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see, they simply withhold funds. They leverage the outcome by controlling the purse strings in Austin. You see that in issues like toll equity where the Transportation Commission determines what portion of money it will make available to subsidize a road project in a region. Virtually every major roadway under consideration today in Texas is being advanced as a toll project.” The toll-road developers, Carona said, have claimed that they will need a 12 percent return on their investment. Using that figure, Carona calculates the tolls on the private roads will be 66 percent higher upon opening than what tolls on state-constructed roads would cost. What’s more, he said, the private toll operators will be able to raise their rates to whatever the market will bear. By contrast, toll hikes on state-owned roads are limited to recovering the cost of maintenance and repairs. “The reality is, we’re building roads in the most expensive fashion of allthrough tolls instead of calling it taxes:’ he said. Carona favors raising the gasoline tax so that it keeps pace with inflation. \(The tax has been unchanged for the last 15 years-20 cents for the state That way, the state would have enough money to build all the roads it’s going to need over the next 25 years. The average motorist would probably wind up paying an extra dollar per month for fuel, but Carona said in the long run it’ll be cheaper for drivers. Even with an increase in gasoline taxes, it’s unlikely that toll roads, and perhaps even the loathed Trans-Texas Corridor, will vanish from the map. Carona is confident, however, that the Legislature will be able to enact some meaningful reforms in the coming weeks. “We’re at a crossroads in transportation policy,” he said. “We can either get it right or get it wrong?’ LETTERS TO THE EDITORS 307. W 7th Street Austin, TX 78701 [email protected] Death Penalty, continued from page 11 tially far-reaching cases now in lower courts work their way up. Legal battles are roiling in several statesincluding Texasover whether the standard three-drug cocktail used for lethal injections is itself cruel and unusual because it can cause excruciating pain. Currently, executions are on hold in California, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, and Missouri because of cases challenging lethal injections. There is also increasing pressure to stop executing defendants who were mentally ill when they committed their crimes. In 2006, the ABA adopted a resolution against such executions. Predicting how the court will respond to these upcoming cases, of course, is likely futile. Although the Rehnquist court went for 11 years without a change, such a long period of stability is extremely unusual. Current justices could retire or die. Stevens, for instance, will turn 87 in April. Ginsburg will be 73 this year and underwent treatment for colon cancer in 1999. Opponents of the death penalty are also quick to point out that their abolition movement is larger than the Supreme Court, and that public support appears to be turning in their favor. A recent Gallup poll showed that while two-thirds of Americans still support capital punishment, more Americans prefer life without parole over the death penalty, 47 percent to 46 percent, for the first time in the poll’s 21-year history. New Jersey seems poised to issue a ban on capital punishment, and in 2005 New York legislators rejected efforts to remedy a state court-imposed prohibition handed down in 2004. Overall, in 2006 the number of executions carried out in the nation hit a 30-year low. “I don’t think anybody thinks that the Supreme Court’s rejection of the death penalty was going to be easily won or was around the corner;’ Semel says. “But if one looks at trends, and trends are extremely relevant to the question of evolving standards of decency, the trend in this countryjust like the rest of the worldis in one direction.” In Texas, executions are taking place at a steady clip, however, and death pen alty opponents still face an uphill fight. According to Jim Coombes, president of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the organization’s current goals are to pressure the Legislature to pass guidelines for what constitutes mental retardation in capital cases, and consider a moratorium to allow further investigation into evidence that the state may have executed innocent individuals. “We aren’t fooling ourselves;’ Coombes says. “We know that Texas will be, if not the last, one of the last states to abolish the death penalty. But we see this drive starting in places like Illinois and New Jersey, and slowly spreading across the rest of the country. At some point, the Supreme Court will look at it and say there’s widespread opposition to the death penalty and they should go ahead and do away with it.” Anthony Zurcher is an Austin writer and editor. From top: Brent Brewer, Jalil Abdul-Kabir, Scott Panetti, and LaRoyce Smith. 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER FEBRUARY 23, 2007