Fees are part of the answer for Texas’ pressing infrastructure needs, but they aren’t and cannot be the whole solution.
To help keep the Texas business climate robust, lawmakers should double state fees on motor vehicle registrations and impose a new fee on every water meter in the state, the state’s largest business lobbying group said Thursday.
Economic development competitors are using Texas’ lack of investment in water resources and roads against it, and the fees could help the state address those issues, Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, told a special committee of lawmakers and business leaders.
Other states are telling companies, “Don’t go to Texas. They’re not investing in infrastructure,” Hammond told the Select Committee on Economic Development. The committee is studying how to encourage continued business development.
The business group is suggesting a $1.50 monthly fee on every water meter as well as every irrigation well in a water conservation district. Hammond estimated that the fee would raise $150 million a year to encourage local governments to develop new water resources.
Likewise, Hammond said, increasing the motor registration fee would raise more than $1 billion a year for highway construction. That money, according to the Texas Association of Business report, could be leveraged into $14 billion to $16 billion in bonds for new roads.
Most motorists now pay $50.75 per vehicle to the state and another $5 to $11.50 in local fees.
Hammond said, “The business community feels so strongly, we are willing to offer a specific solution.”
That solution, however, has critics.
Dick Lavine, a fiscal analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said he agrees that the state needs to invest more in transportation, water and education. But he disagrees with using fees that hit well-off people the same as the poor people.
“They pretend that everyone has the same ability to pay,” Lavine said. “We’d like something so those who can afford more, pay more.”
Hammond countered there is little appetite in the Legislature for raising taxes.
Usually when there is a pressing need for something that isn’t popular, functional societies rely on something called “leadership” to make it happen. You know, the whole “doing the right thing” thing. Regressive though they may be, I don’t have any abiding objections to these fees, but let’s get real: Neither will raise nearly enough money to solve the problems. Raising the gas tax is still the best option, and if done right could just about wipe out the transportation funding deficit. The water issue is somewhat more intractable, but hey, that’s what we elected these people to figure out. It’s on them to get it done, and it’s on them if they don’t.