Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Longer terms would give Mobility boards more power and less accountability.

Proposition seeks to extend terms of toll road authorities

Nov. 01, 2005

Associated Press
Copyright 2005

Proposition 9 on the Nov. 8 ballot asks voters to decide whether to extend terms for members of Texas' regional mobility boards, or toll-road agencies, from two years to six years.

The Legislature tried to extend board terms in 2003. But a Travis County district judge ruled earlier this year 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 allow members to gain expertise on complex projects that could take years to implement. Longer terms would also help build the confidence of toll-road investors, supporters say.

"It's essential," said Tom Griebel, director of the mobility authority in San Antonio. "A six-year term for a board would give it a lot of continuity and stability."

Opponents say longer terms would give boards more power and less accountability.

Mobility authority boards are appointed, not elected, so they are not directly accountable to voters. Yet, they 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 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, leader of People for Efficient Transportation.

The watchdog group 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.

Information from: San Antonio Express-News, www.mysanantonio.com

© 2005 The Associated Press: www.ap.org