OPINION COLUMNS

Speaker wants highway fund for transportation only

By Ed Sterling | Published Wednesday, May 21, 2014

House Speaker Joe Straus said May 14 the Texas House of Representatives would propose a budget next year that uses all of the money in the state highway fund for transportation instead of sending chunks of it to other state agencies.

Taxes and fees such as the gas tax and fees on drivers’ licenses go into the state highway fund to pay for transportation – but for almost 80 years, Straus explained, some of that money has helped fund agencies that are not directly related to transportation.

Using the state highway fund exclusively for transportation would increase funding for roads by about $1.3 billion over two years, Straus, R-San Antonio, added.

“This approach will make the state budget even more straightforward, just as taxpayers expect. It will also provide needed transportation revenue – without a tax increase – as Texas continues to grow twice as fast as the rest of the country,” Straus said.

STATE ADDS JOBS IN APRIL

Texas Workforce Commission on May 16 reported Texas employers added 64,100 jobs in April for a total of 348,000 seasonally adjusted non-farm jobs added over the year.

And, Texas’ unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent in April, down from 5.5 percent in March and down from 6.4 percent a year ago.

“April was a robust month for Texas job growth. The unemployment rate continues to fall and we posted the highest monthly job growth in well over three years,” said Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Andres Alcantar.

In April, employment in professional and business services grew by 20,100 positions, the largest monthly increase ever recorded for that industry, and eight of the 11 major industries in Texas experienced positive growth, the agency reported.

PANEL VOTES TO IMPEACH

The Texas House Select Committee on Transparency on May 12 met in closed session and voted 7-1 to impeach University of Texas Board of Regents member Wallace L. Hall Jr. of Dallas.

A report cited during the committee’s open session alleges Hall, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in February 2011, “abused the powers of his office and may have broken the law in his campaign to force the UT Regents to vote to fire UT President Bill Powers.”

May 21 and May 22 meetings are scheduled for the committee to further consider and possibly take action on the issue.

EARLY VOTING PERIOD CONTINUES

Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry on May 15 published a reminder to voters that early voting for the May 27 Primary Runoff Election began Monday and runs through May 23.

“Statewide there are a number of contests in both the Republican and Democratic primary runoff elections. This election is a chance for voters to select party candidates for the November 4 Election,” Berry said.

The runoff election is for races from the March 4 Primary Election where no candidates secured a majority. The top two finishers from those races will now face each other to represent their party in the November election, Berry said.

SALES TAX HOLIDAY IS SET

State Comptroller Susan Combs on May 12 announced the May 24 through May 26 sales tax holiday for certain energy-efficient household appliances.

The annual state sales tax holiday applies to “Energy Star” qualified air conditioners priced at $6,000 or less, refrigerators priced at $2,000 or less, ceiling fans, fluorescent light bulbs, dishwashers, dehumidifiers and clothes washers. Clothes dryers do not qualify.

“Shoppers can save money up front by not having to pay sales tax when buying appliances during the holiday weekend, and the energy-efficient products can help reduce utility bill costs,” Combs said.

Ed Sterling is member services director for the Texas Press Association.

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