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Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday that he supports the Rail North Texas plan that would give North Texas counties the right to hold elections to raise perhaps billions of dollars over the next 15 years to pay for new suburban rail lines and other projects.
"I am a very strong proponent of having the local officials make those decisions," Perry said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. "If the solution is to be found for that type of transit, it is going to be found at the local level, with a regional approach."
While noting that he generally opposes higher taxes, he said that wouldn't keep him from signing a bill giving local counties the right to raise local taxes or fees for rail.
"I don't have an entrenched opposition that would deny people at the local level the right to make this decision," he said.
In the hour-long interview Tuesday, Perry, who will deliver his State of the State address Jan. 28, also said he will urge the Texas Legislature to increase state transportation funding by as much as $750 million a year.
The rail plan has been endorsed by the Regional Transportation Council and dozens of local cities, including the Dallas City Council. It would allow counties to hold elections to impose new fees and taxes to pay for up to 212 miles of rail connecting suburbs. In cities where taxpayers already support rail through membership in DART or Fort Worth's transit agency, some of those new funds could be used for other transportation needs.
The governor's vote of confidence for the bill, which could be changed significantly by lawmakers, comes as the RTC is trying to line up support among members of the Legislature from North Texas.
If passed, the bill would give each county the option of imposing a mix of new fees and taxes – including higher property tax rates, a new $150 vehicle registration fee, a new one-time fee for new residents, or a combination of several new sources of revenue. Voters in each county would have to approve the new fees or taxes before they could take effect.
In calling for up to $750 million in additional annual funding for TxDOT?, Perry is proposing a complete halt to the use of motor-fuels taxes for purposes other than transportation. Currently, lawmakers divert about $1.5 billion in gas taxes every two years to pay for the Department of Public Safety and other needs.
"You prioritize what's important to you," Perry said. "I don't know if you cut something or not, but you go find the money. I know we are going to have a tight budget, but you prioritize. What's more important – building transportation infrastructure in your area, or is some other thing more important?"
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and other legislative leaders have already agreed to reduce the so-called diversions from the gas-tax account but have said they will probably do so over several years given the slowing Texas economy. On Tuesday, Dewhurst filed a budget bill that would restore just $150 million a year in funding now diverted to other uses.
When asked if he is calling for an end to all diversions, Perry said Tuesday: "I am. That's our position, all of it."
There is no such thing as a temporary tax or a tax that only goes to something you approve of at the time.
A $150 car registration tax for rail? Now THAT is California.
I remember when governor Gray Davis tripled the car registration in California because of a huge budget deficit (they still haven't learned) six years ago. He was recalled. Perry is thinking that if they implement this massive tax at the local level, he won't be held accountable. He's wrong. The public isn't politically savvy enough to lay blame where it is warranted. Ask Bush.
BTW, if they had tripled the car registration in 2003, my 2001 Honda Odyssey's registration would have gone to $1,500, as if $500 wasn't enough, on top of the state income tax and utility taxes and sales tax and property tax. That's California. That's where we are headed.
Saying that it's fair to put a new tax on the ballot and let voters decide is incredibly misleading and cowardly on the part of the politicians who run on fiscal conservatism. It's not fair because labor unions and entities that rake in millions if a new tax is approved spend millions on advertising. The tax revolt organizations have a fraction of the budget and can't compete.
And ballot initiatives that call for a new tax are always written in a misleading way and without all of the information.
For example, a vote for an $80 million performing arts theatre will only cite the construction costs but fails to inform the public that they will be responsible for $1 million per year in operational deficits.
A vote for DART will mention a penny but won't say it's projected to be $60 million dollars and 30% of the city's operational budget.
Finally, before a ballot initiative is even put on the ballot, the proponents spend a lot of dough on polling to see which wording for the ballot gets them the result they want and they even figure out of the initiative would even pass before putting it on the ballot.
I did work for one firm that does this polling in California. They do a lot of work for governments and school districts. So, for example, when a school district wants to create a bond, they poll and find out that the public reacts more to the wording about funding for safety versus funding for class size reduction. So they word the bond to say they need the funds for safety.
The point here is these ballot initiatives for tax increases are a total sham and take accountability away from our elected officials who get elected by saying "no new taxes", like Perry. What a coward.
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