The not so Great Compromise
By JIM VERTUNO
Gov. Rick Perry signed a compromise transportation bill into law Monday, avoiding a special session showdown with state lawmakers over state road building policy.
Perry had vetoed an earlier version of the bill, saying it would shut down road construction, kill jobs and prevent access to federal highway money. He threatened to call a special session if the Legislature couldn't send him a compromise bill.
Lawmakers quickly complied. The bill Perry signed into law puts a two-year freeze on most new privately financed toll road projects but makes several key exceptions around the state.
Perry said it also gives local governments more authority to build new toll roads while keeping toll revenue for more projects in the area it was collected.
"I am proud to sign this legislation because it will help Texas build roads we need to manage our state's tremendous population growth," Perry said.
The compromise bill also imposes limits on comprehensive development agreements, used in contracts for private-public road building. Additionally, it sets up a process to determine a road's market value and makes it easier for local authorities to take on projects in their areas.
Comprehensive development agreements, or CDAs, are a relatively new tool meant to let the Texas Department of Transportation complete road-building projects more quickly and cheaply by using a single contract for design and construction.
Those agreements have attracted the attention of multinational consortiums willing to pay large sums up front for the right to operate roads and pocket the tolls for decades to come.
That has outraged residents and lawmakers who say drivers will become hostages to the private companies, forced to pay increasingly hefty tolls.
Perry also announced the signing of a bill to give Texas students greater freedom to express their religious views on school campuses.
Under the legislation, religious beliefs expressed in homework, artwork and other assignments would be judged by traditional academic standards. Students couldn't be penalized or rewarded because of the religious content of their work.
Supporters say the bill is needed to protect students from censorship and school districts from lawsuits. But opponents argue it will lead to religious discrimination among students.
The transportation bill is SB792.
The religious expression bill is HB3678.
© 2007 The Associated Press:
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