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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Rep. Ken Paxton and Mr. Unloadingzone talk TxDot, Toll Roads, the Future of Texas, and other stuff too.....

Rep. Ken Paxton............Mr. Unloadingzone ...........The Greedy and Evil TxDot

I recently had the pleasure of a lengthy sit-down with Representative Ken Paxton at his McKinney office (and again my apologies to him and his Chief of Staff for throwing off his schedule for the day).

We discussed a number of issues but the Governor's and TxDot's mission of turning every new highway/highway renovation into converting that road into a Toll Road is of particular importance to both of us.

Mr. Paxton's district which includes my home town and much of Collin County, Texas in general, is considered to be primarily populated by "rich people". Austin sees Collin County as an enormous source of toll revenue generated by people who can "afford it" to be used elsewhere in the State.

They need that money because Fund 6, where all the gasoline tax revenue goes and is SUPPOSED to exclusively be used to fund new, and maintain older roads, is being CONSTANTLY RAIDED for programs and projects having nothing to do with roads by the Governor and others in Austin. So now, there's not enough money in Fund 6 to do everything TxDot wants and needs to do with roads.

That's when the Governor and TxDot came up with the concept of "pay for use"........Toll Roads. Ironically, it's the exact OPPOSITE of the Governor's Court-forced solution to supporting schools: "Robin Hood."

Robin Hood is where the, again "rich" Cities and Counties have millions upon millions of their School Tax revenue confiscated by the State and given to School Districts who can't afford to support their school systems. And Nation-wide, Texas is ranked near the bottom on education; another under-achieving Perry program .

Two diametrically opposed points of view with one thing in common: the perceived "rich" areas are used to fill in funding gaps in the perceived "poor" areas.

Keep in mind that according to a recent Dallas Morning News article and the subject of another of my posts, Income Gap Growing in Texas....... , poor is defined as $16K per year and RICH is defined as $124K per year in Texas!

The latest highway to fall victim to the "pay for use" plan is State Highway 121. Mr. Paxton was pretty sure the spokesman who said the following was fired, but a TxDot Spokesman actually bragged publicly that S.H. 121 will be the most LUCRATIVE toll road in the Nation!

Since TxDot is a State Government entity, lucrative means massive over-taxing of the public, and since when is TxDot a "for profit" entity?

According to Frisco Mayor Maso, a staunch opponent to tolling S.H. 121, once completed, it will cost the average commuter $1800 a year to drive the length of the Governor Rick Perry Tollway (my suggestion on the name)...and that's just to start: a regular schedule of toll increases are built in for the next 50 years!

Add that to $4/gallon on it's way to $5/gallon gas, and Collin County and the surrounding areas won't be "rich" any longer.

Collin County is bedroom community about 20 miles north of Dallas, TX. To the west is Fort Worth. Imagine a square sitting north of Dallas. Depending on which side of Collin County you are on, there are only TWO highways into Dallas: The North Dallas TOLLWAY and Highway 75. Both run North to South. S.H. 121, soon to be The Governor Rick Perry Tollway is the ONLY major highway running East to West in the center of Collin County.

To get to Dallas during rush hour in under 3 hours, you either take the North Dallas Tollway or, once it's complete, the Governor Rick Perry Tollway to get to the (currently UN-tolled) Highway 75.

If you want to reach the outlying areas of Dallas running East to West (where many people also commute) you have to take the North Dallas Tollway to the President George H.W. Bush Tollway.....the only entrances onto the Bush Tollway are FROM the Dallas North Tollway. OR, you'll take the Governor Rick Perry Tollway to Highway 75, go south and get onto the Bush Tollway...........AND PRACTICALLY ALL OF THIS IS IN ONE COUNTY!

With the exception of the Bush Tollway, the future Perry Tollway and the Dallas North Tollway do have service roads running parallel to them if you don't want to pay the tolls. But they are loaded with traffic lights and in most places, only 2 lanes each way. They are absolutely useless during rush hour.

It will take you twice as long to commute on the service roads versus using a tollway with no traffic lights. And the added gasoline you burn crawling from traffic light to traffic light also burns up any savings you receive by not using a tollway. And as mentioned before, on the west side, there is NO access to the Bush Tollway EXCEPT from the North Dallas tollway: it's service roads don't provide any access.

My concern is that Collin County and my home City of Frisco have experienced enormous population and infrastructure growth in the last 10 years.

When I moved to Frisco eight years ago, there were 15,000 residents. We just broke 100,000 residents last month. Convention Centers and two sports areas were built. Multi-Billion dollar Bond Issues were regularly approved by the voters. More amenities and infrastructure was built. Frisco has been building 4-6 new schools each year and will continue to do so until build-out at 230,000 or so residents.

And heroic efforts have been made by the Mayors and City Council Members over the last 10 years to draw business and revenue to Frisco. We have 200 acres containing a major Mall and many, many retailers. And at the other end of Frisco, we just secured another major Mall/shopping mecca which hasn't broken ground yet.

Companies such as T-Mobile and Fujitsu, to name two, have relocated their Corporate Headquarters from out-of-state to Frisco. Two major hospitals have opened. But the majority of the residents are commuters. How many of them are going to be able to afford Frisco with the tolls and the price of gas?

How many people are going to drive to the 200 acre shopping complex? What happens when sales tax revenue begins dropping? Frisco has one of the lowest property taxes in the entire region...for now. We do have all those bonds to pay back, though.

We're in a recession (despite the denials from Washington) and it's not going to be shallow or quick ending. Collin County is also a restaurant mecca. And people here like to eat out a lot. But what happens when they have to cut that back because of the economy...and gas prices and toll roads?

We are entering VERY challenging times: not just Frisco and Collin County but all across America. The dollar has dropped so low that OPEC, even if only for a minute, considered tacking the price of oil to the Euro.

The Fed had a very hard time selling Treasury Bonds this last go-around. We are surviving financially as a nation only because the rest of the world owns so much of our debt that if we defaulted, it would take them with us.

We have a half trillion dollar deficit, both parties are talking about more spending, and come next Bond Auction, if the Chinese just don't show up, the United States of America will collapse almost immediately. The Great Depression of the 1920's and 1930's will look like a slight economic down-turn compared to what we will experience.

And now Governor Perry, TxDot and others seem to be actively working to make Texas an UNATTRACTIVE place to live, work, or move your business to...the exact opposite of what led to the phenomenal growth Texas has experienced for the last decade.

Thus Rep. Ken Paxton, Frisco Mayor Maher Maso, and my concern (OK, a LOT of people are concerned and outraged) at the whole toll road, user fees, and business tax schemes...except apparently Governor Perry. And moving into the future, the only rays of hope are exceptional elected officials like Frisco Mayor Maso, State Representative Ken Paxton, and the others that follow their lead.

In his latest email newsletter, Capitol Steps, Mr. Paxton details a minute order adopted May 30th by the Transportation Commission. I strongly commend Mr. Paxton and the Texas Conservative Coalition for forcing the Transportation Commission to adopt it. It is a huge step in the right direction.

Ultimately the solution is, by Constitutional Amendment, mandate the gasoline tax revenue deposited to Fund 6 be exclusively used for their intended purpose: new roads and road maintenance.

Then rip out the electronic toll readers, turn the majority of these tollways back into State Highways, and if necessary, raise the gas tax a penny or two....or three (not the ridiculous amounts quoted by the Transportation Commission and TxDot). These roads benefit ALL of Texas whether a particular individual drives on them or not, through continued economic growth State-wide.

Austin's and all of Texans goal should be controlled growth and prosperity for ALL Texans: not to scare people and businesses out of, or from coming to Texas.

The below is Representative Paxton's article "The Texas Transportation Commission Acts to Address Public Concern".

If you haven't done so already, when you're finished reading his article, read my introduction and Mr. Paxton's article on the New Business Tax. When you put that together with last year's $1/pack cigarette tax increase and the continued creation of other user taxes and fees, one has to wonder if Governor Perry is so obsessed with the White House, he's willing to sacrifice Texas in the process?

And now, from his Capitol Steps email of May 30, 2008, Rep. Ken Paxton:

The Texas Transportation Commission Acts to Address Public Concern

Today, the Texas Conservative Coalition, the conservative caucus of the Texas State Legislature, applauded the Texas Transportation Commission for clarifying state transportation policy in response to widespread public concerns.

The minute order adopted today by the Transportation Commission is a response to a February 4 letter from the Texas Conservative Coalition (TCC). I, along with thirty-three of my colleagues in the State House of Representatives, sent the letter asking for adherence to fundamental transportation safeguards. Based on the TCC letter, the Transportation Commission has formally agreed to adhere to the following requirements:

* The state will retain ownership of its state highways and will not transfer this ownership to private developers.
* All contracts entered into by the Department will contain provisions that allow the state to buy back any facilities that have been leased to a private developer.
* The Department will only approve initial rates for toll projects in a public meeting and in coordination with local metropolitan planning organizations.
* Tolling will only be imposed on new capacity, and the amount of non-tolled lanes on existing roads will not be reduced.
* No contract entered into by the Department will include any limitations or prohibitions on improvements needed to existing or future highways.

The Transportation Commission minute order also issued the following property rights safeguards:

* The Department will utilize existing rights-of-way and easements when possible so that private property is not taken when it is not needed.
* Transportation projects will be planned, subject to environmental regulations, so that existing property is not split into separate tracts.

Transportation infrastructure is critical to the future growth of Texas, but many of us have been concerned about the direction TxDOT was going. While the latest action by the Transportation Commission is a step in the right direction, I will continue to work with my colleagues to monitor the actions of the agency to ensure that the State’s transportation needs are met responsibly and with respect for private property rights.
Kudo's to Mr. Paxton and the TCC ! ! !

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Mrs. Unloadingzone

Mrs. Unloadingzone
"The Girl of my Dreams"