Prop 1: "It's about making money for these foreign companies that will run the Trans-Texas Corridor.”
By Krystal De Los Santos
Starting today, all eligible Texans can vote on whether to make nine changes to the state constitution.
The propositions include one that affects the Texas railroad industry which, though not the most controversial issue on the ballot, is quickly coming under voter scrutiny.
Proposition 1 is listed on the ballot as “the constitutional amendment creating the Texas rail relocation and improvement fund and authorizing grants of money and issuance of obligations for financing the relocation, rehabilitation, and expansion of rail facilities.”
The amendment would create the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement fund.
According to a summary of the proposition, it's purpose is to “provide for the Texas Transportation Commission to issue and sell obligations to fund the relocation and improvement of privately and publicly owned passenger and freight rail facilities for the purposes of relieving congestion on public highways, enhancing public safety, improving air quality, and expanding economic opportunity. The obligations would be payable from the money in the Texas rail relocation and improvement fund. The amendment would also authorize the legislature to dedicate to the fund state money that is not otherwise dedicated by the constitution.”
According to the Texas Legislative Council, proponents of the amendment argue that “the ability to ship more goods using railroads would decrease the number of trucks traveling on highways, thereby reducing congestion.
“The relocation of rail lines from congested urban areas would improve efficiency, encourage investment, and promote safety. Right-of-way obtained by relocating railroads out of cities could be used for the placement of commuter rail lines or highways, each of which could provide economic opportunities for private investment along its corridors.
“Freight rail is more fuel-efficient per ton-mile than trucks and would help Texas comply with federal air quality standards. Also, relocating rail lines out of urban areas would reduce the amount of hazardous materials shipped through highly populated areas.”
The Texas Legislative Council is an information resource with members including the lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, six senators appointed by the lieutenant governor, the chairman of the house administration committee and five other members of the house of representatives appointed by the speaker.
Proposition 1 opponents, including grassroots anti-toll groups like Stop121tolls.com and the Texas Toll Party, said they are encouraging voters to reject the amendment.
They said they believe its purpose is to give tax-payer funded incentives to private companies, encouraging them to relocate within the Trans-Texas Corridor, a 12-lane planned toll road system that Gov. Rick Perry has proposed to get cross-state and commercial traffic off of congested interstates.
“It's a blank check,” said Stop121tolls.com founder Randy Jennings. “Basically, the public is going to pay the toll for the train. It's about making money for these foreign companies that will run the Trans-Texas Corridor.”
If passed, he said, Proposition 1 allows the Texas Transportation Commission to sell bonds without voter approval for each issuance, as in municipal and school bond elections.
“There's no real checks or balances. Once this is approved, they can keep issuing debt forever,” Jennings said.
Arguments against Proposition 1 listed by the Texas Legislative Council are similar: “The railroad industry is not a state-regulated industry, and the state should play no part in the industry's investment decisions. The debt service on the bonds issued could cost the state $87.5 million per year beginning in fiscal year 2007, and the Texas Department of Transportation's primary duties involve planning and making policies for the location, construction, and maintenance of state highways. The authority of the agency over railroad issues is limited, and the department should use its resources to carry out its primary duties.”
Contact Krystal De Los Santos at firstname.lastname@example.org
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