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Texas Politics - Political Economy
dedicated fund
Good Roads Amendment
zero-sum game
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For more information on transportation and highways in Texas, see the Texas Good Roads and Transportation Association and the Texas Department of Transportation.

5.1    Transportation and State Highways

The state spends vast sums on transportation. In 2004 Texas spent 8.6 percent (or, one dollar of every 12 in the budget) on transportation. Furthermore, more than two-thirds of those transportation dollars ($3.77 billion of the total $5.25 billion) were spent on highway construction, maintenance and repair.

As observed in the chapter on the Texas Constitution, part of the reason we spend so much on Texas highways is because the so-called Good Roads Amendment to the state constitution (adopted in 1946) requires that that three-fourths of all revenue from state gasoline taxes be "used for the sole purpose of acquiring rights of way, constructing, maintaining, and policing "public road ways" and for the administration of traffic safety laws.

This amendment is a classic demonstration of how policy and budgetary decisions creates winners and losers. While nobody wants to pay taxes, even the most ardent conservative will fight doggedly for a share of government expenditures. Since there is only so much money to spend, budget politics is essentially a zero-sum game: the money that one group gets is lost to others vying for a share of the government budget. If you add to one expense area, you must subtract the same amount from other expense areas.

The creation of winners and losers may happen on a vertical basis between rich and poor, business and consumers, etc. But conflict between competing well-funded business interests also creates its share of winners and losers. For instance, in 2003 a plan was put in motion to sell licenses to pump subsoil water in west Texas to a private group interested in sending it via pipeline to more distant areas. This pitted a very well connected new group of investors against established farming and ranching interests in the area.

The Good Roads Amendment also illustrates how the struggle among competing interests is continuous. What you win during one legislative session, for instance, may be taken away during the next round of budget deliberations. The key is to create barriers that inhibit others from turning your winnings into their winnings. The best way to win and secure one's access to lucrative sources of state funds is to create mechanisms by which other competing interests in society cannot compete for "your" funds. In the case of highways, the solution to this challenge involved creating a so-called dedicated fund (a public fund paid for by revenue from a particular source that is dedicated to a particular use) and then enshrining it in the fundamental document of state government (the Texas Constitution) ensured a steady stream of work for industries connected with highway construction.

Despite the Good Roads Amendment, the Texas Constitution still prohibited public borrowing for the purpose of building roads. In essence, Texas had a "pay-as-you-go" approach to road building. In 2001 the legislature presented voters with a proposed amendment to the constitution that would create a new fund exclusively for highway construction that would permit public borrowing. Voters approved the proposed State Mobility Fund, which allowed the issuing of bonds to fund new highways, toll roads, and other transportation systems.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 103
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