Congressman Doggett in a smackdown with Sec of Transp. over tolls/Trans TX Corridor

See him on YouTube here.

October 25, 2007 – House Budget Committee Holds Hearing on Surface Transportation Investment

DOGGETT:
Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you, Madam Secretary, for your testimony
and your service. I must say that I’m a bit surprised
by your use of the term “tax and spend,” because, of
course, as you know from your long career, the
tax-and-spend approach had its origin under Dwight
David Eisenhower, who felt that the National
Interstate and Defense Highways Act should be paid for
as you go, and that the pay-as-you-go approach was the
appropriate one as the Highway Revenue Act was enacted
at the same time in 1956.
It is true that in the last seven years on
everything this administration has preferred a
borrow-and-spend approach for all of our national
needs. But it would seem to me that the more fiscally
responsible one is to pay for our highways as we
determine we need them.
Now, there is an alternative model that Texas has
really been pioneering with. And as you know, we have
a governor in Texas who seems to have never met a
highway that he didn’t think he could toll. If he had
his way, we would have toll roads blossoming in Texas
like the wild flowers in the spring.
I have some concerns about the fact that the
administration in its budget proposal really seems to
want to incentivize more toll roads such as by its
proposal to tax and spend for grants for high- tech
electronic toll booths that would encourage states to
use that means of finance.
Let me ask you if you support the requirement that
no tolling occur on federal highways in the state of
Texas or anywhere else.

PETERS:
Congressman, I’d be happy to answer your question.
The answer is no, the administration does not support
that provision, and let me explain why.

DOGGETT:
Well, because my time is short, and I’ll give you
an opportunity to elaborate at the end — but do you
support prohibiting states from buying back federal
highways that the taxpayers have already paid for in
order to toll those highways?

PETERS:
Congressman, we prefer to let states make those
decisions, and I think one of the fundamental problems
that we have today is that decision-making in too many
cases has been moved away from state and local
government and decisions are being made at the federal
level.

DOGGETT:
Well, I guess the concern is that these highways
were paid for with federal tax dollars. You’re
proposing in your budget to encourage the states to
toll more highways, and you’ve just indicated by your
answers that you do not support restricting tolls on
federal taxpayer-financed highways, and that approve
of the practice of the states coming and buying back
highways taxpayers have already paid for and tolling
them.
And I find that to be very problematic and
something that I’m hearing from many people in Texas
is not the way to go.
And the partner to the tollway on every highway
that the taxpayers have already paid for in Texas is,
of course, the very controversial Trans-Texas
Corridor, where the same governor is proposing to take
swaths of land as wide as 10 miles that would separate
someone’s century-owned farm or ranch home from their
pastures and their field.
This has been a very secretive process. As you
know, the House has also passed bipartisan language
concerning the Trans-Texas Corridor.
Is there any federal money of any type going into
the planning of the Trans-Texas Corridor at present?

PETERS:
Congressman, I will have to check on that. I know
at one time there was, but let me check on that and
get back to you.

DOGGETT:
All right. The approach of doing so much of this
in secret and treating our farmers and ranchers as
just so much road kill when it comes to participation
in the process is one that I know bothered not only me
— bothers not only me but bothers members on both
sides of the aisle here.
That’s why the House overwhelmingly approved
legislation directed to the so-called NAFTA
superhighway. I know the administration doesn’t
concede there is such a highway.
But as relates to participation in working groups
concerning the Trans-Texas Corridor and the NAFTA
superhighway, if it’s to extend beyond Texas, does the
administration support the amendment that the House
overwhelmingly approved in that regard?

PETERS:
Congressman, I would say that we have not taken a
position on that issue yet, but let me explain…

DOGGETT:
Well, we passed it a long time ago. Do you plan to
take a position as this measure moves through
conference one way or the other? Do you object to the
restrictions that the House approved by a vote of
362-63 in July concerning this matter?

PETERS:
Congressman, we believe that state governments
should have much more latitude than they have today to
make decisions.

DOGGETT:
So it sounds to me like you want to give them the
authority to have a secretive process, to build a
10-mile-wide highway, tearing up farms and ranches and
rural communities where these people will not even be
able to access the tollway, perhaps built by a foreign
firm — that as long as that’s the state decision,
you’re content to let them do whatever they want to
do?
I think we have some responsibility with federal
tax dollars to try to safeguard property rights and
involve the public in participation in these
decisions.
Let me just close, because I can see my time is
up, and I know the vote is under way, by also
commenting about what you call your dirty little
secret on earmarks.
It is not a dirty little secret that both of the
federal transportation authorization acts were
approved by Republican Congresses with Republican
chairs, that the so-called Bridge to Nowhere was the
project — a totally Republican project.
There is not one earmark in either of these
transportation acts that would be there if this
administration and the Republican leadership had
wanted to cut them out.
Why is it that the administration has been so
quiet for so long and has not done anything about
these earmarks until the fact that we now finally have
a Democratic Congress?

PETERS:
Well, Congressman, let me take two answers. First
of all, with all respect, you misinterpreted my
comments about the Trans- Texas Corridor.
Second, there is no NAFTA superhighway. There is
no NAFTA superhighway at all. And we certainly believe
in public disclosure as projects are developed.
This administration also has a long record, a
long, long record, in speaking out against earmarks,
speaking out against using the public’s money in a way
that is not publicly disclosed.
And we will continue to stand behind that
opposition.

DOGGETT:
Just specifically on the NAFTA superhighway, then,
is there anything, since you believe in letting the
states do essentially whatever they want in this area,
to prevent the Trans-Texas Corridor, when it goes from
Mexico to the Oklahoma border, from being connected to
an Oklahoma Trans-Oklahoma Corridor, and then a Kansas
Trans-Kansas Corridor, all the way up to the Canadian
border?

PETERS:
Congressman, there are restrictions about
connecting to interstate highways, access points to
interstate highways. Any time that a road accesses or
intersects with an interstate highway, that does have
to be approved.

DOGGETT:
But you are putting money into — you have put
money in the past into the Trans-Texas Corridor.

PETERS:
As I said sir, I will research that and get back
to you.

DOGGETT:
I think you said you had done it in the past. You
weren’t sure if you were doing it now.

PETERS:
I said I thought we had, sir.

DOGGETT:
And you said that I have not correctly interpreted
your comments about the Trans-Texas Corridor. Would
you just elaborate on what your position is on the
Trans-Texas Corridor?

PETERS:
I would be happy to, sir. We believe that there
should be a full disclosure process, a process that
involves not only the potential users of a highway but
those who are affected by the highway. This is
required by the National Environmental Protection Act.

And those types of processes, those open public
processes, where the public has an opportunity to
participate in decision-making, is absolutely
something that we do support.

DOGGETT:
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Madam Secretary.

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