Local government supports litany of transportation taxes

Link to article here. Well, of course, proponents outnumbered opponents because the proponents were government officials testifying in favor of tax hikes on their constituents! There were either paid to be there or traveled there on the taxpayers’ dime.

Those against are in the tens of thousands but don’t have the luxury of taking time off work and traveling to Austin at THEIR OWN EXPENSE to oppose this bill in person (which is required by our messed-up anti-taxpayer system of government!). All the emails sent in opposition DO NOT count for the official record! Read our assessment of this feeding frenzy by BIG GOVERNMENT advocates here.

Saturday, Mar 21, 2009
North Texas leaders voice their support for transit bill

AUSTIN — North Texas municipal and county officials presented an almost unified front Wednesday in favor of legislation designed to raise money for billions of dollars in road and rail improvements.A three-hour hearing before the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee was the first legislative test of public opinion on the measure. Supporters outnumbered opponents by about 7-to-1.Opponents said proposed taxes and fees in the bill would impose added hardship at a time of economic uncertainty.

State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the committee chairman and the bill’s sponsor, said the measure is still being refined and will come up for a committee vote next week.

Leaders of Fort Worth, Dallas, Arlington and four other North Texas cities repeated their central message: The bill is urgently needed to finance road improvements and commuter rail lines to help the nation’s fourth-most-populous region reduce traffic congestion and pollution.

“The No. 1 issue is transportation,” Fort Worth Councilman Jungus Jordan told the committee, citing the findings of survey after survey in North Texas.

Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck said his city is “the largest city in the nation without public transportation, and I’m not proud of that.”

“We’re pleading with you to allow us to move ahead with transportation in our state.”

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley testified that the current transportation funding system is “broke,” citing a $100 billion deficit in the amount of transportation assistance that the region gets from the state and federal governments balanced against its transportation needs.

“We need your help to give us a local ability to solve this problem,” Whitley said.

A heated moment

The most contentious moment came after Collin County Judge Keith Self testified against the measure, saying that it would force a family of four in the Collin County suburb of Plano to pay an additional $250 a year in transportation taxes.

“Make no mistake about it,” he said. “This is a tax increase.”

“You’re wrong about that,” responded Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, saying that the bill gives local voters an option of whether to assess themselves fees and taxes.

Watson cautioned Self against “throwing around words that are not entirely accurate.”

Carona also confronted Self, who has been one of the more visible opponents of the legislation, telling the county judge that “you do a disservice to the community” by criticizing the measure “without knowing what the bill says.”

“We would welcome your help,” Carona told Self. “Thus far, we haven’t seen any of it.”

Collin County Commissioner Jerry Hoagland told the committee that he supports the bill, pointedly disagreeing with those who use “scare tactics” to argue that “taxes will go through the roof” if it passes.

What the bill would do

Carona’s bill would allow counties to ask voters to choose taxes and fees to finance transportation improvements. The options include increased gasoline taxes, parking fees, driver’s license fees, vehicle emissions fees and an “impact fee” charged to new Texas residents.

State Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, is sponsoring the companion measure in the House of Representatives.

An alternative bill by Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and Robert Miklos, D-Mesquite, calls for city-by-city elections — instead of county-by-county — and proposes sales taxes as the funding source for transportation improvements.

The local-option legislation, deemed North Texas’ top legislative priority, was originally tailored for Metroplex counties but has been broadened to include Bexar and Travis counties. Carona said El Paso and Houston have also expressed an interest in being included.

Gov. Rick Perry originally signaled support for the bill, but his office has since raised questions about the fee and tax increases and the inclusion of areas other than North Texas.

Tax concerns

In written testimony presented to the committee, Justin Keener of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative pro-business research institution, said the bill would create “excessive tax burdens that do further harm to our economy.”

“I certainly hope this does not pass,” Keener said outside the hearing. “It would be devastating.”

Terri Hall of San Antonio, founder and director of TexasTURF, a transportation advocacy group, also registered concern about the proposed fees and taxes during hard times.

“From the citizen’s perspective, just your average housewife here, I don’t see how we can do it,” she said.

Seventy-two witnesses registered in favor of the bill, and 10 signed up in opposition, though not everyone testified.

Other supporters included representatives from the Tarrant County Mobility Coalition, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, the Fort Worth and Dallas chambers of commerce, the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, Denton County, and Plano, McKinney, Denton and Frisco. Officials from Travis and Bexar counties also testified in behalf of the bill.

Opponents included the Texas Eagle Forum, Americans for Tax Reform and Americans for Prosperity.

What the bill provides The local-option transportation act would provide ways for counties to raise money to build their portions of a regionwide commuter rail system.The idea is to build 215 miles of commuter rail across Dallas-Fort Worth — a system that could cost $3.5 billion to build and $333 million a year to operate through 2030 — and let voters in each county decide how to pay their share.Counties with less emphasis on rail — or, in the case of Dallas, with a rail system already in place — could instead use the funds to supplement and speed up road work.

In Tarrant County, priorities include building commuter rail lines from southwest Fort Worth to Grapevine, downtown Fort Worth to Arlington via the Union Pacific main line, Arlington’s entertainment district to the Trinity Railway Express, downtown Fort Worth to Texas Motor Speedway and downtown Fort Worth to Mansfield.

— Gordon Dickson

Source: North Central Texas Council of Governments