New legislation introduced this week in the Texas House of Representatives could give voters in the state a chance to decide whether or not to throw $5 billion behind efforts to improve broadband there.
The legislation, known as H.B. 9, would establish a state Broadband Infrastructure Fund and grant authority to the Texas Comptroller and Public Utility Commission to allocate funds for particular purposes. The funds could be used, among other things, to support mapping efforts for broadband, update the state’s broadband plan, increase community outreach, support the state’s pole replacement fund, provide matching funds for federal funding from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program, or manage its own loan and grant program.
Based on its estimation that Texas has roughly 398,700 unserved locations and 361,000 underserved locations, ACA Connects has predicted that Texas could receive up to $3.6 billion in funding from the BEAD Program.
All of those uses might sound like a lot for one funding pot to cover, but there would be plenty of money to go around. The bill aims to use $5 billion from Texas’ Economic Stability Fund to create the Broadband Infrastructure Fund.
The Economic Stability Fund was created by a 1988 constitutional amendment and is financed by a portion of Texas’ tax on oil and gas production, interest on the fund balance, investments, appropriations from the state budget, and half of any general state revenue that is left over at the end of each two-year budget cycle. Texas had a $10.7 billion balance in the Economic Stability Fund at the end of fiscal 2022, which ended on August 31, according to a report from the Texas Comptroller.
It’s interesting that the success of a constitutional amendment is necessary for H.B. 9. Therefore, even if the legislature approves it, H.J.R. 125 must be approved by voters in order for it to go into the election on November 7, 2023. If both of those things happen, though, H.B. 9 will become law of the land on January 1, 2024.
For what it’s worth, Texas’ Speaker of the House Dade Phelan has backed the bill as a legislative priority for 2023.