Money for Texas Roads in Question

A crucial highway funding bill has passed the House, but its future is still in peril. If it doesn't become law in the next few months Texas stands to lose nearly a billion dollars in construction money. Matt Laslo reports from Washington.

The government gets about eighteen cents for every gallon of gas you buy. That money goes into the Highway Trust Fund, which is then dispersed for projects across the US. But this year, with gas prices soaring, people are driving less and the fund is facing a thirty percent budget shortfall. Texas Democrat Nick Lampson is on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

 "Taking money out of the highway trust fund, taking money out of any of the funds that keep our infrastructure strong is critical. We are already running a trillion and $600 million behind our maintenance of our highway and municipality infrastructure. If we don't act on those things than we do ourselves a great deal of harm in comparison to other nations."

The House voted to infuse eight billion dollars into the fund. If the bill does not become law by October first, Texas will lose about a third of its two billion dollar highway funds. That could result in the loss of up to twenty nine thousand construction jobs. This year's attempt at a quick fix has raised questions about the fund. Some lawmakers propose increasing the federal gas tax by fifty- cents to pay for highway projects. Texas Republican Ted Poe opposes the idea.

"What we need to do rather than raise taxes, especially the gasoline tax, is appropriate money that we already have that comes in from income taxes that is being wasted on other projects and use that for highway construction."

The gas tax proposal was floated before oil prices surged. Now Democrats are talking about passing a second stimulus package. It would be about a fifty-billion dollar bill that would include money for infrastructure improvements. Texas Democrat Al Green supports a second stimulus package.

"Let's see if the stimulus package may provide what we need. I'm not going to knee-jerk and say we should raise taxes. I think we are not in a climate where raising taxes is celebrated."

Democrats weren't able to include any job creation program on the first stimulus bill, but they think they may be able to get it passed in a smaller package. Green says the economy needs it.

 "I think that giving that kind of attention to the infrastructure that can boost the economy and put people to work, help us to help Americans help themselves, is a thought worthy of consideration."

Republicans, like Poe, call the second stimulus package a political stunt. Many Republicans support the plan to increase the highway trust fund, but the White House opposes it. If neither bill passes, many Texas road projects will have to be put on hold.

From Capitol News Connection, Matt Laslo, KUHF-Houston Public Radio.