have veto-proof two-thirds in Texas, now what?
Concession moratorium bills now have more than the
two-thirds signed on in both houses of the Texas
legislature needed to over-ride a veto promised by
Gov Rick Perry. This is a huge political victory for
the anti-toll/anti-privatization forces. In the
course of just a few weeks they have gotten
legislators who just a couple of years ago led the
push for a massive expansion of tollroads and the
use of concessions to renounce their own handiwork.
In the House there are now 105 signatories out of
150 for HB2772, the identical bill to SB1267 which
has had 25/31 signatories from the time it was
filed. It provides for a 30 month moratorium on
signing of toll concessions through to Sept 1 2009.
If the bills were voted on now they would bring
to a halt roughly $20 billion of concession projects
in the pipeline. Not only that but a moratorium as
specified in 1267/2772 would probably kill the Texas
concession program - the intention of many in the
Gen Sal Costello's blitzkrieg
This whole wild campaign for a tollroad
concession moratorium in Texas could be seen as the
biggest and most dramatic setback for the forces of
enlightenment and progress since mid-May 1940 when
Reichsgeneral Heinz Guderian's XIX army corps
panzers burst out of the Ardennes forests of
Belgium, established pontoon bridges over the Meuse
and cut off the bulk of the French and British
armies, leading to the fall of France to the Nazis -
despite France's numerical superiority in soldiers,
tanks, and artillery, its equality in airplanes, and
its strong defensive positions.
The moratorium campaigners, long a bunch of
obnoxious noisies at meetings and with hysterical
propaganda on the web - that hasn't changed -
suddenly became a serious political force that
executed a sudden blitzkrieg that ran right around
the toll establishment of the Texas Transportation
Commission, TxDOT, the Perry administration, Mike
Krusee and all with the 1267/2772 bills.
In the spring of 1940 the defection of marshal
Phillippe Petain agreeing to form a puppet Vichy
regime with the enemy is mirrored in the defection
of Senator Robert Nichols, former concession
advocate on the Texas Transport Commission for six
years, now on the other side.
The situation which just months ago looked so
bright, now looks grim for privately financed and
operated roads in Texas.
However in conversations over the past few days
it is clear there is not going to be an early vote
on the bills. The legislative leadership is not
going to move the bills quickly and some of those
most vocal publicly in supporting the bills
privately don't want that either.
Now there is bargaining. And there are rival
bills. And widespread talk of crafting an omnibus
compromise bill incorporating bits and pieces of the
Quiet backlash against freeze
And there is a quiet backlash against the
moratorium - in places.
Support for the moratorium is strongest in Austin
and San Antonio and up and down the I-35 corridor.
Support for concessions prevails among the local
leadership in the metro areas of Dallas Fort Worth
and along the I-69 corridor from Corpus Christi on
the Gulf through Houston and into northeast Texas.
Concessions are now crucial to advancing the road
system in Dallas Fort Worth where the metro area
council of governments has established a role with
SH121 in negotiating concessions for the future.
Shape of compromise
There will be some kind of moratorium. That's
clear from the sheer weight of numbers of
legislators signing up for 1267/2772. But as toll
concession supporters tell it there's still the
basis for negotiating a compromise. The freezers'
great political weakness is that they have no Plan
B, nothing positive to offer by way of a substitute
for the toll and concession program
They have made great propaganda out of
misrepresenting a Texas Transportation Institute
study to show that the existing gas tax, indexed,
can provide the funds for sufficient free roads.
That served a useful mobilizing purpose for the
freeze mob by deepening their paranoias about
TxDOT's deceptions in advocating tolls, but it won't
stand scrutiny. No likely level of gas tax can
produce the large sums of money needed for new road
capacity in a state growing as fast as Texas. And of
course free roads attract more traffic and
exacerbate demand as compared with tolled roads.
The biggest political vulnerability of the
freezers will be the charge that they are blocking
much needed road improvements. That may not play in
Austin or in the I-35 corridor but it will have more
resonance in Dallas Ft Worth and along the route of
I-69 along the Gulf Coast and in the east of the
state where there is no north-south expressway
standard highway at all. Trans Texas Corridor 35 is
doubling up on I-35. TTC 69 is doubling up on
nothing except US59, a surface arterial that goes
through the middle of almost every little town and
hamlet along the way.
The bargaining strategy seems to be to allow
highways with local support to proceed while putting
a hold on those where opposition is strongest, and
for a time on considering new ones. That doesn't
look good for the Cintra/Zachry project for TTC35,
San Antonio to north of Dallas, or for further
concessions in the Austin area, but it would
preserve Dallas Ft Worth's program and TTC69.
TxDOT's powers seem likely to be heavily curbed
and those of regions and local government increased.
The local public toll authorities - RMAs as they are
called - will have a larger role but they will often
be forced to do traditional public toll financing
rather than concessions.
That's the present talk as we hear it.
CORRECTION: In an earlier article we wrongly
reported there is an election later this year in
Texas. The election is due late 2008.