Sunday, April 22, 2007

"In the long run, we'll pay way more than if we find a way to keep the public's business public."

Tolls aren't only route

April 22, 2007

Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2007

One of the most irritating lines in politics comes from someone whose project has lost a key vote: "Doing nothing won't do anything except make things worse."

That's what one of Gov. Rick Perry's aides was saying last week after the state Senate supported a two-year moratorium on deals that would allow private contractors to build and operate toll roads in Texas.

The idea is that if we don't hurry up and start letting private companies, — big private companies from Spain — to build super highways across Texas, we're all going to be in gridlock.

To listen to the governor's staff, it's all going to be the fault of naysayers who think that the traditional process of building highways makes more sense than turning the state's transportation system into a profit center for private investors.

Yes, there are many things that private enterprise can do better than the government.

But that doesn't mean that all enterprises should be private.

Perry and the toll road crowd aren't pushing the privatization of our highways because a Spanish company can run them better, They're pushing the idea because they're afraid of a word — a little word that many Texas politicians have reportedly signed oaths not to consort with.

The word is: T-A-X-E-S.

Get your fingers twisted on a keyboard and you might spell T-E-X-A-S. But that's where many public officials think the relationship should end.

For years, it's been a given: It takes taxes to build, maintain and improve highways.

But now, we are governed by a bunch that fears a little word, a straightforward word that usually describes the fairest way to raise the revenues needed to perform public functions.

Do you want a military force to defend our nation? You levy adequate income taxes.

Do you want quality schools to educate our children? You levy adequate property taxes, business taxes and sales taxes.

Do you want to make sure that your nation's elderly and infirm have access to quality medical care and at least a subsistence level of income? You levy adequate payroll taxes.

"Taxes" is not an evil word.

Granted, taxes can be misapplied or wasted. Sometimes, depending upon one's point of view or political persuasion, they are spent in ways that we just don't like.

For the most part, however, the bulk of the taxes we pay are being used to provide services that make our nation the envy of most of the world's peoples.

That's why I get irritated when people talk as if our future is dim if we don't turn our highways over to private enterprise.

It's not as if we're going to get a better deal from private highway owners. They're going to be seeking a healthy profit and we're the ones who will have to pay to make that possible. In the long run, we'll pay way more than if we find a way to keep the public's business public.

Fortunately, the drive to derail Perry's rush to privatize our major highways has become a bipartisan effort with many people on both sides of the political aisle seeing the folly in his ways.

Yes, as Perry's office put it, the failure to do something about our highways will exacerbate traffic problems across Texas. But, no, turning our highways over to private operators is not the only answer.

Do you want to make sure Texas highways are up to modern demands? Then you levy a gas tax that keeps pace with the rising costs of construction.

Texas hasn't done that because of its leaders' fear of a silly little word.

Pete Litterski is senior editor of the Longview News-Journal. E-mail:

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