Trump take heed: Toll roads a factor in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas election
By Terri Hall
November 9, 2016
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research
With the historic election of Donald Trump to the American Presidency, it signals a total repudiation of the political establishment by the working class. You could call it the election of the American worker. But analysts would be remiss if they failed to overlook how toll roads played a part in several races in key states.
One of the most notable races is for governor in North Carolina — must-win state for Trump that went red. Yet, Republican Governor Pat McCrory is in a nail biter photo finish to retain his seat in a state that went Republican last night. The very real threat by Democrat Roy Cooper who claimed victory Wednesday morning, though most still believe the race too close to call, is in part due to McCrory losing support among his base thanks to his approval of the controversial public private partnership (P3) toll project on Interstate-77 in Charlotte.
Citizens lost their battle in the courts and the legislature to stop the state from handing the public’s vital interstate over to the control of a private, foreign corporation in a 50-year deal.
Then, the focus turned to Governor McCrory to cancel the contract. Cooper, the current Attorney General, said in the Charlotte Business Journal in August that McCrory would have “to admit now that he cut a bad deal for North Carolina. He should stop stalling and cancel this contract that never should have been signed to begin with.” McCrory didn’t budge to his own peril.
In Florida, another must-win state that went red for Trump, former House Transportation Committee Chairman, Congressman John Mica lost his seat to newcomer Stephanie Murphy. While some blame his defeat on redistricting bringing in more minority voters to his suburban district, Mica lost touch with his base due in part to his longstanding support for toll roads, particularly P3s. Mica brought tolls to I-4 using congestion pricing, forcing drivers to pay a premium to drive during peak hours. The hidden tax hurts suburbanites harder than urban dwellers since they experience longer commutes and pay more in tolls. He failed to stop the toll bloodletting when taxpayers revolted. So the untold story in this race is about the rise of the middle class worker struggling to make ends meet amidst stagnant wages, staggering health premiums, and ever growing taxes.
In Texas, a state without which no Republican can win the White House, Dallas State Representative Kenneth Sheets also became tone deaf to his conservative base on toll roads. The Dallas-Ft.Worth metroplex is ground zero for toll managed lane projects and soon will boast the largest managed lane network in the country. Taxpayers are none too happy. Though Sheets didn’t go all-in for tolling, he cozied up to the establishment, played footsy with too many controversial bills, scored poorly on legislative report cards, and lost his base. As a result, Sheets lost his seat to Democrat Victoria Neave, who said tolls are a hidden tax and should not advance without local support.
Now back to Mr. Trump. Days before the election, Trump announced his plan to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure without raising taxes by harnessing the private sector. Voters in these key states know that’s code for P3s and toll roads. They’re not fooled into thinking tolls are not a tax. Their pocketbooks have already been sufficiently raided enough to know the dangers of handing the sovereignty over our public roads to private for-profit companies who are given a blank check to charge punitive tolls during congested periods.
Trump’s anti-free trade message resonated because it hurt the American worker. Tolls likewise, hurt the American working class — and hard. Considering these three must-win states for a Republican president just tossed incumbents over toll projects, voters trust Mr. Trump will read the tea leaves and advance a transportation vision and policy that’s pro-freedom, pro-taxpayer, and pro-worker. Voters need to watch closely who he appoints as Transportation Secretary.
Former governors like Rick Perry made road privatization and tolls the centerpiece of his transportation policy for 14 years, and he’s vying for a position in the new Trump administration. Perry would be a disastrous choice considering Texans just elected a new Governor Greg Abbott who campaigned against toll roads and has made a marked departure from privatization. Americans expect Trump to surround himself with like-minded advisers who will set a course consistent with his campaign message. Millions will be watching and waiting.