Friday, February 08, 2008

Carona on Deirdre Delisi's possible appointment to the Texas Transportation Commission: "We don't need political hacks in that position."

Dallas lawmaker backs higher gas tax


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2008

FORT WORTH -- Few Texans wield as much influence on transportation issues as state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

He and other state officials are investigating a $1 billion-plus cash-flow shortage at the Texas Department of Transportation that has forced a statewide shutdown of most road work.

On Wednesday, Carona addressed the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition about many topics.

Gas tax increase

Texas needs to put the brakes on toll roads in Dallas-Fort Worth, he said. "There are 14 toll projects under consideration in this area, versus only six in Houston," he said. "Don't overload us. We just want balance."

So how should roads be paid for? In 2009, Carona will propose raising the state gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon to 30 cents, which would generate an additional $1 billion a year.

Other alternatives:

Index the gas tax to rise with inflation, to cover the rising cost of road work.

Index the gas tax to rise with fuel efficiency.

Ask voters for a constitutional amendment barring state government from diverting road funds for other needs.

Use more debt to build roads.

"TxDOT has $9 billion of debt capacity they could have been issuing," Carona said. "They have unilaterally decided they don't want to issue it. That's fiscally irresponsible. They are not using the tools the Legislature has given them."

No 'hacks,' please

Carona said he has been told that Gov. Rick Perry will appoint former Chief of Staff Deirdre Delisi to the Texas Transportation Commission. The governor's office declined to comment.

Carona said it would be a bad move.

"We don't need political hacks in that position," he said. "We need people who understand the business. We need people who understand transportation. We don't need someone who's unpopular with the Legislature."

Also under consideration are Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, who isn't seeking re-election, and former Fort Worth Councilman Bill Meadows, now a North Texas Tollway Authority member.

Carona isn't high on Krusee, a Perry insider. But he likes Meadows.

The governor could make up to two appointments any day now. A vacancy was created by the death of Chairman Ric Williamson of Weatherford in late December. In addition, interim Chairwoman Hope Andrade continues to serve even though her term has expired.

No sales tax

Opponents of raising the state's 8.25 percent sales-tax cap to pay for regional rail have won the battle. It's doubtful that the proposal, which failed in the 2007 legislative session, will get serious attention in 2009, Carona said. But he said he plans to meet with business leaders next week to find out whether they are serious about supporting the concept of regional rail and just not the sales tax as a funding method.

"There are those with influence who don't agree -- Texas Instruments and others -- and that's OK. That's politics," Carona said. "But I hope these companies come up with constructive alternatives."

The money is safe

The Transportation Department received nearly $3.2 billion upfront from the North Texas Tollway Authority when it leased the Texas 121 toll road project in Denton and Collin counties. Metroplex leaders worry that the money may be raided to balance the state budget. No so, Carona said. "Let me assure you, your money is safe. ... We'll keep a close eye on it."

Carona file

Name: John J. Carona

Occupation: Real estate management firm president; Dallas state senator

Background: Served as a state representative from 1990 to 1996 before election to the Senate; native of and resident of east Dallas; degrees in insurance and real estate from the University of Texas at Austin

Source: State of Texas

GORDON DICKSON, 817-685-3816

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