Thursday, April 26, 2007

The One-Man Bandwagon

Postcards from the Lege

An army of one

April 26, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austn American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

The toll road issue has offered a counterpoint to the Capitol tradition of calling a press conference and then attempting to outnumber the press corps with lawmakers, civilian victims and others standing shoulder-to-shoulder up at the podium.

First, state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the Senate Transportation Committee chairman, called in the media a few weeks ago to argue for indexing the state gas tax to inflation. It was just him and some posterboard graphics up there, which was noted in this blog and then by Gov. Rick Perry (no fan of indexing, at least so far) the next day. Of course, the governor didn’t have any legislators standing by him, either, as he argued against a private toll road moratorium, just U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters.

Give him credit for quality (in terms of official heft) if not quantity.

Today, it was Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business. Hammond was likewise inveighing against the various forms of the private toll road ban sitting in bills around the Capitol. Hammond, although he was granted use of the governor’s press conference room, had no one from the governor’s office standing with him. Or anyone from anywhere.

“We can place a moratorium on growth,” Hammond said. “Merely the threat of a moratorium has a chilling effect on the capital markets.”

Private toll roads have a chilling effect on state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, creator of the proposed two-year moratorium, and something above 95 percent of the Legislature. The moratorium seems likely to make it to the governor’s desk as part of HB 1892 by state Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown.

That bill has cleared the House and the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, and should be eligible for full Senate consideration early next week. The Smith bill makes sure the Harris County Toll Road Authority won’t have to pay billions for state-owned highway right of way, and is popular with that delegation. The moratorium, either as a single bill, or piggybacking on HB 1892, has already been approved in both houses on virtually unanimous votes.

No wonder Hammond was alone.

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

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