ABC TV in Houston hits toller with charge of reneging on de-toll CRITIQUE/ADDITION
In Houston the ABC franchise KTRK13 has a program called 13 Undercover Investigations with a chatty, gravelly-voiced reporter Wayne Dolcefino who this week did a silly hit job on Harris County tollers in Houston. Dolcefino's 13 Undercover crew found its way into the archives of the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) and there they came up with an old brochure from the early 1980s on the Hardy Toll Road and the Sam Houston Tollway then in development.
The brochure said among much else: "When both roads combined have covered their costs, the roads will become free public highways."
That was the 'gotcha' evidence for a theme to appeal to the perpetually indignant - those bums reneged on their promise.
Dolcefino then turned on a parade of people of whom he asked patsy questions to elicit the indignant response.
Dolcefino: "You feel scammed?" to toll road driver David Sartis.
Sartis: "Oh sure, of course."
Dolcefino: "What'd you think would happen when we paid the roads off?"
Sartis: "Well, you would think they'd take the toll booths away, right?"
Another indignant exchange:
Dolcefino to a driver named Steve Malouf: "This stretch of the Sam Houston costs $72 million to build. You know how much you've paid in tolls? $865 million. Do you feel cheated?"
Malouf: "Very much so."
And Dolcefino's suggestion in summing up: "The next time a politician asks you to vote on something, you might want to get all the fine print in writing."
And that would help, Wayne?
Now of course HCTRA should never have said in a brochure that the roads would be made free when they were "paid for."
Roads being "paid for" is an absurdity.
As long as vehicles keep driving the roads and pounding the pavement and stressing the bridges and occasionally mangling guardrails and drivers throw trash, and as long as the sun keeps beating down and the cold freezes in cracks and expands and eventually crumbles concrete, and rain and the mists rust structures and winds stress signage and roadside grass grows and needs mowing…. the road costs continue.
The whole Dolcefino notion of a road being "paid for" at some finite point is absurd. Any road goes on costing indefinitely.
Second, by what right could elected officials in Harris County in the 1980s dictate the road pricing policies thirty years hence - now, when they are long since gone and other officials are responsible for meeting the needs of motorists?
It was easy for officials in the 1980s to say the roads would go free in the future. They can't be held accountable. They are gone. And they don't have to raise money for what drivers need now.
Third, why this Dolcefino fixation on tolls as solely justified to pay off old bonds?
Apartments don't go rent free when the landlord pays off his mortgages.
Apple doesn't give away iPhones when it has recouped its original investment in its mobile phone.
Tolls are a price drivers pay for making use of roadway, a scarce resource that took enterprise and investment to build and will take continued enterprise and expense to keep-up and to adapt to the changing needs of customers in the future. And regardless of its ownership a tollroad is a business which should offer a return on investment to those who risked and invested their money in it.
Fourth, if not tolls, Wayne, how would you fund the roads? Higher property taxes? A new county sales tax? An increased gasoline tax? We didn't hear you speak a word on that.
Wouldn't want to risk your popularity by addressing a real issue with real alternatives. Easier to court the favor of the perpetually indignant out there - those who want a free ride on other people's money.
This is a report that is so stupid, so redolent of cheap gotcha-journalism it makes you think ABC-TV should stick to entertainment, sports, celebrities and other trivia.
EXTRA: we've got the text of the bond proposition (link below) that was voted overwhelmingly (7 to 3 in favor) by Harris County voters in September 1983 and authorized the County to proceed with tollroads. There is no suggestion here that tolls would end when bonds were "paid off."
Thomas Sowell the great Hoover Institution commentator has some sage words for the Dolcefinoes of the media in a recent column.
Extended excerpts: "The fact that so many successful politicians are such shameless liars is not only a reflection on them, but a reflection on us. When people want the impossible, only liars can satisfy them, and only in the short run. The current outbreaks of riots in Europe show what happens when the truth catches up with both the politicians and the people in the long run.
"Among the biggest lies of the welfare states on both sides of the Atlantic is the notion that the government can supply people with things they want but cannot afford. Since the government gets its resources from the people, if the people as a whole cannot afford something, neither can the government.
"Nothing is easier for a politician than promising government benefits that cannot be delivered. Pensions such as Social Security are perfect for this role. The promises that are made are for money to be paid many years from now — and somebody else will be in power then, left with the job of figuring out what to say and do when the money runs out and the riots start.
"There are all sorts of ways of postponing the day of reckoning. The government can refuse to pay what it costs to get things done. Cutting what doctors are paid for treating Medicare patients is one obvious example. That of course leads some doctors to refuse to take on new Medicare patients. But it takes time for the full impact of this process to be felt — and elections are held in the short run. This is another growing problem that can be left for someone else to try to cope with in future years.
"Increasing amounts of paperwork for doctors in welfare states with government-run medical care, and reduced payments to those doctors, in order to stave off the day of bankruptcy, mean that the medical profession is likely to attract fewer of the brightest young people who have other occupations available to them — occupations that pay more money and have fewer hassles. But this too is a long-run problem — and elections are still held in the short run.
"Eventually, all these long-run problems can catch up with the wonderful-sounding lies that are the lifeblood of welfare-state politics. But there can be a lot of elections between now and eventually — and those who are good at political lies can win a lot of those elections.
"As the day of reckoning approaches, there are a number of ways of seeming to overcome the crisis. If the government is running out of money, it can print more money. That does not make the country any richer, but it quietly transfers part of the value of existing money from people’s savings and income to the government, whose newly printed money is worth just as much as the money that people worked for and saved.
"Printing more money means inflation — and inflation is a quiet lie, by which a government can keep its promises on paper, but with money worth much less than when the promises were made.
"Is it so surprising voters with unrealistic hopes elect politicians who lie about being able to fulfill those hopes?"
A reader recalls
Andrew Terhune, now in real estate development in Pennsylvania emails that he had just moved to Harris County Texas when the referendum on the Toll Roads came up for a vote back in 1983.
"Voters were desperate for a solution to Houston's traffic problems so its passage was never in doubt. I distinctly remember the county commissioners (who are simultaneously the Harris County Toll Road Authority) saying that the roads would be free when paid off.
"I wondered at the time whether that would someday come back to haunt them, and it seems it has.
"The Dallas North Tollway was supposed to be free when it was paid off too, and it keeps being expanded so that day may never come. The Harris County roads have grown substantially beyond what was authorized in 1983, so I expect their bond indentures will require that tolls be maintained for for some time yet.
"Interestingly, a (Houston area) referendum wasn't absolutely necessary. It was required only because the commissioners wanted to have the county, with its AAA credit rating, guarantee to bonds to lower the interest rate. Had they issued bonds without the county guarantee, no referendum would have been necessary as only the revenues from the tolls would have been pledged to retire the bonds, and no promises would have had to have been made.
"I also remember when the tolls were removed from the Dallas-Ft. Worth Turnpike. The pols made a big deal of it, with all of them trying to take credit for the toll's removal. There was even a symbolic 'ribbon tying' as a toll booth was taken out of commission."
TOLLROADSnews 2012-05-24 16:00 ADDITION