Saturday, May 26, 2007

Perry supports half-baked 'moratorium'

Perry gets bill to freeze privately financed toll roads

May 26, 2007

Associated Press
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — The House sent Gov. Rick Perry a compromise transportation bill today that freezes most new privately financed toll road projects for two years yet dodges a threatened special legislative session.

House members voted 127-19 to accept the negotiated deal, which was approved by the Senate on Friday. The bill now heads to Perry, whose office worked on the compromise with lawmakers from both chambers.

"Today's action ensures that Texas will continue to have the tools needed to support the states booming population and economic growth," Perry spokeswoman Krista Moody said.

Perry vetoed the first major transportation bill lawmakers sent him, saying it would shut down road construction, kill jobs and prevent access to federal highway money. He threatened to call a special session if the Legislature overrode that veto and worked with members of both chambers to craft a compromise.

The Senate quickly passed the second bill, but the House added several amendments, forcing the appointment of a conference committee to find yet another middle course.

The legislation institutes a moratorium on most new privately developed toll roads. The compromise version includes more exemptions to appease critics, such as Rio Grande Valley officials who feared the ban would hinder development of the Interstate 69 corridor.

The compromise bill also imposes limits on comprehensive development agreements, used in contracts for private-public road building. Additionally, it sets up a process to determine a road's market value and makes it easier for local authorities to take on projects in their areas.

Comprehensive development agreements, or CDAs, are a relatively new tool meant to let the Texas Department of Transportation complete road-building projects more quickly and cheaply by using a single contract for both the design and construction tasks.

Those agreements have attracted the attention of multinational consortiums willing to pay large sums up front for the right to operate roads and pocket the tolls for decades to come.

That has outraged residents and lawmakers who say drivers will become hostages to the private companies, forced to pay increasingly hefty tolls.

The legislation also establishes a task force to evaluate and make recommendations for the next legislative session about private equity contracts and taxpayer protections.


The vetoed transportation bill is HB1892. The later bill is SB792.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

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'Assurances from the governor's office' provide cold comfort for TTC opponents

Legislators target filibuster threat to the state budget


Peggy Fikac, Austin Bureau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Working against the clock and the distraction of efforts to unseat the House speaker, lawmakers Saturday finished bills to phase out the high-stakes Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in high school and put a moratorium on most new private toll roads.

As those measures and others were sent to Gov. Rick Perry, however, a vote on the state budget was delayed until today as leaders hustled to address a threatened filibuster that could doom it.

The $152.5 billion, two-year spending plan for the state is the only measure lawmakers must pass. Leaving its consideration until shortly before Monday's adjournment leaves it vulnerable to being killed if an opponent talks long enough to stall a vote until the deadline to pass it.

Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, threatened a filibuster because he said the budget doesn't properly fund indigent health care at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston's hospital and others that are similarly situated.

"I don't want to be the spoiler at the picnic. ... I'm left with no other options," Janek said.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said they were working on Janek's concerns. Dewhurst said he thought it would be resolved.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, also said he was thinking about a filibuster because budget-writers took out a provision to require more state review of an improvement plan for Texas Southern University before the school can get certain state funds.

Lawmakers did finish work in other areas, despite an effort to unseat House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, that continued throughout the day.

In public education, they gave a final OK to Senate Bill 1031 to replace the TAKS test for high school students and replace it with end-of-course exams starting with 9th grade students in the 2011-2012 school year. The end-of-course tests will cover English, math, science and social studies.

Lawmakers gave final approval to a compromise transportation bill that includes a two-year moratorium on most private-company toll roads in Texas. Senate Bill 792 was designed to satisfy Perry, who had vetoed an earlier transportation bill.

The moratorium prohibits private toll roads on Loop 1604 and U.S. 281 projects in San Antonio.

Anti-toll road groups urged legislators to kill the bill, contending that it lacked teeth and would not put enough brakes on the powerful Texas Department of Transportation.

But Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who pushed for the moratorium, told colleagues that she got assurances from the governor's office that no work would go forward on the Trans Texas Corridor except on Loop 9 in the Dallas area.

On taxes, lawmakers gave their final approval to a revamp of the state's new business tax that backers said fixes mistakes made when it was passed last year and give an extra break to small businesses, which would be particularly hard-hit when the tax starts next year.

On crime and its victims, lawmakers a day earlier approved House Bill 1751 that would raise $25 million for sexual assault programs by charging customers of strip clubs a fee of $5. Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Houston, and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, championed the measure.

On religion, a bill to allow students to express religious viewpoints in public schools and to protect school districts from lawsuits against granting students religious freedom was resurrected.

House Bill 3678 by Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, had died when he didn't get the necessary margin of support, but it passed when he brought it up a second time Saturday.

"I think people were crazed out of their minds," Howard said before the bill was reconsidered. "They were not thinking about legislation They were going after the speaker."

On the Children's Health Insurance Program, negotiators on a bill to expand coverage said they reached agreement on provisions that will allow nearly 130,000 more children to be added to the program for families who cannot afford private insurance but don't qualify for Medicaid.

Janet Elliott and Kristen Mack contributed to this report.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


"A dogged sense of determination."

Architect of toll road freeze is credited for her tenacity

Kolkhorst honed persuasive skills marketing TCU sports

May 26, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – Rep. Lois Kolkhorst's quest to put a two-year freeze on private toll roads might have gotten its start on Frog Alley.

While working as Texas Christian University's athletic marketing director in the mid-1990s, Ms. Kolkhorst helped create Frog Alley, a pre-game street fair at Horned Frog football games.

The night before the event's debut, she had to scramble to set everything up and ended up drafting then-Chancellor William Tucker, two vice chancellors, her husband and her mother to help.

"I had all the tables and chairs delivered, I just didn't have anyone to set it up," she said.

Those persuasion skills were key to Ms. Kolkhorst marshaling support for a partial two-year moratorium on private toll roads. The bill could get lawmakers' final blessing today.

The Brenham Republican has emerged as a central figure in the Legislature's efforts to slow down the privatization of Texas roads. She has persuaded nearly all of her 149 House colleagues to back the moratorium, which excludes most North Texas toll projects.

Ms. Kolkhorst, 42, has parlayed a blend of persistence, fearlessness, smarts and country charm into a more visible role in Austin. In addition to leading the toll road freeze, she has been a key figure in budget talks and is chairwoman of a subcommittee that oversees public school funding.

Even those who don't agree with her give Ms. Kolkhorst credit for a dogged sense of determination.

"She's tenacious, and she does her homework," said Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, the sole lawmaker to vote against the first bill containing the moratorium earlier this month.

"She knows her issues," said Mr. Krusee, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. "She always comes prepared and works hard. You really can't ask for much more from your legislator, no matter how you feel about their policy."

Ms. Kolkhorst played golf at TCU and worked eight years at her alma mater before moving back to Brenham, a Central Texas town of just under 14,000 residents.

Her friend and mentor, the late Tony Proffitt, a longtime aide to former Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, helped guide her political career, which revved up in 2000 with her election to the House.

Her can-do philosophy came through loud and clear in a 2003 commencement speech at Sam Houston State University. She placed a brick on the podium and challenged anyone in the crowd to show the gumption to remove it.

"Be a doer," she told the graduates. "Don't go through life saying someone else will do it."

She has followed that strategy with the toll road moratorium, teaming with Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, to push for a two-year ban on private toll deals.

When Ms. Kolkhorst's moratorium could not get a hearing in Mr. Krusee's transportation committee, she went around Mr. Krusee and added her measure to a county affairs bill on the House floor.

"She certainly has stepped to the plate and been a champion," said David Stall, co-founder of CorridorWatch, a grass-roots group that opposes the Trans-Texas Corridor.

This week, as lawmakers negotiated a compromise to the session's main transportation bill, the main sticking point was a Kolkhorst amendment that Gov. Rick Perry's office wanted to scuttle.

Ms. Kolkhorst held her ground for several days before deciding that her amendment was not necessary to enforce a moratorium. She said she stayed up until 4 a.m. Thursday doing some "soul-searching" before she decided to sign off on the compromise.

"I'm one of those personalities that says, I want it all and I want it right now," she said. "That was too difficult to get. It's peeling back an onion and going through the layers. And we got through several layers this session."

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, May 25, 2007

"If Dewhurst wants to be Governor, he can’t sell out and sell off Texas."

Dewhurst's Dilemma, the Trans-Texas Corridor

May 25, 2007

Linda Curtis, Guest Columnist
The Weatherford Democrat
Copyright 2007

The Governor’s spin machine is working it today, to make it appear that he’s trying to work out a compromise on the most treacherous issue this session, putting a 2 year moratorium on the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Make no mistake. Rick Perry has, so far, successfully thwarted the clear will of a super-majority of ordinary Texans and the Texas legislature, who do not want the Trans-Texas trade Corridor.

The only question remaining is where Lt. Governor David Dewhurst will land.

Dewhurst appointed Sen. Tommy Williams (R-Woodlands) to chair the Conference Committee that is deliberating on the hot potato bill of the session, SB 792. SB 792 is the second, and last, chance for a Corridor moratorium in the 2007 legislative session.

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst is being deluged with phone calls, faxes and emails today, asking that he instruct Senator Williams to do the right thing and allow Rep. Lois Kolkhort’s (R-Brenham) Amendment 13, to be attached to SB 792. Amendment 13 closes a loophole that, if not closed, will allow for the Corridor to proceed.

State Representatives are also hearing from their constituents. If SB 792 comes to them with Amendment 13, they’re being asked for vote for it. If Amendment 13 is not included, they’re being asked to kill it. The grassroots coalition of groups doing this, led by, are calling this, “The Citizen’s Veto”.

David Stall, co-founder of CorridorWatch says, “I’m sure Governor Perry would like this (SB 792) to become law without amendment 13 so he can blame the legislature when it fails to stop the Trans Texas Corridor. If he can’t get his way this bill may never come out of committee. Either way, the overwhelmingly clear will of the people will have been dismissed in a manner that is an affront to democracy.”

Chris Hammell, one of the founders of the Blackland Coalition, the farmer fight-back organization in the richest farmland in Texas, the blackland prairie throughout central Texas says, “As a life-long Republican who just became an independent, I can tell you this. Governor Perry continues to dig a hole for the Republican Party and spur on a populist independent revolt, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in this state since the early part of the last century. If Dewhurst decides to thumb his nose at the people, the Republican Party will lose many more supporters, folks just like me, and the independent movement will rise up out of the ashes.”

Linda Curtis, a founder of Independent Texans, one of the organizations that’s worked the hardest to unite the rural, urban and suburban groups fighting both the Corridor and the urban freeway-to-tollway conversions says, “Our rural, urban and suburban coalition, despite Perry and his allies’ attempts to split us up, has only strengthened after seeing the utter treachery of the people happening right under Dewhurst’s nose.

Only Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst can come forward now to instruct the conference committee chair that he appointed, to do the right thing. He wants to be Governor, or so we’re told, but he can’t sell out and sell off Texas and do that. That is David Dewhurst’s dilemma.”

Well over two-thirds of members of both the Texas House and the Texas Senate voted for HB 1892, their first crack at a Corridor/Toll moratorium. However, that bill was vetoed by Gov. Perry, and the Senate has indicated that they will not seek to override on HB 1892, due to what they perceive as a fatal flaw in the bill. The second and last chance is SB 792.

However, if SB 792 is ditched, the populist coalition may decide press forward with a move to override the Governor. Stay tuned and don’t be confused in a purposefully confusing situation!

Linda Curtis, of Independent Texans - Austin, may be reached at (512) 535-0989. Visit the Independent Texans Web site at

© 2007 The Weatherford Democrat:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


PBS&J Tapped as General Engineering Consultant for Grand Parkway

Progress on Houston's third outer loop continues


Press Release
Copyright 2007

Houston, TX -- Houston's third outer loop just got a boost with the Texas Department of Transportation naming PBS&J as the General Engineering Consultant for Grand Parkway, a proposed 180-mile scenic highway that traverses seven counties in Texas and encircles the greater Houston region. One 18-mile segment opened to public use in 1994, and additional segments have since been under environmental review, design, and construction.

The majority of the segments will be four-lane, controlled access toll roads. Segment I-2, under construction from IH 10 to FM 1405, is slated to be opened in December 2007.

The completion of the Grand Parkway has been a long time coming. PBS& J will serve TxDOT's Houston District as the general engineer to support in the completion of Grand Parkway, also known as State Highway 99. PBS&J will provide professional project management services and coordinate project development. Activities include financial plan analysis, working with segment engineers to produce approved environmental documents, schematic designs, coordinating right-of-way maps, and participating in the public review process. Additional segments are anticipated to be opened beginning in September 2011 with the final segment slated to open in September 2015.

Among other activities, PBS&J will be responsible for:

Financial Plan Analysis: Determine the cost effectiveness of corridor alternatives and prepare a funding strategy, evaluate toll feasibility and revenue, and assess risk.

Public Involvement: Convene a public agency committee to development and implement the Corridor Mitigation Plan covering landscaping, wetland mitigation, joint development opportunities and vegetation; facilitate small group meetings with local community stakeholders; attend public information meetings, including public workshops and environmental hearings; host and maintain the project Web site.

Environmental Coordination: Coordinate the process to prepare an overall Project Mitigation Plan, review the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for impacts to human and natural environment, review the Record of Decision for the final Environmental Impact Statement and submit it to the State.

Schematic Design: Coordinate design element review, including alternative alignments for select segments of Grand Parkway.

Right-of-Way: Review parcel maps, legal descriptions, and right-of-way maps to facilitate acquiring real property and title.

"The completion of the Grand Parkway has been a long time coming," said David Gornet, executive director for The Grand Parkway Association. "We're anxious to complete this highway to provide an alternative route to improve traffic flow, while shoring up continued funding via toll revenues."

"We're proud to serve the Grand Parkway Association and the Texas Department of Transportation to complete this ambitious and essential highway project," said Jerry Ramos, project manager and vice president for PBS&J. "We look forward to leading the engineering efforts to bring Texas travelers an aesthetic highway experience and improve regional mobility in metropolitan Houston."

About PBS&J

PBS&J ( is an employee-owned firm that provides infrastructure planning, engineering, construction management, architecture, and program management services to public and private clients. The employee-owned firm is ranked by Engineering News-Record as 25th among the nation's top consulting firms. PBS&J has 3,900 employees and more than 75 offices located throughout the United States and abroad.

© 2007 Vocus PRW Holdings:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

Kolkhorst: "I believe in my heart that there is a moratorium."

Toll road agreement reached

House, Senate passage seem likely

May 25, 2007

by Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

The careening vehicle that has been this legislative session's toll road overhaul appeared to pull into the garage about 4:35 p.m. Thursday.

At that moment, Republican state Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, after spending several moments huddling on the floor with Sen. Tommy Williams, sponsor of Senate Bill 792, affixed his signature to a compromise version of the bill, and the two shook hands.

"We've got a deal now," Williams, R-The Woodlands, said about an hour later. "This is really going to move transportation issues forward, particularly in large metropolitan areas."

The deal was among 10 House and Senate members assigned to work out differences in versions of the bill passed by both houses.

Williams said Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, had decided not to sign the final version because of concerns about amendments added in the House by his longtime rival, Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso. But Williams did not anticipate Shapleigh's position causing a problem with final approval by the Senate.

Final approval of the bill by both houses probably will not occur until at least Saturday because of drafting and printing delays and rules requiring that the final bill sit idle for 24 hours.

Williams said Gov. Rick Perry, whose staff worked closely on the final negotiations, should be no barrier to the bill becoming law.

"I think this is something that he'll sign," Williams said.

Perry vetoed a similar bill, House Bill 1892, on May 18, and SB 792 was the Legislature's attempt to address some of his concerns.

SB 792 no longer includes an amendment the House added to ensure that no legs of the Trans-Texas Corridor tollway flanking Interstate 35 will be built over the coming two years. Perry had told several legislators that he would veto the bill until that provision was removed.

S B 792 is the distillation of dozens of bills filed this session by legislators dissatisfied with how Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation dove headlong over the past four years into pay-as-you-drive highways. Perry and agency officials, looking at a backlog of highway needs and insufficient gas tax revenue, have turned to toll roads as a solution.

Lawmakers from Houston and Dallas, where toll roads have existed for at least 20 years, were more concerned about the Transportation Department's growing use of long-term toll road leases with private companies. They wanted to assure that local toll road agencies would get first shot at building and operating turnpikes, rather than private operators, and SB 792 accomplishes that.

The bill also contains provisions that would ban the signing of more private toll road contracts (albeit with about a dozen exceptions) over the next two years and then extend the ban beyond August 2009, again with some exceptions. And for those private toll road contracts that occur under those exceptions, the bill would place limits on some contract provisions to better protect the state's financial position.

Its direct effect on Central Texas would be that the Transportation Department would not be able to, in effect, "sell" the three state-owned tollways that have opened over the past six months.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, had held out for a couple of days for an amendment she sponsored that the House added to SB 792 extending the moratorium on new comprehensive development agreements to so-called facilities agreements. The state intends to build the tollway twin to I-35 in segments, signing facilities agreements for each segment under an existing comprehensive development agreement.

She decided Thursday to accept the bill without the amendment. Kolkhorst said the past five months of legislative attacks on the Perry toll program have sent a message that no new highway projects on the Trans-Texas Corridor should occur for the next two years at least.

"I believe in my heart that there is a moratorium," Kolkhorst said. "The intent is there."

Besides, she said, SB 792 is not the only opportunity for those such as herself who would prefer to end private toll road deals and the Trans-Texas Corridor plan in particular. Under the bill, there will be a nine-member committee examining toll road policy over the next few years. And the Transportation Department over the next two years will undergo the "sunset review" required of all state agencies once every 12 years.

"We have three bites at the apple," Kolkhorst said.; 445-3698

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"I believe this is something the governor will sign."

House, Senate to weigh toll-road compromise

Negotiators optimistic that Perry will back reworked bill

May 25, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – After a week of edgy negotiations, a group of House and Senate lawmakers reached a deal Thursday on a bill that would rewrite the state's toll-road policies.

If approved by both chambers over the weekend and signed by Gov. Rick Perry, the bill will stave off a showdown between the Legislature and governor over Texas' transportation future.

Lawmakers still have the option of attempting to override Mr. Perry's veto of an earlier transportation bill. But if that happens, the governor has threatened to call a special session on transportation.

Key players involved in this week's negotiations said they believe the reworked bill will avoid an end-of-session meltdown.

"I believe this is something the governor will sign," said Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, the bill's author.

The proposal places a limited two-year freeze on private toll road contracts. Most North Texas toll projects are exempt from the ban.

The measure also limits such contracts to 50 years, creates a new formula for the state to buy back toll projects, establishes a process to gauge a road's market value and gives local authorities the first crack at projects in their region.

This week's negotiations focused heavily on House Amendment 13, which would prevent private toll roads from being built in separate projects called "facility agreements."

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said she added the amendment to prevent the Texas Department of Transportation from using flexible semantics to dodge the freeze and build parts of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Grassroots activists opposed to the controversial corridor project unleashed an all-out push this week to keep the amendment, bombarding the Capitol with faxes, e-mails and phone calls.

But Ms. Kolkhorst ultimately signed a compromise bill that removed her amendment.

"I've talked to a lot of legal experts, and I believe that we have a moratorium on every highway except for those that are listed as carve-outs," Ms. Kolkhorst said. "If TxDOT chooses to proceed under some other name, I think that most Texans would be not only disappointed but up in arms."

Transportation commissioners voiced concerns this week that the proposed ban on facility agreements would stall a planned freight rail line running from Fort Worth to Mexico.

Nine of 10 members on the bill's House-Senate conference committee signed off on the compromise, Mr. Williams said Thursday. Only Sen. Eliot Shapleigh , D-El Paso, declined to sign out of concern for how certain amendments would affect projects in his region.

The full House and Senate are expected to vote on the compromise bill Saturday.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Krusee: Compromise bill will "fly through the House and the governor will sign it."

Senate accepts transportation compromise

May. 25, 2007

The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN -- The Senate signed off on compromise transportation bill Friday that includes a two-year moratorium on most new privately financed toll road projects yet averts the risk of Gov. Rick Perry calling a special session.

The bill still must be approved by the House before it can be sent to Perry, who's already vetoed a similar transportation bill. He threatened to call a special session if lawmakers overrode the veto, and his office worked with them on the second piece of legislation.

The Senate quickly passed that compromise bill, but the House added several amendments. That forced the appointment of the conference committee to find yet another middle course.

In addition to the moratorium, the compromise bill includes limits on comprehensive development agreements, used in contracts for private-public road building.

Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, said he believes the compromise will "fly through the House and the governor will sign it."

Before they passed the bill, several senators commended its sponsor, Sen. Tommy Williams, for his work on finding a middle ground.

"I think we have a better transportation framework in the state of Texas because of the work that you've done," said Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso.

The vetoed transportation bill is HB1892. The later bill is SB792.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

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"Senate Bill 792 'is not only full of loopholes, but it makes things worse.' "

Compromise puts brakes on new private toll roads

May 25, 2007

Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Texas lawmakers struck a deal Thursday on transportation legislation that includes a two-year moratorium on private company toll roads, although the agreement does not satisfy anti-toll road groups.

House and Senate leaders reached agreement on a compromise plan that likely will reach both chambers for a vote on Saturday.

"What we've got is pretty good but maybe not perfect," said Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, who led the House negotiators.

The compromise legislation, Senate Bill 792, does not affect six road construction projects for the Harris County Toll Road Authority, and it also allows the Dallas-Fort Worth region to proceed with highways already in the pipeline. The moratorium prohibits two private toll road projects in San Antonio.

The bill also would avoid a veto override effort of another transportation bill, HB 1892. Gov. Rick Perry rejected that measure and helped develop the alternative plan.

"This is a really good bill," said Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who led Senate negotiators, adding that it creates standards for transferring state-owned right-of-way to local toll authorities.

But anti-toll road groups reacted harshly and warned of consequences for lawmakers who support it.

Senate Bill 792 "is not only full of loopholes, but it makes things worse. (It) allows local authorities the same powers we were trying to take away from" state transportation officials, said Sal Costello, leader of People for Efficient Transportation.

Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who helped craft the final legislation, said the message in the bill is that "the public is telling TxDOT that 'We don't trust you. We have lost faith in what you are doing.' "

"It's imperative that we send a message to the Texas Department of Transportation that you are not the fourth branch of government — that you work for us and the people of the state of Texas," Pickett said.

© 2007 The Houston Chronicle:

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Hall: Voters will respond at election time to the so-called 'moratorium'

Freeze on private toll roads ready for vote


Gary Scharrer Austin bureau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Texas lawmakers struck a deal Thursday on transportation legislation that includes a two-year moratorium on private company toll roads, although the agreement does not satisfy anti-toll road groups.

House and Senate leaders reached agreement on a compromise plan that likely will reach both chambers for a "yes" or "no" vote on Saturday.

"What we've got is pretty good but maybe not perfect," said Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, who led the House negotiators.

The moratorium prohibits private toll roads on the Loop 1604 and U.S. 281 projects in San Antonio.

The bill also would avoid a veto override effort of another transportation bill, HB 1892. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed that measure and helped develop the alternative plan.

But anti-toll road groups reacted harshly to the compromise and warned of consequences for lawmakers who support it.

Senate Bill 792 "is not only full of loopholes, but it makes things worse. 792 allows local authorities the same powers we were trying to take away from TxDOT," said Sal Costello, leader of People for Efficient Transportation.

"It's simple. If we don't get what we deserve, heads will roll. A number of our so-called representatives will be fired in the upcoming election," Costello said.

"We'll invest the resources to make that happen."

He was particularly upset that lawmakers stripped an amendment that specifically added so-called "facilities agreements" to the moratorium.

Critics believe that Texas Department of Transportation officials will simply call the temporarily banned private equity toll road agreements another name: facilities agreements.

But. Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, author of the "facilities amendment," said TxDOT would get dragged into court if the agency tries to thwart the moratorium by using loopholes to get around it.

"It's a strong bill, with or without the amendment, if you think about how far we've come in the last year and a half," said Kolkhorst, who helped lead the fight for a moratorium on private toll roads.

Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who helped craft the final legislation, said the message in the bill is that "the public is telling TxDOT that 'We don't trust you. We have lost faith in what you are doing.'"

Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom, called SB 792 "a counterfeit moratorium because this governor snuck in a way to charge us 'market rate' on all tolls projects from now on" that will result in the highest possible tolls.

"It does us no good if 281/1604 are in the private toll moratorium if they can still use our public toll authority to do the same thing," she said.

"Our victory comes in the power of us sending a shot across the bow to this governor and TxDOT that their tricks are no longer under the radar."

She accused lawmakers of selling out and predicted that voters will respond at election time.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, May 24, 2007

The jury is still out on eminent domain abuse in Texas

Eminent-domain limits are OK'd

Legislature: Senate action bolsters efforts to protect neighborhoods

May 24, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – Impoverished inner-city neighborhoods would receive new protections when they are targeted for redevelopment under legislation adopted Wednesday by the Senate that imposes new requirements on eminent-domain projects.

The measure, already approved by the House, would require local governments to meet stiffer criteria before they can declare a property "blighted," a designation that triggers eminent-domain powers by local governmental entities.

Sponsored by Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, the legislation bolsters the efforts of some older Dallas neighborhoods – some around Fair Park – to guard against sweeping plans for redevelopment.

Among its provisions is a restriction that allows local government agencies to declare only individual properties "blighted" rather than designating an entire area as blighted because of one property in the area that meets the criteria.

"If you're going to condemn property, you can only condemn the property on which you can make a case for blight," Mr. Janek said. "The legislation sets more specific criteria to meet the definition of blight."

The issue of eminent domain – the government's right to seize land for projects that serve a public purpose – has caused heated debate in Texas. In 2005, the Legislature passed a law that banned governments from using the power for commercial development, restricting it to public-use projects such as museums, libraries and community centers.

That law was triggered by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said cities can use eminent domain for private projects to generate tax revenue. The ruling caused a national backlash and prompted state legislatures to enact safeguards against land seizures for commercial use.

Texas laws still allows cities to use eminent domain in blighted areas for development, but critics said the loose definition of blight has made many impoverished communities vulnerable to the actions of cities that want to clean those areas up.

The bill passed Wednesday requires that the property be proved to fit at least four criteria before it can be classified as blighted, including that the structure is uninhabitable, unsafe or abandoned and that it is the site of repeated criminal activity.

The measure is being watched closely by the city of Dallas and the Foundation for Community Development, which a few months ago considered a push for stronger eminent-domain powers in some areas, including the Frazier neighborhood in South Dallas.

Reaction to the proposal was so hostile that the city backed down from its plans. Instead, Dallas officials say they are simply monitoring efforts to strengthen the 2005 Texas law.

Senators also approved a "Landowner's Bill of Rights Act," which would inform property owners of their rights in a good faith effort by a government entity trying to acquire their land – including the right to a fair price. The landowner would be entitled to an assessment of damages resulting from having to relocate and a hearing with the right to appeal any judgment.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News:

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The hassle from El Paso

El Paso dispute could bog down key roads bill


By Brandi Grissom / Austin Bureau
El Paso Times
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN -- A dispute over who gets to build roads in El Paso emerged as a sticking point Wednesday in negotiations over a must-pass statewide transportation bill.
If the lawmakers don't agree on the transportation bill, Gov. Rick Perry has promised to bring them back for a special session. The regular session is scheduled to end Monday.

House and Senate lawmakers are working with Perry to compromise on legislation that would put a two-year stop on agreements allowing private companies to build and operate toll roads.

Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, said the primary bone of contention between the House, Senate and Perry was a measure that would prohibit private contracts for building facilities.

But he said El Paso legislators on the negotiating committee -- state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh and state Rep. Joe Pickett -- were also still haggling over measures in the bill that would affect road-building in the city.

Pickett last week made several changes to the transportation bill that would affect road projects in El Paso.

Shapleigh said Pickett's measures were meant to destroy the newly created Ca mino Real Regional Mobility Authority and could slow down local road projects, including the Inner Loop. That project is a make-or-break deal for U.S. Department of Defense officials who agreed to transfer 23,000 soldiers to Fort Bliss.

"We have been shortchanged highway funds for years," Shapleigh said. "To build highways, to fund bridges, we need a mobility authority."

Pickett, an ardent critic of the regional mobility authority, said his amendments were aimed at protecting transportation plans already approved by the planning organization. He said they would not diminish the mobility authority or slow road projects.

One of Pickett's measures would require an election before the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority could approve a project worth $200 million or more. Pickett said he would agree to bump that amount up to include projects worth $400 million or more.

"If there is to be a major, major toll project, I think El Pasoans should get to vote on it," Pickett said.

He said the vote would only apply to Regional Mobility Authority projects, and since the Inner Loop is not one, an election would not affect that plan.

Another controversial proposal Pickett added to the bill would allow the regional mobility authority to appoint members from outside El Paso, including New Mexico.

Shapleigh said he didn't want New Mexicans making decisions on mobility projects for the El Paso region. They have their own road authority, he said.

Under the bill, El Paso, like most other urban areas, would be exempt from the two-year moratorium on private toll agreements. Pickett added a measure that would only exempt from the moratorium projects the El Paso Municipal Planning Organization has already approved.

Legislators continued to negotiate the transportation bill Wednesday night, and Rep. Smith said a deal must be reached by today.

Pickett and Shapleigh said the El Paso measures would not derail passage of the transportation bill.

"This bill will pass," Shapleigh said.

Brandi Grissom may be reached at; (512) 479-6606.

© 2007 The El Paso Times:

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"If city or county officials had proceeded as the state has on TTC somebody would be in jail, or at least under investigation."

Public concerned over Perry's TTC plan


By Frank Summers, Milam County judge
The Cameron Herald
Copyright 2007

The legislative session is winding down in Austin, and legislators are scurrying to get final bills passed before the official end of this session. Some say essential it is over, but there are several bills that are still being pushed through the process.

Senate Bill (SB) 407 by Senator Eltife is a local option bill. If enacted the bill would allow city and county governments to call an election on a one-quarter cent sales tax option. This added sales tax would be dedicated to the reduction of local property taxes.

House Bill (HB) 2006 by Representative Woolley provides for changes in the current eminent domain statutes. The new bill would require that a separate record vote must be taken by commissioners court for each condemnation process, counties would have to make a good faith effort to obtain the property voluntarily, counties may be liable for court costs and attorney fees if it were found that the good faith effort were not made and more evidence may be submitted during eminent domain hearing for the purpose of assessing damages caused by a condemnation.

It concerns me that the HB 2006 refers to the counties on several instances, but I do not see a lot of reference to the state. I can't remember when the county last used the eminent domain process, but the state might need it since the governor vetoed the moratorium on toll roads.

HB 15 is still on the table. This bill would provide for the addition of ten million dollars to the budget to help counties pay for the May 12th election called by the governor. Right now there is no money to pay for the election allotted by the state or in the county budget. Seems to me if Rick can call an election he ought to be able to pay for it.

It has been a session that has seen a tremendous number of bills filed, somewhere over 6,000 bills and constitutional amendments were filed this session. This session has also seen a large number of bills die during the complicated Texas legislative process; some good and some bad.

Those that have been passed are not out of the woods just yet. They still have to be signed by the governor, and even though our representatives have passed a bill does not mean that it will be signed into law. Without the governor's signature a bill can become law, but the governor also has the right to veto a bill. Just as he vetoed the heavily supported bill that provided for a moratorium on toll road projects.

Statewide the support for the governor's planned Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) is just not there. The fact that the moratorium was passed to allow for some breathing room and time to take a close look at the issue is proof that there is a great deal of public concern about the current process. He has even threatened a special session if things do not go his way.

It is hard for me to believe that the governor does not understand that the general public has a great deal of concern about his plan and how it is being handled. The statutes related to open meetings and open records acts have blatantly been ignored in the TTC process. If city or county officials had proceeded as the state has on TTC somebody would be in jail, or at least under investigation.

Our representatives are to be commended on a great job and a session that has provided some good legislation for the future of Texas. We all might not agree with everything, but overall this has been a very productive session. Let's just hope the veto power does cancel all the hard work many have done just because one does not get his way.

© 2007 The Cameron Herald:

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"Lawmakers remain determined to get a moratorium passed to block development of Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor."

Toll-road pact is still in talks


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN -- Key negotiators were still working Wednesday night to hammer out a compromise version of a toll-road moratorium bill that Gov. Rick Perry won't veto.

Earlier Wednesday, Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said a compromise between the House and Senate versions of a transportation bill had been negotiated, but key House members quickly insisted that a deal had not been reached.

The compromise version would require both chambers' approval.

Perry vetoed a toll-road moratorium bill last week, citing concerns that it would cost the state federal funding of transportation projects. Different versions of a second moratorium passed both chambers last week. If Perry were to veto that one, it would likely be after the end of the legislative session and too late for lawmakers to override it.

Perry has threatened to call a special legislative session on transportation if he doesn't receive a bill to his liking.

Meanwhile, lawmakers remain determined to get a moratorium passed to block development of Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.

House and Senate negotiators were haggling Wednesday over an amendment that Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, added to the House version of the bill. The amendment added a special arrangement called "facilities agreements." Critics say such agreements constitute a huge loophole through which private toll roads could still be built even while under the two-year moratorium.

Early Wednesday, Kolkhorst indicated that she plans to work with Perry to learn his concerns about the amendment.

"I think that if he can give me assurance that TTC 35 won't be built [with facility agreements] before Sept. 1, 2009, I think we can work out a compromise," Kolkhorst said.

Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, confirmed that the amendment was the main sticking point between the two versions.

Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, has been a leading defender of allowing North Texas toll projects to continue. She said Wednesday that she had spoken with a House negotiator on the toll-road bill and expressed concern that a full ban on facilities agreements could hamper some North Texas projects that had been exempted from the moratorium.

"I would rather see no bill than one that keeps us from continuing with our projects," Truitt said. "We are strangled with traffic."

Perry spokesman Robert Black said the governor will wait to see the final version of the bill before deciding whether he will sign it. Perry would not sign a bill that he believed would paralyze the state's efforts to address its serious transportation problems, Black said.

"We need to build roads," Black said.

Aman Batheja, 512-476-4294

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Perry is opposed to any 'CorridorWatch amendment.' "

Armbrister calls Amendment 13 objection to SB 792 a 'red herring'

May 23, 2007

by Harvey Kronberg
The Quorum Report
Copyright 2007

Perry's opposition to the amendment is personal, not subterfuge, says Armbrister.

Ken Armbrister, Gov. Rick Perry's eyes and ears in the Senate, scoffs at the notion that there is some hidden agenda with the Governor's opposition to Rep. Lois Kolkhorst's (R-Brenham) Amendment 13 to Senate Bill 792,which would exclude "facility agreements" from SB 792's proposed two-year moratorium.

In transportation lingo, the overall agreement for a tollway project is a comprehensive development agreement. The facility agreement is what is signed to construct particular portions, or segments, of the tollway.

A ban on facility agreements is unnecessary to stop construction on TTC-35, and this is why, Armbrister said. The environmental review process is only half-way completed on TTC-35. Once it's complete, it has to go to the Federal Highway Administration for approval. That process takes another 18 months. Only then would the Texas Department of Transportation release any segment of TTC-35 for bid. Clearly, that timeline goes far beyond any initial two-year moratorium, Armbrister said.

As for Perry's opposition to Amendment 13, Armbrister says it's strictly personal. This amendment was proposed by toll road opponents Corridor Watch, Armbrister said. Corridor Watch has opposed the Trans-Texas Corridor. Hence, Perry is opposed to any Corridor Watch amendment, Armbrister said.

© 2007 The Quorum Report:

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Monday, May 21, 2007

"Taxpayers are on the hook, and long-term liabilities quickly become current — no matter how ardently a legislative body might hope they won’t.”

A panic attack move into private equity?

May 21, 2007

By Robert Elder
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Writing in the May 18 issue of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, Dallas investor and state of Texas pension official Frederick “Shad” Rowe tees off on the leaders of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas pension fund.

Rowe examines the Texas teacher fund’s recently announced plans to move massive amounts of its holdings into private equity and out of publicly traded stocks. The strategy strikes him as the investment equivalent of a panic attack.

Rowe writes that the teacher fund is trying to juice returns by moving into so-called alternative investments (hedge funds, buyout firms, hard assets such as timber, toll roads) a little late in the game. Maybe even just in time for the private equity bubble to pop and the very stocks the teacher fund is selling to rise in value.

The $109 billion TRS is proposing to shift as much as 35 percent of its holdings into alternative investments, up from 3 percent now.

(Rowe notes that the Texas Pension Review board, which he chairs, has no authority over TRS investment strategy and that he’s writing as a private citizen.)

Of course, many pension funds are seeking higher returns in private equity; that’s partly what’s fueling that sector’s boom. But Rowe notes that the Texas teacher fund’s proposed asset mix is way out on the edge and may be an example of managing by looking into the rear view mirror at all those wonderful returns private equity provided in the past.

Increasing competition in private equity, and a growing backlog of deals looking to cash out, could severely depress future returns.

The teacher fund and its new investment chief, Britt Harris, may see themselves in the mold of David Swensen, the pioneering Yale University endowment manager.

“An experienced investor might suspect that TRS is coming late to the alternatives game,” that its investment shift “is really a desperate adjustment and that Britt Harris will not prove to the next David Swensen … but rather a wannabe who drags TRS into a deeper role,” Rowe writes.

“World-weary gamblers have an adage: Scared money never wins,” Rowe writes.

“While presenting the brightest public face possible, thoughtful pension fund professionals live with the gnawing reality that the assumptions of the pension world are consistently unrealistic… . Taxpayers are on the hook, and long-term liabilities quickly become current — no matter how ardently a legislative body might hope they won’t.”

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

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"One option makes fiscal sense. The other sells out the public for political expediency and corporate profits."

Toll roads take a toll on Virginia

The public-private partnerships are riddled with financial potholes.


The Roanoke Times
Copyright 2007

Virginia's transportation crisis led many lawmakers to seek creative ways to pay for roads without directly asking taxpayers for the money.

One popular solution with the anti-government crowd is allowing the private sector to operate state highways as toll roads. Such public-private deals, however, usually do not serve the public interest.

The system works in several ways, but it boils down to the state's contracting with a private firm to maintain and operate a highway. Sometimes the company will even build the road. Virginians save money on construction and don't have to pay higher taxes.

Except someone has to pay for the roads and corporate profits, and that turns out to be motorists who pass through tollbooths.

Companies involved in such projects aim to make money; the public good is secondary. That has become evident most recently with Northern Virginia's Dulles Greenway.

Toll Road Investors Partnership II operates the 14-mile road that connects Dulles International Airport to Leesburg. TRIP II wants to increase the toll to $4.80, upsetting at least one congressman.

Virginia's Republican Rep. Frank Wolf has asked the state transportation secretary to seek a delay until the General Assembly can review the situation. It turns out the contract with TRIP II doesn't require toll rates to be "just, reasonable or affordable" according to Wolf.

Others in congress have woken up to the problem, too. Several Democratic leaders last week warned governors that handing control to private companies weakens the federal highway system only to funnel money to businesses.

Such are the pitfalls of blindly accepting that the private sector can do every job better than the state.

When government funding is inadequate, leaders have a few options. They can cut a private deal that winds up costing Virginians more in the end, or they can suck it up and admit the commonwealth needs more revenue today to pay for infrastructure.

One of those makes fiscal sense. The other sells out the public for political expediency and corporate profits.

© 2007 The Roanoke Times

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Book Review: 'Making Foriegn Investments Safe'


How shady deals, corrupt government go together

May 20, 2007

Vincent Lingga,
The Jakarta Post, (Jakarta Indonesia)
Copyright 2007

Making Foriegn Investment Safe
Property Rights and National Sovereignty
Louis T. Wells & Rafiq Ahmed
Oxford University Press (2007)
pp. 378

Should the sanctity of an investment contract always be honored, or indeed, should business contracts be held sacred?

Not always, argue Louis T. Wells and Rafiq Ahmed, business management experts, in their newly published book Making Foreign Investment Safe: Property Rights and National Sovereignty.

They reckon that the "magic" of property rights in the industrialized countries comes not from being absolute, but rather from a balance between individual or corporate rights and fairness, and, especially, overall economic benefits.

When circumstances change after a contract is formed and make it impossible or impractical, or uneconomic or inefficient, to comply with contractual obligations, courts may relieve a party of its commitments.

Consequently, Wells and Ahmed further argue, a nation may be excused from honoring a treaty if (1) the existence of the circumstances that changed constituted an essential basis of the consent of the parties to be bound by the treaty and (2) the effect of the change radically transforms the obligations that are to be performed under the treaty.

The book contains real case studies on a telecommunications project and power generation contracts the Indonesian government awarded to foreign investors in 1967 and 1992-1994, respectively, under Soeharto's authoritarian rule, which was notorious for its corruption, collusion and cronyism.

The authors recount blow by blow how the power contracts were negotiated amid a corruption- and cronyism-infested climate and how these contracts eventually led to disputes, and some of them into messy court battles, between foreign investors and the government.

The cases explore big-power politics, corruption and political influence, poor organization and, on occasions, incompetence that led to some rather one-sided deals.

The first relates to the 1967 government contract with then International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) of the United States for the development of satellite communications.

It recounts why the ITT subsidiary (PT Indonesian Satellite Corporation or Indosat) was nationalized in 1980 but without any damage to Indonesia's international credibility.

Timely lessons

The book devotes five chapters to the ITT contract, revealing a lot of inside and background information on how ITT, riding on the back of its technology and Indonesia's weakness, gained a greedily lucrative contract that would give it an annual rate of return on equity of over 80 percent during its 13 years of operations before the Indonesian government decided to nationalize it in 1980 through commercial negotiations.

The book is able, it seems, to provide so many details on the ITT case because Wells was one of the foreign advisers hired by the Indonesian government as part of the team to renegotiate the contract with ITT.

Since then, Wells of the Harvard Business School, served for 30 years as a consultant to the government mainly through the Harvard Institute for International Development.

Rafiq Ahmed is also a well-experienced manager who worked for Exxon Corporation for 20 years, including five years in Indonesia between 1981 and 1986 as a project team and country manager.

The other case studies recount the negotiations for 27 independent power generation contracts, which all involved foreign investors and members of then president Soeharto's family, other senior officials and Soeharto's business cronies.

It explains why all these contracts eventually led to disputes immediately after the financial crisis of 1997.

It is shown how the power contracts, if carried through, would have led the nation to bankruptcy because all of them set their power sales prices (to the State Electricity Company or PLN as sole buyer) way above standard international prices and four times as high as PLN's sale price for power.

Of the 27 projects, seven were eventually terminated, 14 were renegotiated, one was acquired by Pertamina, another by PLN.

Both authors suggest changes in the international property rights system, calling for the establishment of an appeals body within the Washington-based International Center for Settlement of Investment Dispute (ICSID) framework.

Arbitrators should base their decisions with less emphasis on a legalistic approach but with more attention paid to consideration of what is just and fair.

Even courts in industrialized countries may excuse parties from fulfilling contracts if they were entered into under compulsion (duress) or corruption or if one party is not competent, the book states.

Sometimes in such cases, a high standard of proof is not required as courts may simply assume that something has been amiss if there is at least a substantial hint of compulsion or corruption and the terms of investment arrangements seem imbalanced.

Along this line of thought, most of the power contracts the Indonesian government awarded between 1992 and 1995 should have fallen into the category of deals that should not be fully honored due to changes in the circumstances.

Demand for power plunged and the rupiah exchange rate crashed after the economic crisis, and there were hints of corruption, cronyism and unreasonable terms including unusually steep power sales prices set by the investors in dollars.

The case studies on contracts in infrastructure development are timely and especially relevant in view of the government's concerted campaign to woo new investment into electricity, telecommunications, toll roads, seaports and airports, and water supply.

The book not only offers lessons to officials and investors on how to negotiate and write investment contracts in infrastructure but also provides new horizons on property rights and contractual relationships in infrastructure.

The rationale is that large infrastructure projects have certain characteristics that make them frequent subjects of conflict with host governments because these deals almost inevitably require some kind of special agreement and an element of monopoly.

Moreover, infrastructure, like mining projects, is almost always politically sensitive because infrastructure is fundamental to an economy, and mines involve national patrimony, both authors rightly argue.

© 2007 The Jakarta Post:

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"We've got to quit simply saluting because they are Republicans."

Texas Legislature's session winds down with agendas squelched

Many promises of GOP majority apparently won't happen this time

May 20, 2007

Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — This legislative session has dished out to Texas' top political leaders repeated helpings of defeat and disgruntlement along with a fine dessert of humble pie.

The legislative agendas of Republicans Gov. Rick Perry, House Speaker Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have either been swept away or diminished by recalcitrant lawmakers and explosive, unexpected issues such as the sale of TXU utilities or the scandals of the Texas Youth Commission.

Promises of things such as property tax appraisal reform apparently will not happen before the session ends May 28.

"The Republicans have squandered a majority," said former state GOP Chairman Tom Pauken, who headed Perry's task force on property tax appraisal reform last year. "We could have gotten a lot more done if we'd had strong Republican leadership. We've got to quit simply saluting because they are Republicans."

Perry received a legislative rebuff on building toll roads and selling the state lottery. He also saw his mandate that girls receive the HPV vaccine overturned.

Little has come of Perry's higher education reforms. And if Perry gets his cancer research fund, it will be paid for with $3 billion in debt interest payments that will be carried by Texas taxpayers for the next 20 years.

Three-term House Speaker Craddick began the session with a challenge to his re-election. But as he eased his dictatorial grip to appease his critics, the House became a rudderless ship. The past week began with legislative plots to throw Craddick out of office and ended with one of his top lieutenants challenging his re-election in 2009.

Dewhurst had greater success than the others pushing his priorities through, but critics say his agenda was small and geared more toward an expected 2010 run for governor than what's good for Texas overall. And then last week, he created bipartisan anger among senators with a ham-handed power play that failed to pass a voter identification bill.

Perry spokeswoman Krista Moody said it's too early to declare that Perry has had a bad legislative session.

"On May 29th, we're going to see the governor's agenda has been successful in many different venues," Moody said. "He laid out a wide array of health care initiatives, and many of them, if not all of them, have gained momentum in both chambers: Medicaid reform and a funding pool for the uninsured and nursing initiatives."

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, led the Senate's efforts to overturn Perry's executive order mandating vaccinations for girls against HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that causes most cervical cancers. Nelson said Perry's biggest problem early in the session was not consulting with lawmakers before acting.

She said that resulted in the legislation to overturn him on HPV, fights between lawmakers and Perry's transportation officials and the filing of a bill that would allow the Legislature to come back in brief special sessions for veto overrides. That bill is pending.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio said the legislative leadership and the session got "a tornado of acronyms: HPV, TXU, TYC , TSU."

"It sucked so much energy out of this Legislature and the whole working relationship," Van de Putte said. "We never really regained our timing and motion."

Dewhurst said he believes complaints about the session are misplaced. "From where I sit, the Senate and Legislature is having a good session."

Besides passing his agenda, Dewhurst said, the Legislature responded to the crisis at the TYC and has worked hard on water legislation and a transportation bill that will slow down the building of toll roads until further study.

The lieutenant governor has been pushing a rather simple agenda for this session: protecting children with steroid testing of high school athletes, requirements that school districts have heart defibrillators and passage of Jessica's Law, which would give the death sentence to repeat child rapists.

Royal Masset, former political director of the Republican Party of Texas, said those all may be good issues but they involve small numbers of people and not the greater good of Texas. He said Jessica's Law will not "bear the judgment of history. That was just going for the media."

Freshman Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said Dewhurst has been harmed this session by the appearance of being a 2010 candidate for governor.

"That has impacted our process and colored his decisions on a number of occasions. I can't imagine what 2009 is going to be like," Patrick said.

Dewhurst's biggest blowup occurred last week as he tried to ram a voter identification bill desired by Republicans through the Senate when a Democratic senator was out sick and could not vote to block debate. Dewhurst won on one procedural vote but then permitted a revote that allowed the Democrats to prevail. An angry exchange occurred during the voting.

The next day, Dewhurst's office put out a letter questioning the patriotism of Democrats for voting against the bill and accusing Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, of "gaming the system."

Dewhurst later disavowed the letter. But the original letter angered both Democratic and Republican senators, who saw it as pure politics.

"The Senate certainly wasn't at our best," Van de Putte said. "We're under intense stress and very little sleep and tensions get high."

Dewhurst said he never saw the letter before his staff sent it out. He also blamed the anger from all sides on end-of-session fatigue.

Patrick said if Dewhurst was going to pull a power play on the Democrats he should never have given them the opportunity to block the bill by recounting the vote.

"You don't get a mulligan or a redo on the Senate floor," Patrick said.

The biggest ongoing leadership story of the session has been Craddick's struggle to hold onto power.

Craddick fended off a re-election challenge in January. In an effort to calm ill will toward him, he became a nicer Tom Craddick. This emboldened his opponents and freed some of his allies. The result was that bills carried by his top lieutenants died on the House floor or had major amendments put on them.

The House voted to overturn one of Craddick's parliamentary rulings two weeks ago, leading to rumors of a legislative coup that would unseat him as speaker.

Then last week, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, announced he will run for speaker in 2009 and urged Craddick not to seek re-election. Craddick quickly announced his intentions to run again.

But none of that stopped rumors that an attempt will be made before the session ends to vote Craddick out of office with a motion to vacate the chair.

State Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, said Craddick hurt himself in past sessions by being too dictatorial. But he said the House has drifted this session as Craddick backed off.

"His style has been to centralize the power with the speaker, not with the team," Hilderbran said.

Craddick declined an interview request. One of his closest allies, State Affairs Chairman David Swinford, R-Dumas, said Craddick has tried to satisfy members by being a "kinder and gentler" leader this session.

Swinford said he does not blame Craddick for some of his heavy-handed tactics of the past. Swinford said cutting a $10 billion budget deficit in 2003 without taxes and then dealing with school finance reform and property tax cuts could not have happened without a strong leader.

Though the politics of the 80th Legislature have had a wicked edge to them, Patrick said there is not much that Republicans will be able to take to voters on the campaign trail next year.

"This has been a tough session for Republicans," Patrick said. "If, at the end of the day, we have the governor, the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House, the majority on both houses and we can't get the legislation passed that the people elected us to pass, that's a real problem."

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

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