Supporters of Proposition 1 (Prop 1) who oppose new tolled roads are in for a shock: given TXDOT’s fund swapping practices, any funding restrictions in the proposed law are virtually meaningless. Regardless of the fact that Texas is the most-tolled state, there would likely be no slowing this trend under Prop 1.
We’ve reported before on the agency’s “creative” ways to shuffle money between different entities to avoid legal obstacles to profligate spending on needless projects.
You may not know the extent to which the agency uses fund swapping and the purposes for the practice.
During the latest meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) in Dallas last month, TXDOT staff revealed the routine expediency by which it uses fund swaps to avoid all kinds of legal restrictions.
In the cases presented at the hearing, most of the swaps for projects were done to avoid many rules governing the use of federal transportation dollars. These federal rules cited dealt with environmental studies or other ancillary compliance measures needed to secure federal funds. Staff and the commission also discussed the backlash created by the Department’s attempted fund swap scheme with a San Antonio transit entity for a needless streetcar project.
TXDOT even makes notes of fund swapping in their presentations on proposed transportation planning documents.
Given the explosion of tolling in Texas and TXDOT’s role in finding ever-more-clever ways to skirt certain spending restrictions, there is little doubt that Prop 1 dollars would end-up paying for tolled projects.
In the unlikely case that TXDOT doesn’t choose to use fund swapping to skirt Prop 1’s tolled projects restriction, there is still the case of Regional Mobility Authorities (RMA’s) that have no such restriction on the use of the funds they raise. One could speculate that every extra dollar from TXDOT going to an RMA “frees-up” a dollar for a tolled project by that authority.
Without clearly delineated rules regarding the agency’s use of fund swaps or any action by the legislature to provide clarity on the practice, taxpayers might be left holding the bag and suffering the “double-tax” of tolled roads partially funded through Prop 1 tax revenue.
While the agency, the commission, or legislators are keeping quiet on this topic to avoid controversy surrounding Prop 1, it is only fitting that Texas Taxpayers know the full story before voting on the measure expected to give TXDOT around $1.4 billion in the first year after enactment.
Far more convincing than politicians or bureaucrats promising not to abuse their power is evidence that they can’t.