Drew Darby Discusses Roads
State Representative Drew Darby showed up to the Pachyderm Meeting at Zentner’s Daughter Tuesday and unbeknownst to him, was expected to speak.
Darby, a good sport, stood up to speak and answer a few questions from fellow Republicans. While the usually hot topic of water was brought up, the state's funding (or inability to fund) infrastructure and roads was the barn burner issue.
“We have people moving to Texas and they’re not bringing their roads with them,” said Darby. “Maybe they should,” responded San Angelo Mayor Dwain Morrison with a quiet chuckle.
The Texas Department of Transportation states that $5 billion more than the allotted $1.2 billion a year is needed to address safety, congestion and maintenance issues.
On the subject of maintenance, a woman present at the meeting asked if the gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees paid for the roads in Texas. Gasoline taxes have not been increased since 1991 and registration fees for motor vehicles have not changed since 1985. Darby explained that Legislature raised gas taxes nine times from 1917 to 1991.
“You have a growing state needing connectivity. They (previous legislatures) recognized that we wanted to be ‘pay as you go,'” said Darby. “We built the finest road system in America and we paid for it as we went.”
According to Darby, in 2000 the legislature chose not to raise gasoline taxes and registration fees, and instead issued bonds, or loans. The put the capital expenditures on a credit card, Darby said.
“Our credit card is maxed out, no more of that,” said Darby, “$17 billion worth of debt for roads.”
He stated that the $17 billion is now $31 billion, and something else must be done. Darby does not want to take funds from other organizations, however.
He explains that they can’t take money away from Health and Human Services, public education or any number of other entities that cannot raise fees for sustainability.
“We can’t charge prisoners to be in jail,” Darby stated to small peals of laughter. “We can’t charge kiddos to go to school.”
He overall refused to take any money out of the education system, no matter how bad the roads got. Instead, Darby said that he is working with other officials to pass a bill, with voter approval, that will use a portion of oil and gas severance taxes for roads.
Darby is facing a primary challenge from Tea Party member Shannon Thomason of Big Spring. Thomason has been critical of, what Thomason contends, are Darby's soft stances on cutting spending and not raising taxes and fees.
State Rep. Jim Pitts, the longtime chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, announced his retirement in August 2013. The next legislature session will have members selecting a new chairman.
Darby told those in attendance that from his experience working on major budget issues for the state, he is interested in the chairmanship. He has a 50-50 chance, Darby said.