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March 9, 2011 (512) 463-0300

BILL WOULD LIMIT TOLLS

(AUSTIN) — Toll roads would become free public roads after they are paid for under a bill considered by the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday. The bill would also prevent toll road profits from being applied to future road projects. Senator Steve Ogden of Bryan sponsored the provision in 2003 that permitted tolling entities to charge extra money to generate surplus to build more roads. At the time, said Ogden, lawmakers didn't think that Texans would support raising the gas tax to fund road construction. They saw toll revenue as a good alternative method for raising transportation funds. As it turned out, said Ogden, Texans were just as opposed to toll roads as they were to raising taxes.

Ogden's bill, SB 363, would prevent a tolling entity from collecting a toll on a road once acquisition and construction costs have been paid off. Once that happens, the maintenance of the road would be turned over to the Department of Transportation, funded by gas tax revenue. Ogden said he thinks that once building costs are paid due, the tolls should go away. "What we have in this state right now is perpetual tolling," said Ogden. "Once the system is complete and paid for, people shouldn't have to pay the toll."

The committee also looked at a bill that would set new criteria for how state transportation dollars are distributed regionally. Bill sponsor Plano Senator Florence Shapiro said the current funding allocation system doesn't recognize the reality of transportation and congestion problems in Texas. "Urban congestion needs and rural statewide connectivity needs should not have to compete for the same revenue source because they have vastly different needs," she said.

Under current law, the state Transportation Commission decides how to spend highway money, but Shapiro said neither the Legislature nor the general public has a clear understanding of the standards the Commission uses to distribute these dollars. Her bill, SB 161, would require the Commission to draft new state planning rules. It would also divide current transportation funds into rural and urban pools, with each pool having different standards for allocation, based on the different needs of rural and urban planning. "We're trying to 'fair up' the system," she said.

Both bills remain pending before the committee.

Senator Royce West of Dallas
Senator Royce West of Dallas lays out the reasons school districts and teachers need more time to decide on contract renewals. SB 912 was authored by West and Senators Florence Shapiro of Plano, Robert Duncan of Lubbock, and Wendy Davis of Ft. Worth.

In floor action Wednesday, the Senate passed a bill that would give school districts and teachers more flexibility in appealing and ruling on proposed layoffs. With the budget picture far from clear, and district officials holding their breath as they wait to see how cuts to the budget will affect public education, it is not known how many, if any, teachers will be laid off to cover shortfalls. Current law requires that a district give teachers notice that their contract will not be renewed 45 days before the end of the school year, a date which falls in the middle of April for most districts. Since the final budget picture will not emerge until late in the session, districts won't know how many layoffs are needed.

SB 912 seeks to give more flexibility to this process by doubling the time a teacher has to request a hearing regarding their contract, from 15 to 30 days. This will give both teachers and administrators more time to see how the budget will shake out. A district that might anticipate layoffs in April might find out by May it can layoff fewer people. By extending the hearing process, it is hoped that districts will be able to make clearer decisions regarding layoffs in that time, and perhaps renew the contracts of some teachers that received a non-renewal notice in April.

Dallas Senator Royce West, one of the bill's authors, said it is critical that this bill move through the process quickly. "It's so important that we get this out and try to get this through the house and to the governor's desk by April, because in April they have to make those decisions," he said. This bill now heads to the House for consideration.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 14 at 1:30 p.m.


Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.

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