Here is what I would do if I had been running the Hutchison campaign. I would not just sit back and let Perry punch us with the bailout day after day, week after week, month after month. I would follow the old rule: “Hang a lantern on your problem.” I would have Hutchison look into the camera in a red outfit against a plain black background and say something like this. “It is easy to sit in Austin and criticize the bailout if you don’t have to vote on it. The president and the secretary of the treasury came to me and said that if we didn’t pass this bill, the financial system could collapse. I knew this vote would be unpopular. But I took an oath to the Constitution and to the country to do the right thing. I am proud of my vote, and I promise you that if I am elected governor, I will always do what I believe is right for Texas, and for America, even if it costs me my job.”
Here is how I would address the funding question at TxDOT, which Hutchison has ducked in both debates. “The Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M has said that Texas can meet its roadbuilding needs with a small increase in the gasoline tax, indexing it to inflation, and issuing bonds secured by the extra revenue, without building more toll roads. I would take this proposal to the people of Texas, telling them that if they vote for a one-time increase of the gasoline tax by 10 cents, to be sunsetted after eight years, TxDOT will never build another toll road while I am governor.” This is no secret. The recommendation was presented to Carona’s committee back in the fall of ‘07, I think it was. There are any number of people who are knowledgeable about transportation around the Capitol, starting with Carona himself, but also Tommy Williams, Wayne Smith, Lois Kolkhorst, Joe Pickett, Kirk Watson, Linda Harper-Brown, and all the lobbyists who want to build more roads. Did the Hutchison campaign ask any of them?
(I do want to acknowledge that several years have passed since TTI made its recommendations, and I suspect that the numbers that TTI used in 2007-8 would have to be tweaked today. At the same time, the highway construction index, which was sky-high at the time TTI made its recommendation, is probably much lower in recessionary times, and roads can be built more cheaply today than they could then.)
I thought Hutchison missed another bet in the discussion over toll roads. Perry said that the Legislature prohibited the tolling of existing free lanes in 2005. This is not wholly correct. TxDOT can toll existing highways, including interestate highways, if the counties in which TxDOT wants to convert free lanes to toll lanes vote to allow it. I know this because Deirdre Delisi is angry with me for not clarifying this in a post I wrote several weeks ago. I trust that she will forgive me now since Perry overlooked it too.