After electric fee hike for solar flopped, state Rep. Drew Darby now wants to double vehicle registration fees for Texans

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As if the harrowing experience of waiting in line to renew one’s license weren’t enough, state Rep. Drew Darby has floated a plan for Texas motorists to pay more than double the current rate for a vehicle registration.

The San Angelo Republican recently spoke to residents in Abilene and Big Spring, which is between Abilene and Midland on Interstate 20, to discuss what he describes as a crisis in transportation funding. At an invitation-only meeting at the Abilene Country Club, Darby recommended the state obtain $1.2 billion a year for roads by increasing vehicle registrations $60, to more than $110 a year, the Abilene Reporter News reports.

In Texas the annual registration for a typical vehicle costs $52.75, though counties can tack on as much as $11.50 to the bill.

Darby said raising the state gas tax rate from its current 20 cents per gallon is off the table. Along with raising vehicle registrations to get money to build roads in a state with a growing population, he said lawmakers have other funding options, including enacting permit fees for commercial vehicles using Texas roads and inspection fees for semis hauling from Mexico. He also wants to examine how overweight vehicles damage roads.

Darby plays a key role in the Texas House of Representatives on transportation issues. He serves as chairman of the House Appropriation Committee’s subcommittee on transportation funding matters, and he also is vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Darby has a history of proposing ideas that take money out of taxpayers’ wallets. In April 2011, he sought $1.2 billion a year from a surcharge on every residential, commercial and industrial electric rate payer in Texas to subsidize solar power. House Bill 2961 never received a hearing in the House Committee on State Affairs.

Darby paints a grim picture of a static funding stream from state gas tax and vehicle registrations. The rates for both taxes have had no increase in more than 20 years, according to the Reporter News.

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"We've issued about $17 billion in transportation improvement bonds, and those projects have been built and are being built today. We have chosen to move these projects forward, and we've basically issued a credit card, the state's credit card, and now all those bonds are out, and the credit card bill is due, plus interest. When you add the debt repayment and the interest and you keep the revenue stream relatively stagnant all these years, something's got to give, and in the year 2014 and beyond, there's no money for our Texas highway budget for any new roads in Texas."
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The lawmaker told an audience in Big Spring that the state’s bonded debt has risen from $17 billion to $41 billion since 2001, the Big Spring Herald reported.

The apparent maxed out credit line as Darby said combined with no new road construction money being available in 2014, creates another significant budget issue for state lawmakers.

Add transportation to Medicaid and public education funding and the bucketful of water projects now on the radar because of the drought, and Texas lawmakers will have billion-dollar budget headaches in January.

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Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

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