Kay’s transportation vision less than 20/20

Kay Bailey HutchisonFor the past week or so, I’ve been watching the drama unfold as Kay Bailey Hutchison announced the transportation plank¬†of her platform for governor and the ensuing television ad and Rick Perry’s counter-ad.¬† The use of the DMS signs was clever, but her message shows a both continuing lack of understanding of the core¬†issues on her part as well as a bit of a dichotomy.

When reading her transportation policy page, there are a lot of good ideas.¬† For instance, the idea of expanding the Transportation Commission is a good one as is reducing their direct oversight of¬†project decisions and instead appointing a¬†“transportation CEO”¬†to run TxDOT.¬† I’m on-board (pun intended) with advancing high-speed and commuter passenger rail, and I like the idea of following-up on projects to see what demonstrable benefit they provided.¬†¬†I also like the fact that both on her website and during her recent debate, she was careful to specifically¬†applaud the efforts of TxDOT’s rank-and-file employees and separate them from the agency’s executives.¬† Now while I don’t believe TxDOT’s leadership is “out-of-control” or “arrogant”, there have been some missteps at the top and some tweaking of things is probably in order.

That said, KBH’s transportation vision still shows a lot of nearsightedness.¬† The biggest flaw remains her lack of backbone to support raising the gas tax.¬† Like all the politicos that have come before her, she is kowtowing to voters who don’t want their taxes raised.¬† But those same voters want their roads fixed and congestion reduced, and her plan doesn’t define where the money¬†to do that will come from.¬† (To be fair, neither do the other candidates.)¬† In short, it’s the same thing we’ve been dealing with in this state for the past two decades.¬† Instead, she wants to appoint yet another committee to study the problem to see if there really is a need for additional funding, essentially sidelining that issue until after the election, despite several legislative and independent studies that already show the need is there, a growing chorus of newspaper editorial boards and trade groups endorsing an update to the gas tax, and despite plain old common sense and an understanding of basic economics.

She also says she will kill the Trans Texas Corridor once and for all.¬† I guess living in Washington, she’s not aware of the fact that it’s already dead.¬† Yes, the legal language authorizing it remains in the Transportation Code, but there’s still language in the TC¬†authorizing emergency roadside callboxes, and I don’t see any of those around.

Her platform calls for ending diversions from the Highway Fund (except for the 25% that goes to public education), a position also supported by Rick Perry and pretty much every other politician.¬† That’s a great idea, but that’s something only the legislature can do, and from where the money will come for the programs that¬†the current¬†Peter Pan¬†plan¬†is backfilling¬†is not discussed.

In her transportation plan, she mentions TxDOT’s 2008 $1 billion budget error, but then says, “We must restore our taxpayers‚Äô trust that their transportation dollars are being efficiently and properly spent.”¬† This demonstrates that she doesn’t even understand what the issue was, a little disconcerting for someone who wants to be governor.

Lastly, her vision on toll roads is quite vague, and intentionally so I believe.¬† She supports tolling new roads and even public-private partnerships (PPPs), but has been mum about whether she supports PPPs that include foreign entities.¬† She’s really¬†stuck between a rock and a hard place on that one– if she shows support for foreign companies operating¬†Texas toll roads, she risks angering folks like Terri Hall and¬†lots of¬†other toll opponents around the state, but if she shows opposition to the foreign companies, she risks angering lots of voters in the DFW area¬†who are quite content with Cintra coming-in and building two bigtime congestion-busting¬†projects there.¬† The folks at the Dallas Morning News have¬†been trying to get her to¬†take a side¬†for¬†nearly two¬†weeks now¬†without any success.

So in the end, while I think some of her ideas are good ones, I think that overall it’s the same-old song-and-dance we’ve seen from politicians, one that offers some crumbs to folks looking to lambast the current administration over the state of transportation but doesn’t offer any real solutions.

I’ll take a look at the other candidate’s transportation plans in future posts.

 

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