Rendell Wants to Strike Ban on Tolling Interstates

By Terri Hall l February 17, 2012

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell/Photo: Terri Hall

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell headlined the second day of the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) 7th Annual Texas Transportation Forum at the Grand Hyatt in downtown San Antonio. The theme of the conference was a TxDOT (hence taxpayer) sponsored plea for more money. Rendell didn’t disappoint. His geniality and good humor didn’t make his assaults on the taxpayer any more palatable, however.

He blamed Congressional inaction on a new federal highway reauthorization bill (that expired in 2009) on fear. He said, “They’re all scared of Grover Norquist,” and likened Norquist to the Wizard in Wizard of Oz, who had a powerful aura until Dorothy and her friends discover who’s actually behind the curtain — a wimpy little guy that’s all bark and no bite. He equated those afraid of raising taxes as “afraid of their own shadow.”

Because of Norquists’s no tax pledge, “we basically have a Congress who has pledged never to raise taxes no matter what,” Rendell concludes. “If we don’t retry courage (the courage to raise transportation taxes), we’re cooked.”

Lobbies to remove ban on tolling existing freeways

But the most anti-taxpayer statement came when the former Governor called to lift the ban on tolling existing federal-aid highways from the federal highway bill — a ban Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has put in place for Texans since 2007.

In the same speech, Rendell, a Democrat, said he agreed with the Tea Party sentiment that we can’t saddle our grandchildren with debt, yet he also said “there’s never been a better time to borrow.” The way toll roads are being done in Texas and around the country are not like traditional turnpikes, where, when they were brand new roads and private bond investors took all the risk, if the drivers didn’t show up.

Now states are slapping tolls on existing right of ways, even on existing free lanes — a DOUBLE TAX — charging us again to use what we drive on today toll-free. It’s a giant tax grab (while they tell you they’re not raising taxes). Private bond investors now insist upon profit guarantees that ensure congestion on competing free routes through non-compete clauses that prohibit or penalize government agencies, if they expand free roads surrounding the tollways. Most all “managed lane” toll projects, where they add toll lanes to existing corridors, use heaps of taxpayer money to subsidize them; so the risk gets shifted to taxpayers rather than the private bond investors.

Rendell remarked that Texas used to be the model for road privatization and that it can be again. There’s one BIG reason why Texas faded from the forefront of privatization — the PEOPLE of Texas DO NOT want to sell-off our Texas sovereign public road system to private corporations in government-sanctioned monopolies that essentially give corporations the power to tax.

Such deals, called public private partnerships (PPPs), include extremely high toll rates and exploit the state’s eminent domain laws — taking someone’s private land (in the name of a ‘public use,’ a road), and handing it over to another private party for private gain. Texans hold property rights sacred, so this doesn’t sit well either.

When Rendell was Pennsylvania’s Governor, he tried to sell the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private interests and his legislature voted him down. Where is such a spirit in the Texas Legislature that just voted to hand 15 more segments of Texas roadways to foreign companies despite no popular support for it? Georgia Governor Nathan Deal recently called PPPs “ill-conceived sell-outs of state sovereignty.” He’s exactly right, Texans agree. However, Texas Governor Rick Perry and state leaders are really good at ‘states rights’ rhetoric, but their actions, to the contrary, keep the special interest money coming from the deep-pocketed developers.

Rendell went so far as to liken the fight to raise transportation taxes to our Founding Fathers fight for liberty. What? He said America was built by risk takers (colonial shopkeepers who, at the time, stood up to the mightiest nation on earth), and he encouraged the room full of road industry advocates and lobbyists to encourage lawmakers to take the risk to vote to ‘increase funding’ (ie – raise taxes). Why is it a risk? Because they are likely to be held accountable at the ballot box (but they’re counting on the voters’ short memory, as usual). Rendell said to “give them (lawmakers) a permission slip” to raise taxes.

How was American prosperity built?

Something’s wrong with this picture. America was not built on tax hikes, in fact, quite the opposite. The American War of Independence was sparked by a tax protest, the Boston Tea Party, and they fought for freedom from King George’s tax tyranny. Rendell equated raising taxes with making America great again, but there’s never been an economic model that shows any country can tax its way into prosperity.

Even worse, though Rendell had stirred up controversy with these words before, he chose to end his speech with it anyway. He invoked the memory of Todd Beamer’s American spirit during the 9-11 attacks by telling the road lobby to get moving on those tax hikes by repeating Beamer’s inspirational last words on United Airlines Flight 93 over Shanksville, Pennsylvania, “Let’s Roll” — as if the fight AGAINST the taxpayer in raising road taxes is a noble cause equivalent to combating terrorism and the cause of American liberty for which those who gave their lives on 9-11 were taken to their eternal rest! OUTRAGEOUS! He didn’t even get Mr. Beamer’s name right.

Why would a Republican Governor’s highway department invite a Democrat ex-Governor to come down to ‘conservative,’ tax-averse Texas to advocate for the MOST expensive way to fund roads — unbridled tax hikes in the hands of UNELECTED TOLL ROAD BUREAUCRATS and even private corporations? Perhaps because Governor Perry and our state leaders are not so conservative after all. Special interests and crony capitalists know no party lines.

The Forum concluded with videotaped remarks from Republican Senator John Cornyn. The plight of the federal highway bill currently being debated in the U.S. Senate loomed large over the two-day event. Cornyn could not make it back to Texas to deliver his address live due to the Floor action at the Capitol in Washington on the highway reauthorization bill. Like last year, Cornyn advocated for PPPs and tolling, but this year he added a new tax to the menu — indexing the gas tax – proposing a multilayer sandwich of taxation that these politicians are looking to feed the public just to satisfy their own insatiable appetite for more government spending. Yesterday, State Representative Drew Darby advocated for a $50 hike in vehicle registration fees to raise revenue to end the annual $1 billion in gas tax diversions. Rather than exercise self restraint and fiscal discipline, by ending gas tax diversions through prioritized spending, Darby lobbied for yet more tax hikes.

Really? They want all of the above? ‘We the People’ won’t have enough money left for food and a roof over our heads if this license to tax, tax, tax becomes law – it’s downright highway robbery!

This begs the question — where exactly are the conservative leaders in Texas? It sure wasn’t on display at this taxpayer-sponsored shindig. Our personal economic survival is on the line, and if our political leaders have their way, you’ll soon be paying a premium to maintain your freedom to travel.

Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of eight turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.