Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Using toll roads as a permanent tax raise is not good public policy. A 50-year lease on a toll road is never meant to be a free road."

Kay Bailey Hutchison lambastes governor's transportation policies


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

IRVING – Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison called the transportation policies of Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation "arrogant" Friday, arguing they are not in the best interest of the state's property owners or taxpayers.

Hutchison, who next week will formally announce her candidacy for governor, said she disagreed with the 1,500-mile Trans Texas Corridor proposal, once the centerpiece of Perry's transportation vision.

"It is the biggest land grab that we have had since the beginning of our state," she told participants at the Transportation & Infrastructure Summit in Irving.

The Trans Texas Corridor project was 'killed' last year, but parts of it remain, and Hutchison's campaign has used it as an example of Perry's bad judgment.

"Using toll roads as a permanent tax raise is not good public policy," she said. "A 50-year lease on a toll road is never meant to be a free road. That is Governor Perry's transportation strategy, and I disagree with it."

Hutchison added that development agreements with private companies for toll roads must protect "local sovereignty and state taxpayers."

Earlier this week, the head of the Texas Transportation Commission, former Perry chief of staff Deirdre Delisi, gave the same group a forceful defense of the role of privatization in transportation policy. Delisi also challenged Hutchison to come up with a better idea. On Friday, the senator did not directly address the criticism.

But that didn't stop the barbs from the Perry campaign.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner said that the senator had been in Washington too long and that she didn't fully understand the need to build more roads.

"It's easy to be critical when you're being driven around Washington," Miner said. "What are her ideas? She's been in Washington for 16 years and doesn't have a full grasp of the state of transportation in Texas."

Miner acknowledged that Perry also has aides to drive for him, but he said that the governor can feel commuters' pain because he can see the state's traffic problems firsthand.

Hutchison, the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, has been involved in numerous transportation-related issues from her Senate perch.

She told the group in Irving that she was pushing legislation that would allow Texas to keep 100 percent of the gas tax it collects here.

Currently Texas gets back 92 cents for every dollar Texans pay.

"It doesn't make sense for Texas to be required to send money out of state at this rate," she said.

For much of her speech, Hutchison contrasted her position on the development of toll roads with Perry.

She said, for instance, that she didn't mind using private companies to build roads, as long as local sovereignty and taxpayers were protected.

She said a $3.6 million payment by the Regional Transportation Council to the Spanish firm Cintra to cover cost it incurred before ultimately losing a bid for the State Highway 121 toll project was not good business. The company had been given the project on a conditional basis, until Dallas-area leaders objected.

"I would call it a tax on arrogance," Hutchison said of the episode.

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