January 30, 2007

Tolls : Watson v. Costello; TTC investor buying newspapers; TXDoT intimidation

  • I gotta say, watching Watson and Costello fire back and forth at one another is a bit like watching two idiots arguing over who's smarter. It doesn't really matter since they are both retarded. Truly, that's the case with Sal and Kirk, at least when it comes to transportation. Sal's been agitating on his blog and at the CAMPO meeting last week, getting people really stirred up at Watson over a bond issue when Kirk was Mayor of Austin.

    Kirk, for his part, is much more discreet and has a far larger megaphone (the AAS is large like that!), even if his writing is pedestrian (sorry, Kirk, this commentary sucks balls and not in a fun way). Don't get me wrong, I like Kirk and Sal for the most part. However, the bullshit needs to descend a few levels.

    For one thing, Sal, Kirk's not the real enemy. I don't remember what happened with that bond, but the issue is in the past. This is the present and we're dealing with the future. We need help in the Lege and we're starting to get it from people like Kirk. Your real focus should be on Krusee and Gattis. Every primary and every general until you beat them or they quit. Gattis may be a little tough, but Krusee'll be a piece of cake. Just make sure you back a Democrat in the race. Why? Because one is going to win in 2008. If you want to be part of it, better get in gear now.

    Kirk, tolls are pretty pointless and there really isn't a place for them in the future of Texas. That being said, the image of 18 lanes north AND south on MoPac is terrifying. The solution is improvements to MoPac and rail. It's got to be part of the mix and we all agree on that. Tolls however, no matter how they look on paper revenue wise, do not.

    Tolls are the most regressive transportation tax. Even those that will supposedly impact those demographic segments that can best afford them always end up hitting those that can least afford them. ALL TRANSPORTATION TAXES ARE REGRESSIVE. The gas tax just happens to be the least so. Tolls are always more expensive for consumers. Even when they eventually disappear, they are still a more expensive method of paying for a road than gas taxes. So why the hell should they ever be part of the transportation mix?

    Revenue. That's the only reason. That has to be taken off the table. Period. In that vein, here's a quote from Kirk's piece that really pissed me off.

    But reality requires action. We must stop talking about "free roads," as if there ever were such things. Any tool we use, any road we're on, costs money from some source. We can't simply oppose things or divert attention from problems with slogans or personal attacks. Our citizens are too smart to let half-truths, untruths, innuendo and conspiracy theories define our future. We don't have the time and shouldn't have the patience for unaccountable ideologues distorting our present or jeopardizing our future.

    We know it costs money. The very citizens who are pissed are the same ones to whom you're writing. They know roads aren't free and they certainly aren't clamoring for a repeal of the gas tax. They realize the state has grown and Central Texas has experienced an outsized helping of that growth. They know that we'll have to pay a little more to expand our infrastructure to accommodate that growth. They also know tolls are bad idea. Take them off the table. You see toll roads as a funding source and that's gotta change.

    This conversation is vital to our region's future. Think of it as the opposite of a traffic jam — if you don't get on this road, the rest of us can't get anywhere.

    We're on the road with you. But we're not paying tolls, Senator. TXDoT can want a permanent funding source but as the old saying goes, wishing ain't getting.

  • Australian toll road operator Macquarie is snapping up small, rural newspapers across Texas. There's nothing like ensuring good media coverage... by owning the media.
  • WOAI in SA has a story up on TXDoT's alleged intimidation of those who don't want tolls in SA Metro

    Adkisson, a Bexar County Commissioner, said in a letter to Governor Perry that Tex-DOT District Engineer David Casteel, who is himself a member of the MPO board, and Texas Transportation Commissioner Hope Andrade, who is not, sought to 'reprimand and punish' the two VIA board members who were among the six MPO members who voted against the toll road plan, Melissa Castro-Killen and Dr. Sidney G. Ordway. The plan was approved, 9-6, following five housrs of debate.

    Adkisson also charged that Perry vowed to work to defeat VIA's legislative priorities in the current session of the Texas Legislature.

    "TexDOT leadership has begun to take on a very different and mean spirited tone of late," Adkisson wrote. "(Tex-DOT Chairman) Ric Williamson and his group take any discussion that seems to move away from their core position as a threat."

    Gee, where have we heard this before?

  • Posted by mcblogger at January 30, 2007 10:43 AM

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    Can't disagree more. Tolls are far less regressive than the gas tax - you can choose to drive on roads with no toll, but you pay the gas tax whenever you drive, whether it's on a road which actually gets funded by the gas tax or not.

    And that funding regime, in Texas, is a giant subsidy machine from urban areas to suburban areas (like where Costello lives).

    As for the bond issue - I _DO_ remember what happened, and Costello is lying his ass off.

    Bond note: http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/000382.html

    Gas tax vs. tolls (for start):

    Posted by: mdahmus [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 30, 2007 03:16 PM

    Oh, sure... you can choose. To sit in traffic and drive through dozens of lights or pay a toll that is the equivalent of $2.40/gallon. And yes, it IS more regressive because it always ends up hitting the people you'd least expect it to hit.

    Quit looking at it under the assumption that it's only going to hit wealthy suburbanites because they aren't all wealthy. The best, least regressive way to pay for roads is by spreading the burden as widely as possible. The gas tax achieves that. Let's not forget that there are economic benefits to those who live in the city. Further, it's not like MoPac and 35 couldn't use improvement as well.

    In short, we're all in this together regardless of where we make our homes.

    The point of the post wasn't about Sal being right and Kirk being wrong (or vice versa). It was about getting the two of them working together instead of sniping at one another.

    Posted by: mcblogger [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 30, 2007 11:00 PM

    Dude, the gas tax is the second most regressive mechanism of payment there is; the worst is the one that "spreads the burden the widest" - i.e., property and sales taxes.

    You're ignoring the fact that the poor drive far fewer miles than the rich (nouveau riche, in the exurban case) _and_ are much less likely to have their major roads paid for out of the gas tax. The combination of the _two_ is what makes our entire funding regime regressive in the Texas case (much more so than in most states, since most states pay for far more local roads with gas taxes than we do and don't use the general fund as much as we do).

    But again, tolls are better - they do NOT hit the poor, who, hate to burst the bubble, aren't typically driving long distances up/down 290 OR 183.

    Can I ask you very nicely to read a couple of blog posts which explain this a bit better than I can in a comment? If so, start here and work your way up from the bottom (backwards): http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/cat_funding_of_transportation.html

    and ESPECIALLY this one: http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/000313.html

    Posted by: mdahmus [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 31, 2007 01:24 PM

    Honestly, we're not communicating, nor are you seeing the larger reality. Gas taxes pay for roads and schools, including freeways in cities. How many people do you see on MoPac every day? How many of those who are sitting in traffic would love to pay a little extra gas tax to have the road widened? They sure as hell don't want an elevated tollway down the middle of it.

    How much do you think the urbanites who don't want a gas tax (because it's already paid for their roads, in one way or another) would like paying far higher prices at the grocery store? The point is that a toll does not, theoretically, effect them at all. In reality, it does because the goods they consume have to get to them somehow and the way you want it will be over a toll road.

    Have you thought about how much nicer traffic in central Austin would be if the 130 were free when completed, thereby giving a real alternative to through traffic on I35?

    What about the thousands who live in Austin but work in Round Rock or other areas accessible most easily by toll road?

    The bottom line, on the regression argument, is the cost per mile and the sure and certain knowledge that these are going to effect everyone. Gas taxes are cheaper. Period. The burden is on you to show me otherwise with something other than anecdotal hypotheticals.

    Not trying to be rude, it's just I've had this argument with too many people recently and your points are well thought out and wrong. Sorry for one simple reason. The one or two times a week I'm heading north on 1/45 the cars are like I would see anywhere else in Austin. It's not just a bunch of rich suburb McMansion dwellers.

    Posted by: mcblogger [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 31, 2007 10:24 PM

    "How much do you think the urbanites who don't want a gas tax (because it's already paid for their roads, in one way or another)"

    Keeping this short: this, right here, is why you don't get me and I don't get you. I know that the major roads in Austin weren't funded by the gas tax - most of them predate TXDOT! Yes, there were a few that used to be state highways running through town which got a bit of gas tax money for a while, but they weren't originally built with it, and Austin's had to maintain them for decades. (referring here to North Lamar, 5th/6th, etc., a few of which have state route shields on some very old maps).

    IE: Austin paid for those roads with property and sales taxes; Austin continues to pay for them with property and sales taxes; and when state highways get built, Austin gets to donate even MORE property and sales taxes to purchase the right-of-way for those highways.

    Posted by: mdahmus [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 1, 2007 10:41 AM

    Freeways, hermano.

    MoPac, 290, 183, 35 all used gas tax money. All are main arteries. Even 2222 and 2244 used state funds. Whether you want to realize it or not, people in Round Rock, through the gas tax, have helped make your life a little easier. Now you'd like to turn you back on them? I got mine and fuck everyone else, is that it?

    I noticed that you said nothing about the benefits of having bypass to 35 through central Austin. I for one would pay an additional 30 cents a gallon just to have that. One other thing, I would pay a higher gas tax just to have north MoPac open and free because I live north central and the damn thing used to back up around where I live.

    Needless to say, I want commerce and I want growth we need affordable roads for that and we don't get it with tolls.

    Posted by: mcblogger [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 1, 2007 07:59 PM

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