Theoretically, the Texas Legislature has a nearly $60 billion estimated surplus at its disposal in the treasury and the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) — though officials will neither drain the ESF nor spend the entire collective pot.
A realistic, very rough estimate for how much of the tranche will be spent is between $35 and $45 billion for all the various purposes legislators have laid out: property taxes, school funding, utility infrastructure, transportation, and more.
Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced an update to the state’s 10-year transportation plan last week — increasing the plan’s price tag from $85 to $100 billion.
The $15 billion increase from the 2023 iteration is, Abbott said, primarily due to the now-$32.7 billion projected treasury surplus plus, which comes in addition to the $27.1 projected ESF balance.
“Under TxDOT’s 2024 Unified Transportation Program, we will dedicate critical funds to bolster our major roadway infrastructure to address the unique needs of Texans in rural, urban, and metropolitan communities,” Abbott said in the announcement. “This 10-year plan will further boost our economy and keep Texas the economic juggernaut of the nation.”
Amidst loose talk within his chamber about using the entire pot of surplus dollars to buy down local property tax rates, House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) shrugged off the suggestion and turned the spotlight to infrastructure.
“I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use some of these resources for infrastructure,” he said last year. “If we want to be competitive and attract new companies, the job creators like we do every day, we have to invest in our infrastructure.”
There have been multiple blueprints of the same stripe — constitutionally amended pots outside the general revenue fund, each to be financed by the surplus dollars — for infrastructure spending already filed, including for water supply projects and power generation facilities.
The 2023 Unified Transportation Program plan has $44 billion for projects in the works and $33 billion in projects under construction across the state.
Of the $100 billion plan, the increased funding is spread out among 17 different categories, including a new $1.25 billion Carbon Reduction Program; $5.5 billion more is itemized for rural and urban “connectivity” road construction, and an additional $2 billion was pushed toward road maintenance.
That $15 billion increase comes primarily from the state’s oil and gas severance tax collections — half of which flow into the State Highway Fund. The other half is deposited into the ESF.
The caveat to this increased potential appropriation is that construction of all stripes costs more than it did a few years ago because of inflation. That means larger building costs for any infrastructure spending the state plans to do.
The four largest projects in the state’s 2023 plan are highway renovations on I-35 in Austin and I-45 in Houston; the fifth largest is a renovation of I-30 in Dallas. $6 billion will be spent between the five.
By the time the Legislature gavels out at the end of May, many different interests will have given their pitch for a piece of the surplus pie.
Despite the announcement from the governor, the plan is not yet set in stone. According to TxDOT, the final plan will be approved in August and before that point, the agency will field public comments.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.