Temporary toll ban nears passage in Texas; governor poised to veto

| 5/1/2007

The Texas Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Monday, April 30, that is intended to buy the state more time to review the effects of handing over roadways to private groups. It now heads back to the House for approval of changes.

Efforts to slow lease deals with private groups have been drawing consideration in both chambers for weeks. The Senate vote created a unified bill that Gov. Rick Perry is expected to veto.

The bill – HB1892 – would place a two-year moratorium on toll road leases with private groups. It also would require a study of the long-term effects of public-private partnerships.

The moratorium would exempt projects in Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and El Paso. Advocates of the exemptions say the affected regions can’t afford a delay in relieving traffic congestion, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Regional authorities also would be given more say about local projects. Another provision in the bill would cap the length of leasing contracts at 40 years. Texas law now allows for contracts to run up to 70 years.

A formula also would be set up for the state to buy back roads and limit clauses that restrict new roads that compete with toll roads.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said the protections are needed because of concerns the state is giving away too much in toll road leases.

“There are enough questions out there to tap the breaks and take time to look before we leap into these 50-year contracts that we’re signing with private equity companies and tying up our ability to receive revenues off those roads,” Kolkhorst told “Land Line Now” on XM Satellite Radio.

“We need to make sure the Trans-Texas Corridor is viable. We need to look at the toll rates. We need to look at the noncompetes in there. We need to look at the buy back clauses. There are tons and tons of questions.”

House lawmakers are expected to take up the revised bill this week. If approved, the governor would have 10 days to decide whether to sign the bill, let it become law without his signature, or veto it. If he chooses to use his veto stamp, lawmakers would have some time before the scheduled May 28 adjournment for a veto-override vote.

The margins of support in both chambers have been more than enough to suggest the bill would be able to withstand a veto.

Perry’s office released a statement Friday, April 27, regarding the moratorium concept.

“I will review this bill carefully because we cannot have public policy in this state that shuts down road construction, kills jobs, harms air quality, prevents access to federal highway dollars, and creates an environment within local government that is ripe for political corruption.”

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Staff Writer Reed Black contributed to this report.