professor of business economics, public policy, finance and real estate at the
University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. The other two are infrastructure
and the quality of the labor force, he said.
"Firms cannot function without a quality public infrastructure," he said.
Of Texas' infrastructure problems, those with its roads loom largest, said Texas Association of Business President and CEO Bill Hammond.
Traffic jams in all of the state's metropolitan areas force businesses to idle away gas, wear out vehicles -- and pay employees -- while going nowhere fast.
"The cost of that is enormous," Hammond said. "Not only to businesses, but to all Texans."
Dollars to maintain the state's roads have been so scarce that the Texas Department of Transportation plans to plow up 82 miles of Farm-to-Market roads in oil-and-gas producing areas and cover them with gravel, said Ted Houghton, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees the department.
The announcement prompted several lawmakers earlier this month to say this will be the first Legislature in Texas history to preside while roads were deconstructed. They tried in vain to get the transportation department to change its plans.
Then on Friday, the Texas Municipal League decried what it said were plans by the transportation department to dump $165 million in yearly maintenance onto cities.
In El Paso, Interstate 10 has become such a patchwork that "the interstate is failing," Houghton, an El Pasoan, said. Within the next three to five years, the transportation department will have to come up with funds and figure out a way to rebuild it without having an alternative route to detour traffic to, Houghton said.
Another El Pasoan, Rep. Joe Pickett, labored mightily this year to get the Legislature in its third special session to finally pass a measure which -- even if voters approve it -- will go only part of the way to solving the need for road funding.
The constitutional amendment, which will go on the ballot in November 2014, would put up $1.2 billion a year -- a little more than a quarter of the money the state needs to maintain the highway system at its current level of congestion, Houghton said.
It would take another billion a year to ease it, he added.
"Unless they do something in the next session or two, all we'll be doing is maintaining the roads," he said. "We might do small things, but that's it."
Pickett, a conservative Democrat, said it was hard enough to get his colleagues to support a bill that would draw funds from a growing surplus in the oil and gas severance tax. He is skeptical of the chances of a measure involving increases in fees or tax rates.
"I don't know about finding more revenue that's going to hurt a little bit," he said.
Houghton, Hammond of the business association and Tony Bennett, president of the Texas Association of Manufacturers, all said that's what's needed in a state that hasn't increased the gasoline tax since 1991.
To deal with part of the problem, the business association at the start of this year's legislative session called for a $50 increase in vehicle-registration fees.
Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, proposed a $30 increase, but withdrew his bill
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