Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Are we sure we want to give a very few the power to bankrupt the entire State of Texas?"

CSHB 9, HJR 9 or whatever we're calling it at this point


Copyright 2009

CSHB 9, the gas tax bill everyone is excited about (here's the DMN and FWST coverage) isn't all it's cracked up to be...

First off, the bill diverts money from the gas tax to rail with little or no oversight. Will the projects pull traffic off our congested roads? Who knows. Obviously, no one will have a problem with building rail that increases net capacity on our roads. However, there's nothing here to make sure that happens, clearing the way for RMA vanity projects, funded by the gas tax, which do little to alleviate congestion.

Section 222.073 is where the fun really begins... it puts the extra money raised with the local option gas tax into the Texas Infrastructure bank and some private banks, to maximize 'private participation' and leverage public money. Which is a back door way of saying 'fund public-private partnerships' or private toll roads. With gas tax revenue. Which is REALLY awesome.

All this if voters in the counties that make up the MPO vote for as much as a 10 cent increase in the gas tax. Oh, and individual counties can opt out if their voters don't approve, which creates a lovely swiss cheese overlay for increased gas taxes funding projects even in deadbeat counties.

Wrapped up in all this is a constitutional amendment to index the statewide gas tax which people have been asking for FOREVER. Now, there is a cap maxing out at 5% per year and no higher than 3 cents per biennium, which isn't terrible. However, the focus on the PPI vs. actual construction costs could create problems as construction costs tend to be more volatile than PPI.

Now, there is something interesting in all that Sen. Carona's office (and the Senator himself) are busy telling every reporter in earshot that there is a prohibition in this legislation that keeps gas tax money from funding PPP's and toll roads. Of course, to this point, no one has been able to find that language in the bill.

However, the crap about the infrastructure bank was hella easy to find. Oh, and we still have a problem with Carona's bank in that it's a really, really stupid idea. Again, no one in the Senate has any idea how much trouble the folks who will be running this 'bank' can get into. AIG and Lehman didn't either and now they're both broke.

Are we sure we want to give a very few the power to bankrupt the entire State of Texas? Of course not... so why is the Texas Senate, and more specifically Senators Carona, Nichols and Ogden, so hell bent on doing just that?

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