satisfied. First, the Legislature by law would have to dedicate a substitute or
different source that the comptroller projected to be of equal or greater value
than the dedicated source. Second, the Legislature would have to authorize TTC
to guarantee payment of any bonds, notes, other obligations, or credit
agreements by pledging the state's full faith and credit if dedicated revenue
were insufficient to cover the payment. If TTC took such action and dedicated
revenue was insufficient, the first revenue deposited into the state treasury
not otherwise dedicated constitutionally would be appropriated to pay principal
and interest on the obligations or agreements, less any fund amount available
If approved by the attorney general, obligations and credit agreements issued
in conjunction with the fund would be considered incontestable. Judicial
enforcement would be delegated to a Travis County district court.
The fund's obligations and credit agreements would not be included in
computing the constitutional limit on state debt under Art. 3, sec. 49-j, except
to the extent that the comptroller projected that general revenue would be
needed to pay the amounts due should TTC exercise its authority to pledge the
state's full faith and credit or that money were dedicated to the fund from an
Proposition 15 also would amend Art. 3, sec. 52-b to authorize TxDOT to lend
or grant money for acquisition, construction, maintenance, or operation of
turnpikes or toll roads and toll bridges. The amendment would repeal the
constitutional requirement to repay Fund 6 from tolls or other turnpike revenue.
The ballot proposal reads: "The constitutional amendment creating the Texas
Mobility Fund and authorizing grants and loans of money and issuance of
obligations for financing the construction, reconstruction, acquisition,
operation, and expansion of state highways, turnpikes, toll roads, toll bridges,
and other mobility projects."
Proposition 15 would establish an innovative mechanism for stretching state
highway- funding dollars to build badly needed highways sooner. Texas'
traditional "pay-as-you-go" approach to highway finance no longer is viable. The
state's phenomenal population growth has led to more vehicle-miles traveled,
greater traffic congestion, clogged border crossings, deficient rural roads, and
many unsafe bridges. Demand has far outstripped capacity while spending has
lagged. Texas never will catch up with demand if it does not prepare itself to
innovate, as allowed by Proposition 15.
Highways are the only major capital projects for which the state does not
borrow money by issuing bonds. That policy no longer is defensible in the face
of spiraling needs, lost economic opportunities, and reduced quality of life.
Cities and counties routinely finance street and road projects with bonds. There
is no good reason why the state should not avail itself of this financing tool
as well, subject to appropriate constraints.
The Texas Mobility Fund would supplement federal and state highway revenue
without jeopardizing either. It would provide both flexibility and structure,
allowing spending on a variety of transportation projects while keeping the fund
balance secure. The balance would be used primarily to leverage highway bonds,
enabling projects to begin sooner and reducing the impact of construction
inflation. The interest earned would generate money for even more projects.
It would be up to future legislatures to dedicate revenue to the fund, either
through greater efficiencies, increased appropriations, or new sources. However,
it is important to establish the fund now as a policy statement until adequate
funding can be obtained.
While theoretically Proposition 15 could allow issuance of general obligation
bonds backed by general revenue, as opposed to revenue bonds backed by an as-yet
undetermined revenue source, such a scenario is improbable. The provision in the
amendment requiring that general revenue be used to cover bond debt service if
other revenue sources are insufficient is designed to protect investors in the
unlikely event of a potential default. The enabling legislation,
SB 4 by
Shapiro/Brimer, requires that the mobility fund contain at least 110 percent of
the money necessary to pay principal and interest on all obligations issued each
year. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the mobility fund ever would become
overextended and require general revenue to pay debt service on the bonds.
The stipulation in Proposition 15 that revenue dedicated to the mobility fund
automatically be appropriated for purposes of the fund is not unprecedented. The
Legislature appropriated money to many state agencies in that manner prior to a
change in policy beginning in the 1980s. The goal is to ensure investors that
money earmarked for highway bonds will be there by preventing the Legislature
from "raiding" the fund by appropriating for non-highway purposes the revenue
dedicated to the fund before it reaches the fund. The Legislature already
delegates spending decisions to TTC in an effort to depoliticize the highway
project-selection process. The amendment merely would place that sound policy in
the Constitution as it pertains to the mobility fund.
Allowing the state to spend money up front on toll roads would hasten
construction of much-needed highway projects. Forgoing repayment to TxDOT of
state funding for toll roads would alleviate the double-edged problem most new
toll projects face, that of two liens - one to TxDOT and the other to
bondholders. Providing toll equity - shorthand for the value of the state's
unreimbursed investment in toll projects - would alleviate some of the burden of
capital outlay for toll-road startup costs. This would make toll projects more
attractive to investors, accelerate debt retirement, and hasten production of
Making it possible for projects to proceed as toll roads, rather than be
financed conventionally, also would reduce contributions by local governments,
which eventually would derive even more benefits from additional projects built
in their areas with revenue generated from toll roads. Toll equity would free
more state dollars for other projects because the state's spending share of a
toll project would be much less than if it paid entirely for the same project
without tolls. This also could mean more money spent overall in certain areas
when the value of toll projects is combined with conventional TxDOT spending.
Four potential toll projects being planned by TTA for Central Texas likely
would benefit the most from the innovative financing proposed by Proposition 15.
Three other prospective projects (two in San Antonio and one at South Padre
Island) also could benefit, as well as five projects being planned in
Dallas/Fort Worth by the North Texas Tollway Authority and five projects planned
by the Harris County Toll Road Authority.
Taxes pay for many roads that some motorists never use. Toll roads make sense
as alternative routes to high-traffic areas, available for a nominal user fee.
However, tollways never will replace non-toll roads; free routes always will
exist. Any plan that provides more money for highway construction while
retaining state fiscal control would benefit all motorists.
Borrowing money by issuing bonds would make highways more expensive in the
long run because of debt service, underwriting, and issuance costs. This would
drain precious resources from the task of providing transportation efficiently
and would encumber revenue that otherwise could be used on other projects.
Bonding would not generate new money for highways; it merely would reallocate it
and tie it up for the future. Over commitment would limit Texas' ability to meet
unforeseen needs. The state lacks the resources to make bonding viable soon
enough to have a significant impact on Texas' transportation crisis. The
Legislature either should find sufficient money in general revenue or should
increase the gasoline tax, the closest thing to a user fee for all motorists.
Toll roads represent double taxation. Motorists already
pay for highways at
the gasoline pump, vehicle registration counter, and at auto supply retailers.
They should not have to pay for highways again when they exercise their right to
travel on them.
The constitutional prohibition against paying for toll roads with non-toll
revenue remains sound. If tolls alone are insufficient to undertake and sustain
a project, it should not be built as a toll road. Tolls are supposed to be high
enough only to pay for the toll roads and their financing. The proposed
amendment's second piece of enabling legislation, SB 342 by Shapiro/Alexander,
would allow excess toll revenue to be transferred to the new mobility fund. This
would create an incentive to turn toll projects into "cash cows." Users of toll
roads should not be expected to subsidize other highways.
The amendment could create a potentially open-ended draw on general revenue
to pay for highway bonds if dedicated revenue in the fund were insufficient to
pay the principal and interest. There is nothing in Proposition 15 itself
that would limit the amount of bonds that could be issued as long as general
revenue or some other source were available to cover any shortfall in revenue
dedicated to the fund. It also is unclear whether the language in the amendment
only applies to an unforeseen deficit. This could encourage the deliberate
issuance of more bonds than the revenue dedicated to the fund alone could cover.
Proposition 15 would undermine legislative oversight by appropriating
automatically to the mobility fund any revenue dedicated to the fund. The
revenue could be used as provided by the amendment and the enabling law "without
further appropriation" by the Legislature. This rare bypassing of legislative
control of a treasury-based fund effectively would delegate spending authority
to TTC. The Legislature would have to enact statutes to direct, preempt, or
change any TTC spending decisions because the amendment would preclude lawmakers
from doing so through the appropriations process.
Other opponents say
It would be
pointless to create a fund with no revenue, not unlike opening a bank account
with no deposit. The Legislature should postpone this idea until it is prepared
to pay for it. Texans need more money for roads now, not the legislative
equivalent of a promissory note. Borrowing against an almost-sure thing, such as
federal highway funds, would provide a quicker and more meaningful infusion of
capital than waiting for a better economy to create a budget surplus or for a
consensus to form around a politically sensitive tax hike, either of which could
take years to materialize, if ever.
Even if Texas'
toll roads increased in number, they never would provide enough revenue to
reduce significantly the huge number of other transportation projects Texas
needs to build. SB 342, one piece of enabling
legislation that would take effect if the voters approve Proposition 15, would
turn the original toll equity concept on its head - rather than the state
subsidizing toll roads, toll roads would be asked to subsidize the state highway
program. In fairness, toll revenue at least should be dedicated to more toll
If voters approve Proposition 15, then
SB 4 by Shapiro/Brimer, creating the
Texas Mobility Fund, and SB 342 by Shapiro/Alexander, setting forth procedures
for TxDOT's participation in toll projects, also would take effect.
SB 4 would allow TTC to issue obligations to pay for all or part of the cost
of building, rebuilding, acquiring, and expanding state highways with a useful
life of at least 10 years. TTC also could issue obligations to finance state
participation in paying part of the costs of publicly owned toll roads and other
public transportation projects that the commission determined to be in the best
interests of the state in improving mobility. SB 4 would cap bond maturities at
The mobility fund would have to contain at least 110 percent of the money
necessary to pay principal and interest on all obligations issued each year.
Subject to this limit, TTC could guarantee payment of all obligations by
pledging the state's full faith and credit in the event that revenue dedicated
to and on deposit in the fund were insufficient. TTC could issue no obligations
until TxDOT had developed a strategic plan detailing proposed expenditures and
expected benefits to the state. To the extent that money was on deposit in the
fund in excess of that required to pay all obligations of the fund, TTC could
use the money for any purpose for which obligations could be issued.
SB 342 would allow TxDOT to allocate up to 30 percent of its annual federal
highway spending authority (currently about $600 million a year) to toll
projects. It also would authorize TTC to create regional mobility authorities to
build, maintain, and operate turnpikes. The authorities annually would determine
if they had surplus revenue from turnpike projects that exceeded debt service
and operation, maintenance, or expansion costs. They could use the surplus
revenue by reducing tolls, spending it on other regional transportation
projects, or transferring it to the Texas Mobility Fund. TTC could convert a
segment of the free highway system to a turnpike project and transfer it to a
regional mobility authority to be operated as a toll road.
SB 342 also would
abolish the Texas Turnpike Authority board and would transfer to the mobility
fund all unspent and unobligated appropriations and other monies under the
board's control, estimated at $2.3 million as of the end of fiscal 2001.
underwriters Goldman Sachs, Salomon Smith Barney and Lehman Brothers
will earn about $21 million for handling the state bond sales for
the highway. Goldman and Salomon gave $10,000 each to last year's
campaign to pass Proposition 15, a state constitutional amendment
that significantly changed the way Texas finances roads."
— R.G. Ratcliffe, Highway plans bring money to
politicians, Houston Chronicle
Thank you for your time and interest.
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Monday February 05, 2007