November 5, 2013
For Immediate Release
CONTACT: JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director, Grassroots America, 903-360-2858
Smith County Commissioners Court Set to Drain Local Taxes
for State Highway Toll Road Project
Grassroots America launches county petition to save county roads:
“We Need Local Tax Dollars for Bad County Roads!”
Tyler – Today, as expected, the Smith County Commissioners Court took a wrong turn. The Court took the first step toward draining local property taxes away from local needs to a state toll road project by setting the statutorily required public hearing on the proposed Transportation Reinvestment Zone (TRZ) for 9:30 AM on Friday, November 15.
In response, Grassroots America launched an on-line petition to help Smith County residents send a message to keep local taxes for county roads and bridges – not for a state highway toll project.
Remarking on the time set for the public hearing, Grassroots America’s JoAnn Fleming said, “The Commissioners Court seems to be in a big hurry to get this done. If they believe local property taxes should be siphoned off for a state project, they should hold evening hearings around the county and a Saturday hearing downtown so that people who work during the day or work outside the county have an opportunity to attend.”
Voters defeated the concept of Transportation Reinvestment Zones in a 2011 state constitutional amendment election (Prop 4). The recent 83rd Texas legislature passed TRZs, which Grassroots America and other Texas liberty groups opposed during the legislative session.
Fleming: “TRZs are a way for state officials to punt on their responsibility to build and maintain state highways and dodge the hard – but doable – work of getting the state of Texas back to its core responsibility of building and maintaining state highways. Instead, the state spends millions on corporate welfare and other items clearly outside the core constitutional function of state government. They have pushed their responsibility down to the local level – just like an unfunded state mandate – and our Commissioners Court seems to think that is just fine. By using appraisal increases to pay for state toll road projects, it takes that revenue away from the needs of county roads. So, a move like this could well set us up for further property tax increases in order to make up for the taxes they want to divert to a state transportation project. And with a toll road – local taxpayers who use the road will pay for it three ways with the gas tax, property tax, and by paying a toll to drive on it!”
Grassroots America has called on the Smith County Commissioners Court for five years to put together a long-range comprehensive master business plan for county government, which would include a rural transportation plan setting priorities in road reconstruction to better serve the county’s increased population density. Pursuant to documents received from a public information request, Fleming says there were no plans turned over and not even an engineering report that graded the miles of road in need of widening, major repairs, reconstruction or a surface upgrade.
“We did, however, receive a thumb drive with hundreds of pages of documents for a downtown multi-modal facility (See here http://www.netrma.org/smith-county-multi-modal-facility).” Fleming added, “The documents even included future plans for a light rail project between Troup and Swan! Therefore, we have dubbed this project The Smith County Boondoggle. Downtown Tyler is already getting a parking garage with the City of Tyler’s project. The last thing county government needs is to duplicate the City’s effort and spend millions of dollars on an absurd project such as this. We want them to focus on county roads and bridges. The taxpayers deserve that.”
Fleming added, “We have no problem with Loop 49. I have a toll tag on my truck, but the State needs to fund that project – not our local property taxes. We need local money for county roads.”
The Grassroots America petition is located on the home page of the organization’s website www.GAWTP.com. The petition reads:
“Smith County taxpayers (those living in the cities are included) have already paid almost $4 million to the state for Toll Loop 49 (source: documents from the Smith County Auditor):
• $1.475 million local property taxes for right-of-way purchases
• $2.519 million for Toll Loop 49 construction
That’s right! $3.994 million in your local property taxes were sent to the state to help fund state highway project Loop 49, which opened as a two-lane toll road. Our county roads, bridges, and drainage systems have never recovered. Now the Texas Dept. of Transportation is back recommending the Commissioners Court send them more! They want our local property taxes to leverage more debt for the state to complete this highway!
On June 22, 2013, an Austin-based attorney/lobbyist and TxDOT officials testified before the Smith County Commissioners Court that money captured by a transportation reinvestment zone (TRZ) could be used for potential infrastructure projects ranging from Toll 49 to parking garages, passenger and freight rail, intermodal hubs for transit systems, airports, and even pedestrian and bicycle paths.
The State of Texas now leads the nation in road debt. Our property taxes shouldn’t be on the hook for a state highway project – especially when the state budget continues to fund Hollywood subsidies, corporate welfare, and Formula One racetracks!
Sign the petition to tell the County Judge and Commissioners that it’s time to make our county roads, bridges and drainage systems the TOP priority! Tell them NO local property and sales taxes for Toll Loop 49!