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Propositions 5 & 7: Roads in Texas

AUSTIN — Texas voters will decide in the November 3, 2015, election whether seven amendments proposed by the Texas Legislature should be added to the Texas Constitution. “Propositions 5 and 7 are both about roads” according to Elaine Wiant, President of the League of Women Voters of Texas. “Transportation is a high priority in Texas, where the population continues to grow rapidly. Texas grows by almost 1,000 people each day. Given the significance of the issues and relative permanence of constitutional amendments, voters need to understand each of the propositions to cast an informed vote.” If a majority of those voting in the November 3 election support the propositions, they will become part of the Texas Constitution.

Proposition 5

The official ballot language for Proposition 5 is “The constitutional amendment to authorize counties with a population of 7,500 or less to perform private road construction and maintenance.”

In 1980, the Constitution was amended giving rural counties with fewer than 5,000 people the right to construct and maintain private roads if the county imposes a reasonable charge for the work. Proposition 5 would increase the population cap to 7,500. It would reflect population growth in Texas counties and include an additional 21 counties. Any revenue received by the county could be used only for construction or maintenance of public roads.

Those in support of this amendment argue that in small counties private contractors are rarely available to maintain these private roads, so private roads are often poorly maintained, creating safety hazards. The arguments against the amendment include improved roads may increase traffic, and that the improved road, paid for by the landowner, may increase the value of the property, increasing property taxes.

Proposition 7

The official ballot language for Proposition 7 is “The constitutional amendment dedicating certain sales and use tax revenue and motor vehicle sales, use, and rental tax revenue to the state highway fund to provide funding for nontolled roads and the reduction of certain transportation-related debt.”

Proposition 7 has two parts. The first part diverts 2.5 billion of the state sales tax each yearto the state highway fund. Under current law (that would expire on Sept. 1, 2032), these funds are deposited to the General Revenue Fund.

The second part, that would begin Sept 1, 2019, would take an additional 35% of all revenue over $6 billion for the State Highway Fund. For example, if $6 billion came in from this tax, then 35 percent of $1 billion, or $350 million would be dedicated to the State Highway Fund, for a total of $2.85 billion ($2.5 billion plus $350 million). Currently, the sales tax on motor vehicles is about $4 billion, and it goes directly to the General Revenue Fund. The new revenue for the State Highway Fund would be used only for public roadways, but not toll roads, or to make payments on transportation related debt.

The supporters of the amendment say that it is necessary in order to fund transportation needs. Last year voters passed a transportation amendment which was a first step in providing funding for transportation, but it wasn’t adequate. Supporters say this amendment would provide a sustainable funding solution that does not increase taxes.

The argument against the amendment is that it does not provide a new source of fund; it is just taking funds from the General Revenue Fund and dedicating them to transportation. The shift of sales tax money will mean less money in the budget for other necessary items.

League of Women Voters of Texas Voting Resources

The Texas League provides several additional resources to help voters prepare for the November 2015 Constitutional Amendment Election. A nonpartisan Voters Guide with ballot language, explanation, and balanced arguments for and against each proposition, plus information on photo ID and other voting requirements, is available on the TexasLeague website, lwvtexas.org, in both English and Spanish. Information is also available on the League’s interactive Voters Guide, VOTE411.org, and in print through local Leagues and many libraries across the state.

A short video describing each proposition is provided on the League’s YouTube channel(League of Women Voters of Texas) and at lwvtexas.org.

Early voting ends on October 30. All registered voters may vote early at any early voting location in their county. On November 3, voters must vote in the precinct where they live unless the county is participating in countywide vote centers. Locations are published in newspapers on online by the county clerk or election administrator. County elections information is available at VoteTexas.gov or VOTE411.org.