Rick Perry's unaccountable appointees at NTTA boost toll taxes by 32%, then lock in 6% automatic toll tax increases every 2 years.
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER
The Dallas Morning News
Tolls will jump about 32 percent on North Texas Tollway Authority toll roads Sept. 1, thanks to a 8-1 vote this morning by board members.
The new rates will be about 14.5 cents per mile on the President George Bush Turnpike, State Highway 121, now known as the Sam Rayburn Tollway, and the Dallas North Tollway.
In imposing the increase, the board turned aside, by a 7-2 vote, a proposal by board member Bob Day, a Dallas County appointee. Day wanted the increase to be phased in over time. Day voted against the increase.
The new rates will boost NTTA revenues about $14 million this year, and $43.5 million in 2010, and a steadily rising amount in every year beyond.
Director Dave Denison said he was concerned that the rate was in response to temporary conditions caused by the current recession, and will bring in more than is necessary to meet the agency's obligations.
"I'm not absolutely fully convinced" that the 14.5 cent rate is necessary, Denison said.
"If we come out of the recession and are going great guns we may not need all this money," he said.
Some board members also initially seemed opposed to wording in the new rate policy that nows sets an automatic toll rate increase every two years. Every two years from now on, rates will jump nearly 6 percent, without the need for a board vote.
The increase is necessary, CFO Janice Davis said, because NTTA's revenues are no longer enough to meet obligations to creditors to whom NTTA owes about $6 billion. Bond convenants require NTTA revenues to be at least 1.5 times its debt payments. Without the increases, the agency would likely not meet that obligation in the next couple years.
The automatic increases are necessary, too, or else NTTA's ability to borrow more money to build new roads will be constrained, staff and financial advisors said. Previously, toll rates were reviewed only every five years.
NTTA's financial squeeze is due to a combination of factors: while total traffic numbers are up, they are lower than expected; collections from drivers without toll tags have been less successful than expected; and fewer drivers on the new Sam Rayburn Tollway have signed up for toll tags.
© 2009 The Dallas Morning New: www.dallasnews.com
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