EL PASO (AP) — Some legislators concerned about how to pay for new highways in Texas have suggested considering an increase in the 20 cents-a-gallon state fuel tax.

Members of the Texas Senate Transportation Committee, who convened in El Paso on Tuesday, said money is lacking to build new roads.

"We are in the critical position in this state where we are growing and will need more roads," said the committee chairman, state Sen. John Carona, a Dallas Republican. "But we have no money to build them and no more debt that we can issue."

The state fuel tax has been the same since 1991, Carona said.

Of the 20 cents levied on each gallon of gasoline pumped, 15 cents goes to the Texas Department of Transportation. Motorists also pay about 18 cents a gallon in federal taxes.

However, motorists aren't filing up as often as before, said Amadeo Saenz, the state Transportation Department's executive director. He added that hybrid cars are reducing the amount of fuel tax revenue even further.

If those trends continue and the Legislature refuses to change the fuel tax rate, the department will have only enough money to maintain existing roads, Saenz said.

"We'd be able to finish the projects that have already been funded, but no new dollars for construction will come our way," he said.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, suggested allowing municipal and county governments the option of levying a temporary local fuel tax for new highway construction in their areas.

"TexDOT is flat broke," he said of the Transportation Department. "There's no way to pay unless the leadership identifies revenue to build new capacity. Whether it's gas tax or local option, the result should be that we have enough money to build roads in communities like El Paso."

Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said it is premature to propose how much the state fuel tax might need to be raised. According to a consultant's report quoted by the El Paso Times, Texas faces a $256 billion shortfall in transportation funding by 2050 if the fuel tax rate remains unchanged.


Information from: El Paso Times, http://www.elpasotimes.com

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