HOW TEXAS IS TAK­ING CARE OF TROU­BLED BRIDGES

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - Ben Wear

I was star­tled to hear last week on NPR that it had been a decade since the In­ter­state 35 bridge col­lapsed in Min­neapo­lis, killing 13 and in­jur­ing 145. Tem­pus does fugit, does it not?

That re­port, which took a na­tional per­spec­tive and found too many bridges still in poor shape all these years later, also touched on how so many states have been in­creas­ing gas taxes in re­cent years to try to ad­dress road and bridge needs. Which, of course, got me to won­der­ing about how Texas stacks up, both on bridges and the gas tax.

First, the gas tax. Texas leg­is­la­tors have not cho­sen to in­crease the state’s gas tax since 1991. That means that mostly famous Tex­ans such as Jor­dan Spi­eth, Demi Lo­vato and Shane Buechele have never lived in a world where the Texas gas tax wasn’t 20 cents a gal­lon.

Texas House mem­bers Will Met­calf of Con­roe and Briscoe Cain of Deer Park, both Repub­li­cans born in 1984, were still learn­ing to count to 20 when the gas tax was last changed. Now they could help change it.

Not go­ing to hap­pen, of course, de­spite at least 17 states and the District of Columbia hav­ing raised their gas taxes since 2013. Texas will not be fol­low­ing. Few things have been more cer­tain in state pol­i­tics, other than the R next to ev­ery statewide of­fice­holder’s name, for the past gen­er­a­tion.

Texas, which used to be solidly in the mid­dle of U.S. states on its gas tax, is now head­ing to the bot­tom. Or the top, de­pend­ing on how you look at it.

Forty-two states now have a higher state gas tax than Texas, with Penn­syl­va­nia at the top with a levy of 58.2 cents per gal­lon. Alaska, which de­pends heav­ily on oil and gas rev­enue, has the low­est tax: 12.25 cents a gal­lon. The me­dian rate among the 50 states and D.C. is Min­nesota’s 28.6 cents a gal­lon, and the av­er­age is 29 cents a gal­lon.

Mean­while, de­spite Texas’ huge pop­u­la­tion growth over the past decade, state gas tax rev­enue has gone up just 15.1 per­cent since the 2007 fis­cal year, from $3.05 bil­lion to $3.51 bil­lion. Ad­just that for in­fla­tion, and the value of what the state brings in from the tax

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