Anti-toll group releases Report Card for 85th legislature
Friendly legislators swell to 57%, compared to 13% in 2011 

(Austin, TX, September 5, 2017) With voters overwhelmingly embracing a move away from toll roads when they elected Greg Abbott as Texas Governor, many voters want to know how their elected leaders did in delivering on their promises. Anti-toll and property rights watchdog group Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) just released its Report Card from the 85th Legislature, and the results are staggering. When compared to TURF's first Report Card published in 2011, anti-toll lawmakers earning an 'A' or 'B' skyrocketed from just 13% in 2011 up to 57% in 2017.

In 2015, just nine lawmakers achieved the distinction of earning an A+. Today, a whopping 56 state legislators earned a perfect score.

"We knew Texans were getting fed-up with toll roads, but this year's Report Card reveals the overwhelming anti-toll sentiment in the Texas legislature. Having this many anti-toll champions in the legislature reveals a Texas-sized shift away from tolls compared to prior legislatures," related Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

"However, there's lots more work to be done and many lawmakers have a lot of room for improvement. Most anti-toll and property rights bills were watered down or never got a hearing. That's got to change in order to protect taxpayers from rampant double and triple taxation. In fact, the only reason we even have the record votes to reflect the anti-toll sentiment among lawmakers is due to passage of the TxDOT sunset bill that had to pass."

Over 35 anti-toll bills were filed. Combined with property rights legislation, the total came to 56. TURF turned many of its stalled bills into amendments to the Texas Department of Transportation's (TxDOT) sunset bill, SB 312. TURF won all but two battles to get their amendments onto the bill, with seven of nine passing in addition to fending off an attempt to strip one of them later on in a motion to reconsider, which failed by a greater margin than originally approved the measure.

House leader, Speaker Joe Straus, went from a 'C' in 2015 to an 'F,' largely due to Straus ousting a friendly committee chair, Rep. Joe Pickett (D - El Paso), and replacing him with a pro-toll chair, Rep. Geanie Morrison (R - Victoria). Morrison blocked all but one anti-toll bill, and the bill she heard, SB 399, was after it had already been attached to SB 312.  

A total of seven bills and 5 amendments were used to determine the grades. Most related to tolling and transportation, but two bills and one amendment related to property rights. Some were only relevant in one chamber. TURF lists the complete methodology and specific legislation at the end of the Report Card.

"With campaign season in full swing in many areas of the state, it's vital for voters to know how their representatives voted while in office so they can hold them accountable," notes Hall. "Now's the time to compare notes to what was promised and what was actually delivered."

TURF's top priorities included:

* Stopping the flow of public money to toll roads (especially gasoline taxes - SJR 43/SB 1182, SB 1172, HB 122 by Huffines, Nichols, Pickett).
* Taking the tolls off the road when they're paid for (SB 485/HB 1734/HB 3725 - by Kolkhorst, Shaheen, Sanford).
* Removing loopholes that allow freeway lanes and/or HOV lanes to be converted to toll or lanes (HB 1835/SB 1238/SB 937 by Sanford, Taylor, V., Kolkhorst).
* Prohibit the authorization of more public private partnership toll roads.

TURF achieved some version of four out of four of their top priorities, despite the hurdles put up by leadership.

With passage of SB 312:
1) Toll agencies will have to repay any state funds used to build toll roads (however exceptions were put into law in conference committee).
2) Tolls will be removed from two Texas toll roads (one in Laredo and one in El Paso), setting a critical precedent to take tolls off the road when it's paid for.
3) Free lanes and HOV lanes cannot be converted into toll lanes (however exceptions were put into law in conference committee).
4) HB 2861 to give private toll operators exclusive authority over 19 Texas highways to extract the highest possible toll using public private partnership contracts failed to pass.

For a complete list of TURF's legislative priorities and bills filed, go here.  

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