Read our Wrap-Up of the 82nd Legislative Session.
Helpful resources:• Download TURF's Legislative Agenda for the 2011 82nd Texas Legislature.
• Fact Sheet on Why It's Anti-Taxpayer to Privatize our Public Roads (using CDAs/PPPs).
• Watch our Grassroots Training Session "Legislation 101". (It runs approximately 1:10 in length)
TURF Bill Tracker for 82 (R) session 2011
Note: Bills that originate in the House are labeled HB for House Bill. Bills that originate in the Senate are labeled SB for Senate Bill.
Bad Bills:We've tried to rank these in order of the very worst bills to the very bad, to just plain bad. Under good bills, they're all outstanding.
This one tops the list...
HB 3789 (Phillips) - This bill resurrects the Trans Texas Corridor, where the private toll road developers control not only the toll road, but the surrounding non-toll roads, access roads, buildings on the tollway, parking areas, rest stops, and ancillary facilities, etc. The bill is also a blanket re-authorization of public private partnerships (PPPs) that sell our public roads to a private, for-profit entity with non-competes (prohibiting certain free roads surrounding toll roads from being expanded), profit guarantees, and the ability to raise tolls anywhere from 75-80 cents a mile toll rate in peak traffic. That's like adding $15.00 to every gallon of gas you buy.
It would also grant the private entity to lock-in future expansion of toll projects without entering into a new bidding process for each project. The bill grants toll entities and TxDOT full authority to enter into the PPPs and would remove ALL oversight by the Attorney General, Legislative Budget Board, and elected officials put in place through the moratorium in 2007. It also removes financial disclosure requirements that were put in place in 2007, that requires TxDOT/toll entities to disclose non-competes, toll rates, and whether or not the toll will come off the road when paid for. So all deliberations would be KEPT SECRET from the PUBLIC until AFTER the contract is signed!
SB 1651/HB 2801 (Watson/Pickett) - Gives a blanket re-authorization to enter into Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDA) that sell our Texas roads to private, for-profit entities with non-competes (prohibiting free roads surrounding toll roads from being expanded), profit guarantees, and the ability to raise tolls and charge up to 80 cents a mile toll rate in peak traffic.
HB 2432 / SB 1048 (J. Davis/Jackson) - This bill is like the Trans Texas Corridor for all other public infrastructure (other than highways). It would grant authority to sell-off virtually EVERY kind of public infrastructure to private corporations using public private partnerships, or PPPs, and charge taxpayers “user fees” to access public facilities, including WATER supply facilities, libraries, hospitals, public buildings, ferries, ports, mass transit, etc. It's written and being pushed by British Infrastructure Firm Balfour Beatty.
Taxpayers would secure the private entity's debt (Sec. 2267.061 (f)) and the private entity has the standing of a property owner in eminent domain proceedings (Sec. 2267.061) if a partner in the deal defaults. It allows the private entities to get loans of taxpayer money from the State Infrastructure Bank! Rep. Kolkhorst just removed this ability from the TxDOT Sunset Bill as it pertains to highways yet, here it is AGAIN! It also allows them to redevelop property using a PPP (ie - economic development, PPPs represent eminent domain for private gain). The House bill was amended to replace the weaker "public purpose" with "public use" as it pertains to a governmental entity designating public property for the benefit of a private entity. But the Senate version still contains "public purpose" language. Either way, the governmental entity is condemning private property for a PUBLIC use and conveying it to benefit a PRIVATE ENTITY. So it absolutely tramples on property rights.
The other side argues this is to give 'guidelines' for local governments who are getting unsolicited bids for PPPs on projects from city halls to ports to hospitals. It's a permissive bill, meaning it's 'optional.' So why are we passing it? They argue the cities/counties are already doing PPPs & that this doesn't grant new authority. But when you look at the fiscal note and bill analysis, it clearly says it grants authority to enter into Public Private Partnerships (PPPs): "The bill would amend the Government Code to create the authority and processes for the execution of public-private agreements for the development of qualifying public works projects, including: mass transit facilities; hospitals; schools; recreational facilities; and public buildings." Some of these deals are for 100 year leases! There would be no time limits put on these whatsoever!
The cities and counties lobbied to ensure they were NOT bound by this bill, which is why it's 'permissive.' Wow, we don't get to pick and choose which laws we follow, amazing how government can.
SB 1323 / HB 3742 (Watson/Schwertner) - This may be the most dangerous bill proposed relating to highway projects in Texas. This bill would allow local toll entities, local government entities and even non-profit corporations formed under Chapter 431 to bypass federal environmental review of its highway & toll projects on the state highway system. Federal law called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires social, economic, aesthetic, and environmental impacts of a project to be properly studied and taken into consideration before commencing with a project that could have lasting effects on a community. It's been through NEPA that the people of Texas have been able to halt segments of the Trans Texas Corridor and other unwanted toll projects around the state, like 281 & 1604 in San Antonio.
Without federal oversight, in effect, the Governor's five appointees to the Texas Transportation Commission would give clearance for toll projects it directly benefits from (by having portions of the state highway system off its books, and, in some cases, will directly financially benefit from toll revenue sharing schemes with local entities). Rather than comply with this law, toll entities want to change the law so the fox can guard the henhouse and railroad the people of Texas by nixing their ability to stop unwanted projects.
The entities with such authority would be: a political subdivision of the state that elects to participate in the planning, development or construction of a state review project, including a municipality or a county, a political subdivision of a county, a group of adjoining counties, a district organized or operating under Section 52, Article III, or Section 59, Article XVI, Texas Constitution, a regional tollway authority created under Chapter 366, a regional mobility authority operating under Chapter 370, or a nonprofit corporation, including a transportation corporation created under Chapter 431.
SB 1017 (Davis, Harris, Nelson) & HB 1941, SB 1144, SB 1145, / HB 2985 / HB 2186 (Geren, Parker, Harper-Brown, Anderson) - Would re-authorize controversial Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) contracts (public private partnerships or PPPs) to sell off portions of 183 and I-35W in North Texas to a private, for-profit entity with non-competes (prohibiting free roads surrounding toll roads from being expanded), profit guarantees, and the ability to raise tolls and charge up to 80 cents a mile toll rate in peak traffic. SB 1144 & HB 2985 would authorize it for segments of I-35E between 635 & 380.
SB 1007 (Williams)/ HB 2388 (Fletcher) - Would re-authorize controversial Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) contracts (public private partnerships or PPPs) to sell-off Grand Pkwy, SH 199 (a greenfield tollway around Houston through the Katy prairie with no traffic demand to benefit ExxonMobil and developers not congestion weary commuters) to a private, for-profit entity with non-competes (prohibiting free roads surrounding toll roads from being expanded), profit guarantees, and the ability to raise tolls and charge up to 80 cents a mile toll rate in peak traffic.
SB 1719 (Williams) - Would require TxDOT to comply with any agreements giving the local toll authorities first option to enter into a comprehensive development agreement relating to improvements to Grand Parkway (State Highway 99).
HB 2255 (Phillips) Would re-authorize controversial Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) contracts (public private partnerships or PPPs) to sell off 10 different segments of Texas public highways to a private, for-profit entity with non-competes (prohibiting free roads surrounding toll roads from being expanded), profit guarantees, and the ability to raise tolls and charge up to 80 cents a mile toll rate in peak traffic including: I-35W, 183, Grand Pkwy (SH 199), I-820, Dallas North Tollway, SH 288, SH 249, and I-10.
UPDATE: This bill now contains 7 projects - Grand Pkwy around Houston, I-35E in DFW, two segments of 183 in DFW, I-35W & I-820 in DFW, and SH 249 in Harris and Montgomery counties. But these are NOT local projects or local decisions as they impact the entire state due to the eminent domain for private gain, public subsidies, and loss of sovereignty over our public infrastructure. With a Committee on State Sovereignty this session, are legislators really going to hand control over Texas roads to foreign toll operators?
HB 3561-3567/SB 1706-1711 (Lucio III & Lucio), HB 3734 (Martinez), SB 1650 (Watson), SB 1885 (Watson)- Would authorize TxDOT or an RMA (depending on the bill) to enter into a Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) to allow the following road projects to be sold to a for-profit, private (usually foreign) entity that will charge tolls for up to 52 years: Loop 1 (the MoPac Improvement Project) from north of FM 734 (Parmer Lane) to the Cesar Chavez Interchange (1st/5th Street); US 183 (Bergstrom Expressway) from just south of Springdale Road to Patton Avenue, the Hidalgo County Loop Project; projects in Hidalgo County associated with commuter rail or passenger rail, South Padre Island Second Access Causeway Project from State Highway 100 to Park Road 100, Outer Parkway Project from U.S. Highway 77/83 to Farm-to-Market Road 1847, State Highway 550 from U.S. Highway 77/83 to State Highway 48, 281 Connector Project from U.S. Highway 281 to U.S. Highway 77/83, West Parkway from U.S. Highway 77/83 to the Brownsville and Matamoros Bridge, U.S. Highway 77 Driscoll and Riviera highway relief routes.
SB 1138 (Watson)/HB 2574 (Phillips) - Would extend the authority of Regional Mobility Authorities (toll authorities) to enter into controversial design-build Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) that eliminate low-bid competitive bidding and replaces it with "best value" bidding. These contracts cost taxpayers more and have the engineering firm work for the road builders, not the state directly, increasing engineering costs and incentivizing the firms to reduce shave cost which could potentially decrease safety. Because the developer is a "manager at risk," they pad their bids in order to cover potential cost overruns that may never materialize. These contracts create a very small pool of firms that qualify for such financing terms, shutting out the little guy that's not big enough or well-connected enough to be chosen to partner with big road developers. So it's a way to dole out big public works projects to politicians' buddies.
SJR 13 (Harris) - This would amend the Texas Constitution that currently PROHIBITS PERPETUITIES to allow a Robin Hood scheme to steal "surplus" toll revenues from one set of drivers to be used to build other transportation projects those same toll users may not use, which means charging tolls in perpetuity. So rather than pay off the debt sooner (which would enable the toll to come off the road sooner), lawmakers want Texans to fall for this Robin Hood taxation in perpetuity by changing the Constitution to make the practice legal! It's couched in terms taxpayers want like dedicating road taxes to roads, but that's not what this bill does. It would mean voters give lawmakers permission to toll Texans in perpetuity, even after the road is paid off!
SB 875 - (Fraser) This bill would grant immunity to any entity who has a governmental permit from being declared a “nuisance.” They can trespass on private property, pollute, basically anything, and a property owner has no means for remediation or can litigate against the permitted entity. This bll tramples property rights!
HB 1724 (Hamilton) - This bill is a nightmare and would dole out tax money for "economically driven mobility projects," in essence, road projects for economic development (think: Kelo type eminent domain abuses, foreign-owned toll roads, and the Trans Texas Corridor all wrapped up in one tidy bow).
It would create a new department division that employs (1) economic developers; or (2) contract with economic development consultants. Project selection criteria must prioritize projects that (1) promote economic development, including by creating employment and cash flow;(2) have sustainable economic value; and (3) create transportation corridors as opposed to isolated projects. These projects could utilize private toll road developers as well as property taxes to build them!
HB 3671/SB 19 (Smith/Nichols) - Would re-authorize the process called "primacy" giving local toll entities the right to develop local toll projects first. One of our problems with this bill is under Subchapter B that gives local toll entities control over not just one phase of a toll project, but makes the exercise of "primacy" equivalent to "an exercise of primacy over the entire project, with additional phases to be developed as the entity determines the phases financially feasible." This means that local toll entities virtually control all the road projects that touch what a toll entity considers a future toll project it wants to develop. In San Antonio, that's the entire northside (281, 1604). In DFW, that could mean virtually any segment of I-35, 183, 121, 161. Houston's are listed below. It would also give the toll entity effective ownership of the project in perpetuity (Sec. 373.003)! That means you can count on them tolling you in perpetuity! The tolls will NEVER come off these roads as long as a toll entity owns them in perpetuity!
Remember that ALL local toll entities are UN-ELECTED bureaucrats. Why would we want them to exercise this kind of control over our highway system much less the power to tax without representation? It specifies the following projects, but the authority is NOT limited to just these Houston area projects: Beltway 8 Tollway East; Hardy Downtown Connector; State Highway 288; US 290 Toll Lanes; Fairmont Parkway East; South Post Oak Road Extension; Westpark Toll Road Phase II; ; Fort Bend Parkway (part); Montgomery County Parkway, etc. This bill does not apply to a toll project described in Section 228.011 or Phase 4 extension of the Dallas North Tollway in Collin and Denton Counties from U.S. 380 to the Grayson County line to be developed by North Texas Tollway Authority.
HB 1112/SB 581 - (Phillips/Nichols) - PASSED THE HOUSE APRIL 26, 2011 - This bill would broaden the authority of Regional Mobility Authorities (or RMAs) and includes collecting "fees" or tolls on parking. It would allow the RMAs to create taxing districts, raid property taxes, and use toll revenues for "economic development." It would allow them to borrow money from ANY public or private entity (which in the case of the Alamo RMA has already been done, it borrowed money from the City of San Antonio and Bexar County even though the City's charter says it cannot loan money). The bill would allow RMAs to borrow money using borrowed money as collateral (called multi-leveraging, like using a credit card to secure more borrowed money, the same risky financial schemes that caused the global financial meltdown) and enter into ANY type of loan, not just loans strictly for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of transportation projects.
It would also allow RMAs to steal toll revenues from one corridor and use it for another corridor (wealth redistribution or Robin Hood), in what they call "system financing." This bill would allow RMAs to raid local city and county tax money to study toll viability, and would lift the limitation on the uses of toll revenues from strictly to pay off debt and expenses associated with a given project to using them to pay for ANY obligations it wants to. The bill grants them the same powers as TxDOT with regards to toll collection, which has been a nightmare all over the state due to excessive fines and fees and lack of due process. This would authorize RMAs to use the state travel program. Why would a LOCAL toll entity need to use the state travel program? So they can jet-set to exotic destinations for toll conferences on the taxpayer dime like NTTA's jaunt to Austria at $7,000 a person just for airfare!
SB 18 - (Estes/Duncan) Eminent domain bill that fails to address the fundamentals that the Kelo case brought to light: eminent domain for private gain, especially eminent domain in the name of a "public use." This bill continues to allow private and governmental entities to take private property for "blight" and "urban renewal" projects. It has vague definitions of "blighted areas," "bonafide offer," and "private benefit," leaving expensive litigation and the courts to decide what these terms mean.
The bill further fails to protect landowners from a governmental or private entity taking your land for a "public" road and giving it to a for-profit, private (usually foreign) toll operator in these public private partnerships (or PPPs or any like agreement). It doesn’t address the wrongful takings side of the equation. We acknowledge it attempts to address a few areas on the remedies side, like needed compensation for diminished access and the ability to repurchase one’s land if it’s not used by the condemning entity within 10 years, but even some of those provisions have loopholes. The bill doesn’t fundamentally protect landowners from Kelo-style abuses (ie - blight, economic development, foreign-owned toll roads). Genuine eminent domain reform needs to protect landowners from wrongful takings in the first place, not merely focus on remedies AFTER their land has already been issued a notice of condemnation. Changing “public use” to “public necessity” would go a long way to eliminating many eminent domain abuses. SB 18 fails to restrict eminent domain for economic development in the name of a “public use,” like the Grand Pkwy tollway to benefit ExxonMobil instead of for a legitimate public necessity.
We've built a coalition of more than a dozen groups, including Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, Property Rights Alliance, and Competitive Enterprise Institute to oppose SB 18 and support a replacement bill we've dubbed the "Property Rights Protection Act." View what PRPA does differently than SB 18 here.
SB 730/HB 3700 - (Nichols/Larson) Though this bill seeks to remove some of the existing loopholes that allow non-toll highways to be converted into toll roads. HOwever, several loopholes remain and need to be removed. It's as though it's written with 281 in and parts of Loop 1604 in San Antonio and 290W in Austin, and 290E in Austin and Houston in mind. TxDOT already converts existing divided highways (that have stop lights at the crossovers) into toll roads when it upgrades those highways with overpasses, which according to testimony by lawmakers defies the legislative intent of the statute. It states that a non-tolled segment of highway cannot be converted into a tolled segment UNLESS the highway or segment is reconstructed so that the number of nontolled lanes on the highway or segment is greater than or equal to the number in existence before the reconstruction; or a facility is constructed adjacent to the highway (think frontage roads now become your highway) that's equal to the number of lanes prior to the conversion of a freeway to a toll road. Nichols version keeps these loopholes, Larson's substituted version removes all of the loopholes.
SB 538 - (Nichols) addresses the language of Transportation Reinvestment Zones that allow "governing bodies" to determine when an area needs to be developed or is "underdeveloped" and designate it a Transportation Reinvestment Zone (TRZ), and then the city can then use the increased property taxes from that zone to build and even "improve" transportation projects. Joe Pickett and most of the Transportation Committee members love this "tool" to build roads (again they delegate the tax increase to locals to accomplish the funding shortfall problem and diversions the State refuses to address). If you look under "purposes" of the law, it's to "develop" or "redevelop" property. Aren't TRZ inherently "economic development"?
Section 222.106, i) specifically allows the municipality to use any excess revenues from the fund (above the cost of the transportation projects) for ANY purpose it wants to. The city can also directly pledge to a private entity a specified amount of funds from the TRZ and the city can't rescind that pledge until the debt of the private entity is paid off (guaranteeing the private entity gets paid before any public entities -- ie, the taxpayers).
Eminent Domain abuse for "economic development" is truly at the heart of transportation issues today.
SB 1428 / SJR 42 (Ogden) - These Transportation Reinvestment Zones (TRZ) are like the bad guy in a B-rated movie that just won't die. This bill would allow the UN-ELECTED appointees of the Texas Transportation Commission to establish a TRZ adjacent to a state highway, which means a virtually unlimited amount of Texas private property (think of all the land adjacent to a state highway) tax appraisal increases could be heisted by this rogue agency for its own purposes, including foreign-owned toll roads!
SJR 30 - (Ogden) This would raise the gas tax 5 cents to be used ONLY to retire debt, not to actually build any roads! This is a scathing commentary on the horrific debt bomb awaiting generations of Texans for the Legislature's failure to discipline itself to STOP raiding gas and road taxes for non-road uses and its failure to prioritize road funding. While pledging NOT to raise taxes, they've borrowed and spent instead, which will cost Texans exponentially more than pay as you go with cash. We're $31 BILLION in debt for roads and there's talk of going $3 billion MORE in debt this session passing Prop 12 bonds. Considering just the first $6 billion in road bonds will cost Texans $21 billion to repay, Texans cannot afford the crushing debt any longer.
HB 3218 (Phillips)/ SB 1395 (Williams) - This bill could be dubbed the "Double Tax & Toxic Debt" Bank Loan Act. It would allow ANY source of revenue given to TxDOT (including gas taxes, general revenue, borrowed money -- Prop 12, Prop 14, Texas Mobility Funds, etc.) to be used to grant loans for road projects, including to PRIVATE ENTITIES and toll projects. In fact, this bill is for the explicit purpose of giving the State Infrastructure Bank the ability to loan money to toll entities for toll projects, including as a means to guarantee loans (their toxic debt). It's a government recycling program -- use OUR money to lend to private companies to build toll roads that can't pay for themselves (rather than scrap the toll projects, they use PUBLIC subsidies to prop them up), then require US, the taxpayers, to pay it back through tolls, with interest!
In the special session in July 2009, the grassroots rose up to oppose ANY Prop 12 funds from being used to prop-up toll projects that can't pay for themselves (which is a DOUBLE TAX) and they succeeded. Now, Chair of the House and Senate Transportation Committees want to trample on the people's wishes and change the law to allow DOUBLE TAXATION and borrowed money to be used to secure MORE borrowed money (like using a credit card to pay-off other debt), the same risky lending schemes that brought about the sub-prime mortgage crisis and toxic debt that required a taxpayer bailout of Wall Street.
HB 2802 (Pickett) - To authorize the use of the Texas Mobility Fund as a revolving fund and to allow Prop 14 and Prop 12 bonds to be used as loans. Revolving fund means to use borrowed money to pay back other borrowed money. Ditto for Prop 12 and Prop 14 money being used as loans since those funds are also BORROWED. This multi-leveraging is risky and is the same scheme that caused the subprime mortgage crisis -- which spreads the toxic toll road debt so many places that if one road defaults the whole system is at risk of default requiring draconian tax hikes or a taxpayer bailout.
In the bill analysis, it even states that the problem they’re trying to fix is the “instability in the credit markets making it difficult for public toll entities to get financing” and to “mitigate certain project financial risks.” So the taxpayers will be taking on the risk and have their money used to prop-up the toxic debt of toll authorities that the private sector won’t touch (invest in). This bill also allows these monies to be deposited into the State Infrastructure Bank. If HB 3218 passes along with this bill, that means yet more taxpayer money will go to lend money to PRIVATE, for-profit corporations. Public money for private profits. Conservative Timothy Carney called the idea of a Federal Infrastructure Bank corporate welfare for this reason.
HB 1105 (Harper-Brown)/ SB 513 (Ellis) It mandates the Transportation Commission adopt a "complete streets" policy and that it seek guidance on its rules from the Walkable Community and Context Sensitive Solutions' playbook. This is code for Agenda 21 and Sustainable Development (which is government overreach and steals your freedom - attempts to dictate where you can live, how you can live and travel, etc.). Not only that, it costs the taxpayers big bucks to implement this context sensitive stuff. I've seen the presentations on it before...it's glorified landscaping and the addition of funky lights, sculptures, and art for these various industries to get automatic, very expensive "custom" orders.
SB 1541 (Watson) - This is a bill to heist our road taxes and use them for emission reduction programs, driving up the cost of our roads and using needed road money for carbon reduction experiments.
SB 959 - (Wentworth) This is one of many toll collection bills that allow toll entities to bill and fine registered owner of the vehicle not the person who actually committed the toll violation. And remember on all electronic tollways (most all Texas toll roads will be electronic by the end of 2011), unless a person has a pre-paid satellite toll tag, there is no way to pay the tolls so fees and fines to collect the toll are tacked on and hike the cost up 4000% in some cases, with no opportunity to pay just the toll cost alone.
SB 602 - (Rodriguez) This bill would weaken current open records laws by delaying the receipt of public information by re-starting the 10 day clock (or the timetable within which a public agency is required to hand over public documents) when a requestor revises the scope of his/her request. It's almost always necessary to revise the scope of an open records request once the initial estimates of the volume of information is estimated. Open Records requests are a fine art and take refining so as not to incur costly copying or other fees. This bill would, in effect, punish people by delaying receipt of public information for simply doing what the law allows, which is to refine and revise the scope of one's request without starting the clock over.
SB 1829 (Wentworth) - This bill would weaken Open Records law by granting a special exception to Chambers of Commerce from Open Records disclosures. TURF has requested records of Chamber of Commerce personnel who have lobbied for toll projects and influenced elected officials through the use of hefty campaign contributions. Wentworth's bill is a giveaway to these entities who lobby for big public works projects and economic development, which in some cases involves eminent domain for private gain.
HB 3067 (Burnam) - This bill would impose a tax if your car is deemed "fuel inefficient" from model year 2012 forward. A surcharge would be imposed on every retail sale, lease, or use of a new motor vehicle that is a fuel inefficient passenger automobile. The amount of the surcharge for a fuel inefficient passenger automobile under this section would be $100.
HB 3518 (Rodriguez) - Would allow local governments to call elections to raise local gas taxes and other taxes to pay for a litany of transportation projects, including mass transit subsidies.
HB 37, HB 103, HB 243, HB 287/SB 119 & SB 138 (Menendez, Craddick, Martinez-Fischer, Cook, Brown, Lucio III, Uresti, Wentworth) - There are a slew of bills to ban cell phone use and texting while driving. These big government nanny state cell phone & text bans while driving are a threat to freedom. What's next, banning GPS devices that require drivers to look away from the road for an instant, how about car stereos that need adjustment, and then DVD players, etc.? Would we need to ban transporting children since they're a distraction while driving? This is another example of giving up freedom in the name of "security" or safety. We know what Franklin said about that: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
At some point we have to trust drivers to be responsible behind the wheel and to minimize distractions while driving. There's actually data that shows these bans actually create more accidents since people continue the behavior and in order to hide it, they hold their devices in their laps, have their heads down all the way, causing their eyes to be off the road completely.
HB 3044 (Eissler) - We call this bill the "Lemonade Stand Tax" since it would allow counties to regulate, and hence, tax, roadside vendors, including your child's lemonade stand, anyone selling pets, rocking chairs, wood, etc. on the side of the road or even in a parking lot. This BIG GOVERNMENT policy threatens free market economics and entrepreneurship in Texas.
HB 3731 (Martinez) - This bill would force governmental entities to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians, which may sound good on the surface, but can have very damaging outcomes when applied. First, one of the complaints we hear regarding the federal highway program are the strings attached to our Texas-paid federal gas taxes that require certain categories of money be spent on hike and bike trails, and enhancements that take away needed money for roads. This bill could duplicate what's happening in San Antonio right now, where its MPO actually voted to eliminate cars from using existing lanes on roads and dedicate those lanes solely to bicyclists. Road sharing is one thing, but taking away lanes built with gas taxes from vehicle owners and giving them to cyclists is highway robbery, especially given the fact that all of our urban areas are experiencing gridlocked roads and being told there's no money for roads so they'll have to pay oppressive toll taxes just to get our roads expanded.
HB 2396 (McClendon) - This bill would allow the Advanced Transportation District (ATD, same as the Via Board in Bexar County) to bypass voters and sell bonds without voter approval.
SB 1420 (Hegar, Nichols, Hinojosa)/HB 2675 Harper-Brown - TxDOT sunset bill. The bill has few reforms of consequence. The taxpayers deserve GENUINE reform of TxDOT. At a minimum, ELECTED not appointed leadership, zero-based budgeting, and an Inspector General as a move toward genuine reform that will restore the public trust in this out of control, unaccountable agency that has overseen runaway toll taxation, eminent domain for private gain (the Trans Texas Corridor, foreign-owned toll roads), deception (Grant Thornton Audit affirmed), and financial mismanagement ($1.1 billion accounting "error").
SB 469 - (Nelson) Bill would reduce the administrative "fee" for an unpaid toll from $100 down to $25 (Sen. Wendy Davis has one that reduces "fee" to $50). Remember that since most Texas toll roads are all electronic with NO cash booths, this fee gets tacked onto anyone who pays by getting billed through the mail! This is punishment for not buying into the government Toll Tag system with pre-paid accounts. Why should ANYONE pay this extra tax when there's no way to pay cash at the time you use the road? We're seeking a repeal of ANY "fees" or "fines" for simply getting billed by mail.
SB 548/HB 3623 - (Nichols, Davis, Watson, Darby) While we can appreciate the desire to speed up the environmental review process, this bill sets up a potential conflict of interest where TxDOT would PAY oversight and environmental review agencies to expedite the review process. Obviously, this would bias the process in favor of the one paying the bill (TxDOT) and make the agencies more inclined to grant clearance even if there are legitimate concerns.
SB 1860 (Wentworth/Zaffirini) - This would allow local governments the authority to raise the tax on a driver's license (up to $50) or rental car fee for transportation projects, but does prohibit it from being used on toll projects: "A county may not use money from an additional revenue source authorized under this chapter to acquire, construct, maintain, or otherwise directly fund a toll project; or for a transportation project if the money is used in order to reallocate other revenue toward a toll project." It would allow the county the ability to waive or reduce the tax increase for low income residents, which thereby increases the tax burden on other residents.
SB 1864 (Davis) - This would give Texas companies preference in awarding TxDOT contracts to private sector companies. It seems to be a way to lessen the visceral reaction of Texans to foreign-owned toll roads. However, Texans equally despise ANY private company being given a government-sanctioned monopoly over our public roads (with non-competes, profit guarantees, speed limit manipulation, and oppressive and ever increasing toll rates like to 80 cents per mile being planned for I-35E) that socialize the losses and privatize the profits.
HB 1920 - (Pickett) This is a TxDOT reform bill that would put processes in place to require greater efficiency, fairness, and accountability inside TxDOT. One glaring issue with the bill, though, is the deletion of the section prohibiting MPO members to vote by proxy. It's a slippery slope to allow non-elected stand-ins to fill-in and vote on matters of multi-billion dollar tax decisions. We'd also like to see the leadership of TxDOT ELECTED though, rather than continue to be run by appointees. In this bill, Pickett suggests the make-up of the Transportation Commission be appointees by the Lt. Governor and Speaker, not just the Governor (currently all five are appointed by the Governor). But based on the bills both the Lt Governor and Speaker have promoted on transportation, this isn't much of an accountability measure. We'd like to see ELECTED LEADERSHIP.
Good Bills:HB 1201 - (Kolkhorst) Bill to FINALLY repeal the Trans Texas Corridor!
SB 363 - (Ogden) This would remove tolls from toll roads once the debt is retired and prevent Robin Hood raids of projected "surplus" toll revenues in one corridor from being used to build roads in another.
HB 3390 (Lavender) - This bill would allow Texas opt-out of the federal highway program and allow 100% of our federal gas taxes to be spent on Texas roads. It would cut the strings attached to federal money like "enhancement" mandates (landscaping, overpriced rest stops with free WI-FI), historic building renovations, and mass transit subsidies (only 60% of our gas taxes fund roads, 40% funds mass transit yet they tell us there's no money for roads so you're going to have to pay a toll to get anywhere in TX). We'd want to be sure, however, that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or like law would still be in effect as a means of oversight for highway projects and to ensure impacts to residents, businesses, the local economy, the community, and the environment are given proper study and consideration.
HB 2527 (Harper-Brown)/ SB 523 (Nichols) - This would dedicate vehicle sales tax revenues to roads (these taxes currently get dumped into general revenue that fund general government instead of going to badly needed road projects). It represents about $2-$3 billion dollars a year, which is the equivalent to doubling or even tripling the gas tax WITHOUT RAISING TAXES!
HB 116 - (McClendon) Abolish the current appointed transportation commission and replace with a single ELECTED commissioner. We the PEOPLE have been asking for elected leadership at TxDOT since 2007! Until we clean house and get direct accountability to the voters for the tax decisions made at the Transportation Commission, transportation cannot move forward in Texas.
A similar provision would have granted Texans ELECTED leadership at TxDOT last session, but was stripped out in the Senate. The Texas Senate is the BIGGEST roadblock to ELECTED leadership over TxDOT. The senators vote to approve the Governor's appointees under "advice and consent of the senate" provisions, which they use to wield their power and use it as a bargaining chip to broker backrooms deals with the Governor.
HB 2350 - (Larson) To provide ELECTED leadership at TxDOT. This bill would provide for three at-large elected commissioners, differing from McClendon's bill to provide a single elected commissioner. Either one, the PEOPLE of Texas have spoken, they're tired of the tone-deaf appointees at that run the highway department. They want ELECTED leadership at TxDOT that answers directly to taxpayers for its $16 billion biennium budget!
HB 634 - (McClendon) To end TxDOT's taxpayer-funded ad campaigns to persuade the public to accept toll roads, the Trans Texas Corridor, and privatized toll roads in particular called PPPs. This bill passed last session but was vetoed by Governor Rick Perry.
HB 664 - (Larson) To ensure only ELECTED officials have voting powers on MPOs! When MPOs vote to levy toll taxes and vote to allocate multi-billions of dollars of taxpayer money, only ELECTED officials should be voting anything less is taxation WITHOUT representation.
HB 2448 - (Harper-Brown) To create Office of Inspector General for certain state agencies, including Texas Department of Transportation. This is a key reform we believe the people of Texas and the employees of TxDOT deserve. It would give a department inside these agencies the authority to investigate wrongdoing and hold rogue employees accountable.
HB 1636 - (Paxton) To subject Regional Tollway Authorities to a annual audit and other financial accountability measures.
HB 1577 - (Anchia) To make Regional Tollway Authorities (NTTA) subject to sunset review. Anything that makes these unaccountable, unelected bureaucracies more accountable and transparent, the better. This bill would make the NTTA subject to being abolished.
HB 2951 (Larson) - This would subject unelected, unaccountable Regional Mobility Authorities (RMAs) to sunset review and abolishment.
HB 1937 & HB 1938 (Simpson) - These bills would ban naked body scanners and invasive patdowns at Texas airports. Both the scanners and patdowns impede our freedom to travel and constitute a illegal search violating our Fourth Amendment rights. There are five joint authors and 29 co-authors for these bills. Encourage your lawmaker to support the bans and get these bills passed!
HJR 64 - (Pickett) Several Constitutional Amendments have been filed to end SOME of the diversions of the gas tax to things un-related to transportation. This link is to Pickett's bill.
HJR 77 & HJR 78 - (Harper-Brown) Constitutional Amendments to end gas tax diversions. HJR 78 would end ALL diversions, including the 25% of gas tax that goes to public schools.
HB 815 & HJR 75 - (Paxton) This bill and companion constitutional amendment would put taxes on tires and auto parts into the highway fund instead of into general revenue.
SB 161 - (Shapiro) This bill would program TxDOT's money by formula giving some guarantees that each region will receive a certain level of funding that MPOs can count on each year. TxDOT currently uses it's discretionary funds to hammer locals into toll regimes or they don't get access to a plethora of pots of money that could get projects built.
HB 745 & HB 747 - (Johnson) These bills are pro-landowner and require a governmental entity to provide information in the person's own language and must give the reasons why condemnation is necessary for a public use and why one person's particular piece of property was chosen instead of another.
HB 2032 - (Darby) This bill tightens up the requirement of road builders and financiers to provide a security payment, or surety, in case the contractor defaults in the middle of the project.