Wednesday, July 01, 2009

"Toll road lobbyists with lots of money to throw around will be very active...We Texans, with our votes to throw around, must be vigilant."

Texas taxpayers must be vigilant about highway bill

J.E. Hollan
The Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2009

The 81st session of the Texas Legislature adjourned, leaving some very substantive issues in limbo. One issue of huge concern to many in the Victoria area is that of toll roads, which was in HB 300, the Texas Department of Transportation Sunset Bill.

I have attended several information forums on toll roads conducted by TxDOT, and a hearing by the Texas Senate Transportation Committee on toll roads. No one spoke in favor of taxing Texans to drive on our highways, in addition to the gasoline tax that we already pay. Certainly no could be heard advocating turning operation of Texas infrastructure through Comprehensive Development Agreements over to foreign entities, such as Cintra of Spain.

The problem of funding for new highways and maintenance of old ones, lies with previous legislatures which diverted part of the gasoline taxes we pay to non-highway purposes and failure to provide for indexing the gasoline taxes to inflation.

Rather than correcting previous errors, someone at TxDOT, or in the governor's office, concocted the scheme to sell operation of our highways to foreign corporations and let them charge us whatever they want to drive on them and the profits going to the European companies.

The contracts these foreigners are demanding contain some very ominous provisions such as Texas' inability to build or maintain any competing highways, guaranteed profits to the road builders/operators, and an inability to set the toll rates. Needless to say, lobbyists for the foreign road builders/operators, smelling huge profits, have been very active in Austin. They cannot deliver votes to elected officials, but they can deliver financial backing to them. We all know that "money talks," and it influences the voting of many politicians to whom getting donations is more important than the best interests of Texans.

Coincidentally, amid turmoil over the toll road issue, TxDOT came up for sunset review. Because of some of the mischief they caused, such as hiring a public relations firm at taxpayer expense to lobby for the building of toll roads, there has been great pressure for an overhaul of the agency. During the recently concluded legislative session, a flurry of bills was introduced dealing with the TxDOT sunset status and the future of foreign-controlled toll roads in the state of Texas. The only one to emerge, the over one-thousand page HB 300, delighted the toll road lobbyists, TxDOT officials in Austin, and Gov. Rick Perry.

The provisions of that anti-taxpayer, anti-reform bill contained:
  • No elected leadership at TxDOT as recommended by the Sunset Committee.
  • Continuation of permission to place toll booths on existing, paid-for highways.
  • Permission for TxDOT officials in Austin to spend taxpayer money to lobby for and against specific legislation in direct conflict with the Texas Government Code, Chapter 556.
  • Keeps the Trans-Texas Corridor alive by allowing existing CDAs on TTC-35 and TTC-69 to remain in effect and turn U.S. Highway 59 and U.S. Highway 77 into foreign-owned toll roads. Some legislators say they wanted to keep this provision to avoid costly litigation by voiding the CDAs already in place.
  • Ending of the private toll road moratorium and allowing the sale of our highways to foreign toll road operators.
  • Provision to allow the Texas Mobility Funds to be placed in a revolving fund to loan and invest in toll roads instead of freeways.
  • Removal of many good provisions to prevent conflicts of interest with lobbyists and contractors who influence TxDOT and elected officials who appoint boards dealing with transportation issues.

These are just a few of the bad provisions contained in HB 300. Fortunately for Texas, HB 300 failed to pass.

However, it did not pass because of the many provisions Texans do not like. It failed because of one powerful state senator from an urban area who wanted a local option 10-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax increase.

A special session of the Texas legislature is here. The toll road lobbyists with lots of money to throw around will be very active.

We Texans, with our votes to throw around, must be vigilant and active also or risk being saddled for the next 50-plus years with highways controlled by foreign corporations who have a license to charge whatever they please and take the profits with them out of Texas and the United States.

For more information and continued updates, log onto and don't be bashful about telling our elected representatives how you feel on these and other issues that profoundly affect you.

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