Monday, April 23, 2007

"We need to do this quickly, while our state still belongs to the people."

Editorials & Opinions

Heading 'em off at the pass


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

Thousands of voters across Texas are in revolt against a scheme by Gov. Rick Perry and his allies that involves hundreds of billions of dollars, more than 1 million acres of prime farm and ranch land, and what could well become the largest cost-of-living increase in state history.

How is a true voter revolt even possible, in the crippled (if not broken) Texas electoral process?

The answer: 42 percent. That's the segment of voters who, according to a Wall Street Journal poll last November, self-identify as independent.

Independents shop the ballot, voting for the person, not the party -- 1.3 million of us voted in November for either the tough Grandma or Kinky. Our combined votes would have won 47 Texas counties and come in second in an additional 178.

Nationally, we helped the Democrats take back Congress (for now). And for now, we're helping Barak Obama send a message to the Democratic Party that it must seriously fight the overriding influence of special interests -- or lose the crucial support of independents.

Along with many good people in both parties and hundreds of local elected officials, we have been fighting to stop the state from putting one of our most valuable state assets -- highways -- up for sale (or "leases" of 50 years or more) to private interests.

We have pushed for a moratorium on these projects, like the Texas 121 road in Collin County as well as the mammoth Trans-Texas Corridor.

In the Metroplex, one of the most outspoken critics of the moratorium has been North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino.

The Star-Telegram quoted him Feb. 28 as saying: "We're going to take the biggest hit if there's any kind of moratorium on toll roads. The [Loop] 820 project has already been delayed for so many years. If there's a toll road backlash, it won't answer our congestion problems today, or for that matter the next five years."

What the paper failed to tell you is that Trevino is president and co-owner of J.L. Steele LP, a highway contractor, and a Texas Department of Transportation- approved road contracting company. And so it goes with Perry, TxDOT and their supporters.

The Trinity Parkway toll-road project in Dallas is, along with Texas 121, engendering much local opposition. In 1998, Dallas voters narrowly approved $246 million in bonds for park and flood control on the Trinity, only to find out later that they would get a six-lane, high-speed toll road at a cost now approaching $1 billion.

Independent Texans will be participating in a Dallas citizens referendum, led by City Councilwoman Angela Hunt, to undo this bait-and-switch deal. And Fort Worth community leaders, such as former City Councilman Clyde Picht (who is currently running again), have raised the possibility of flooding problems in Dallas if the Tarrant Regional Water District plan for the Trinity is implemented.

No major media have yet reported that President Bush's nomination for general counsel of the U.S. Department of Transportation is David J. Gribbin IV. He is a former employee of Macquarie Holdings, an investment partner of Cintra, the Spanish company that Perry wants to run these Texas toll roads.

According to Pat Choate, an infrastructure expert and author of American Ruins: The Decaying Infrastructure, Macquarie and Cintra are touting projected 12.5 to 18 percent profit margins on toll roads.

"Their investment banker, Goldman Sachs, is promising 18 percent returns to investors," Choate said. "I have talked with people who they have approached with that offer. These are very, very profitable deals."

Independents are looking to be the swing-and-sway votes in the Metroplex's hotly contested May 12 city council and mayoral races: We will help swing candidates' elections if they will help us sway Texas away from these highway heists.

But we need to do this quickly, while our state still belongs to the people.

Linda Curtis, founder of the group Independent Texans, has been involved in independent reform politics for 27 years and lives in the Austin area.

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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