Federal highway bill debate starts in U.S. House today
(San Antonio, TX - February 15, 2012) - Today the U.S. House of Representatives begin to debate the federal highway bill known as the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act. The U.S. Senate will soon follow. It's been 7 years since Congress passed the last federal highway bill. Now its racing through Congress at the speed of light.
An amendment to allow tolls on ALL existing interstates in all 50 states is expected to be presented on the floor by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware. Imposing tolls on existing freeways is a DOUBLE TAX -- charging motorists an additional tax, a toll, to use what they've already built and paid for.
The current House Bill, HR 7, only bans tolls on existing FEDERAL interstates. It GUTS the ban on imposing tolls on existing STATE highways -- a ban that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison put in place for Texas since 2007. Hutchison has filed her amendment in the Senate and Congressman Quico Canseco filed virtually an identical amendment in the House.
Taxpayers should be concerned with several key provisions of the bill -- public private partnership authority, that sells-off our public roads to private corporations in sweetheart deals, tax hikes through unbridled tolling, borrowing more money from the Federal Reserve to lend to states to prop-up toll roads that can't pay for themselves (to State Infrastructure Banks and through the TIFIA loan program), and lifts the ban on imposing tolls on existing federal-aid highways. There are 500 toll projects being contemplated in Texas alone, some on existing free lanes like on segments of US 281 and Loop 1604 in San Antonio.
"It's going to take a grassroots tsunami to STOP Congress from selling off our public infrastructure to foreign toll operators like Cintra (the same playbook as the Trans Texas Corridor), from borrowing more money from the Federal Reserve to lend to states to prop-up toll roads that can't pay for themselves, and from imposing tolls on existing FREEways in ALL 50 states," warns Terri Hall, Founder and Executive Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), "Our freedom to travel, our sovereignty over our public assets, and fiscal sanity are at stake."
The toll industry just sent out word to get its lobbyists cranking to defeat the "populist amendment" to curb tolling.
"So the battle is on and taxpayers need to be engaged to ensure Congress passes a pro-taxpayer bill," Hall said in a call to arms.
It costs 1-2 cents per mile to travel a gas tax funded freeway, but anywhere from 20 cents a mile up to 75 cents per mile to use a toll lane (depending on whether its publicly or privately run), greatly increasing the cost to travel when motorists are already being hit hard by escalating gas prices. A gas tax funded road costs PENNIES a day versus a toll road that costs DOLLARS a day and THOUSANDS more in new taxes per year.
The way toll roads are being financed today, all Americans are paying to build them through subsidies of taxpayer money like gas tax, but motorists won't be able to use them without paying a toll, too. So whether a person can afford to take these toll lanes or not, they're paying for them.
"This notion that tolls are user fees is a myth when you look at how heavily they're subsidized by ALL taxpayers. You're also paying for them through a higher cost of goods that gets passed onto consumers," contends Hall.
Columnist Michelle Malkin calls PPPs 'corporate welfare.' Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were some of the first PPPs and eventually caused the sub-prime mortgage crisis and subsequent $1 trillion dollar taxpayer bailout.
The TIFIA loan program is a major source of funds used to subsidize ill-conceived toll roads that can't pay for themselves, and it's the primary pot of taxpayer money given to these private, foreign corporations seeking to takeover our U.S. highways using public private partnership toll road contracts.
The first TIFIA loan was awarded to a private consortium in a PPP deal on the South Bay Expressway in San Diego. It went bankrupt less than three years later due to traffic projections that were off by over 40,000 cars per day! Taxpayers had to accept a write-down of nearly $80 million of a $172 million federal TIFIA loan in yet another taxpayer bailout for private corporations.
Rather than get rid of the failed TIFIA loan program, the federal highway bill INCREASES TIFIA funding by nearly TEN times from $100/yr to $1 BILLION/yr. Current law requires the taxpayers to be paid back first, now in the bill as written, private interests would get paid back first and taxpayers would be paid back last.
PPPs also contain non-compete clauses that prohibit or penalize the expansion of free roads surrounding the privatized toll roads, guaranteeing congestion on the free routes. Also, PPP toll contracts allow private entities to benefit from the use of eminent domain, and they result in toll rates as high as 75 cents a mile. That's like adding $15 to every gallon of gas you buy.
TURF is encouraging Americans to contact their members of Congress to make their voices heard. They want the Hutchison-Canseco Amendment to prevent existing FREE lanes from being tolled, and to remove PPPs and TIFIA from the bill.