April 5, 2007
Yesterday, the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee voted unanimously to send S.B. 1267 – that’s right, the Moratorium Bill – to the full Senate for a vote. The compromise bill will put a two-year hold on new contracts that would privatize Texas highways, while allowing projects that certain regions have been clamoring for.I voted in favor of this bill. I hope it will reassure those with legitimate concerns about finishing much-needed projects, while providing a break in which we all can evaluate this tool, what we hope to do with it, how strong its protections are, and whether we’re 100% sure that it does more to solve our traffic problems than to simply tax us.Even more importantly, I hope it will shift the conversation away from whether we need a moratorium, and toward the genuine – but certainly more complicated – policy questions confronting Texas. The most amazing thing to me about this toll war is its tendency to turn every means into an end. In Central Texas, toll revenue that should have existed only in the context of roads or a transportation system became an all-or-nothing fight over nothing more than tolls. And at the Capitol, the legitimate questions that lawmakers have raised about our transportation policy – and TXDOT’s execution of it – have been buried beneath one mammoth yes-or-no question: do you support the moratorium? This is like a married couple fighting to the point of divorce about which store they need to go to, all without considering what they want, need, or can afford to buy. The issue, my friends, is not the moratorium – even after yesterday. It’s about how much we know, and need to know, about the road that our transportation planners are taking us down. It’s about building safeguards that guarantee these roads will protect the public, which will still end up investing heavily in them. It’s about evaluating the projects in our plans, and making sure we aren’t simply signing away the most profitable ones at fire-sale prices. And it’s about identifying the role, if any, that private entities should be playing in providing this public service.If this moratorium is only about stopping something, then I worry we will ultimately fail the people of Texas. If, instead, it provides a cooling off period for us to learn what we have and what we need in terms of transportation, then maybe we’ll start getting somewhere for a change. But rest assured that this bill, no matter what happens with it, is nothing more than a half-step. We have real transportation needs. Let’s go ahead and toss the victory cigars or funeral wreaths on the fire – the hard work is still to come, one way or another.