Monday, January 23, 2006

Toll Roads Are Shown As A Corporate Land Grab

It's been a while since I've talked about toll roads and I'm not sure why. But with today's article in the Statesman from Ben Wear, Hey, buddy, wanna buy a toll road?, it's time to take the issue up again. What this article makes clear, and I mean CRYSTAL CLEAR, is that this whole toll road bonanza occurring across the state is no more than a plan to take tax payer money and public land, and give it to corporations, and to a great extent out of state and foreign corporations.

But this is more than just toll roads. It's about a fundamental shift in how our government is run. It's not about lower taxes or saving tax payer money it's about a friendly relationship between corporations and government. If there's one thing President Bush's failed attempt to privatize Social Security showed us it's that when it comes to doing the best job for the people the government beats the private sector every time. Bush and his party did everything they could to beat up on Social Security and it didn't work. Why? Because Social Security works and there is no denying that. Their plan could not come close to doing what Social Security's main goal was from the beginning, guaranteed money for anyone who makes it to retirement age, dignity in old age. (Of course it later came to take care of those whose parents died before they were an adult, and most importantly for those who can't take care of themselves). No longer did the aged in America have to live in abject poverty.

But back to today's article. I have a problem with the second paragraph in the article. It's not about the writing or the writer, it's about what is now being accepted as a given in this debate:
Adjusting to the idea that in the future most new Texas expressways will be toll roads has been tough enough. Now it appears that a good number of those roads might be in private hands.
Now that the masses are accustomed to the idea paying to drive on highways they won't mind ceding public land to corporations - that pay, I'm assuming little or no taxes - but will profit enormously from that land. Doesn't that seem wrong to you? This is like what has happened with FCC ceding our control over the public airwaves. The ariwaves are a public resource, just like roads. Are we going to allow our elected representatives to permanently cede our ownership rights to this land to corporations that will just take our tax money and toll money for themselves? Well the answer is yes, and the Texas Transportation Committee (TTC) is on board:
"Texas is open for business," said the opening slide in a Texas Department of Transportation workshop put on last week for an overflow crowd of industry contractors, including toll road companies. The Texas Transportation Commission makes no bones about it: It wants companies to come to Texas, wallets open, and build or buy toll roads.

"We're prepared to make sure you're rewarded for taking on that risk," commission Chairman Ric Williamson told the crowd.
Warms you heart doesn't it. Wallets open, we've seen how that works in this state. The article goes to show how one of the fundamental selling points of toll roads has now gone by the wayside.
One of the primary sales points for toll roads has been that once the turnpikes are in place, with forevermore toll charges, the profits would be plowed back into the road system. The turnpikes would become unceasing fountains of transportation cash that would allow Texas to close what Williamson says is an $86 billion funding gap over the next quarter-century, and maybe build some passenger rail systems to boot.

So, if we sell the fountains now, we'd be flooded with transportation cash for projects, but we'd lose the future cash flow. The toll road operators, meanwhile -— no fools they -— would certainly do everything they could to pay Texas less than what those roads will eventually generate in revenue.
Don't worry ol' Mike "Turnpike" Krusee keeps it all in perspective.
That margin, the profit, is money that would go to their stockholders, not Texas roads.

"That could go both ways," Krusee said, noting that the roads might underperform and thus swing the transactions to Texas' favor. And if the state gets big money now, Krusee said, more roads could be built faster, and the state would see an economic development benefit from that acceleration.
Could but you know it won't, right Rep. Krusee? So the public benefit is that you will have a road to pay to drive on. Not much of a benefit. So if the public is not going to benefit why are our representatives doing this? What's in it for them? Here's a little More from "Turnpike" Mike:
Officials here in Austin, including state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, say they are open to the idea of selling the 66 miles of toll roads under construction on Austin's north and east sides. And, oh yes, the original plan for expanding Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360) involved a long-term concession agreement with a private operator.
It always makes the people of Austin happy when Mike Krusee is making their transportation decisions.

The benefit of toll roads has now has gone from the people getting money from the toll roads to pay for future projects to allowing corporations to assume the "risk" for these projects and allow them to get all the benefit from public property. That's not only wrong, it's abhorrent.

Ther was a rally in San Antonio this weekend, Anti-toll road group touts its campaign.


At 1/24/2006 4:40 PM, Blogger Sal Costello said...

Mike Krusee needs to go. He invented a new tax scheme to toll tax drivers for public highways we've already paid for!

Set aside politics for a moment. The guy MUST go.

We have 2 bites at this apple. Once with Barbara in the Rep. Primary, and again with Karen in the general election. One COULD vote for Barbara in the Rep. Primary and then Karen in Nov.

Barbara Samuelson

Karen Felthauser

Let's give him the pink slip.


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