Friday, April 27, 2007

Dewhurst: "We must ensure that these projects are designed and financed in the best interest of taxpayers and drivers.”

Senate Approves Bill That Includes Moratorium On Private Toll Road Contracts

April 27, 2007

Copyright 2007

The Texas Senate passed a bill Friday making major changes to the state's transportation policy.

The bill potentially sets up a showdown with Gov. Rick Perry over the future of private investment in toll roads.

One of the most attention-grabbing aspects of Senator Tommy Williams' bill is a two-year moratorium on private toll road contracts, which would at least temporarily put the brakes on the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor project.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst praised the legislation.

"I believe privately financed road projects play an essential role in our transportation future. But we must ensure that these projects are designed and financed in the best interest of taxpayers and drivers,” he said.

“By enacting a reasonable two-year moratorium on privately financed toll projects, while excluding projects currently on the drawing board, the people of Texas and their elected representatives can take a serious look at these projects to make sure they actually work and benefit all Texans,” he said.

The bill approved Friday has already won approval in the House.

If that chamber accepts the Senate's changes, the bill could end up on Perry's desk next week.

That would give lawmakers plenty of time to override a veto by the governor.

Perry has ardently insisted that Texas needs to continue using public-private partnerships to build toll roads if it wants to keep attracting big companies and jobs.

The bill was approved by a 27-4 vote, with most of the opponents complaining that the Legislature was moving too quickly on such an important piece of legislation.

But Williams says lawmakers were running out of time to beat a veto.

Once the governor receives a bill, he has 10 days to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

The Legislature can override a veto with a two-thirds vote of both chambers, but they must be in session to take that vote.

The session ends May 28.

Perry’s office released a statement Friday evening in which Perry says, “The legislature claims Texas needs a moratorium on private financing of toll roads, yet seeks to exempt every privately planned toll road on the drawing board from their moratorium.

“The legislature states that we need to pause and reconsider public private partnerships to build roads, yet expand this concept by granting this exact same authority to local toll road authorities all over the state.

“This bill appears to do little to address the serious concerns raised by the Federal Highway Administration earlier this week. Instead, it jeopardizes billions of dollars in federal funding for Texas and clean air compliance in Houston. Both consequences would be devastating for the Texas economy.

“I will review this bill carefully because we cannot have public policy in this state that shuts down road construction, kills jobs, harms air quality, prevents access to federal highway dollars, and creates an environment within local government that is ripe for political corruption,” the statement said.

The transportation bill is HB1892.

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