Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Taking Toll Taxes TOO Far...

Yes, In TEXAS everything (including the highway system) is BIGGER, BETTER... but do we really want to add MORE EXPENSIVE to that list? Take time to read this segment below and contact your representatives on the state level to share your thoughts.

Tomorrow, in Austin, TX the House bill HB 1112 by Texas State Rep. Larry Phillips (R - Sherman) is on the General State Calendar in the House for Wednesday, April 20. TURF (Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom) is urging lawmakers to VOTE NO on HB 1112, which amount to toll taxes in perpetuity.

"This bill makes 'system financing' permissible for Regional Mobility Authorities (or RMAs), which is stealing toll taxes from one corridor and giving it to another corridor (that those same users may not use) as well as to increase the toll on one segment to gain "surplus revenue" to pledge to another and so on, making it virtually impossible to take the tolls off the road."

Under HB 1112, there would no longer be a requirement that toll rates be based on the cost of building the road and retiring the debt nor strictly dedicated to paying the cost of construction and retiring the debt. Also, based on testimony during an exchange between RMA lobbyist Brian Cassidy and Senator Juan Hinojosa in the Senate Transportation Committee March 9, "system financing" indeed means tolls in perpetuity. The Texas Constitution prohibits perpetuities in Art I, Sec. 26. So under "system financing," tolls become a hidden, permanent tax, not a "user fee."

The bill also allows RMAs to borrow money using borrowed money, which are the same multi-leveraging schemes that caused the subprime mortgage crisis and global financial meltdown.

It's like building roads with credit cards," says Hall. "It's dangerous and very risky business, putting the taxpayers on the hook for any bailouts if the traffic doesn't show up. With gas nearing $4 a gallon, toll roads are bleeding traffic. So future bailouts of this multi-leveraged debt is more likely by the day."

HB 1112 also broadens the authority of RMAs to have all the powers of TxDOT, including eminent domain, and Comprehensive Development Agreements (selling off Texas roads to private toll operators) if that authority is granted to the Department. The bill also broadens its authority for toll collection, which has been problematic in every area of the state. HB 1112 allows RMAs to build parking structures and collect "fees" or tolls on parking and parking meters. Phillips argues it's for the Grayson Airport, but the bill doesn't limit it to airport parking.

It would allow the RMAs to raid property tax appraisal increases for its projects, and use toll revenues for "economic development" (which is eminent domain for private gain) and for just about anything it likes. It would also repeal Section 370.317(d), Transportation Code which requires the Department to approve any agreements between a local government and private entity.

It would also let RMAs participate in the State Travel Program. Why would a LOCAL entity to need travel? Perhaps for junkets to "conventions" in Austria as the NTTA did at a cost to taxpayers of $7,000 a ticket? All of this would be done by UN-elected bureaucrats, not elected officials.

"This bill is far from being fiscally responsible much less fiscally conservative," concludes Hall.

Two other organizations besides TURF testified against this bill, Texas Public Interest Research Group and Texans for Accountable Government. Only the RMA lobbyist testified in favor.

Texas TURF is a non-partisan, grassroots, all-volunteer group defending Texans’ concerns with toll road policy, Trans Texas Corridor-style projects like public private partnerships, and eminent domain abuses. TURF promotes non-toll transportation solutions.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Our National Anthem

I have always loved the simple beauty of The National Anthem of the United States of America. I had the chance to sing it before the Houston Astros played the Boston Red Sox (so appropos) at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas this past week. Here is a short video recorded by my wonderful husband!