Saturday, June 30, 2007

"One significant consequence of Kelo has been to alert Americans of the egregious abuses inherent in the application of eminent domain laws."

Eminent Domain's Blatant Disregard of Rights Is the Real 'Blight'

June 30, 2007

Wall Street Journal
Copyright 2007

In regard to your June 23 editorial "Kelo's Consequences" and, on the same day, Carla T. Main's commentary "The 'Blight' Excuse":

The debate surrounding the Kelo decision and how to remedy its negative fallout has been handicapped by ignoring the contribution of economists and economic analysis to the issue of property rights.

Every economist knows that Noble winner Ronald Coase long ago showed that if the government could define the property rights of individual persons or firms in such a way that all externalities could be handled by free exchange in the market, then there is no need for government to intervene to change the market outcome.

Resource allocation will be at what is called a "Pareto Optimum" in which all individuals are on their highest level of utility, given the distribution of income. A "taking" would be necessary only if all externalities could not be handled by defining property rights -- e.g., when a few firms are polluting the air of large numbers of individuals. Other situations that justify takings involve what are called "public goods" that voluntary exchange cannot bring about -- many highway situations; police force and fire departments; the Armed Forces; ensuring a minimal level of education for all children; and so on.

I think the Kelo situation outraged so many because the Coase rule, even though people had never heard of it, was so obviously ignored in that case.

If the individuals had been allowed to keep property rights in their homes, the drug company would have had the opportunity to buy out the owners and the outcome would not have involved any externalities. If the company had decided not to go ahead it would have meant the individual owners wanted too much money to get them to move and still remain at the same or higher level of utility. But this would have meant a lower level of tax revenue for the government, and this was the reason given for the taking -- which was so at a variance with the legal history of the takings clause that the outrage erupted. And thus came the "blight" reason for a taking.

The key question about using blight to justify a taking is whether or not the area is currently interfering with the lifestyle of existing individuals. If very few individuals in existing residential homes or apartments have to look at or walk through a potentially "blighted" area, then who is the blight harming? It would be like a processing plant giving off odors and ugly but harmless emissions located such that almost all existing residents did not smell it or see it.

In these cases the Coase rule should apply -- property rights should be assigned to people with businesses and property in the "blighted" area and developers should have to bargain with them, without holding them hostage with the threat of eminent domain.

Dave M. O'Neill
Adjunct Professor of Economics
Baruch College, CUNY
New York

One significant consequence of Kelo has been to alert Americans of the egregious abuses inherent in the application of eminent domain laws.

Many states have risen to the challenge by passing laws to limit these property rights violations. Most significant from a corporate perspective is the stand taken by Winston-Salem-based BB&T Bank, the nation's ninth-largest financial holding company. BB&T has adopted the position that "it will not lend to commercial developers that plan to build condominiums, shopping malls and other private projects on land taken from private citizens by government entities using eminent domain."

To my knowledge, BB&T's eminent domain position is unique in American corporate history for its explicit moral implications. (

Edwin R. Thompson
New York

© 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. :

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Trinity River: "Park or toll road? Let the voters decide."

Trinity toll road foes say 80,000 signed petition

June 30, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Dallas voters will decide in November whether to scrap the Trinity toll road, a key component of the Trinity River project, if petitions submitted Friday by opponents of the road are certified as valid.

Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt said Friday that more than 80,000 people signed a petition to force a vote on the Trinity toll road. If at least 48,000 signatures are verified, the issue will go on the November ballot.

Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt announced at a City Hall news conference that more than 80,000 people had signed on to force a vote on the planned high-speed road. Ms. Hunt, whose district includes parts of downtown, has led the fight against the tollway.

If the city secretary certifies that at least 48,000 of those signatures belong to registered voters living in Dallas, a measure will be placed on the November ballot. Verification is expected to take weeks.

"Here you see before you a mandate from 80,000 people in Dallas who say they want a voice in the future of our Trinity River," Ms. Hunt said. Behind her stood more than 50 volunteers from TrinityVote, the group that ran the petition drive. Many of them wore T-shirts reading, "Park or toll road? Let the voters decide."

Opponents of the petition drive – including Mayor Tom Leppert, former Mayors Laura Miller and Ron Kirk, most of the City Council and many business and civic leaders – say that revisiting the question of the toll road threatens the entire Trinity project.

If passed, the November referendum would prohibit construction of any road inside the river levees that is more than two lanes in each direction, with a speed limit of more than 35 mph.

As currently planned, the nine-mile toll road would have six lanes in places and four in others (with room to expand to six), and a speed limit of 55 mph. The toll road would provide limited access to the river itself; its chief purpose would be to whisk traffic more swiftly through the downtown corridor.

Ms. Hunt and her supporters say a low-speed parkway is more compatible than a sprawling toll road with the other chief elements of the Trinity project – a downtown riverside park and flood-control improvements.

The current road was part of a comprehensive Trinity plan approved by the council in 2003. The project is expected to take years to complete and cost more than $1.2 billion.

Mr. Leppert said that if the signatures are validated, he will campaign aggressively against the November ballot proposition.

"If it passed, it would add significant time to the project, and significant cost," he said.

"The vast majority of the council – and myself – favor moving forward. The referendum isn't the right approach, and we'll have to communicate that with voters."

Council member Mitchell Rasansky, another supporter of the Trinity project as currently envisioned, called the seeming success of Ms. Hunt's signature campaign "a setback for Dallas." He added: "I'm going to fight this as hard as I can. The current plan is the best thing for the citizens of Dallas. The public has to know that this would be a very costly proposition to taxpayers to do otherwise."

Striking a populist chord, Ms. Hunt alluded to the fact that her petition drive was opposed by most of the city's civic, business and political elite.

She said volunteers worked tirelessly through the 60-day signature-gathering period, circulating petitions across the city at bookstores, supermarkets, restaurants and other retail outlets.

"There are some politicians who want to pave the Trinity," she said. "But that option is no longer in their hands. As of today, the decision is in our hands, the hands of the voters, where it rightfully belongs.

"And these politicians, they can still have a say in what happens with the toll road, because they'll get a chance to vote on this at the polls like everybody else.

"But their vote won't carry any more weight than yours."

Dallas voters in 1998 approved $246 million in bonds for the Trinity project. Ms. Hunt contends that many of those voters thought they were endorsing a low-speed parkway, not a high-speed toll road.

But supporters of the road say it was always envisioned as a major thoroughfare. More to the point now, they say, removing it from inside the levees will delay progress on the other aspects of the Trinity project. For one thing, they say, an alternative right-of-way for a toll road outside the river corridor would be difficult to assemble and prohibitively expensive.

Ms. Hunt called such objections "scare tactics."

In years to come, she said, she hopes visitors to Dallas "will go home and tell their friends and neighbors, 'You will not believe what they've done with the Trinity River in Dallas. It's the most beautiful park I've ever seen.' "

What's Next:

TrinityVote submitted more than 80,000 signatures Friday calling for a referendum on the Trinity toll road. Here's what happens next:

• The city secretary must verify that at least 48,000 of the signatures are valid – from registered voters who live in Dallas. That will take weeks.

• If the petitions are certified, the referendum goes before voters in November. The full text of the proposed ordinance can be viewed at

• If the petitions aren't certified, backers of the ballot measure could start gathering signatures again. As they did this time, they would have 60 days to submit the required number.

Staff writer Dave Levinthal contributed to this report.

© 2007 Dallas Morning News:

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Ric Williamson: "In the left a contract ready to execute. In my right hand, is a one-inch thick document of promises."

TxDOT plays nice with NTTA -- at least for the time being


by Christine DeLoma
Volume 6, Issue 44
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2007

The Texas Transportation Commission voted June 28 to give the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) more time in order to come up with a firm commitment to build State Highway 121.

The Regional Transportation Council (RTC) had voted 27-10 last week in favor of NTTA's proposal over rival Cintra's bid, which was favored by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

Earlier this year, TxDOT had reached a tentative deal with Cintra for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the SH 121 toll road. But in response to the controversy over private toll road contracts, lawmakers allowed NTTA to submit a rival bid.

Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas), Tommy Williams (R-Houston) and Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) negotiated with the agency to allow an NTTA offer, with the understanding that if the local transportation council wanted NTTA to do the project instead of Cintra, TxDOT wouldn't stand in the way.

A few commission members expressed concern that the Cintra deal was a done deal and that the NTTA bid was only a "proposal" that still needed negotiating.

"The situation that we find ourselves in is that we have a binding contract in the left hand-- it is a contract ready to execute, write you a check, start construction," Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said. "In my right hand, is a one-inch thick document of promises."

Despite the concerns, the Commission voted to allow NTTA 60 days to come up with a project agreement and 45 days thereafter to deliver the $2.5 billion upfront concession fees to the RTC.

Final contract terms are subject to TTC's approval.

"Now approved," said NTTA board chairman Paul Wageman, "NTTA will begin working over the next 60 days with the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to deliver a project agreement in order to bring this most important mobility project to completion for our Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant county partners.

"Our promise to our NTTA customers, the citizens of North Texas, the RTC and the TTC is that the SH 121 project will be delivered on time, within budget, and with the highest NTTA construction and safety standards," he said.

If NTTA and RTC cannot come up with a project agreement within 60 days, TxDOT will sign over the project to Cintra.

Cintra, however, is ready and waiting if the NTTA project fails through. "As the commission noted, the NTTA proposal is incomplete and lacks a firm financial commitment," said Jose Lopez, Cintra's Austin-based director. "In contrast, with the Cintra/JPMorgan Fund proposal, contracts are in place, toll rates are capped, lending commitments are made, design work is complete, and we are ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work."

For Shapiro, TTC's vote was an example of the state's new transportation policy at work. "If in fact MPOs [metropolitan planning organizations] are going to be involved in the decision process locally as the commissioners have been quoted as saying time and time again, this was a perfect example of local communities making the decisions for local projects," Shapiro said. "And I think it is the future of transportation in the state of Texas." O

© 2007 The Lone Star Report:

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Aide to Gov. Perry gets a frosty reception in Cleburne

[Perry] Aide: Growth demands Trans-Texas Corridor

Residents speak against highway, rail system

June 29, 2007

By Misty Shultz/Staff Writer
Cleburne Times-Review
Copyright 2007

Texas needs the Trans-Texas Corridor because of its surging population, a representative for Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday while speaking in Cleburne.

Plans are to build the multi-lane highway and rail system parallel to Interstate 35, north-south through the center of the state. Kris Heckmann, deputy director of Perry’s Legislative Division spoke at the Cleburne Civic Center at the invitation of the Johnson County Republican Women for their monthly meeting.

Every decade since World War II, Texas’ population has increased by at least 20 percent, Heckmann said. In 1990, the state’s population was 16.5 million, and today the population is 23 million. More than half of Texas’ population lives within 20 to 30 miles of I-35, he said.

The growth means Texas needs a better roadway from San Antonio to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Heckmann said.

“The state does not have billions of dollars to spend on I-35,” he said. “We would have to stop work on the other highways to cover the costs.”

Inflation would also increase costs, and that would extend the time needed to revamp I-35, Heckmann said. Perry is concerned the state would never catch up on the expansion because it would not be able to fund it, he said.

To save time and money, Perry believes the Trans-Texas Corridor, or TTC-35, would be a better option.

Building it a few miles east or west of I-35 would be cheaper because the land it would use is not as heavily developed as along I-35, Heckmann said. If the new corridor is a toll road, it can be built for few or no tax dollars, he said. Only the people who use the road would pay for it, he said.

“When I-35 was built, they did not buy enough land, so there is no room to add lanes without tearing down existing development,” he said. “We will buy enough land [for TTC-35] to expand when the population grows. We have to plan ahead.”

TTC-35 would also be built quicker because it would not be traveled on during construction, he said. When adding to an existing highway, the state has to close lanes and build a few miles of road at a time, he said.

The state signed an agreement with Cintra Zachary, a partnership of several businesses that has offered to pay $10 billion for the construction, maintenance and operation of TTC-35 because the state cannot fund such an extensive project without accruing a large amount of debt and increasing taxes to cover costs.

The state would receive 5 percent of the money for every car on the road for 50 years, and Cintra Zachary would receive 95 percent, Heckmann said. As the number of people who use the road increases, the percentage of money the state receives would increase, he said. The state plans to put the money back into Texas roads.

“This sounded good to me until I found out that a company from Spain was doing this,” said Gayle Ledbetter, Johnson County Democratic Party chairwoman. “They are picking foreign companies to handle this when Texans should do the job quite well.”

Ledbetter said Perry was wrong not to make the public aware of the deal with Cintra Zachary before it was complete.

Some landowners are unhappy about relinquishing land that will be used for TTC-35. It would take up some of the best farmland in Texas, Ledbetter said.

The state will own the land and the roads, Heckmann said, and the private businesses involved have no eminent domain authority to confiscate land.

“I’m all for a good transportation system, but landowners are very upset,” Ledbetter said.

Henry Teich of Cleburne, a Republican who attended the meeting, said the state needs to put another road next to I-35 instead of using farmers’ land for a new road.

People need to consider the effect TTC-35 will have on agriculture, he said.

“Right now more people seem to be worried about the transportation problem than the food supply,” Heckmann said.

Several people who attended the meeting were also concerned that TTC-35 will develop into a superhighway extending from Canada to Mexico for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Heckmann said the Trans-Texas Corridor would not be built from San Antonio to Mexico because there is not enough traffic to support the funding of the highway.

“This is not about trade with Mexico,” Heckmann said. “We don’t need a parallel toll road that goes to Mexico because we’ve had I-35 for years.”

He also said no other states are planning to build a road parallel to I-35 because they do not have the population to support the cost. More people live in the Metroplex than in any state along I-35, he said.

“We can’t stick our head in the sand and pretend like I-35 isn’t a problem,” he said.

Misty Shultz can be reached at 817-645-2441, ext. 2336, or

© 2007 Cleburne Times-Review:

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Rick Perry: HB 2006 'had nothing to do with Kelo.'


Veto saves taxpayers money

June 29, 2007

Austin American Statesman
Copyright 2007

As someone born and raised on a cotton farm, protecting private property rights is part of my political DNA. That's why two years ago I joined a large majority of legislators in responding to the onerous Kelo v. City of New London decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that stated the Constitution does not prevent government from taking private property and giving it to another private party for economic development.

In 2005, we passed a law that guaranteed Texans' land would never be taken and given to the highest bidder for private economic development purposes. In other words, the family farm should not be seized simply because private developers have a vision for bigger profits from a mall or their private venture.

Critics of my recent veto of House Bill 2006, which addressed eminent domain, have wrongly stated that I set back efforts to address the Kelo decision. The bill had nothing to do with Kelo. HB 2006 was not about protecting private property from being taken by eminent domain; it was about how much taxpayers must pay when private land is going to be taken.

I strongly supported HB 2006 right up until the final days of the legislative session before last-minute amendments were added that would have cost taxpayers more than $1 billion annually and provided condemnation lawyers a new cottage industry to get rich based on frivolous claims.

HB 2006 would have allowed condemnation lawyers to sue cities, counties and the state for any reason and any amount whenever the state acquired land through eminent domain.

No government entity likes to use the power of eminent domain. But it is a necessary power if we are to build the roads, schools and health care facilities needed to keep up with our population growth. A reality often forgotten, or brushed to the side, is that every new road, school office building, park, hospital and home built in Texas has been or will be built on private property. That property, whether acquired through a private business deal or through authority vested in the government to impose eminent domain rights, is appropriately purchased — and paid for — at or above market price. The law already protects Texans when it comes to the price offered for purchase.

HB 2006 would have gone beyond fair market value by creating a new category of subjective damages that would have been rife for exploitation by condemnation lawyers. Construction dust could trigger a lawsuit by business owners claiming it impedes access to their businesses.The addition of a new stoplight to make a road safer could trigger a lawsuit. The placement of a new school could be a reason to sue. And taxpayers would be left to pick up the check.

Leaders of virtually every major high-growth city and county in the state asked me to veto this bill. They recognized, as I did, that this bill would have hindered a local community's ability to manage population growth.

The most common misunderstanding I hear about HB 2006 is that it somehow would have protected property owners from having their land taken. HB 2006 was strictly about how much the taxpayers would pay the landowner, not about whether the land could be taken. The bill would not have prevented even a single case involving eminent domain. It dealt only with a paycheck.

I have also heard the misconception that HB 2006 would protect rural landowners. In reality, the bill would have affected predominantly high-growth urban properties. Rural landowners simply aren't faced with the traffic issues that this bill targeted. If this bill had been allowed to pass, rural Texans would have been forced to pay more taxes to fund land purchases in urban areas because of the increases in litigation.

While I am firmly committed to ensuring increased fairness for Texas landowners, late amendments added to an otherwise good bill were done to benefit condemnation lawyers and place a disproportionate burden on Texas taxpayers.

I urge the Legislature to continue to work on striking a balance that allows Texas landowners to be treated with fairness and respect for their property rights while simultaneously asking their neighbors to pay a reasonable amount for their land.

Texas can find a middle ground, and it shouldn't cost billions of dollars to do so.

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.


Pacific Legal Foundation: ' Texas Eminent Domain Reform Vetoed'

Texas Farm Bureau: ' Texas Farm Bureau Responds, Clarifies HB 2006 Veto'

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"The Texas Transportation Commission, for the first time took a step back from its push toward private tollways."

State backs off from Dallas-area private tollway deal

4-1 vote on transportation commission only second split decision in 90 years.

June 29, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

The Texas Transportation Commission, with the conspicuous presence in the front row of state Sen. Florence Shapiro, on Thursday for the first time took a step back from its push toward private tollways.

The commission voted to let the North Texas Tollway Authority build and operate the Texas 121 turnpike in Collin County, provided the agency and Dallas transportation planners can hammer out final details within 60 days. And then, 35 days after that, the agency will have to hand over a promised $3.33 billion to the Texas Department of Transportation.

If any of that fails to occur on time, the Transportation Department probably will return to Plan A, a long-term lease with a partnership led by Spanish toll road builder Cintra. The agency had chosen the Cintra partnership this year from among three private competitors after Cintra pledged to pay the state $2.1 billion upfront and about $700 million over 49 years for the right to build the 26-mile road.

After that deal was announced, Shapiro, a Plano Republican, and other Dallas-Fort Worth area legislators pushed hard to give the tollway authority, which is described as a political subdivision of the state, a shot at building the road instead. The tollway authority operates the two tollways in the Metroplex as well as a bridge and tunnel with tolls, and has plans for several other tollways. Its supporters said that profits from Texas 121 should stay in the area rather than going to private stockholders.

Transportation Department officials resisted the change through the spring, arguing that it was unfair and possibly an invitation for a lawsuit to allow a government agency to see a winning private bid and then top it. They also pointed to support of the Cintra deal by the Regional Transportation Council, which makes major transportation decisions for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

But that body of 40 local elected officials voted a few weeks ago in favor of the tollway authority offer, which carried a higher upfront payment than Cintra's bid, money to be used for other area highway projects.

The state commission, despite reservations about loose ends in the tollway authority's offer, followed suit Thursday.

The commission vote was notable for its lack of unanimity. The count was 4-1, with Commissioner Ted Houghton of El Paso dissenting. Houghton made it clear during the debate that he liked the certainty of Cintra's pending bid.

Longtime Transportation Department officials said it might be only the second time in the agency's 90-year history that commissioners haven't voted unanimously on an agenda item.

The other split vote, in 1996, also involved a toll road, the Camino Colombia turnpike near Laredo.

That road was built by investors and then later became a state road after the private venture failed.; 445-3698

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

"What would have been better... is if the state paid for it themselves. "

Collin County leaders ‘pleased’ with decision

June 28, 2007

By Danny Gallagher,
McKinney Courier-Gazette
Copyright 2007

Several area city and county leaders said they are encouraged that the Texas Transportation Commission listened when they said who they wanted to build State Highway 121 toll lanes.

“It’s gratifying that the state is listening to the local leaders, because we (the Regional Transportation Council) had a pretty good margin of votes in choosing the North Texas Tollway Authority, 27-10, and the state told us all along they would put a big reliance on what the region had said,” said Joe Jaynes, Collin County Precinct 3 commissioner and recently appointed RTC member. “The region prefers the NTTA and I’m glad the state kept their word.”

The TTC voted 4-1 on Thursday in favor of the NTTA’s proposal over that of Cintra.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Jerry Hoagland also said he is pleased with the ruling, but not the outcome.

“I’m very pleased that they picked NTTA over Cintra because I think that’s a better deal for the citizens of Collin County,” Hoagland said. “However, I think what’s even better than or would have been better than that is if the state paid for it themselves. The state passed a $152 billion budget after this most recent session, and this project is about $6 billion total, and I believe that $6 billion should have been paid for by the state or we wouldn’t have had this conversation in the first place about Cintra or NTTA.”

Frisco City Manager George Purefoy, who flew to Austin to attend the TTC meeting, said he agrees with the ruling, but he’s also concerned about certain financial aspects of the project on TxDOT’s end.

“The way TxDOT has written the request for proposal, it doesn’t follow the business terms the RTC adopted,” Purefoy said. “The inflation factor is almost twice what the RTC adopted, and then also the way they have it written…it can go up 30 percent on tolls during the six peak hours of traffic from 6-9 a.m. and then 4-7 p.m.

“Assuming that those two things are changed, then I think our city council will be OK with it,” Purefoy said. “Those are two big factors, because when you start on the inflation factor and you start multiplying an extra 1 or 2 percent that’s spread out every year over 50 years, it makes a significant difference in the toll rate.”

Now that the NTTA has the project, the TTC has given NTTA 60 days to meet the financial terms of the project with the Regional Transportation Council. When that is done, they have an additional 45 days to close the agreement. If the deadlines are not met, the project reverts back to Cintra.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Phyllis Cole said TTC chair Ric Williamson extended the deadline from 30 to 60 days and she feels the extra time is worth the wait.

“It was pretty much what NTTA asked for, and I think although sometimes there is a little bit of discussion about the length and the project dragging out, in my opinion, that’s not true,” Cole said. “For us to have a good viable project, it’s worth waiting an extra 90 days or whatever to be sure everything is done correctly and there’s no problems down the line.”

Hoagland said he’s not sure if 60 days is enough time.

“That may be asking them to do a whole lot in the 60 days, and it may not be,” Hoagland said. “I don’t know if the NTTA already has a financier…but it’s going to put a strain on them to get that accomplished in a short period of time. It may be a ploy by the state to say, ‘Well you couldn’t perform it, so we’ll give it to Cintra.’”

Jaynes said he’s just glad the wheels are finally turning to get the road built.

“NTTA is a good choice, so let’s just get the road built,” Jaynes said.

Contact Danny Gallagher at dgallagher@acnpapers.

com. To post a comment online, access this story at

© 2007 McKinney Courier-Gazette:

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“They could have canceled the Cintra procurement and awarded the project outright to us.”

State chooses NTTA for SH 121

June 28, 2007

By Josh Hixson
McKinney Courier-Gazette
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — The Texas Transportation Commission voted 4-1 on Thursday to give the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) tentative approval for construction and tolling of State Highway 121 in Collin and Denton counties.

The commission’s decision allows the NTTA 60 days to reach a project agreement with the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) and 45 days to close on that agreement. If the deadlines are missed, the contract would be awarded to Cintra, the private Spanish company that had been tentatively given the project in February.

The NTTA’s proposal would offer $2.5 billion up front and $833 million more over the course of a 49-year lease of the project. In addition, the NTTA has promised the RTC to begin five other road projects in the North Texas area.

The first split vote in the history of the current commission — according to chairman Ric Williamson — came after two hours of intense deliberation.

Commissioner Ted Houghton of El Paso— the lone dissenter— argued that Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials should be involved in the negotiation process with the NTTA and the RTC.

“I want TxDOT in on the 60-day process,” Houghton said. “I think our staff should be joined at the hip with the NTTA.”

Williamson said “baseless” accusations and “unattributed quotes” about the character of TxDOT staff have made him wary of encouraging the department to get re-involved in the process.

“Every time something doesn’t work, it is always TxDOT’s fault,” Williamson said. “I am having a hard time keeping district engineers…because they are getting beat up by public officials.”

State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, sat in the front row in the meeting room, next to NTTA chairman Paul Wageman. Shapiro said the commission’s approval signals a shift toward local control of transportation planning.

“I think this set the tone for the rest of the state,” Shapiro said. “This was a perfect example of local communities making the decisions for local projects. I think it is the future of transportation in the state of Texas.”

Williamson agreed.

“Part of Gov. [Rick] Perry’s strategy is to tell the regional planning organizations to be aggressive and make their own decisions,” Williamson said. “We are here to help them.”

While the outcome was not exactly what the NTTA was looking for, Wageman said he is confident the tolling authority can work with the RTC to create a project agreement in the time allotted.

“They could have canceled the Cintra procurement and awarded the project outright to us,” Wageman said. “I think we have to be very focused on getting this thing done in the time frame allowed us. “

“By the end of the day today, or certainly by Monday, we will work up a schedule with the RTC so that we can drive this thing to a successful conclusion,” Wageman said.

Cintra was given approval by the Texas Transportation Commission to toll and construct SH 121 before the state legislature stepped in and allowed the NTTA to submit a bid.

Houghton expressed his concern that the commission’s choice to support the NTTA would diminish foreign private sector interest in future Texas highway projects.

“It is unfortunate [Cintra] has been vilified as foreigners,” Houghton said. “We welcome them to this state.”

In a statement released Thursday, Jos/ Lopez, Cintra’s Austin-based director, said the NTTA’s proposal lacks significant guarantees.

“As the commission noted, the NTTA proposal is incomplete and lacks a firm financial commitment,” Lopez stated. “In contrast, with the Cintra/JPMorgan Fund proposal, contracts are in place, toll rates are capped, lending commitments are made, design work is complete, and we are ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

“What you get from us is a guarantee and a legally binding contract that is ready to deliver SH 121,” Lopez stated.

Shapiro said she was glad to finally put to the controversial past of the SH 121 procurement process behind her.

“A lot of different sources kind of forced NTTA to agree to stay out of 121 and do other projects,” Shapiro said. “I believe that was an unnecessary diversion and that is all over with.”

Contact Josh Hixson at To post a comment online, access this story at

© 2007 McKinney Courier-Gazette:

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"We've already authorized our staff to sign the Cintra proposal. If they [NTTA] can't get there, we'll sign the project with Cintra."

Texas agency again tops Cintra for road project

Jun 28, 2007

By Joan Gralla
Copyright 2007

NEW YORK - Texas on Thursday conditionally approved a public agency to overhaul a busy Dallas-Fort Worth highway instead of Spanish toll-road firm Cintra (CCIT.MC: Quote, Profile, Research), a decision that analysts said could stall road privatization plans in other states.

The North Texas Tollway Authority outbid Cintra by $500 million, offering a $2.5 billion upfront payment and $833 million in annual lease payments.

Thursday's decision was made by the state transportation commission, which selected the North Texas Tollway Authority by a vote of four to one, said spokesman Mark Cross.

Cintra in February won the deal to overhaul State Highway 121, but critics said the terms overly favored the developer by including a non-compete clause and a 50-year lease.

Texas lawmakers responded by asking the local highway authority to submit a competing bid.

The legislature also enacted new curbs on such privatizations, which allow developers to lease state highways for long periods in return for the toll revenue.

New Jersey and other states weighing road privatizations have said they are closely following the twists and turns of Texas' saga because they want to avoid a similar backlash.

Cintra and the JPMorgan Fund, its partner, said in a statement on Thursday their bid was better because "contracts are in place, toll rates are capped, lending commitments are made, design work is complete and we are ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work."

The companies added their deal would invest $7.3 billion in the Dallas-Fort Worth area over the next 50 years.

Texas' Regional Transportation Council on June 19 picked the public authority instead of Cintra and state Commission Chair Ric Williamson has set a policy of deferring to local policy-makers, said his spokesman, Randall Dillard.

The regional council and the North Texas Tollway Authority now have about 60 days to draft more detailed plans, including the timing, annual payments, enforcement clauses, toll policy and the length of the pact, Dillard said.

The authority will then have about 45 days to secure the financing and sign a contract with the state commission.

"We've already authorized our staff to sign the Cintra proposal," the Commission chair noted during the meeting, broadcast on its Web site (

"If they (the authority) can't get there, we'll sign the project with Cintra," he added.

Commissioner Ted Houghton dissented, stressing how inflamed the battle has been. "It's unfortunate that they (Cintra) have been vilified as foreigners," he said.

Cintra is one of the huge European companies that develops toll roads around the world. This approach is much more common in Europe, Asia and Latin American than in the United States.

The commissioners praised the private road developers for sparking the competition that produced Thursday's award.

Dillard said the State Highway 121 overhaul "was really just a long-range dream" until the private companies competed for the work. Asked if the commission would now return to using public agencies instead of developers, he replied that this project was "a good example of empowering local officials."

State Highway 121 is prized by developers because Dallas and Fort Worth are some of the fastest growing U.S. suburbs. For example, Collin County, which lies just north of Dallas, is expected to draw 514,000 new residents from 2005 to 2030.

Chicago sparked U.S. interest in this way of funding new highways without hiking taxes two years ago when it got $1.83 billion for leasing its main commuter link to Indiana, the Skyway toll bridge, to Cintra, part of Ferrovial (FER.MC: Quote, Profile, Research), and MIG, run by Australian bank Macquarie Bank Ltd. (MBL.AX: Quote, Profile, Research)

Fiscal monitors, however, have bashed Chicago's strategy, saying its 99-year pact is much too long and fails to give taxpayers the extra toll revenue the companies can get.

The North Texas Tollway Authority has said private firms may be better suited to developing roads in undeveloped areas because the bigger risk may justify their bigger profits.

© 2007 Reuters:

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"We need less cleverness, more honesty. And I need a quart-sized bottle of Excedrin. "


Everything in Ed's world is OK with Ed


By Jim Schutze
The Dallas Observer
Copyright 2007

I can't stand reading The Dallas Morning News because it gives me a gigantic headache. Why would I pay to have something delivered to my doorstep every day when I always wind up wanting to hurl it back at the guy who threw it at me?

The land use plan that Ed Oakley helped create has an effect on the property he owns along the Trinity River. How is that hard to understand?

Four days before the June 16 mayoral election, the News published a story about candidate Ed Oakley under the headline, "Oakley's land near Trinity project poses no conflict of interest." The subhead said, "Tracts near Trinity project don't violate code, city says."

I was the one who had suggested Oakley might have conflicts of interest as chairman of the city council's Trinity River Committee because of land he holds near the Trinity River. Oakley told me later he requested an opinion from the city attorney because of my articles.

"This was asked specifically because of the allegations you made about the road alignment," he said.

Oakley has been outspoken and adamant in opposing the goal of the petition drive and referendum to remove a high-speed toll road project from within the proposed downtown river park. I said taking the road out of the park and putting it on Industrial Boulevard would have a direct impact on Oakley's holdings near Industrial Boulevard. But I also said an entire stream of other zoning and land-use decisions related to the Trinity River project had affected Oakley's properties.

Great. So here in my morning newspaper is an article that is going to give me the answer. No conflict. Says so right here in the headline: "Oakley's land near Trinity project poses no conflict of interest."

But when I get way down to the bottom of the article on an inside page, I see this statement: "City lawyers have not investigated the issue of Mr. Oakley's land holdings. In releasing its May opinion to Mr. Oakley, the city attorney's office emphasized its limited scope."

Uh. Wait a minute. The allegations were about land holdings. And when I look at this story carefully, it sounds as if the city attorney's opinion doesn't clear Oakley of squat. He could still be under suspicion for the Chicago Fire.

So is this one of those Morning News stories I'm supposed to hold up to a mirror? Should I warm the back of the page with a match to see if secret writing appears? Or should I just roll the paper back up and run downstairs spilling hot coffee all over my bathrobe and throw the front door open and see if I can hit a dog-walker in the face with it?

No. I should calm down. I should get a copy of the opinion for myself.

I do that. City Attorney Tom Perkins is very nice about it. Faxes it over. I read. And I guess this is the kind of opinion you get if you go to the city attorney in the last two weeks of a neck-and-neck campaign and ask his office to crank out a letter that will decide the election.

You get a letter that will not decide the election.

As you know, Oakley did not win the election. But the conflict issue persists because the Trinity River project is very much in play, especially because of the petition drive.

Oakley's conflict question has to do with multiple parcels of land he owns in the old Trinity industrial district right down by the river. Since 2002, Oakley has been chairman of the city council's Trinity River Committee, giving him great influence over the project. Five years ago when Mayor Laura Miller assigned him to this post, questions were raised about his possible conflicts of interest.

At the end of May when I spoke to Oakley campaign aide and advisor David Marquis about all this ("The Magic Touch," May 24), Marquis told me Oakley had sought a city attorney's opinion on his land holdings near the Trinity five years ago.

One mystery, then, would be this: If Oakley had a city attorney's opinion in hand five years ago, why did he have to seek a new one in the last weeks of his campaign? I asked Oakley that.

He said, "You don't need a written opinion unless somebody raises an issue. Because it became an issue I asked them to reduce it to writing."

OK. So he didn't actually have a city attorney's opinion five years ago. He had some advice. I raised the issue in the paper. So then he wants it in writing. Fair enough.

But when I sit down with the opinion and actually read it, I have even bigger problems than I had before. With Oakley. With the Morning News. And the headache.

For example, the city attorney's opinion, actually a letter to Oakley, says: "The Trinity River Comprehensive Land Use Plan would have an economic effect on the properties you own within the Trinity River Corridor, and you have informed us that you have not participated in any matters involving the Trinity River Comprehensive Land Use Plan; however our office has not conducted an independent review to confirm that you did not participate in matters involving the Trinity River Comprehensive Land Use Plan."

What? Huh?

The man is chairman of the Trinity River Committee. This land use plan they're talking about is a scheme to take all of the land along the river completely out of the normal zoning process, put it under its own staff and apply all-new rules and concepts to it. It's totally a creature of the committee that Oakley has been chairing for five years! More to the point, the city attorney's staff has been present for all of those committee meetings.

What do they need an independent review for? If they can't remember the meetings, they need prescription drugs. Or other work.

I asked Oakley if it was not true he had presided over the whole effort to split zoning and land use for the river away from the normal zoning process and put it into something called the Trinity River Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

He said, "What does that have to do with anything?"

I said, "That shows that there has been an overall effort, an overall look at the Trinity River and at rezoning the Trinity River under your watch."

"And?" he asked. "Go on. Let's run the trail. And what does that create?"

"That creates the Trinity River Land Use Plan," I said.

"OK," he said. "Show me where the conflict is."

I wound up reading and re-reading the same line to him from the city attorney's opinion: "The Trinity River Comprehensive Land Use Plan would have an economic effect on the properties you own..."

But I got nowhere. Oakley insisted he could have no conflict as long as he recused himself from specific votes on specific zoning changes directed at specific properties owned by him. "Even if it's under my watch, the only thing that creates a conflict of interest by city charter is if you own land where you're doing a zoning change itself."

I looked at the city's ethics code, and nowhere does it make this wiggly fine-print distinction about zoning-votes-only that Oakley keeps harking to. The code says, "To avoid the appearance and risk of impropriety, a city official or employee shall not take any official action that he or she knows is likely to affect particularly the economic interests of the official or employee."

I'm not a lawyer, but I am a fairly decent interpreter of C.Y.A.-ese, and I have to say I sniff more than a whiff of it in this opinion. For example, the opinion makes many references to state law on conflict of interest, which is much more broad and permissive than the ethics code Laura Miller got passed after becoming mayor.

Far from the kind of technical narrow tests Oakley suggests, the city's ethics code goes big and broad. It calls on city officials "to carefully consider the public perception of personal and professional actions and the effect such actions could have, positively or negatively, on the city's reputation both in the community and elsewhere."

The code also states emphatically that not voting is not enough. An official with a conflict must "immediately refrain from further participation in the matter, including discussions with any persons likely to consider the matter."

City Attorney Perkins and Assistant City Attorney Gwendolyn Satterthwaite called me late last week to echo the defense Oakley had offered of himself the day before (this gets complicated). They said the comprehensive land use plan was divided into sub-areas. Oakley was OK, they said, if he had stayed out of any discussion of his own sub-area. He says he did.

But Perkins and Satterthwaite conceded they hadn't studied the plan. They agreed they did not know if the plan has overarching elements that affect all areas and therefore would affect Oakley's area. I would suggest that's why they call it "comprehensive." I think I'll hold them to the language in the letter: "The Trinity River Comprehensive Land Use Plan would have an economic effect on the properties you own..."

Look, I wouldn't blame you if you thought this was beating a dead horse, given that Oakley didn't win and he will leave the council this week. But I believe there's a much larger and more important point here.

This is the kind of stuff that the stupid toll road comes from—all this clever speech and fine print and cards up the sleeve. That's why having an election on it is so vital.

It's not even that the road needs to be taken out of the park. That's to be decided by the voters. Much bigger and more important for the health of the city is that people get a chance to ask questions and hear honest answers. And only an election will make that happen.

We need less cleverness, more honesty. And I need a quart-sized bottle of Excedrin.

© 2007 The Dallas Observer:

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NTTA trumps Cintra on SH 121 Toll Road

Public agency lands toll project


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

The Texas Transportation Commission has agreed to let the North Texas Tollway Authority build the Texas 121 toll road in Denton and Collin counties, rejecting a bid from the private Spanish firm Cintra.

The Plano-based tollway authority has committed to pay the North Texas region $3.3 billion for use on other transportation projects.

Now that the state commission has decided the tollway authority's plan is the best value, the next step is for the tollway authority to negotiate a project contract with the Metroplex's Regional Transportation Council, a process expected to take a month or two. The authority would have another 45 days to close its financial arrangements.

The commission voted 4-1 Thursday afternoon to approve the plan during a meeting in Austin. The dissenter was Ted Houghton of El Paso, who wanted the negotiations to include a member of the Texas Department of Transportation. "I'm against us being on the sidelines," he said.

But commission chairman Ric Williamson of Weatherford preferred that TxDOT employees take a step back and let North Texans work out the deal themselves. "Right now, RTC and NTTA are all getting along and they've all agreed as to how they want to do this." Williamson is a longtime champion of decentralizing TxDOT's powers so that metro areas may decide road-building priorities on their own.

Williamson also said he would prefer that his agency's employees stand at arm's length from the process, to avoid being unfairly criticized for trying to manipulate the results. In recent months, TxDOT officials have been accused of forcing the tollway authority out of the Texas 121 bidding so that private companies such as Cintra could have the project.

"I've had it with toll operators, and House and Senate members, and former commissioners accusing good state employees," he said.

In addition to paying $3.3 billion to the region, most of it up front, the tollway authority has agreed to add five new toll road projects to its existing Dallas-area toll road system within five years. Three of those five projects are in the western Metroplex: The Texas 121T (aka Southwest Parkway) extension to Cleburne, Texas 360 in Mansfield and Texas 170 in the Alliance area. Texas 161 in Grand Prairie, a reliever route for overused Texas 360 in Arlington, is also under consideration.

But still unknown is whether the commission's decision may expose the state to lawsuits from either Cintra or two other companies that originally competed for the project. Cintra originally won the bid, with a promise to pay $2.9 billion, but lawmakers intervened and demanded that the tollway authority get another chance.

The Federal Highway Administration later determined that intervention violated federal procurement rules, making Texas 121 toll road ineligible for future federal funds. The tollway authority doesn't intend to use federal funds going forward, but $236 million in federal funds has already been spent on the road and it's unclear if Texas will be asked to refund part or all of that amount.

If such a refund were necessary, it would reduce the overall amount of highway funding available for the Metroplex.

Check out the Honkin' Mad traffic blog for more details about the decision.
Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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"Some lawmakers wonder if Mr. Perry's office and TxDOT have shown favoritism toward Cintra."

Complex forces at work in 121 contract fight

June 28, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Ric Williamson and his fellow transportation commissioners will find themselves in a tight corner today as they meet in Austin to decide who will build the State Highway 121 toll road.

On one level, the commission is simply fulfilling its duty as the Texas Department of Transportation's governing board by deciding whether to award a multibillion-dollar contract to Spanish construction firm Cintra or give it to the North Texas Tollway Authority.

But a whole lot more is going on at another level.

Some say private firms may shy from Texas if Cintra loses 121 project

The Highway 121 decision also pits Mr. Williamson's desire to support Gov. Rick Perry's ambitious highway-building agenda against a Legislature intent on exerting more control over how Texas builds roads. And some lawmakers and other critics of Mr. Perry's policies see Cintra's involvement in the controversial Trans Texas Corridor lurking in the background of today's Highway 121 decision.

"I think [the commission] has a difficult decision to make," said state Rep. Mike Krusee, chairman of the House Transportation Committee and a Perry ally. "They are on record as believing in the value of public-private partnerships, but they are also in favor of local control. So, those two are in conflict on this road."

Conflict has been a constant during an eight-year Highway 121 odyssey that focused on a 26-mile stretch of toll road in Collin and Denton counties – a potential treasure trove expected to yield toll receipts totaling in the billions of dollars.

At contentious hearings this month in North Texas, local elected officials and others on the Regional Transportation Council failed to achieve an easy consensus.

True, the vote was decisive – 27-10 in favor of North Texas Tollway Authority building the road. But it came only after the council's professional staff argued for Cintra. Senior TxDOT officials also have backed Cintra's bid.

Mr. Williamson and his fellow commissioners often depend on TxDOT's technical experts to guide their decisions. But he said the department's recommendation for Cintra won't carry any special weight with the five commissioners, all of whom were appointed by Mr. Perry. The governor has not given him instructions on how to vote, he said.

"Rick Perry never indicates preferences for these things," he said. "Unlike some elected officials, Rick Perry understands that elected officials should not interfere with the contract process."

Lawmakers watching

Some lawmakers wonder if Mr. Perry's office and TxDOT have shown favoritism toward Cintra.

One of Mr. Perry's former aides, lobbyist Dan Shelley, worked for Cintra as a consultant before hiring on as the governor's legislative liaison. When he left state government, Mr. Shelley resumed his lobbying practice and joining Cintra as a paid adviser.

Some legislators also worry that TxDOT's continued endorsement of Cintra foreshadows a deck stacked against NTTA.

"I don't believe that from the beginning of this process NTTA has been treated fairly, evenly or given the same courtesies and same opportunities that the private sector has enjoyed," said state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, a Senate transportation committee member.

Other lawmakers were more direct. They said TxDOT will be inviting heavier legislative oversight if the commission awards the Highway 121 contract to Cintra – especially when it comes to the kind of public-private partnerships that Mr. Williamson and Mr. Perry champion so aggressively.

"I am not sure we were as provident as we should have been four years ago – and again two years ago –when we gave TxDOT a significant amount of authority to establish public-private partnerships," said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio. "We attempted in the most recent session to rein that in, and depending on what takes place in the next 18 months before we meet again, we may rein them in even more."

That legislation paved the way for NTTA to enter a late bid for the 121 project even though TxDOT had already tentatively awarded the deal to Cintra. Yesterday, Mr. Williamson said lawmakers inserted themselves into the Highway 121 process before they knew all the details.

"I believe that an abundance of elected officials, upon reflection, are going to wonder why they interfered in a contracting process that was already well on its way to conclusion," he said.

But Ms. Shapiro said she and other lawmakers have added leverage over TxDOT between now and the next session. Legislators examine state agencies every 12 years – it's called the sunset review process – with an eye toward improving state government. Sometimes, they eliminate a board or agency outright. TxDOT is due for a checkup between now and 2009.

Loyalty to Cintra?

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, is a former member of the transportation commission. He praised Cintra for providing competition that caused NTTA to increase the amount it's willing to pay for the 121 contract. Still, he said he doesn't understand why TxDOT has been so committed to Cintra's bid.

"There is just an incredible loyalty to a private company over the local interest and the desires of the community," Mr. Nichols said.

Others say there is more at stake in today's vote than just what's good for North Texas. The state's reputation for fair dealing is also on the line, Mr. Krusee said, because of NTTA's late entry in the bidding process.

"The loss of credibility for the state – stemming from the holding of bids, declaring a winner and then withdrawing a bid after that process is over – I think it will be a factor in their decision," he said.

Amadeo Saenz Jr., the top engineer at TxDOT, said the state's reputation for integrity and fairness in the bidding process is important because billions in private investment will be needed to pay for all the new road projects Texas needs.

As rich as the Highway 121 deal is likely to be, the amount of money companies like Cintra could make from roads yet to be built dwarfs it by comparison.

Some estimates say the state has a $40 billion gap between the cost of the roads it needs to build and the amount of revenue it can expect from taxes and publicly financed toll roads like the NTTA's Dallas North Tollway.

The first phase of the Trans-Texas Corridor is a case in point. The corridor is Mr. Perry's controversial, if hugely ambitious, plan to transform the way people and goods move between South Texas and North Texas. It could take 50 years to build and might cost as much as $175 billion.

For the past two and a half years, Cintra has been under contract with TxDOT to help plan the corridor. The company forecasts that toll receipts from the Interstate 35 segment of the Trans-Texas Corridor would be rich enough to allow private investors to spend $7 billion on construction and still pay the state $1.9 billion upfront.

That connection may help explain why TxDOT has been so tireless in its support for Cintra's bid on Highway 121, some lawmakers and others said.

"I see a connection, in that in giving a very lucrative project to a private entity company, you will encourage more companies to come and invest," said Mr. Nichols. "But you still have to decide: Would you rather your toll roads be locally controlled or be sold to the highest bidder."

David Stall, who helps run a Web site that opposes the corridor, said he expects the commission to buck local preferences and award the Highway 121 contract to Cintra – in part because of its work on the Trans-Texas Corridor.

"Highway 121 isn't an integral portion of the corridor from a transportation perspective," said Mr. Stall, a frequent critic of Mr. Williamson, adding that the 121 deal "really smacks of good-ole-boyism. TxDOT and Cintra have worked together so long that this is a relationship-driven decision, not a policy-driven one."

Not many lawmakers share his prediction that Cintra will get the contract. But several, including Ms. Shapiro, say TxDOT's unwavering support for Cintra has unsettled them. They also say TxDOT's financial analysis showing Cintra's bid as superior is not persuasive.

"A wise man many years ago told me you can make a number say anything you want to," Ms. Shapiro said. "And he who has the numbers has the power."

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Perry Patron dubs 39% governor a 'World Leader'

'World leader' Perry on lavish Middle East networking trip

$18,500 a head doesn't include airfare or cost of a DPS security detail


Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — The cost of attending this week's Middle East networking trip that featured leaders including Gov. Rick Perry was estimated at $18,500 per person, excluding airfare, by the firm footing the bill for Perry, his wife and the incoming Texas secretary of state.

The company, Global Capital Associates, was founded by Irwin Katsof, who promotes U.S. investment in Israeli startup companies, helped found a Web site to monitor media reports on Israel and co-authored a book on prayer with CNN's Larry King.

The company's Web site listed the cost in describing the lures of the invitation-only "18th International Networking and Gala Awards Mission to Israel and Jordan," including such treats as a sunset cruise on the Red Sea.

Perry, listed as one of the "world leaders," went with his wife, Anita, and Phil Wilson, his deputy chief of staff who Sunday becomes Texas secretary of state. Perry left Texas last Friday and is scheduled to return today.

Some have questioned a private company paying for a trip that supposedly will benefit the state.

Other leaders listed include former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft; former presidential envoy to Iraq Paul Bremer; and Andrew von Eschenbach, U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner.

A woman with the company, who declined to give her name, said the cost estimate was part of an initial notice of the planned trip. She wouldn't provide information on how much each attendee actually paid.

The cost estimate included touring, meals, transfers, hotel accommodations and "VIP customs and transfer upon arrival and for departure," according to the Web site.

It was unclear if the cost borne by the company for the Perrys and Wilson would be similar.

Perry also travels with a security detail whose expenses will be paid by the Texas Department of Public Safety, said DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange.

Perry spokesman Robert Black said Thursday he didn't have a cost estimate for Perry's trip.

The mission is meant to promote partnerships and joint ventures in homeland security, gas and oil, biotech and financial services, the Web site said, and to recognize those who have made the world "a better place."

The company, which selected Perry for a "Friend of Zion" award, has previously organized similar missions and presented the award to other high-profile figures. Perry has cited a "special kinship" between Texas and Israel.

Katsof's Web site says his company develops investment banking relationships through its global network of contacts.

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

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Interim HCTRA director: There are no plans to conduct a "witch hunt."

Free EZ Tags Rack Up $1.3M In Charges


KPRC (Channel 2) Houston
Copyright 2007

HOUSTON -- Note: The following story is a verbatim transcript of an Investigators story that aired on Thursday, June 28, 2007, on KPRC Local 2 at 4 p.m.

KPRC Local 2 Investigates uncovered thousands of EZ Tag users who were given a free pass on Harris County toll roads. Now we're learning just how much money that may have cost you and me. KPRC Local 2 investigative reporter Robert Arnold has been crunching the numbers.

In the last 13 months, those with free EZ Tags accumulated hundreds of thousands of dollars in toll charges. This is the first time in the 15 years these free tags have been issued the Toll Road Authority has taken a close look at the program.

We've spent the day digging through the records, looking at who has these tags and asking what toll road leaders are going to do now.

Fifty-five hundred people have a free EZ Tag, and in the last 13 months these riders have racked up more than $1.3 million in toll charges -- all while you'll now have to pay a quarter more every time you go through the tollbooth.

When we examined the list of those with free EZ Tags, the majority are on government-owned cars and trucks, like police officers and firefighters.

But we also found personal cars like Mercedeses, Jaguars, BMWs, Cadillacs and Lincolns. All of these people are county employees but are only supposed to use the free tags for county business. Until now, the Toll Road Authority has never checked to make sure everyone is following the rules. Even so, interim Toll Road Authority director Peter Key says there are no plans to conduct what he calls a "witch hunt."

"Going back in the past and trying to find people that may or may not have been serving the toll road, I think that defeats the purpose of why we're here right now," Key said.

Key says the purpose is to come up with stricter policies, and one decision has already been made. Toll road employees who don't need any EZ Tag to do their job are losing the perk. The same scrutiny will also apply to other county employees who have a tag on their personal car.

"Robert, I understand the Toll Road Authority doesn't want to run a witch hunt. But can anyone be disciplined if it's shown they've abused the privilege?" KPRC Local 2 anchor Jerome Gray asked.

"No, they can't. Let me explain how Harris County government works. It doesn't matter if you work for Mosquito Control or if you work for the Harris County Hospital District, an official county policy is not official unless it's been approved by commissioner's court. In the 15 years they've been handing out these EZ Tags, no one got it approved by Commissioner's Court, so even if they did catch somebody red-handed, they can't do anything about it," Arnold said. "The point now is to come up with a policy that is approved by Commissioner's Court and, therefore, it would be enforceable and they can discipline somebody."

If you have a news tip or question for KPRC Local 2 Investigates, drop them an e-mail or call their tipline at (713) 223-TIPS (8477).

© 2007

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NTTA expects Texas Transportation Commission to award SH 121 'without condition.'


Tollway authority driving forward on Texas 121 project

June 28, 2007

Paul N. Wageman, Board Chairman, North Texas Tollway Authority
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

For half a century the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) has been a time-tested provider of mobility projects in north Texas. So, it was only fitting that the NTTA would submit a proposal to finance, build, operate and maintain the SH 121 toll project. As Chairman of the Board of Directors of the NTTA, I was pleased that our Board voted unanimously to move forward a proposal which provides superior financial benefits to the region we serve.

Our Board's confidence was ratified on June 18, 2007, when the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) voted overwhelmingly for the NTTA's proposal and thus recommending it to the Texas Transportation Commission as the region's preferred delivery method for SH 121. The council members should be commended for their hard work on behalf of the citizens of north Texas. Ultimately, the RTC's decision was based upon a thorough review of both proposals resulting in a determination – by nearly a three-to-one margin – that the financial value of the NTTA's commitment was greater than that of the private sector's commitment.

I had the pleasure of discussing the merits of our proposal with local elected officials, community leaders, legislators, and most importantly, our customers. Let me explain why the NTTA SH 121 proposal is the best for the citizens of north Texas.

First and foremost, the NTTA has secured commitments to finance an upfront payment to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) of $2.5 billion and annual payments over time equal to $833 million in 2007 dollars. The NTTA's upfront payment and annual payments greatly exceed the amounts provided in the private-sector proposal. Additionally, it is estimated that SH 121 will generate additional revenue of $1.3 billion in 2007 dollars which will be leveraged for future road projects throughout north Texas.

The NTTA is seeking to deliver the SH 121/Chisolm Trail, US 360, US 170, the East Branch of the President George Bush Turnpike from IH 30 to IH 20 and the Trinity Parkway. SH 121 enables us to play an even greater role in meeting the region's mobility needs.

Additionally, according to a recently released study by Drs. Bernard L. Weinstein and Terry L. Clower at the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas, the NTTA proposal will contribute economic activity by increasing local labor income by $1.5 billion; increasing property income by almost $480 million through royalties, rents, dividends and corporate profits; and adding more than $106 million through local tax revenues, including state and local sales and use taxes, license and permit fees.

The study concludes that "The NTTA proposal to build and operate the SH 121 toll road is superior to the private sector proposal for a number of reasons." Those reasons include the fact that "because the NTTA doesn't have to pay dividends to shareholders, all of the net proceeds after expenses associated with building and operating 121 ... can be invested in new tolled and non-tolled highway projects in the four-county north Texas region."

In addition to the superior financial value recognized by the RTC, the NTTA's proposal provides the citizens of north Texas more local input over a vital regional transportation asset. The NTTA serves the citizens of this region and is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors who live and work here.

Finally, the NTTA is a trusted public provider of mobility projects. In fact, the RTC and the Texas State Legislature singled out the NTTA as having the performance history and expertise to be designated the provider of toll collection and enforcement functions on all toll roads and managed lanes in the region.

The NTTA is part of the fabric of north Texas. In partnership with the communities we serve in Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant Counties, the NTTA helped spur the growth and development of this vibrant region. On June 28, the Texas Transportation Commission will be asked to affirm its earlier commitment to follow the wishes of the north Texas region. The direction given to them by the RTC was clear and unequivocal. We certainly expect the Texas Transportation Commission will follow the lead of the RTC and award to the NTTA without condition the SH 121 toll project.

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

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