Friday, September 11, 2009

Taxpayers get shafted in toll deal with Spanish company

By Terri Hall - San Antonio Transportation Policy Examiner - September 10, 2009
Is there ANY elected official looking out for the taxpayers anymore? So much for taxpayer protections and oversight from Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott. Even after Abbott held-up several controversial comprehensive development agreements (CDAs, also known as public private partnerships, PPPs) for months declaring them unconstitutional, he recently gave final approval to allow a contract with Spanish toll operator, Cintra, to takeover parts of the LBJ freeway, I-635, in Dallas. The deal will use Dallas Police and Fire Pension System and will charge 75 cents PER MILE to use toll lanes, and even worse, a half a billion in gas taxes will subsidize the deal with Cintra, in a massive DOUBLE TAX scheme.

It's the hefty amount of public money in the deal that caused Abbott to deem it unconstitutional - to have one Legislature bind a future Legislature with its obligations. Wasn't this a major objection to the Wall Street bailouts? Privatizing profits and socializing losses?

Governor Rick Perry, who has grown fond of criticizing Washington, has taken a page out of their playbook and applied it to Texas toll roads. There's a reason these deals are called public private partnerships. The private operators come in and milk the taxpayers by exploiting the government powers of eminent domain and raiding public money to subsidize toll roads that aren't viable otherwise, and they walk away with the profits for a half-century at a time.

CDAs are sweetheart deals that guarantee congestion on free routes through the use of non-compete agreements (which prohibit expanding or building free routes without paying penalties), guarantee 12-19% annual profits, lower the speed limits on surrounding free routes (to drive more traffic to the toll road), and cash-in on taxpayer-backed low interest loans.

The authorization to enter into CDAs expired last week. The grassroots saw to it that such deals were squashed in Perry's special session that attempted re-authorize the contracts that sunset August 31. Many lawmakers took offensive to being called back to Austin for to extend sweetheart deals for private industry.

However, Perry and some sold-out legislators made certain that about a dozen CDAs were excepted out of a moratorium passed in 2007 to allow many CDAs to move forward until 2011, including the LBJ project, I-820 in Tarrant County, Loop 9 in North Texas, the Grand Parkway in Houston area, and both Trans Texas Corridor contracts among others.

As the details of these remaining CDAs are made public, the taxpayers must remain vigilant to require the Attorney General to do his job and protect taxpayers from billions in risky leveraged debt that prices 90% of motorists off our public freeways. The race for the next Governor, Attorney General, and state legislature must keep these CDAs and toll road policies front and center. In every public forum, ask each and every candidate his/her stand on privatized toll roads, the Trans Texas Corridor, and how he/she plans to address transportation funding in the next session.
Read more on San Antonio Policy Examiner

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