September 29, 2015
The following column is in response to the “Grading” by TURF an Anti-Toll Action Group as seen on LNO Click Here:
In the game of football, the rules of scoring are pretty straightforward. Get the ball across the end zone, put the ball through the goal posts, or tackle the offensive ball carrier behind his own line. In politics, scorecards are more, well, political. While everyone knows that a touchdown is worth 6 points, what does a vote for Amendment #1 to HB1 mean?
I have long been a fiscal conservative; I’ve opposed tax increases and burdensome debt propositions. When it comes to transportation funding I prefer current revenues as a source rather than bond obligations, I prioritize highway construction over other transportation programs, non-toll over toll. That is why it was such a surprise when Nelson Thibodeaux, the Editor of LNO, sent me a note that he had seen an anti-toll scorecard where I had received a mere 70. I say it was a surprise, but not a big one. Scorecards aren’t touchdowns, and not all points are equal. Let the sleuthing begin.
I knew that I had voted against new tolls in general. I had supported additional transportation funding but only for non-tolled roads. I even remember a big vote where I supported additional scrutiny on the North Texas Toll Authority, so why the score? A review of the scorecard’s website revealed a lack of details and no list of lawmaker’s actual votes. There was an interesting paragraph on apparent subjectivity:
These lawmakers’ grades factor in both their voting record and advocacy on behalf of taxpayers with regards to transportation, whether it was carrying our good bills and amendments, getting pro-taxpayer legislation moving, or otherwise defending transparency and good road policy
I communicated directly with the author of the scorecard, and I will say that she was extremely helpful and transparent throughout my digging. I had voted with the scorecard 7 times.
Issue #1: 11 votes were graded. On one of those votes, I had an excused absence. As a member of the Local & Consent Calendar Committee, I often found myself headed towards a committee meeting while the House continued its voting. As time runs out in a session, we are sometimes pulled in multiple directions. So while I was voting in the Committee, I was missing one of the anti-toll scorecard’s votes. Turns out the bill was approved overwhelmingly and I would have voted for it.
Issue #2: I am a member of the House Appropriations Committee, the budget committee. I am also a member of one of the budget committee’s sub-committees, specifically one that includes TxDOT funding. Something looked odd on one of the votes: Rider 49. Without going through all of the minutiae, and all of the hard work by my staff and the scorecard’s author – turns out the Toll Scorecard had incorrectly attributed a negative vote to our subcommittee! The toll scorecard has now been updated to reflect my higher score.
Issue #3: So now we are down to only two votes out of 11 where I disagreed with the scorecard. Were these up/down votes on tolls? Of course not. One was an amendment to House Bill 20. House Bill 20 attempts to take the politics out of road funding. Which roads should get priority? One would assume the roads with the most need, the quickest to be constructed, and the ones where the local municipality is a stakeholder, putting their own skin in the game so to speak. I voted –against- an amendment to HB 20 which would have increased the politics of road funding and minimized the financial participation of a local partner. What does this have to do with tolls? Nothing. I believe I made the right vote.
Issue #4: SB 709. This bill attempted to align state statute with a recent Third Court of Appeals decision relating to contested cases in environmental disputes. Without this change, groups would be allowed to drag permitting issues. This was a pro-business, Republican-backed bill. What does this have to do with tolls? Nothing. I believe I made the right vote.
So there you have it. A mistake in the score, an excused absence for a conflicting vote and two scores not relating to tolls. Now if you are still paying attention, and a small math whiz, you may wonder how some house members got high scores – even by supporting the conservative Republican SB709 vote? Let’s go back to the subjective paragraph I mentioned earlier. Those members who agree to file bills or amendments handed to them by the scorecard maker received higher points. Continuing the football analogy, it’s the equivalent of an extra point for wearing a sponsor’s logo.
Over the course my time in office, I have analyzed each and every one of the nearly 4,000 votes I have cast. No man on earth is perfect; I certainly am not. However, I take my votes seriously, and I always vote for the residents of the district I represent. If you ever have questions on a scorecard, please let me know. In case you were wondering, what WAS the vote on Amendment #1 HB1 that I mentioned at the top? It was an amendment that would have led to much lower Robin Hood payments for Grapevine-Colleyville ISD. I supported it, but multiple political scorecards lowered my grade for supporting this Robin Hood Tax Cut. Oh, Well!
Texas State Representative Giovanni Capriglione