Saturday, May 05, 2007

"The governor doesn't have to veto the bill to kill it. He has the option of the pocket veto — simply setting the legislation aside and ignoring it."

Perry's toll package faces huge legislative roadblock

May 04, 2007

The Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2007

The Texas House on Wednesday put the final crossbar in the barricade that the Legislature is trying to use to steer the state away from Gov. Rick Perry's vision of a network of privately operated toll roads.

The House, generally Perry's best friend in the Capitol, voted 139-1 for a measure that would put a two-year moratorium on private toll road deals, giving the state two more years to consider whether a privatized toll road system is the path to the future for Texas motorists. That came after the Senate voted 27-4 in favor of the moratorium last week.

According to news reports, the governor has not threatened a veto of the legislation, but he has hinted about the topic. Unfortunately, even though this legislation is moving to the governor's desk weeks ahead of the last minute rush that closes each legislative session, the governor doesn't even have to veto the bill to kill it. He always has the option of the pocket veto — simply setting the legislation aside and ignoring it.

Considering the overwhelming majorities voting for the moratorium on new private toll road contracts, the governor might sense a certain futility in stamping a veto on the legislation. Unless the numbers falter, the votes are there to override any veto and the governor already has enough egg on his face this spring, so ignoring the moratorium bill might be his only hope of keeping his vision of toll booths across Texas alive.

But just because the governor can kill a bill that way, doesn't mean he should.

Let's face it, Texas Legislators didn't show up in Austin in January just itching for a fight with Perry. More than simply being fellow Republicans, most of the lawmakers have been and continue to be in his camp — even if they aren't too fond of some of his actions this year.

Perry needs to think twice before he considers steamrolling the moratorium — or dodging it like a traffic cone in the middle of the road. Texas lawmakers showed up in Austin this year ready to buck the governor's highway building plans because they have spent more than a year hearing from a wide range of constituents who just plain don't like the idea.

From land owners who fear the state will take giant swaths of their Texas spreads to people who think there are better ways to fund highway construction than turning the process over to private operators, individual Texans have been talking to their state representatives and senators about the folly of the governor's ways.

Taking a page from his predecessor in the Governor's Mansion (who used his own veto stamp this week), Perry has frequently spoken of a grim future if the Legislature and the people don't go along with his private toll road plan. Traffic will grind to a halt, economic growth will suffer and the wheels will come off the state's progress of recent years.

Yes, if nothing is done to address the state's transportation needs, much of that could happen. But there are options to the Perry plan, readily available options that are both practical and likely to garner more public support.

If the governor wants to get a jump start on highway projects, he might want to look no further than the $8 billion in surplus revenues he has talked about somehow returning to property tax payers, even though property taxes aren't even the source of any state revenues.

Perry should follow the lead of the lawmakers who have listened to average Texans who reject the idea of privatizing state highway construction. He should forget razzle dazzle ideas that look like they save the taxpayer money while, in reality they cost the individual more money. Then he should get back to the real business of running an efficient government that provides the essential services that people expect of it.

© 2007 The Longview News-Journal:

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