Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Perry's "Bada bing - Bada boom" Special Session: Fuggedaboudit

Toll activists outraged at special session agenda


By Peggy Fikac
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN — Opponents of privately-run toll roads hope the idea gets anything but a short, smooth ride when lawmakers convene in special session Wednesday.

Gov. Rick Perry, who called the special session and set its agenda, wants lawmakers to continue five state agencies that otherwise would expire; permit highway bonds to be issued; and authorize the continued use of comprehensive agreements that allow private development of toll roads.

That work, left undone in the recent regular session, can be completed in a few days, Perry said. House and Senate leaders agree. Foes of the toll road agreements, however, are outraged.

“Concerned citizens are hopping mad about lawmakers' rush to get home for the 4th of July holiday rather than give due consideration to what some have dubbed the largest tax increase in Texas history, selling Texas highways to PRIVATE foreign corporations that charge 75 cents PER MILE in new toll taxes to access PUBLIC roads,” said a press release from Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

Perry, who has supported private investment in toll roads to relieve highway congestion in the face of inadequate funding from taxes and bonds, was unmoved.

“If those who want to criticize how we build transportation infrastructure have a better, more reasonable, more thoughtful approach, please bring it to the table,” Perry said Tuesday. “If not, then they probably won't get much of a hearing from me because generally they don't bring any productive things to the table. They just protest.” Lawmakers allowed the agreements in 2003. In the face of critics' outcry that the state was selling key assets, they later put a moratorium on new ones, with exceptions. The ability to enter into such agreements is set to expire this year, requiring legislative action if the Texas Department of Transportation and regional mobility authorities are to be allowed to continue using the financing tool.

A proposal by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, would extend authorization for the agreements through 2013. It would allow specific projects that have been agreed upon by local entities to go forward, and allow new agreements with additional restrictions meant to ensure local control. Perry's office said he is reviewing the bill.

Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas, said while it's clear the public still has “considerable concerns” over development agreements and toll roads, they “can be a useful tool when properly constrained.”

“We can't build roads for free,” he said.

Perry cited Texas' “founding fathers” and the every-other-year regular session schedule when asked why he wants the special session to be short: “Do we want to have long legislative sessions? No. The founding fathers said 140 days every other year. Get ‘em in, get ‘em out, get your work done. Bada bing. Bada boom.”

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