Officials from across Ellis County received an overview of pending legislation during a meeting Monday in Waxahachie.

North Central Texas Council of Governments transportation director Michael Morris provided an update on the Texas Local Option Transportation Funding Act, a bill set for filing in Austin.

The legislation identifies additional sources of revenue that could be tapped to address regional and local transportation needs. If approved, the bill would allow for local control and voter approval.

“I am here to sell you nothing,” Morris told the large group on hand for the informational session. “What you have to decide is whether you wish to participate in this or not.”

Basically, if the legislation is passed, the counties that want to consider using its provisions would develop a detailed service plan to put before voters. The plan could include rail or roadways or a combination of both, Morris said, adding, “You wouldn’t go to the voters until all questions are answered in a service plan.”

Once a plan is developed, an election would be called by the county commissioners court acting on its own volition or at the request of two or more municipalities if certain criteria is met. The election would allow for voter approval of funding mechanism and project(s).

In considering different funding mechanisms, the Legislature has ruled out property tax and sales tax as sources, Morris said, noting the bill is focused on user fees. The bill initially includes consideration of such user fees as:

• new resident impact fee – imposed on vehicles previously registered out of state

• mobility improvement fee – imposed on renewal of vehicle registration, not on purchase

• driver fee – imposed on driver license issuance and renewal (once every six years)

• local option gas tax – imposed on the sale of gas (and indexed)

• parking fee

• emissions fee

The legislation provides that any fees charged would be under caps established by lawmakers. It also allows for waivers or reductions for low- and moderate-income people.

The bill includes a transparency provision. According to the bill’s language, if an election is put to voters, the ballot must list each proposed mobility project to be constructed, the estimated cost of and completion date for each project, each proposed fee with a proposed rate for capital and, if applicable, a rate for maintenance and operations, and the date on which the proposed rate for capital projects will expire.

Funds raised in a county would remain there and be accounted for in a separate transportation fund. The legislation doesn’t create additional bureaucracy nor any new level of government, according to the bill’s language, which also notes that counties choosing to utilize the new legislation won’t be penalized with a reduction in their traditional state transportation funding.

Describing the bill as adding another tool to address transportation needs, Morris touched on current sources that include traditional funding and public-private partnerships. Updating the group on the economic stimulus bill just passed by Congress, he said two Ellis County projects were being pushed as recipients of that funding: the completion of the US. Highway 287 Bypass around Ennis and the widening of Interstate 35E through Waxahachie.

As it is, the bill will likely see changes as it makes its way through the legislative process, Morris said, encouraging supporters and critics alike to voice their opinions.

“If you’re interested in this, participate in the process,” he said.

Earlier in the day, state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, was joined by state Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Southlake, and other lawmakers at a press conference at DFW Airport to formally announce the bill’s filing.

“The bill we file today reflects months of hard work by Metroplex leaders to address our region's traffic congestion, air pollution and growing mobility needs,” Carona said. “Every day we fall further behind in providing our citizens a world-class mobility system. With this bill, we can finally turn the tide.”

Truitt serves as chairman of the House Committee on Pensions, Investments and Financial Services and touted the local control aspect of the legislation.

“There exists a very real, very glaring problem with transportation financing,” she said. “Our problems are only made worse with a fast-growing population, high gas prices and poor air quality. 

“We cannot afford to wait any longer.  We must act now – this session – to put the future of transportation in the hands of the voters,” she said. “I stand today alongside my colleagues who are determined to let the voters decide, locally, what kind of transportation system they want to build. Our goal as legislators is to give them that tool.”

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