Larry Phillips

House Rep Selling Texas Roads


Rep. Larry Phillips Selling Texas Roads


Rep. Larry Phillips Selling Texas Roads to the Highest Bidders
by Terri Hall - April 26, 2011

Rep. Larry Phillips
Rep. Larry Phillips

Why the fuss about toll roads?

by Terri Hall
Founder, Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom,

Here’s the short list of reasons why toll road policy has caused a grassroots revolt: higher taxes, greater bureaucracy, unsustainable debt, and corporatism.

In 2005, when I first learned that TxDOT planned to turn US 281, a freeway already built and paid for, into a tollway, it smelled like a DOUBLE TAX rip-off from the start. My fellow Texans felt the same way and a Texas-sized taxpayer revolt quickly ensued. Then when Rick Perry's agenda to sell-off Texas highways to foreign corporations spread like a canker, it was like throwing gasoline on the fire and the grassroots exploded.

Representative Larry Phillips Hard at Work
Rep. Phillips Hard at Work

Runaway taxation without accountability
Tolls mean higher transportation taxes…more like runaway taxation and it’s taxation without representation since unelected bureaucrats are making these multi-generational, multi-billion dollar tax decisions. This set-up is by design so politicians can blame bureaucrats for the tax increases and, ultimately, for their own failures.
We’re told there’s no money to build roads, yet last I checked, we still pay gas tax every time we fill-up at the pump. So what’s the real story? When nearly HALF of our gas taxes are siphoned-off for things that have nothing to do with transportation, herein lies a HUGE part of the problem. Second, the money that does make it into TxDOT’s coffers gets squandered on taxpayer-funded lobbying and ad campaigns or is used to prop-up toll projects that aren't even self-sustaining or financially viable or disappears with its infamous $1 billion dollar 'accounting error.' Third, politicians have been paid millions in campaign contributions by the highway lobby to push for the most expensive transportation tax: privatized toll roads.

Simple non-toll solutions
Our politicians know the solution to this problem: quit cannibalizing the gas tax (end the diversions, including vehicle sales taxes and auto part taxes that should be going to roads but go to fund general government), cut the waste and prioritize spending, including a top-to-bottom independent audit of TxDOT’s books, make TxDOT directly accountable to the taxpayers through elected leadership, and then IF found necessary, raise the statewide gas tax.
Why they have failed to do ALL of the above is pure politics. Virtually every public opinion poll consistently shows massive opposition (as high as 80-90%) to gas tax increases. Politicians have been trained to think ANY increase in the gas tax is political suicide. The sale of Texas highways to foreign corporations in 50 year sweetheart deals certainly is as well! When taxpayers are actually given the choice between funding our public highways through gas taxes versus tolls, they will choose the cheapest solution: gas tax funded roads, hands down.

Dedicating existing taxes to roads cheapest, fairest way to fund roads
We currently pay a penny a mile in state gas taxes today, or about 2 cents a mile on average when you add in federal gas taxes. Toll rates start at 25 cents a mile and 30% off the top goes to bureaucracy just to collect the tax (it perpetuates the same problem as gas tax diversions when 30% of the money gets eaten-up off the top). In fact in testimony in the House Transportation Committee's interim study of Toll Roads in 2010, it was revealed that TxDOT is spending $45 million to collect $60 million annually in tolls for its Central Texas turnpike system! On deals being contemplated in Dallas and Ft. Worth, the cost per mile balloons to 75 cents a mile when private companies like Spain-based Cintra seek to takeover our public highways.

That’s like adding $15 to EVERY gallon of gas you buy or like adding $3,000 a year in new toll taxes to get to work. It’s a no-brainer. Directing 100% of our existing road and vehicle taxes to roads (instead of to fund general government or other non-road uses) are the CHEAPEST, most fiscally conservative way to fund our public roadways.

The Road Debt Bomb
We used to pay for roads with cash under a pay as you go system. Under Rick Perry and a Republican-dominated legislature, the policy has shifted to a borrow and spend approach rather than to discipline the use of existing road/vehicle taxes and fix the subsequent structural deficit for road funding. TxDOT is sinking deep into debt, going from ZERO debt prior to Perry to now owing $31 billion. The Texas legislature is contemplating borrowing another $3 billion in this next budget. For the first time in state history, we're now spending more on debt service for roads than we are for new construction.

Toll roads were the new flavor of the day to bailout politicians, but toll roads are sinking us further into debt (not solving the funding problem) and are not solving congestion either (the SH 130 tollway around Austin was built to relieve I-35 traffic, but it's so empty a distressed plane landed on it during 'rush hour,' meanwhile I-35 remains a parking lot). The Austin toll system won't be in the black for a generation or more! Texans simply cannot afford this new tax on driving. Building a massive network of debt-laden, under-utilized toll roads isn't the answer, nor is it sustainable. 

Corporatism, big government & big business team-up to steal our money
The MOST expensive way to fund roads is privatization where politicians sell off our public highways, our lifelines for daily living, to private corporations. Many call it corporatism, others call them sweetheart deals, but Mussolini called it fascism. It’s the marriage of the corporation with the state. Fiscally speaking, it’s like taking out a second mortgage on our highway system. These deals are known as Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) or Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) in Texas and they're the same financing mechanism that brought us the Trans Texas Corridor.
This trend has spread like a cancer across the country, with more than half the states adopting laws to allow PPPs. To call them sweetheart deals is no exaggeration. They include non-compete agreements that forbid or financially penalize the highway department for building any “competing” free roads surrounding the toll road (ensuring congestion on the free lanes), guaranteed profits for a half century at a time, massive public subsidies (resulting in double and triple taxation), and multi-generational debt. Putting the power to tax in the hands of a private corporation that doesn't answer to the taxpayers is outrageous, and taking Texans' land and handing it over to a for-profit company is an egregious abuse of property rights. PPPs are eminent domain for private gain. Conservative Michelle Malkin called PPPs 'corporate welfare' and the Washington Times editorial board called them 'state sanctioned monopolies.' PPP toll roads certainly aren't a 'free market' solution to road funding woes. 

Read more here.

The 183 toll project in Irving will be 100% paid for by ALL Texans' gas taxes, yet they're still going to hand it over to Cintra or some private, for-profit toll road company (in a PPP) to collect the tolls (that will charge 75-80 per mile). If this doesn't tell you that this push to privatize and toll is NOT about a lack of money for roads, but rather a way to MAKE money off roads, then I don't know what would!

To sum it up…gone are the days of traditional turnpikes that were brand new roads, where the people got to vote on them, the money and control stayed with the PEOPLE, and the tolls would cease when the road was paid for. Today’s new toll road “innovative financing” schemes are a colossal taxpayer rip-off that will price most Texans off their own public roads or suffer the doom of gridlock for generations. Join the revolution at

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