(San Antonio, TX, June 5, 2013) - As San Antonians struggle to put gas in their tanks, a bill authored by Rep. Ruth McClendon, HB 1573, to increase Bexar County vehicle registration fees $10 is on Texas Governor Rick Perry's desk and will become law unless he vetoes the bill by June 16. Taxpayers are asking the governor to veto the bill.
Perry has told lawmakers repeatedly that he's opposed to ANY fee hikes, which he and the Texas Republican Party view as equivalent to tax hikes. So Bexar County residents who oppose the bill expect Perry to keep his word. Though several other local fee hike bills passed the legislature (two others in the Rio Grande Valley), HB 1573 is the ONLY fee hike bill that does not require a public vote.
HB 1573 was amended in the Senate Transportation Committee by Sen. Donna Campbell at the urging of Jeff Judson, Vice President of San Antonio Tea Party, in an effort to keep the revenues from going to fund the unpopular street car system and restrict it to roads. However, no such protection was sought to prevent this tax money from building toll roads.
The San Antonio Tea Party only agreed to fee hikes with very strict caveats like: it couldn't go to issue new debt or to fund toll roads or transit/rail -- it had to go to the state highway fund for free roads only, certainly not the toll authority. TURF opposed the bill and insists all road taxes currently collected need to be allocated to roads (like ending diversions of the gas tax and dedicating vehicle sales tax to roads) before there's any talk of tax hikes.
However, since the funds go directly to the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA), the local toll authority, a 'transportation project' is not restricted to free roads, it's specifically defined under that chapter to include toll roads. Though vehicle registration fees are supposed to be restricted to roads in the Texas Constitution, look no further than the un-Constitutional raid of gas taxes for a host of non-road purposes, and it's a real possibility that this tax revenue may be used for rail as well.
Chapter 370.003 of the Transportation Code says:
(A) a turnpike project; (B) a system; (C) a passenger or freight rail facility;
(D) a roadway with a functional classification greater than a local road or rural minor collector; (E) a ferry;
(F) an airport, other than an airport that on September 1, 2005, was served by one or more air carriers engaged in scheduled interstate transportation, as those terms were defined by 14 C.F.R. Section 1.1 on that date;
(G) a pedestrian or bicycle facility; (H) an intermodal hub; (I) an automated conveyor belt for the movement of freight; (J) a border crossing inspection station;
(K) an air quality improvement initiative; (L) a public utility facility;
(M) a transit system; (M-1) a parking area, structure, or facility, or a collection device for parking fees
Both Campbell and Judson also say they're against toll roads, but their support of HB 1573 actually breathes new life into the faltering RMA, giving it a source of funds, estimated at $12 million/yr, to bond against to subsidize both toll roads and possibly street car/light rail. None of the proposed area toll roads are financially viable and cannot pay for themselves with just the toll users alone. So the troubled agency has been seeking any source of tax revenue it can get its hands on to subsidize its loser toll projects. Now it's got one if HB 1573 becomes law.
"Building toll roads with tax money, then charging motorists again to drive on them, is a massive DOUBLE TAX upon Bexar County residents. Even worse, this is the only local vehicle registration fee bill that does NOT require a public vote. So it's taxation without representation to boot. This bill needs to be vetoed," urges Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texas TURF.
Commissioners anxious to impose the new tax
At its meeting Tuesday, the Bexar County Commissioners already signaled their willingness to pull the trigger on the new tax hike before the bill is officially law. They're also seeking to expand the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) outside Bexar County, despite resistance by those counties. It will likely continue controversial, unpopular toll roads into Comal, Guadalupe, Kendall, and other outlying counties that will only have a small percentage of the vote on the MPO.
"Local politicians are clearly salivating at the potential for these new taxes to be imposed on residents. They've practically got the money spent before it even becomes law. Bexar County residents should be given the right to vote on whether or not they want this new tax and to have a say about how and where it's spent. Anything less is top-down, abusive government," contends Hall.
Check out TURF's complete wrap-up of the 83rd regular session here.
TURF is a non-partisan, grassroots, all-volunteer group defending citizens' concerns with toll road policy, public private partnerships, and eminent domain abuse. TURF promotes pro-taxpayer, pro-freedom, & non-toll transportation solutions.