There’s a good reason voters don’t trust some public officials. They bend the rules to do things they said they wouldn’t do.
We don’t know if Texas Department of Transportation staffers realized the perception they were creating when they proposed a sly way of using restricted money to pay for tolled lanes.
We’re glad transportation commissioners have put the idea on hold, because the whole ordeal felt like a sleight of hand.
At issue is how state transportation staff proposed using highway funding approved by Texas voters in 2014 and 2015.
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The passage of Propositions 1 and 7 shifted some tax money into a fund for road building, but those dollars are constitutionally prohibited from being used for toll lanes.
That promise, not to finance toll roads with the new funding, is one of the reasons voters said yes.
In this case it appeared transportation staffers were circumventing that promise because they planned to use the restricted money for projects that include managed toll lanes.
They would get around the constitutional limitations by saying a different pot of money was paying for the toll lanes, even though they would sit next to non-tolled lanes paid for with the voter-approved money.
The governor, lieutenant governor, legislators and some citizen groups cried foul.
Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton whether the funding plan is legal.
Texas Transportation Commissioner Victor Vandergriff from Arlington says he’s concerned the commingling of dollars on these projects isn’t what voters had envisioned so applying the brakes was the right thing to do.
“We need to do a ‘better job talking with the public and making sure they’re on board.’ ”
Vandergriff says the financing option will be off the table when commissioners support new road projects in December. That could eventually affect plans for managed lanes to relieve congestion along Interstate 30 from downtown Fort Worth to Arlington near North Cooper Street.
But he says this type of financing will be considered again next year, because transportation needs in our growing state have outstripped available dollars. Tolls can be attractive because they generate revenue.
We do not oppose toll roads. North Texas drivers vote every day with their pocketbooks when they drive through toll gates across our region.
What we do oppose is not coming clean with taxpayers about how their money will be spent.
Vandergriff says taxpayers will support tolled lanes if they believe the state has “maximized” the use of available dollars.
We’re asking TxDOT to have an open conversation with taxpayers and show us how that’s being done. Explain how you want to pay for tolled lanes and why.
Trying to push through creative financing that appears to break a promise is a violation of the public’s trust.