Saturday, January 13, 2007

"There is a growing concern about the wide authority that has been given TxDOT in recent years as well as the abuse of that authority."

Some lawmakers want to rein in TxDOT toll roads


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

The Texas Department of Transportation's full-tilt charge to build toll roads wherever possible and let private companies collect fees and profits for half a century or more could hit a wall this legislative session.

TxDOT officials are asking for more money, more power and more flexibility to carry out toll-road ambitions, but some lawmakers say the agency has gone too far already.

"There is a growing concern about the wide authority that has been given TxDOT in recent years as well as the abuse of that authority," said Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

"I believe the Legislature will either significantly rein in TxDOT or at a minimum be very reluctant to pass any of the initiatives that TxDOT brings forward," he said.

Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, who as chairman of the House Transportation Committee authored two bills since 2003 that greatly expanded TxDOT's tolling powers, foresees a milder reaction but a debate and potential changes nonetheless.

"I don't know if it'll be a battleground," he said. "I think there'll be a healthy debate and a healthy discussion."

But as Carona and Krusee each push wildly differing bills to tie the gas tax to an inflation index — Carona wants to raise it twice as fast as Krusee — and thus reduce the need to build so many toll roads, they're not even sure what Gov. Rick Perry is willing to sign into law.

Perry, who likes how toll plans have gone so far, intends to stand back from the fray and see what legislators come up with.

"He supports letting lawmakers hash it out," said his spokesman, Ted Royer. "If they can send him a bill, he will take a look at it."

TxDOT officials, who say Texas toll strategies will soon be a template for the rest of the nation, will be on hand to point out costs and benefits of changes legislators propose.

"Those boys and girls pass the laws and we live with them and smile," said Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission.

TxDOT's road to tolls got bumpier last year as more people began to realize what could be in store — the agency wants to toll every new highway lane feasible and is willing to limit improvements to free roads to guarantee use of tollways.

Then complaints rolled in that TxDOT was using its financial might to coerce local officials from El Paso to Houston to play along, which the agency denies, and was pushing for 50-year concession deals with companies offering cash up front in exchange for profits that motorists would have to pay in higher toll fees.

"It's our own fault," said Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who as a member of the House Appropriations Committee helped write TxDOT budgets. "We gave them too much authority and trusted them too much."

Now TxDOT is recommending lawmakers lift the lid on concession agreements to give the state more bargaining room.

Officials want to remove several restrictions — a 2011 deadline to enter into such contracts, a 50- to 70-year limit on how long the agreements can last and a cap on public money that can be spent on concession projects, which is set at 40 percent of federal funds it gets.

The agency also wants to be able to suspend drivers' licenses and deny vehicle registrations when people fail to pay tolls and related fines, and give the same power to companies operating tollways for the state.

Carona has other ideas, especially when it comes to eliminating caps on how long concession contracts can last.

"They're dreaming," the senator said. "Under no circumstances will that be allowed to happen. We should be doing, in fact, the reverse."

With concern brewing across the state, Carona scheduled a March 1 hearing to air out how tolls are being implemented.

He also filed SB 149 to stop TxDOT from including non-compete agreements in toll contracts, which restrict improvements to free roads, and another bill to index the gas tax to rising construction costs.

SB 165 covers the combined 38.4-cent a gallon state and federal taxes, but the increases for both would be added to the state portion. Borrowing on the proceeds would cover state transportation needs through 2030, a recent Governor's Business Council study says.

"Of all the options out there, this is the least painful," Carona said. "Most painful is the proliferation of toll roads."

Krusee said he'll bring back a bill he filed in the last regular session to index the state's 20-cent tax to consumer inflation, something people will more readily trust and understand.

That would raise less than half of what Carona's proposing but would still relieve pressure for toll roads.

"That's going to be a really interesting debate," Krusee said.

Krusee also expects tweaks to tolling laws, but he won't get on board with major changes such as blocking non-compete agreements. There's a tradeoff for everything, he said, and allowing more competition for toll roads means less private investments and more strain on tax funds.

"It's going to cost you money either way," he said. "There's just no free lunch in this."

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News:


"Perry appears to enjoy broad support among the corporate community, if not among the electorate."

Picking up the tab for Perry's party

The stage is set for Texas inauguration

January 13, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – Corporate interests representing liquor, construction, energy and insurance companies – many with business before the state – will provide $1.4 million for Gov. Rick Perry's daylong inaugural festivities.

From the parade and barbecue to the glittery black-tie ball, a host of big-dollar benefactors is footing the bill for much of Tuesday's celebration.

Mr. Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst will be sworn in at a noon ceremony at the Capitol that is expected to draw thousands of onlookers and attract the state's political and corporate elite.

Under state law, corporations are forbidden from contributing to political candidates but may pay for inaugural activities. Critics say special interests use the arrangement to curry favor with politicians.

Companies say political contributions are part of doing business in the state, and that every inauguration – for both Democrats and Republicans – has had corporate sponsors.

Among the donors are companies whose executives have won plum appointments by Mr. Perry as university regents and to commissions dealing with everything from highways to hunting leases.

Dallas-based TXU Corp., which sought Mr. Perry's assistance to speed construction of 11 new coal-fired power plants, is a $15,000 donor. An effort to stop the "fast-tracking" permits is expected to be a hot issue between the governor and critics in the Legislature.

Other business donors have a variety of state interests, including toll roads, liquor regulation, insurance rates, taxes and real estate.

Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Mr. Perry, said that by underwriting the costs, private donors are helping save tax dollars and making the inaugural more affordable.

"These are individuals and corporations who choose to be part of a historical event and help plan a celebration that involves Texans all across the state," she said.

Another view

Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit group that tracks campaign contributions, said corporate executives get access and special treatment unavailable to the average citizen.

Mr. McDonald said the Republican governor depended on big-dollar donors to win re-election with 39 percent of the vote against four challengers and is now cashing in on corporations for the celebration.

"It's a party the corporate lobby can't afford to miss," he said. "Governor Perry appears to enjoy broad support among the corporate community, if not among the electorate."

Governors elsewhere have been criticized for accepting corporate donations for inaugural parties, including Arnold Schwarzenegger in California and Deval Patrick in Massachusetts. At least one, incoming New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, instead used $5.5 million in leftover campaign funds. Mr. Spitzer also decided on a day of festivities open to the public rather than an inaugural ball.

Mr. Perry's private donations account for much of the $2 million inauguration budget. The balance will come from the sale of tickets to the inaugural ball at $75 per guest and lunches sold after the swearing-in. The cost of security and arrangements for the swearing-in ceremony itself is paid by the state.

Much of the expense for the inaugural is associated with the ball, including renting the Austin Convention Center, hiring personnel and the musical entertainment – rocker Ted Nugent and country crooner Clay Walker are on the bill.

Other expenses include erecting tents on the Capitol grounds for the barbeque – Dallas-based Eddie Deen Catering will set up 30 buffet rows to serve 800 whole briskets and 2,000 pounds of Earl Campbell-brand sausage. Then there's the cost of portable toilets and of hiring police and workers to prepare the parade route, erect bleachers and install traffic barriers.

The budget for this party is up from the $1.5 million budgeted for Mr. Perry's 2003 inauguration. That time, organizers also paid for a large chunk of the costs with corporate money.

This time, according to a list released by the inaugural committee, AT&T is the biggest contributor at $100,000, followed by five donors at $50,000 each and 16 individuals and corporations at $25,000.

Dannenbaum Engineering, a Houston construction company that has a state contract as part of Mr. Perry's toll road initiative, is a $10,000 donor.

Florida-based AshBritt Inc., a debris-removal company with strong Republican ties that has sought government contracts following hurricanes on the Gulf Coast and ice storms in Texas, has given $15,000. International RAM Associates, which assists in airport security in Texas and 15 other states, is a $25,000 donor.

Boards, commissions

Executives of several companies that are inaugural donors have been appointed by Mr. Perry to coveted boards and commissions.

Peter Holt of San Antonio is an appointee to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. His company, Holt CAT, has given $50,000 to the inauguration.

Irving investor and hotel owner Robert Rowling, whose TRT Holdings is a $10,000 donor, was appointed by Mr. Perry to the University of Texas Board of Regents. Frank Miller of Irving, whose real-estate company JPI is a $10,000 donor, is a Texas Tech regent.

Having chosen wrong in November's race for governor, at least one inaugural donor is putting his money on the winning side on Tuesday. Dallas dental-clinic operator David Alameel supported one of Mr. Perry's challengers, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, with $300,000 in contributions.

When the Republican governor and lieutenant governor are sworn in Tuesday, Mr. Alameel will be among the day's biggest financial benefactors – $50,000.


© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co


Friday, January 12, 2007

"State leaders owe Texans an honest view of the choices so they can decide whether they prefer more reliance on gasoline taxes or toll roads."

Texans deserve fair analysis of options


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

To hear some Texas officials tell it, privately funded toll roads are the only way to finance the state's growing population and the traffic it generates.

Traffic congestion rose by 126 percent from 1990 to 2000, despite increased state funding. With the population poised to balloon to 36 million by 2025, this scenario will likely continue.

But no one has been willing to seriously propose a gas tax increase of $1.20 a gallon, the figure touted by state officials as needed to fund an $86 billion statewide shortfall.

Turns out both those figures are inaccurate, according to a recent study by the Texas Transportation Institute, a research arm of the Texas Department of Transportation.

According to the report, the shortfall is more like $78 billion, and $22 billion of that is covered by local, not state, dollars.

Of the remaining $56 billion, about $44 billion is needed for the largest metropolitan areas. And funding for that chunk could be achieved with an 8-cent-per-gallon increase adjusted over time for inflation in construction costs. If the tax were not tied to inflation, it would have to be raised by a flat 31 cents per gallon.

Both figures are a far cry from an instant increase of $1.20.

The gas tax, which has not been raised in 15 years, is a mix of 20 cents in state taxes and 18.4 cents in federal taxes. Since 25 percent of the state tax goes to public education, a rise in the gas tax also means more badly needed dollars for schools, as Express-News transportation writer Patrick Driscoll reported.

Toll roads should be considered where appropriate, as they offer a viable option to motorists and provide considerable upfront money from private entities. But given this new information, a gas tax increase merits serious consideration as well.

The mantra of elected officials is that any increase in the gas tax is politically unpalatable. In pursuing such a measure, elected officials risk their political capital. While that may be true, it is unfortunate.

As consumers in the world's most prosperous nation, we must disabuse ourselves of the idea that our lifestyles must come cheaply.

Perhaps an increase in the gas tax, in addition to raising money, will raise awareness about the need for innovative forms of transportation, such as light rail or hybrid vehicles.

In his 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush spoke of America's addiction to oil. If this discussion over tolls versus taxes does anything, it should remind us of the bigger picture.

And at least state leaders owe Texans an honest view of the choices so they can decide whether they prefer more reliance on gasoline taxes or toll roads.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:


Let the healing begin... "Heel!"

Cap'n Craddick Foils Mutiny


Amy Smith
Illustration by Doug Potter
Austin Chronicle
Copyright 2007

In a marathon opening day, House Speaker Tom Craddick bullied his way to another term Tuesday and then promised a more responsive and inclusive style of leadership in the new legislative session.

"I am humbled by your vote of confidence," he said, after a series of floor maneuvers by his lieutenants left most members with no other choice.

Had the reps been able to cast secret ballots in the speaker's race, it was likely that Rep. Jim Pitts, a Waxahachie Republican and onetime member of Craddick's inner circle, would be the new speaker of the 80th Legislature.

But several Republicans who had privately defected from the Craddick side were not willing to put their necks on the line in a public vote, so Pitts withdrew his challenge, threw his support to Craddick, and told the House, "It's time to heal." And heel they did. Craddick prevailed on a vote of 121-27. Austin Democrat Eddie Rodriguez was the only Central Texas delegate to vote against him.

House members from both parties have long complained, publicly and privately, that Craddick's management style of fear and intimidation makes it difficult for them to vote in the best interests of their districts. Craddick said Tuesday that things would be different this time. "I want to be responsive to your personal needs," he said. – A.S.

© 2007 The Austin Chronicle:


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Blood Suckers

Emergency Vehicles Charged on Toll Road

January 11, 2007

By Emily Lopez
FOX 4 News (Dallas-Fort Worth)
Copyright 2007

The new Highway 121 toll road is a major artery through the Metroplex, long-awaited and welcomed by many.

"I'm on it every day," said Lewisville resident Ramone Rivera. "Sometimes more than once."

Ordinary citizens are already being charged for using the road. Highway 121 has no toll booths; instead, scanners automatically charge a vehicle's toll tag, or scan the license plate so a bill can be sent to the owners.

But law enforcement agencies, firefighters and even ambulances are getting scanned, and the cities they work for are getting the bill. Several first responder agencies are so upset by the charges, they've gone to the Texas Transportation Commission with their concerns.

The commission plans to vote on a resolution at the end of the month exempting emergency vehicles, but only in certain situations.

"We know there are some law enforcement officers and some emergency vehicle operators that are unhappy with that," said TxDOT's Mark Ball. "But if they are on an emergency call, they will get to ride for free. Those who are just passing from one side to the other will have to pay –- as do TxDOT employees."

TxDOT says it has to generate revenue to maintain the roads. Others believe first responder vehicles should be exempt at all times.

© 2007 Fox Television Stations, Inc:


“I believe everybody needs to be informed of the potential this trade corridor has for the next 10, 15, 20 years because it is coming.”

La Entrada project moves forward

600K trucks a year enter U.S. through El Paso port of entry


Odessa American
Copyright 2007

Acclaimed economist Ray Perryman, Mexican businessmen and area officials were extolling the need to develop the La Entrada al Pacifico Trade Route as a crowd of 190 government officials, transportation executives and others listened Wednesday at the third annual corridor conference.

“For civilization to survive, there has to be transportation,” Perryman told the attentive crowd at Odessa’s MCM Eleganté Hotel. “Transportation is critically important to the future; trade is critically important to our future.”

The conference focused on the budgetary, economic and environmental challenges to completing the trade route from Topolobampo, Sinaloa, Mexico, to Odessa, Midland, and points north.

In 2006, MOTRAN got $13.5 million in funding from the Texas Transportation Commission — $10 million for a State Highway 349 reliever route and $3.5 million for a JBS Overpass in Odessa. Later in 2006, MOTRAN got another $1.25 million in federal funding to expand Highway 67 and $810,000 to plan a relief route in Marfa.

Brian Swindell, senior project manager/engineer with HDR Engineering Inc. of Dallas, gave an overview of the La Entrada al Pacifico feasibility study, telling the crowd, “We want to make sure the corridor we come up with is a viable corridor.”

Public meetings on the Corridor Development Plan are scheduled for March and July this year and January 2008, Swindell said.

The wide-ranging study will include a corridor analysis, economic analysis, determining drivers of the economy as well as analyzing Texas issues and the impact of Mexico opportunities.

Manuel Alderete, a chemical engineer who is founder and president of Alderete y Socios Consultoria Industrial in Chihuahua, Mexico, said there are plenty of opportunities. Alderete said La Entrada is justified because of the trade and regional economic development it can bring to not only the states of Sinaloa and Chihuahua, Mexico, but also to the State of Texas.

“The conclusion is that it is really important,” Alderete said. Perryman echoed that, adding that there is about a 30 percent rate of return on transportation projected like La Entrada.

Armando Miguel Correa Nunez, part owner and general manager of the CAT Rental Service in Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, Mexico, said the trade corridor is important because of goods that can be moved from China to Dallas-Fort Worth for distribution throughout the United States in much less time.

He noted that Mexico now has preferential access to 930 million consumers in 44 countries and that the metropolitan area of El Paso-Juarez is now the third-largest manufacturing center in North America.

He said 600,000 trucks a year enter the United States through the El Paso port of entry.

“We need the trains, we need the highways, we need to bring the goods in to Mexico from Asia and into Odessa and Midland,” he said.

A research economist from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University at College Station, Harold Hunt, said the MOTRAN Conference is an excellent forum at which to gain insight into what is occurring in this area.

“It helps me stay in touch with what is going on in West Texas,” Hunt said, noting he has attended previous conferences.

McCamey Mayor Sherry Phillips, who was also in attendance Wednesday, said she has been involved with the La Entrada conferences for years.

“I believe everybody needs to be informed of the potential this trade corridor has for the next 10, 15, 20 years because it is coming,” she said.

“The possibilities are really exciting,” Phillips added. “It’s up to us to take advantage of this opportunity.”

© 2007 The The Odessa American:


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"Follow the money" pretty much sums up the truth about any issue. "

The Truth About Conspiracy Theories

Jan 10, 2007

By Tom DeWeese
Magic City Morning Star
Copyright 2007

What is a conspiracy theory? There seems to be a lot of them because every time I write about another government program or policy, the denials begin as someone starts smirking "conspiracy theory" and calling me a fringe whacko. It's getting tiresome.

Another name they like to throw around is racist if I happen to write something about government programs designed to take my money to give to someone else. "Racist."

And if I happen to question environmental policy, then I'm a lackey of big business who wants to pave the earth. The term they use for radicals like me is the "astro turf crowd."

To sum it all up, apparently, I'm a fringe radical, racist whacko who wants to destroy the earth. Wow. It's got to be a heavy burden having someone like me lurking in society. I'm sure there are lots of laws in the works to protect those who never get involved in anything from being harmed by my rude questioning of our dedicated public servants.

The funny thing is, in forty years of political life I have never once advocated passing a law or imposing a regulation or rule to make anyone do anything. I have spent my life just trying to get others to leave me, my family and my property alone. Whacko indeed.

Of course, the other side of the conspiracy theory charges is the denial by those actually carrying out the policies I'm questioning. Just ask them if they are doing anything wrong. Of course not. The policy in question, they say, is just a minor adjustment to correct a program for the benevolence and safety of us all. "The Republic is safe," they laughingly say into the television camera as a reporter questions one of my charges. They all have a good laugh over the silly conspiracy theories that keep springing up on the Internet. That in itself may be a good reason to regulate the Internet, to keep us all safe from the rantings of whackos.

Sometimes I listen to such arguments or read an article defending policies I've questioned and they make it sound so innocent, so benign. I think to myself, well, maybe I am wrong. Maybe these really are just good public servants whose polices aren't really a threat to anyone.

According to them, the UN has no teeth to make policy stick and is no threat to any nation's sovereignty; the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) is not the beginnings of a plan to create a North American Union, just a steps to grow the American economy and improve trade; America's public education system is really the best in the world, there is no effort to use the classroom for anything but good old fashioned reading, ritin, and rithmatic; There is no effort underway to create a national Big Brother surveillance system, the Patriot Act is just a tool for helping law enforcement fight terrorism and the Real ID Act is not a national ID; and the Nature Conservancy and the Sierra Club really just want to help protect the environment, not restructure our entire economic and social system.

I really would love to have all of these things be true. I would be happy. There would be no need for me to keep fighting such battles. It is very stressful, you know. I don't like being the one who spoils the mood at a party every time someone asks me a political question and then doesn't like my answer. I would gladly shut the doors of the American Policy Center forever. I could spend my life doing what I really want to do; write fiction books; open a printing company; be a disk jockey on the radio; operate a tourist business sailing a catamaran off the coast of Jamaica. So much I would rather do than deal with the lying sleazeballs who have one purpose in life - to take my liberty to build power for themselves.

The fact is, these policies and goals do exist. I'm just guilty of exposing them. By the way, I don't call them conspiracy theories - they do. These are simply policies which I believe are wrong because they endanger my liberties. It's an issue of political philosophy and ones view of the proper role of government. And so I exercise my right to oppose them.

They are the ones trying to hide their actions. I've always wondered, if someone believes they are doing the right thing, why do they want to hide their actions? Aren't they proud of their accomplishments? Don't they believe everyone would support them? Instead they cloak them in secrecy and lie when the light is shown under their rock. That's why they become conspiracies.

Let's take just a very few of today's current "conspiracy theories." To make it really easy for everyone to comprehend the true purpose of the policies in question - I'll use their words as much as possible.

They say it is a conspiracy theory to suggest that the United Nations is working to impose global governance and is a threat to national sovereignty. Just ask any proponent of the UN and they will tell you that the UN has no ability to do so. They cynically laugh at the suggestion that the UN even thinks of such things. The UN, they say, just wants to "promote human rights, improve governance and democracies and feed the poor." No conspiracy here. Just good old fashioned compassion.

The Truth. The UN has held countless international conferences dedicated to the purpose of implementing global governance. Each of these conferences, from the Earth Summit in Rio to the Habitat II conference in Istanbul, have produced policy documents and treaties designed to bind nations to global economic and environmental policies. Do they spend millions of dollars on these exercises simply to offer suggestions on how independent nations should act? Of course not. Here is what leading spokesmen for support UN policies really think of sovereignty.

"Nationhood as we know it will be obliterated, all states will recognize a single global authority ... National sovereignty wasn't such a good idea after all!" Strobe Talbott, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Clinton Administration

"It is simply not feasible for sovereignty to be exercised unilaterally by individual nation-states, however powerful." Maurice Strong, co-chairman UN Commission on Global Governance.

"a system of world order - preferably a system of world government - is mandatory ... The proud nations someday will see the light and, for the common good and their own survival, yield up their precious sovereignty." Walter Cronkite, A Reporter's Life.

Of course, when I say they say these things, I'm called a nut. Go figure.

They say it is a conspiracy theory to suggest that the Bush Administration is creating a North American Union. "They" all shake their heads at this one, with smiles on their faces and they simply say no, there is no effort to create a North American Union. The Bush Administration's Security and Prosperity Partnership is not using a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) report as a blue print for the plan, and certainly not, there are no plans to throw out the dollar for a common North American currency called the Amero. The SPP, says the "Myths and Facts" section of the SPP web site (put there to calmly put down those darn conspiracy theorist) is not an agreement nor is it a treaty, In fact, no agreement was ever signed," the document proudly states.

The Truth. On March 23, 2005, President Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin met at the Bush Ranch in Crawford, Texas in what they called a "Summit." After the meeting, the three heads of state then drove to Baylor University to announce their "signing" of an agreement to form the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America.

Today, 20 working groups operate out of offices in the Commerce Department preparing policy papers, memorandums of understanding, and trilateral declarations of agreement, laying the foundation for how the agreement will work. Each working group has a counterpart in the other two nations. The Bush Administration refuses to release the names of the members of the working groups. Members of the groups and top Administration leaders including the Secretaries of Defense, State and Homeland Security have attended top level meetings in Canada and Mexico to discuss SPP policy such as "Demographic and Social Dimensions of North American Integration."

Yet, all of these very expensive meetings and travel expenses, paid for by the Administration have never been authorized by the U.S. Congress. Officially, Congress has never been informed of the activities of the SPP, nor have they been approved. It's all been created behind the scenes with the use of the President's Executive Order pen.

A key participant in the organization of the SPP is Dr. Robert Pastor, a member of the CFR and author of a 2001 book entitled "Toward a North American Commission" which outlined in detail the creation of a North American Union, including the creation of a common currency he called the Amero.

In May, 2005, the CFR published its own version in a report called "Building a North American Community." Pastor had a guiding hand it writing that report as well. Yet, the Bush Administration continues to deny there is any connection to Pastor's book or the CFR report, even though Pastor is a major player in the implementation of the SPP.

We are supposed to believe that a man who has written passionately to advocate a North American Union, and travels the world advocating its establishment, now quietly sits in SPP meetings but does nothing to help promote or implement his ideas. It's even harder to explain the near identical language in the SPP documents and Pastor's book. No conspiracy here, just good old fashioned civil servants trying to make the government run better. Logic and the ability to read and to mentally process such information is simply to be suspended. Anything other conclusion is simply to be degraded as a conspiracy theory.

They say it is a conspiracy theory to suggest the public education system is more interested in employing behavior modification techniques to mold children's values attitudes and beliefs rather than teaching them solid academics. Innovations, new ideas, technology, a community working together, focus from a federal department of education, more money, higher standards, all have been put in place over the past 20 years to assure "no child is left behind" in our drive for educational excellence. Corporate leaders have been recruited to help assure our children are getting the best education in the history of the nation. Awards are given to those dedicated, selfless community volunteers who are making a difference. Pats on the back and smiles assure us all is well as test scores are going up.

No one today in public office has a more condescending smile when challenged about the lack of knowledge in our children. Teachers are instructed by the NEA to report anyone using the term "dumbing down." For they must be right wing whackos determined to undermine the precious public school system.

The Truth. Today's children are academically stupid. Ask any child basic questions about the Constitution and the uniqueness of our system of government; ask them to answer basic math questions without the use of a calculator; ask them to diagram a sentence or find on a map nations mentioned everyday in the news. Most can't do it. They have little knowledge of history, civics, geography or math.

But ask them about global warming, ozone holes and the evils of business and they will have a lively discussion. The reason - that's what classroom time is spent on. Situation ethics and behavior modification to instill in our children attitudes, values and beliefs which reflect a specific outcome - a political outcome designed to lead our children toward the "proper" attitude for living in a global village as global citizens.

Consider these quotes from education reformists:

"Every child in America entering school at the age of five is insane because he comes to school with certain allegiances toward our Founding Fathers, toward his parents, toward our elected officials, toward a belief in a supernatural being, and toward the sovereignty of this nation as a separate entity. It's up to you, teachers, to make all of these sick children well by creating the international child of the future." Chester Pierce, Harvard University to a 1973 Education Seminar in Denver.

"We must stop being curriculum based..." William Spady, father of Outcome- based Education school "reform"

School to Work is one of the three major "reforms" shoved on the public school system to create "excellence." Does it education our children or just create a training process to dump kinds into dead end jobs? Let the experts tell you.

"Educated employees have higher turnover rates, lower job satisfaction, and poorer promotion records than less educated employees." David Hornbeck, STW proponent.

"Most employees under this model need not be educated. It is far more important that they be reliable, steady, and willing to follow directions." Lauren Resnick, Member of the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS).

And that is why your children are stupid, But anyone who questions such stupidity is called a fringe whacko.

They say it is a conspiracy theory to suggest the Patriot Act and the Real ID Act are creating a Big Brother Society. Any member of the Bush Administration will tell you its all about fighting terrorism and protecting the great freedoms of this nation. No conspiracy, just making sure the government has the necessary tools to protect us.

The Truth. In the name of fighting terrorism we are witnessing a new kind of government "urban sprawl" oozing out of Washington, D.C. into every back alley, bedroom and underwear drawer in America. In short, we are witnessing the birth of a powerful multi-billion dollar surveillance lobby consisting of an army of special interest groups, Washington lawyers, lobbyists and high-tech firms with wares to sell.

The personal rights of American citizens are the farthest thing from their minds as they seek to fill their pockets while enabling government to monitor and control our lives to a degree unheard of prior to 9/11. This army seeks riches from the federal trough as it pushes for laws and regulations to spy on and control the lives of law-abiding citizens.

"Follow the money" pretty much sums up the truth about any issue. There is money-a go go flowing in the name of national security. The Washington Post has reported that one powerful D.C. law firm, Powell, Golden, Frazier and Murphy haw put together a homeland security unit of 50 lawyers. They will seek government contracts for their clients, and one can bet they will spend a great deal of effort lobbying for more intrusive laws to help build the surveillance industry.

IBM has opened a "Government Solutions Shop." Unisys Corporation has established a similar exhibition for inspection by federal surveillance planners, called the "Homeland Security Center for Excellence." Both corporations are racing to cash in on the billions of dollars for facial recognition systems at airports and high-tech ID cards.

The Chamber of Commerce has hired a former deputy assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to act as a liaison between the Chamber and businesses seeking homeland security contracts.

The target of all of these corporations, lawyers, lobbyists and special interests is the massive Department of Homeland Security. This one agency, comprised of 22 combined federal departments with 170,000 employees, has the ultimate power in the nation. Under the Patriot Act this one Cabinet Secretary has the power to send federal law enforcement into private homes without a search warrant. Records and materials may be taken from homes, computer records searched, phones tapped, and e-mails monitored without legal protection of rights.

And the Homeland Security Department, which is being so heavily lobbied by the surveillance industry, has the power under the Real ID Act to mandate ID requirements including biometrics scans such as finger printing, retinal scans, or facial scans. With so much high tech money apply pressure, does anyone have doubt what Homeland Security will recommend for a national ID?

Of course it's only paranoid, fringe fanatics who could oppose such important protections in this dangerous time of terrorist threat.

They say it is a conspiracy theory to suggest that the environmental movement is really destroying human civilization. I'm not even going to spend time trying to pretend on this one. Let the greens speak for themselves.

The Truth. "Isn't the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn't it our responsibility to bring that about?" Maurice Strong, Chairman of the UN's Earth Summit, 1992.

"We reject the idea of private property." Peter Berle, President, National Audubon Society.

"Free enterprise really means rich people getting richer. They have the freedom to exploit and psychologically rape their fellow human beings in the process ... Capitalism is destroying the earth." Helen Caldicott, Union of Concerned Scientists.

"Pet ownership is slavery. Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or be entertained by." Ingrid Newkirk, Founder of People for the ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA).

"The only really good technology is no technology at all. Technology is taxation without representation levied by an elitist species upon the rest of the natural world." Friends of the Earth.

"The extinction of the human species may not only be inevitable but a good thing ... This is not to say that the rise in human civilization is insignificant, but there is no way of showing that is will be much of a help to the world in the long run." Editorial in the 'Economist.'

"If you give the idea a chance, you might agree that the extinction of homo sapiens would mean survival for millions, if not billions of other earth-dwelling species." Wild Earth Magazine.

"Among environmentalists sharing two or three beers, the notion is quite common that if only some calamity could wipe out the entire human race, other species might once again have a chance." Richard Conniff, Audubon Magazine.

This is the wasted human corpuscle which dares call me a fringe extremist, yet not once have I called for their eradication, nor would I because I value human life - even theirs.

My ideals of governance are exactly the same as those held by the founders of this nation including Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Henry and Madison. Their ideas of a controlled government, individual liberty, private property ownership and free enterprise are the ones which made this nation the most free, richest and healthiest in the world.

The opposite - the ideas being promoted today by those who advocate powerful central government, controlled economies, destruction of private property ownership and redistribution of wealth are the root of poverty, pain and human misery. Those policies have been proven time and again to fail, leaving death and destruction in their wake.

They seek to control every movement, every action and every decision people make about their own lives. Rather than following our Constitution, which says we are all born with our rights, giving government the job to protect them, they seek to dictate what our rights will be. Control, power, and ultimately disaster - caused by their policies are the future we face with them in charge.

To cover it up and redirect attention, they call me an extremist whacko. And the tactic works every time a lazy, uninformed electorate chooses to trust elected officials to make decisions for them. Luckily, I have a tough hide.

Tom DeWeese is the President of the American Policy Center and the Editor of The DeWeese Report.

© 2007 Magic City Morning Star:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


"It's a big mistake for public officials to rush into a fire sale of the public's assets."

Not Everyone Will Have a Say on Selling Toll Roads

January 10, 2007

By Joe Mysak
Copyright 2007

Before any U.S. state or locality decides to sell the streets, toll roads or airports, it should:

  • Disclose any proposed future toll or fee increases or maximum rate frameworks to the public;
  • Detail all fee or toll provisions, contract incentives and performance objectives;
  • Set minimum environmental standards;
  • Establish operating standards, safety requirements, security arrangements, and capital expenditures;
  • Disclose who gets the jobs;
  • Describe what would happen in the event of default;
  • Say how the municipality will replace the money that it now collects from the airport or toll road;
  • Disclose any non-compete agreements that might affect the expansion of other transportation infrastructure;
  • And reveal how much it's all going to cost, including how much the bankers and lawyers get.

That's just for starters. The state or locality should also hold hearings and town-hall meetings and ask for everyone's opinion and --

Well, you can see how we might have some problems here, if any of us actually expect to make this privatization of public assets thing a reality before, oh, the century is out.

What Elected Officials Do

Don't get me wrong. It's a big mistake for public officials to rush into a fire sale of the public's assets, things like toll roads and airports and whatever else lends itself to privatization these days. Governing magazine estimates in its current issue that investors have $100 billion they want to put to work in U.S. infrastructure.

We aren't really talking about a sale of these assets, but rather what are being termed public-private partnerships, where states or localities lease an asset to a private company for a 50-year or 75-year or 99-year period, in exchange for a pot of cash upfront.

More and more states and municipalities are thinking about leasing assets, reasoning that they can do a lot with the cash, and at the same time get out of businesses that aren't particular areas of expertise.

They should be very careful. At some point, however, let's all realize that we elect our public officials to lead and govern on our behalf. In other words, this privatization business isn't going to be run on democratic lines.

Raise Tolls

In particular, the leasing of public assets, it seems, isn't going to be run along "liberum veto'' lines, which refers to the veto every member of the Polish parliament had in the 18th century. Predictably, nothing got done.

These thoughts occur after a read through the Regional Plan Association's white paper, released Jan. 8, titled ``Proceed With Caution: Ground Rules for a Public Private Partnership in New Jersey.''

You may have heard that New Jersey is thinking about selling some assets, notably the turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, big roads that run through the state and that are cash cows.

"In fact,'' the white paper notes, "the New Jersey Turnpike has the highest revenue flow of any tolled facility in the U.S,'' collecting $507 million in 2004.

The Chicago Skyway, by comparison, brought in about $40 million in 2004; the city of Chicago leased it for $1.83 billion in 2005. The Indiana Toll Road made about $95 million in 2004 and was leased for $3.85 billion in 2006. New Jersey thinks it could get a lot more for the turnpike, and the figure of $10 billion has been bandied about.

The white paper is a good read. It is also brutally frank. "Toll roads can be worth more to private firms primarily because they can potentially raise tolls more easily, and, in some cases, because they can reap substantial tax benefits,'' the paper says.

Demand Certitude

Let's put aside the possibility of those tax benefits and focus on just the first part of that sentence. Private firms can raise tolls more easily than governments.

The paper continues: "Private firms are insulated from a political climate that discourages raising tolls, and the ability to schedule and rely on future toll increases, even if such increases are modest, attracts investment into privately operated toll roads.''

It can't be put any clearer. Leasing the roads in exchange for billions of dollars is going to result in toll increases, and lots of them.

This is why we won't see lots of referenda on selling the streets. When it comes to public services, we don't want to pay what things actually cost. We think we already pay enough in taxes to cover the whole bill.

The white paper includes a laundry list of the things New Jersey must make absolutely sure about before selling the turnpike. Many of them are common sense. But something tells me that the list of things people will demand to know with absolute certitude is going to grow, and grow, and grow, and will include things that are unknowable or incalculable. That won't stop the critics of these transactions from demanding them, in essence attempting to torpedo the deals.

New Jersey might sell some stuff -- in Governor Jon Corzine's second term.

(Joe Mysak is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Joe Mysak in New York at

© 2007 Bloomberg LP:


"Anything can be stopped. It just takes the will of the people.”

Detours on a Super-Highway

The only thing bigger than the Trans-Texas Corridor may be the rebellion against it.


Fort Worth Weekly
Copyright 2007

Perry calls the TTC a ‘visionary’ plan — but he’s not letting the public in on details of the vision.

Four thousand miles of smooth blacktop. Six open lanes of road with never a traffic jam. Four lanes for trucks to keep the 18-wheelers from bothering Joe Motorist. High-speed rail to get you from San Antonio to Dallas in just a couple of comfy hours. Oil, gas, and water lines running from Oklahoma to the Mexican border. Handy motels, shops, and gas stations to keep you from having to get off the road until you hit the state line.

That’s the dream of the backers of the Trans-Texas Corridor, the biggest public works project in the history of the state and the most ambitious road project in the USA since Ike decided to connect Maine with California and Wisconsin with Arizona by building the U.S. highway system 50 years ago.

But some people see it more as a nightmare than a dream. They see foreign companies owning the rights to Texas’ infrastructure, whole towns being turned to dust because there won’t be an exit ramp for them, vast stretches of farm and ranching land — close to 1 million acres all told — being gobbled up in a bid to put a feather in Gov. Rick Perry’s cap and eventually in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s cap if the plan is expanded to all 48 contiguous states. They see Texas water being traded for Mexican oil, toll fees as high as 44 cents a mile, “no-compete” clauses leaving Texas’ current free highway system to crumble, and a host of other problems with the gigantasaurus-sized plan.

And the nightmare thinkers are a lot more vocal than those trying to implement the plan — surprising, perhaps, since Perry has hailed it as “the most visionary transportation plan this state has ever seen ... . [I]t likely will forever change the way we build roads in Texas.” And the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), has said it will financially benefit the whole state by “injecting billions of dollars in private spending into the state’s economy and creating millions of jobs ... .”

If you’re neither part of the grassroots rebellion against it or the state-agency-and-big- contractor cheering section for it, chances are you are still bewildered by the hyperbole on both sides, and the question of what in tarnation this animal called the Trans-Texas Corridor really is. Whatever it turns out to be, the fact is that right now it is a huge pig in a poke for Texans, a massive creature that will transform the state’s landscape, but whose outlines — and price tags and details — are still partly under wraps.

At its simplest, the TTC is not one road but a series of huge transportation corridors connecting the state’s major population hubs. It’s intended to ease traffic congestion along the state’s busiest routes and provide lanes not only for cars, but for high-speed and commuter rail, freight trains and trucks carrying NAFTA goods from Mexico to Oklahoma and eventually all the way to Canada. It will also include a utilities corridor for pipelines and conduits carrying natural gas, oil, water, electricity, and electronic data. In North Texas, the TTC is planned to run between Dallas and Fort Worth, paralleling I-35.

In theory it will boost Texas’ economy by making Texas more attractive to businesses that will see the corridor as a time-saving, and therefore money-saving, way to move their goods. TxDOT said it will also “significantly reduce air pollution” by convincing Texans to travel more by passenger rail rather than cars and by reducing congestion on the rest of the state’s major thoroughfares.

All of that sounds pretty desirable. But when the Texas Legislature passed HB3588, the massive transportation bill authorizing the TTC, in 2003, almost no one understood its final impact — not the politicians voting on it nor the general public.

The executive summary of the bill describes a statewide network of transportation facilities that sounds pretty much like business as usual in the road-building game. But the master plan for the TTC-35, the section of corridor to run parallel to I-35 from Laredo to Oklahoma, released three years after the bill passed, indicates it’s anything but that.

The plan, made public only after 175 Freedom of Information Act requests were filed by citizen groups and news media, describes a 1,200-foot-wide corridor to be leased to private companies who will design, build, and maintain their specific sections, setting and collecting all tolls for contract periods ranging from 50 to 75 years. Sections of existing roads that coincide with the corridor — all of I-35 from San Antonio to Laredo, for example — will become part of the toll road. Additionally, motels, gas stations, and stores built within the corridor will be part of the private company’s holdings — and part of their profit package.

But the deal is even sweeter than that. The initial contract signed by the Spanish firm Cintra; their partner on the project, Zachry Construction Corp.; and TxDOT for a 316-mile section of road to be built from San Antonio to Dallas, includes what’s known as a no-compete clause. In this case, it means TxDOT has agreed not to improve any roadways that run parallel to the TTC for the duration of the Cintra lease, unless those improvements had already been approved prior to the signing of the contract.

Perry has still refused to disclose some parts of the contract, on grounds that they contain proprietary information for the Cintra-Zachry partnership. But the sections that have been made public show that Cintra will not be obligated to build more than four car and truck lanes “until and unless it is demonstrated that there is a demand for high-speed rail, commuter rail, freight, and utilities.”

And who gets to decide what tolls to charge on these new roads? Cintra. In the contract, TxDOT agreed that toll prices will be set “at what the market will bear.” A TxDOT news release suggested they would be in the 12- to 24-cent range per mile for autos. Opponents think they’ll more likely be twice that. In other words, the San Antonio-to-Dallas trip could cost a motorist anywhere from $32 to $118 in tolls, plus gas.

Wait, there’s more. Later this month, TxDOT officials will be in Washington, lobbying Congress to exempt from federal taxation any income gained from dividends or partnership distributions by toll road companies.

The tax exemption will be of interest to legislators from many states. The issue of ownership of major portions of the U.S. highway system by private — and often foreign — companies goes far beyond Texas. Cintra, for instance, in partnership with Macquarie (an Australian company), already owns a 75-year lease on 157 miles of the Indiana Toll Road. The state was paid $3.8 billion for the lease, which will allow Cintra-Macquarie to keep all tolls during that time, an estimated total of nearly $12 million.

The ambitiousness and audacity of the Trans-Texas master plan provoked former Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, during her recent gubernatorial campaign, to call it “the biggest land grab in the history of Texas.”

While support for the TTC has come from a small coterie that includes Perry, TxDOT, some federal officials, and businesses that stand to benefit, opposition is gathering from all over the map. On this issue, the Texas Republican Party has found itself in bed with the Sierra Club and independents like Strayhorn, Democrats like Houston Sate Rep. Garnet Coleman, the ultra-conservative property-rights group Stewards of the Earth, farmers, ranchers, and a host of groups created with the sole purpose of trying to stop the TTC.

“The initial plan for the TTC calls for the taking, by eminent domain, of 580,000 acres of private Texas property,” said Terri Hall, regional director of the San Antonio Toll Party. “That’s more than 900 square miles. And there are secondary components to the TTC that would bring that number up to 1 million acres. That’s going to cut the state into pieces.”

While TxDOT downplays the issue of having a series of nearly quarter-mile, non-crossable roadways cutting Texas into a bunch of jigsaw puzzle pieces, it’s very serious to the tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers whose property and livelihoods could be steamrolled by the widest roadway in the hemisphere.

Ron Smith, editor of Southwest Farm Press, said the farmers and ranchers who read his magazine and web site are up in arms. “You’ve got farmers with 500 to 800 acres whose farms are going to be cut in half. The same with ranchers. They make a good point when they say that with the TTC having few crossovers it’s not just going to make their lives difficult, it’s going to drive them out of business.”

Farmers are worried not only about losing valuable property but also about having their properties split, with access to the other-side-of-the-road half a major problem. And although final plans for the TTC have not been drawn as yet, Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Department of Transportation, has been quoted repeatedly as telling farmers that they can go ahead “and build a tunnel underneath the road if you want one.”

Such flip comments won’t solve the problem. There is no way to know yet how far apart Cintra-Zachry will build the crossovers, which are extremely expensive since they have to cross so many lanes. If farmers have to move tractors for miles and miles along access road to get to a crossing, it will be costly for them as well as for the traffic on the access roads stuck behind their slow-moving equipment. And think about the problems involved for ranchers having to move their cattle from pasture to pasture, when the move involves herding the bovines down access roads for several miles to the nearest crossover.

“It could be worse than you think,” Smith said. “Farmers are telling me the only way they’ll be able to work fields on the other side of the corridor will be to set up a second farm headquarters there. That means tractors and other farm equipment that couldn’t possibly pay for itself on a hundred, two hundred acres of land.”

Anna Mowery, a longtime Republican legislator from Fort Worth, said she worked with the Farm Bureau to try to make certain that TTC overpasses would be frequent enough to allow for reasonable farm connections. “I don’t mind telling you that I think we need to do something, and toll roads seem like a reasonable way to go about improving our transportation needs. And what particularly interested me about the TTC was the inclusion of commuter and high-speed rail,” she said. “But what bothered me about the original plan was that farmers might need second tractors to access land cut by the eminent domain-taken corridor.”

So, Mowery said, “I hung in with the Farm Bureau to ensure that the farmers and ranchers would have reasonable access.”

But farmers and ranchers don’t see any assurances of reasonable access in the plan, despite her efforts. The legislator was surprised to be asked just how far apart crossovers would be on the TTC. She didn’t know. And in fact, no one knows if there will be one overpass every 10 miles or every 40. TxDOT, which spoke very briefly and conditionally to Fort Worth Weekly for this story, is silent on the issue. The truth is, there’s been no agreement. And no one, despite Governor Perry’s claim that no public monies will be used to build the TTC, knows who will pay for whatever overpasses there are. There is some question of whether or not TTC builders would pay for crossovers and road connections at all; one section of the law authorizing the project lists the state as being responsible for those.

“Bottom line,” said Mike Barnett, a spokesman with the Farm Bureau, “is we were told to trust TxDOT and Cintra. And we don’t. We are dead set against the whole TTC. And we’ll fight for our farmers and ranchers as best we can to get them the best deal. But right now we have no idea what that will be.”

Nor is it just farmers and ranchers who will suffer. In some places, particularly in the area from San Antonio to Laredo, for instance, I-35 will be incorporated into the corridor — taking a road already purchased by tax dollars and making it a toll road — and whole towns will be cut in half. TxDOT refers questions to its web page and the ominously named Master Plan, which reassures readers that there will be plenty of access to affected towns. But those reassurances don’t jibe with the Cintra-Zachry contract, which calls for the corridor to connect with all U.S. and state highways, but says nothing about duplicating the number of exits that already exist on I-35, or for the building of frontage roads along the new corridor.

And in the southern part of Texas, where I-35 is little more than a two-lane road through towns, or along which towns have grown up, it’s not difficult to imagine that some of those towns will be wholly swallowed up by a 1,200-foot roadway.

But the interest of the operators of the TTC is to make money. They will have a substantial investment to recoup — all components of the TTC combined will have a price tag as high as $184 billion — and it won’t be in their interest to put in 1,200- to 1,400-foot-long crossovers, at a price of $2.6 million each, very frequently. And besides, the TTC builders won’t want to let people off their road too easily. It’s to their benefit to keep them on the TTC as long as possible, and when they do stop, to have them eating and sleeping and buying things at their businesses, not existing ones.

“I’ve wondered whether those farmers affected by this road would have the right to build motels on their land, or gas stations,” said Mowery. “I haven’t gotten an answer to that yet.”

The limited-access clauses have a lot of people wondering what other time bombs are ticking in the TTC deal and when the public will finally be allowed to see the details.

Maybe you figure that if the tolls are too high on the TTC and the exits won’t let you get where you’re going very well, you’ll just stick to the old roads. Well, good luck. The TTC legislation forbids improvement of any road that runs parallel to the TTC corridors beyond what’s already in the works. That means no beautification, no widening, no new exits or entrances for the life of the contract — 50 years in this case. “Imagine if you live in a little town on a two-lane farm-to-market road that runs parallel to this thing,” suggested former Fort Worth City Council member Clyde Picht. “And then a subdivision gets built, and suddenly you’ve got 3,000 homeowners and cars fighting for space on that two-lane road. Well, you need to widen it to accommodate people. But your hands will be tied.”

Picht said he was surprised to hear about the no-compete clauses. “There should never be no-compete clauses in highway construction. If the toll is too high, let someone else build a road. I hate to see us depart from the traditional system of free roads. And this — well, I’m disgusted with it. After seeing the abuse of eminent domain with the Trinity Uptown project, I think this will be a thousand times worse.”

Hank Gilbert, a farmer, former high school ag teacher, and small businessman who ran unsuccessfully for Texas agriculture commissioner last year, goes further. “They’re going to take a million acres of Texas agricultural and ranch land and pave it over. This is such a huge project it’s almost incomprehensible. And I personally don’t like the idea of taking people’s homes away to build a highway system to facilitate NAFTA to the betterment of companies that sent U.S. jobs down to Mexico to make more money by bringing their goods in tariff-free.”

Gilbert, a Democrat, said it was the TTC — and what he sees as corruption associated with it — that propelled him into running for political office. He’s passionate about how little the general public knows of things like the no-compete clauses. “As best as anyone knows, because so many elements of the contract are not clearly spelled out, no-compete would mean no improvements to any road seen as a viable alternative to getting to a destination that you could reach using the toll road. But we don’t yet know what that proximity is. And in all likelihood, that would be determined by Cintra or whomever leased the road,” he said.

The no-compete clauses have raised the ire of Republicans as well, including State Sen. John Carona of Dallas, the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. Carona recently told Texas Monthly that “Within 30 years’ time, under existing comprehensive development agreements [like the one given Cintra], we’ll bring free roads in this state to a condition of ruin.”

Gilbert is also unsure what the public’s financial investment in the TTC will be. “The governor and TxDOT signed off on a contract not made public in many parts, so we don’t have any idea what our fiscal responsibility will be. We do know that initially this will be a roadway with four lanes in each direction, two for passenger cars, two for trucks. There’s no guarantee they’ll have to put rail in, or utilities. The contract says things like ‘if and when they are deemed necessary.’ Well, if and when means when they look like they’ll be profitable. But who knows if that means they or us are responsible for putting them in at that time, because Governor Perry isn’t releasing those parts of the contract.”

Perry’s also not releasing any information on what the tolls will be, though, based on TxDOT estimates, the cost of, say, a daily commute of 50 miles round-trip would be about $12 a day, or $60 a week. And regardless of how much pocketbook pain that causes, it might be the only option available — which is, of course, the purpose of the no-compete clauses.

According to Perry and TxDOT, financial constraints have pushed the state into a corner, requiring that they find new ways to finance road construction to accommodate Texas’ fast growth.

TxDOT chief financial officer James Bass explained that his agency collects about $7 billion annually from federal and state gas taxes, vehicle registrations, and a few other sources. Most of that goes toward maintaining existing roads, agency overhead, and paying for right-of-way and design costs for new roads. By law, 25 percent of state gas tax revenues are diverted to public schools. What’s left is about $700 million a year for actual construction of new roads — not nearly enough to keep up with the needs, Bass said. “And it’s only going to get worse,” he said. “With the needs that have already been identified to expand the system, between now and 2030 there will be an $86 billion shortfall.”

From the road-builders’ — and politicians’ — point of view, the passage of HB3588, by allowing existing roads to be turned into toll roads and new toll roads to be built, provided a way to develop the state’s road system without increasing taxes.

“So what we’re looking at is innovative public-private partnerships to raise those funds,” said TxDOT spokesman Michael Peters. In theory, said Peters, sums like the $1.2 billion paid to Texas by Cintra-Zachry for the right to design, build, and operate the 316 miles of TTC-35 will pay for other badly needed TxDOT projects.

TTC supporters say that’s only the beginning of the project’s financial benefits. An October 2006 study done by the Perryman Group of Waco for TxDOT predicted that, once the corridor is complete, business activity along it would boost the gross state product by almost $666 billion and generate 3.7 million permanent jobs.

The report was everything Governor Perry and TxDOT hoped and paid for. And the alternative to the TTC, according to TxDOT, would be to increase the state gas tax from 20 cents to $1.40 a gallon.

Baloney, say skeptics, who see many ways to make up the shortfall in highway construction money without resorting to the TTC strategies.

The first move, they say, should be to stop looting the state gasoline tax fund. Several papers released by Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson, who opposes toll roads, reveal that the highway fund has lost $10 billion in the last 20 years. “More than half of the total money diverted from road construction, $5.4 billion, went to fund the operations of the Department of Public Safety,” he told a San Antonio radio audience in October. Another $115 million went into the state’s general fund, and millions more went for a computer system for the state comptroller’s office, and to the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, arts commissions, and various politicians’ pet projects.

Even despite such diversions of money, another recent report, commissioned by another state agency, suggests that the highway construction fund could cover most of the roadways Texas needs, with a relatively small immediate increase in the state gas tax, and more increases through the years. The report, released in November 2006, was produced for the Governor’s Business Council by the Texas Transportation Institute of Texas A&M. According to the study, $66 billion of the supposed $86 billion shortfall — the money needed for the eight largest urban areas — could be produced by raising the gas tax by 8 cents and tying future increases to changes in highway construction costs. David Ellis, one of the report’s authors, said that the indexing, over the next 25 years, would increase the state gas tax from the current 20 cents to about 92 cents.

Compare that to the costs of privatized toll roads like the TTC. If an average driver uses roughly 1,000 gallons of gas annually, the 8-cent gas tax hike would amount to $80 a year. Even gas-guzzlers would pay no more than double that. But a 50-mile daily commute at 25 cents per mile would come to $62.50 a week — or about $3,000 a year. And even with a 92-cent hike over the next quarter-century, the costs would still be considerably lower than toll roads at their current projected cost.

“But our report doesn’t make the gas tax out to be a silver bullet,” Ellis cautioned. “We’re going to need a whole toolbox to get these things built and maintained. And we don’t exclude tollways from that mix.”

The list of objections to the TTC is long enough to draw all kinds of groups to oppose it. The huge costs, the loss of immense tracts of agricultural land and major problems caused for farmers and ranchers, the costs and controversy associated with making currently free highways into toll roads, the displacement of thousands of people, privatization of state infrastructure, and the governor’s refusal to release key documents about the initial TTC contract — all have combined to produce a groundswell of grassroots opposition.

Environmentalists are also concerned that a fenced-in, or otherwise uncrossable road, as the TTC is assumed to be, may have severe repercussions on the migration of land animals or their feeding habits. Those concerned with terrorist activity wonder about the potential danger of putting utilities together in a single corridor that might make an attractive target. Those who worry about public safety are concerned that a road with few entrances and exits, and with rail and utilities in its center, will present difficulties for emergency vehicle access. People concerned with illegal immigration suggest that a road this large originating in Mexico will only increase the flood of illegal immigrants. Truckers are worried not only about the potentially exorbitant toll costs but about truck safety, since Mexican truckers will be permitted to enter the U.S. without U.S. driving credentials or vehicle safety inspections.

The only solution is a moratorium on not only the TTC but all toll roads, statewide,” said Rep. Coleman. “I submitted a bill to that effect in the last legislative session, but Mike Krusee, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and author of HB3588 ... wouldn’t let it out of committee. This is about cronyism and creating Lexus lanes and paying pals. To invest [this] kind of money ... in a superhighway when we could invest it in high-speed rail is ridiculous.”

And TxDOT knows it, he said. “What ought to tell people something is wrong with the Trans-Texas Corridor is that TxDOT has gone on a marketing campaign to push this down our throats.”

Coleman said he also believes TxDOT is sitting on road construction that’s already been authorized, in order to keep traffic congestion bad in Houston. “I believe they’re doing it so that people will get so fed up with congestion that they’ll welcome toll roads and the TTC,” he said.

This session, he plans to reintroduce both his toll road moratorium bill and a bill to prohibit TxDOT from advertising the TTC. “This whole TTC has to be stopped. And people are beginning to get it, that it must be stopped. I believe we’re making headway on this issue.”

Can a project with this much momentum and political clout behind it be stopped?

“Anything can be stopped.” he said. “It just takes the will of the people.”

You can reach Peter Gorman at

© 2007 FW Weekly:

For more on rejected public input [CLICK HERE]


Pitts' Revolt Fizzles

Pitts Vs. Craddick: What Happened?

Jan 10, 2007

Cody Garrett
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN Tuesday’s high-stakes legislative showdown on the floor of the Texas House fell short of what had been promised -- despite weeks of campaigns by the candidates and a long day of maneuvers and wrangling by both sides about how the election would be conducted.

The widely anticipated, no-holds-barred vote for Speaker between incumbent Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie never materialized. Instead, the 149 members of the Texas House engaged in a series of complicated floor fights over whether or not members' votes would be made public.

Craddick's team had been insisting since the challenge was mounted that he had the votes to win in the weeks and days before Tuesday's battle. After being sworn in, Craddick said he wanted to hear from his colleagues about the quality of his leadership.

"If in some way I fall short… please tell me," Craddick told the House. "And I will do my best to correct that shortcoming."

Pitts announced he would withdraw his name from consideration just before 5:30 p.m., noting that he had been told by many of his supporters that they could only vote for him for the chamber's top job by secret ballot.

"You told me many times that if there was a ballot that was protected -- that was secret -- that you wanted to vote for Jim Pitts for Speaker," Pitts told the House. "That didn't happen today."

Pitts then withdrew his name and called for a healing process for the divided body.

"I will be voting for Tom Craddick for Speaker to begin this process of healing," he said.

The secret-ballot-versus-record-vote fight was prompted by what some members said were fears of retribution by the Speaker-elect (whether Pitts or Craddick) -- in terms of committee assignments or possibly drawing a well-funded primary opponent in 2008.

In the Texas House, as in most legislative bodies, members are loath to insult the leader (particularly on opening day) because that person has the power to assign members to committees and controls the flow of legislation. A misstep could doom a legislator's chances of serving in an area of his or her highest interest as well as decreasing the chances that a lawmaker's bills will become law.

Most members realized Craddick had the votes to win after a proposal by Charlie Geren, R-Ft. Worth -- that would have postponed the publication of how members voted for Speaker until after the Speaker-elect had made committee assignments.

Geren's amendment failed 80-68, with most the members who had publicly announced for Pitts voting 'Nay' and many members who had declared for 'Craddick' voting 'Aye.'

Political observers and reporters noted the breakdown of the vote -- the fact that former Speaker candidates Brian McCall, R-Plano and Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, found themselves on the short end of the vote along with Pitts and those publicly supporting him.

That initial failure to come up with the necessary 75 votes took the wind out of the sails of Pitts' revolt. The day quickly gave way to a Craddick landslide -- and a final, 121-27 record vote confirming Craddick's third term as speaker.

© 2007 CBS Broadcasting Inc.:


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

"Public sentiment is solidly against selling off taxpayer-owned assets. Especially to foreign companies."

Americans Highways Being Sold To Highest Bidder

Portions of interstate highway systems built with your tax dollars are now being sold to the highest bidder.

And incredibly, it's being done with the federal government's encouragement. The Bush administration likes this idea. Some of the leading bidders: Foreign investors.


Lisa Sylvester reports.
Lou Dobbs Tonight (transcript)
Cable News Network
Copyright 2007


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wall Street is paving the road to highway privatization, with help from the Bush administration. Nearly 50 investors submitted bids to buy or lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Indiana and Illinois have already signed over its toll roads to a group of foreign investors. And other states are eyeing privatization as a quick fix.

ROBERT POOLE, REASON FOUNDATION: People are frustrated, both public sector people and citizens are frustrated that their roads are very congested, they are overcrowded with trucks. There's not enough capacity. And yet nobody really wants to raise gas taxes.

SYLVESTER: Transportation Secretary Mary Peters offered model legislation, encouraging states to tap into the billions of dollars that the private sector and lenders have amassed to invest in transportation.

But Congressman Peter DeFazio says it is a deal for corporations and investors, no deal for taxpayers.

REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D), OREGON: These private interests would have the power of eminent domain, and they basically would have unlimited authority over the term of the contract to raise tolls. A private entity beyond the reach of any future state legislature, governor, or Congress under contract.

SYLVESTER: Critics also call it fiscally irresponsible. States receive a lump sum up front. Future generations receive no toll revenues. And public sentiment is solidly against selling off taxpayer-owned assets. especially to foreign companies.

In Indiana, more than twice as many people were against the deal than were for it. The transportation groups are dismayed the Bush administration has officially backed these private-public arrangements.

TODD SPENCER, INDEPENDENT DRIVERS ASSN.: We were stunned. We were amazed, but I'd have to say, unfortunately, we were not shocked. They have been shopping this idea, this draft legislation, this proposal to states for over a year now and, you know, to them, rather than responsible transportation policy, their answer is to sell-off our highways. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Despite the many concerns, privatizing highways is gaining momentum across the country. Legislation is expected to be introduced in Pennsylvania in the coming weeks that will call for a long-term lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Right now, Lou, the leading bidders are from Australia and Spain -- Lou.

DOBBS: It -- I mean, this is just -- it's incredible. The ideas that are being put forward to avoid public responsibility, the idea that a state government or an authority of any kind could sell infrastructure, highways, it just boggles the imagination.

SYLVESTER: This, if there's ever been an example of where private corporate interests and the Bush administration are sort of working hand-in-hand, this is a perfect example of that, Lou. And, unfortunately, the average person, the average consumer, may not be a winner out of all of this, Lou.

DOBBS: Well, if they're not aware, we're going to do our best to make them aware. The idea that whether it's Indiana where it's 2-1 opposition and yet they went ahead and sold that highway in Indiana, the fact that people haven't got the energy and the commitment to stop these kinds of -- I mean, this is public treasure infrastructure, national assets, that are being given away, sold away to interest, private interests.

It's, as I say, mind-boggling. Lisa, thank you very much. Lisa Sylvester from Washington. Lisa will be following this story throughout.

© 2007 Cable News Network:


"We are building more toll roads than the public should reasonably be able to accept."

Toll Roads, Gas Tax Might Provide Funds For Roads


Jay Gormley Reporting
(CBS 11 News) DALLAS
Copyright 2007

With more toll roads planned for North Texas, some state lawmakers are saying "enough."

One bill aims to put money back in the hands of the Department of Transportation so the agency can build more free highways.

When it comes to toll roads... Many Texans are likely to say, "They're popping up everywhere and I feel like there are too many of them."

And you won't find an argument from State Senator John Carona of Dallas.

"The Transportation Commission is doing all that it can do with very limited funds,” Senator Carona said. “They're going out and building toll roads or building no roads at all. The problem is we are building more toll roads than the public should reasonably be able to accept."

So Senator Carona wants to slow the trend with a bill that will keep money in TxDOT's pocket.

Since 1986 TxDOT's yearly budget has been stripped by at least 30 different agencies. Nine billion dollar earmarked for highway construction has gone elsewhere, to agencies such as the Department of Public Safety, the Attorney General's office and the Department of Health, just to name a few.

Corona's bill would put a stop to that, but some lawmakers say Texas needs to do more by using the state's large surplus to pay back TxDOT.

Even if the state could pay back TxDOT the $9 billion, TxDOT says it would help, but it's still just a drop in the bucket. There is no way to avoid toll roads.

"We're not all pro toll roads and nothing else,” said Mark Ball, spokesperson for the TxDOT. “The reality is… this was a tool given to us by the Texas legislature, signed into law by the governor. If we didn't get a gas tax increase and instead we have these new tools, what are we supposed to do?"

Senator Carona agrees, but says more money for TxDOT will at least cut the number of toll roads.

Carona will also push for an increase in the gas tax. The state has not had one since 1991. Carona says a half-cent yearly increase to keep up with inflation will build more freeways.

© 2007 CBS Stations Group of Texas:


Perry appoints Underwood, Holmes to fill vacant Texas Transportation Commission slots

Perry fills transportation commission vacancies

Lubbock cotton executive, Houston real estate developer fill out five-member panel.

January 09, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Gov. Rick Perry appointed a Lubbock cotton executive and a Houston real estate developer to the Texas Transportation Commission on Monday, filling one longtime vacancy and allowing a holdover commissioner to finally step down.

Central Texas, which will remain unrepresented on the five-member commission, had not been expected to get one of the long-awaited appointments.

Fred Underwood, president and chief executive officer of the Trinity Co., a cotton bale storage facility, will fill the slot left open by the June 2005 resignation of Robert Nichols.

Nichols, a Jacksonville businessman, left the commission for a successful run for the state Senate. Nichols will take the oath of office today.

Ned Holmes, chairman and chief executive officer of Parkway Investments, a real estate development and management company, will fill the traditional Houston spot on the commission. He replaces John Johnson, whose term expired in February 2005.

Johnson, the last appointee of former Gov. George W. Bush still serving, was commission chairman from 2000 to January 2004. He continued to serve after his six-year term expired, pending Perry's appointing a replacement.

Underwood and Holmes may take office immediately but must be confirmed by the Texas Senate, or their service will end when the Legislature adjourns in late May.

If they are confirmed, Underwood's term would end Feb. 1, 2009 (completing Nichols' term), and Holmes' would last until Feb. 1, 2011.

The commission, which controls what is now a $7.5 billion a year Texas Department of Transportation, is considered a plum gubernatorial appointment.

There could be more news to come: The terms of commission Chairman Ric Williamson, a Weatherford oil executive and the primary spokesman for Perry's aggressive tollway agenda, and Hope Andrade of San Antonio end in February.; 445-3698

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman: www.