Toll opponents rattle sabers
C.A. Stubbs stood on the sidewalk in front of the Convention Center last week and watched about 40 members of the Texas Toll Party walk a picket line along Market Street.
"Carrying a sign has never been my cup of tea ... but a lot of people followed me when I confronted the City Council."
Stubbs was on hand for a cameo appearance with the Texas Toll Party protest, which coincided with a Metropolitan Planning Organization leadership seminar inside the Convention Center.
The protest was organized by Terri Hall, director of the San Antonio branch. She was joined by Linda Curtis of Austin, who held a bullhorn and chanted "hey, hey, ho, ho, the toll road has got to go," with other picketers. They held signs that said "Dump Tricky Ricky, Highway Robber," in reference to Governor Rick Perry's sweetheart deal with private corporations to build toll roads, and to operate them at local motorists' expense.
Hall called the annual forum a "good ol' boy convention, a bona fide highwaymen 'Kumbaya' lovefest," and a "perfect occasion for a grassroots protest."
Brad Holt says "I blew my cork" at a recent MPO meeting when the board voted to proceed with toll road plans for Loop 1604, Highway 281 and part of I-35. "Tx-DOT did this five years ago, the expansion of Highway 281 should have been finished by now."
Holt, a Bulverde resident, has his eye on San Antonio City Councilmembers Art Hall, Chip Haass, and Richard Perez, who voted to proceed with the plan without calling for a feasibility study for the toll roads. Holt carries around pages of highway design maps that TxDOT developed before Perry signed a contract with private corporations to build the toll lanes. "In fiscal year 2001 they said it was already funded. TxDOT said they had the money, but now they won't talk to you about it. They're looking for a cash cow."
Terri Hall has enlisted the aid of the Homeowner Taxpayers Association to join a coalition of toll-road opponents. Asked if the state should concentrate on building commuter rail of toll roads, she says "absolutely."
But the state has not made commuter rail, including a line that could connect Georgetown to San Antonio and points south, a priority over toll roads.
Stubbs stood on the sidewalk wearing his trademark Stetson, Western-cut suit and string tie, and encouraged to the crowd, which included David Van Os, a Democratic candidate for Texas Attorney General, and Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson.
"First, I must say I'm delighted to see young, vibrant, articulate and energetic folks like Terri stepping up to the plate on matters of immediate and long-term importance to overburdened taxpayers."
Stubbs repeated his mantra: "Since 1980, both the State of Texas and City of San Antonio have outspent population and cost of living growth by 2.6 times, indeed both far worse than the federal government.
"If the state budget of 1980 had grown in step with population and the Cost of Living Index, the state would have spent more than $256 billion less than it actually spent. San Antonio and its major function overspent by more than $10.6 billion for this same time frame."
The tax watchdog maintains numerous charts and graphs to back up his claim, which nobody at City Hall or in Austin has really listened to since he began his crusade in the 1980s.
But City Council should remember that Stubbs helped to defeat construction of the Applewhite Reservoir, and he was instrumental in forcing term limits on City Council.
Although Stubbs, 83, is retired, he is mentoring Hall, who seems to have boundless energy in her fight against toll roads in the San Antonio area.
With the HTA along for the ride, this rowdy bunch of civic protesters could be a stinging gadfly in Perry's re-election ointment, not to mention local elections.
Van Os summed up the fight in colorful terms: "You're facing the height of arrogance. You're in the right fight. Fight 'em till hell freezes over, then fight 'em on the ice." •
By Michael Cary