Now that Perry’s Prayerpalooza is behind us and we breathlessly await his Presidential decision, keep this op-ed by former State Rep. Jim Dunnam in mind whenever you hear Perry pontificate about the national debt.
Before Rick Perry became governor, Texas was a pay-as-you-go state for roads, meaning we used current gas tax receipts to pay for new road construction. Our forefathers set up a system where transportation needs were paid for then and now, not by passing the buck to future generations. Under Gov. Perry, all that changed.
Starting in 2001, Texas started borrowing money for new road construction, pushing that cost onto future taxpayers. In just a decade, this debt has grown from zero to $11.9 billion. With interest payments, future taxpayers and our children will need 20 years and $21.1 billion to pay off that debt. There is even more about to be borrowed. In all, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has authority to borrow $17.3 billion, with a 30-year payoff of $31.1 billion, further shifting the burden to our children.
To make matters worse, new transportation debt is being secured by general state revenue, not just the gas tax. The exact same taxes we use to pay for public education, state universities and health care are now being diverted to make bond and interest payments on this debt. Imagine what future Texans could do without being saddled with $14 billion in interest payments over the next generation. They might not have to take money out of their public schools or health care. They might even have a real tax cut some day.
This debt is as potentially crushing on the future of Texas as the federal debt is for our United States. Texas’ borrowing has gotten so bad that we are now spending more annually on debt service than we are paying for new roads. According to TxDOT’s latest figures, we will spend $1.72 billion on debt payments over the next two years, compared to $1.28 billion for new roads.
That $1.72 billion sure would have been nice to have in this budget for other things, wouldn’t it? We wouldn’t have these problems if we were willing to raise the gas tax to keep up with the demand and the cost of building and maintaining our roads. Apparently, paying billions in interest is better because hey, it’s not taxes.