You may recall the Texas Transportation Institute study that said Texas could fund its roadbuilding needs without tolling everything in sight. TxDOT has finally reacted to it, and it's about what you'd expect.
State transportation officials rebutted that analysis Wednesday, arguing that it understates future needs and overstates what the tax would raise.
"The individuals contracted to do that report were contracted to produce an intended result," Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said. "But this is a great thing to put on the table and say, 'Let's talk about this.' "
The study contends that an $86 billion gap in transportation funding over the next generation, a bracingly huge figure that Williamson and others have brandished repeatedly in recent months, should more properly be about $56 billion.
Toll supporters have cited that gap, along with a resulting $1.40-a-gallon increase in the state gas tax that officials say it would take to close it, as justification for the state Transportation Department's wholesale commitment to toll roads.
The authors, who include Texas Transportation Institute researchers Tim Lomax and David Ellis and well-known transportation consultant Alan Pisarski, trimmed $22 billion from the state's $86 billion estimate by saying those costs were for city and county roads and are not the state Transportation Department's responsibility.
The authors said the state may have overstated future costs by an additional $8 billion or so.
Williamson and state Transportation Department staff members said eliminating that $22 billion local obligation is bad math and they are looking for a way to address all of the state's unmet needs.
Transportation officials also said that the report has significantly overestimated how much revenue a gas tax increase would generate by assuming that the average fuel efficiency of cars and trucks would rise to only 23 miles per gallon by 2030.
The officials say that hybrid cars and other technology will cause gas tax revenue to nosedive in coming years.
Even if gas tax revenue stagnates or falls, [Michael Stevens, a Houston real estate investor who chairs the Governor's Business Council, which commissioned the study] said, emerging satellite technology would allow the state to tax motorists based on actual miles travelled.
The study has reverberated through transportation and legislative circles because that volunteer council is peopled by Perry supporters, including Stevens. Stevens said he met with Perry before the study came out.
Given that the report would seem to undercut Perry's opposition to a gas tax increase and support of toll roads, was the governor unhappy with the council's handiwork?
"My view is that the governor is interested in good policy," Stevens said. "That Ric Williamson is unhappy with me doesn't necessarily mean that the governor is unhappy with me."
Perry "believes that we do have a sound transportation policy in place and moving forward," spokesman Robert Black said. "But his general reaction has been, 'Put the ideas on the table, and let's let the Legislature have a debate on them.' "