Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Strayhorn needles Gov. Perry and his TxDOT appointees for withholding public information about the Trans-Texas Corridor

Strayhorn blasts Perry over toll road contract

May. 31, 2006

Associated Press
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN - Independent candidate for governor Carole Keeton Strayhorn chided Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday for keeping secret the details of a state contract with a private company building Texas' colossal highway toll system.

It's been exactly a year since Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled a contract between the state transportation department and Cintra-Zachry is public information, Strayhorn said.

"We need government in the sunshine," Strayhorn said. "I'm calling on Gov. Perry to order his transportation department to drop its lawsuit and release to all Texans the secret contract with a foreign company."

Cintra-Zachry, the Spanish and American partnership working on the first phase of the Trans Texas Corridor highway system, and the Texas Department of Transportation went to court to keep parts of the deal sealed.

Robert Black, a spokesman for Perry's re-election campaign, said Strayhorn is merely keeping up her tactic of criticizing the governor.

"We've all been down this road before: Carole Strayhorn is angry and wants attention so she launches a shrill, trumped-up attack," Black said.

Uproar over the governor's Trans Texas Corridor has emerged as a leading campaign issue for Strayhorn, who has appeared at anti-toll road rallies. On Wednesday, some anti-toll activists and Hill County officials joined Strayhorn at a news conference, nodding in agreement with her.

She denounced the recent statements of the Texas Transportation Commission chairman who told North Texas leaders that "if you aggressively invite the private sector to be your partner, you can't tell them where to build the road."

"Texas property belongs to Texans, not foreign companies; Texas freeways belong to Texans, not foreign companies," she said, adding that Texans won't sit by and let the governor "cram toll roads down our throats."

Black, Perry's spokesman, said that in 1999 Strayhorn praised foreign investment in Texas. He also said most of the Cintra-Zachry contract is available online to the public, minus the company's proprietary information.

Cintra-Zachry reached a $7.2 billion deal with the state last year to develop the first phase of the Trans Texas Corridor - a traffic route running roughly parallel to Interstate 35.

The overall plan calls for 4,000-plus miles of tollways and railways across the state that would incorporate oil and gas pipelines, utility and water lines and even broadband.

Strayhorn, Democrat Chris Bell and independent Kinky Friedman, Perry's major opponents, all have criticized the toll road plan.

On another front, Bell criticized Perry Wednesday for allowing the recent special legislative session to focus more on property tax cuts than on school improvements.

"I'm all for property tax relief ... that is not where the debate about public school education here in Texas begins and ends," Bell said, speaking to a group of high school students with the Junior Statesmen of America.

Bell said the state must give schools more money for increasing access to technology and reducing class size. And, though the Legislature approved a $2,000 raise for teachers, Bell said it would take $6,000 to bring teacher pay in Texas to the national average.

"That is not a serious approach to trying to attract or retain or teach our young people here in the state of Texas," Bell said.

In response, Perry's Black said Bell has never offered a plan to pay for a $6,000 teacher pay raise.

When signing new school funding legislation in Houston earlier in the day, Perry said the law rewards all teachers and, with its merit pay system, provides additional money for teachers who have "the greatest impact" in the classroom.


Associated Press writer April Castro contributed to this report.


Kelley Shannon has covered politics and government in Austin since 2000.

© 2006 The Associated Press: