Thursday, October 06, 2005

Governor Perry, TxDOT are defendants in lawsuit filed by watchdog group

Toll Watchdog Files Suit Against Texas Governor, Metro Planning Groups

October 6, 2005

The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2005

DALLAS - People for Efficient Transportation Inc., a toll watchdog group, filed a lawsuit yesterday in Travis County District Court alleging that metropolitan planning organizations in Texas are illegal.

The suit names as defendants Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Furthermore, the lawsuit contends, neither TxDOT officials nor Perry have the authority to establish special districts such as the MPOs.

The lawsuit seeks declaratory relief in the form of a ruling that would prohibit the governor and the department from establishing such special districts, as well as declarations that CAMPO and SAMPO may not appropriate federal highway funds and declare that service on such boards by state legislators violates the separation of powers clause of the state constitution.

"At this point, we are only asking for declaratory relief," said Sal Costello, the president of People for Efficient Transportation. "We are not looking at injunctive relief. However, as this process goes forward, we will be keeping our options open."

Metropolitan planning organizations were first required by the Federal Highway Act of 1962 to coordinate transportation planning processes by local, state, and federal officials.

CAMPO serves Williamson, Travis, and Hays counties in central Texas. Its 23-member board is composed of elected officials representing cities, counties, and state legislative districts within the group's boundaries, as well as representatives from transportation agencies. The board includes 10 state senators and representatives.

SAMPO's 19-member board includes two state delegates, though one of those spots is currently vacant.

PET in March tried unsuccessfully to win a temporary restraining order that would have halted the closing of a $233 million toll revenue bond issue sold by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. The group argued that because the authority board's term limits did not comply with the constitutional provision, any action by the board - including bond issuance - was invalid. The board had been created under the mandates of a 2003 law that set board terms for mobility authorities at six years; however, the constitution requires that terms for regional authorities last no longer than two years.

The bonds were certified and remain strong in the secondary market. However, since the lawsuit was filed, the Texas Legislature has placed a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would allow voters to approve six-year terms for RMA boards and the CTRMA has revised its board terms to reflect the two-year requirement.

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