Friday, July 03, 2009

"This was a back door way to bring back the TTC...I think we killed some really bad legislation.”

Lawmakers adjourn after two-day session



From Staff and Wire Reports
Brenham Banner-Press
Copyright 2009

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst said the just-ended special legislative session was as much a success because of what was not passed as it was for what was.

The Texas Legislature adjourned a two-day special session Thursday, finishing two of the issues assigned to them by Gov. Rick Perry while a measure to allow the state to continue contracting for privately built toll roads never made it out of committee.

Lawmakers passed bills to keep five important state agencies operating for the next two years and a measure authorizing the state to spend $2 billion in bonds to build new roads.

The unanimously approved agency bill will save the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the Department of Insurance and three other agencies from abolition. That’s because state law requires the Legislature to regularly review and reauthorize state agencies, but lawmakers failed to renew them during the regular session that ended June 1 because of partisan bickering.

Both chambers also passed a bill Thursday that authorizes the state to spend $2 billion in bonds to build new roads. The road bonds were already approved by voters statewide in 2007, but the Legislature still needed to authorize the spending.

House lawmakers added a provision that would prohibit the money from being used to turn existing free roadways into tollways.

The failed measure that would allow the state to continue contracting for privately built toll roads was an upset for Gov. Rick Perry, whose office tried unsuccessfully to broker a compromise in the final hours.

Contracts known as Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) have been used to finance, build and operate toll roads and other projects. But opponents of such contracts worry they take control away from local governments.

Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) said the CDA proposal was another attempt to revive the Trans-Texas Corridor, a network of “superhighways” pushed heavily by Perry.

TTC would have gobbled up vast amounts of land and was bitterly opposed by many rural property owners.

Kolkhorst said there continues to be “a great distrust” for the Texas Transportation Commission and TxDOT.

“There’s a great distrust about the transportation commission, what we’ve been through with the TTC in our area. This was a back door way to bring back the TTC,” she said.

“I’m thrilled that we were able to do that. It’s not so much what you pass but what you kill. And I think we killed some really bad legislation.

Kolkhorst also applauded a decision to bring back TxDOT back for “sunset review” in two years and approval of the bonding authority.

A proposal to allow half of the $2 billion to be a “revolving loan fund” was not allowed because of concerns private investors would tap into it, then “bundle and sell” the loans again and again.

Kolkhorst said the speed at which the Legislature moved through the special session was also a plus.

“I’m pleased with the way the special session came out. Two days is incredible,” she said. “We saved the taxpayers a lot of money.”

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