February 15, 2007
For the record, I think it’s entirely inappropriate to lace an e-mail newsletter with a four-letter word. Particularly when it’s a word that upsets even those who aren’t especially sensitive to bad language.
But, I need to talk about the T-word. Toll. There, I said it.
Yesterday, I filed SB 668, which I call the Tolls Transparency and Accountability Act. My goal is to ensure that, if tolling is used as a tool for funding roadways, it is done as openly and accountably as possible.
Beginning in at least January 2006, I started looking into the raging so-called “toll debate” that had consumed our region. I met with representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, folks who really do think the word “toll” is profane, and those who think we just can’t get enough of ’em. Of course, I also visited with a bunch of folks who are sincerely concerned about our transportation problems, and who have no agenda other than to improve our mobility (a group I consider myself to be a part of, by the way).
Anyway, I became frustrated fast. It was pretty obvious to almost everyone that it was very, very hard to get clear answers to basic questions. All of our region – really, a lot of the state – had become stuck with a “Don’t Ask, Just Tell” toll road policy that lacked the transparency and accountability it needed. Somehow, lots of people were surprised that it was controversial.
All of those factors have contributed to a fundamental loss of trust between the people who build our roads and the people who drive on them. As I’ve said repeatedly, we will never have the comprehensive transportation plan that every region in Texas needs and deserves if a handful of folks in Austin keep telling people what to do without asking them what they need or want.
I started circulating a set of principles back last summer that set some goals for openness. I even gave a speech in which I laid them out. Some folks liked them and saw their value. For example, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors unanimously supported a resolution that incorporates most of my original ideas.
Which brings us back to SB 668. Among other things, my bill will:
I’ve been talking about this since well before I was in the Senate, and it’s exciting to file a bill that would put these common-sense guarantees of transparency and accountability into law. As I’ve said in previous speeches and writings, tolling is only a tool. But, if it’s going to be used, it must be used in a way that is open and accountable.
This new bill is a big step in the right direction.