80th Transportation Wrap-Up

Posted in 80th Legislature, Around The State, Privatization, Road Issues at 3:01 pm by wcnews

Now that SB 792 has been signed into law it’s time to look back and what was done and see if it can be explained. Can’t guarantee anything though.

BurkaBlog has a good “interview” with an “unnamed source”, Unspinning SB 792. It’s a good back and forth and points out that overall the winner was local tolling authorities, like HCTRA, that are the winners in this bill. It’s curious to me that TTC-35 isn’t even mentioned. While it is stipulated that:

In sum, it cannot be reasonably argued, as the governor’s office attempted to do, that the CDA moratorium in SB 792 is without effect.

All that means is that there is a moratorium on concessions of future, yet unplanned, projects over the next two years and doesn’t specifically speak to TTC-35. This Q&A is needs further clarification:

Q. So, who were the winners and losers?
A. It is hard to see SB 792 as anything other than a setback for the concession model.

It’s true that concessions lost in a long-term, overall, PR sense. Meaning concessions have been outed, more of the voting public know what they are, they’ve gotten a bad name, and politicians will be putting there political future at risk if they support them. That statement doesn’t, however, mean that they can’t be done over the next two years.

It’s a good read that goes through the factions that were working against Perry (local toll authorities, anti-corporate toll citizens, and legislators), and explains very well what has been done. To fully understand one must be able to read between the lines. Burka does wrap his post with something that’s completely agreeable. Until and unless we have politicians that are willing to not only propose but publicly campaign for raising the gas tax this will continue to be an issue:

One closing comment. In the next to last Q and A, it is clear that the assumption underlying TxDOT’s policy is that the Legislature will not raise the gasoline tax. Mike Krusee offered an amendment this session to index the tax to inflation, and it was soundly voted down by the House. Lawmakers, craven as ever, want to complain about concession agreements, but they refuse to take actions that would make them unnecessary. A popular governor could provide the leadership for indexing the gasoline tax and issuing bonds based on the increased revenue stream, selling it to the public as a way to avoid expensive toll roads. Dream on.

Krusee gets not credit for that because he knew it would fail and obviously didn’t support it. He only proposed it in an attempt to say, “See, what other choice did I have?”.

Here’s what Will Lutz from DallasBlog had to say about it:

There is significant discontent with toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor. Two-thirds of legislators actually voted to declare a moratorium on the renting of state right-of-way for toll roads and give local toll authorities more power over local toll projects than the Texas Department of Transportation.

But when Perry threatened to call a special session over transportation, the lawmakers relented. Indeed, they passed a bill that technically puts a moratorium on new comprehensive development agreements, but the bill contains lots of exemptions and loopholes.

In short, most of what Perry wants to do can happen in the next two years.

There are some interesting tidbits in this article from The Bond Buyer, TxDOT To Sell $1.1B Tomorrow. It talks about the fact that Texas can still sell bonds at it’s normal pace, we find out that the toll moratorium wasn’t the only thing the legislature accomplished in the road financing game:

It also follows a swirl of legislation that would nearly triple the department’s bonding capacity and redrew the landscape for developing toll-road projects.

This looks interesting too:

Analysts also commented on the fact the Legislature exempted the state from some reporting requirements under the Government Accounting Standards Board’s Statement 45. GASB 45 requires governments to report the future cost of retiree health plans — or other post-employment benefits — as liabilities.

A bill awaiting Gov. Rick Perry’s signature requires the state to estimate those costs but not to report them as “liabilities” that require advance funding.

What would a legilslative session be without a little “book-cooking”? And Sen. Carona’s actions, calling a hearing in March, right around the time the Cintra deal for SH 121 was made public, helped the NTTA get back in the game:

TxDOT also saw years of work leading to a $5 billion private concession agreement with Spanish developer Cintra — Concessiones Infraestructuras de Transporte — for the State Highway 121 toll project near Dallas superseded at the suggestion of Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. At Carona’s suggestion, bidding for the project was reopened to the North Texas Tollway Authority, a public entity that had previously agreed to sit out the project under a protocol agreement with TxDOT. Regional controversy over SH 121 reflected popular alarm over long-term lease agreements for toll projects. That led to calls for a two-year moratorium on private toll projects.

If you’re confused about this issue don’t read the pro-corporate toll TollRoadNews’s post session article, Texan pols finally cook up Swiss cheese freeze. It does a very good job of pointing out the contradictory parts of the so-called moratorium but will get you no closer to determining if this is a moratorium or not.

It’s an illogical bill - a dog’s breakfast. First it asserts a moratorium on concessions to Sept 1 2009, then most of the bill is devoted to exemptions and to laying out the terms under which concessions can be written.

To make a long story short on what this is and/or isn’t we will just have to wait and see. The best thing that may have come out of this session’s work on transportation is that TxDOT may have figured out, and I emphasize may, that the public doesn’t like corporate toll roads. The key is to look at how TxDOT reacts to this. These comments from TxDOT chair Ric Williamson may be a glimmer of hope:

Mr. Williamson acknowledged that the past five months were humbling for the Transportation Department.

Lawmakers repeatedly criticized what they described as the agency’s rogue and arrogant tactics in awarding toll road deals.

“The whole process has been inalterably changed,” he said. “We know clearly what [lawmakers'] concerns are, what they want us to do, what they don’t want us to do. And we will change our behavior accordingly.”

If he understands that it’s time to let Texans have more say about how we finance our roads then that’s would definitely be the best thing to come out of all this. Also Democratic control of Congress has brought the legislative branch, at the federal level, attention to this issue and they don’t like PPP/CDA’s.

This seems to be a bill that both sides are claiming victory on and the only way we’ll truly find out if this is a moratorium on TTC-35/concessions or not is if the governor and TxDOT attempt to proceed, challenge the legislative intent of this bill. What the reaction would be to that, and if anything could be done to stop it, would tell us if this is a moratorium or not.

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