Senate votes to put TxDOT on a leash; passes last moratorium bill

Senate puts TxDOT on a leash in HB 1892

Last private toll moratorium passes 27-4

Austin, TX, Friday, April 27, 2007 – In yet another historic move in the Legislature, not only did the Senate vote to suspend several rules to take-up the last vehicle to pass a private toll moratorium, HB 1892, early but also senators amended the bill to put the Department of Transportation on a tighter leash during the moratorium period.Senator John Carona, Chair of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, took key provisions from his omnibus transportation bill and added them to HB 1892. It puts a sunset on ALL Comprehensive Development Agreements (private toll contracts called CDAs) two years sooner, at 2009, and requires oversight on any CDAs not in the moratorium by the Attorney General, Legislative Budget Board, and the State Auditor’s office.It almost completely eliminates non-compete provisions, allows the State to buy-out the contracts, requires greater transparency, and more input from the public.“The Senate sent a clear, powerful message to this Governor. The PEOPLE of Texas and their representatives have spoken. A supermajority said ‘NO’ to TxDOT’s arrogance and power plays and has just placed what the public considers a rogue agency in a box. The Governor would be wise NOT to try and let them back out with a veto, since it’s clear it’ll be overturned,” says Terri Hall, Founder and Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF).

“Both chambers have overwhelmingly passed every version of the CDA moratorium in a total repudiation of the direction this Governor and his Transportation Commission is trying to take us. We don’t want to pay what amounts to extortion money through oppressively high tolls in the hands of foreign companies just to go to work. We don’t want the Trans Texas Corridor. We are tired of TxDOT’s bullying tactics, their flagrant push away from transportation to selling off our public highways to the highest bidder, and we’re tired of the secrecy and back room deals,” states Hall.

Senator Dan Patrick said it best, “There is a tremendous disconnect between the people and TxDOT. We couldn’t even get the Transportation Commission Chairman to sit down and meet with senators” (referring to Transportation Commission Chair Ric Williamson’s dodging tactics with Chairman Carona at the beginning of the session).

Senator Steve Ogden said taxpayers have a every right to expect two things: tolls as low as possible, and tolls to come off the roads when they’re paid for. Neither of which is a TxDOT goal. In fact, the opposite is true. Williamson actually chided the Senate Transportation Committee for trying to keep the tolls and gas tax as low as possible. He feels our highways are assets to increase the value of by selling them off to the highest bidder who then charges prohibitively high tolls. TxDOT and the Governor also freely admit the tolls are never coming off these roads. They plan to fund other road projects from them…so much for tolls being a user tax when motorists on one toll road are paying to build someone else a free road.
Senator Carona defended the bill and the provisions he added saying this bill “was not entered into hastily,” and chastised the Senate for continuing to allow another $1 billion to be diverted away from highways in this year’s budget, having failed to pass any bill to return those funds to transportation nor to raise some Cain and insist the House index the gas tax (all tax bills must originate in the House).

Senator Robert Nichols, ex-Transportation Commissioner, rallied his colleagues, quieted fears about some of the new provisions, and reminded them, “If we don’t pass this bill, we will NOT have another chance to pass a CDA moratorium this session.”

Thanks to the tireless efforts of an engaged grassroots movement across the state, and thanks to the many champions of their cause, they got the job done today. It’s a truly historic day in Texas!

Read more about effects on San Antonio toll projects here.