There has been a lot of discussion about toll roads since last November when the Texas Department of Transportation, after adding a large number of toll projects as a part of its 10-year plan, drew heavy criticism from Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Coupled with a large outcry from voters around the state, the toll projects were removed from the list.
Entrenched bureaucracies pushing toll roads is not just a problem at the state level, but locally as well. Officials in Montgomery County have long been maneuvering to circumvent the will of local taxpayers, Tea Party leaders, and Republican Party officials (as well as putting the county further into debt) by financing a toll road with risky revenue bonds.
In an effort to give taxpayers a say on new tolls, Republican precinct chairs and activists decided to take the lead and put the issue on the state party’s primary ballot. The result was 1.3 million votes cast – 90 percent of the total voters – agreeing with this statement:
No governmental entity should ever construct or fund construction of toll roads without voter approval.
Community leaders in Montgomery County opposed to a proposed toll road have been calling for the voters to be able to make the decision on whether or not their taxes should go to fund toll roads.
The Texas Legislature should prevent any governmental entity from constructing—or funding the construction of—toll-roads without explicit voter approval.
We often hear local officials claim people support tolling in their communities. Good! So why not give them that voice at the ballot box? Lawmakers should make sure such elections are held only on the general election date in November of the even-numbered years to ensure maximum participation.
The Republican Party of Texas’ 2018 platform specifically calls out toll-roads on several fronts:
We believe that tolls should come off the road when the debt is retired, and if the debt is ever restructured or refinanced, the pay-off date needs to remain the same or receive voter approval in order to extend the toll tax longer. Maintenance should then revert to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). We oppose public-private partnerships, specifically regarding toll projects. We oppose conversion of existing roads or lanes to toll roads.
As well as:
We oppose the use of taxpayer money to subsidize, guarantee, prop up, or bail out any toll projects, whether public or private, and we call upon both state and federal lawmakers to adequately fund our highways without hidden taxes, tolls, or raiding emergency funds.
But party platforms are not, definitionally, laws; those must be created by the legislature. As such, Texas lawmakers in 2019 should take up measures to put taxpayers and voters in the driver’s seat.