The Open Letter on Transportation is posted here (included below) :
|An Open Letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry
May 2, 2011
Texas Governor Rick Perry
Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus
Given its rapid growth and favorable business climate, there is no doubt that Texas will have a need for additional highway construction in the coming years. In recent years, total state outlays for new highway construction projects in Texas have been averaging approximately 4.5 billion dollars per year. Economic projections indicate that significant road construction will be needed in coming years.
In its taxpayer-funded, public lobbying campaigns, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) argues that there is only one real option available to Texas for addressing the disparity between our current funding levels and those required for future highway construction–namely, the building of “toll roads.” By “toll roads,” TxDOT apparently means, in practice, a network of corporate toll roads funded with “innovative financing schemes,” largely secured, financed and underwritten by taxpayers, but controlled by–and for the benefit of–private, for-profit corporations. Based on your own public statements, it appears that you agree with the TxDOT Commissioners.
We acknowledge, of course, that Texas has a history with tolled roads in the form of traditional, taxpayer-controlled public turnpikes. Examples of public turnpike projects include the Dallas North Tollway, Interstate 30 and the Sam Houston Tollway. These public, taxpayer-controlled projects charge tolls, generally on the order of 10-20 cents per mile, in order to defray the cost of construction and maintenance of the roadway. Tens of thousands of Texans use these turnpikes regularly and know them well.
The corporate toll roads envisioned by TxDOT, however, bear almost no resemblance to traditional, taxpayer-controlled turnpikes. In many cases, these projects involve transferring control of seized Texas land and existing public right-of-ways to private corporations via so-called “public-private partnerships” (PPPs) and “Comprehensive Development Agreements” (CDAs). The corporate toll road network envisioned by TxDOT:
1. Involves forcible seizure of Texans’ land using eminent domain authority in the name of a “public use” and handing control over to private, for-profit corporations for private gain in the form of leases of up to 52 years.
2. Relies on so-called “innovative financing schemes” underwritten in large part by taxpayers and in at least some cases on multi-leveraged debt mechanisms.
4. Envisions toll rates of up to 75 cents per mile.
5. Restricts the expansion of free roadways which might provide competing alternatives to the corporate toll roads.
Given these troubling aspects of the proposed corporate toll road network, we join with tens of thousands of other Texans who have already expressed their opposition to this scheme under its earlier moniker, the “Trans-Texas Corridor.” Contrary to TxDOT’s taxpayer-funded campaign, we are convinced that there are many possible alternative approaches to addressing the predicted funding shortfall.
At present, the combination of gas taxes, automobile registration fees, vehicle sales taxes and auto parts taxes generate over 12 billion dollars per biennium in Texas. By law, 25% of the gas tax is reserved for education. Unfortunately for Texas’ roads, the Texas Legislature directs a substantial additional chunk, in excess of 1.6 billion dollars, of road-related revenue to non-road expenditures in the general fund. Ending diversion and specifically directing road-related revenue to road construction as a priority would go a long way in providing adequate funding for truly necessary construction projects.
Given these facts, we oppose any legislation which would further enable TxDOT’s agenda to deliver control of Texas’ public transportation infrastructure to private corporations via so-called “public-private partnerships,” and we strongly urge that the legislature undertake the following common sense reforms to improve Texas transportation policy:
1. End the estimated 1.6 billion diversion of gas tax revenue and dedicate all road-related revenues, including the gas tax ($4.4 billion per biennium,) vehicle sales taxes ($5.7 billion) and auto parts taxes (approximately $160 billion) to fund road construction as a first priority.
2. Rein in the State’s ever-mounting debt. In just five years, the State of Texas has amassed a staggering $31 billion in road-related debt. For the first time in Texas’ history, the state budget is projected to spend more on debt service for roads than it will on new road construction.
3. Mandate a top-to-bottom independent financial audit of the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) and end cronyism and backroom dealing at TxDOT by requiring full transparency and accountability from the agency.
4. Change the leadership of TxDOT and local tolling authorities from appointed positions to elected positions, thereby making these entities directly accountable to the taxpayers.
5. Investigate options for Texas’ withdrawal from the Federal Aid Highway Program as a means of avoiding the budget-busting federal transportation mandates attached to the federal funds.
As you hopefully understand, the day-to-day operations of the State Legislature are often difficult for voters to follow during the legislative session. Thus, we are not always able to review every bill or share with our elected servants our opinions on each in a timely manner. We will, however, be paying close attention in the weeks and months ahead, to determine which elected officials have been looking out for the taxpayers and property owners of Texas, and which elected officials haven’t–and we will be holding all accountable.
 See, e.g., http://www.texastollways.com/.
 See, e.g., http://www.texastollways.com/content/about-toll-roads.php/. (“Even a significant hike in the gas tax would not provide enough money to build the new roads we need to solve our worsening traffic problems.”)
 See, e.g., Private Toll Roads Get New Push in Texas, Dallas Morning News, January 4, 2011 http://tinyurl.com/dmn0104/
 See, e.g., Gov. Perry Urges Legislature to Keep Transportation Projects on Track, Press Release dated April 3, 2007 (“You have heard me say before that we have three alternatives: toll roads, slow roads or no roads.”) http://governor.state.tx.us/news/press-release/2261/
 See Perry Press Release, above. This is perhaps understandable, given the fact that the Governor’s office appointed the TxDOT Commissioners.
 See, e.g., NTTA Proposes Toll Rate Increase, NTTA Press Release, July 8, 2009. http://tinyurl.com/ntta0709/
 See, e.g., Public-Private Partnerships, Texas-Style, 2008 Audit AASHTO Conference.http://audit.transportation.org/Documents/Wed2-PhilRussell.pdf/
 The original Trans-Texas Corridor plan envisioned the involuntary transfer of nearly 600,000 acres of Texas land from private landowners. In the wake of public outcry over this and other objectionable aspects of the plan, TxDOT announced an “updated vision” for the project wherein the network would be built one segment at a time. While the immediate scope was scaled down, the fundamental concept was unchanged. See TxDOT Announces Updated Vision for Trans-Texas Corridor, TxDOT Press Release, January 6, 2009. http://www.kbtx.com/home/headlines/37149004.html/
 Texas Transportation Code, Section 223.203 (f-1). (“A private entity responding to a request for detailed proposals issued under Subsection (f) may submit alternative proposals…not to exceed a total term of 52 years or any lesser term provided in a comprehensive development agreement.”) http://tinyurl.com/txtc223/
 See, e.g., Exhibit C to the Comprehensive Development Agreement for the North Tarrant Express, explaining the “innovative financing scheme” employed for the project. ( ftp://ftp.dot.state.tx.us/pub/txdot-info/ftw/nte/cda/segments_2_4/exhibit_c.pdf/ ); see also Team Led by Cintra Secures Financing for North Tarrant Express Toll Project, Dallas Morning News, December 17th, 2009. http://tinyurl.com/dmncintra/; $2.7 Billion LBJ Express Financing Completed Ahead of Schedule, Cintra Press Release, June 17, 2010.http://tinyurl.com/cintra0610/
 See SB 1350, 81st Leg., http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/81R/analysis/html/SB01350S.htm/
 Spanish Abroad in New Age of Conquest, New York Times, June 8, 2008. (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/08/business/worldbusiness/08iht-deals.1923084.html)
 Cintra, Meridiam, Dallas Cops/Fire Pension Concessionaire for TX/I-635 Toll Lanes, Toll Road News, March 2, 2009.http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/4035/
 For an example of a definition of a non-compete zone, see Exhibit 17 of TxDOT State Highway 130 Extension Contract. http://tinyurl.com/txcda17/
 See Fiscal Size-Up, 2010-2011 Biennium, Texas Legislative Budget Board. http://www.lbb.state.tx.us/Fiscal_Size-up/Fiscal%20Size-up%202010-11.pdf/
 According to Talmadge Heflin, Director for Fiscal Policy, Texas Public Policy Foundation. See
Legislature Should End Transportation Funding Diversion, Texas Public Policy Foundation Policy Brief, May 2009 (“With so much transportation revenue being redirected to pay for other purposes, it’s no wonder that transportation is facing funding problems.”) (http://www.texaspolicy.com/pdf/2009-05-PB15-Diversions-th.pdf/)
 e.g., HB 2432 ( http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/82R/billtext/html/HB02432I.htm/ )
 See Texas Transportation Department Going Into Debt To Pay For Road Work, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Feb. 27, 2011 (“Unable to persuade lawmakers to raise gas taxes or vehicle registration fees, the Texas Department of Transportation is going deep into debt to build roads…”) (http://www.star-telegram.com/2011/02/27/2881420/texas-transportation-department.html/); A Note For The Record From The House’s Roads Scholars…, Dallas Morning News Trailblazers Blog, Apr. 3, 2011 (“Texas would spend more on road debt than on road building–for the first time in history–under the budget that neared passage in the House late Sunday.”) (http://trailblazersblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2011/04/a-note-for-the-record-from-the.html/).
 It is not clear that a top to bottom independent financial audit of TxDOT has ever been performed, even in the wake of TxDOT’s notorious $1 billion ‘accounting error.’ In the course of the most recent management audit of TxDOT by Grant Thornton, the auditors were unable to verify TxDOT’s financial statements. (See http://texasturf.org/images/stories/pdf/TxDOT-mangmnt-audit.pdf/)
 Unfortunately, the TxDOT Sunset bill (HB 2675/SB 1420) appears to completely ignore the Sunset Commission’s numerous recommendations for reform of TxDOT. See http://texasturf.org/images/stories/pdf/TxDOT-Sunset-Report.pdf/ .