(Austin, TX - November 5, 2014) Texas taxpayers have been tormented for more than a decade when it comes to transportation and toll roads, and their torment is finally coming to an end tonight. With the strong win by Greg Abbott, Texans will soon have a new governor who actually campaigned against toll roads. It’s a welcome departure from the agony of living under the current governor, Rick Perry, who crippled Texans with unsustainable, exorbitantly expensive, insolvent toll roads. Texans also overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure, Proposition 1, to dedicate half of the state’s oil and gas revenues to the state highway fund with 81% of the vote. The new revenue cannot be used for toll roads.
Other big wins include Dan Patrick for Lt. Governor, Ken Paxton for Attorney General, and a strong anti-toll grassroots win for Konni Burton who took back Wendy Davis’ senate seat, Senate District 10, for the GOP in Ft. Worth. Tony Tinderholt is another big anti-toll pick-up replacing pro-toll incumbent Diane Patrick in House District 94 in Arlington. Rodney Anderson’s win in House District 105 in Irving and Grand Prairie replaces a key pro-toll member of the Transportation Committee, Linda Harper-Brown, whose penchant for public private partnership corporate toll roads and bike and pedestrian facilities also played a role in her ouster. Anti-toll Matt Rinaldi replaces pro-toll Bennett Ratliff in House District 115, representing the Carollton area.
In a big surprise upset, Rick Galindo took back House District 117 for the GOP from incumbent Democrat pro-toll Phil Cortez in San Antonio. Will Hurd also beat Democrat incumbent Pete Gallego for U.S. House District 23, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso. But it was otherwise a tough night for Republicans in key races for Bexar County District Attorney, County Judge, and Precinct 4 Commissioner.
Turnout was much lower than in 2010, which is the only thing that helped pro-toll Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff narrowly win re-election with just 52% of the vote (after winning re-election with over 80% of the vote just four years ago). His unpopular push for toll roads, and his extremely unpopular love affair with his downtown street car plan that stole $92 million in road dollars to rip-up downtown streets for a 3-mile trolley car where there’s no congestion, nearly cost him the election.
Anti-toll Tommy Calvert won the Bexar County Precinct 4 Commissioner seat, replacing long-time anti-toll hero Tommy Adkisson who failed to beat Wolff in the primary for county judge. But don’t count Adkisson out yet. He’s making rumblings about a Mayoral run now that former Mayor Julian Castro vacated his position to head HUD for the Obama Administration.
Though other candidates didn’t face much of a challenge in the general election, a slew of new anti-toll senators will change the make-up of the Texas Senate in a big way. Among them are Bob Hall (SD-2), Van Taylor (SD-8), Don Huffines (SD-16), and Charles Perry (who’s already been sworn in after a special election in September to fill SD-28). With Patrick leading the Senate as Lt. Governor, and this new wave of anti-toll senators in a chamber of only 31 members, there’s a real possibility the Texas Senate will be more fiscally conservative than the Texas House for the first time in decades.
So the big question is, what’s next? The third most powerful position in state government aside from Governor and Lt. Governor is the Speaker of the House. It’s the one significant position that Texas voters cannot directly elect. The current pro-toll Speaker Joe Straus is being challenged by anti-toll State Rep. Scott Turner. So much attention will be turned to building grassroots pressure on House members to oust Straus come January when the Texas legislature comes back into session.
Pro-toll Senator Glenn Hegar will be vacating his senate seat (SD-18) now that he’s been elected Comptroller, and the favorite to win that seat that runs from Brenham to Victoria is anti-toll stalwart Lois Kolkhorst. San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van De Putte is likely to resign her senate seat after her failed bid for Lt. Governor, so yet another seat may be up for grabs soon.
The Transportation Session?
The talk under the pink dome is that one of the top issues in the upcoming 84th session of the Texas legislature will be transportation. Abbott campaigned on fixing road funding shortfalls without raising taxes, fees, and without tolls. But it’s not just about the money, it’s about greater accountability and transparency at the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which has a history of going rogue, mismanaging taxpayers money (from a $1.1 billion accounting error to wasting nearly $1 billion on light rail projects), and being arrogant and downright abusive in ramming Perry’s toll road agenda down Texans’ throats. Texas Legislative Counsel also recently found that the cost to build roads in Texas has risen 50% in the last 10 years compared to just 12% nationally.
Abbott will get two new appointees to the Transportation Commission right out of the gate in February. Together with current Commissioner Victor Vandergriff, whose been an outspoken critic of the agency’s practices and ill-conceived toll projects, Abbott will have a majority on the Commission and will have an immediate opportunity to change TxDOT for the better. Ending gas tax diversions has been named a top priority as well as dedicating the vehicle sales tax Texans already pay to roads (it currently gets dumped into the general revenue coffers).
So there’s hope on the horizon for taxpayers and motorists who have been suffering under the wrath of toll road tyranny. With the recent research by the Texas Transportation Institute confirming Texans ranked toll roads dead last and bike lanes second to last on the list of possible transportation solutions, it’s clear Texans and voters have spoken. Now it’s time for our leaders to listen, cut the waste, and get Texas moving again.