Every time there’s a break from a government fee given to veterans, the tax-and-spenders cry foul, attempting to convince whoever might be in earshot that all government services will cease if a subset of veterans receives said break. The Texas Department of Transportation and other entities that operate toll roads in Central Texas certainly don’t think disabled veterans are worthy of such fee and tax breaks.
In 2009, House Bill 3139 was passed with absolutely no opposition in the Legislature (it was on the Local and Consent Calendars in both chambers, and there was no testimony against the bill in either House Transportation or Senate Veteran Affairs & Military Installations). TXDoT can’t testify for or against legislation, but they did provide information to the Legislative Budget Board that the LBB then used in crafting the bill’s fiscal note. TXDoT told the LBB that under the funding structure for the Central Texas Turnpike System (in this case Texas 45 North and Southeast, Loop 1/MoPac and Texas 130), no discounts were possible, and that there would be an impact on the state’s General Revenue fund if the discount were applied there. At the time, there were approximately 3,378 qualifying vehicles in Travis and Williamson counties, and the LBB stated that there would not be a significant impact at all.
Fast forward to today. Transportation and tolling authorities in other parts of the state took advantage of the law, but TXDoT held firm, denying the discount to the qualifying disabled veterans in central Texas. This includes less than 1% of drivers in Travis County, less than 1% of drivers in Williamson County, and around 4% of drivers in Bell County (source). Yet TXDoT claims that they’d take as much as a 10% hit to annual revenue if they allowed for free tolls for disabled veterans. The Harris County Toll Road Authority saw a less than 1% hit to revenue over the last three years, since they allowed for the toll break.
It’s not just TXDoT – the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which operates 183A and the under-construction 290 Manor Expressway, refuses to implement the free toll for veterans unless the State of Texas provides funds to make up for lost revenue. The bill did allow for that, but so far there’s not been any such concession made in the pink dome.
And there shouldn’t be. No doubt that particular concession was written in to keep the wolves at bay, but the impact on the tolling authorities has already proven to be negligible overall. As people become accustomed to toll roads (and this is not meant to be a statement for or against them), more people drive them. The number of disabled veterans with qualifying vehicle registration is extremely small compared to the general population.
Looking at it from a crass, pecuniary standpoint, it’s amazing that TXDoT and other authorities would see fit to ignore an opportunity to increase usage and public acceptance in this way. But really, it’s just horribly disheartening to see that disabled veterans, who gave more to this country than can be measured in dollars and cents, are treated with such disdain. Disabled veterans make up a small percentage of the individuals who have sacrificed in the name of liberty, and a small percentage of the population. TXDoT needs to rethink this policy, and so do all the hold-out tolling authorities in Texas.