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Pull the plug on RMA waste, fraud, & abuse

TURF’s statement to the San Antonio City Council

(San Antonio, TX – August 4, 2011) If there’s one thing the taxpayers are tired of, its bailouts. Extending the RMA’s loan rather than having them default is a bailout of the RMA, putting it on another year of life support and giving them permission to blow through millions more in taxpayer money. The RMA is $51 million in the hole and their $1.2 million a year in salaries is a colossal waste of money. The Executive Director makes more per year than the county commissioners that created this agency.

Keeping the RMA alive guarantees tolls will be charged to drive on our existing roads (281, all of Loop 1604, I-35, I-10…a total of 57 projects already on the MPO’s books), since the RMA’s only way to pay this loan back is tolls. Do you or I get spared from going into default if we can’t pay our debts? No. It’s time to cut our losses and get rid of ’em. No matter what, it’s we the taxpayers who have to repay the RMA’s debt, better they go bankrupt now than give them further opportunity to sink us even further into debt.

The Alamo RMA touts that they’ve built non-toll projects, yet the taxpayers already pay TxDOT to build non-toll roads. The cost to fix 281 went from a NON-TOLL plan of $100 million in 2004 dollars to a $500 million TOLL road when the RMA took control in 2007 using design build contracts that eliminate competitive bidding and create a good ol’ boy system rife with abuses.

Because the RMA has to pay TxDOT for right of way and because it skims off “management fees” (as it did building the non-toll interchange), at a minimum, it’s $126 million more to have the RMA build 281 than if TxDOT did the project non-toll. So when the RMA does projects, whether tolled or not, taxpayers pay TWICE for the bureaucracy.

Speaking of abuses, the RMA has commit many others. Its ad campaigns, push polls, and high-priced lobbyists to lobby lawmakers for the authority to own these roads in perpetuity and charge us tolls in perpetuity, without our consent, are all paid for with state funds, which violates the law. Just weeks ago it hired a contractor with a criminal history, First Southwest, that was involved in bid-rigging for which a federal judge required $51 million in damages be paid to the victims, largely municipalities where it swindled taxpayers, as well as hospitals and non-profits.

Allen Clemson, the North Texas Tollway Authority’s new executive director, faces dismissal over challenging the agency’s tendency to hire only from a handful of “legacy consultants” who have monopolized the contracts at the authority. The same is occurring with RMAs across the state who use the same consultants, HNTB and Locke, Lord, Bissell, and Liddell, who have hold a virtual monopoly over all 8 RMAs, sure to cost taxpayers more. Again, good ol’ boys rule the day with these toll authorities.

And now, we understand, the RMA is going to lease office space from their attorney’s brother. We can do better than this. You have a fiduciary duty to protect the public from such brazen corruption.

While the Alamo RMA has lobbied you with promises of surplus revenue from toll roads to fund all your transportation dreams (mass transit, light rail, etc.), reality shows a different picture. There’s the Central Texas turnpike system’s $100 million taxpayer BAILOUT, the North Texas system that’s $100 million in the hole even with a 32% rate hike, and the high profile South Bay Expressway bankruptcy that’s requiring two taxpayer bailouts, both on the federal and local levels.

Rick Perry’s grand toll road experiment is a colossal failure of public policy, it’s unsustainable, and it’s time to pull the plug on the toll road fairy that over-promises and under-delivers.

A litany of bad financial decisions will follow the decision to toll San Antonio roads if we’re forced down this path. Where will the money come from locally to cover the debt on these roads when the traffic doesn’t show up? Local government can’t dip into the state’s gas taxes to plug its hole as TxDOT did. Property tax increases, sales tax increases? Will those tax increases be any more popular with voters than tolls? No way!

The city along with the Commissioners Court can make their wishes known in no uncertain terms via passage of a resolution to dissolve the Alamo RMA and to direct the Transportation Commission to do the same.

It’s real hard for the Transportation Commission to claim RMAs are ‘locally controlled’ if it ignores the wishes of those who appoint the board members and the Commissioners Court that petitioned to create them in the first place.

It’s time to change course. This community does NOT want to pay toll taxes to get to work, especially when their paychecks keep shrinking. What will your legacy be? Allowing this sort of gluttony and abuse to continue on your watch, or will you be hailed as heroes who rescued working families from oppressive taxation just to get to work? Getting rid of an UN-elected, wasteful, duplicative government bureaucracy that has the power to levy unlimited toll taxes in perpetuity is in the public’s best interest. We’re counting on you. Please, abolish the RMA.

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