Saturday, June 18, 2005

Strayhorn Guns for Perry

Ticked Off Grandma

Strayhorn enters race with attack on Perry
By John Moritz
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Copyright 2005

AUSTIN: Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn unleashed the first fusillade of the 2006 campaign Saturday, announcing that she'll challenge Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary in March and denouncing him as a "do-nothing drugstore cowboy."

Strayhorn, a former Austin mayor and Texas railroad commissioner, delivered a rapid-fire denunciation of Perry's 4 ½ years in the Governor's Mansion as abdication of leadership that put politics ahead of the people.

"You know that Texans cannot afford another four years of a governor who promises tax relief and delivers nothing, who promises to fix our failing schools and fails himself," Strayhorn told an outdoor crowd of about 200 just north of the state Capitol.

"Now it's time to replace this do-nothing drugstore cowboy with one tough grandma," added Strayhorn, 65, tossing in what has become her signature line since her first campaign for comptroller in 1998.

Strayhorn's announcement came one hour after Perry delivered a dramatic announcement of his own: that he was vetoing the $33 billion spending plan for Texas' public schools and summoning lawmakers back to Austin for their fifth special legislative session in five years.

At his news conference, Perry brushed aside Strayhorn's long-anticipated challenge as "just white noise in the background."

The governor left it to his campaign staff to dust up Strayhorn, who has been Perry's most vocal and persistent critic from inside the Republican Party for 2 ½ years.

"It should come as no surprise that Ms. Strayhorn is running for governor because she has been doing that for the last two years as she neglected her duties as comptroller," said Luis Saenz, Perry's campaign manager.

"This primary will offer clear differences between the strong, principled conservative leadership we have today and the big-spending, Democrat agenda the comptroller has pushed on behalf of her special-interest backers," Saenz added.

Strayhorn, who like Perry is a former Democrat, did spend much of her speech firing at the incumbent from the left. She denounced the cuts in social-service programs Perry backed in 2003 and in an across-the-board pay raise for public school teachers.

She also reminded her supporters that two years ago she was the first statewide official to push for legalizing video slot machines at Texas racetracks.

But Strayhorn spent the lion's share of her time blasting away at Perry in the mile- a-minute speaking style that has become her trademark.

Perry's ambitious transportation plan to build a network of toll roads to ease urban congestion was branded a "$184 billion boondoggle." His Enterprise Fund to lure new businesses to Texas was labeled a "slush fund."

And his ill-fated proposal to place a levy on the patrons of topless clubs to help pay for public schools was proclaimed a "sleaze tax."

Strayhorn's harshest words were reserved for Perry's decision to veto the portion of the state budget earmarked for public education.

"The most irresponsible act this governor has taken, and perhaps any governor [has taken], is to veto all the dollars for public schools, for kids' education, and holding our children hostage," she said.

If Strayhorn had any qualms about fighting Perry with bare knuckles, she did not show them.

"Bring it on," she said.

Strayhorn issued her challenge soon after what many observers called a far more serious one failed to materialize. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who had hinted that she might enter the GOP gubernatorial primary, put the word out Friday evening that she'll seek a third term in the Senate.

On the Democratic side, former Rep. Chris Bell of Houston has formed an exploratory campaign for governor, and former Comptroller John Sharp is also considering entering the race.

Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas political-science professor, said Strayhorn's candidacy and the near challenge by Hutchison expose some weaknesses for Perry among moderate Republican voters. They also point to a maturation of the Texas Republican Party, which has been the dominant force in state politics for less than a decade, he said.

"The party is most united when it's hungry," Buchanan said. "Now that it is clearly the party in power, it is quite a natural progression for there to be challenges of this nature from within."

Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Strayhorn announces her challenge to Gov. Rick Perry
by Peggy Fikac, Chief
San Antonio Express-News, Copyright 2005

AUSTIN – State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn fired the first shots of her official campaign to unseat Gov. Rick Perry at not quite an hour past high noon Saturday with a barrage of name-calling and a promise to do better by Texans than he has.

"Now is the time to replace this do-nothing drugstore cowboy with one tough grandma," she said to applause and cheers from several hundred supporters north of the Capitol. "I stand before you today as a Republican candidate for governor in 2006."

Then she embarked on one of her trademark rapid-fire rants, part of a quick-paced speaking style that she likes to joke was developed when, as a child, her mother allowed her to lick the beaters on the electric mixer as a treat – without turning off the appliance.

"I am a fiscal conservative. I am a common-sense conservative," she said, winding up for the pitch. "I am not a weak leadin’, ethics ignorin’, pointin’ the finger at everyone blamin’, special session callin’, public school slashin’, slush fund spendin’, toll road buildin’, special interest panderin’, rainy day fund raidin’, fee increasin’, no property tax cuttin’, promise breakin’, do nothin’ Rick Perry phony conservative."

Strayhorn has long signaled her intent to run for governor and routinely has slammed Perry's record, saying he lacks leadership.

Perry chose to announce a special session of the Legislature to fix the state's school finance system 75 minutes before Strayhorn's scheduled announcement.

Burning a bridge behind lawmakers, who were unable to agree during this year's regular session how to raise state taxes to lower school property taxes while adding dollars to education, Perry vetoed the $33.6 billion state education budget they had allocated for the next two years.

“A leader does not allow three regular sessions and four special sessions to go by without fixing our public schools and a leader does not call a fifth special session costing taxpayers $1.5 million when he does not have a plan,” Strayhorn said, referring to the sessions that have occurred since Perry first became governor in 2000.

“A leader does not hold our children's education hostage and certainly would never even allow a discussion about schools not opening on time because he cannot fix what is broken.”

Strayhorn's reference to “one tough grandma” harked back to her campaign persona of 2002, a nickname she has never really dropped.

Her GOP primary journey got a bit easier even before she officially embarked on it, when U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's campaign said Friday the senator won't join the fray despite long-held speculation that she would also run for governor. Hutchison is instead seeking re-election to the U.S. Senate.

Earlier, Perry, when asked about Strayhorn, said school issues are what's important.

“This is about one of the most, if not the most, important public policy issues that we have in this state, and politics is just white noise in the background — and that's where it should stay.”

The only other announced candidate is author -entertainer Kinky Friedman, who is making an independent run. On the Democratic side, former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston has an exploratory campaign.

Strayhorn's politics originally leaned Democratic, not unusual for a state once dominated by the party. Perry also is a former Democrat.

Strayhorn served on the Austin School District board and was the first woman to be Austin mayor. In 1984, she was active in Walter Mondale's presidential campaign.

She soon after became a Republican and ran unsuccessfully in 1986 against Democratic U.S. Rep. J.J. " Jake'' Pickle.

In 1994, she became the first woman elected to the Texas Railroad Commission, then became the first woman elected state comptroller.

San Antonio Express-News:


Thursday, June 16, 2005

TxDOT tries to "take some of the sting out of the TTC" in Beeville

Trans-Texas Corridor plan raises questions


Charles Steward
Beeville Bee-Picayune
Copyright 2005

The Texas Department of Transportation held a public meeting to discuss the Trans-Texas Corridor with area residents Wednesday night in the Beeville Community Center, answer questions and show maps of where the corridor may eventually be built. Because of the nebulous nature of this project, many of the charts and maps displayed included the verbiage “preliminary” and “projected.” While extremely informative, the meeting seemed to raise as many questions as were answered.

“We don’t have a schematic yet and we don’t have a right of way map yet,” said Nelda Eureste, TxDOT right of way agent with the Corpus Christi District. “It’s so preliminary I can understand why people are so concerned.”

The Trans-Texas Corridor project was first announced in early 2002 by Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a 4,000-mile transportation network costing $175 billion over 50 years and passed through the Texas Legislature as House Bill 3588. The corridor is described as a new multi-use transportation system that includes roads, freight and passenger rail and a utility zone all lined up in parallel proximity. The corridor would generally follow the path of Interstate Highway 35 from Laredo through San Antonio, Austin and Dallas.

Citizens with concerns

Rather than an individual speaker addressing those attending, there were TxDOT staff and consultants throughout the room to discuss issues on an individual or small group basis. In fact, there appeared to be more TxDOT employees and consultants present than area citizens. Among the citizens present were those who have already made their positions clear regarding the corridor, including the Texas Farm Bureau. Primary concerns raised were limited access to the corridor, farming and environmental issues, eminent domain and the corridor becoming a toll road.

The notice sent by TxDOT to announce the meeting stated, “The initial environmental study is expected to be completed by spring 2006. The goal is to identify a preferred corridor approximately 10 miles wide.”

Cliff Boast, assistant public information officer with TxDOT, explained, “The 10-mile width is strictly for study of the future route.” Tracy Hill, an environmental consultant of TxDOT, added, “The final route will be between 1,000 and 1,200 feet wide, but there might be some instances where the rail is more separate from the road.”

Highways congested

Boast continued, “There are some highly congested areas along I-35. “I don’t drive on I-35 if I’m going to Austin because I don’t want to deal with the congestion. I drive other routes to be honest with you. If I have a choice, I’m going where there is less congestion. The corridor will ultimately make it smoother for communities with through traffic using the corridor. It will also be safer for the communities with trucks hauling hazardous material.”

Where vehicles get on and off the Trans-Texas Corridor is still to be determined. Steve Wright, public affairs officers for TxDOT in Austin, said, “The planners will work very closely with the communities with regard to linking and access. We are listening to the people and their concerns.”

A poster at Wednesday’s meeting stated, ”Although not shown, there are also numerous potential connections outside the urban areas. Through the project development process, and particularly during Tier Two of the environmental study, TxDOT will work collaboratively with local planning and transportation officials to address local connectivity issues.”
Dieter Billek, advanced project development director with the Texas Turnpike Authority Division, said ramps could ultimately be five miles apart in rural areas and added, “It might be decades before some portions of this project are completed. We are still in the planning phase.”

Opposition voiced

Questions about access and land use are more than a concern for the Texas Farm Bureau. The organization is one of the more outspoken groups against the Trans-Texas Corridor concept.
“The Farm Bureau does not like this, but it has already passed through the Legislature,” said Pat Calhoun, president of the Goliad County Farm Bureau, during the Wednesday’s meeting. “We see problems with property use and how this cuts through land, problems with moving farm equipment and water use.”

Also present was Arthur L. Bluntzer, Texas Farm Bureau state director for District 12, covering 13 counties including Refugio, Bee. Victoria , Calhoun, Jackson, DeWitt, Karnes, Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Caldwell, Goliad and Lavaca counties. He said Thursday morning, “There are two key factors. One would be the concern of taking of land where farms and ranches will be split into two parts. With the proposed tollways how will farmers and ranchers have access to cross the road? Would there be a cost involved and how far would they have to travel? Another factor is the loss of tax revenue. Other landowners would have to pay more to make up the difference.”

The official statement from the Texas Farm Bureau on the corridor includes the statement, “All interstate highways should provide frontage roads on both sides of the highway for farm machinery.

Bluntzer suggested the state build the corridor parallel to the current highway.

Calhoun noted there is legislation in process “to try and take some of the sting out of the TTC.”

Entrances and exits

House Bill 1273 introduced by Rep. Lois W. Kolkhorst of Brenham would amend the Trans-Texas Corridor code Under this legislation, entrances and exits to the Trans-Texas Corridor must be provided at every intersection with a state highway or farm-to-market road. In addition, access must be provided across the corridor at these intersections. The maximum width of the Trans-Texas Corridor would be reduced from 1,200 to 800 feet. The bill limits the condemnation of private property to be used by private businesses to generate revenues for the Trans-Texas Corridor. The bill would also require any private entity that contracts for the collection of fees using the corridor to have a plan outlining the collection of fees and the rates.

House Bill 1794 introduced by Glenn Hegar Jr. of Katy has introduced legislation that will impact development of the corridor. The bill requires a public hearing in each county impacted by the Trans-Texas Corridor before the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) files a final environmental impact statement. The TxDOT is required to identify each mode of transportation that is projected to use the corridor and each proposed entrance to and from that segment of the corridor. Also, the bill requires that affected county and state officials be notified at least 30 days prior to the public hearing. The bill prohibits any limitation of access to the corridor which economically benefits a particular facility or group of facilities located on the corridor. There is also a prohibition to the capture of groundwater from under the corridor and its export. If an entity begins negotiations or discussions regarding using the corridor to transport groundwater, they must notify the local water authority and commissioners court of the county in which the groundwater originates.

Eminent domain case

Patricia Dougherty, a landowner in northern Bee County, said Wednesday night, “The priority seems to be the buying and selling of goods from Mexico. What about wildlife, agricultural use, land use and property rights?”

Referring to an eminent domain case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, Kelo v. City of New London, Connecticut, that decision could throw into question whether or not the Trans-Texas Corridor is legal. At issue with the Kelo v. City of New London case is whether governments can forcibly seize homes and businesses for private economic development. Under a practice known as eminent domain, a person's property may be condemned and the land converted for a greater “public use.” It has traditionally been employed to eliminate slums, or to build highways, schools or other public works.

The New London case tests the ability of local and state governments to raise what they see as much-needed revenue, which they argue serves a greater "public purpose." Legal experts see the case as having major implications nationwide in property rights and redevelopment issues.
Toll roads

Toll roads are also a sour point with many citizens, especially in rural areas of the state. According to a TxDOT release, Cintra, a multinational corporation based in Spain, had been selected to build a $6 billion in a toll road between Dallas and San Antonio by 2010 as part of the Trans-Texas Corridor, give the state $1.2 billion for additional transportation improvements between Oklahoma and Mexico, and to extend the corridor into the Lower Rio Grande Valley to Mexico.

“This is an historic change in the way major transportation assets are built and paid for in Texas,” said Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission. Cintra proposes to negotiate for a 50-year contract to maintain and operate the new highway as a toll road. “The private sector is willing and able to invest in transportation improvements to reduce congestion, improve safety, provide economic development, and protect our quality of life,” Williamson said.

Boast summarized the decisions being made regarding highways and transportation corridors Wednesday night when he said, “This is all driven by traffic count.”

Beeville Bee-Picayune:

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Perry Signs House Bill 2702

Perry signs bill requiring vote on toll roads

June 14, 2005

Associated Press
Copyright 2005

TEMPLE — Voters would have to give their approval before any tax-funded highways are converted to toll roads under a sweeping transportation bill that Gov. Rick Perry signed today.

The bill is a follow-up to a current law that allows for the creation of the Trans-Texas Corridor, Perry's ambitious $184 billion vision of thousands of miles of tollways, railways and utility lines crisscrossing the state.

The plan, however, had come under fire from some property owners. Perry said the bill provides greater clarity and significant protections to property owners to ensure they are treated fairly when the state builds new roads.

State Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, said the bill he sponsored is meant to restore the public's trust in the corridor plan.

The bill says that no tax-funded highway will be converted to toll roads unless it is approved by voters. It also says that if a new road cuts through a landowner's property, the state must offer to buy the remaining tract of land if it has little or no value to the owner. And if the property loses value as a result of the corridor plan, the state must provide fair compensation for the damages.

Current law already requires that landowners who participate in the Trans-Texas Corridor are either offered a lump sum payout for their land or long-term royalty payments similar to those offered in the oil and gas industry.

"When I first proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor, my goal was to give Texas a world-class transportation system that moves people and goods faster and safer," Perry said. "Today, Texas is taking a significant step to bring state law into accordance with what my vision for the Trans-Texas Corridor has been all along."

The Associated Press:


"Before any population can be controlled, government must know where that population is at any specific time."

Ready for the Congestion Tax Collector?

June 14, 2005

Jon Christian Ryter

During the Bush-41 years, the United States, England, Japan, Belgium, Germany, and Ireland embarked on an experimental vehicle tracking system designed for the 21st century. It was called the Intelligent Vehicle-Highway System or IV/HS. Ostensibly, it was designed to "lighten" traffic on heavily-used, smog-polluted roadways by assessing congestion taxes on the vehicles on the stressed roadways in order to "spread the traffic out" so that it moved faster with less pollutants spewing into the atmosphere during peak driving hours.

In reality, the purpose of IV/HS was to be able to control a population that Bill Clinton described in 1995 as, "...too highly mobile" by monitoring where that traffic was and, if necessary, by denying offending vehicles access to specific roads—or preventing residents of one State from traveling into another state without special "passes" or without paying a levy to do so. Because before any population can be controlled, government must know where that population is at any specific time. IV/HS was a theory that would have fit well in George Orwell's 1984 if the British New Worlder had entitled his book 1991 instead. Orwell only missed it by seven years.

It should be noted that IV/HS predated the Clinton Administration. George H.W. Bush initiated IV/HS in the United States with the Intermodel Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 at a cost of $151 billion over six years. Over $660 million of those dollars were earmarked for experimentation in IV/HS. Additional funds were set aside for building automated toll booths on private toll roads.

In April, 1992 Bush-41 issued an Executive Order on the privatization of state and local infrastructure assets built wholly or in part with federal money. (These assets, by definition, were roads, tunnels and bridges.) An interesting incentive—one that never made it into the evening news—appears in the EO. The Office of Management and Budget [OMB] "...had insisted that the federal government be repaid its past grants in the event the infrastructure was sold. The Executive Order does away with this disincentive. State and local governments will be able to keep the majority of the proceeds from privatization. The Executive Order goes a long way towards removing any remaining blocks to action along the lines envisioned by ISTEA." (This document, interestingly, was found in the Clinton White House Health Care Interdepartmental Working Group; Working Paper #1, Box 1748; National Archive.) (Whatever Happened To America; Jon Christian Ryter © 2000; pg. 414)

What is most interesting is that IV/HS—like the national identity card that I warned was coming (in precisely the manner it showed up) in Whatever Happened To America—originated in Europe. Both are in use in Europe and Asia. The prototype from which the Diebold Institute cast its American model was borrowed from the pilot program in England where the experimental road system had already been installed in the heavily traveled M25 beltway around London. M25 was selected not only because of the amount of traffic on the roadway, but because the terrain was ideally suited for the constant measurement of speed—and the monitoring of specific vehicles.

The UK Department of Transportation was so pleased with the initial results, they expanded IV/HS into the arterials (A-roads) of London itself. The UK system, according to the Diebold Institute reports, had a dual purpose.

First, TrafficMaster—as it became known—monitors traffic and electronically assesses speeding tickets, levied against the owner of the vehicle regardless who is driving it.

Second, TrafficMaster serves as an electronic toll collector (just as electronic scanners on the Dulles Greenway around Washington, DC scan stickers on the windshields of cars and charge the toll to the vehicle owners' credit cards).

Third, the electronic system can also be used to regulate assess to specific roadways by denying access to those roads at access ramps and road junctions during peak travel time, or denying access to those who fail to purchase a special "congestion travel time" pass—a congestion tax, if you will. In other words, during peak drive time, just as some freeways use HOV lanes (high occupancy vehicles lanes) to cut down on the number of vehicles on the road during those times, IV/HS can deny access to any vehicles without a "congestion" sticker on its windshield.

That was the proposal offered by London's mayor Kenneth Livingstone to a mayoral group from some of the world's largest cities that met at the Cable Car Museum in San Francisco on Friday, June 3 for the UN World Environment Day Conference where attendees discussed the impact fossil fuel smog has on global warming. Mayor Livingstone told the world mayors that Londoners—himself included—now pay a "congestion fee" to not only drive the M25 beltway, but to drive in central London. The daily fee is a Euro equivalent to US $9.

The $9 "voluntary" tax has forced thousand of Londoners out of their cars and into the now overcrowded city buses and subways to escape what blue collar workers feel is unjust tax that penalizes only the poor.

In San Francisco, commuters and tourists pay $3 to cross the Bay Bridge and $5 to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to enter into the city. However, commuters who live in the populous suburbs south of the city can enter downtown San Francisco free since they don't cross either bridge.

However, even in ultra liberal, environmentalist-friendly San Francisco, Livingstone's tax message was not greeted with enthusiasm by the downtown merchants association who argued that a congestion tax will discourage shoppers who don't work in the city to pay what would amount to a "shoppers tax" for the privilege of fighting traffic and fighting for a parking space to shop. And, the merchants' associations argued, it will also discourage new retailers and other businesses from relocating into the city. "It would be a pricing mechanism that drives businesses out of downtown areas, " argued John Grubb of the Bay Area Council. "And," he added, "it would be a disincentive for businesses already downtown."

While American politicians will worry about the potential repercussions in the voting booth in liberal California where taxpayers are tired of footing the bill for everything and everyone, Livingstone gambled and won. He imposed the tax in London in 2003 and stood for reelection, and won, in 2004. Congestion pricing in London targets an eight-square mile area of central London that includes its financial and entertainment districts between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Britishers who plan to be in London must buy daily, weekly, or annual passes—and register their car's license plate numbers. A network of 800 cameras within the congestion zone photograph the license plates of every vehicle that passes it. Motorists who are not in the "registered" database for that day are fined.

In the United States, such a plan could be implemented easily since most major metro areas have already begun installed hundreds of "traffic" cameras at key intersections to boost for sagging revenues in municipal treasuries. Add to that the fact that the license plates on every American vehicle since 1992 can be tracked by global positioning satellites [GPS], and you have a system that would allow American "congestion controllers" to do everything the British system can do—and more. If Uncle Sam wanted, the government could actually write a physical ticket and, by GPs, let a meter maid deliver the ticket to you at the next red light you stop at. Of course, the profitability of congestion pricing comes from levying fines electronically and mailing the "summons" to your home. No human hands are involved in the process—except to arrest you if you fail to pay the ticket.

The most sinister aspect of IV/HS in the United States is the ability of the US government to covertly track any vehicle wearing a license plate stamped after 1992. The honing device, an electronic image stamped on the license plate when it was made, was to be a temporary tracking device until all vehicles on America's highways, byways and city streets, are equipped either with GPS or have some type of GPS chip installed somewhere unobtrusive under the hood of the car as a "non-theft devise." The electronic honing device was developed under a $20 million research grant during the Bush-41 years. (Whatever Happened To America; Jon Christian Ryter © 2000; pg. 415).

The electronic license plates scheme was global in nature. In the United States, the program was called HELP (Heavy Electronic License Plate). In Europe, the program was called LLAMD (London, Lyons, Amsterdam, Munich and Dublin) and is part of the international Drive System. In Japan the system was called VICS (Vehicle Information and Communications System). (ibid, pg. 415). People tracking will be a global effort, with all of the governments of the world sharing America's GPS network to monitor the movement of traffic and people.

Congestion taxing and the use of GPS to monitor the density of traffic on this nation's—or the world's—beltway systems in order to reduce traffic and smog around the world's largest metro centers has one question that begs an answer. For now, that question can remain unanswered. Why would the Clinton Administration jeopardize the national security of the United States in order to make GPS tracking available to the private sector to monitor the whereabouts of civilian vehicles on the roadways of America—or for that matter, allow the governments of all the nations of the world do the same in their nation...or use our GPS system to track us? GPS was so top secret that, according to former Bush-41 senior Pentagon advisor Henry Sokolski, the US government denied its existence—even to its allies—for over ten years.

What happened between Jan. 20, 1993 when Bill Clinton took office and March 29, 1996 when Clinton granted civilian access to 24 GPS satellites to the world? I find it hard to believe that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel cars justified the need to use GPS to regulate traffic on congested roadways around the world. It is more likely that the governments of the world suddenly had an empirical need to monitor a population that is too highly mobile. Oops...I just answered the question.

© 2005 Jon C. Ryter - All Rights Reserved