March 07, 2007

Was the Op/Ed section of the Star-Telegram brown?

With bullshit like this, it would have to be. The Star-Telegram published an editorial from someone who is, to put it bluntly, extremely disingenuous. This isn't the first time the First Lady of Fort Worth journalism has published a questionable op/ed piece by someone in the industry. I'm more surprised that they'd do it again after being called out the first time.

I would think one bout of looking like an ass would have been enough for the Star-Telegram editors. Turns out, it's not.

Let's look at this odious piece of trash...

First, according to an editorial in Wednesday's USA Today, traffic congestion cost $63 billion in lost productivity and additional gas in 2003, not including the 18.4-cent federal gas tax or other state and local transportation taxes. In other words, relief of traffic congestion is good for drivers' psychological and financial health.

Congestion is a bitch. Roads and public transportation are the solution. The method used to pay or them is largely irrelevant. This is approaching the millionth time I've heard toll roads conflated with easing congestion. It's also the millionth time pro-toll forces have looked like idiots. You'd think they would learn from the mistakes of the irredeemably stupid Ray Perryman.

Second, as Star-Telegram reporter Gordon Dickson wrote last month, state transportation officials reject as absurd the claim of some toll critics that an 8-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax could finance regional transportation needs. The actual number, according to state officials paid to calculate these costs, is $1.40 per gallon, which would increase the price of gasoline to more than $3.70 per gallon today. How could this help the poor?

Oh, yes... tolls are cheaper. This is an outright lie. For one thing, the tolls are going to run at least 12 cents per mile (as we've seen in Austin, sometimes they are MUCH more expensive). At 20 miles per gallon, that's a gas tax equivalent of $2.40 per gallon. Even if the State's ridiculous estimate were correct, a gas tax would STILL be CHEAPER than tolls, by at least $1.00 per gallon. That's reality, and I'd like to see Mr. Erler deny that.

However, we all know that the state's estimate is way off and completely meaningless. Why? Because, unlike Mr. Erler, we actually did some research. Bottom line, tolls are ALWAYS going to be more expensive than a gas tax. Period. The State's numbers are 'engineered' to come to a preconceived conclusion. Instead of just blindly accepting them, Mr. Erler, why not actually investigate the assumptions used? Those assumptions include a PROFIT for a private contractor that is paid EVEN UNDER A GAS TAX MODEL. Why would we be paying for that if we shift gears and ditch the tolls and the CDA's?

I'm going to stick to the TTI numbers. They are accurate and unbiased unlike those used by the State.

So what about the public versus private issue? Consider last week's announcement that a private company has been selected to build and manage Texas 121, just north of Fort Worth and Dallas. That company will pay $2.1 billion upfront and another $716 million over 49 years, and it will spend an additional $2.26 billion for construction and maintenance over the 50-year span of the contract.

This deal will, according to local officials, provide "several hundred million dollars" for non-toll roads in our region.

As for the money 'up front' to be used for other projects, that's little more than an acknowledgment that people will have the same problem with tolls that they have with gas taxes (money generated in one spot goes to pay for a project in another). Of course, we could raise that money upfront by selling bonds backed with tax revenues, which is basically what the toll road companies are doing (only in their case, their bonds are backed with massive tolls).

The most interesting thing about this is the money. We already know the state has promised a nice 12% ROE to developers. Annually. That means that these roads will have to pay more $609.1 mn annually, just as a return on invested capital. What's the debt service on $5.076bn? Around $400 mn annually? Combine the two and that means that North Texas drivers who use 121 will have to cough up roughly $1.09 BILLION annually. Of course they won't, so the entire project will end up devolving to Texas taxpayers anyway. Even if $609.1mn is also used to pay down debt, it's still too expensive. Maybe the toll companies aren't looking to make a profit... oh, hell, even Mr. Erler wouldn't buy that argument.

The numbers, any way you slice and dice them, will always come out in favor of a gas tax. I suspect Mr. Erler knows this which is why he's so disingenuous in his op/ed piece. My only question is why the Star-Telegram published it without even bothering to include a counterpoint. It's obvious that Erler believes what he's saying. Unfortunately for him, he's confused belief with truth. As someone far smarter than I once said, "It's not what you know; It's what you know that just ain't so."

Thankfully, as EOW points out, the vast majority of the Senate isn't listening to Erler or Dick Williamson any more.

(mad props to EOW for finding Erler's piece in the Star-Telegram)

Posted by mcblogger at March 7, 2007 02:17 PM

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Thanks for shredding him. I really didn't know where to start it was so bad. I guess the one part that really grated on me was the stuff about the poor. It's not about rich v. poor. It's about right v. wrong and the TTC and tolls being a bad idea. Besides most of the people complaining, myself included, are the middle class.

Posted by: wcnews [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 7, 2007 04:09 PM

Don't I know it... kinda defeats the myth of the suburban rich, doesn't it:)

Posted by: mcblogger [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 7, 2007 04:25 PM

The state comptroller investigation proves the plan to toll roads we've already paid for is a sham. The local regional mobility authority (CTRMA - a mini-TxDOT) has created a double tax, by diverting tax dollars intended for free roads, into toll roads like 183A. The report also showed CTRMA board members giving NO-BID CONTRACTS to themselves and their friends (Appendix 5). Board members of RMA's have property in the vicinity of toll roads that have increased by as much as 989%!

The comptroller report:

Posted by: focus1964 [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 11, 2007 11:15 AM

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