Monday, April 13, 2009

"Flushing out the reclusive funding fairy might be our only hope."

Lege is missing a road fairy

road fairy

With lawmakers wary of both tolls and taxes but wanting roads, magic might be the only option.


Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

The Texas Road Fairy surfaced again last week.

Well, not the actual fairy himself (or herself). Rather, what popped up were more mentions of the apparently timid creature. The fairy, to my knowledge, has never been spotted in the flesh, or whatever it is that covers fairies.

In fact, the salient characteristic of the road fairy seems to be doubt about its existence. As in, "There's no road fairy, so we have to build toll roads." Or, for those on the other side of the debate, "Unless you believe there's a road fairy somewhere out there, we need to increase the gas tax." Or for the truly confident and ecumenical: "There's no road fairy to save us. We need to build tollways and raise gas taxes."

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, was the latest to cite the highway sprite, this time during a debate last week over legislation to allow localities to raise the gas tax or fees to pay for transportation projects. Wentworth supports the idea. But some conservatives, you see, don't like the bill because it would allow the public to vote to tax itself. The Legislature for 18 years has resisted raising the state's 20-cent-a-gallon gas tax.

Recall that last session, a majority of lawmakers rebelled over private toll road leases. And toll roads in general are not real popular across the state. But then again, neither is sitting in traffic going nowhere, spewing out pollution and stewing over missed appointments. So: Don't toll me, don't tax me, but by God build me some roads and rail lines.

That leaves us with the engineering elf.

All of which made me wonder: What exactly does the Texas Road Fairy look like?

There's the gender question first of all. I'm guessing male, given that highway design and construction is still dominated by men. Maybe with an impish two- or three-day growth of beard.

Costume? Most of us associate fairies with Tinker Bell, of course, she of the toga-like, clingy micro-mini. No way our manly road fairy would be caught in that get-up. No, we're talking coveralls in that neon-orange hue for safety, a traffic cone for a hat and steel-toed Redwings rather than those little slippers with puff balls most fairies wear. The coveralls must have deep pockets, to carry billions of dollars in cash.

Might be hard to elevate, given that load. But this is a Lone Star pixie, after all, with a Texas-size wingspan and special dust straight from Willie Nelson's tour bus. He'll get 'er done.

With the Legislature edging away from both taxes and tolls, that leaves magical thinking. Flushing out the reclusive funding fairy might be our only hope. I'll keep my eye out for a glowing light bouncing off the Capitol walls in the session's closing weeks.

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