Highways Win Voters’ Support

All 7 state propositions win approval
By Katherine Blunt and John W. Gonzalez STAFF WRITERS
Texas voters showed overwhelming support Tuesday for a ballot measure that sets aside more money for the state’s underfunded highway system.
Proposition 7, which allocates some sales and vehicle tax revenue for nontoll highways each year, passed alongside six other constitutional amendments that will affect property tax policies, charity raffles, residency requirements for state officials and hunting and fishing rights, among other things.
“When you look at how easily Prop. 7 passed, it continues to send a loud and clear message to Austin that the people of this state take transportation very seriously and that they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is,” said Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, former chairman of the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Starting in 2018, Prop. 7 will add $2.5 billion in sales tax revenue to the State Highway Fund, and after 2020, it will add another $430 million in vehicle sales tax revenue.
In San Antonio, the measure’s approval will allow the MPO to expand U.S. 281 on the North Side, between Loop 1604 and the Bexar County line, without tolls. It could also affect plans for other proposed toll projects in the region, including parts of I-10 and I-35.
“I think we’ve got 281 committed as a top priority for nontoll, and then we’ll move on to I-35 and I-10 and figure out how much money we’ll have available to spread across those projects,” said City Councilman Ray Lopez, MPO chairman.
It will also enable the MPO to make a dent in a $10 billion list of unfunded projects, including some in parts of Guadalupe, Comal and Kendall counties.
Several state leaders championed the measure, including House Speaker Joe Straus.
“This has been a breakthrough year for Texas transportation funding,” Straus said in a statement. “Combined with our decision to end diversions of the gas tax, the passage of Proposition 7 will provide significant new funding for roads without higher taxes or fees.”
The Legislature created Prop. 7 to increase highway funding without raising taxes, building toll roads or adding to the state’s $18.2 billion transportation debt, not counting interest. The measure’s approval came just a year after voters gave their blessing to Proposition 1, a constitutional amendment that sets aside some severance tax revenue for highway spending each year.
Together, the two amendments will help close a funding gap the state has struggled to fill. The Texas Department of Transportation has estimated it needs $5 billion more each year for basic maintenance and congestion-relief projects.
The other amendments on Tuesday’s ballot had the overwhelming approval of the Legislature, which met earlier this year.
Leading the ballot was Prop. 1, which raises the homeowner exemption for school district property taxes from $15,000 to $25,000. Additionally, the amendment permanently bans any sales taxes on real estate transactions. Backed by Gov. Greg Abbott and legislative leaders, it was heavy promoted by the Texas Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization PAC.
Prop. 2 extends a veterans’ benefit to those who died before a key law took effect. The amendment allows the Legislature to grant a property tax exemption for the homestead of the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran who died before the exemption law was approved.
Prop. 3 moves Texas out of the horse-and-buggy days. The amendment removes a requirement that some statewide elected officials reside in Austin, although the governor and lieutenant governor will continue to live there.
Prop. 4, which was backed by professional sports teams including the San Antonio Spurs, authorizes the teams’ charitable foundations to conduct charitable raffles.
Prop. 5, which applies only to a few small counties, enables counties with fewer than 7,500 people to build and maintain private roads. Previously, only counties with 5,000 people or less could do so.
Prop. 6, backed in radio spots by the Texans United for Hunting and Fishing Rights, was a preemptive attempt to protect traditional sporting practices by recognizing in the Constitution the right to hunt and fish. While some groups viewed the change as unnecessary, it still passed overwhelmingly.

kblunt@express-news.net

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