Texas Built That

Texas is up against its debt limit for roads.

Texas might be able to settle one of the central arguments in the race for the White House: Whether business owners create wealth and jobs on their own or whether we all chip in to make that happen. But, first Texas will have to decide what it’s going to do.

The Republicans, led by their nominee Mitt Romney, hold that business builds infrastructure and that without entrepreneurs there would be no new roads.

Tea Party star Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, said at the Republican National Convention “I was first insulted, then I was angered, then I was saddened that anyone in our country, much less the president of the United States, believes that roads create business success and not the other way around.”

Paul was, of course, referring to President Obama’s now famous quote: “Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

So which is it? Does business create roads or do we all pay for roads and then business and everyone else uses them? In the job-creating economic powerhouse that is Texas, the answer has been pretty straightforward: The government takes on debt to build roads demanded by business.

In fact, the state is about to reach its debt-limit for building roads and there’s likely to be a fierce debate soon about how to expand infrastructure in anticipation of more growth in our economy and population. The legislature has already authorized the Department of Transportation to issue more than $17 billion in bonds, meaning the state will owe more than $31 billion to repay that over the next three decades.

When the game isn’t presidential politics, business owners will readily tell you the government should take the lead in expanding infrastructure. The Texas Association of Business, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Austin, supports a $50 increase on vehicle registrations to pay for new roads and maintenance. That sounds like we would all be chipping in to keep this job-creatin’ engine turning, doesn’t it? Some have suggested much higher fees for renewing your driver license, but there’s no reasonable fee that could realistically come close to funding infrastructure across Texas.

I’ll host a panel on this in Austin this weekend at the annual Texas Tribune Festival. Hope to see you there.

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