$4 million in YOUR gas taxes earmarked for courthouse restoration projects!

Link to article here.

So this is where our gas tax is going, eh? Here’s more evidence that we’re NOT taxed too little, our politicians spend too much, AND they’re mismanaging our hard-earned gas tax dollars with unnecessary pork for things like courthouses totally irrelevant to transportation. NO ONE can justify making us pay a whole new lifetime of toll taxes for roads when we just had a federal highway bill with 6,000 earmarks and now $4 million for a Historic Courthouse Preservation Program! Sick to your stomach yet? We’re gettin’ fleeced!

Texans still haven’t finished working to pay our annual tax bill yet (and we won’t until April 19, see article here), GASP, and our politicians and bureaucrats are already forcing a new toll tax that increases our transportation costs 25-100 times higher than the penny per mile we pay in gas tax (see article here), without a vote of the people, when gas is edging close to $3 a gallon! Time to clean house, my fellow citizens, we need a taxpayer revolt at the ballot box or we’ll be taxed into poverty to drive on roads we’ve already built and paid for!

Texas courthouses in grant limbo
Web Posted: 04/14/2006 12:00 AM CDT
Roger Croteau and Zeke MacCormack
Express-News Staff Writers

NEW BRAUNFELS – Federal help to restore some of Texas’ landmark county courthouses is up in the air, and the question mark hanging over the money might affect a number of San Antonio-area projects. The Texas Historical Commission is awaiting a federal decision to allow grants to pay for the work. So are dozens of counties across the state that hope to tap into the Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, a pool of up to $4 million in federal transportation money.

“I’m hoping that in the next two weeks we will get some kind of indication,”said Larry Oaks, the commission’s executive director. “We need some kind of definitive statement from the Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

“I am hearing, informally, that there is a strong expectation they will recommend support on that,” he added.

Recognized by architecture groups for their designs, Texas courthouses – many built more than a century ago – also have been noted for deterioration from age and neglect.

The restoration project planned for the Comal County Courthouse in New Braunfels includes retaining the bell set.
Texas started the Historic Courthouse Preservation Program in 1999, and by 2003 $145 million had been allocated to fix up the dilapidated historic structures around the state, including those in Bexar and Atascosa counties.

But in 2005, under heavy budget constraints, the Legislature eliminated state funding for the program. Instead it directed the Texas Department of Transportation to set aside $80 million in federal money in the Transportation Enhancements Program for the courthouses. But restoring old courthouses sounded like a stretch to federal highway officials, who raised questions about it last year. The Federal Highway Administration provides that money for “enhancing the travel experience and contributing to quality of life,” such as visitors centers, roadside historic markers, landscaping projects and bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Historic preservation is included in a list of 12 possible categories, but the project still needs to relate to transportation somehow.

Barron Schlameus, past president of the New Braunfels Conservation Society, said it’s important to preserve historic courthouses because they “symbolize the whole community.”

“Just as we treasure the Capitol in Austin, I think it’s important to see
the same thing in our county,” he said.

Officials in Comal, Kendall, Gillespie and Medina counties are wondering when or if their projects will be funded. Bexar and Atascosa counties completed their restorations in 2003 before the funding was switched to federal transportation money. In Medina County, local officials are hoping for a grant to fund 80 percent of a planned $4.5 million courthouse renovation.

“I don’t think they are going to let this program – that has gotten so much recognition and plaudits for the state of Texas – fall in the trash basket,” said Medina County Judge Jim Barden.

Kendall County is looking for about $1.2 million to restore its historic courthouse.

“I don’t know what their problem is,” said Kendall County Judge Eddie Vogt. “It has held up all of the courthouse renovations.”

Architect Barry Wagner, who is working on the Kendall and Gillespie applications, said he is confident the program will get funded one way or another.

“It may not be this biennium, but I think the funding will be there eventually,” he said. “We are not shutting down our projects. The counties are just going to continue on and get in position to try to qualify whenever that next round of funding occurs.” Comal County also is moving forward on preparing its master plan and application for a $7 million courthouse renovation. Oaks said more than 70 counties have master plans and another 100 or so courthouses need restoration.

He said it appears two scenarios are most likely. The preferred one is that the Federal Highway Administration decides all courthouse preservation projects qualify. If that does not happen, the Historical Commission would have to select a few courthouses it feels have the strongest relationship to surface transportation and submit each one for review consideration independently.

“We are trying to get them to take the position that they all qualify so we don’t have to submit each one individually,” Oaks said. “There are a lot of arguments about why they are related to transportation. I think the strongest is that if you go around Texas today and ask people who leads their county, they usually say ‘the road commissioners.

“Historically, the responsibility for all the roads was handled by the county commission and all of that planning was done in the courthouse,” he said.

Originally, the Transportation Enhancement Program required that projects show a “direct relationship” to surface transportation. But the law was changed a few years ago and all that’s required today is a “relationship” to
transportation.

“It was like a father-son relationship,” Oaks said. “Now all it requires is like second cousins twice removed. That is the intent of Congress and these buildings clearly meet it.”

Comal County Commissioner Jan Kennady said she is ready to make an argument that the Comal County Courthouse restoration would be related to transportation.

“We’ll find a way to say ‘yes, it is,'” she said. “We’ve got a road outside, so I guess we’re as related as any other one.”

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