Texas voters, who have begun taking a dim view of the proliferation of toll roads, will be asked on the November ballot to divert dollars currently headed for the state’s “rainy day fund” over to the Texas Department of Transportation. The claim is compelling: without the new funds, TxDOT will be broke and unable to maintain, much less build, roads. The underlying threat is that any new construction would be tolled.
Texas already has the most toll road projects in the nation, and lawmakers supportive of Proposition 1 are telling voters that the new dollars will not be used for new tolling. The enacting legislation includes a prohibition against the funds being used to finance toll projects.
But that may not stop TxDOT, according to analysis of TxDOT spending by budget policy writer Christopher Paxton of Empower Texans. According to Paxton, “TXDOT staff revealed the routine expediency by which it uses fund swaps to avoid all kinds of legal restrictions.”
The agency’s fund swaps are often done, according to Paxton, to avoid rules associated with federal transportation dollars. Earlier this year, TxDOT attempted to swap around funds to let San Antonio’s transit agency create a streetcar program rejected by voters. TxDOT this summer allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to buying passenger rail and streetcars for El Paso and Austin. The agency has also come under fire for funding research into jetpacks and hovercraft.
JoAnn Fleming, who serves as vice-chair of the citizens advisory committee to the legislature’s tea party caucus, told Breitbart News that lawmakers have allowed “special interests to take the driver’s seat for way too long.”
“Frankly, until the murkiness and creative money-shuffling is fumigated out of the state’s transportation policies, they don’t merit a new infusion of cash. More money poured into TxDOT will remove all incentives to clean up the place. The clean up on aisle 9 should come first,” said Fleming, calling TxDOT and the Transportation Commission “poster children for government in desperate need of reform.”
Besides swapping funds internally, Paxton notes, TxDOT could also give Prop. 1 dollars to regional mobility authorities, freeing them to in turn build more tolled lanes. Recently, Collin County officials spoke out against plans to toll the last remaining non-tolled roads through their region.
Transportation policy advocate Terri Hall, who founded the group Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, told Breitbart Texas that “TxDOT is adept at shifting pots of money around to proliferate its toll road agenda.”
She described the TxDOT funding process as a “shell game.”
State Sen. Robert Nichols, who chairs the Senate Committee on Transportation and has been traveling the state promoting Proposition 1, was not available to comment for this article.
Paxton said he appreciates that legislators want Proposition 1 dollars to only be used for non-tolled road projects, yet says the agency has proven adept at skirting legislative intent.
“Don’t just promise me you won’t abuse your power, prove to me that you can’t.”
Michael Quinn Sullivan is president of Empower Texans and a founding member of the Breitbart Texas team. He can be found on Twitter: @MQSullivan.