Friday, May 18, 2007

Perry vetoes HB 1882, as expected.

Perry vetoes one road bill, another still in works

May 18, 2007

The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a toll-road moratorium bill Friday that he insisted would jeopardize Texas' entire transportation system, but a key senator said another plan more suitable to the governor will be ready soon.

"I am grateful that legislators are working with me in subsequent legislation to address these concerns I have expressed," Perry said in his veto message. He said he hopes to receive the updated legislation "without delay."

The veto was no surprise. Friday was the legal deadline for Perry's decision on what to do about the legislation he found objectionable.

The roads bill must be addressed before the Legislature adjourns May 28 or lawmakers will be called back to a special session, Perry has said.

The new transportation bill also contains a toll-road moratorium, with some exemptions. But it was crafted to satisfy other concerns of Perry's. That bill is in for some more tweaking now that the Senate has disagreed with House changes to the measure. It is moving to a House-Senate committee that will attempt to negotiate a compromise.

"I don't think this is going to be something that takes a long time. I think it's a couple of hours to get these issues resolved between the two chambers," said Republican Sen. Tommy Williams of The Woodlands.

Williams said a number of changes were made in the House on Thursday that need to be gone over carefully.

A formal agreement on the new bill cannot be reached until Monday, once the House is back in session and names its conference committee members. But Williams, the lead Senate negotiator, said informal talks could take place before then.

Though Perry spoke out weeks ago against a moratorium on private toll projects — and toll roads are a cornerstone of his Trans-Texas Corridor superhighway — he said that wasn't his main objection to the first bill.

Perry opposed parts of the first proposal he said would allow local communities to place liens on Texas rights of way and hinder road financing. He said the measure also put regional projects in jeopardy and cut some local governments out of funding.

"While I support greater local decision-making authority over transportation planning, I do not support turning over state assets to local entities," Perry said in his veto message to the Texas House of Representatives.

Among the toll-road moratorium exemptions in the new legislation is the Interstate 69 corridor in the Rio Grande Valley.

Both the initial bill and the new incarnation tighten controls on comprehensive development agreements, used in contracts for private-public road-building.

The first bill reduced their maximum duration from 70 years to 40 years. The later bill would allow the agreements to last up to 50 years.

Perry, a Republican, has made transportation a top issue during his more than six years as governor.

"As a state that grows by 1,200 people each and every day, we must consider every viable option that will allow Texas to build a strong transportation infrastructure to support present and future growth," he said in the statement issued Friday.

But many legislators of both political parties have said it's time to pause and take a look at the route Texas is traveling with the building of toll roads. The state is becoming a "test tube" for private equity road building, said Rep. Lois Kohlhorst, a Brenham Republican who has promoted the toll-road moratorium.

"We want to make sure we just stop and slow down," she said.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

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