Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Knowledge is power. Power is coming back to the local levels through 'Coordination'. We are making a difference."

Coordination Works

Bringing back local control to the communities is making a difference.


Kathy Palmer, President
South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission
Copyright 2008

On November 13-14, the Call America National Convention was held in Austin. I just returned from participating in this event, where the main theme was “Coordination”, and a substantial amount of conversation was had about the efforts around the nation where Coordination has worked. From California to Montana to here in our great state of Texas, Coordination is giving back local control to the citizens and their communities.

In Texas, we have nine 391 Sub-Regional Planning Commissions which invoke the Coordination clause in the Texas Local Govt. Code, allowing the formation of the Commission with two cities, two counties or a combination thereof. The Commissions were formed because of the grassroots movement in the local communities directly affected by the current proposed path of the Trans Texas Corridor, both TTC-35 and TTC-69 but, these Commissions have evolved into more than just a way to oppose the TTC. They have given control back to the local communities for everything from transportation issues, to environmental issues, to Homeland Security issues relating to zip codes and 911 addresses.

I was privileged with the opportunity to speak to several hundred individuals from around the nation, sharing how our SCTSRPC came to be, and I in turn heard from individuals from Montana, California and Wisconsin and the results their efforts in coordination have brought to their communities.

Prior to attending the convention, I made a stop at the TxDOT building in downtown Austin. My intent was to attend the I35/I69 Corridor Advisory Committee Meeting and hear their report to the Texas Transportation Commission however, the posted date of the meeting was incorrect, and I missed it by one day.

Therefore, instead of hearing from the Committee (of which their final report is below as well as an article from WOAI) I had an impromptu meeting with the Associate Executive Director of Innovative Project Development Phil Russel and Public Information Officer Gabby Garcia. I spent about an hour and a half with them discussing various things from 391 Commissions, the I35 and I69 Corridor Advisory Committee reports, to the Segment Committees in the process of formation. It was very interesting to hear things from their side, to say the least.

What came out of both the Call America Convention and my impromptu meeting with the Executive Levels of TxDOT is that Coordination works. Bringing back local control to the communities is making a difference. I would encourage all citizens that really want to be heard to contact your 391 Commissions, your local City Councils, your local Commissioners Court, and to keep up with if not attend the public meetings put out by TxDOT relating to the Corridor Advisory Committees and upcoming Segment Committees ( Corridor Advisory Information ). With all information from all sides, you yourself will be able to begin to better understand the direct impact proposals discussed in these meetings will have on you. That in turn will enable you to be more involved. Remember, knowledge is power and power is coming back to the local levels through “Coordination”. We are making a difference.

Links to SCTSRPC Related Articles:

TXDOT Coordination Letter 7/31/08

TXDOT Reply 9/25/08

SA Express News Article 9/10/08

Wilson County News Article 11/5/08

Links to TxDOT information:

Please note the SCTSRPC does not necessarily support the information contained in these links. They are simply posted here to make it easier for you to access this information without having to go to multiple websites.

I35 Corridor Advisory Committe Article 11/12/08

I35 Corridor Advisory Committee Final Report 11/12/08

2008-2011 TxDOT Statewide Transportation Improvement Program for Bexar County

2009-2013 TxDOT Strategic Plan for Texas Transportation Issues

© 2008 SCTSRPC:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, November 14, 2008

Advisory Committee recommends the name 'Trans Texas Corridor' be abolished.

Citizens Committee: Abolish Trans Texas Corridor Idea

Committee looking into I-35 improvements also chides TxDOT for failing to get public backing for toll road plans


By Jim Forsyth
WOAI News Radio (San Antonio, TX)
Copyright 2008

A citizens committee appointed by the Texas Department of Transportation has issued a series of recommendations on what should be done to deal with increasing congestion on Interstate 35, 1200 WOAI news reports.

The committee said stretches of Interstate 35, which runs from Laredo to Gainesville and is the most heavily traveled Interstate highway in the country, have 'pushed the limit of the road's design capacity.'

Gabby Garcia of TxDOT says the committee reacted strongly against Governor Perry's 'Trans Texas Corridor' toll road plan, saying the TTC 'has come to represent what Texans do not want in transportation project delivery. The TTC lacks public and political support.' The committee recommended that even the name 'Trans Texas Corridor' be abolished.

The main focus of the committee was to determine how to deal with increasing levels of congestion on 35.

"Looking at expansion where it is appropriate, and using existing right of way where possible," Garcia said.

But beyond that, the committee recommended studying passenger rail along the I-35 corridor, HOV lanes, and even additional toll lanes where necessary, but Garcia said the committee said TxDOT needs to do more to make sure local communities support radical departures like toll roads.

"It has to include the local community, to make sure they are part of the process."

The committee repeatedly took TxDOT to task for not gaining public support when suggesting new toll lanes, or major new toll roads like the TTC.

The committee said any funding allocated to I-35 should stay on I-35 and not be siphoned off to other projects for political purposes. It said more consideration should be given to aesthetics as the highway enters a community.

Due to the existence of frontage roads, with businesses built right on the highway, many motorists say Texas' Interstate highways are the ugliest in the country. In other states, traffic is routed onto side streets and businesses are located there, allowing for landscaping along the expressway.

The committee also recommended the construction of new bridges into Mexico on the south end of I-35 in Laredo, and improved freight rail between Austin and San Antonio.

© 2008 WOAI:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"There will be a new chairman.... Mike Krusee wouldn’t let any bills that were anti-toll road or anti-Trans-Texas Corridor even get a hearing,”

Lawmaker files bill to repeal Texas Corridor


by By Fred Afflerbach
Temple Daily Telegram
Copyright 2008

A San Antonio lawmaker filed a bill that would repeal the establishment and operation of the Trans-Texas Corridor. It’s not the first time he’s done so. In the 2007 legislative session, Rep. David Leibowitz filed an identical bill, but it languished in the House Transportation Committee without a hearing.

Leibowitz spokesman Rob Borja said the legislation may have a better fate the second time around. At least four of the nine committee members will change this session, including the chairman. “Probably most important is there will be a new chairman, because the old chairman Mike Krusee wouldn’t let any bills that were sort of anti-toll road or anti-Trans-Texas Corridor even get a hearing,” Borja said.

If signed into law, H.B. 11 would make the corridor a non-entity, taking it off the state statute, Borja said.

Leibowitz, a harsh critic of the TTC, filed the bill Monday, the first day lawmakers could file legislation for the 2009 session, which begins Jan. 13.

Ralph Sheffield, newly elected state representative for District 55 which includes most of Bell County, said he would not comment without seeing the bill but remained steadfast in his opposition to the TTC.

“I am totally opposed to the corridor,” Sheffield said from Austin on Thursday morning. “We’ll fight for everyone’s property rights in regards to that. I haven’t changed my stance on that. We need to solve our transportation needs, but that’s (TTC) not the right process.”

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, also represents Bell County at the state capitol. He couldn’t be reached Thursday, but opposed the TTC in previous statements. He supports improving the state’s current highway system rather than building the corridor.

A commission of elected city and school officials from Bell and Milam County is fighting the corridor by confronting TxDOT on environmental issues. Mae Smith, president of the Eastern Central Texas Sub-regional Planning Commission, said her group would continue to demand transparency from TxDOT regarding the environmental impact study now under way.

When the study is complete, a TxDOT official said they will make it public from 30 to 45 days before sending it to the Federal Highway Administration for an up or down vote on whether to build the corridor.

If the Federal Highway Administration approves building the corridor, then a phase two study will commence, which determines the final site.

© 2008 Temple Daily Telegram:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, November 13, 2008

House Bill 11 would ditch the Trans-Texas Corridor

Bill could spell end to TTC


By Philip Jankowski
Taylor Daily Press
Copyright 2008

The future of the Trans-Texas Corridor has gotten a bit grim in the last few months.

House Speaker Tom Craddick said the idea of building the multi-billion dollar web of superhighways is dead, which Texas Senator Steve Ogden also said a few months prior.
On Monday, the project took one more step toward flat lining with the filing of House Bill 11, which would repeal the corridor completely.

Filed by Bexar County representative David Leibowitz, House Bill 11 literally strikes the highway from the books.

Leibowitz filed a similar bill for 2007’s session, but it died in committee. However, this session the bill could make it to an actual vote. Several members of the house’s Transportation Committee are not returning, including the committee’s chair, district 52 outgoing representative Mike Krusee.

A possible change in the house’s speaker could also bode well for the bill. Though Republicans still maintain a narrow majority in the house, Republicans other than Craddick are considering throwing their hat in for the speaker spot. Craddick has been subject to criticism for his leadership style, which some say is autocratic.

District 52 Representative-elect Diana Maldonado said she would be in support of House Bill 11 should it see an actual vote.

“I would obviously support anything that would repeal the Trans-Texas Corridor. We already have (S.H. 130), which is serving its purpose so ... if the bill continues to go through, I will support it,” Maldonado said.

The bill will have plenty of opportunity to be crushed by opposition as it makes its way through the legislature. If it does make it to the governor’s office, because Rick Perry was one of the chief architects behind the Trans-Texas Corridor, his veto would be likely.

© 2008 Taylor Daily Press:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"This advisory committee does not support the TTC concept."

Committee Slams Trans Texas Corridor Project


By Kim Wynne
KXXV-TV (Waco - Killeen - Temple)
Copyright 2008

An advisory group appointed by the Texas Transportation Commission will release a 25 page report Friday, calling the Trans-Texas corridor a bad idea.

The commitee made up of business leaders, land owners, and transportation experts wrote that the corridor project was, "a one-size fits all' approach to solving Texas' transportation problems.

On page four of the report, the group wrote, "This advisory committee does not support the TTC concept. Instead we recommend a more inclusive solution that respects local communities and private property rights while addressing statewide and local transportation needs."

The controversial corridor plan would have bought or seized farm property, which angered landowners.

"The price of the corridor is too high in dollars and property rights," said Texas Farm Bureau spokeman Gene Hall.

Hall said that farmers recognized the need to build better roads but suggested that the state "use existing rights of way whenever possible."

The report also recommended that rail lines be added or expanded, adding that whatever changes made to the existing interstate be "transparent" to the public.

Chairman of the advisory committee, Tim Brown, said that the report doesn't mean the idea has been accepted or rejected, calling it just a recommendation.

© 2008 WorldNow and KXXV:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Has the Treasury partially nationalized the private banks, as we have been told? Or is it the other way around?"

The New Trough

The Wall Street bailout looks a lot like Iraq — a "free-fraud zone" where private contractors cash in on the mess they helped create



Naomi Klein
Rolling Stone
Copyright 2008

On October 13th, when the U.S. Treasury Department announced the team of "seasoned financial veterans" that will be handling the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, one name jumped out: Reuben Jeffery III, who was initially tapped to serve as chief investment officer for the massive new program.

On the surface, Jeffery looks like a classic Bush appointment. Like Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, he's an alum of Goldman Sachs, having worked on Wall Street for 18 years. And as chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 2005 to 2007, he proudly advocated "flexibility" in regulation — a laissez-faire approach that failed to rein in the high-risk trading at the heart of the meltdown.

Bankers watching bankers, regulators who don't believe in regulating — that's all standard fare for the Bush crew. What's most striking about Jeffery's résumé, however, is an item omitted when his new job was announced: He served as executive director of Paul Bremer's infamous Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, during the early days of the Iraq War.

Part of his job was to hire civilian staff, which made him an integral part of the partisan machine that filled the Green Zone with Young Republicans, investment bankers and Dick Cheney interns. Qualifications weren't a big issue back then, because the staff's main function was to hand over stacks of taxpayer money to private contractors, who were the ones actually running the occupation.

It was this nonstop cash conveyor belt that earned the Green Zone a reputation, in the words of one CPA official, as "a free-fraud zone." During Senate hearings last year, when Jeffery was asked what he had learned from his experience at the CPA, he said he thought that contracts should be handed out with more "speed and flexibility" — the same philosophy he cited back when he was in charge of regulating Wall Street traders.

The Bush Administration has since reversed the Jeffery appointment, perhaps thinking better of giving a CPA alum such a central role in the Wall Street bailout. Still the original impulse underscores the many worrying parallels between the administration's approach to the financial crisis and its approach to the Iraq War.

Under cover of an emergency, Treasury is rapidly turning into an economic Green Zone, overrun with private companies collecting lucrative contracts. Fittingly, one of the first to line up at the new trough was none other than the law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani — yes, that Giuliani. The firm's chairman, Patrick Oxford, could scarcely conceal his glee over the prospect of cashing in on the bailout. "This one," he told reporters, "is very, very big." At least four times bigger, in fact, than the post-9/11 homeland-security bubble, from which Giuliani and his various outfits have profited so extravagantly. Even bigger, potentially, than the price tag for the Iraq War itself.

In Iraq, the contractors were tasked with reconstructing the country from the mess made by U.S. missiles. After years of corruption born of no-bid contracts and paltry oversight, many Iraqis are still waiting for the lights to come back on. Today, a new team of contractors is lining up to reconstruct the U.S. economy — reconstruct it from the mess made by the very banks, brokers and law firms that are now applying for contracts. And it's not at all clear that America can survive their assistance.

See if any of this sounds familiar: As soon as the bailout was announced, it became clear that Treasury officials would hire outsiders to perform their jobs for them — at a profit. Private companies wanting to help manage the bailout were given just two days to apply for massive, multiyear contracts. Since it was such a mad rush — after all, the entire economy was about to implode — there was no time for an open bidding process. Nor was there time to draft rigorous rules to make sure that those applying don't have serious conflicts of interest. Instead, applicants were asked to disclose their conflicts and to explain — and this is not a joke — their "philosophy in fulfilling your duty to the Treasury and the U.S. taxpayer in light of your proprietary interests and those of other clients." In other words, an open invitation to bullshit about how much they love their country and how they can be trusted to regulate themselves.

The first major contract to be awarded in the bailout was for legal advice — and the choice Treasury made was Halliburton-esque in its audacity. Six law firms were invited to bid, but four declined, either because they didn't want the contract or because they had too many conflicts of interest. Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said the fact that so many law firms chose not to bid "shows that the guidelines are sufficiently rigorous."

Or it may just show that the bidder who won the contract — Simpson Thacher & Bartlett — takes a more relaxed approach to conflicts than its colleagues. The law firm is a Wall Street heavy hitter, having brokered some of the biggest bank mergers in recent years. It also provided legal support to companies trading mortgage-backed securities — the "financial weapons of mass destruction," as Warren Buffett called them, that detonated the banking industry. More to the point, it was hired to provide legal services to the Treasury in its negotiations to spend $250 billion of the bailout money purchasing equity in America's banks. The first stage of the plan involves buying stakes in nine of the country's top banks. Incredibly, Simpson Thacher has represented seven of the nine: JPMorgan, Bank of New York Mellon, Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch.

According to its contract, Simpson Thacher has agreed not to represent any of the banks "against the U.S." when they negotiate with Treasury for the equity money. However, the firm has retained the right to represent banks when they apply for other parts of the $700 billion bailout not covered by its contract. (It has promised to erect a "firewall" to stem the flow of "confidential information" to those clients.) The firm will also continue to work for the banks on a range of other lucrative deals — and that's where the problem lies. Take Lee Meyerson, Simpson Thacher's lead lawyer on the bailout negotiations, who is specifically named in the contract as "essential" to the project. As the company's hotshot attorney, Meyerson has personally represented three of the nine banks that were bailed out in the first round, in addition to many others that will surely apply for cash injections. One of the bailed-out banks is Bank of New York Mellon, whose $29 billion merger Meyerson helped negotiate. Mergers like that can bill in the millions. Is Simpson Thacher able to put aside its loyalties to its biggest clients and negotiate deals for the taxpayer that could exact real costs from those very clients?

It might be possible to set aside concerns about divided loyalties if it were clear that Simpson Thacher is helping Treasury to wrangle the best deals possible for U.S. taxpayers. But the firm's first test — the deal to give $125 billion to the nine big banks to ease the "credit crunch" that is crippling the economy — wasn't exactly reassuring. Secretary Paulson promised that the banks won't just "hoard" the money — they will quickly "deploy it" through the economy in the form of badly needed loans. There is just one hitch: Neither Paulson nor Simpson Thacher got that "deploy" part in writing — nor did they put in place any mechanism to require the banks to spend their taxpayer billions. Apparently, the part about lending the money to homeowners and small businesses was sort of implied.

"There is no obligation for banks to lend the money one way or the other," Jennifer Zuccarelli, a Treasury spokeswoman, tells Rolling Stone. "But the banks have the understanding" that the money is intended for loans. "We're not looking to control their operations."

Unfortunately, many of the banks appear to have no intention of wasting the money on loans. "At least for the next quarter, it's just going to be a cushion," said John Thain, the chief executive of Merrill Lynch. Gary Crittenden, chief financial officer of Citigroup, had an even better idea: He hinted that his company would use its share of the cash — $25 billion — to buy up competitors and swell even bigger. The handout, he told analysts, "does present the possibility of taking advantage of opportunities that might otherwise be closed to us."

And the folks at Morgan Stanley? They're planning to pay themselves $10.7 billion this year, much of it in bonuses — almost exactly the amount they are receiving in the first phase of the bailout. "You can imagine the devilish grins on the faces of Morgan Stanley employees," writes Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Weil. "Not only did we, the taxpayers, save their company...we funded their 2008 bonus pool."

It didn't have to be this way. Five days before Paulson struck his deal with the banks, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown negotiated a similar bailout — only he extracted meaningful guarantees for taxpayers: voting rights at the banks, seats on their boards, 12 percent in annual dividend payments to the government, a suspension of dividend payments to shareholders, restrictions on executive bonuses, and a legal requirement that the banks lend money to homeowners and small businesses.

In sharp contrast, this is what U.S. taxpayers received: no controlling interest, no voting rights, no seats on the bank boards and just five percent in dividend payouts to the government, while shareholders continue to collect billions in dividends every quarter. What's more, golden parachutes and bonuses already promised by the banks will still be paid out to executives — all before taxpayers are paid back.

No wonder it took just one hour for Paulson to convince all nine CEOs to accept his offer — less than seven minutes per bank. Not even the firms' own lawyers could have drafted a sweeter deal.

The day after it met with the nation's top banks, Treasury announced that it had selected the firm that would receive the juiciest contract of all: that of "master custodian." The winning company will be to the bailout what Halliburton is to the military: the contractor of contractors. It will purchase toxic debts from Wall Street, service them and auction them off in the future — a so-called "end-to-end process." The contract is for a minimum of three years.

Seventy firms applied for the gig; the winner was Bank of New York Mellon. Describing the scope of the megacontract, bank president Gerald Hassell said, "It's the ultimate outsourcing — because the Federal Reserve and the Treasury do not have the mechanics to run the entire program, and we're essentially the general contractor across the entire program. It's going to cross our entire company."

This raises an interesting point: Has the Treasury partially nationalized the private banks, as we have been told? Or is it the other way around? Is it Treasury that has been partially privatized by Wall Street, its massive rescue plan now entirely in the hands of a private bank it is directly subsidizing?

Shortly after receiving the contract, Hassell told investors that his institution is now well-positioned to profit from the market meltdown. "There's a lot of new business that's going on even in this chaotic marketplace," he said, "and so some of those things have been very positive to us." Just how positive, we don't know, because Treasury has blacked out the 10 lines of the "master custodian" contract that reveal how much Bank of New York Mellon will be paid. Though Treasury says it will release the information eventually, the secrecy goes beyond anything the Bush administration attempted in Iraq. Even Halliburton's dodgy contracts came with price tags attached.

Still, when the terms of the contract do become public, they may turn out to be surprisingly modest. Goldman Sachs has apparently offered to fulfill at least one bailout contract for free. Altruism may not be their only motivation. The real money at stake in the bailout lies not in payment for the work but in how the work is done. Think about it: If you're the one selling your debts to the government, wouldn't you also want to help decide which debts are eligible and how much they're worth? "The financial firms with assets to sell are in many instances the same firms the Treasury will rely on to value and manage the assets it is buying," The New York Times observed. "That is an invitation for these firms to set the price too high or to indulge in other mischief at the taxpayers' expense."

Bank of New York Mellon has a bad record for mischief. It is embroiled in a $22.5 billion money-laundering lawsuit in Moscow and has been forced to pay out a $14 million settlement in a related case. Though the bank's "master custodian" contract with Treasury prohibits unethical conduct, the arrangement seems rife with opportunities for abuse. According to its most recent earnings report, Bank of New York Mellon holds $1.2 billion in subprime mortgage securities. That means that in addition to the $3 billion it will receive as part of the equity program, it will also be eligible to apply for taxpayer money from the program it is being paid to administer. Neither the bank nor Treasury would comment on this direct conflict of interest.

On the same day that he allocated the first $125 billion to the banks, Secretary Paulson announced the largest federal budget deficit in U.S. history. Buried in his statement was a preview of the next phase of the financial disaster. The deficit numbers, he declared, reinforce the need to "pursue policies that promote economic growth and fiscal responsibility, and address entitlement reform." He was referring to Americans who feel entitled to receive Social Security in their old age and Medicaid when they are sick. Those programs, Paulson implied, might not be able to survive the budget crisis he is currently creating for the next administration.

This is why the stakes of the bailout are so high: Unless we get a good deal, there will be nothing left over after the banks are done feeding to pay for the meager services now provided in exchange for taxation, let alone for the more ambitious initiatives promised on the campaign trail. The spiraling cost of saving Wall Street from its bad bets is already being used as an excuse for why we can't solve our many other crises, from health care to climate change.

There is a better way to fix a broken financial system. Treasury's plan to buy up the toxic debts never made sense and should be immediately scrapped — a move that would also handily get rid of most of the crony contractors. As for purchasing equity in banks, the next round of deals — and there will be more — has to start from the premise that the banks are bankrupt and will therefore accept whatever terms we choose to impose, including real regulatory oversight. The possibilities of what could be done if a chunk of the banking system were genuinely under public control — from a moratorium on home foreclosures to mandatory investment in green community redevelopment — are limitless.

Because here is what George Bush and Henry Paulson are hoping we won't figure out: When a society no longer has enough money to pay for its most pressing needs, there are worse things than discovering you own the banks.

© 2008 Rolling Stone:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

With the gas tax frozen since the early 1990's: "The world of highway building will never be simple again."

The latest Texas tollway deal is a mind-stretcher

Nov 12, 2008

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2008

There’s been a dizzying pace of developments regarding the construction of the Texas 161 tollway in western Dallas County.

There’s nothing wrong with the way things have turned out, and it’s good that the road is being built. But the changes in the way it is being financed show that the world of highway building will never be simple again.

The tollway will be a north-south road that is expected to relieve congestion on Texas 360 in Arlington. It will help funnel traffic to the new Dallas Cowboys stadium.

Tax roads. First, we had tax-supported highways. We paid our gasoline taxes and other vehicle-related fees, and the state used that money to buy land and build free roads.

Private toll roads. By 2003, Texas population growth brought more congestion. The cost of land acquisition, highway construction and maintenance began to surpass revenue from taxes and fees. The Legislature passed a bill that allowed more roads to be built as tollways. Some could be built by private companies, including foreign companies.

Public toll roads. The North Texas Tollway Authority complained when a Spanish firm appeared to have won the bidding to build the Texas 121 tollway in Denton and Collin counties. In 2007, the Legislature passed another bill giving public entities like NTTA the right of first refusal on new toll projects.

Extensive delays. When it came time to start the Texas 161 tollway, state law gave NTTA time to negotiate with the Texas Department of Transportation over the projected value of the road and its 52-year toll income stream. While those talks were under way, the Regional Transportation Council diverted $272 million from other regional road work to begin construction on the tollway.

Economic difficulties. With the worldwide credit crisis, NTTA struggled to complete a deal with the state on Texas 161.

Back to using tax money. On Oct. 30, the state stepped up to help. The Texas Transportation Commission agreed to guarantee loans to pay NTTA’s bills if the tollway does not meet its revenue projections. For that guarantee, the state will use the gasoline taxes and vehicle fees formerly used to build roads.

The same agreement calls for NTTA to build the Southwest Parkway/Chisholm Trail tollway from downtown Fort Worth to northern Johnson County. NTTA has two years to back out of both Texas 161 and the Southwest Parkway/Chisholm Trail, but people there say that won’t happen.

Commission member Bill Meadows of Fort Worth says deals like this use leverage to stretch tax dollars.

True, but understanding them is also a stretch for taxpayers.

© 2008 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Quasi-governmental groups spend vast amounts of public funds. Yet, they are not accountable to the citizens they serve. "

The Shadow Government


The Collin County Observer
Copyright 2008

RTC ... NTTA ... NCTCOG ... CCAD ... CJPDC ... MPO ... DART ... RRC ...

There is an alphabet soup of organizations that impacts almost every facet of your life. These quasi-governmental groups determine transportation policy, collect taxes, appraise your property, take you to work, dole out grant money and spend vast amounts of public funds.

Yet, they are not accountable to the citizens they serve. You've probably never even heard of many of them. You've never elected anyone to these boards and commissions, yet some of them are made up of elected officials. They operate in the shadows.

Take for example the RTC. The RTC is the Regional Transportation Council. It is made up up local city and county elected officials and it serves as one of the primary planning and funds disbursement. All $3.2 billion "up-front" money for the SH 121 toll road flowed through the RTC, who alone set the guidelines for divvying up these billions to the counties.

Last week, the RTC voted to approve a regional rail plan named "Rail North Texas" after a long 3 hour debate.

According to an article published in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the RTC approved the plan and recommended it to the legislature for their approval. The Star Telegram article noted that the, "vote was split — 26 yeas, 13 nays and four no-shows."

Since the plan was controversial, and would result in the formation of another regional taxing district, I contacted the RTC and asked for the list of members who voted 'yes' or 'no'.

"The RTC does not take recorded votes so I do not know who specifically voted for or against."
Lara Kohl, NCTCOG

Collin County has 4 members on the RTC, Commissioner Joe Jaynes, Plano Councilwoman Loretta Ellerbe, NTTA Chairman Paul Wagemen (from Plano) and McKinney Mayor Bill Whitfield. I wanted to know how they voted.

I was surprised at the response I got from Lara Kohl, the Public Involvement Manager for the transportation department at NCTCOG. Ms. Kohl wrote, "The RTC does not take recorded votes so I do not know who specifically voted for or against."

The Rail North Texas plan proposes to spend billions of dollars, raise taxes, and collect fees, but no one knows who voted for it!

In this writer's opinion, the lack of accountability here is appalling. Most of us remember the excesses that have plagued DART, starting decades ago with a fancy conference room and more recently with major budgeting difficulties. No one is accountable.

The whole concept of democracy is based on a government that is "of the people". Our government was created to be held to task by its citizens. Several times each year, we go to the polls to do exactly that.

But who in this "shadow government" is held to task? It's time we looked at the makeup of these organizations, and demanded accountability - including recorded votes on all actions.



CCAD Collin County Appraisal District. Board members elected by member cities, school boards and taxing agencies. Responsible for all property appraisals in the county.

CJPDC Criminal Justice Policy Development Committee. Responsible for reviewing and setting priorities for all criminal justice funding requests. Committee members are appointed by NCTCOG's Executive Board.

DART Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Operates trains, buses, HOV lanes. runs its own police department, collects taxes and fares. Board appointed by local member cities.

MPO Metropolitan Planning Organization. Made up of NCTCOG and RTC. Overall catch all for transportation planning and policy.

NCTCOG North Central Texas Council of Governments. Is the MPO for North Texas. Operates dozens of programs that control and funnel billions of dollars of state and federal grant money... for everything from air quality to roads. Board is appointed by local governments.

NTTA North Texas Tollway Authority. Builds and operates tollroads, tunnels and bridges. Collects tolls. Board is appointed by the 4 member counties, with one member appointed by the Governor of Texas.

RTC Regional Transportation Council. The MPO's transportation policymaking body, determines how regional transportation funds should be spent. The 40 members are appointed by local governments.

This is only a partial listing of the 'shadow government' organizations that may set policy, receive tax money, charge fares or tolls, spend public funds, and control billions in grant funds.

© 2008 Collin Conty Observer:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Monday, November 10, 2008

Bills filed to reform TxDOT and deconstruct the Trans-Texas Corridor

81st Legislature

Prefiling, Day One: Transportation Bills


By Vince Leibowitz
Capitol Annex
Copyright 2008

As expected, a handful of bills were filed Monday that could dramatically alter transportation in Texas, including legislation to repeal the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation to construct the Trans-Texas Corridor and legislation that would expand the Texas Transportation Commission to 15 members and require that those members be elected.

HB 12 by State Rep. David Leibowitz (D-San Antonio) would require that the Texas Transportation Commission be expanded to 15 members and that 14 of those members be elected from 14 equally apportioned districts across the state and that one member be elected by voters statewide. Regionally elected members would serve two-year terms and the statewide member would serve a four-year term.

Here is a rundown of other transportation-related bills filed today and our analysis of the same:

HB 12 by State Rep. David Leibowitz (D-San Antonio): Would expand the Texas Transportation Commission to 15 members and require that those members be elected by voters.

HB 11 by David Leibowitz (D-San Antonio): repeals the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation to establish or operate the Trans-Texas Corridor.

SJR 9 by Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas): This is a constitutional amendment that would reallocate the fuel and lubricants tax (i.e. the “gas tax”). It would mandate that three-fourths of the gas tax goes to the construction of highways (including the acquisition of right-of-ways, etc., as it does now) but that one quarter of the gas tax would go to the Avaliable School Fund. Given the state’s transportation needs, it is doubtful that this is something that would pass the legislature, but it is worth watching nonetheless.

SJR 8 by Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas): This constitutional amendment would authorize the leiglsature to enact legislation which would allow the Comptroller of Public Accounts to set and change the rate of the gas tax based on price or cost indexes compiled by the federal government. SB 217 also by Carona provides the legislation to actually allow for the tax changing and/or indexing.

SB 216 by Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas): This legislation would add the caveat that the State Highway Fund may only be used to repay loans if they are both constitutionally permissible and legislatively authorized uses of the Highway Fund (the constitutionally permissible language being the change) and would stop providing any moneys to Texas Department of Public Safety from the Highway Fund, meaning, presumably, that DPS would get most of its funding from the general fund.

SB 220 by Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville): This legislation would strike provisions in current law that allow for the conversion of portions of a non-tolled highway to a toll road.

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