Proposition 1 sets up fund for relocation of rail lines
By CLAY ROBISON Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
NOV. 8 ELECTIONS
• Proposition 2: House Joint Resolution 6 would provide that marriage in Texas is solely the union of a man and woman, and that the state
and its political subdivisions could not create or recognize any legal status identical to or similar to marriage, including
such legal status relationships created outside of Texas. • November ballot: The nine proposed constitutional amendements in Texas. En espaņol • Amendment analysis: By Texas Legislative Council. • Texas Constitution: As of November 2003. • Amendments since 1876: To the Texas Constitution.
AUSTIN - The first of nine state constitutional amendments proposed on the Nov. 8 ballot
would establish a fund through which taxpayers would help pay for relocating freight rail lines from congested urban areas.
Like most of the ballot proposals, except for the ban on same-sex marriages, Proposition 1 has received little attention.
But it is beginning to spark some debate and, depending on how it fares at the polls, could become an issue in the March Republican
Proposition 1 supporters, including Gov. Rick Perry, think the new fund would be an important step toward easing traffic
congestion and improving public safety in Texas' cities.
Opponents, who include Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the governor's GOP primary challenger, contend the proposal
represents, more than anything else, an expensive gift of tax dollars for railroad companies, whose political arms have been
generous contributors to Perry, Strayhorn and other state officials.
Proposition 1 would amend the Texas Constitution to authorize the creation of the Texas Rail Relocation and
Improvement Fund in the state treasury. The Texas Transportation Commission would administer the fund and could issue
bonds pledged against it.
The proposal includes no funding, and it doesn't specify how much should be set aside for the effort.
If voters approve the amendment, the Legislature would have to provide initial
funding in 2007.
The fund could be used to relocate or improve private or publicly owned rail facilities to relieve congestion on highways,
improve public safety or air quality, or expand economic opportunity.
Safer crossings sought
Earlier this year, Perry signed separate agreements with Union Pacific Railroad and the BNSF
Railway Co., pledging the railroads' and the state's cooperation in moving freight rail out of densely populated urban areas.
The governor said the initiative would lead to safer rail crossings, less hazardous cargo carried through populated areas
and faster movement of products to market because freight trains no longer would have to slow down in congested areas.
More than 5,500 people have been killed or injured in vehicle-train collisions in Texas since 1984, Perry said.
Supporters of the amendment also say old freight lines could be upgraded for urban commuter trains.
The proposed relocations tie into the Tran-Texas Corridor concept, Perry's long-range proposal for a dedicated
transportation network stretching across Texas.
Perry's agreements with the railroads, however, didn't say how the relocations, which could cost untold millions of dollars,
would be paid for, except that the agreement with Union Pacific ruled out additional taxes or fees on the railroad industry.
Provisions for funding
Proposition 1 would provide a funding source, although Perry spokesman Robert Black emphasized,
"I don't think it was ever determined for the state to do (pay for) all of it."
Union Pacific spokesman Joe Arbona said the railroad's financial contribution to rail relocations would depend on the project.
"If it's something that would be beneficial to the railroad, we would pay for that part that's beneficial to us," he said.
Union Pacific's political action committee donated more than $300,000 to Texas political candidates and parties
during the 2004 election cycle. That included $25,000 to Perry, $50,000 to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and $15,000 to Strayhorn,
who weren't up for election then, and $20,000 to House Speaker Tom Craddick, who was.
Texas political contributions by BNSF's political action committee totaled about $80,000 during the 2004 cycle, mostly
to parties and committees.
Dewhurst received $10,000 from the PAC.
There were no donations to Perry, Craddick or Strayhorn.
Strayhorn hasn't made an issue of Proposition 1, but spokesman Mark Sanders said the comptroller will vote against
it because "she believes that taxpayers should not have to pay to subsidize private industry."
Source of opposition
Much of the opposition to Proposition 1 is being drummed up by Texas Toll Party,
a group that formed in Austin initially to fight the conversion of tax-financed highways to toll roads. The group hasn't endorsed
anyone in the governor's race yet, but it has found common ground with Strayhorn in opposing Perry's support of toll roads
and now in opposition to the rail proposal.
Sal Costello, the group's founder, called the amendment an "open-ended corporate subsidy scheme — a blank check."
"That means increased taxes somewhere down the line," he said. "Perry's folks probably don't know (how much it will
cost), and they don't care. They will send us the bill."
Spokesman Frank Michel said Houston Mayor Bill White is concerned about traffic congestion and safety issues involved with
a large number of rail crossings, but he said the city hasn't formally taken a position on the amendment.
San Antonio residents last year saw the horrors of trains crashing, spewing poison, spilling fuel and killing
Five people died and 50 were injured in incidents including the deadliest chemical accident on the rails
in more than a decade. Still, the city was lucky — densely populated areas were spared a major disaster.
Activists cried for reforms, and local leaders pressured Union Pacific to improve safety and scrambled to
come up with ways to reroute trains out of the inner city.
Now voters will decide whether to approve a new funding option.
Proposition 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot would let the state sell bonds to acquire land for freight and passenger
rail and help build and improve tracks.
"This is right in line with what we've been saying," said Genaro Rendon, co-director of the Southwest Workers'
Union. "It's good to see that there's movement forward."
But others, especially those stung by the state's push to partner with companies to build toll roads, want to put
the brakes on what they say could end up becoming another scheme to line the pockets of private industry.
"It's basically a blank check and an open-ended tax subsidy for private rail corporations," said Terri Hall of Texas
Toll Party — San Antonio.
If voters approve the constitutional amendment, the Legislature would still have to create a
fund to leverage bonds. Estimates show that $100 million a year for 20 years could generate $1 billion upfront for projects.
Building railroad tracks around San Antonio could cost more than $1 billion and take a decade or more, officials
Money could be used to get truck freight off highways, reroute trains to rural areas, reduce air pollution
and create economic opportunities. That includes getting Union Pacific through trains off the Interstate 35 corridor from
San Antonio to Austin and upgrading old tracks for commuter rail.
"It gives us some opportunities to solve some huge transportation problems down the road if we're successful
with this," Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said.
Efforts could tie in with the Trans Texas Corridor, a 4,000-mile network of toll roads, rail lines and utility lines
to be built across the state over 50 years. State officials signed a contract earlier this year with a private consortium
to develop plans for the segment east of I-35.
Critics point out that borrowing does not produce new money — it just delays the payments. And debt service
on the rail bonds could cost the state $87.5 million a year.
"That's something that the railroads can pay for by themselves," said Mark Sanders, spokesman for state Comptroller
Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is challenging Gov. Rick Perry in the GOP primary.
In March, Perry announced historic pacts with UP and Burlington Northern Santa Fe that say public and private
funds spent for railroad tracks should match, respectively, public and private benefits.
UP rolls up to 70 trains a day through San Antonio and is having a hard time keeping up with growing freight
demand, officials say. New tracks east of I-35 would get more cargo moving faster while avoiding choke points here and in
Then UP could compete better with trucks using I-35, said Bruce Flohr, a railroad consultant and chairman
of the Bexar County Rail District. Each rail car can handle three to four truckloads, he said.
On Proposition 9 ___________________________________________
Voters will decide toll board
Web Posted: 10/19/2005 12:00 AM CDT
Patrick Driscoll Express-News Staff Writer
Proposition 9 on the Nov. 8 ballot is simple enough on the surface, but a roiling debate over the state's
plunge into toll roads could set this milquetoast on fire.
Regional mobility authorities are essentially local toll-road agencies that — per state policy — are
tolling new highway lanes wherever possible.
Voters will consider whether to extend terms of board members, including those with the Alamo Regional Mobility
Authority in San Antonio, from two years to six years.
The Legislature tried to do that in 2003. But a Travis County district judge ruled a few months ago that
the new law violates a constitutional provision that limits terms of local boards to two years.
In the Legislature's regular session earlier this year, lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment that
would let voters decide the issue.
Supporters say the six-year terms, which would be staggered, would guarantee a long learning curve needed
for complex projects that take years to implement. And toll-road investors will feel more comfortable knowing that decision
makers will hang around for a while.
In a word, it comes down to predictability, said Tom Griebel, director of the mobility authority in San Antonio.
"It's essential," he said. "A six-year term for a board would give it a lot of continuity and stability."
Opponents say longer terms would make what's already a problem even worse.
Mobility authority boards are appointed, not elected, and therefore not directly accountable to voters. Yet these
authorities can use gas taxes and public rights of way to help build tollways, replace existing non-tolled highways with frontage
roads and set toll fees.
Boards are accountable to the governor, who appoints the chairmen, and also county commissioners, who appoint
the rest of the members. Longer terms would make them less accountable to those elected officials, critics argue.
"We need more accountability, not less," said Sal Costello of People for Efficient Transportation.
PET filed a lawsuit to challenge the 2003 law that attempted to create six-year terms, which led to this
A Texas comptroller report earlier this year recommended four-year terms, to match the terms of elected officials
making the board appointments.