Where do your gas tax dollars go? A big chunk does not fund Texas roads
Many of our state's transportation solutions these days involve adding toll roads. So the KVUE Defenders decided to follow the money you already pay for new roads.
Author: Terri Gruca
Published: 10:17 PM CST February 16, 2018
Updated: 12:38 PM CST February 17, 2018
DEFENDERS 3 Articles

The amount of money coming from the state and federal government for road construction is shrinking.

And a big chunk of the state's gas tax that most of us expect to pay for roads is actually paying for other things.

In the world of make believe you gas up and go. In real life traffic, construction and toll roads are the reality.

Drivers such as Angie Fitzgerald are tired of paying the price.

“It's frustrating when they keep putting in new roads because this area desperately needs new roads, but then they're all toll roads,” said Fitzgerald. “It is super expensive."


Where do your gas tax dollars go? A big chunk does not fund Texas roads

Chapter 1

Gas tax explained

So what about the gas tax? Last year the state collected $3.5 billion in gas tax.

“Some people feel the gas tax should pay for our roads," said Chuck DeVore with Texas Public Policy Foundation, a non-profit watchdog group.

A good chunk of the gax tax doesn't go to roads.

“A billion dollars goes off to general revenue to fund the schools,” said DeVore.

Every time you fill up your tank, 38 cents per gallon is a gas tax. Eighteen cents goes to the federal government. Twenty cents stays in Texas.

Here's how the 20 cents collected on each gallon of gas breaks down: Five cents goes to schools while 15 cents goes to the state highway fund. But the state highway fund is used for a variety of other purposes other than funding the Texas Department of Transportation. It funds thing such as raises for state employees and employee benefits.

"I don't think that's where it should be going," said Fitzgerald.

WATCH | Where do your gas tax dollars go in Texas?

Experts said the gas tax alone would not be able to pay for all the road construction Texas needs.

“The challenge is that cars are becoming more energy efficient,” said DeVore.

More electric and alternative fuel vehicles means less money from the gas tax. And the rates haven't changed in more than 20 years.

“It hasn't been raised since the 1990s,” said DeVore.

Yet the cost of construction on roads and bridges has skyrocketed more than 83 percent.

“You're getting more energy alternative vehicles so you would really have to jack up the fuel tax in Texas so as to make it pay for the roads,” said DeVore.

Chapter 2

How other states react

In the past four years 26 states have done just that. Raising their gas taxes to pay for road improvements. Seven of them did this just last year.

“What's interesting is that by most measures they have the worst freeway system in the country, with the greatest amount of congestion,” said DeVore. “So again this is an issue where our politicians -- our elected representatives -- basically focusing and prioritizing what people want other than spending money on what people don't want.”

“They should use it (tax money) for whatever it is supposed to be used for. Whatever that is. If it's roads then use it for the roads. Not make them toll roads,” said Fitzgerald.

It's a challenging road ahead for Austin which has been deemed the 13th most congested city in the country. It's a city where drivers waste 47 hours each year sitting in traffic.

“Our general fund is about $55 billion a year. We’re spending about $8 billion a year on our roads at the state level. If the politicians want to make roads a priority they can do so by trimming general revenue spending in other areas,” said DeVore.

So what are the solutions?

Chapter 3

Mapping Texas' future

The Prop 7 amendment that Texas voters overwhelmingly approved in 2015 directs billions of dollars to the state highway fund.

Other ideas include:

  • Raising the gasoline tax or indexing it for inflation
  • Increasing vehicle registration fees
  • Building more toll roads
  • Seeking local funding through transportation reinvestment zones
  • Creating public-private sector partnerships for road construction and improvements