Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Perry is 'proud' to sign Senate Bill 792

Perry signs compromise bill slowing toll road projects

But compromise doesn't affect six projects slated for Harris County

June 12, 2007

Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry on Monday signed legislation that slows down his ambitious plans for building toll roads but does not halt them completely.

Perry and the Legislature got into a stare-down last month when lawmakers sent him a bill that put serious restrictions on building toll roads in Texas and constrained policy set by the Texas Transportation Commission, which is run by the governor's appointees.

Perry said he would veto the bill and threatened to call a special legislative session if lawmakers did not send him compromise legislation.

Senate Bill 792 was that compromise. It put a two-year moratorium on toll road projects being built by private companies under contracts with the Texas Department of Transportation, which the commission oversees.

The compromise legislation does not affect six construction projects for the Harris County Toll Road Authority, and also allows the Dallas-Fort Worth region to proceed with highways already in the pipeline. The moratorium prohibits two private toll road projects in San Antonio.

Perry said he was "proud" to sign the compromise bill.

"Under this legislation, every planned road construction project will move forward as scheduled, local leaders will have more authority to build new toll roads and all toll revenue will be used for transportation projects in the area it was raised," Perry said.

Toll road opponent Linda Stall of CorridorWatch said the moratorium will keep Perry's transportation officials from signing any more comprehensive development agreements with private toll road companies until after a study is done.

Stall said the legislative fight showed lawmakers were reacting to voters who disapproved of the Trans-Texas Corridor plans.

"This legislative session really demonstrated that while the governor may have a tight rein on transportation policy, the legislators have heard their constituents, and recognize that the direction TxDOT has been headed in over the last few years is not what the citizens of Texas are interested in," Stall said.

The bill will ensure that local toll road authorities have the first option to build local toll roads and can use state rights of way as needed. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett had been worried that state transportation officials would sell local toll road construction rights to private vendors.

The bill also will limit development agreements with private toll road companies so that the state can buy back the roads after 50 years, and it lets the transportation department issue $3 billion in bonds to borrow against future gas tax revenue as equity for state toll roads.

• On religion: Perry signed a bill that would prohibit discrimination against students who express religious beliefs in papers or artwork.

• Policy mandate: Schools also would have to develop policies for dealing with other forms of religious expression or gatherings on school property.


© 2007 Houston Chronicle: www.chron.com

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