The Chronicle reports that state senators (mostly Republicans) are throwing obstacles in front of Senator John Carona's "local option" bill. This bill would allow counties to choose from a menu of fees and taxes to fund transportation projects as they see fit. Options would include imposing a local gas tax or raising vehicle registration or driver's license renewal fees. "No taxes or fees" would be on the menu, too -- and any increase would require voter approval.
This is a measure long overdue. Cities and counties need to regain control of their local infrastructure. Cities and counties know their needs better than TxDOT. Cities and counties certainly know their preferences better than TxDOT. We need to devolve more control to the locals, and "control" requires money. This bill doesn't go far enough, in fact; counties and cities not only need the right to raise new money, they need to get back some of the money they now send TxDOT.
State Republicans are raising a ruckus, though:
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, called it a "disaster" that, with so many exemptions added, puts the whole new tax burden on "my two favorite people, the police officer married to the school teacher."
There are a couple of points worth making here. The first is that Patrick's "police officer married to the school teacher" probably lives in the 'burbs, and suburbanites suffer especially hard from dilapidated infrastructure. Perhaps the police officer and school teacher prefer better roads (or a rail option) to slightly higher fees and taxes. There are always trade offs. Under the local option, they'd at least get to vote in a local election. Patrick and company apparently think the policeman and school teacher are better off when the decision is made for them by suddenly paternalistic Republican senators sitting a couple hundred miles away.
That leads to the second point. The "local option" bill is not a tax hike. It gives county voters discretion to tax themselves if they'd like better infrastructure. Voters in some counties might prefer creaky infrastructure to higher gas taxes or vehicle registration fees. Others might prefer more roads, or better roads, or more money for transit. The point is that counties could sort themselves according to their own preferences. And gain more say over their urban form rather than having it dictated to them by the bureaucratic TxDOT.
Perhaps that's the senators' real objection. They fear that if urban areas get even a limited choice over their own infrastructure, they might make choices that the Legislature doesn't like. The Lege doesn't like the "local" in "local option."