Saturday, April 28, 2007

Rep. Wayne Smith: "You've seen the numbers in the House. You've seen the numbers in the Senate. It's apparently what the citizens of Texas want."

Perry threatens to veto toll road bill

April 28, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

The Senate handily approved a House bill Friday that would put a two-year hiatus on private toll-road contracts, but Gov. Rick Perry all but assured a veto.

Efforts to slow private toll-road deals had been brewing in both chambers for weeks, but Friday's vote created a unified bill.

The fast-intensifying debate over the state's toll-road policies could reach its peak next month with a rare veto-override vote.

As with previous versions of the bill, senators agreed to exempt most major toll-road projects in North Texas from the freeze.

Local lawmakers have argued that the Dallas-Fort Worth region can't afford a delay in relieving traffic congestion.

Critics charge that the state's 50-year deals with private companies to build and oversee certain toll roads equates to selling public highways to the highest bidder.

A two-year freeze allows time for "a serious look at these projects to make sure they actually work and benefit all Texans," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Friday in a prepared statement.But Mr. Perry, who has pushed to privatize state highways, threatened in a statement to veto the measure, which could land on his desk as soon as next week.

"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," he said.

Once the bill reaches the governor's desk, he has 10 days to consider a veto.

The Legislature can override with a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

The bill's author, Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, said Friday that he expects the House to forward the bill to Mr. Perry sometime next week.

Mr. Smith said the two-year moratorium has overwhelming support in both chambers.

Earlier this month, the House approved the bill, 137-2.

"You've seen the numbers in the House," Mr. Smith said.

"You've seen the numbers in the Senate. It's apparently what the citizens of Texas want."

Senators voted, 27-4, on Friday to approve the House bill, adding several provisions from a comprehensive transportation bill approved by Senate committee members a day earlier.

Those provisions limit private toll deals to 40 years, establish a formula for the state to buy back roads and limit clauses that restrict new roads that compete with a toll road.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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