Monday, June 29, 2009

"All who oppose tolling aren't whiny liberals...I didn’t get the memo that abuse of the public trust is now acceptable to conservatives."

Don't crack under pressure, Sen. Fraser


Charles Foster
Abilene Reporter-News
Copyright 2009


Dear Sen. Fraser: I’m glad I’m not in your shoes. The regular business of the 81st Legislature was a brutal, exhausting grind with a record number of bills considered.

Despite that, you’re all getting dissed as a bunch of Do-Nothings. Even your pal, the governor, said the session looked like an episode of “Lost.” Now comes the special session.

So; pundits snipe, the Governor postures, and you shouldn’t be any more concerned than you were about being named one of the ‘Ten Worst Legislators’ by Texas Monthly, right? Not so fast, Senator.

Governor Perry is actually angry about not getting something he wanted. And while you were working on the peoples’ business, another Senator who wasn’t, John Carona (Dallas County), gets on the ‘Ten Best’ list. He pushed a legislative agenda that Perry likes and ought to have put him behind bars instead. Perry and Carona, and others, were the same page and are still. They didn’t get their version of the Texas Department of Transportation’s reauthorization, CSB 300. The final draft considered in the House was a thousand-page, special interest-coddling nightmare that didn’t pass.

CSB 300 would have made possible the re-invention of the hated Trans-Texas Corridor, or NAFTA Super Highway, a utopian free-trade lunacy crushed by public opposition previously in the 80th legislature. Section 227 of the Transportation Code which addressed the TTC was cited for repeal in CSB 300 (see page 155), but was cleverly re-introduced piecemeal elsewhere in the bill. The text made unquestionable the conversion of existing, paid-for highway segments into privately held, for-profit toll roads, provide for other new ones like them, stifle public opposition, protect the arrangements with binding contracts for up to fifty years, and make public employee pensions available as a funding source.

Provisions in also allow TxDOT to hire lobbyists with our tax dollars to sell us on these schemes an insulting prospect, and something that isn’t legal now. Finally, the bill would set in stone the Comprehensive Development Agreement concept to provide a legal framework for private tolling projects. The Attorney General has recently ruled CDA’s to be in conflict with the Texas Constitution. They are referred to as public-private partnerships, but are more easily recognizable as legalized graft. These proposals were scandalous and you’ll see them again.

Senator, the Governor says tolling is necessary because the fuel taxes that once easily built and fixed our roads just aren’t adequate. He’s correct in a superficial sense. Those taxes haven’t been adjusted in almost twenty years, and are far outpaced by growth and inflation.

Please tell him we’re just not that stupid out here. There is no more political cover to be had with anti-tax posturing, and the cover doesn’t stretch far enough to justify giving our roads away as a fix, especially since tolling schemes anticipate use of fuel and other taxes to prop them up. We shouldn’t have to be taxed AND tolled, especially to use certain roads that we paid for previously. Average toll expense is projected at thousands per year per driver. Sounds like a new tax to me.

Latest buzz is that all who oppose tolling are whiny liberals. I guess I just didn’t get the memo that abuse of the public trust is now acceptable to conservatives. 28,000-plus Texans called and wrote the Capitol this year in opposition. They’re not all liberals. The protests set a record.

I appreciate your previous votes against the nonsense we reviewed here, Senator. But I’m concerned that the Governor and the Toll-Trolls are now going to pressure you for support. Please; stand firm instead. I’ll be watching on the Texas Legislature Online Web site, and I’m pulling for you. I’m still glad I’m not in your shoes.

Charles Foster lives in Abilene.

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