Saturday, August 25, 2007

"You are now paying taxes to be propagandized by a state agency."

Our tax dollars are paying for what?

August 25, 2007

Paul D. Perry
The Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2007

Talk about grist for my mill or even fodder for my cannon: Ready, aim, guess what? Everyone’s favorite “underfunded” state agency, the Texas Department of Transportation, intends to spend $9 million in multimedia advertising promoting toll roads and the unpopular Trans-Texas Corridor. The department is seeking to sway public opinion on a political issue using your tax dollars.

Let me re-emphasize: That’s $9 million of taxpayers’ money to tell you that you need to not only pay a gasoline tax but also pay tolls on taxpayer-funded construction.

In effect, you are now paying taxes to be propagandized by a state agency. Think of that every time you drive south on Interstate 35 while leaving Dallas, and see the picture of the affable Marlboro man with the sneaky smile on that slick billboard promising you the moon and the Trans-Texas Corridor, just before you hit the I-20 interchange. Please don’t have an accident.

Chris Lippincourt, a spokesman for TxDoT, says, “This is a direct response to one of the most frequent criticisms our agency receives, which is that we are not responsive to the public, that we don’t do a good job of communicating what we are doing and why, and we’ve taken those criticisms in stride.”

Chris, out in my pasture the cows have left something that closely resembles your statement. It smells and draws flies just like the legislature draws lobbyists.When we call your agency unresponsive, we aren’t talking about how slick your ad-man is. We are addressing your land-grabbing scheme known as the Trans- Texas Corridor, among other schemes. I like to think of it as your foreign-sponsored pogrom against private property. Use the I-35 right-of-way you already control, competitively and publicly re-bid the project and maybe we won’t call you “unresponsive,” if you find that term so upsetting.

Maybe Michael Quinn Sullivan, formerly with U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s office and now with Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, says it best: “When government resorts to advertising its programs and services, that’s a sure sign government has gotten a little too big.”

Ya think?

On a related note, there is now a Texas district court decision that indicates county associations shouldn’t hire lobbyists.

Americans for Prosperity-Texas director Peggy Venable issued the following statement regarding 277th Judicial District Court Judge Ken Anderson’s opinion of Jan. 8:

“We applaud the ruling which came out today as a victory for taxpayers. The ruling acknowledges that the Texas Association of Counties has been operating outside the law and that counties cannot use general revenue funds to join associations which lobby. We will continue to fight to protect all tax dollars from being used to lobby.

“Though this action is against one association, we are aware this practice is widespread. We will work to see that state law is upheld and we are also committed to eliminating all public dollars from lobbying activities.”

This case is being appealed. The Texas Association of Counties’ dues are typically paid by counties. Our county may well pay dues to this organization. Those payments are funded by your tax dollars. Are we paying dues to an organization whose lobbying efforts have been ruled to be illegal by a district court in the state of Texas? Shouldn’t Ellis County follow the district court ruling in this case and be above reproach in its funding of lobbyists? I think we should at least defer any payment to TAC unless and until this case has seen final resolution through the entire appeals process, including final resolution in the Texas Supreme Court, where it may well end up.

Some, perhaps most, counties in this state are paying dues to this organization. This must stop until a final court rules on the legality of their lobbying efforts. Some might say since it is on appeal, counties may continue to pay dues to TAC. But wouldn’t it be nice to see county leadership be proactive and avoid a potential impropriety? After all, TAC was one of the organizations that helped to sink a legislative agreement on appraisal reform for taxpayers. Maybe advertising by state agencies should fall by the wayside, too.

TxDOT does bring up some legitimate issues in trying to fund transportation in Texas.

In all fairness, gasoline tax money formerly set aside for state road construction and maintenance has been raided by the legislature for purposes it was not intended. This has to stop. The state gasoline tax has not been raised in years, while overall gas mileage has been increasing. The gas tax is assessed at the pump as an incremental part of every gallon of gas you purchase. Road wear is still road wear, no matter what mileage a vehicle gets. In the past several years, the price of road construction materials has also increased. Construction prices tend to be cyclical, and they may be at a peak, however.

We must make sure every dollar that is spent in Austin is spent wisely, before any mention of tax increases or new toll roads enters into public debate. Right now, both TxDOT and many politicians are telling us that more tolls and higher taxes are the way out of this mess. We need stronger budgetary control in Austin, and multi-million-dollar advertising campaigns should never be part of a state agency’s budget — especially if they are trying to shift public opinion on what is a political issue.

Paul D. Perry is a contributing Sunday columnist for the Daily Light. He is a local businessman and mediator.

© 2007 The Waxahachie Daily Light:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, August 24, 2007

"It’s our land that TxDOT and our Governor want to take. We are not going to let them pave us over and ignore the concerns of our communities."

For Immediate Release

Four Cities Form Commission to Stop the Trans-Texas Corridor

391 Commissions Trans-Texas Corridor

Related Link: Texas 391 Commission Alliance

August 24, 2007

Contact: Mae Smith, President 254-657-2460
Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC)
Copyright 2007

In an unprecedented move, the four cities of Bartlett, Holland, Little River-Academy, and Rogers formed the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC) on Wednesday to fight the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“This is one issue all four cities are united behind to save our rural way of life,” stated the newly elected president Mae Smith, Mayor of Holland, Texas. Other members of the board include Arthur White, Mayor of Bartlett; Ronnie White, Mayor of Academy; Rev. Billy Crow, Mayor of Rogers; and Ralph Snyder, business owner from Holland.

“The purpose of this Commission is to give us a voice in this process. It’s our land that the Texas Department of Transportation and our Governor want to take and we are not going to let them pave us over and ignore the concerns of our communities,” stated Snyder.

The Trans-Texas Corridor will confiscate between 5,000 and 7,500 acres in Bell County alone, while destroying another 50,000 acres of farmland between San Antonio and the Texas- Oklahoma border. The Texas Legislature created the TTC in 2003, and ever since landowners have been fighting to protect their rights.

The commission was formed using the Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 391, which allows cities and counties to form regional planning commissions to work together to develop plans for their local region and to force the state agencies to coordinate with their activities.

Under Chapter 391.009(c), TxDoT is required to coordinate with commissions to ensure effective and orderly implementation of state programs at the regional level. “TxDoT must coordinate with us before they can implement their plans in our region,” said Ronnie White, treasurer of the newly formed commission. “The TTC is driven by greed and has no respect for our rural way of life,” White continued.

Under state law, TxDoT will be required to work with the ECTSRPC and coordinate their plans with the local group before any land is taken or any construction begins. “If not, they are in violation of the state statute and we are prepared to take them to court if necessary,” explained Smith.

The individual cities have also requested that the Environmental Protection Agency reject the Draft Environmental Impact Statement submitted by TxDoT, because the agency did not coordinate with local government as required under the federal law.

To learn more on how to form a Texas Regional Planning Commission in your area, or to request the EPA reject the DEIS on the Corridor, call:

American Land Foundation: (512) 365-2699
Stewards of the Range: (512) 365-8038

State Strategy

Letters to TX Department of Transportation:

Federal Strategy

Letters to EPA:

© 2007 Stewards of the Range:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Listening to Gov. Rick Perry and Commissioner of Transportation Ric Williamson talk is like reading a cheap imitation of a George Orwell novel."



Sound Transportation Policy

August 24, 2007

by William Lutz
Volume 12 Issue 4
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2007

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) says it needs to spend $9 million in taxpayer money to sell its vision of transportation policy to the public.

Maybe if TxDOT pursued rational transportation policies, the public support would follow, and it could spend that $9 million building and maintaining roads.

Listening to the state’s transportation officials, including Gov. Rick Perry and Commissioner of Transportation Ric Williamson, talk is like reading a cheap imitation of a George Orwell novel.

Borrowing money and deficit spending are called “innovative financing techniques.” The term “public-private partnerships” is used to describe mortgaging public property. Tax hikes are called “market-based” or “value-based” tolling or “market-valuations.”

Government-sanctioned monopolies are referred to as “introducing competition to transportation financing.”

Here’s why Texans ought to be concerned.

  • Borrowing carries a price tag. The Texas Constitution has traditionally eschewed deficit spending and required existing revenue to pay for existing spending. Now, the state wants to build most of its roads by borrowing, either publicly or by getting a private firm to agree to borrow money, build a road, and collect tolls. There’s no such thing as free money, and often bond lawyers request concessions in exchange for the money fronted to the state. Many of these private financing arrangements prohibit the state from building free roads near a toll road, or require it to pay a stiff penalty if it builds a competing free road or wants out of the deal.
  • Secrecy. A 2005 transportation bill exempts draft copies of many road deals from public disclosure - even in the face of criminal subpoenas. Prior to 2007, the terms of these deals weren’t even public until after the contracts were signed, and the terms set in stone. In 2007, the Legislature provided some additional transparency, but more sunshine is still needed to ensure informed consent from the public.
  • No checks and balances. The ability of TxDOT to rent state highways to private vendors without a legislative appropriation basically gives TxDOT a license to print money, without going though the usual appropriations process. The Constitution wisely gives the Legislature the power of the purse, and state assets should be pledged only in response to a public legislative appropriation. The state also takes some highway spending “off-budget” by allowing the creation of regional mobility authorities to build state highways. Even the state auditor cannot precisely calculate how much the state spends on roads.
  • No fiscal restraint. TxDOT officials often claim that it would require a $1.20 increase in the gasoline tax to build needed infrastructure without tolling. This figure is a cost estimate of every project that a region might want to build in the next few years. Both the Governor’s Business Council and the State Auditor have taken issue with TxDOT’s calculations. It also shows a lack of priorities at the agency. Most Americans would love a longer vacation, a fancier home, and a nicer car. But their wallets get in the way. Every day, Texans take their limited resources and differentiate between wants and needs. The government should do so also.
  • Tax hikes. Remember when Bill Clinton referred to taxes paid by the well-to-do as “contributions,” as if payment of taxes were somehow voluntary? Remember how much fun Republicans had lampooning all the rhetorical games Clinton played to avoid referring to his “deficit reduction” plan as a tax hike? Well, it’s happening again. In the 2007 transportation compromise, Perry insisted on “market-based tolling,” whereby the tolls for new highways are set above the cost to build and maintain the road. Perhaps one could call a toll a “user fee” if the amount of the toll reflected the cost of building and maintaining the road (though even that’s debatable). But when money is taken from a government-sanctioned toll road monopoly and used to build other free roads, that’s a tax.

Simply stated, Perry is raising taxes.

These bad transportation policies are being promoted not only here but also by the U.S. Department of Transportation and in other states like Indiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. But just because George W. Bush likes something doesn’t make it right or conservative.

There is a better alternative. It starts with the recognition that building roads is a legitimate function for government, as recognized by the U.S. and Texas constitutions.

Further, user-based fees such as gasoline taxes and auto registration fees are appropriate ways to fund that service, provided that all revenue from those fees goes to roads.

Then, the state should do for transportation what it is already doing in health, education, and welfare policies - look at costs. Why has the cost of building roads increased so quickly? Is this legitimate? Are there ways to reduce these increases?

Registration fees should be adjusted so that overweight trucks pay their fair share. The relationship between damage to a road and weight is exponential, and the registration fees and taxes should reflect that. The gas tax should be adjusted to acknowledge that, on a per-car basis, the gas tax has declined due to improved fuel economy in cars and trucks.

Once the state has gone though that process, then and only then should discussion of tolling begin.

It’s time to stop pushing public policies that primarily benefit a select few highway contractors and investment bankers at the expense of the motoring public.

Instead, let’s put a spirit of public service back into TxDOT and enact transportation policies that provide accountability and frugality. Those policies wouldn’t take a $9 million PR campaign to sell to Texas voters.

© 2007 The Lone Star Report:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Perry's TTC appointees "still have some concerns with dismissing Cintra and moving ahead with NTTA’s proposal."

TTC drops Cintra, embraces NTTA

August 24, 2007

McKinney Courier-Gazette
Copyright 2007

The Texas Transportation Commission bid farewell Thursday to Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte S.A’s bid for the State Highway 121 project.

Mark Ball, Texas Department of Transportation spokesman, said the TTC voted unanimously to cut Cintra’s procurement out of the SH 121 project and give more time to TxDOT to finalize its agreement on the North Texas Tollway Authority’s proposal.

“The commission has determined that it is in the best interest of the state to terminate the comprehensive development agreement negotiations with Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte S.A. and to cancel the request for proposals for the development of the SH 121 project under a comprehensive development agreement,” according to the cancellation order passed Tuesday by the TTC.

The TTC also unanimously approved a minute order that authorizes TxDOT to enter into an agreement with NTTA on the SH 121 project and gives it more time beyond the 60-day deadline to reach an agreement, according to the minute order.

Chris Lippincott, TxDOT spokesman, said TTC’s decision completely removes Cintra from the picture.

“The bottom line is if we are not able to conclude an agreement with the NTTA, we cannot go back to Cintra,” Lippincott said. “Senate Bill 792 prohibits a CDA on this project.” Both measures were approved in order to comply with federal law violations levied by the Federal Highway Administration. The FHWA sent TxDOT Executive Director Michael Behrens a letter Aug. 16 stating it found the procurement process for the project violated federal laws regarding “competitive acquisition” and competition for projects between private and public entities. The letter written by FHWA Administrator J. Richard Capka stated, “The project will no longer be eligible to receive such funds unless TxDOT takes immediate action to comply with federal law.”

TxDOT Assistant Executive Director Armando Saenz sent a response to Janice W. Brown, FHWA’s Dallas division administrator, Aug. 21 assuring FHWA that TxDOT would consider canceling the CDA and the minute order at Thursday’s TTC meeting in order to comply with those violations. A follow-up letter from Brown confirmed both the CDA and the minute order cancellation would bring TxDOT into compliance, according to TxDOT documents.

Sam Lopez, NTTA spokesman, said NTTA has fulfilled its obligations with regards to the 60-day agreement deadline. The NTTA is just awaiting final approval from the FHWA on its environmental proposal so they can begin securing the financing.

“From an NTTA perspective, everything is done,” Lopez said. “What happens for us is we just sit tight and wait for them to finish the agreement, to sign it and at that point, once we know the agreement has been executed, the NTTA has 45 days to get its financing organized and off we go.”

Lopez said NTTA has been in touch with financial backers for the project, but cannot begin official negotiations until it has a project agreement in place.

“We’re pretty confident everything is going to go well, but we can’t do any formal agreements until we have a relationship with TxDOT,” Lopez said. “We’ve been in touch with rating agencies who review us and we’ve been in touch with underwriters who will help get all that financing organized. It’s kind of on a hold pattern and we’re just patiently waiting. Once we get the go-ahead, we’ll have 45 days to do that.”

Lippincott said the TTC still has some concerns with dismissing Cintra and moving ahead with NTTA’s proposal.

“The concern that was explained during today’s commission meeting was that the financial risk from the project would transfer from the private sector back to the motorists with concerns of higher tolls,” Lippincott said. “The commission didn’t feel like they had a choice in light of the legislative action passed in part of SB 792.”

Attempts were made to reach Jose Lopez, Cintra’s U.S. and Latin America president, but phone call made to his Austin office were not returned by presstime.

Contact Danny Gallagher at To post comments line, access this story at

© 2007 The McKinney Courier-Gazette

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Deadline became unworkable as an expected environmental clearance from the U.S. government failed to materialize."

Deadline for 121 deal gets extended

NTTA says it's ready to start work on project once the feds approve it

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Once facing a looming deadline, the North Texas Tollway Authority has been given more time to reach an agreement with the state to build State Highway 121.

The Texas Transportation Commission voted unanimously Thursday at its meeting in Austin to cancel a previous order that had threatened to give the contract to another party if NTTA could not reach an agreement by Aug. 29.

That deadline had become unworkable as an expected environmental clearance from the U.S. government failed to materialize, officials from the Texas Department of Transportation said.

They told the commission they could not sign an agreement with NTTA until the federal government completes its review of the Highway 121 project. NTTA officials said Thursday they expect the clearance by September.

In extending the deadline, the commission also voted unanimously to cancel its original agreement with Spanish builder Cintra, the firm that had initially been selected to build Highway 121.

NTTA announced later Thursday that it has signed a project agreement to build the road and is waiting only for TxDOT to sign it once it receives the federal clearance.

Commission chairman Ric Williamson and other commissioners said they thought the Legislature had tied their hands by demanding that NTTA be given the job if it offered a better deal than Cintra.

NTTA has promised to pay $3.33 billion upfront for the contract, compared with Cintra's offer of $2.88 billion.

But that extra money – sought after by local governments already sorting through proposals for spending it – comes with a price for North Texas drivers, Mr. Williamson said. If NTTA has overestimated the traffic the road will get, it could find that it has overpaid. If so, it's possible that it would have to raise the toll rates above the limits outlined in Cintra's proposal.

"It deeply concerns me that the toll payers in North Texas could be overpaying," Mr. Williamson said.

NTTA board chairman Paul Wageman said his agency is close to beginning work on the project.

"We are nearing the final execution of State Highway 121 project agreement, and I thank all of our partners who have worked tirelessly and expeditiously to complete it," Mr. Wageman said. "The NTTA looks forward to delivering the upfront payment to TxDOT and [regional transportation officials] in the near future."

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, August 23, 2007

FHWA bigwig, who oversaw Boston's 'Big Dig' is still miffed about Highway 121 toll road deal

Texas formally kills Cintra pact for Highway 121

August 23, 2007

By Joan Gralla
Copyright 2007

NEW YORK - Texas on Thursday said it ended its pact with Spanish toll road company Cintra to overhaul a big Dallas-Fort Worth highway.

Cintra was initially awarded the deal but voters and lawmakers argued its pact overly benefited the company. Texas then let the North Texas Tollway Authority compete, and it won the project by offering $500 million more than Cintra.

The authority's executive director on Thursday signed the $3.3 billion pact for State Highway 121 with the state transportation department, Authority Spokesman Sam Lopez said.

Texas waived an Aug. 29 deadline for the state authority that won the project because environmental hurdles remain. The authority now hopes the state will sign it after it gets the federal environmental approvals, possibly in September.

The bidding war over expanding the 24-mile-long highway was scrutinized by other states, which also are weighing privatizing roads. Texas' experience also is noteworthy because the federal government bashed its bidding process.

Texas' transportation commissioners fear that the tollway authority will shift the project's cost back to the drivers from a private company, a Texas transportation spokesman said.

But the commissioners felt the deal had to go ahead under a new state law, he added. Legislators this spring enacted tougher controls, spurred by outrage over Cintra's award.

The commissioners, who run the state's transportation agency, on Thursday said it was "in the best interest of the state to terminate comprehensive development agreement negotiations with Cintra."

The statement on the Web site,, added the request for proposals to develop the road were canceled.

"We believe that the private sector continues to play a critical role," the transportation agency spokesman said. He added the agency believes that the steps it took fixed the flaws the federal government saw in its bidding process.

But a federal highway agency spokesman could not immediately say whether the problems were resolved.

"The procurement violations are substantial and run counter to the fundamental requirement for a fair and open competition," J. Richard Capka , a Washington, D.C.-based federal highway administrator, wrote Texas on Aug. 16.

Specifically, he criticized the decision to let another bidder compete after details about Cintra's offer were disclosed. A public agency cannot bid "directly against a private entity" under the federal agency's rules, he added.

Capka said Texas will not have to repay money already spent on State Highway 121. But he also said that if the violations were not fixed, the local authority might not, for example, be able to pay for the project with private activity bonds.

© 2007 Reuters:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"When government resorts to advertising its programs and services, that’s a sure sign government has gotten just a little too big."

Advertising Government


by MQSullivan
Texans for Fiscal Responsibility
Copyright 2007

When government resorts to advertising its programs and services, that’s a sure sign government has gotten just a little too big.

Texas bureaucrats spend millions every year advertising the Children’s Health Insurance Program and other welfare assistance activities. They literally beg people to feed at the government trough.

Well, now comes word that the Texas Department of Transportation is launching a multi-million-dollar ad campaign designed to convince Texans of the validity of toll-roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor. Of course, the toll-road plans and TTC are, at best, controversial.

(Now, in interest of full disclosure, I tend to like toll-roads as a matter of policy, when they are done right. Toll roads tend to ensure that true transportation needs are met through sound market economics, rather than relying on the political games that have resulted in gross inefficiencies with road dollars in years-past.)

Regardless of what one thinks about toll roads or the TTC, it is abundantly clear this not an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars. Just like government shouldn’t use tax dollars to hire lobbyists (which many cities, school districts, universities and the like do, under the guise of “government relations”), it’s nauseating to think of government using our own money to lobby us on policy positions.

Even more nauseating are those who are defending it, like the Republican chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Mike Krusee of Round Rock. He is no stranger to fiscal irresponsibility, as he scored a failing 64 on the TFR Responsibility Index.

Fortunately, there are still a few voices of reason left in the Capitol. Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) is quoted by the Houston Chronicle as rather reasonably saying, “TxDOT is consistently telling us we have no money to build highways, yet they seem to be spending a lot of money on … ad campaigns.” (Rep. Kolkhorst scored an 85.7 on the TFR Index.)

State agencies should simply do their jobs; in the case of TxDOT, that’s build roads, not try to influence public opinion.

© 2007 Texans for Fiscal Responsibility:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Ric Williamson: “It deeply concerns me that the toll payers in North Texas Deep could be overpaying.”

NTTA gets more time for Hwy 121 proposal

August 23, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

The impending deadline for the North Texas Tollway Authority to reach an agreement with the state to build Highway 121 has been cancelled, and the tolling authority has been given more time.

At its meeting Thursday in Austin, the Texas Transportation Commission voted unanimously to cancel its previous order setting an Aug. 29 deadline for NTTA to reach an agreement with the department of transportation to build the road.

The deadline became unworkable, according to TxDOT staff, because the long-expected federal environmental clearance has not been issued by the federal government. Without the federal clearance, the agreement cannot be signed, TxDOT said.

In addition, the Commission voted unanimously to cancel its original agreement with Spanish builder Cintra, essentially guaranteeing that NTTA will build the project.

Despite the unanimous support for giving the contract to NTTA, several commissioners said they continue to doubt the wisdom of accepting NTTA’s bid, but said their hands had been tied by legislation passed during the most recent session of the Legislature.

NTTA’s bid included a promise to pay $3.33 billion upfront in return for operating the toll road for the next 50 years—a much richer offer than the $2.88 billion Cintra had offered.

In a twist, Chairman Ric Williamson said he’s worried the NTTA’s offer is too generous. He said toll payers are at risk of having to pay higher tolls down the road should NTTA’s traffic estimates prove to be overly optimistic. .

“It deeply concerns me that the toll payers in North Texas Deep could be overpaying,” Mr. Williamson said.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Texans' only way to toss Perry out before the 2010 election would be impeachment."

Perry critic calls for ouster

August 23, 2007

The Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2007

Even though he didn't get a majority for re-election last year, Gov. Rick Perry's 39 percent was ahead of everybody else, so he's now in a term that lasts into 2011.

In the eyes of some of his detractors in the blogosphere, that's too long. Political activist Linda Curtis has started a Web site calling on legislators to impeach the governor in 2009.

That's a pretty rash idea. But since Texas doesn't allow for recall elections, like the one that nailed California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, Texans' only way to toss Perry out before the 2010 election would be impeachment.

Curtis's top two (of 10) reasons for wanting to oust the governor are the imposition of toll roads during the Perry administration, including the possibility of condemning land, lots of land, for the Trans-Texas Corridor; and Perry's veto of $154 million for health insurance for community college staff members.

"We intend to take this campaign out across the state, to all political camps, and to neuter this administration," Curtis wrote. "Whether or not that leads to Perry's impeachment will be up to the legislature. Let's see if history does indeed repeat itself."

Perry spokesman Robert Black's only response to the impeachment talk was: "Free speech is a wonderful thing."

It's been 90 years since Texas had its first and last gubernatorial impeachment. That one bagged Gov. James E. Ferguson, primarily over a battle with the University of Texas.

Ferguson, in his second two-year term, wanted UT's board of regents to can some professors he found objectionable. The regents refused. So Ferguson vetoed almost the entire appropriation for the university.

To say that that irked the Legislature is an understatement.

After the Texas House of Representatives voted that he be tried for impeachment, the Texas Senate voted 25-3 — well above the required two-thirds of those present — to remove him from office and made him ineligible for any office of honor, trust or profit under the state of Texas.

Ferguson, however, resigned a day before his actual removal, and maintained it didn't apply to him since he'd already resigned. His successor was then-Lt. Gov. William P. Hobby Sr., whose son Bill later served a record 18 years as lieutenant governor.

Ferguson, known as "Pa," ran for governor again in 1918, but the elder Hobby beat him. Ferguson ran for the U.S. Senate in 1922, but lost. In 1924, he wanted to run for governor, but the Texas Supreme Court ruled that he couldn't take office if he won. So he ran his wife Miriam, known as "Ma," who won, becoming Texas' first woman governor.

(She wasn't the first woman elected statewide. That was Annie Webb Blanton, elected state superintendent of schools in 1918 — the first year Texas women had the right to vote in primary elections.)

"Ma" Ferguson lost a bid for re-election in 1926. She ran and lost in 1930, but won in 1932 — her last term. She ran again in 1940, but finished a distant fourth to W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel in the Democratic primary.

There was brief talk by Republican Gov. Bill Clements in 1987 of impeaching Democratic Texas Supreme Court Justices William Kilgarlin and C. L. Ray, for allegations of conflicts. That never got off the ground.

But ironically, later that same year, Democratic state Reps. Paul Moreno of El Paso and Al Edwards of Houston wanted to impeach Clements over the cover-up of a play-for-pay football scandal at Southern Methodist University while he was on its board of regents. That also went nowhere.

— Ferguson was one of nine governors impeached and removed from office in U.S. history. Two others were impeached but acquitted, including Huey Long of Louisiana in 1929.

— Califonia's Davis is one of only two governors removed by recall election. The first was North Dakota's Lynn Frazier in 1921, during an economic depression. He then was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1922, where he served until losing for re-election in 1940.

Eighteen states currently allow recall elections.

Dave McNeely is a veteran reporter on Texas politics. E-mail:

© 2007 The Longview News-Journal:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"The tone of their public relations campaign seems to be to sell Texans on a very unpopular transportation scheme."

Touting tolls

TxDOT pitches virtues of Trans-Texas Corridor, tolls

August 22, 2007

Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2007

For years, the Texas Department of Transportation has cited a lack of funding as one reason that Texans should get behind the plan to pave our state with toll roads in the future.

If that is so, we'd sure like to know where it came up with the estimated $7 million to $9 million it is spending on a publicity campaign to pitch toll roads in general and Gov. Rick Perry's controversial Trans-Texas Corridor project in particular.

There are a few Texas bridges and highways that could be fixed with that kind of spare change.

Part of the idea behind TxDOT's "Keep Texas Moving: Tolling and Trans-Texas Corridor Outreach" is to answer the concerns raised by lawmakers during the most recent session of the Texas Legislature.

TxDOT officials say the campaign will be used to educate and involve Texans in the discussion about changes in the way future highway projects should be funded.

This effort is clearly designed to sway not only public opinion, but in the eyes of a key legislative backer of the Trans-Texas Corridor to sway his skeptical colleagues, as well.

It appears that Perry, who suffered some embarrassing (but apparently not humbling) setbacks during the recent legislative session has recruited some lawmakers and some state bureaucrats to carry the water for him on the tolling of Texas.

Of course, it might have been TxDOT officials who originally convinced Perry that tolls are the way to go. In the past few years we have criticized the stands taken by several state bureaucrats including Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton, a Perry appointee who two years ago was reported to have told a group of local officials in South Texas: "I-69 is dead in the state of Texas. The road fairy has been shot."

A year before that, we lamented a report by Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority leader Jeff Austin III that Texas Highway Commission Chairman Ric Williamson had turned the old "My way or the highway" adage into a new saying: "It's toll roads or no roads."

So perhaps TxDOT and the governor might understand if we, like many Texans, are skeptical about the educational intentions of the new public relations campaign the department launched earlier this summer.

Apparently there's not much that Texans can do about this use of highway funds to pitch the governor's pet project. The spokesman for one government watchdog group in Austin, Texans for Public Justice, told the Houston Chronicle that state law doesn't prohibit the campaign even though it appears to go beyond simply providing information.

"The tone of their public relations campaign seems to be to sell Texans on a very unpopular transportation scheme. That is, they are using our money to make us happy about spending money for every mile we drive through tolls," TPJ's Chuck McDonald told the Chronicle.

The TxDOT campaign relies upon just about every media available, including junk mail, to reach Texans. Readers who haven't seen one of the billboards or ads for the campaign can always go to the Web site being used to extoll the virtue of tolls:

Just remember to ask yourself as you surf the site: Are you being educated or are you being sold?

If the answer is the latter, do you really think that's the best use of your tax dollar — especially by an agency that has been pleading poverty for years?

We don't.

© 2007 Longview News-Journal:

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration muzzles experts while safety takes a back seat.

What’s Off the Record at NHTSA?
Almost Everything.

August 22, 2007

By Christopher Jensen
The New York Times
Copyright 2007

If you want to know something as simple as who heads the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, don’t bother to ask the safety agency’s communications office. Without special permission, officials there are no longer allowed to provide information to reporters except on a background basis, which means it cannot be attributed to a spokesman.

Without such attribution, there are few circumstances under which most reporters will report such information. This makes for interesting dealings with the office charged with providing information about the nation’s top automotive safety agency.

So, I will end the suspense about the boss’s identity. The administrator is Nicole R. Nason who took over on May 31, 2006, after she was appointed to the post by President Bush.

And it is she who put the big hush on one of the government’s most important safety agencies.

I found this out recently when I asked to talk to an N.H.T.S.A. researcher about some technical safety issues in which he had a great deal of expertise. Agency officials told me I could talk to the expert on a background basis, but if I wanted to use any information or quotes from him, that would have to be worked out later with a N.H.T.S.A. official. The arrangement struck me as manipulative, and I declined to agree to it.

It seems that Ms. Nason has adopted a policy that has blocked virtually all of her staff — including the communications office — from providing any information to reporters on the record, which means that it can be attributed.

As an alternative I was told I could interview Ms. Nason on the record (instead of the expert on the subject of my article). I declined, failing to see how her appointment as administrator — she was trained as a lawyer — made her a expert in that subject.

When I said I would like to talk to Ms. Nason on the record about her no-attribution policy, she was not available.

The agency’s new policy effectively means that some of the world’s top safety researchers are no longer allowed to talk to reporters or to be freely quoted about automotive safety issues that affect pretty much everybody.

“My God,” said Joan Claybrook, who was N.H.T.S.A. administrator from 1977 to 1981 and is now president of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group. Given that N.H.T.S.A. is the leading source of automotive safety information in the United States, its researchers are public officials and people are entitled to “know what information they have, whether it is on paper or in their heads,” Ms. Claybrook said.

The policy of allowing information to be attributed only to political appointees is intermittently enforced around other parts of the Department of Transportation, including the Federal Railroad Administration. But it is a radical change from the way N.H.T.S.A has operated for at least 20 years. In the past, reporters could talk to its experts and the agency was proud to discuss its research and accomplishments.

Ms. Nason felt it was necessary for N.H.T.S.A. to have a “central spokesperson” and “we were finding a lot of stuff did not need to be on the record,” David Kelly, her chief of staff, told me. He also insisted, after our telephone conversation, that he did not want to be quoted and had intended to speak only on background. (My notes show no such request.)

So that central spokesperson is Ms. Nason, whose previous job was assistant secretary for governmental affairs in the Department of Transportation. “In that position, she was responsible for oversight of congressional affairs, coordinating all legislative and nonlegislative relationships between the D.O.T. and Congress,” according to her N.H.T.S.A. biography. If she has any experience in keeping a Congressman from skidding out of control, that could come in handy now that she is speaking for an entire agency of seasoned safety experts.

© 2007 The New York Times:

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"I do not believe the county commissioners made a decision today that is in the best interests of their constituency."

Commissioners approve subdivision on busy Texas 71

Critics say RGK Ranch will bring more traffic to already dangerous highway.

August 22, 2007

By Marty Toohey
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

The Travis County commissioners approved plans Tuesday for a 1,500-home Hill Country subdivision, over the objections of some residents who say it would bring too much traffic and threaten the area's streams and creeks.

The subdivision, RGK Ranch, will be built on about 1,500 acres along Texas 71, about eight miles west of Austin. It will sit between the Sweetwater Lazy 9 and West Cypress Hills developments, which are in the early phases of construction and will each have a similar number of residents.

The county commissioners approved RGK by a 4-1 vote. Their decision came after months of hearings and delays, during which most of the commissioners said they probably could not deny RGK Ranch because it meets the county's requirements, an assessment echoed by the county's legal staff.

Commissioner Ron Davis was the lone 'no' vote Tuesday, saying the county should turn down the subdivision because it presents a general threat to the safety and welfare of people living in southwestern Travis County.

In the months leading up to a decision, the debate about RGK Ranch became at times a referendum on Texas 71 West and Hill Country growth in general.

Everyone agrees that stretch of Texas 71 is dangerous, citing at least three fatal wrecks last year and three more this year. In the RGK debate, some residents did not even mention the RGK Ranch while urging the commissioners to seek a lower speed limit or massive upgrade of Texas 71 (both of which fall to the Texas Department of Transportation).

Some critics argued that the state of Texas 71 was reason enough to reject RGK Ranch.

"I do not believe the county commissioners made a decision today that is in the best interests of their constituency," said Karen Huber, who lives near the project and is one of its most vocal critics.

Gerald Daugherty, the county commissioner whose precinct includes RGK Ranch, said Huber's line of thinking is illegal and would not get Texas 71 fixed any faster.

"Our goal should be fixing the road," Daugherty said.

Critics raised other concerns about RGK Ranch. The Hill Country Alliance, a coalition of neighbors who are upset about the pace of Hill Country development, said the subdivision should be rejected because it was not required to follow some of the county's current environmental rules.

It did not have to because plans for RGK Ranch were submitted before those rules came into effect two years ago.

But Greg Kozmetsky, whose family owns the RGK property, wrote in a letter Friday to the county commissioners that the project should satisfy everyone's concerns and would voluntarily meet or exceed most of the county's rules, such as covering no more than 20 percent of the property with roads, houses or other substances that block water from soaking into the ground.

"I believe critics of the plan haven't really criticized the plan," Kozmetsky wrote, "but the fact we have one."

During the final weeks of discussion, Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt persuaded the Kozmetsky family to sign a contract requiring RGK Ranch to follow most of the county's requirements.

Eckhardt said the county could not require more of the Kozmetskys, especially when they were willing to compromise.

She added, however, that because the county's rules are not strict enough, she was left "to make another decision that leaves a bad taste in my mouth."; 445-3673

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman:

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"TxDOT spends millions of dollars of public money to make you feel better about the public information it fought to keep you away from 2 years ago."

TxDOT's 'outreach' plan reaches deep into taxpayers' pockets


Jaime Castillo
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

Even if it's just for a moment, let us give credit where credit is due.

The Texas Department of Transportation has realized — finally — that it has an image problem when it comes to convincing Texans of the need for a vast network of toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The realization, however, comes with a price tag of $7 million to $9 million that, rather than going to build highways, will fuel an advertising campaign centered around a memo titled, "Keep Texas Moving: Tolling and Trans-Texas Corridor Outreach."

This is where I get off the track. Outreach?

The nerve of state highway officials to use such a term after years of helping fan the flames of skepticism among Texans for a tolled highway system.

The time for outreach would have been, say, two years ago, if not more.

Take, for example, the Trans-Texas Corridor, the 50-year plan favored by Gov. Rick Perry to build a superhighway of toll roads and rail and utility lines.

For more than a year and a half, Cintra, a Spain-based company, and its minority partner, Zachry Construction Corp. of San Antonio, fought tooth and nail in court to keep certain things — like how it would be financed — out of the public eye.

During that time, Texans also were expected to swallow other problematic revelations concerning the deal.

Those included the news that Dan Shelley, Perry's onetime liaison to the Legislature, left the governor's office to become a lobbyist for Cintra, where he had worked as a consultant prior to joining Perry's staff in the first place.

Then, 40 days before the Nov. 7, 2006, general election — a campaign which saw Perry vilified for his support of toll roads — TxDOT suddenly released the details of the Cintra/Zachry pact as if to say all's well that ends well.

To put the whole situation into perspective, TxDOT now wants to spend millions of dollars of public money to make you feel better about the public information it fought to keep you away from two years ago.

But TxDOT is hardly the king of hypocrisy in this situation.

Consider state Rep. Warren Chisum, chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee.

Not that I disagree with Chisum's summation of the need for a public relations blitz.

"I wonder what for?" he was quoted in Tuesday's Express-News as saying. "So people wouldn't hate 'em so bad?"

But Chisum went on to say that the money would be better spent fixing roads.

What a great idea! Surely Chisum used similar logic when he helped write the state's latest two-year budget.



Continuing what has become a biennial shell game, Chisum participated in crafting a budget that diverts one-tenth, or $1.6 billion, from the state highway fund to pay for things that have nothing to do with building and maintaining roads.

Sadly it's nothing new.

From fiscal year 1986 to 2005, nearly $8.7 billion of the fund was spent on non-highway items, including state historical and arts commissions and law enforcement functions with the Department of Public Safety.

In other words, Chisum, a Pampa Republican who was first elected in 1989, has been there nearly every step of the way as the Legislature as a whole became all too accustomed to robbing money from the state highway fund.

The state has grown by leaps and bounds, while the gas tax — the main source of revenue for highway building — has remained stagnant since 1991.

But thanks to the decisions of top elected officials, it's doubtful whether all the advertising pros in the world can put this Humpty Dumpty together again.

To contact Jaime Castillo, call (210) 250-3174 or e-mail

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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"No city in the country has ever shifted its plan from freeways to tollways, and that's exactly what this plan is."

CAMPO To Hear From Public On Toll Roads

Aug 21, 2007

KXAN NBC (Austin)
Copyright 2007

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, or CAMPO, will vote in October on plans to toll a large portion of the city's freeways.

The Texas Department of Transportation said it doesn't have the money to build roads fast enough to meet congestion problems, and the agency is giving residents two months to voice their opinions.

They're free roads now, but they aren't free from heavy traffic.

"If it's tolled, it's built earlier; if it's non-tolled, it takes more time to build," said Michael Aulick, executive director of CAMPO.

Under consideration for tolls are U.S. Highways 290 and 183, and State Highway 71 on the east side of Austin, in addition to the Y at Oak Hill and a portion of Interstate 45 in South Austin.

The projects total $2.5 billion, and TxDOT estimated it is at least $1 billion short.

"Every week that number changes from their perspective," said Sal Costello of the Texas Toll Party. "I think last week it was $500 million."

Costello said he's tired of CAMPO's attempts to try and pass toll roads.

"No city in the country has ever shifted its plan from freeways to tollways, and that's exactly what this plan is, that's what it's always been," Costello added.

Yet if CAMPO decides to make drivers pay, the group won't to be able to take away the people's ability to travel for free, because new roads would include free frontage roads.

"It'd seem like it'd be easier to do it just some other way, or something like that, rather than trying to shove this toll road down our throats," said Austin resident John Borrello.

To that end, at least one CAMPO board member said he wants to see how many drivers would benefit before he can vote.

"If we build these roads, we need to make sure they're providing congestion relief where congestion relief is needed," said Jeff Mills, a CAMPO board member.

Congestion versus tolls depends on how fast drivers want to go either away.

There are four public meetings before the board votes Oct. 8:

* Tuesday, from 4 to 9 p.m., at Covington Middle School, 3700 Convict Hill Road, Austin.
* Thursday, from 4 to 9 p.m., at Kyle City Council chambers, 100 W. Center St., Kyle.
* Aug. 29, from 4 to 9 p.m., East Communities YMCA, 5315 Ed Bluestein Blvd., Austin.
* Aug. 30, from 4 to 9 p.m., Allen R. Baca Center, 301 W. Bagdad Ave., Round Rock.

© 2007 WorldNow and KXAN:

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

SPP: "Nothing more than three amigos getting together to swap yarns, pull a cork and talk about NAFTA writ large. "

The three amigos, erasing borders?

August 21, 2007

Wesley Pruden
The Washington Times
Copyright 2007

Some of the folks who gave President Bush a country lickin' on his immigration "reform" are spoiling for another round with him. The reason why is on display at the "Three Amigos" summit in Canada.

Mr. Bush and President Felipe Calderon of Mexico are guests of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for another workout of a vaguely described scheme called the Security and Prosperity Partnership, which the White House says is nothing more than three amigos getting together to swap yarns, pull a cork and talk about NAFTA writ large. But a remarkably diverse group of skeptics, including congressmen of both parties, critics of unrestrained global trade, conservative activists and left-wing academics and trade unionists, say it's free trade run amok.

The mysterious partnership is known only to the few by the acronym SPP. Most of the reporters at the Canadian summit can barely hide their languor, treating SPP as just another boring economic story White House reporters can't be expected to understand. The Associated Press describes SPP merely as "a way for the nations to team up on health, security and commerce."

Twenty-one Republicans and one Democrat have written to President Bush to tell him of "serious and growing concerns" in Congress about the "so-called" Security and Prosperity Partnership, and the House has adopted legislation barring U.S. transportation officials from even participating in meetings of the partnership.

The congressmen mostly seem miffed that the White House is undertaking far-reaching agreements with Canada and Mexico without telling them about it. The conservative skeptics say these agreements chip away national sovereignty — that the aim is to establish a North American Union, like the European Union, with unelected bureaucrats empowered to form a super-government to dispossess everyone but the elites. The liberal skeptics argue that "the super-government" would be a tool of the multinational corporations, eager to drive down wages and make wetbacks of everyone without a corporation big enough to plunder cheap labor.

The Mexican government, eager to export penniless Mexicans, is the most enthusiastic about the partnership and the billions of expected yankee dollars. Just two days after his election in 2000, Vicente Fox talked of his vision of a North American common market, a customs union, a common tariff, joint monetary policy and the "free flow of labor" across borders. It's difficult to imagine what Mr. Fox calls a "free flow" of labor if what we've had for decades hasn't satisfied him.

A few months later, Mr. Fox showed up in Washington with an even bigger begging bowl, challenging Mr. Bush to develop a plan to legalize "all Mexicans in the United States" by the end of the year. George W. certainly tried. He's still nursing the bruises.

The White House felt it necessary to dispatch an unnamed senior official as the Canadian summit opened to describe as "silly" the notion of a North American Union, or a common currency. But there's always somebody, senior official or not, who doesn't get the word. Promoters of the Security and Prosperity Partnership, chief among them Robert Pastor, a professor who worked in the Carter administration and has advised Democratic presidential candidates since, have already named the currency — the "amero" — they expect to one day find in the well-picked pockets of Americans.

© 2007 The Washington Times

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"An agency that ignores the public and legislature shouldn't use tax dollars for freeways to spend lobbying and selling their unaccountable schemes."

Don't like toll roads? TxDOT is talking to you


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

AUSTIN — The Texas Department of Transportation, which complains about chronic underfunding, has launched a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign that promotes the divisive Trans-Texas Corridor plan and toll roads.

The campaign is anticipated to cost $7 million to $9 million, according to a memorandum titled "Keep Texas Moving: Tolling and Trans-Texas Corridor Outreach" sent to transportation officials by Coby Chase, director of the agency's government and public affairs division.

Such use of state highway fund dollars is drawing concern and questions from some. Others, including the department, say it's an important effort to educate and engage Texans.

Put Rep. Warren Chisum, chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, in the first category.

"I wonder what for? So people wouldn't hate 'em so bad?" he said of the campaign. "It's a waste of money, and they have no business out there trying to get public opinion to be in their favor."

The money would be better spent fixing roads, Chisum, R-Pampa, added: "It would probably take care of three or four potholes."

But Rep. Mike Krusee, House Transportation Committee chairman, said the campaign addresses lawmakers' concerns by explaining new financing methods.

"The Legislature has been beating TxDOT over the head for two years, telling them they need to explain what the Trans-Texas Corridor is and why it is necessary to the public. They've been telling TxDOT they are moving too fast — they are moving before the public and the Legislature has the chance to understand what they are doing and why," said Krusee, R-Round Rock. "I think it is the Legislature that has pressured TxDOT to do this sort of program."

If the outreach is effective, Krusee said, it could save money in the long run.

"Texas is losing money for roads by the hundreds of millions of dollars every year simply due to delay, because the Legislature and the public doesn't understand the need to move to a new finance method. And so an expenditure of a few million dollars could literally save hundreds of millions of dollars per year," Krusee said.

The agency's budget is more than $7 billion for fiscal year 2007 and more than $8 billion for fiscal year 2008.

The Trans-Texas Corridor — an ambitious transportation network — and toll roads have been championed by Gov. Rick Perry and others as necessary in the face of congestion and of gas tax revenues that can't keep up with huge transportation needs.

But the initiative has drawn widespread criticism over the potential route and the state partnering with private companies to run toll roads. Lawmakers this year sought to rein in new private toll projects.

The new campaign, as outlined in the memorandum obtained by the San Antonio Express-News, started June 1 with television, radio, print, billboard and Internet advertising meant to push people to the Keep Texas Moving Web site (

That site compares the Trans-Texas Corridor to "Eisenhower's Interstate System." Its toll road section lists a slew of benefits including "A Choice to Go Faster" and "More Roads, More Choices, More Time."

The campaign also will include direct mail pieces on Trans-Texas Corridor segments known as TTC-35 (parallel to Interstate 35) and TTC-69 (from East Texas to Mexico); training for agency representatives to appear on talk radio; and ads, events and guest editorials surrounding hearings on TTC-69.

Sal Costello, who founded the group because of anger over the way tollways were being planned under Perry, said, "I just don't think an agency that has been ignoring the public and ignoring our representatives for years should be able to take our tax dollars intended for freeways and spend one dime on lobbying and selling their unaccountable schemes."

TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott said the aim of the campaign is to address concerns that the agency hasn't done enough outreach and the public hasn't had enough input. State law allows the agency to spend money on marketing toll roads, he said.

"The clearest and most often repeated criticism of the department during the legislative session was that we needed to do a better job of engaging the public. We heard that message loud and clear, and we're acting on it," he said. "You're going to see us expanding the way we talk with people instead of at people. We think that's really important."

Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice, which tracks money in politics, said the campaign appears to go beyond providing information, which he said isn't right although he knows of no law to prevent it.

"The tone of their public relations campaign seems to be to sell Texans on a very unpopular transportation scheme," he said. "That is, they are using our money to make us happy about spending money for every mile we drive through tolls."

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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