AUSTIN, TEXAS -- The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sunset bill, HB 300, now over 1,500 pages long, has too much baggage for taxpayers to swallow. HB 300 ends the private toll moratorium (which hands our PUBLIC highways to PRIVATE, foreign toll operators), keeps the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) alive, opens a new loophole to toll existing freeways, allows counties a 10 cent gas tax hike, raids public employee pension funds to invest in risky private toll roads deals (Revolving Fund/Transportation Bank), reduces the number of elected officials on transportation boards, and more.
A heavy piece of "baggage" that put the grassroots over the edge was Amendment #1 by Senator Glenn Hegar that slipped the Trans Texas Corridor back into the bill after repeatedly assuring lawmakers during floor debate that the Trans Texas Corridor is "DEAD."
TURF also obtained a memo last week from lobbyist Gary Bushell, with Alliance for I-69, revealing that he and ex-Transportation Commissioner turned Texas Senator, Robert Nichols, brokered a deal to allow the private toll contract with ACS of Spain for the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 to proceed as planned, despite the outcry of more than 28,000 Texans who went on the record against the project. (See the negotiated amendment to Nichol's SB 17 that protects the private investor’s interest over the public interest here).
Bushell is the same lobbyist the TxDOT illegally hired using taxpayer money to lobby elected officials in the path of the TTC, which is the subject of several bills before the Texas Legislature in response to a TURF lawsuit currently awaiting a ruling by the Third District Court of Appeals.
"So this backroom deal-making not only betrays Texans, including those in Hegar and Nichols' own districts, it's also a betrayal of his fellow legislators who have voted to repeal and repeatedly promised the public that the Trans Texas Corridor is 'dead,'" proclaims an outraged Terri Hall, Director of Texas TURF.
Also slipped into the senate version is a bill by Senator Tommy Williams to add license plate cameras to state highways, Senator John Carona's bill to lift the cap on payments to LOSING BIDDERS on toll contracts (used to be $1 million cap, then in 2007 dropped down to $250,000, now there would be NO limit), and a provision to allow TxDOT to increase speed limits on the Trans Texas Corridor and certain toll roads up to 85 MPH with the intent of reducing speed limits on competing free roads (to drive more traffic to high speed toll roads).
"HB 300 abandoned the original Sunset committee recommendations long ago, and it's been loaded up with too many anti-reform, anti-freedom, anti-taxpayer provisions for Texans to choke down," states Hall.
TURF is advocating the legislature KILL HB 300 and pass what's called a safety net bill that moves TxDOT's sunset to next session, when they hope Texans will have a new Governor.
"No meaningful reform of this agency is possible as long as Rick Perry hold a veto pen," Hall predicts.
Terri Hall is the Founder of Texas TURF. TURF is a non-partisan grassroots group of citizens concerned about toll road policy and the Trans Texas Corridor. TURF promotes non-toll transportation solutions. For more information, please visit their web site at: www.TexasTURF.org.