Texas Senate unanimously votes to fleece motorists with market-based TOLLS
Cave to Governor, off to summer vacation!
Friday, May 25, 2007 – The Texas Senate unanimously passed SB 792 which is a vote to fleece the taxpayers through the HIGHEST POSSIBLE TOLLS. Bottom line SB 792 is a counterfeit moratorium because this Governor snuck in a way to charge us "market rate" on ALL tolls projects from now on. Traditional turnpikes are now off the table. "market-based" tolling has Transportation Commission Chair Ric Williamson's fingerprints all over it, and that will bankrupt the traveling public. SB 792 means the HIGHEST POSSIBLE TOLLS for our citizens.
"It does us no good if 281/1604 are some of the few highways in the private toll moratorium if they can still use our public toll authority to do the same thing. Our victory comes in the power of us sending a shot across the bow to this Governor and TxDOT that they're tricks are no longer under the radar. The jig is up, and they're in for an even bigger fight next session," said Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. "There was full disclosure on this bill. We made sure they knew what they were voting on. We know what our senators negotiated in a back room deal and they sold us out. Plain and simple. There will be a price to pay, because paying oppressively high tolls for roads we've already paid for, will not soon be forgotten. We'll take it to the ballot box."
"We will not accept market-based highways and TxDOT demanding concession fees just like Cintra. The PEOPLE'S BILL (HB 1892) was passed with 169-5 combined vote. But our Legislature didn't mean it, especially Senators John Carona, Tommy Williams, and Kim Brimer who simply played the grassroots like a fiddle and used us and our bill as leverage to broker a deal with a detested Governor. Even Ex- Transportation Commissioner Robert Nichols voted for this nightmare. Carona's March 1 hearing (read about it here) was a sham, and he spit in the face of Texans with this bill. They knew HB 1892 would never become law. They cut a deal with the Governor to stab the taxpayers in the back. We're not finished, but some of their political careers are," steams Hall.
"They all whimped out," states Hall. "But our drumbeat will not and cannot be squelched."
William Lutz of the Lone Star Report in an article on the ramifications of SB 792 notes:
"A further flaw is it allows continuation of current policy, whereby the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) may require up-front 'concession fees' in exchange for building some new toll projects. The tolls that pay these concession fees are taxes, not user fees, because concession fees result in tolls over and above the amount required to build and maintain the road. Since the fees are paid back over time from toll revenue, it increases the burden of debt on our children and grandchildren.
In short, concession fees, which are continued by the 'market valuation' language in SB 792, allow the government to raise taxes and do off-budget spending in a manner concealed to the public and without proper legislative oversight and authorization."
"The grassroots will not stand idly by and allow Rick Perry and Ric Williamson's market-based incarnation of extorting money from the traveling public to drive on highways we've already built and paid for. We will not let this Governor unleash a whole new policy initiative hatched in some back room deal with legislators who lack spines. Market value means highest possible tolls. It doesn't really matter if it's the public or private sector doing it, concession fees fleece the taxpayer. At a time when gas prices are at or over $3.00 a gallon, this policy is as foolish as it is sinister. It will bankrupt motorists and, in turn, the State," Hall concludes. "This is NOT over."
Market valuation dollars can build the TRANS TEXAS CORRIDOR!
Trans Texas Corridor alignment I-69 is already exempted in this bill. These politicians may think they will go home and say they got a moratorium under SB 792, and then TTC-69 hearings will start and the fury will begin. The way the market valuation section reads, it says the money will be used in the region, in counties contiguous to the tolling entity's boundaries. Let it be put on the record that this means they can use market valuation money to build TTC 35 segments in Guadalupe & Wilson Counties (Seguin, Floresville, St. Hegwig) and the areas touching Houston and Dallas for either TTC 69 or TTC 35. Concession fees will also free up gas tax money that can then be applied to TTC segments that are not toll viable.
Where have our leaders gone? The way of HB 3588 from 2003. Many legislators opined that they didn't know what they were voting on then, and later realized as Senator Kevin Eltife declared, "we created a monster in TxDOT." Carona and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst expressed an apparently false rage over skyhigh toll rates (read it here) and yet orchestrated a bill that does just that. Rep. Warren Chisum said, "TxDOT is an agency run amok."
"Just like in 2003, completely new language got stuck in a HUGE bill at the end of a session, they voted on it before anyone even read what was in it, and the Governor and his senate friends railroaded it through giving us more cow dung to undo next session," complained Hall.
"HB 1892 is good public policy, it's the people's bill, it slows down this toll train, and allows us to truly study the ramifications of transportation policy before making it law. Yet our senators caved to Mr. 39% voting for a counterfeit bill, SB 792, weakened the power of the Legislature, and likely ended their political careers in so doing," states Hall.
The best independent analysis of the consequences of SB 792 here.