The System of Legal plunder is alive and well in Texas
A system of legal plunder continues to be alive and well in Texas. Excessive debt, tolls, and managed lanes are nothing more than legal plunder by semi-bureaucrats in quasi-governmental organizations.
Throughout Texas a battle looms between the politicians who are accustomed to advancing projects through a system of “legal plunder” and the liberty minded leaders who promote limited government, fiscal restraint, and individual liberty at all levels of government. Political economist Frederic Bastiat described legal plunder as a law that “takes from some persons what belongs to them and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong.” Bastiat advised such actions, much less such laws, should be abolished without delay, because if they are allowed to remain, this plundering would “spread, multiply, and develop into a system.” Unfortunately, his theory was correct. Throughout the state of Texas, we see local governments using a system of legal plunder to over burden taxpayers.
Despite the fact that $25 million transportation dollars were added to the state’s budget and that anti-toll candidates swept key races in Texas in the 2014 general election, this system of “legal plunder” is still very much alive. While senate and house members fight the onslaught of new toll-roads and wasteful spending of state money, local governments are granting authority to these semi-bureaucratic quasi-governmental organizations to take actions that are opposed to the people’s will and drive up debt.
These organizations are building toll roads and managed lanes that provide highways affordable only to the wealthy and require urban residents to pay for toll roads while rural residents are provided roads that have no tolls. Counties are allowed to retain the excess revenue generated from individual managed toll-lanes. Even local governments and transportation authorities are given the right to invest in comprehensive development agreements to fund facilities and generate local revenue. In addition, the use of regionally managed toll lanes to finance a variety of different projects on the local level has become very popular.
In many cases, local governments are using state dollars intended to relieve roadway congestion on beautification projects and bike lanes that benefit a limited number of voters. In other cases, these comprehensive development agreements allow toll-road abuse because the state guarantees these private companies a profit to operate our “public” toll-roads. I believe if they undertake the contract and benefit from the profits they should also take on the risk of failure, like every other free enterprise business in the state. Even worse are the situations in which regional mobility authorities, instead of reducing the financial impact to the taxpayer whose tax dollars funded the project, divert the proceeds from that project to fund another project, spend the proceeds on special local projects such as light rail, bike trails and benches, or channel the proceeds to other local government slush funds.
I believe that projects funded by the state and unrestricted federal highway funds must be limited to projects that actually ease roadway congestion. Wasteful projects that take funding away from reducing traffic congestion must be stopped. If Austin or any other community in the state wants to encourage toll-road cronyism, passenger trains, beautification projects, bike paths, and other non-essential projects in their community, local voters should be given the choice of using local funds for the projects and not be granted access to state and unrestricted federal highway funds for those projects.
This uncontrolled practice of legal plundering is the reason I sponsored HB 2612 requiring TxDOT to complete a study by September 1, 2016, that would identify the amount of debt service on bonds issued for each toll project in the state, identify bonds that would be appropriate for accelerated or complete lump sum payment of debt service, and propose a plan to eliminate all toll-roads, excluding those constructed, operated, and maintained with proceeds from the issuance of bonds by a toll project entity other than TxDOT. That bill was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott.
I will work to continue the process of eliminating excessive debt, tolls, and managed lanes in the next legislative session.