Vehicle program funding sought
State cut money from effort that cleans up emissions in Travis.
Travis County has threatened to quit a program that gives lowincome residents up to $3,500 to repair or replace polluting cars after the state collected $1.62 million in fees dedicated for that program from Travis County residents but returned just $189,000 to the county during the 2012 budget year.
The so-called Drive a Clean Machine program saw an 87.5 percent funding cut in the 2012-13 two-year budget because state legislators used that revenue to help balance the state budget in the 2011 legislative session.
But one year into the two-year cycle, the state is expecting higher overall revenue, which could turn into a surplus of more than $8 billion.
To Travis County commissioners, that means the state should restore the funding
to the 7-year-old vehicle repair and replacement program. If the state doesn’t, Travis — one of only two counties in the state to participate voluntarily — might opt out of the program.
Williamson County, the other voluntary participant in the program and its tax, has issued a similar warning, saying that without full funding it will drastically scale back the program.
“Since we approved the fee locally for a dedicated purpose, we want most — if not all — the money to come back for that purpose,” Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said. “Without additional funding, we would be compelled to eliminate the program.”
Biscoe and his counterpart in Williamson County, Dan A. Gattis, are separately writing to the chairmen of the state’s Legislative Budget Board, asking that they restore funding.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area’s council of governments, which administers the program there, has also asked the chairmen, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, to restore funding.
The state has been collecting program fees steadily but made a big funding cut this year to all 16 counties participating in the program. Besides Travis and Williamson counties, the others are all in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas and have to participate because they fail to meet federal emission requirements.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which distributes money allocated to the program from the Legislature, cut the $44.7 million sent out in the 2011 budget year to $5.58 million in the 2012 budget year.
For Travis County, funding went from $1.78 million to $170,000; for Williamson County, it went from $683,000 to $68,700. Statewide, the cuts ranged from 86.8 percent in Johnson County, south of Fort Worth, to 90.4 percent in Travis County.
The state also cut back on grants for programs that help communities improve air quality. From 2011 to 2012, Travis County’s funding for those projects dropped from $390,000 to $19,000.
Total funding from the state dropped $2.17 million to $189,000.
“The money is going to the state and to a black hole that they call budget balancing,” Biscoe said, criticizing the state’s approach of not using revenue from some taxes and fees for the purpose they were collected.
The Drive a Clean Machine program is available to single people making up to $33,510 or families of four making up to $69,150 — three times the federal poverty limit.
If the counties quit the state program, they can’t run their own version without legislative approval, said Adele Noel, Travis County’s air quality program manager.
“We can’t just go and impose fees,” she said. “We have looked into that.”
Biscoe also noted that the Austin area’s ozone levels are close to exceeding limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If peak ozone levels put the Austin metropolitan area above the EPA standards, residents here would probably have to create programs similar to those in the Houston and Dallas areas.
“The money is needed locally here to fight air pollution and air quality” problems, Biscoe said. “And since we’re near nonattainment, we need it.”