Thursday, May 10, 2007

Dewhurst: 'The governor's going to do what the governor's going to do.'

Perry threatens to veto toll-road bill


R.G. Ratcliffe
San Antonio Express-News Austin Bureau
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday threatened to veto a transportation bill that includes a moratorium on toll roads and call the Legislature back into special session even if lawmakers override his veto.

House Bill 1892 would establish a two-year moratorium on building new toll roads and Perry said the bill would seriously jeopardize transportation funding throughout Texas.

"The good news is, we still have time to fix it," Perry said. "If not, then I have no other option as the leader of this state than to bring the Legislature back until we address this issue and get Texas back to where it can have a vibrant transportation infrastructure."

Perry said his opposition to the bill has nothing to do with the moratorium provisions. He said if the Legislature feels so strongly about the moratorium it can send him a separate Senate bill pending in the House Calendars Committee that would establish the moratorium.

"I'll sign the moratorium bill tomorrow," Perry said. "This is not about a moratorium."

The House and Senate sent the bill to Perry by overwhelming margins, easily giving the Legislature enough votes to override a veto.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the Senate sponsor of the bill, said he has been involved in negotiating a compromise with Perry's staff.

Carona said if a deal can be finalized, the Legislature can put it into the Senate's version and send it to Perry before the deadline late next week for the governor to veto HB 1892 or have it become law. Legislators would then simply recall the original bill.

But other lawmakers said talk of a deal is optimistic.

"I'm going to call them more conversations than negotiations," said Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, author of the bill.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, is the author of a toll-road moratorium bill that was added to Smith's legislation. Nichols said he has been left completely out of the negotiations with Perry's staff.

"It's going to be interesting to see if they come up with something that's acceptable to everybody if all the parties aren't sitting at the table," Nichols said.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he is not concerned about the prospects of a special session on transportation but hopes an agreement can be reached.

"The governor's going to do what the governor's going to do," Dewhurst said.

Perry said the bill would seriously reduce highway funding for the Dallas-Fort Worth area and would hold up planning of Trans-Texas Corridor 69, a toll road important to the Rio Grande Valley. He said the Port of Galveston has urged him to veto the bill.

But Perry said he also is deeply concerned about provisions that would increase the authority of Harris County commissioners to build toll roads through the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the bill allows the toll-road authority to move forward to build toll-road projects locally rather than waiting for the state transportation department to do it. He said there is a concern that the state will try to sell toll-road projects to private companies that will profit at the expense of local drivers.

Emmett said Perry should sign the bill into law.

The governor has been promoting toll roads as the best way to finance highway construction in Texas, but many legislators and local government leaders are upset over the contracts that can give private vendors total control of a toll road for at least 50 years.

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