From Staff Reports
The Athens Review
The special Legislative session called by Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday gives State Sen. Robert Nichols new hope of getting a major highway bill through.
Within minutes of the session being called, Nichols, whose 3rd District includes Henderson County, filed Senate Joint Resolution 1 for a constitutional amendment to dedicate 50 percent of all oil and gas severance taxes currently transferred to the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) to the state highway fund.
“I am thankful for Governor Perry's leadership in calling this session to address such an important issue,” Nichols said. “Our state's economy depends upon having a safe and reliable road system.”
According to estimates from State Comptroller Susan Comb’s Office, SJR 1 could deposit as much as $900 million a year into the state highway fund.
The resolution stipulates that the funds could only be used for constructing, maintaining and acquiring rights-of-way for non-tolled, public roadways. However, it is also careful to ensure a healthy balance is left in the ESF before transportation dollars are ever removed from the funding stream.
“We continue to face a serious crisis in transportation,” Nichols said. “Our state’s population is increasing exponentially. Our system is aging. Traffic continues to rise. And funding for congestion relief will be at a 10-year low in a short two years. The state is also paying millions of dollars a year in debt service for transportation-related debt. SJR 1 will go a long way in helping to resolve these problems.”
Because SJR 1 is a constitutional amendment, it must pass each chamber with a two-thirds majority. If successful, citizens will then see it on the ballot this November.
Nichols, a former Texas transportation commissioner, currently serves as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He has been working on Texas transportation issues in various capacities since 1997.