Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Kolkhorst: "Do not be mad at employees of TxDOT. Be mad at legislators...we're trying to make up for our transgressions of the past."

Transportation key topic for Chamber lunch


By MIKE EDDLEMAN, Publisher & Editor
The Sealy News
Copyright 2007

Transportation and budgetary issues were the talk of lunch at the Sealy Chamber of Commerce luncheon as state Senator Glen Hegar, State Representative Lois Kolkhorst and County Judge Carolyn Bilski addressed recent and current legislative issues with those in attendance.

Hegar and Kolkhorst took turns addressing wins and losses from the last session, Hegar beginning with a property rights issue that tied into transportation.

Speaking on the issue of diminished access, Hegar explained why his efforts to protect property rights were stopped.

"One of the things that was most important to me during this last session that we did not get accomplished because the governor vetoed the bill was private property protection," he said. "The state of Texas has probably more desire in protecting our private property than most other states and we have better protections than most of the other states. However, over the course of the last several decades those private property rights have been eroded."

In 1993 the law protecting a property owners' rights in the case that access to their property is altered or taken away due to state land acquisition was abolished. Hegar's effort was aimed at restoring those protections.

"We had legislation this last session that increased private property rights," he said. "Essentially it tried to put property owners back on an equal playing field with government, but the governor actually vetoed the legislation."

The explanation given for the veto was that the measure would cost the state too much - up to $3 billion in early estimates - but a reliable number was never settled on.

"In my personal opinion if it costs to much money it is because we are taking your property and I am going to side with the property owner every single time," Hegar said. "It would only apply to a state highway system or a toll road that is part of a state highway. It would not effect a city or county road."

The big moment for Kolkhorst during the last session dealt with slowing down the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) project.

"Thank you grass roots," she said. "You made enough of a stir out there to make sure all of the members of the legislature listened. The public, through blogs and things started to find out what this Trans Texas Corridor was."

She explained that in the past, there had been no way of getting support or votes for a measure stopping the TTC, but public outcry changed that to a degree.

"I was trying to cut off the Trans Texas Corridor in a number of ways because I knew I could never get a bill out of transportation committee," she said.

The answer was a moratorium on all private equity highways, which came on an amendment to another bill.

"Once it made it out of the house it had life," she said.

While the process was stopped temporarily, Kolkhorst said the legislature has about two years to figure it out.

"My whole thing during the session was Texans need to build their own highways, with their own money, and if we have to toll we need to keep Texans' tax money right here in Texas building new highways," she said. "There is a study group that is going to be involved, I'm on Sunset, we are going to be looking at these issues very closely."

While she believes the TTC is not the answer, she said toll roads are going to be necessary for Texas.

"We are going to have to toll some roads, there's no doubt about it," she said. "The gasoline tax is not keeping up with the growth in the state of Texas. We have bonding capacity, these sure-bet highways that we know are going to be profitable, we can build those and take that money and turn it right back into building more highways."

She also asked that people's frustrations over the TTC issue not be directed at Texas Department of transportation employees, but at lawmakers.

"I have great respect for the employees of TxDOT," she said. "Do not be mad at employees of TxDOT. Be mad at legislators like myself and Glen (Hegar), though we're trying to make up for our transgressions of the past."

Bilski applauded the two legislators for their hard work in the last session, but reminded everyone that the county relies on the legislature to make the right decisions when deciding what new burdens to place on counties and to make sure a mechanism is in place to fund those new projects.

This month's chamber luncheon will be Aug. 23 and the speaker will be Bill Hammond, President and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, call the chamber at 885-3222.

© 2007 Sealy Publications, Inc.: www.sealynews.com

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