July 20th, 2009

Based upon feedback and comments from the information pertaining to the Texas Bicycle Coalition’s 2009 legislative agenda, I decided to delve a bit deeper into the two Bills for which they are taking credit for getting passed. Since it seems to have raised the most ire, I will begin with SB161 — “Relating to specialty license plates supporting the Safe Routes to School Program.”

There can certainly be no doubt that TBC is the “designated statewide nonprofit organization” to which all proceeds from §504.633 (“Share the Road” plates) are currently directed and all proceeds from §504.648 (“God Bless Texas”/”God Bless America” plates) will be directed, effective immediately. They were instrumental in drafting the language used in HB2971 which led to the creation of the “Share the Road” specialty plate, the TBCEF is specifically referenced as the consulting group with which the TEA was to work when creating the design, and their yearly audits from 2004 through 2008 have line item revenue notations citing income from this plate.

Since 2003, TBC has earned at least $256,752 from the issuance of “Share the Road” specialty plates. The legislation creating this revenue source explicitly states 75% of all proceeds are to go to the implementation of “bicyclist safety, education, and access through education and awareness programs and training, workshops, educational materials, and media events”, with the remaining 25% being “used to support the activities of the nonprofit organization in marketing and promoting the share the road concept and license plates”. Where has the $192,564 from 2004-2008 been spent? Their audits do not offer specifics in this regard, only generalities such as “Public information/education”, “Conferences and meetings”, and “Other”. Given the number of timid cyclists whining for special consideration and facilities, their education and training programs appear to leave a great deal to be desired. Nevertheless, they will now be rewarded with up to five-fold additional funds to manage the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program.

The original legislation for the “Share the Road” and “God Bless Texas”/”God Bless America” plates did not specify the individual impacts of each specialty plate to the General Revenue Fund; only a cumulative net revenue gain of $969,000 overall was forecast. Judging from the annual TBC audits, roughly $55,000 per year flowed into the coffers of the TBC from the “Share the Road” plates between 2004 and 2008. Fiscal analysis of SB161 suggests a projected revenue transfer (from the State Highway Fund to the Share the Road Fund) of an average $273,000 per year between now and 2015. A comment submitted in resonse to the “TBC Agenda” analysis mused as to whether this revision to the specialty license plate statute was a money grab. It certainly looks that way.

SB161 specifically states the revenue must be spent in support of the SRTS Program. The legislation creating SRTS — HB2204, the so-called “Matthew Brown Act” (77R) — did so under jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Transportation. Its original charter was to “establish and administer a Safe Routes to School Program to distribute money … to political subdivisions for projects to improve safety in and around school areas.”

Eligible projects included:

  • installation of new crosswalks and bike lanes
  • construction of multiuse trails
  • construction and replacement of sidewalks
  • implementation of traffic-calming programs in neighborhoods around schools
  • construction of wide outside lanes to be used as bike routes

Only items one and two could be logically considered to fall under the purview of an organization like TBC. Even then the oversight is not direct; only tangential, through lobbying. SB161 stipulates that revenue realized from the sale of plates “may only be used by the Texas Education Agency to support the Safe Routes to School Program of a designated statewide nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is to promote bicyclist safety, education, and access through education and awareness programs; and training, workshops, educational materials, and media events.”

Interesting. The TBC had a Safe Routes to School Program; it was created as a pilot project in 2004. Information is available on their website. (Pay particular attention to the dates on the linked pages – they have not been updated in nearly three years.) Since then it has gone nowhere and, in fact, ended in late 2007. They were expecting a grant from the Texas Transportation Commission to fund permanent establishment and expansion of the program, but were declined. In March of 2008, they make the following statement with respect to their participation with a nationwide bi-lingual bike safety program.

It is based on TBCEF work in Amarillo through the now-ended BikeTexas Safe Routes to School Program (funded by the U.S.DOE Carol M. White Physical Education Program from 2004 to 2007).

If TBC no longer has a Safe Routes to School, how will they be able to comply with SB161 and direct spending of the “God Bless Texas”/”God Bless America” revenue? Is there another “designated statewide nonprofit organization” to handle this task?

This is all very curious. Just what is TBC up to? It would seem no good. Given the relatively modest income generated by the “Share the Road” plates, when compared to their robust expenditures for lobbying, one is justified in asking what specific education and safety programs they have initiated and promoted. Now that an additional quarter million dollars per year is slated to flow their way, by law, it must be funneled into a Safe Routes to School program; something they no longer have. Assuming they are the “designated statewide nonprofit organization” in question, taxpayers and TBC constituents must demand to know what the organization is planning to do with this money.

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