Wednesday, January 30, 2002

A Big Payoff for Rick Perry's Patrons

Governor's contributors could win big in transportation plan


Associated Press
Copyright 2002

AUSTIN (AP) - A sweeping road and rail proposal put forth by Gov. Rick Perry could mean millions of dollars in new construction business for some of his biggest campaign contributors.

Highway contractors, chemical pipeline executives and financial bond firms that stand to benefit from the plan have contributed more than $300,000 to Perry, The Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday.

Democrats critical of the transportation plan questioned whether the Republican governor was trying to curry favor with his backers.

In El Paso, where Perry pitched his transportation plan Tuesday, he said there will be no favoritism in awarding contracts for the ambitious highway construction plan.

"I don't award contracts," Perry said. "I have three incredibly capable (transportation) commissioners. We have a system that works well."

Perry said anyone who suggests there have been improprieties in awarding contracts is "wrong or they are working for a political purpose. If there is a problem, I suggest they go to the DA."

Executives of H.B. Zachry Co. of San Antonio, one of the state's largest highway contractors, contributed $47,000 to Perry over the past six months as Perry prepared his transportation initiative.

All told, Zachry executives have given him more than $80,000 since 1997, records show.

James Pitcock, chairman of Williams Brothers Construction Co. of Houston, has contributed at least $75,000 over that same period, according to records.

Williams Brothers and H.B. Zachry helped finance a public relations effort promoting a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that cleared the way for Perry's road plan.

Officials from these companies have said their contributions are designed to support good government policy, not to buy influence.

Perry unveiled his initiative Monday in Austin.

"This plan is as big as Texas and ambitious as our people," Perry said in El Paso. "This plan can't be finished overnight ... but we can get a good start on this concept today."

Perry's "Trans Texas Corridor" would create six-lane highways shooting across the state, north to south and east to west, that loop around the large population centers. He said the loops will reduce congestion and pollution, improve safety and speed up trade routes.

The plan includes six rail tracks that Perry said would enhance business opportunities under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Construction would be paid for with a variety of financing schemes involving a public and private money, including some toll roads, Perry said.

Democratic Party Chairwoman Molly Beth Malcolm said the big winners of the governor's transportation plan are his campaign contributors. She warned the proposal could lead to higher taxes and "runaway debt."

Texas voters approved an amendment in November to leverage more dollars for construction by allowing the state to use public and private toll-road revenue for projects as well as investment from private companies.

Among the amendment's active boosters were the Dannenbaum Construction Co. of Houston; Koch Industries of Wichita, Kan.; S&B Infrastructure of Houston; Vinson & Elkins law firm of Houston; J.D. Abrams Co. of Austin; the Dean Word Co. of Waco; and the Association of General Contractors political action committee.

According to campaign reports, Perry has received least $300,000 in contributions from scores of the amendment's boosters over the past five years.

The Association of General Contractors PAC has given $45,000. Others include $50,000 from James Dannenbaum, $53,000 from Koch Industries, $30,000 from Vinson & Elkins, $10,000 from S&B Infrastructure, $21,700 from Tim Word of the Dean Word Co. and $8,000 from James Abrams of the J.D. Abrams Construction Co.

The Associated Press:

For more on Perry's Patrons [CLICK HERE]