Monday, January 26, 2009

Hutchison's stance on 'diminished access' may lure an already cowed Texas Farm Bureau into her camp.

“Diminished access” could be Kay Bailey access key to Farm Bureau


By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, on the lookout these days for discernible policy gaps between herself and Gov. Rick Perry, the man who has a job Hutchison seemingly covets, may have found one in the arcane territory of “diminished access.”

You may not know what that is, nor might it affect your vote if you did. But it is very important to the Texas Farm Bureau. And the bureau, which has always supported both Hutchison and Perry on their differing political paths, is a very important constituency in what is shaping up to be a 2010 showdown in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

“Absolutely,” Hutchison said today when asked if she supports giving landowners compensation when land taken for a state project diminishes their access to the Texas highway system. A Perry spokeswoman last week had said the Texas Legislature should not revisit that issue this spring.

When the Legislature made its first visit in 2007, overwhelmingly passing HB 2006 that would have mandated such compensation for landowners, Perry vetoed the bill. He said that change in the law could increase the Texas Department of Transportation’s costs for acquiring highway right of way by millions of dollars.

Farm Bureau officials at the group’s leadership conference, held today at the Omni Hotel in South Austin, made it clear that they still want that protection in the law. The value of a farm or ranch, they said, could be severely decreased if a key county road or farm-to-market road suddenly dead-ends into a tollway and there’s no way to get across or onto the toll road. A landowner in such cases might have to go miles out of the way to get himself to town, or farm equipment to land on the other side of the road.

Saying that the bureau and the governor remain at odds on this issue is not quite the same, however, as saying that the farmers will support Hutchison over Perry in the primary. Gene Hall, the bureau’s director of public relations, said the farm group has a several-tier process of figuring out political endorsements and that a decision is many months away.

And the Farm Bureau, even though it opposed his Trans-Texas Corridor plan of cross-state supertollways, endorsed Perry in 2006 over several candidates who agreed with them on the corridor.

Hutchison, by the way, has spoken out against the corridor plan for years and did so again today. TxDOT earlier this month pronounced the corridor dead, although by the end of the day it mostly appeared that the only thing truly dead was the name itself. Projects underway under its auspices will continue.

Given a shot at a news conference today to crack on Perry for that, Hutchison demurred. She repeated her overall position of opposition to it, and to giving long-term toll road leases to foreign companies, then left the door open for supporting the pieces that are still in the planning stages.

“Going forward we have to look at each new proposal as it comes up,” she said.

© 2009 Austin American-Statesman:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE