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And the toll road confrontation is on

HB1892, the much-ballyhooed two year toll road moratorium, has passed the Senate and is headed back to the House for final passage before going to Governor Perry and a potential veto.

The state Senate voted 27-4 on a transportation bill that includes a two-year moratorium, opposed by Perry, on private company toll roads and other highway-building restrictions, which could trigger his veto.

If so, lawmakers are ready to try to override his veto in a power battle not seen since 1990, when the Legislature failed to override a Gov. Bill Clements veto of a school finance bill.

“Unfortunately, there is a fundamental disagreement between the Legislature and the governor about the future transportation policy of our state,” Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said. “This bill is the last chance we have to address that.”

Once the House passes the Senate’s bill, which is expected early next week, Perry said he would look at it but added that he opposes any effort that “shuts down road construction, kills jobs, harms air quality, prevents access to federal highway dollars and creates an environment within local government that is ripe for political corruption.”

[…]

Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, author of the House version, said he would accept changes to his bill. Smith wants to send the bill to Perry next week, giving lawmakers time to try to override a veto before the Legislature adjourns May 28.

Both Smith and Williams expressed hope Perry would not veto the bill.

“Obviously, it’s a very popular piece of legislation from the Legislature that will be going over there,” Smith said.

[…]

[M]ost legislators have soured on the state’s transportation department and Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor plan that relies heavily on private company toll roads and long-term contracts involving hundreds of billions of dollars in profit for those companies.

“Texans must decide if roads should be built for the benefit of taxpayers or private shareholders,” said Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, a former state transportation commissioner and the main architect for the moratorium.

“This is a major victory in our efforts to protect Texans from private toll road deals that would hamstring our transportation system for the next half-century,” Nichols said. “A two-year moratorium will give an appropriate cooling-down time to evaluate the terms of these contracts before they cost Texans billions in penalties.”

I need to put in a call to Sen. Nichols’ office and ask him a few questions about this. I realize that the TTC was more Ric Williamson’s baby than anything else, but his transformation into the leasing critic of this project (yes, more so than Sen. Carona at this point) is really amazing and (to me, anyway) unexpected. You just never know, I guess.

Anyway, we’ll see what Perry does, and if he warms up with an HPV veto first or lets that one slide by. Vince has Perry’s statement, Eye on Williamson notes a federal connection, and the Observer comments on Sen. Patrick’s statements regarding TxDOT. Stay tuned.

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