"Texans are getting the idea that the lobbyists and the foreign toll corporations are having their way with our elected officials."
House joins Senate in voting to sell our highways to corporations
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom
(Austin, TX ) Texans don’t want their PUBLIC highway system sold to the highest bidder, nor do they want corporate-run toll roads that cost commuters 75 cents a mile to get to work.
Today, the Texas House voted to extend these contracts called Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) in Texas also known as public private partnerships (PPPs), reversing themselves from just 2 years ago when they voted for a moratorium 139-1.
Private toll road contracts are due to sunset this fall. Last Thursday, the TxDOT sunset bill had swelled to 200 pages long and there were 166 amendments (400 pages worth) offered. Few, if any, lawmakers read every page or knew what they voting on.
Amendment #134, authored by Rep. Larry Phillips, that re-authorized private toll contracts (or CDAs) was slipped into HB 300 on Friday, without a record vote, when many members were not on the floor. Texans cried foul and instead of REPEAL the amendment today, they RE-AUTHORIZED it again without a RECORD VOTE again so they wouldn't have to go ON THE RECORD so that the people of Texas can hold them accountable.
"So if that's the way they want it, they can all hang together," promises Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texas TURF. "Even our 'good guys' did not vote in opposition or request a record vote."
UNDERHANDED DIRTY TRICKS
First, during floor debate last Thursday, House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Pickett added an amendment to the REPEAL of the Trans Texas Corridor amendment that would have UNDONE the repeal. Pickett actually had the unmitigated gall to say his amendment to UNDO the repeal of the TTC was "acceptable to the author" (Rep. Leibowitz) when, in fact, it was a sneaky trick to UNDO the repeal of the TTC. Thankfully, they caught it in time and moved to strip Pickett's amendment and again REPEAL the Trans Texas Corridor.
Then, when the Larry Phillips amendment was snuck into the bill Friday when few legislators were even on the floor, it created a NEW chapter of the code that referenced the Trans Texas Corridor and Chapter 227 and threatened the repeal of the corridor once again, and it also extended CDA authority to ALL toll project entities, which has NEVER been debated either in committee or on the floor for HB 300.
"Texans are getting the idea that the lobbyists and the foreign toll corporations are having their way with our elected officials who REFUSE to listen to the will of Texans and nix these CDAs," Hall notes. "This is a total embarrassment, to bow the knee to Cintra and to come begging for money to build roads when we ALL know what the sensible, affordable solution is: raise the gas tax and index it to inflation with a cap."
HB 300 author Rep. Carl Isett said NO funding mechanisms would be included in the Sunset bill and he told legislators the CDA discussion was going to happen in committee this week, not in the Sunset bill, only to allow Phillips' amendment into the bill under the radar Friday and again today.
"Instead of right this OUTRAGEOUS wrong, they voted to sell out the PEOPLE of Texas, again without a record vote," said Hall. "This is no way to enact some of the most important legislation of the session. Legislating on the fly may be standard operating procedure, but it's a disgrace. These policies impact EVERY Texan and ultimately control every mile we drive."
Texans haven't changed their minds
In 2007, Texans stood-up and demanded a moratorium on CDAs and sent a bill to the Governor with a combined vote of 169-5. So what happened to our politicians? Do they think Texans have changed their mind and will choke down the loss of control of our public highways and accept such oppressive taxation? Hardly, says Hall.
"The public is largely unaware of what our politicians are about to ram through, and those that are, have weighed in LOUD and CLEAR that they do NOT want CDAs. The people think they took care of it two years ago only to wake-up to find the nightmare continues unabated," Hall contends.
These deals cost taxpayers 50% more, are failing all over the country, and result in extremely high tolls, like the DFW contracts just signed with Spain-based Cintra that will charge commuters 75 cents a mile to get to work. That’s $3,000 a year in new toll taxes. Especially in these economic times, that’s completely unsustainable. There were 20 lawyers present at the signing of the SH 130 CDA. TxDOT has squandered at least $18 million on legal fees alone for just the TTC-35 CDA. When TxDOT is claiming we’re out of money for roads, CDAs are the height of hypocrisy.
CDAs are the most risky and expensive method of delivering toll projects. "So why are CDAs being discussed at all? Because our politicians lack the spines to take on the Governor and his BIG MONEY cronies," Hall observes.
TURF believes public infrastructure that Texans depend on for daily living shouldn’t be under the control of private companies whose primary motive, naturally, is profit, not the public interest.
The recently signed I-820 deal includes gas taxes, federal TIFIA loans, and other public money yet Cintra gets the right to toll Texans for 50 years and take all the profits out of state. In fact, TxDOT plunked down more cash for the project than did Cintra! (Read it here:
The LBJ project to toll I-635 uses public employee pension funds to invest in the deal, which is risky and fiscally irresponsible, with toll rates of 75 cents a mile and can rise monthly. TxDOT will even pay Cintra for the loss of the "prevailing toll" revenues due to HOV users and Cintra is guaranteed 12% to 23% PROFIT!
Their models show only 10 & 11% of all traffic will be able to afford to take these billion dollar toll lanes. The congestion or variable tolling is the most insidious of all where they jack-up the toll rates to guarantee certain speeds or pay TxDOT a penalty for slower travel times. This means they purposely price cars off the toll lanes as a financial incentive.
"So what's the point of all this risky, multi-generational leveraged debt? Mobility or making money? We’re headed for an infrastructure bubble that is destined to fail, which is likely to ensure massive taxpayer bailouts when they do," Hall predicts.
All those cars not on the toll road will be sitting in traffic, contributing to our air quality issues and being late to work while still paying taxes for highways (gas tax) and not getting a thing for it!
"Call your state lawmakers and tell them not to let private corporations takeover our public highways. Tell them NO CDAs, and NO to more sweetheart deals. Yes to elected leadership at TxDOT, yes to the Leibowitz' version of the ban on tolling existing roads, and yes to REPEALING the Trans Texas Corridor once and for all," implores Hall.
Read how CDAs are failing all over the world on our CDA Fact Sheet here:http://www.texasturf.org/images/stories/pdf/FactSheet-CDAs-P3s.pdf)
Terri Hall is the Founder of Texas TURF. TURF is a non-partisan grassroots group of citizens concerned about toll road policy and the Trans Texas Corridor. TURF promotes non-toll transportation solutions. For more information, please visit their web site at: www.TexasTURF.org.
Contacts: Terri Hall, Founder/Director, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), (210) 275-0640
EMAIL: terri@texasTURF.org WEB: www.TexasTURF.org
© 2009 TURF: www.texasturf.org
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