Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Proposition 9: Longer terms would entrench extra layer of RMA Bureaucracy

Voters will decide toll board terms


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

Proposition 9 on the Nov. 8 ballot is simple enough on the surface, but a roiling debate over the state's plunge into toll roads could set this milquetoast on fire.

Regional mobility authorities are essentially local toll-road agencies that — per state policy — are tolling new highway lanes wherever possible.

Voters will consider whether to extend terms of board members, including those with the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority in San Antonio, from two years to six years.

The Legislature tried to do that in 2003. But a Travis County district judge ruled a few months ago that the new law violates a constitutional provision that limits terms of local boards to two years.

In the Legislature's regular session earlier this year, lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide the issue.

Supporters say the six-year terms, which would be staggered, would guarantee a long learning curve needed for complex projects that take years to implement. And toll-road investors will feel more comfortable knowing that decision makers will hang around for a while.

In a word, it comes down to predictability, said Tom Griebel, director of the mobility authority in San Antonio.

"It's essential," he said. "A six-year term for a board would give it a lot of continuity and stability."

Opponents say longer terms would make what's already a problem even worse.

Mobility authority boards are appointed, not elected, and therefore not directly accountable to voters. Yet these authorities can use gas taxes and public rights of way to help build tollways, replace existing non-tolled highways with frontage roads and set toll fees.

Boards are accountable to the governor, who appoints the chairmen, and also county commissioners, who appoint the rest of the members. Longer terms would make them less accountable to those elected officials, critics argue.

"We need more accountability, not less," said Sal Costello of People for Efficient Transportation.

PET filed a lawsuit to challenge the 2003 law that attempted to create six-year terms, which led to this year's ruling.

A Texas comptroller report earlier this year recommended four-year terms, to match the terms of elected officials making the board appointments.
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