Tuesday, July 19, 2005

"The judge made it very clear that they can't make up things as they go along."

Judge denies CTRMA members six-year terms

Transportation agency members' terms will remain two years long

By Jimmie Collins
The Daily Texan
Copyright 2005

A Travis County judge ruled Friday that legislation providing six-year terms to board members of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is unconstitutional.

According to the ruling judge, Darlene Byrne, constitutional law trumps state law, and because CTRMA is a regional and not a state board, it is only allowed terms of two years or less.

According to CTRMA spokesman Steve Pustelnyk, the ruling won't immediately affect the board because none of the members are over the two-year limit. Although CTRMA Chairman Bob Tesch was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in January 2003, the board claims he is in "hold over status" until another appointment is made.

"You don't want the term to be up and then just leave the authority without a chairman," Pustelnyk said.

But Sal Costello, officer and founder of the anti-toll road group People for Efficient Transportation, said the group will be keeping a close eye on CTRMA to ensure they obey the law.

"The judge made it very clear that they can't make up things as they go along," Costello said. "The judge said every member can serve for two years or less, or they can't do business."

Once legal action was filed against the board by PET, state lawmakers proposed a constitutional amendment to legally make the terms six years.

"The people will get to vote on the amendment in November, but it won't have a major impact on how the board works," Pustelnyk said.

The six-year terms have advantages to the people and the board, Pustelnyk said. According to him, most of the projects CTRMA is responsible for take a long time, and the longer board members stay in office, the more likely they are to keep in mind the long-term view.

"If you get a new member every two years, there may be a lack of comprehensive knowledge about the projects," Pustelnyk said. "New people just may not understand the long-range plan."

Pustelnyk said that whether or not the members have six-year terms won't really stop work from getting done. After all, "it's a limit of each term and not a limit of how many terms they can work," he said.

According to Costello, the board needs to be held accountable to the people of Texas.

"These are unelected, unaccountable people who should not be setting rates for tolls, especially when tax dollars have already been used to pay for those roads," Costello said.

He said the board is unaccountable in that if the community does not approve of the actions of the board, there is nothing they can do to have the members removed or replaced.

While the majority of the board members are from Williamson County, a majority of the proposed toll projects are located in Travis County, Costello said. PET will be working on shutting down CTRMA because, according to Costello, it is just a "freeway tolling authority." Costello suggested the transportation system would be better off overhauling the Texas Department of Transportation and then leaving the toll roads up to its own division for toll authority.

"These RMA's are just wasteful new bureaucracies," Costello said.

The Daily Texan: www.dailytexanonline.com