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Who Lost GOP Debate? Gas-Taxers

Clearly, everyone is convinced their candidate won the Friday night Belo debate of Republican gubernatorial candidates. Sure, whatever. In reality, there was one clear loser: the gas-tax lobby.

The gas-tax lobby is comprised of the editorial boards of the two Metroplex daily papers, local government officials eager for more revenues to waste, and a host of contractors who see a full-funding scheme for their businesses. They lobbied the Legislature aggressively last Session, and lost big.

After the Belo debate, all three candidates have now clearly declared their opposition to raising taxes to pay for more spending. All three have said (in essence) transportation spending needs to be better prioritized, more transparent and more focused.

Whatever any of them considered before, Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina are on the same page as taxpayers. All know that raising taxes is fully off the table. Transportation policies needs to be radically reformed, diversions ended, transparency imposed and accountability set before new/expanded revenue streams are considered.

What wasn’t said, but implied because of the policies underlying the questions, is that this thinking has to go where the gas-taxers haven’t wanted anyone to tread: the local entities.

We know about the TxDOT problems because the transparency efforts of 2007. Those must be addressed. But still obscured is the spending done in local governments, because they have rejected calls for budget transparency. (Comptroller Combs has said 94% of Texas local governments refused free help to go transparent.)

The gas-taxers want local government to get to hike what you pay at the pump so they can build monuments to patronage in the form of boondoggles that don’t actually move people.

Light-rail is fun at Disney, but it doesn’t actually relieve congestion. And commuter-rail might sound romantic if you live in hyper-dense Paris, but doesn’t really get people around wide-open Texas in anything like a cost-effective manner.

The problems of congestion and mobility are real. The gas-tax lobby has been pushing solutions that are expensively unreal.

One of the first questions put to Sen. Hutchison was, basically, on gas taxes. The questionner — Wayne Slater of the aforementioned gas-tax supporting Dallas Morning News — made the illogical presumption that the only way to deal with transportation woes was with more money. Sen. Hutchison schooled him well enough.

State Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) and State Rep. Vicki Truitt (R-Southlake) must have particularly felt the sting. They led the charge for reckless policies last Session that all three of their party’s candidates have rejected as an option for 2011.

Whichever of the three (Perry, Hutchison or Medina) is sworn in as governor of Texas in January 2011, he or she will have a clear mandate to oppose the gas-tax lobby, and instead pursue real mobility solutions.

Taxpayers won.

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Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael is the CEO of Empower Texans. A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president, and an Eagle Scout, Sullivan is married with three children. He divides his time between the Metroplex, the rest of Texas, and Austin.

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