Saturday, October 22, 2005

Macquarie's infrastructure strategy draws inspiration from 'Maximus Tollus'

Who said cowboys can't yodel

October 22, 2005

By James Bone
The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Copyright © 2005.

Monday, October 17: On the way to Gstaad to meet my wife's billionaire, I pondered the brilliance of Macquarie's infrastructure strategy.

By buying the world's toll roads, airports, pipelines and stock exchanges, Macquarie owns: (a) some of the purest monopolies on earth; (b) with the greatest barriers to entry; (c) and the most cash-generative cash cows in the western world.

I was travelling through a long, dark tunnel between Austria and Switzerland, the kind that doesn't have a light at the end of it. This is the sort of tunnel Macquarie would like to buy.

It's a long version of Sydney's Cross City Tunnel, another asset that appeals to Macquarie. The cross-city tunnel is a near-perfect monopoly. One reason is that the Roads and Traffic Authority has been so co-operative.

The RTA has a share of the profits of the tunnel, so it has a sound commercial reason to make motorists sit at 10-minute red lights in dead-ends in Woolloomooloo.

In this light, one has to admire the former premier's brazen opportunism in taking a job at Macquarie. Bob Carr, who doubles as Australia's pre-eminent scholar of ancient Rome, understands tunnels; the cross-city tunnel was his baby.

Indeed, I understand that Mr Carr learned the economics of public infrastructure from the ancient Romans, chiefly the Emperor Hadrian, who built the wall separating Britons from the Picts. A gate keeper called Maximus Tollus forced the locals to pay a toll, a lively little business that he took back to Rome, where he levied a toll on chariot drivers along the Appian Way.

The chariot drivers were furious, of course, as they'd already paid their taxes - but Maximus avoided a public flogging by offering them shares in his new company, Maximus Tollus Public Infrastructure, whose shares rocketed. Everyone was happy, except those who got no shares. One isn't suggesting Mr Carr is a poacher turned gate keeper like Maximus Tollus. Rather, he is the perfect man to advise Macquarie on its takeover of the world's tunnels and roads because he knows tunnels. Mr Carr knows that no Roman in his right mind would have built an aqueduct to compete with Maximus Tollus's.

Tuesday, October 18: In short, Macquarie will soon become the richest bank on earth. The great thing is that it securitises its roads and airports as investment funds. Macquarie thus gets a share of the toll, plus the initial charge, the performance fee, and the annual management fees for running a road or two that used to be paid for out of tax revenue. The punters thus get hit twice. Maximus Tollus would have been delighted!

I didn't get to Gstaad yesterday. I took a diversion to a tiny Swiss village, with a bar that described itself as the World's First Karaoke Yodelling Club. You can choose any song, but you have to yodel it.

I found it most refreshing. When they discovered I was Australian, I was obliged to yodel something. I chose My City Of Sydney, which went down well.

Wednesday, October 19: Anyway, I got to Gstaad and prepared to meet Grace and her elopee, Roger, who apparently owns 10 oilfields in Texas.

I waited in the library of the Matterhorn Hotel, vaguely thinking about my share portfolio. Yogi, the Phantom Day Traders' chief chartist, sent a message that I own shares in three companies that list on the ASX tomorrow: Hodges Resources, Resource Finance & Investments and Incremental Petroleum. I didn't hold my breath. I know nothing about any of these companies, or how I acquired them. I got the shares through a mate who knows a mate who's mates with a bloke on the board of Hodges, who happens to be a mate of a mate on the board of Incremental, etc. That's the great thing about Australian business: we're all mates.

Shortly Grace appeared; our daughter Matilda sort of tiptoed in behind her, shy and nervous.

Grace kissed the air beside my cheek, and Matilda asked: "Daddy, when are you coming home?" That was an interesting twist, given that I thought we lived in Australia.

We waited. Then in walked an ancient, bearded dwarf, circa '95, wearing a white Stetson, a leather jacket, cowhide trousers and spurred boots. I looked nervously about his person for a lasso.

"James, this is Roger," said Grace, all smiles.

Then the drawl: "Wee-eell, dang, it's way past time we got together Jerm, and, ya know, talked turkey, chewed the fat. And shared notes on this great little lady, eh? Eh? Eh? [elbow jabs]. Cos ah got me a great little lady 'ere, and it's all thanks to you Jim-Bob, and ah thank you from the bottom of mah heart, so help me God."

It was interesting insofar as Roger failed to explain even where they lived, on what terms, and why. He did, however, have a great portfolio, with some very exotic investments: a Cuban Emerging Markets Fund and a Vietnam Emerging Markets Fund, which had been dormant for 10 years.

Thursday, October 20: I did nothing. I didn't even check Hodges and Incremental.

Friday, October 21: Grace offered to meet to discuss her arrangements with Roger. I told her I'm all ears, and fled to a yodelling bar.

Copyright © 2005. The Sydney Morning Herald.


Vote No on Prop 1 and Prop 9

Amendments spark debate

By Heber Taylor
The Galverston Daily News
Copyright 2005

Published October 22, 2005
Early voting begins Monday on nine proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution.

Traditionally, we offer our views as a way to prompt discussion. The idea is not to tell you how to vote but to spark some debate on the propositions as a way to generate interest in the most basic activity of democracy: voting.

Here’s the way we see it:

• Proposition 1 would allow the state to fund improvements to rail facilities.

We’d like to see some freight lines converted to commuter rail lines to ease the snarled traffic in our region. But we don’t think this proposition is a solution.

The railroad industry isn’t regulated, so we can’t see a reason for the state to get involved in the industry’s decisions about which facilities deserve investment.

This proposition also would involve the Texas Department of Transportation in those decisions. That doesn’t strike us as a great idea. The department has enough challenges with roads and ferries.

Vote: No.

• Proposition 2 would ban gay marriage.

We’ll provide you with a detailed argument Sunday. But our reasoning is simple.

If you believe government should make rules about people’s private lives, vote yes. If you believe government doesn’t have any business in people’s private lives, vote no.

We’re voting no.

• Proposition 3 states that offering incentives to developers does not constitute public debt.

In Texas, incentives are offered to developers. The agreements are common and legal. There’s no reason for a constitutional amendment saying they’re legal.

This is a bad amendment. It seeks to address a problem with a single lower-court ruling by changing the constitution. Ironically, that change might well foul up efforts by taxpayers to keep local governments out of ill-advised debt. This proposition vies with No. 4 for top honors on the list of Most Unneeded Amendments.

Vote: No.

• Proposition 4 would authorize the denial of bail to defendants who violate conditions of their release.

If you thought the denial of bail to defendants who violate their conditions of release was already authorized under the Texas Constitution you would be right.

No. 4 gets our vote for the most unnecessary proposition on the ballot. Don’t waste time thinking about it.

Vote: No.

• Proposition 5 would allow the Legislature to eliminate rules that set interest rates for commercial loans. Under the state’s current codes, the interest rate cannot exceed 28 percent.

Most states don’t set limits on interest rates on commercial loans between knowledgeable parties. Texas shouldn’t either.

This proposition would allow the Legislature to get those limits off the books.

Vote: Yes.

• Proposition 6 would add two members to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The commission already has 11 members, which is enough. We just don’t see a larger body resulting in greater accountability and efficiency.

Vote: No.

• Proposition 7 would make it possible for homeowners to get credit advances on their own terms under a reverse mortgage.

How you vote on this one depends on your views on personal freedom. Will unscrupulous people try to cheat folks out of their homes? Yes.

But most people who are responsible enough to have mortgages are responsible enough to be trusted to make their own financial decisions. That includes the decisions on whether to open new lines of credit on the equity they have in their home.

Vote: Yes.

• Proposition 8 would relinquish the state’s claim on about 6,000 acres in two East Texas counties. This is an awful way to clear up title disputes. These cases are already being resolved in the courts, which is the proper place. This amendment would have no bearing on the many other land disputes involving the state.

Vote: No.

• Proposition 9 would allow board members of a regional mobility authority to serve six-year terms.

It’s a bad move. Board members are now reviewed every two years. Extending those terms would mean less accountability.

Vote: No.

There you have our ballot: two yeas and seven nays. But our best advice is to study the issues yourself and go vote.

• Heber Taylor

© 2005 The Galveston Daily News


Friday, October 21, 2005

"What should be the term of a regional mobility authority member?"

Voters to decide future of transportation, banking amendments


by Christine DeLoma

The Lone Star Report
Volume 10, Issue 11
Copyright 2005

So here we go again, we sovereign Texas voters, answering cosmic questions like, what should be the term of a regional mobility authority member?

You’ll gather it’s constitutional amendment time. The date: Nov. 8.

The framers of the 1876 state constitution having been keen to minimize legislative power, voters are regularly asked to approve — or not — some fairly esoteric proposals. Not all voters by any means take the opportunity. But, then, from time to time big questions actually arise. This year it’s same-sex marriage: yea or nay in Texas?

Here’s a run-down on the amendment ballot:

Proposition 1 - “The constitutional amendment creating the Texas rail relocation and improvement fund and authorizing grants of money and issuance of obligations for financing the relocation, rehabilitation and expansion of rail facilities.”

A yes vote would allow the state to establish a fund in which tax dollars would pay for the relocation of public or private railroads currently located in congested, high traffic areas. Last year in San Antonio, an accident at a railroad crossing punctured a rail car holding chlorine gas, killing five people and injuring 49. Gov. Rick Perry sees the measure as a way to ease traffic congestion and improve public safety.

Opponents, like the governor’s Republican primary rival, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, believe that taxpayers should not subsidize private the relocation of railroads. Some critics take issue with the unlimited amount of state bonds that could be issued from the fund.

Proposition 2 - HJR 6 “The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”

This amendment specifically states that marriage is between a man and a woman, therefore eliminating the possibility of the state’s recognizing marriage between lesbians or gays without a subsequent constitutional amendment. (see article p. 1)

Proposition 3 - “The constitutional amendment clarifying that certain economic development programs do not constitute a debt.”

This amendment would allow municipal governments to use economic development grants from taxpayer money without the grants being considered a form of debt.

The proposed amendment would address the recent Travis County District Court ruling in Save Our Springs Alliance v Village of Bee Cave that nullified an agreement with a private developer to build a shopping center. The environmentalist group, Save Our Springs, stopped development on the property by arguing that the state Constitution prohibits cities from incurring debt without the means to collect and pay interest on the debt. Cities can do this by creating an annual sinking fund and depositing a least 2 percent of the principal. But in this case, Bee Cave did not.

Although the case is on appeal, legislators this session moved forward and drafted the proposed amendment to exempt taxpayer-funded economic development programs from being considered a form of debt, thereby creating a mechanism in which municipalities can safely use the grants and loans to attract businesses..

Proposition 4 - “The constitutional amendment authorizing the denial of bail to a criminal defendant who violates a condition of the defendant’s release pending trial.”

The amendment would allow a judge to deny reinstatement of bail to an accused felon who violates the conditions of his previous bail release and poses a threat to the safety of the victim and the community at large.

Proposition 5 - “The constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to define rates of interest for commercial loans.” This measure would allow the Legislature to remove interest rate caps from commercial and business loans that exceed $7 million (if secured by real property) or loans more than $500,000 (if not secured by real property).

Currently the majority of commercial loan transactions are made by out-of-state based banks that are not required to abide by Texas’ interest rate cap. Out-of-state banks can export their interest rates from their home state to Texas. A Texas-based bank, however, is at a competitive disadvantage because it must abide by the state’s usury laws.

A proponent group, Texans for Economic Growth, says the measure would level the playing field for Texas lenders and create economic growth. Critics say Texas’ 18 percent interest rate ceiling is reasonable and protects consumers and lenders from undue risk.

Proposition 6 - “The constitutional amendment to include one additional public member and a constitutional county court judge in the membership of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.”

The amendment would expand from 11 to 13 the number of appointed members to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC), adding a constitutional county court judge and one more public citizen member.

The SCJC is responsible for investigating cases of judicial misconduct, and can use disciplinary measures such as censure, education, and filing of formal procedures that could result in a judge’s removal from office.

Proposition 7 - “The constitutional amendment authorizing line-of-credit advances under a reverse mortgage.”

A reverse mortgage is a special type of home equity loan for senior citizens (62 years and older). Reverse mortgages allow owners to convert some of the equity in their homes to cash. The loan does not usually have to be repaid during the homeowner’s lifetime. Cash from a reverse mortgage does not affect the homeowner’s Social Security or Medicare benefits.

Currently under a reverse mortgage, Texas homeowners can borrow only a lump-sum or receive payments at predetermined intervals. The amendment would allow seniors to borrow using a line of credit, when needed.

Proposition 8 - “The constitutional amendment providing for the clearing of land titles by relinquishing and releasing any state claim to sovereign ownership or title to interest in certain land in Upshur County and in Smith County.”

A yes vote would clear up any land disputes about property ownership of land and mineral rights located within Upshur and Smith Counties.

Some 4,600 acres in Upshur County and 950 in Smith County have been challenged as vacancies (unsurveyed land) due to inconsistencies and inaccuracies in a land survey conducted in 1838.Although the General Land Office denied both vacancy claims for Upshur and Smith Counties, the matter was taken to court. A district court upheld the ownership rights of the existing landowners and ruled that no vacancy existed in Upshur County. A district court decision is pending in the Smith County case.

Proposition 9 - “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for a six-year term for a board member of a regional mobility authority.”

The current term for a board member of a regional mobility authority (RMA) is two years. A yes vote on Proposition 9 would effectively change the Constitution to allow RMA members to serve six year terms.

In July 2005, a Travis County District Court judge ruled a law allowing RMA board members to serve six year terms violated the Texas Constitution because it limits to two years any term not specified in the Constitution.

To comply with the ruling, the Legislature restored two-year terms for RMA members. Passage of the proposed amendment would allow these members to serve six years terms.

RMAs are unelected boards that can finance, build and operate toll roads and other transportation projects. Board members are appointed by local governments and the governor. RMAs can issue bonds, enter into contracts with private entities, and exercise eminent domain powers.

Opponents of the amendment, like Sal Costello, founder of the People for Efficient Transportation, say that extending the terms is a mistake because RMA board members are “non-elected and unaccountable” to the public.

Strayhorn, on the other hand, believes that six years is too long but has advocated extending the terms to four years.

The election is Tuesday, Nov. 8. O

© 2005 The Lone Star Report:


"We need to take care of our people and our land. The special interests can get to the back of the line."

Electronic voting machines to be unveiled


By:Billy Dragoo, Editor
Waller County News Citizen
Copyright 2005

HEMPSTEAD - Waller County Elections Administrator Lela Loewe will unveil the county's new electronic voting machines tonight, Thursday, Oct. 20, at the meeting of the Citizens for a Better Waller County.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Hempstead High School Auditorium.

Loewe will demonstrate and explain the use of the machines and the audience will have an opportunity for "hands-on pracitice" with the electronic machines.

The county will use the electronic voting machines for the first time in the November election.

The November 8 election includes nine propositions on the ballot which voters will consider.

Early voting runs from Oct. 24 to Nov. 4.

Citizens for a Better Waller County is opposed to Proposition 1 and Proposition 9. The group hopes voters will attend to learn to use the machines and help them defeat the two propositions.

CBWC representatives met recently with others opposed to the propositions and the TTC in general.

The TransTexas Corridor if completed as proposed, will run from the Texarkana area to the Mexican border and will split Waller County in two. The plans call for a network of corridors up to 1,200 feet wide with separate tollways for passenger vehicles and trucks, along with rail lines and utility corridors.

According to a press release following the meeting a Rural Coalition is forming to defeat the two propositions.

According to a press release following the meeting, the two propositions may draw unexpected statewide opposition. Propositions 1 and 9 became high profile targets last week of groups fighting state plans to place tolls on highways already paid for with tax money as well as those opposing the mammoth TransTexas Corridor.

More than 50 leaders of grassroots organizations gathered in the State Capitol last week to discuss the implications of two propositions and the role their groups may play in defeating both at the polls next month. Proposition 1 would create a revolving fund to finance relocation and improvement of rail facilities. Proposition 9 would extend the term of appointed Regional Mobility Authority members from two years to six years.

Organizations representing hundreds of thousands of Texans attended Saturday's meeting. Leaders came to Austin from Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. Even more leaders came from rural Texas communities in Bell, Comanche, Fayette, Gonzales, Grimes, Waller and other counties.

Linda Stall, co-founder of, is concerned that "Proposition 1 is an open-ended corporate subsidy scheme - a blank check. Our state debt commitment will also be open-ended. Taxpayers will pay unlimited tax dollars tn move private corporation rail lines into Gov. Perry's Trans Texas Corridor, putting at risk the full faith and credit of the State of Texas. We're working now through November 8 to make sure thai every voter understands the long-term implications of these propositions."

Karen Hansen, a leader of Citizens for a Better Waller County said, "We came here today to join with people across the state who are reeling from Katrina and now Rita. I would ask the governor where does he think all this money is going to come from? We need to take care of our people and our land. The special interests can get to the back of the line."

These groups believe railroad relocation should be left to private operators and RMAs should respect the existing law and adhere to the two-year term limit.

More information about statewide tolling and Propositions 1 and 9 is available at, More information about the Trans-Texas Corridor is available at

©Houston Community Newspapers Online 2005


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Absence of public support for the Trans-Texas Corridor

Corridor not good for area

October 20, 2005

Editor, the Advocate:
The Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2005

Even though the headline in the Sept. 17 issue of the Victoria Advocate states, "Luncheon dispels corridor concerns," it appeared from the article that a lot of the concerns expressed by those in attendance were not fully answered in a manner which totally eliminated those concerns.

Also, it appeared from the article that several people in attendance supported the Interstate 69-U.S. Highway 59 project, but there seemed to be an absence of public support for the Trans-Texas Corridor project.

From previous information made public regarding the Trans-Texas Corridor, with its 1,200-foot wide right of way, its highly restricted access, its state-controlled business operations, its designation as a toll road with the tolls as yet undetermined and unannounced, and its proposed use by water marketers to transport water across the state, it would appear that this massive corridor would not be very beneficial to the Victoria area.

On the other hand, the I-69-U.S. 59 proposal using the existing U.S. 59, with its narrower right-of-way requirements, its less restricted access, the possibility of development by free enterprise which would encourage businesses and industries to locate along its route, its freedom from tolls which may become excessive and its limited use to public utilities, would probably prove to be very beneficial to the Victoria area.

In general, the current interstate highway system across the United States has proven to be a very safe and efficient method of moving people and goods across our country with as little interruption to our communities as possible. Will the Trans-Texas Corridor do likewise?

It seems that now the time has come to let our elected representatives know our views about this important transportation project.


© 2005 The Victoria Advocate


Proposition 1: "The Texas Legislature would determine how much money to use for this, with no constitutional cap."

Editorial Board Recommendations:


October 20, 2005
The Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2005

“The constitutional amendment creating the Texas rail relocation and improvement fund and authorizing grants of money and issuance of obligations for financing the relocation, rehabilitation and expansion of rail facilities.” The proposed amendment would create the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund and would commit state money, from both bond sales and tax revenue, to pay for relocating, upgrading and expanding freight and passenger rail capabilities in Texas.

The Texas Legislature would determine how much money to use for this, with no constitutional cap. This funding probably would be diverted from money the Texas Department of Transportation needs to maintain, upgrade and expand the state’s roads and highways.

According to the League of Women Voters of Texas voters guide, “it has been projected that $20 billion will be needed to relocate and modernize existing rail facilities in Texas over the next 20 years.”

State bond money and state revenue from taxpayers should not go to financing whatever relocations, rehabilitations and expansions Texas rail facilities require. The Advocate recommends voting AGAINST Proposition 1.

© 2005 The Victoria Advocate:


" I don't think we should be foisting costs on drivers to make a New York bond house happy."

Council Notes

Costello Tolls Loudly

The Austin Chronicle
Copyright 2005

City Council Member Raul Alvarez spoke at a mock groundbreaking for the MACC; the real groundbreaking has been repeatedly by John Anderson

Today, council votes to approve a study of the Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's "Mobility 2030 Plan." While you're absolved if you're unacquainted with the plan, you've undoubtedly heard of its problem child: toll roads. In this case, the toll roads under discussion are the plan's "Phase 2" ones, proposed to run along stretches of U.S. 183, 290, Loop 360, SH 71, and SH 45.

City Council optimistically gave a finish date of July for the study (which was called for in March), yet it was repeatedly pushed back as other stakeholders were sought to add their input (and funding). Today, council approves an interlocal agreement between Hays, Williamson, and Travis Counties; the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority; Round Rock; and Austin, which picks up $144,000 of the $354,000 study tab. "I believe [the agreement] will work, and I'm gonna fight hard to make sure that it will," said Council Member Brewster McCracken.

McCracken, who, along with Betty Dunkerley, sits on the study's steering committee, also noted, however, that public incredulity concerning the plan's tolls is one of the big reasons for the study. "My big skepticism is, just in reviewing their proposals, these [toll roads] don't make sense from a financial standpoint," said McCracken, who characterized the plan's tolls as costing as much as seven times the national average per mile. "Getting agreement on the numbers is a good first step," he said. "But I don't think we should be foisting costs on drivers to make a New York bond house happy."

While McCracken is certainly toll road weary, he lacks the pathological toll hatred embodied by Sal Costello, whose Austin Toll Party made its hairsplitting, ball-busting distrust of the study known early on. Dismayed by the study's delay, Costello charges the committee has been "hijacked" by pro-toll forces, telling the online newsletter In Fact Daily, "The committee, virtually a mini-CAMPO, can decide not to accept the study results … How can the toll authority [CTRMA] review themselves?"

McCracken said the board can't "deep-six" its own findings. "Sal Costello and I, and [committee member and Austin state Rep.] Mark Strama, and everyone who has skepticism … we're all going to have access to the report." McCracken attributes Costello's animosity to a possible misunderstanding, saying his fears "would be a legitimate concern if one of the purposes of the steering committee was decision making," an authority he says the committee doesn't have. "We have not had the public process begin yet," he added, saying the controversy is over "a hypothetical process until it starts." McCracken imagines initial organizational meetings beginning in November, and study consultants from Boston-based CRA International coming to Austin in December.

Thursday also sees action on the long-delayed Mexican American Cultural Center, namely approval of additional funds and a building contract. A concrete slab south of Cesar Chavez on River Street, temporarily being used as a skatepark, is the only part of the MACC that exists so far, even though $10.9 million in construction dollars was approved by voters in 1998. Donato Rodriguez, chair of the city's MACC Board, said, "The city has been deferring release of funds until a better economic year." Council Member Raul Alvarez added that the MACC's big delay came in September 2003, when during the budget downturn, major facility projects were held for two years. Groundbreaking was delayed again this month, until November, as the city found itself scrambling for another $3 million. Alvarez said the escalating cost of concrete and steel, intrinsic to the MACC's design, as well as a lack of competitive bids, led to the increase.

However, the MACC now has high hopes of a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration. Combined with $1.57 million from Parks and Rec, the money is finally available, in Alvarez's words, "to deliver the whole package." Or at least the first phase – construction has been divvied into an ambitious triptych, with phase one being construction of the center and plaza, as well as landscaping and parking; phase two including further completion of the main building, along with a 300-seat theatre; and phase three calling for a 500-seat theatre, covered parking, and a possible additional center.

On rumors of MACC petitioning for additional funds in the 2006 bond election, Alvarez was less than forthcoming, saying simply that "it's hard to predict what will be part of the bond items"; he closed, however, saying "the MACC board and other community stakeholders support additional funds for the center."

Also of note, during the oftentimes cringe-inducing Citizen Communications period, Austin's Home Depot Corner Committee is scheduled to make its case. A battle is brewing nationwide over the home improvement giant's responsibility for the numerous day laborers gravitating to its stores in search of work from contractors and other shoppers. In Austin, the Home Depot at I-35 and St. John's, a popular job-hunting spot for day laborers, is at the center of a debate over whether to ban from the premises the would-be workers, most of them immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries, or to provide a designated, sheltered area for them. The store has said the issue is a national store policy beyond its control.

Last but not least, we have to correct an error from last week, saying a forthcoming FEMA payment of approximately $5.4 million went toward reimbursement of $1 million in lost revenue from convention cancellations and $1.2 million in previously budgeted employee costs. Unfortunately, the funds don't. Minus these two expenses, the city is only in the hole by $350,000. As advertised, however, this morning council approves $5,475,240 in FEMA funds by way of the DPS.

Copyright © 1995-2005 Austin Chronicle Corp.


Eminent Domain bill provides exemption for Trans-Texas Corridor

The dust is far from settled on eminent domain


David Hendricks
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

The U.S. Supreme Court couldn't have done anything more to get the attention of Texans this summer when it ruled local governments could condemn private property for use by for-profit economic development projects.

The court's 5-4 ruling in Kelo vs. New London allowed the Connecticut city to condemn 15 waterfront properties for a hotel-condominium commercial development.

It took only weeks for the Texas Legislature to respond with Senate Bill 7, approved during an August special session and aimed at prohibiting Texas governments from doing the same thing to property owners here.

"These projects, often in the name of economic development, should not come at the expense of people's property rights," Gov. Rick Perry said when he signed SB 7 into law.

"I draw the line when government begins to pick winners and losers among competing private interests, and the loser is the poor Texan who owns the land to begin with," Perry added.

At first, it would appear Perry is shooting his favorite project, the Trans Texas Corridor, in the head. The state has a contract with a for-profit Spanish company, Cintra, and its San Antonio-based partner, Zachry Construction Corp., to plan the first leg of the huge statewide toll highway project.

If Cintra and Zachry build and operate the highway, it will be to make money. Isn't that similar to the Kelo vs. New London case?

Not really. For starters, SB 7 protects the Trans Texas Corridor by name. The Texas Department of Transportation will be able to condemn land for the toll road corridors, including scenic easements.

Second, SB 7 preserves all the traditional purposes for eminent domain — airports, railroads, highways, reservoirs, hospitals, parks, schools, drainage projects, utilities and others.

It even allows for sports stadiums, including those privately built for profit, if approved by voters in an election held before Dec. 1.

The stadium issue has been big in Houston. Two stadiums dramatically increased nearby property values, said Matthew Deal, a partner in Houston-based Lewis Realty Advisors, a property appraisal company that has served public and private clients in thousands of Texas eminent domain cases.

Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, was built on a blighted side of downtown Houston where land values had sunk as low as $10 to $20 per square foot. After the baseball stadium was built, those values rose to more than $100 per square foot, Deal said.

Similarly, land values in the Toyota Center neighborhood were in the $40 range but also increased to more than $100 per square foot after the Houston Rockets' home opened, he said.

Let's consider another case. A city agency wants to condemn the parking lot of a private company so that a nonprofit corporation owned by a church can use it for a senior housing project.

Should the private company's property be subject to an eminent domain sale?

That nearly happened in recent weeks in San Antonio. Tommy Moore, owner of Urban Communications Inc., received a letter from the San Antonio Development Agency, which has eminent domain powers.

The letter said St. Paul Area Development Corp., a nonprofit organization established by St. Paul United Methodist Church, wanted the parking lot at 120 Mesquite St. that is owned by Urban Communications. The lot is adjacent to an office building the company leases, and tenants park there. St. Paul Area Development wanted the parking lot for a senior housing project.

The possible condemnation didn't make sense to Moore. Why take a property worth about $400,000 off the tax rolls, he asked, and give it an untaxed organization?

It turns out that the nonprofit's letter to Moore mentioned the possibility of condemnation because the law requires it. The agency, however, has agreed with Moore to negotiate for the land and not to condemn it, said St. Paul Area Development Executive Director Manuel Macias Jr.

Had the development corporation and the church wanted to press the issue, however, the matter might have ended up in court.

"You could have 10 lawyers in a room, and five would argue for one side in this case and the other five would argue the other way," Deal said.

In other words, eminent domain cases are becoming more complex than ever. Neither Kelo vs. New London nor SB 7 can resolve all the cases that will arise in Texas.

Fortunately, SB 7 also created an interim committee of five state senators and five representatives to study Texas eminent domain uses. The committee will report recommendations to the 2007 session of the Legislature, which could further revise state law.

In the meantime, and probably forever, condemnation cases may be decided as much in the courthouse as in the negotiating room.

San Antonio Express-News:

UPDATED: Gov. Perry vetoes latest bill to curb eminent domain abuse


"They see it as a cash cow. It's unfortunate that's the current philosophy of TxDOT."

NTTA will study SH 121 possibilities


By Amy Morenz, Staff Writer
The Allen American
Copyright 2005

Collin County Judge Ron Harris and Commissioner Jack Hatchell are conducting a public and private campaign to persuade the North Texas Tollway Authority to manage the prospective State Highway 121 toll road.

Harris officially asked NTTA's board members on Wednesday to consider two options for five miles of SH 121 and its interchanges between the Dallas North Tollway and Central Expressway. The tollway authority could either design, build, operate and maintain the toll road, or it could manage the entire project as a standalone effort, Harris said.

Board members approved a study to review at their Nov. 11 meeting. The state's deadline for a SH 121 decision is Dec. 31.

Collin County will not support the project if tolls exceed 15 cents per mile, Harris said. Tolls could be higher if a private company is involved, Harris said. Private companies have stated they would need to generate between $365 and $400 million from the project, he said.

"It will probably be a lot less money for TxDOT if NTTA gets this project. They see it as a cash cow," he said. "It's unfortunate that's the current philosophy of TxDOT."

Harris' comments came hours before Hatchell was scheduled to meet with Texas Department of Transportation officials about Collin County's proposal.

The cities of Plano, Allen, Frisco and McKinney, and Collin County passed resolutions to create a Local Government Corporation to manage construction, maintenance and ownership of the project estimated to cost $365 million. The proposal calls for revenues to finance only SH 121 and not other roads -- unlike the Denton County section of SH 121, from which additional revenue will fund other projects.

Gaining approval from TxDOT will probably be the biggest obstacle to the plan, Hatchell said.

"This needs to be a local decision made at the regional level," said Bob Brown TxDOT deputy district engineer for the Dallas District. "The good news is that there are lots of options that are all feasible."

The NTTA needs to be more responsive and aggressive to pursue the SH 121 project, said Paul Wageman, the NTTA board member representing Collin County.

"The NTTA is the toll provider in the county, and we need to be involved," he said. " This project is in the heart of our county and at the intersection of the Dallas North Tollway. It's in our best interest to consider doing this."

The NTTA operates the Dallas North Tollway and the President George Bush Turnpike.

"It sounds like the first choice is for NTTA to build and operate the road, because you want to make sure there is consistent service in the region," said NTTA Chair Dave Blair. "Whatever the outcome, at a minimum, it sounds like you want us to operate the system."

Private companies vying for the SH 121 project are proposing to pay for using the right-of-way owned by TxDOT. They include Skansa BOT, Macquarie Infrastructure Group, Texas Toll & Power, Cintra from Madrid, Spain and team of Pioneer Heritage Partners, Transurban Inc. Fluor Enterprises and Parsons Transportation Group.

Unlike NTTA's current system-wide approach, Collin County citizens want the project to be managed separately and dedicate bond revenues to SH 121 and not other projects, Harris said. The NTTA used a similar approach when it started separate projects for the Dallas North Tollway and Mountain Creek Bridge in Grand Prairie, Harris said.

Collin County leaders want SH121 improvements to serve growth, Harris said. The county is gaining 40,000 people a year and could add 200,000 people in the five years it would take to build SH 121.

"That's almost another Plano, and it's all coming to where the extension of the Dallas North Tollway is," Harris said.

The county plans to provide $200 million to build interchanges at Dallas North Tollway and Central Expressway that were not included in previous TxDOT plans, Harris said. Cities along SH121 would provide $35 million in police, operations and lane maintenance expenses valued at $35 million, he said.

The first hurdle for SH 121's prospective tolls passed last week when the Regional Transportation Council gave contingency approval for Collin County's plans. The vote allows TxDOT to start detailed design work, said Harris.

"I took a beating at that meeting because we want to keep the money in Collin County," Harris said. "But, that's not new, because Denton County is keeping all of theirs."

Contact staff writer Amy Morenz at 972-398-4263 or

©Star Community Newspapers 2005


"Public servants are being "rolled" by banks wanting to make big profits out of public-private infrastructure projects."

Macquarie vulnerable, broker says

October 20, 2005

Richard Gluyas and Glenda Korporaal
The Australian
Copyright 2005

INVESTOR sentiment could be turning against the "millionaires' factory" Macquarie Bank, according to a leading firm of stockbrokers, which yesterday downgraded its rating of the nation's largest investment bank.

Goldman Sachs JBWere said Macquarie's recent meteoric rise, as well as its reliance on fees from specialist funds holding infrastructure assets including toll roads, were vulnerable to changes in sentiment and it advised investors against buying the stock.

Goldman said the recent switch in sentiment towards the bank, which has no involvement in Sydney's expensive and under-used Cross City Tunnel, has a parallel in the investor backlash that followed Macquarie's $5.6billion purchase of Sydney airport in 2002.

Macquarie was criticised for paying too much and ramping fees to earn a financial return.

Shares in the nation's biggest investment bank surged to a record high of $78.23 on September 27.

But since then, amid faltering global share markets, it has been mostly downhill.

Yesterday, the bank's stock shed a further $2.41, or 3.7per cent, to $63.51.

Goldman downgraded Macquarie from a buy recommendation to a hold, citing factors including increased competition for infrastructure assets and inferior performance by all of the bank's listed specialist funds.

However, at the same time Goldman Sachs JBWere was downgrading Macquarie to hold, Credit Suisse First Boston was upgrading the merchant bank from hold to buy.

CSFB said there were some valid concerns about Macquarie but they were "overdone".

A Macquarie spokesman said yesterday the bank did not comment on analysts' reports.

Meanwhile, a project management expert warned yesterday that public servants were being "rolled" by banks wanting to make big profits out of public-private infrastructure projects.

Australian Institute of Project Management president David Dombkins called for a halt to new public-private sector projects such as the Cross City Tunnel to allow governments to design more appropriate deals.

These should include lower profits for banks and the inclusion of community service obligation provisions that would allow governments to have a continuing say in the project.

Dr Dombkins said the PPP projects negotiated to date in Australia had all ended up costing at least twice as much as they needed to.

"The deals that are being done don't deliver for the public anyway," he said. "It is the banks that have got control. We have very immature governments in Australia, which are being rolled by the banks."

His comments came as a leading pensioner group joined the growing criticism of public-private sector deals such as the Cross City Tunnel.

Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association president Morrie Mifsud said many pensioners were concerned at the growing trend for private-sector involvement in government services such as transportation and health.

In a submission to the NSW Public Accounts Committee, the association called for an end to PPP deals used to deliver public services.

"The association calls on all governments to halt this practice and to use public funding to build infrastructure and deliver services on the basis of public need, not private profits or contractual pressure," it said.

© The Australian:


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"Governments should avoid public-private infrastructure deals led by investment banks"

Public-private funding pitfall

October 19, 2005

Glenda Korporaal and Ean Higgins
The Australian
Copyright 2005

GOVERNMENTS should avoid public-private infrastructure deals led by investment banks because they are motivated by profit over community benefits, a former top NSW public servant, Gary Sturgess, warned yesterday.

Mr Sturgess, now head of London-based think tank the Serco Institute, said there was a danger that such deals were primarily driven by financial engineering, not delivering the best outcome for the community.

He is to make his points this morning before a special meeting of the NSW Public Accounts Committee convened to hear his evidence during his trip to Australia.

"There seems to me to be a difference between companies who see these projects as essentially an operational contract and those for whom it is simply a financing deal," he said.

"Having a (public sector) project led by an investment bank does suggest that the value in the project lies in the financial engineering, not in value-adding infrastructure or public service."

Mr Sturgess, the director of the cabinet office in the Greiner government, said there was nothing intrinsically wrong with public-private sector infrastructure deals, providing the government negotiated a proper contract upfront and did not just do deals with operators who cared only about the financial aspects.

Investment banks had a significant contribution to make in putting together the financing for public-private sector deals but the financial aspects should not be allowed to dominate deals to provide projects for the public sector. There was "something wrong with the market' for such projects when it came to be dominated by investment banks", Mr Sturgess said.

Deals between state governments and the private sector have come under fire in the past fortnight, after it was revealed that the NSW Government signed contracts for a cross-city tunnel and another tunnel in Sydney's north that provided for the diversion of traffic from public roads into the privately operated tunnels.

Mr Sturgess said public-private infrastructure deals could have value if they produced more innovation in the construction or the operational of projects such as toll roads and tunnels. But the deals should not be dominated by financial engineering. "If you have a system where investment banks are habitually and frequently leading on public-private sector partnership deals, it suggests something is not quite right with the design of the market."

The onus was on a government to ensure it was doing deals with operators that had a long-term interest in the project and were not just wanting a quick profit.

Mr Sturgess said the British experience with PPP deals had shown the private sector could be involved where the operators delivered on their promises and did not just approach the projects in crass commercial terms.

The NSW Opposition yesterday broadened its attack on the Government over the handling of its public-private partnerships, raising questions in parliament about the $2billion desalination plant planned for Sydney.

Opposition Leader Peter Debnam asked Utilities Minister Carl Scully, previously roads minister, responsible for the private toll tunnels: "Given that even your own colleagues acknowledge you made mistakes and unnecessary compromises on your last major infrastructure projects, what compromises in community interests are you now negotiating away as part of Labor's $2 billion desalination plant?"

Mr Scully replied: "Yes, when you negotiate you make compromises. Yes - big deal." He said the Government was negotiating with a short list of three tenderers for the desalination plant.

© The Australian


"Toll road debts are skidding out of control."

Analyst says toll roads heading for trouble

Wednesday, 19 October , 2005

Reporter: Stephen Long
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Copyright 2005

TONY EASTLEY: It wasn't so long ago that toll roads were seen as a sure way to make money but now questions are being asked about whether even some of Australia's busiest toll roads will make enough in the long run to pay their debts.

One expert says the traffic targets set by the companies are far too ambitious, and he wonders how they'll turn a profit.

Finance Correspondent Stephen Long reports.

STEPHEN LONG: There's a lot of millionaires at Macquarie Bank thanks to roll roads and until recently, tollway companies have been darlings of the stock market.

But now there are claims that toll road debts are skidding out of control.

JOHN GOLDBERG: I don't think it's sustainable in the long-term at all.

STEPHEN LONG: That's Dr John Goldberg of Sydney University. He's analysed the accounts of the M2 motorway in Sydney's north-west, and Citylink in Melbourne - both now owned by Transurban.

He says the way they value future cash flows is optimistic and implausible, and as to the long-run estimates of vehicle use, well, they're one big traffic jam.

JOHN GOLDBERG: You're talking about traffic which corresponds to gridlock, particularly in the peak two hour period in the mornings.

STEPHEN LONG: So basically to make the kind of revenues in the future that the toll road companies are predicting, they would have levels of traffic that would just be choking, amounting to gridlock?

JOHN GOLDBERG: Exactly. Exactly.

STEPHEN LONG: Dr Goldberg claims there are similar problems with Macquarie toll roads.

JOHN GOLDBERG: If you take Connect East, it's structured the same way. The Eastern Distributor in Sydney is structured the same way.

STEPHEN LONG: Toll roads cost a lot to build and generally don't make a profit for many years. So to make their stock attractive to investors, toll road companies borrow against future earnings, and pay that yet to be earned money out to shareholders in dividends today, often refinancing and upping the debt again and again.

Of course those debts eventually have to be repaid. So to keep investors fed with dividends, toll road companies have to buy new assets and start the process all over again. It's a model widely accepted by the financial markets but that doesn't convince or surprise the critics.

JOHN GOLDBERG: You know, you've got the analysts, stockbrokers and nobody wants to know.

STEPHEN LONG: In fact, some investors are raising concerns.

Goldman Sachs JBWere recently rated Transurban a long-term "sell" because it's so heavily geared, that nearly half of its future payments to shareholders will come from debt.

But few seem to buy the claims that Transurban's toll roads won't make enough to pay their debts or Dr Goldberg's claim that the projects are only viable because of tax breaks.

A spokesman for Transurban said Dr Goldberg was a lone voice and his analysis was full of fundamental mistakes. He pointed out that the company's debt has a robust "A-minus" credit rating.

TONY EASTLEY: Stephen Long reporting.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation:


TTC-69's "Environmental Streamlining" threatens Texas inshore fisheries

Trans-Texas Highway Threatens Texas’ Inshore Fisheries

By Ret Talbot
Shallow Water Angler
Copyright 2005

The recent passage of the National Highway Bill advances the Trans-Texas highway project, which may significantly impact Texas’ recreational inshore fishery. Interstate 69 Texas, a key component of the project, will cut a quarter-mile-wide swath of asphalt, rails and utility lines across the grasslands of the western coastal plain.

When completed, it will represent the southern terminus of 1,600 miles of transportation infrastructure designed to bolster North American trade from Mexico to Canada. As a result, an unprecedented amount of industrial traffic and secondary development will impact this fragile ecosystem along a route which crosses every major river system in Texas.

Because the health of estuaries and bays depends on the health of these rivers, I-69 Texas poses a very real threat to one of the nation’s most important inshore fisheries.

Texas Parks and Wildlife’s (TPWD) Director of Aquatic Resources Dr. Larry McKinney calls the bays and estuaries Texas’ most valuable natural resource. “Texas possesses among the best inland and coastal fisheries in the United States,” McKinney says.

In the last seven years, Texas has added 168,000 new saltwater anglers, a rate of 2,000 per month. Many of these anglers are attracted to Texas’ shallow water which supports world-class redfish and seatrout fisheries, as well as a recovering tarpon fishery. Texas’ bays and estuaries, according to McKinney, provide for an industry worth at least $2.5 billion each year.

Over the past 60 years though, development in the coastal plain, as well as significant impact to the rivers that provide the essential fresh water to the state’s estuaries, has taken its toll. Today, 35 percent of Texas’ population lives in this region, and much of the state’s industrial infrastructure and commerce—including more than half of the nation’s chemical and petroleum production—is situated within 100 miles of the Gulf.

While the Trans-Texas project promises “an extensive environmental review,” the agencies in charge of the review are woefully under-funded. Although federal law requires that each of the 13 segments of independent utility along proposed I-69 Texas have separate environmental impact statements (EIS), all segments are now subject to “fast track” review due to an executive order from Washington.

Rollin MacRae is TPWD’s wetlands program leader in resource protection. For the past four years, his office—the Wetlands Conservation Program in Inland Fisheries—has been involved in assessing the impact of I-69. While MacRae is relatively hopeful about minimizing I-69’s impact, he acknowledges some impacts are unavoidable.

“The tributaries, especially small ones, would be the main casualties, due to filling, re-routing and channelization,” he says. “When streams are affected by road projects there is usually no way to just create more stream habitat, there or elsewhere.”

In addition to the habitat loss, the increased pollution load on the environment will likely be significant. “The factor that probably won’t be considered in the EIS,” MacRae points out, “is secondary development of infrastructure by the private sector, as towns and cities spring up along these roadways.”

Providing adequate consideration to the constantly changing plans of the Trans-Texas project is the hard part. According to MacRae, “Funding for regulatory and review functions of many of the agencies is being reduced while the workloads are increasing.” MacRae encourages the general public and concerned interest groups to remain informed, involved and ever vigilant.

To learn more about the Trans-Texas project, visit Texas DOT’s I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor Study website at where you can also submit public comment. Interested individuals may also wish to visit’s website ( This site seeks to increase public awareness and understanding of the Trans-Texas project and provide resources to identify and address potential negative impacts.


© 2005 Primedia Enthusiast Magazine:


Prop 1 : "This is going to be an amendment to issue bonds, and we're the ones who will be holding the bank"

Rail line relocation on ballot

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

By Stephen Palkot
Fort Bend Herald
Copyright 2005

A Texas Constitutional amendment dealing with railroad lines could be of great help to Fort Bend County, but questions over its finances leave some skeptical.

Amendment No. 1 to the Texas Constitution would create a Texas rail and relocation fund, which is proposed as a treasury through which the state can raise general obligation bonds. Those funds, in turn, would pay for constructing and relocating rail lines, along with the construction of bridges and other related infrastructure.

Rosenberg Mayor Joe Gurecky said for years local leaders have wanted to relocate rail lines, as increasing rail traffic creates conflicts with auto traffic and increases the potential for a costly and dangerous rail accident. However, high costs have prevented action.

County Judge Bob Hebert has also been examining the issue, and he has supported studies looking into rail relocation. He believes the proposed amendment could help the county in this endeavor.

"I think it would be a good tool," he said.

Gov. Rick Perry strongly supports the amendment, said spokesman Robert Black. Passing the measure by constitutional amendment allows the treasury greater options than by state law.

"The governor has been a longtime advocate of taking steps to move our rail cargo lines out of the city centers. We have hazardous materials on railroad tracks going next to schools, through neighborhoods, and where trail derailments are all too frequent," he said.

However, opponents of the amendment point out that no specific number has been given for the relocation fund, and that relocating rail lines could be extremely expensive.

Rail companies have signed memorandums of agreement to fund rail projects in conjunction with the state, but have not agreed on any dollar amounts.

State Rep. Dora Olivo, D-Rosenberg, said she urges voters to examine the issue before casting their own ballot.

"There are some concerns I have about it. And some of those are that this is an expensive proposition. This is going to be an amendment to issues bonds, and we're the ones who will be holding the bank.

"Cities like San Antonio that have really grown, they don't want rail lines running through them. But the rail lines are important for industry, and most industry doesn't like going out to the 'sticks.'"

State Rep. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, supports the measure. He said the creation of the state treasury fund could speed the rehabilitation of the abandoned Tex-Mex rail line along U.S. 59, a project highly anticipated by neighboring Wharton County.

"I envision that the fund could have been beneficial many years ago to get that rail rebuilt," he said.

Funding the rail lines could benefit the entire state by encouraging industry along the lines and therefore, yield taxes for the communities along the rails, said Hegar.

"At the end of the day, I saw it as more of a benefit for the state and the district," he said.

Copyright © 2005 • This is an on-line publication of the Fort Bend Herald:


" There may not be enough voices crying in the wilderness to fend off the corridor."

Voice in the Wilderness

By Dave Lewis

Managing Editor
The Navasota Examiner
Copyright 2005

Voters don't normally pay much attention to constitutional amendments that show up on the November ballots in Texas unless the amendments look like they might directly impact them.

There are nine proposed amendments on the Nov. 8 special election ballot, and probably the hottest one is Proposition 2. It would amend the state constitution to prohibit recognizing as legal marriage between anyone except a man and a woman. In short, Texas wouldn't recognize same sex marriages, even if performed in another state where they are legal and the people involved move here.

Not so politically charged - but certainly closer to home - are a couple of other amendments that look as if they are directly hooked to building the I-69 TransTexas Corridor, which most folks in Grimes County vocally oppose.

Proposition 1, if passed, would let the state use tax money to relocate, expand or improve private and public passenger and rail facilities and build overpasses and underpasses. If memory serves, one of the items being touted by TransTexas Corridor supporters is making room for railroad lines.

Just down the list is Proposition 5, which would allow the state legislature to set maximum rates for commercial loans. Those loans would apply to agriculture, business, investment commercial or similar purposes. It would appear TransTexas Corridor plans include all of those except agriculture.

Proposition 9, if approved, would allow the state legislature to award six-year terms for board members serving on regional mobility authorities. The buzz words here are "regional mobility authorities." It is safe to say, some regional mobility authority would have a lot to do with the TransTexas Corridor.

Opponents of the TransTexas Corridor loudly proclaim it is Gov. Rick Perry's baby, but we all know that Texas governors - whoever they are - don't have nearly as much power as those of other states. I'm not a really big Rick Perry fan, but he didn't put these amendments on the ballot. They were placed there by members of the Texas House and Senate. I rather doubt the governor held a gun to anyone's head.

Truth of the matter is, Texas doesn't have as many rural voices in Austin as it once did, although most of Texas is still wide open space. The voices in Austin now, at least in the house, come from elected officials who represent large populations who demand more and more goods. Texas will need more and more highways to supply those populations with the goods they demand, but a highway to connect - and to benefit - Mexico and Canada will likely hurt more Texans in the long run than it will help.

At least, with the propositions now on the ballot, voters are being given a voice, but there may not be enough voices crying in the wilderness to fend off the corridor.

Copyright © 2005 The Navasota Examiner.


Proposition 9: Longer terms would entrench extra layer of RMA Bureaucracy

Voters will decide toll board terms


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

Proposition 9 on the Nov. 8 ballot is simple enough on the surface, but a roiling debate over the state's plunge into toll roads could set this milquetoast on fire.

Regional mobility authorities are essentially local toll-road agencies that — per state policy — are tolling new highway lanes wherever possible.

Voters will consider whether to extend terms of board members, including those with the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority in San Antonio, from two years to six years.

The Legislature tried to do that in 2003. But a Travis County district judge ruled a few months ago that the new law violates a constitutional provision that limits terms of local boards to two years.

In the Legislature's regular session earlier this year, lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide the issue.

Supporters say the six-year terms, which would be staggered, would guarantee a long learning curve needed for complex projects that take years to implement. And toll-road investors will feel more comfortable knowing that decision makers will hang around for a while.

In a word, it comes down to predictability, said Tom Griebel, director of the mobility authority in San Antonio.

"It's essential," he said. "A six-year term for a board would give it a lot of continuity and stability."

Opponents say longer terms would make what's already a problem even worse.

Mobility authority boards are appointed, not elected, and therefore not directly accountable to voters. Yet these authorities can use gas taxes and public rights of way to help build tollways, replace existing non-tolled highways with frontage roads and set toll fees.

Boards are accountable to the governor, who appoints the chairmen, and also county commissioners, who appoint the rest of the members. Longer terms would make them less accountable to those elected officials, critics argue.

"We need more accountability, not less," said Sal Costello of People for Efficient Transportation.

PET filed a lawsuit to challenge the 2003 law that attempted to create six-year terms, which led to this year's ruling.

A Texas comptroller report earlier this year recommended four-year terms, to match the terms of elected officials making the board appointments.
San Antonio Express-News:


Amendment would pay railroads to get on the TTC Gravy Train

Proposal would OK rail bonds


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

San Antonio residents last year saw the horrors of trains crashing, spewing poison, spilling fuel and killing people.

Five people died and 50 were injured in incidents including the deadliest chemical accident on the rails in more than a decade. Still, the city was lucky — densely populated areas were spared a major disaster.

Activists cried for reforms, and local leaders pressured Union Pacific to improve safety and scrambled to come up with ways to reroute trains out of the inner city.

Now voters will decide whether to approve a new funding option.

Proposition 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot would let the state sell bonds to acquire land for freight and passenger rail and help build and improve tracks.

"This is right in line with what we've been saying," said Genaro Rendon, co-director of the Southwest Workers' Union. "It's good to see that there's movement forward."

But others, especially those stung by the state's push to partner with companies to build toll roads, want to put the brakes on what they say could end up becoming another scheme to line the pockets of private industry.

"It's basically a blank check and an open-ended tax subsidy for private rail corporations," said Terri Hall of Texas Toll Party — San Antonio.

If voters approve the constitutional amendment, the Legislature would still have to create a fund to leverage bonds. Estimates show that $100 million a year for 20 years could generate $1 billion upfront for projects.

Building railroad tracks around San Antonio could cost more than $1 billion and take a decade or more, officials say.

Money could be used to get truck freight off highways, reroute trains to rural areas, reduce air pollution and create economic opportunities. That includes getting Union Pacific through trains off the Interstate 35 corridor from San Antonio to Austin and upgrading old tracks for commuter rail.

"It gives us some opportunities to solve some huge transportation problems down the road if we're successful with this," Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said.

Efforts could tie in with the Trans Texas Corridor, a 4,000-mile network of toll roads, rail lines and utility lines to be built across the state over 50 years. State officials signed a contract earlier this year with a private consortium to develop plans for the segment east of I-35.

Critics point out that borrowing does not produce new money — it just delays the payments. And debt service on the rail bonds could cost the state $87.5 million a year.

"That's something that the railroads can pay for by themselves," said Mark Sanders, spokesman for state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is challenging Gov. Rick Perry in the GOP primary.

In March, Perry announced historic pacts with UP and Burlington Northern Santa Fe that say public and private funds spent for railroad tracks should match, respectively, public and private benefits.

UP rolls up to 70 trains a day through San Antonio and is having a hard time keeping up with growing freight demand, officials say. New tracks east of I-35 would get more cargo moving faster while avoiding choke points here and in Fort Worth.

Then UP could compete better with trucks using I-35, said Bruce Flohr, a railroad consultant and chairman of the Bexar County Rail District. Each rail car can handle three to four truckloads, he said.

San Antonio Express-News:


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Several election revolutions needed to kick-out lackluster governor, a few dozen incompetent special-interest legislators and appointed officials.

Texas politics killing Texas families: a slow, painful, agonizing death

Oct 18, 2005

By Peter Stern
North Texas e-News
Copyright 2005

Special interest politics and economics are killing Texas families in their wallets and quality of life, slowly but surely. After years of setting-up the public by sliding through "back-door" legislation, the corporate sector and their in-pocket state and local officials are working hard to put the screws into their taxpaying constituents.

Point of Fact: Several election revolutions are needed to kick-out a lackluster governor and a few dozen incompetent special-interest elected legislators and appointed officials.

During the past several years legislators circumvented resolving the inadequate financing of Texas public schools and the repercussions of that avoidance hit homeowners hard in their property taxes. In five years property taxes of some homeowners sky-rocketed from $2,400 to more than $10,000 per year.

Beware of promises! The governor and legislators promised to make school financing and high property taxes the sole priority. Well, blatantly stated, they lied! They did NOT resolve the school finance issue, nor were homeowners provided any relief. In fact, property taxes via tax rate and/or appraisal values rose again.

Furthermore, since the state consistently refuses to resolve the urgent inadequate public school finance issue many districts have had to hold bond elections to repair or build schools. When bond issues are approved by voters, property taxes increase again. In addition, when bond issues are approved the state has pushed its own responsibility onto local government.

Another issue hitting Texans hard is that families no longer can afford to send their children to private higher education institutions thanks to the governor and legislators, who pushed the legislation for tuition deregulation. Even with the tuition deregulation, Texans pay additional taxes to higher education institutions via the state's gasoline tax. You know, that tax that is supposed to go to building and maintaining Texas roadways? Well, a large chunk of the gas tax still goes to universities and colleges. Isn't it interesting that now after diverting those taxes to higher education the governor and legislators want to build toll roads because the state doesn't have the money available to build "free" roads?

Special interests via the governor and state officials are pushing through toll plans and approving projects contrary to the public's wishes. Texans will be paying toll taxes forever and thus, will be a plague upon our children's children. The GOP platform of "NO New Taxes" has left the state on this issue. Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn appears to be the only Republican gubernatorial candidate who plans to keep the Party's platform and who considers Texas families. Most elected officials have sold out to the highest bidder --- like, toll road icon CINTRA. Meanwhile, TxDOT is permitted to sit on taxpayer dollars until the need for toll roads becomes paramount. There is no question that TxDOT needs an independent panel for oversight to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used for those reasons taxpayer provided the dollars in the first place.

Currently, most of the mainstream Texas news media, e.g., Austin American-Statesman, Dallas Morning News,, are advocating all or most of the proposed amendments (November 8th election) to the Texas Constitution PROMISING voters that these 9 proposals are in the best interests of the Texas community.

Voters need to think for one minute.... Now, where have we heard that before?

VOTE OUT ALL SPECIAL INTEREST INCUMBENTS in the next several elections!

Peter Stern

© Copyright 2002-2005 by North Texas e-News, llc


Monday, October 17, 2005

Under the Influence: Pub takeover and Australian toll boycott give Macquarie a Hangover

Takeover talk hits Macquarie shares

October 17, 2005
The Age, (Australia)
Copyright 2005

Shares in Macquarie Bank Ltd reversed sharply on Monday amid reports that it is making a takeover bid for British pub operator Spirit Group.

But one analyst believed the share price fall could be linked to concerns about the sustainability of Macquarie's road toll model in light of the boycott by Sydney motorists of the new Cross City Tunnel.

Spirit owns and operates 2,000 pubs in the United Kingdom and last month sold 178 of its city pubs and bars to Tattersall Castle Group for STG177 million ($A426.7 million).

A London newspaper said Macquarie approached Spirit last week over a possible deal.

The newspaper said Spirit, which is owned by private equity groups Texas Pacific, Blackstone and CVC Capital and investment bank Merrill Lynch, is valued at around STG3 billion ($A7.2 billion).

A Macquarie spokesman said the bank would not comment on market speculation.

Macquarie shares fell 4.5 per cent or $2.95 to $62.75.

One analyst, who did not wanted to be named, said the fall in the bank's share price could be associated with Macquarie's toll roads, sparked by Sydney motorists avoiding the Cross City Tunnel which is operated by CrossCity Motorway.

"The profitability of the road does not look like meeting (CrossCity Motorway's) initial expectations and that could be rubbing off on Macquarie," the analyst said.

Macquarie has more than a dozen specialist funds investing in assets around the world such as airports and shopping centres, and although it is not involved in the Cross City Tunnel, it does operate Sydney's Eastern Distributor and M2 Motorway.

The operator of the tunnel, which links Sydney's eastern suburbs with Darling Harbour, has declared drivers can use the route free for three weeks from October 24.

"The private providers of the Cross City Tunnel are giving an unexpected concession to motorists to encourage them to use the tunnel," the analyst said.

But the analyst said the size of a potential Spirit takeover could be causing some nervousness amongst investors.

"I don't know if people are worried about the size of this potential acquisition of Spirit but I do know there has been a total absence of detail about it," the analyst said.

Copyright © 2005. The Age Company Ltd.


Prop. 1: Anti-toll road activists say freight rail carriers — not taxpayers — should pay for rail improvements.

Prop. 1? It sounds like a freight train

Monday, October 17, 2005

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

I don't mean to startle you, or ruin your day, but there's an election coming up.

Early voting for the Nov. 8 election, in fact, begins a week from Monday. If you've heard of the election, which involves Texans deciding whether to add nine more amendments to our ever-expanding Texas Constitution, it probably has to do with Proposition 2. That's the one that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Can't find any possible transportation angle to that one. But there are two propositions that properly belong in this space, Propositions 1 and 9. If you'll sit still for a little civic medicine, this week's column will explore Proposition 1, which would set up a state fund for relocating freight railroads. Next week I'll look at Proposition 9, a less consequential proposal involving regional mobility authority board members.

Proposition 1, if we approve it, would create the "Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund." Except that it wouldn't, really, because the Legislature hasn't yet dedicated any money to it. Lawmakers would have to do that in 2007.

The money — borrowed and paid back from dedicated state revenue sources — would be spent to build new freight lines outside of urban areas, or improve existing ones. All of the state's big cities have old freight rail lines cutting right through them, tying up traffic, endangering drivers at crossings and carrying hazardous materials close to homes and businesses on a daily basis. Build rural alternatives, the thinking goes, and urban life would be improved by having only local freight runs on city tracks. Transit agencies could then run passenger rail cars on the newly available tracks. And, in theory, with more capacity on freight lines, the state's highways would have fewer 18-wheelers.

No one knows for sure what all this would cost, though the number $10 billion has been bandied about. State officials have talked about dedicating about $100 million a year to it, allowing them to borrow about $1 billion. The rest would have to come from someplace else: local government, transit agencies, freight carriers or, perhaps, from Trans-Texas Corridor builder Cintra-Zachry.

Procedurally, this is a replay of what happened with the Texas Mobility Fund, a comparison not likely to make toll-road-aphobes comfortable. Texas voters in November 2001 approved the creation of that highway fund, then the Legislature came back in 2003 and ginned up some new fees that, along with some money from preexisting fees, will allow the state eventually to borrow $3 billion to $4 billion. And if the Legislature in its wisdom pinpoints other ongoing sources of money for the fund, it could borrow even more.

It's that blank-check quality — as well as the intended use, toll roads — that has put the mobility fund in bad odor with some folks, and some of its aroma is wafting over onto this railroad proposal. Anti-toll road activists say freight rail carriers — not taxpayers — should pay for rail improvements.

Next week: Proposition 9.
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Sunday, October 16, 2005

"Why do officials keep on trying to shove the TTC down our throats?"

Letter to the Editor: Public doesn't want tolls

Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

My wife and I attended the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting in Austin on Oct. 10. Most, if not all, of the CAMPO board members have been elected to represent what the majority of their constituency wants.

Since April, I have talked to hundreds of individuals in eastern Williamson County, including ranchers and farmers in the Granger and Bartlett area, and many more people from Milam County, including Thorndale, Rockdale and Cameron. No one from these communities want the Trans Texas Corridor.

Why, then, when the majority of people in Central Texas do not want this massive toll road, do officials keep on trying to shove it down our throats?


Liberty Hill

Austin American-Statesman:


"The ploy is to move private rail into Gov. Rick Perry's Texas Corridor, after he promised no public funds would be used."

Letters: Hungry tax wolves

Sunday, October 16, 2005
Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

In 2001, 67 percent voted for Proposition 15, not realizing it opened the door for the unpopular Trans Texas Corridor, the privatizing of nonelected officials and the tolling of roads already paid for.

Today, the "tax wolves" are back.

Proposition 1 rail fund takes unlimited tax dollars and creates open-ended debt for generations to subsidize private corporations' rail via a blank check. The ploy is to move private rail into Gov. Rick Perry's Texas Corridor, after he promised no public funds would be used. The Texas GOP platform opposes the Texas Corridor because it's the largest land grab in Texas history.

Proposition 9 allows a bloated bureaucracy extended terms. The unelected, unaccountable regional mobility authorities seek to privatize and toll our public highways. They will set the toll rates for roads we've already paid for!

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn's report ( exposes their double taxation, unaccountability, conflicts and board members giving no-bid contracts to their friends and themselves.

Mr. Perry's special-interest regional mobility authorities should follow the Constitution and limit these terms to two years – not six.

Say "no" to Propositions 1 and 9.

Sal Costello, founder,
People for Efficient Transportation and, Austin

Dallas Morning News: