Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Texas can’t privatize its way out of this hole. What it needs it must pay for. "

Inexcusable holdup on highways


The Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2007

Texas is big hats, big shoulders, big buildings, big corporations, big expectations.

How could it be feeling so puny when it comes to addressing its highway needs?

The truth is “puny” understates it. “Pygmy” is more like it.

As the Trib’s David Doerr reported last week, at least 13 of 23 highway projects in McLennan County identified as priorities could be delayed or put off indefinitely for want of state dollars.

This includes increasingly congested Farm-to-Market Road 1637, which needs more than its current two lanes to convey people back and forth from the high-growth China Spring/ Bosqueville area.

This also includes the spur that city developers desire to connect Highway 6 with Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

These are among a host of important projects on the Waco Metropolitan Transportation Plan that appear headed nowhere for the time being.

Fortunately No. 1 on the list, expansion of Interstate 35 through McLennan County, remains on track.

Texas has no excuse to be at this juncture except for crowd-pleasing political posturing that puts tax cuts above other obligations, and which puts too much stock in toll roads. Texas, already at the bottom nationwide in per-capita spending and tax burden, is about to feel the reality of “something for nothing” fiscal policies.

Gov. Rick Perry and state transportation officials are saying that the Legislature put the state in a bind when it put a moratorium on new toll roads this session. That was a worthy move, however. The state needs to review what some critics have derided as too-sweet sweetheart deals for some of the contractors.

Texas is going to need toll roads. But the way it has positioned itself leans way too heavily on them at the exclusion of other methods such as bonds or general revenues.

In addition to toll roads, Texas needs to tap traditional methods such as the motor fuels tax— whereby people who use the highways, including domestic and foreign visitors, help pay for the wear under their wheels. However, lawmakers this session couldn’t even agree to index the gasoline tax to account for inflation.

Opening the spigots on toll roads will not relieve the state of the untenable bind it faces on second-tier needs like that crush headed into town from China Spring.

Texas has the resources to move these projects forward. Unfortunately, its leadership lives in the netherworld of insisting that Texans pay too much in taxes already.

The highway crunch is the clearest evidence imaginable that that’s not true.

Texas can’t privatize its way out of this hole. What it needs it must pay for. Since when did Texans come to believe that they could have something for nothing? Since when did big-shouldered Texas become a poverty case?

© 2007 The Waco Tribune-Herald:

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