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Stop diverting state funds

It appears Texas is finally getting serious about not diverting dedicated funds after the mess that practice seems to have made in the transportation department.

Diverting is intended to be a way to creatively fund items without levying new taxes. But it has come with pitfalls. When money is diverted, something has to give.

A House bill has been introduced that would dedicate all motor vehicle taxes to the highway fund by 2018. The bill calls for a larger and larger percentage going to transportation until it reaches 100 percent by 2018.

A study by the House Committee on Transportation said $881.5 million of highway fund appropriations in 2012 went for other purposes. More than $630 million went to the Department of Public Safety.

The study noted, “Taxpayers expected their money to fund transportation as advertised; they expect that taxes and fees associated with motor vehicle and roadway use will be returned to the transportation system.”

For more than two years now, state leaders have been warning there is little money for new road projects. Maintenance on what we already have will use up most of the funds expected to become available.

Some road funding has fallen on local municipalities. In El Paso, there are at least two creative road-building funding methods being used — Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones and a public-private venture (Spur 601 construction) whereby a private company built the seven-mile-plus spur by Fort Bliss and the state will pay the company back.

Another problem is the ongoing scare concerning state parks. Parks supporters say the early budget proposal will shortchange the system by $12 million. The Parks and Wildlife Department says it may be forced to close seven parks — but there would not have been a problem had the Sporting Goods Sales Tax not been diverted.

This comes as the Republican majority in the Texas Legislature says it intends to keep the budget lean, and with an eye on not raising taxes. Early on, at least, Republicans say they do not even intend to put back the billions cut from public education in 2011.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that the state collects some $5 billion a year for designated purposes, but tens of millions of that money has been regularly diverted for other uses.

There was a call to end the practice of diversion in the 2011 Legislature. It did not pass.

Now it’s good to see Gov. Rick Perry and House Speaker Joe Straus, both Republicans, leading the way to make sure money meant for state highways gets to the highway fund.

 El Paso Times