By Terri Hall
February 20, 2017
It’s tough being a taxpayer. After 14 years of enduring former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s push for toll roads, including the controversial network of transnational tollways under the control of a foreign corporation called the Trans Texas Corridor, Texans are still facing the push for tolls by local governments. Though Texas Governor Greg Abbott did an about-face on tolls campaigning against them and promising to fix Texas roads without raising fees, taxes, tolls or debt, local toll agencies, with the aid of a willing press, are trying to cram toll roads down commuters’ throats despite their opposition. Case in point, the San Antonio Express-News just ran an editorial entitled, ‘Tolls are necessary, deal with it.’
The ingenious part of Perry’s plan was to push the toll decision down to the local level, where they get to keep the revenue stream, allowing the state to offload its duty of building and maintaining the state highway system to local governments. It’s a win-win for government. In so doing, Republicans hide behind the moniker of ‘local control’ and let the local governments impose what amounts to the largest tax increase in Texas history — thousands of dollars a year in new, unaccountable toll taxes just to get to work. None of the state’s local toll agencies are comprised of elected officials. So now Texans are facing taxation without representation with few options to force government to back-off the unaccountable double taxation.
The Express-News editorial told the community what the elites truly think — that you parting with more of your money is necessary to keep cronyism and big government running smoothly, so 'deal with it.' Taxpayers don't appreciate being told what to do, especially when it comes to the long arm of government reaching into their wallets. Contrary to the narrative, tolls are no longer a 'user fee' where only those who use the toll lanes pay for them. When $326 million in gas taxes will be used to subsidize the construction of toll lanes inside Loop 1604 in the Alamo city, everyone will pay for them. But only the select few who can fork over up to $23 a day in tolls will be able to use them.
That's right. The plan calls for dynamic tolling where the toll rate changes in real time and can reach the maximum during peak hours, which is $.50/mile. So those who need to drive all 23 miles during rush hour are looking at $23/day in new toll taxes to use lanes their gas taxes helped pay to build. That's double taxation and warrants a taxpayer revolt. In Dallas and Ft. Worth, two privatized toll projects cost $40/day. Those two projects also used $1 billion in gasoline taxes plus $2.5 billion in federal bonds/loans. Taxpayers’ pockets are getting picked from all sides.
Tolls, once imposed, tend to never disappear. If it's one thing a government bureaucrat won't give up, it's an unaccountable revenue stream in the hands of unelected boards. They can always find a use for your money.
Local elected officials are banking on voters having a short memory. They want Texas voters to forget about passage of Prop 1 and Prop 7 that together with the end to most gas tax diversions will boost the highway fund nearly $5 billion more per year. A recent legislative report shows that an additional $80 billion in new road funds will be available in the next 10 years.
When Abbott reiterated his Texas Clear Lanes Initiative last year, he promised Prop 1 and Prop 7 funds would go to the most congested roads across the state. Yet San Antonio’s local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) chose to spend its new funds on lower priority projects so that they can profit off of the congestion on the north side and impose tolls. In fact, the plan pits one side of town against the other — Loop 1604 on the south and east sides will get their roads expanded without tolls, while north side commuters are told 'tolls are necessary, deal with it.' Local officials are run amok and rather than rein them in, Abbott’s highway commission sheepishly states ‘it’s a local decision.’
Taxpayers should not stand for targeted, discriminatory toll taxes to be imposed against their will. This problem certainly isn’t unique to Texas. President Donald Trump has made tolls and road privatization the centerpiece of his infrastructure plan. He recently installed public private partnership guru and former government affairs official for Macquarie Capital, David Gribbin, as his special assistant on infrastructure. The push for tolls and privatizing our public infrastructure is on a full court press. It’s incumbent upon every American to get engaged and fight back before their freedom to travel is permanently imperiled by punitive toll taxation in the hands of unelected boards, or even private corporations, that they can’t control.