Friday, January 23, 2009

Gov. Rick Perry's proposed constitutional amendment would not address the key tenets of eminent-domain legislation he vetoed in 2007

Perry moves to restake his ground on eminent domain

Governor proposes constitutional amendment after having vetoed 2007 legislation.


By Jason Embry
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

Gov. Rick Perry moved Thursday to quiet grumblings that he isn't protecting private property rights, suggesting that the state constitution forbid the acquisition of land for nonpublic uses through condemnation proceedings.

His support of the amendment lets Perry play offense on the issue of eminent domain, but for some, it doesn't go far enough. The constitutional amendment would not address key tenets of 2007 eminent-domain legislation that Perry vetoed over the objections of the Texas Farm Bureau and some others who have previously supported him.

Property rights were already a touchy issue for Perry because many rural Texans see his ambitious transportation plan — once dubbed the Trans-Texas Corridor — as a threat to their land. The 2007 veto widened an opening for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is likely to challenge Perry in the 2010 Republican primary, to criticize him. "Our state government ignores private property rights," she said in a recent fundraising appeal.

The constitutional amendment would seek to strengthen a bill that lawmakers passed overwhelmingly in 2005 to bar the acquisition of land for private use. The legislation was a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that year that a government can transfer land from one private owner to another for economic development purposes.

"Unless we take action on these protections, private property rights in Texas will begin to erode and undermine the very character of our state," Perry said.

But the 2007 bill that he vetoed — House Bill 2006 — dealt with other issues related to condemnation proceedings, including the question of "diminished access," which has been a point of disagreement between Perry and some of his historic allies.

State law says that a property owner can be compensated for diminished access if condemnation proceedings substantially decrease the owner's access to roadways. The legislation that Perry vetoed would have made compensation possible for "any diminished access," and Perry said it could result in taxpayers paying large sums to landowners who still had most of their access intact.

For the Farm Bureau, diminished access is crucial. Though Kenneth Dierschke, the group's president, cheered Perry for supporting a constitutional amendment, he said, "any eminent domain reform must also address fair compensation and consider all factors between a willing buyer and seller — especially diminished access."

The Farm Bureau, which represents 422,000 Texas agricultural families, could provide a critical endorsement in the 2010 primary.

Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said Perry does not think lawmakers should revisit the issue of diminished access. "He thinks that many elements of the original HB 2006 should be addressed again this session and looks forward to working with legislators on getting those passed," Cesinger said.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Thursday that he'll work for an eminent domain bill that is similar to the one that Perry vetoed.

"I do know that the governor would like to reach a consensus on the bill, and I for one stand ready to play shuttle diplomacy," Dewhurst said.

As for the constitutional amendment, it would provide a clear definition of public use and balance out the Legislature's historic tendency to freely grant eminent-domain authority, said Sen. Robert Duncan, a Lubbock Republican who is working on it.

"The purpose of a constitutional amendment is to require the Legislature to provide more scrutiny in its grants of eminent domain authority and also allow property owners the ability to defend their property," Duncan said.

Duncan said he expects a robust debate about the definition of public use.

Part of that debate could center on how highway construction is defined when private companies are heavily involved in the roads' financing — a key pillar of Perry's transportation plans.

"In Texas we understand the concept of having as a last resort the process of eminent domain to build our schools, to build our roads, to make sure we have electrical power to drive our economy," Perry said.; 445-3572

© 2009 Austin American-Statesman:

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"Under Texas law, constitutional amendments do not cross the governor's his show of support indicated a political stance."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry supports eminent-domain protection for homeowners


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry endorsed a constitutional amendment to protect homeowners from having their land taken in certain eminent domain proceedings – a move to mend relations with property-rights conservatives.

Two years ago, Perry vetoed a bill that would have given landowners more consideration in their property's value and allowed them to fight for fairer compensation. He rejected the bill, saying it would create a bevy of lawsuits and cost public entities millions more to acquire needed property.

Others were angered over his full-throated support of the now-defunct Trans-Texas Corridor, which initially would have given road developers the ability to take massive swaths of land not just for highways but also for retail and hotel development along the right-of-way.

Perry said he grew up on a ranch and has always been sympathetic to landowner rights, but that he made the correct decision in vetoing the bill two years ago. He said he wants to work with lawmakers this year to achieve legislation that he can support.

"It is wrong for any government to make a lowball offer, then respond to an owner's righteous refusal by taking the land. The government owes landowners a genuine good-faith negotiation, not a land grab," he said.

He spoke alongside Susette Kelo, whose unsuccessful suit against a New London, Conn., effort to take her home for private economic development galvanized 40 states to pass legislation protecting landowners.

Under Texas law, constitutional amendments do not cross the governor's desk, and so his show of support Thursday indicated a political stance as he prepares for a potential primary fight with U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who has said property rights are important.

The constitutional amendment and other legislation will attempt to narrow the definition of "public use" for private land and to keep protections from being chiseled away by exceptions attempted in future laws, said the sponsor, Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock.

Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, also said he was filing bills that would give landowners greater consideration when their land is sought for gas pipelines, which are crisscrossing northern Tarrant County.

He said he particularly wants to see greater restrictions on the disposal of materials connected with gas-well drilling and to make sure property owners are protected and fairly compensated for such activities.

© 2009 The Dallas Morning News:

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"Thousands of Texans know that Perry couldn’t care less about Texans property rights. "

Fed-up with Rick Perry and his sneaky snake-oil ways


Linda Curtis
Independent Texans
Copyright 2009

Dear Members & Friends:

Did you see that Rick Perry is trying–again–to sell us a bunch of snake oil?

The Governor was in front of the cameras today calling for a constitutional amendment to place the same eminent domain law the legislature passed in 2005, into the Texas Constitution.

But wait, you say, didn’t he veto the REAL REFORM eminent domain bill (HB 2006) back in 2007? Sure did! And he did this on the heels of making false claims that the Trans-Texas Corridor was “dead”!

What’s the Governor really up to?

Well, of course, he’s running for Governor again. What’s more Perry’s playing us with his shell game as he continues efforts to grab Texans’ land — by the hundreds of thousands of acres — for the Trans-Texas Corridor — something we universally oppose. That’s a funny way of showing his “support” for reforming eminent domain, eh?!

What is Kay Bailey Hutchison going to do about this? It sure looks to us like a shot by Perry over her bow!

She needs to step up and take this guy on. Texans, of all persuasions, are really sick and tired of Rick Perry and his snakey, sneaky ways. He keeps leaving us all at the altar — knocked around!

So, here’s what you can do. Call or write to Kay Bailey Hutchison. Ask her to take Perry on. Tell her that you, and thousands of Texans, know that Perry couldn’t care less about Texans property rights. If he did, he wouldn’t have vetoed the real eminent domain reform bill in the last session, nor our moratorium bill on the Corridor and freeway tollways.

Tell her she can stand up for Texans property rights, for a real transportation plan and for REAL TxDOT reform. Tell her that if she will start calling the Governor on his slithery and dishonest ways, you’ll be there for her.

Here’s how you can contact her:

Email Senator Hutchison here:

Or call her at any of her offices listed below my signature.

If you hear back from her, please let us know how it goes. Thanks y’all. Let’s keep in close touch as the Texas Legislative Session heats up.

Linda Curtis
Independent Texans
PO Box 14294
Austin, TX 78761
512-535-0989 home office
512-383-8484 Austin office
512-657-2089 cell

284 Russell Senate Office Building
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© 2009 Independent Texans

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

"LaHood appeared more interested in adjusting priorities at the department than overturning [Bush Administration] policy decisions"

New Transportation Secretary Endorses Toll Roads

US Transportation Secretary designate Ray LaHood endorses toll road policies of his predecessor.

Copyright 2009

Motorists expecting change from President Barack Obama's choice of transportation secretary may instead find only a slight adjustment of priorities.

Former Illinois Congressman Ray LaHood (R-Peoria) appeared before Senate transportation committee colleagues yesterday to give the first glimpse at what he wants to do to with federal transportation funds after taking his place in the cabinet.

"Tolling new lanes of highways is thinking outside the box," LaHood said. "We need to think about those kinds of opportunities. If we're going to think innovatively, those are some of the ways we're going to have to think about these things instead of the gas tax."

LaHood referred to the federal fuel excise tax first implemented in 1932 as a "dinosaur" and repeated the claims made by former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters that traditional funding sources were not bringing in enough money (more). LaHood suggested tolling was the "innovative" alternative that the country needs to "plus up" transportation revenue. Toll roads have been in use since the Middle Ages both as a means of generating fee income and of controlling public movement.

A handful of senators expressed reservations regarding the imposition of tolls on highways. Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), for example, said the current emphasis on these methods was "too strong" and that the addition of toll booths on existing interstate highway lanes was not in the public interest.

"Personally, I don't think it's a good idea," LaHood agreed.

A pair of Senate newcomers weighed in with their thoughts on the subject. While former Virginia Governor Mark Warner (D) praised his state's leadership on public-private partnership initiatives such as the Beltway High Occupancy Toll lanes, he said that he worried about deals where private companies were risking public money to make a corporate profit. Warner's warning would appear to apply to the Beltway toll lanes he endorsed in which an Australian company will invest less than the cost of the interest on the $1.9 billion project, yet the company will pocket tolls from drivers over the next eighty years. Alaska Senator Mark Begich (D) said more directly that he was just not a fan of tolling.

On other topics, LaHood appeared more interested in adjusting priorities at the department than overturning past policy decisions. Increased use of motorist funds to subsidize transit, for example, follows from LaHood's record of supporting increased funding for Amtrak. LaHood emphasized his consistent record in favor of raising CAFE standards and insisted that transportation projects would move forward quickly as part of an economic stimulus package.

"We have a mandate from President Obama to get things done," LaHood said.

LaHood received the unanimous endorsement of the committee. He will take office upon the approval of the full Senate where the vote could come as early as today.

© 2009

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Gov. Rick Perry runs from his abysmal record on property rights

Perry 'fixes' his property-rights problem


Wayne Slater
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

With a Kay Bailey Hutchison challenge in the wings, Rick Perry moves today to fix a weakness in his resume - private property rights.

Two years ago, the Republican governor vetoed an eminent domain bill that would have given more protection to private property owners. It caused a firestorm. Property rights is the holy grail of the conservative moment. Hutchison plans to use private property rights against him in her race to unseat him.

To repair the damage, Perry is throwing his support behind an amendment to the state constitution to strengthen private property rights. He supports forbidding government from taking private property for development to help another private interest.

Perry's 2007 veto pitted him against two competing interests dear to his election fortunes - conservative landowners he claims as ideological soul mates and anti-lawsuit business interests that have filled his campaign coffers. He sided with the money. In his veto message, Perry said the bill would have prompted too many lawsuits.

Business interests that support limiting the right of people to file suits when they're injured are among Perry's biggest campaign contributors. Houston homebuilder Bob Perry (no relation) has given him more than $1 million as governor. Anti-lawsuit activists Richard Weekley and his homebuilder brother David have given $144,000. And Texans for Lawsuit Reform has delivered $68,000.

State transportation officials recently declared Perry's property-consuming Trans-Texas Corridor dead. (They'll pursue toll-projects piecemeal). And Perry's political team hopes his call today for a constitutional amendment to protect private-property rights will blunt a Hutchison attack.

© 2009 The Dallas morning News

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"It is a very big issue because of the way that the governor and the Texas Department of Transportation have allowed it to become."

Perry talks up private property rights


Associated Press
Copyright 2009

Gov. Rick Perry, bracing for a fight over property rights in the 2010 Republican primary, said Thursday he wants to amend the state constitution to further protect private landowners from eminent domain abuses.

Invoking the names of Texas independence fighter Davy Crockett, Perry proclaimed his support for Texans who are "justifiably fiercely committed to land ownership." He said he wants to ensure fair property negotiations and a ban on the government seizing land for commercial development.

"Texas still has the best land," Perry said, paraphrasing Crockett. "We've got to fight to protect the rights of folks who own it."

The governor made the remarks with a group of lawmakers and property rights activists at a Texas Public Policy Foundation meeting in Austin. He said he wants to cement into the Texas constitution legislation passed in 2005 to protect against taking private land for economic development or private purposes.

Sen. Robert Duncan, a Lubbock Republican who joined Perry at a news conference, said there are too many legislative opportunities for loopholes if it's not placed in the constitution. The state law was passed after a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed property to be taken through eminent domain for economic development projects, not just for public uses like roads. The lead plaintiff in that lawsuit, Susette Kelo, joined Perry and the others Thursday.

In attempting to pass the amendment, legislators will debate how to define "public use," Duncan said. He said the legislation could affect land condemnation for sports stadiums.
Private property protection is almost sure to be a hot topic in the 2010 governor's race. Perry's Republican rival, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, told supporters in a fundraising letter that she's concerned state government is ignoring private property rights in a quest to cover the state with toll roads. She was alluding to Perry's massive toll road proposal once called the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The corridor project drew intense rebukes from rural landowners who said the highway network would take their long-held family farms and ranches. Perry's administration has since scaled down plans for the highway system and dropped the hot-button name "Trans-Texas Corridor." But major parts of the project are moving forward.

Hutchison spokesman Todd Olsen said he believes Perry is worried that Hutchison will make property rights an issue in their anticipated Republican primary showdown next year.

"It is a very big issue because of the way that the governor and the Texas Department of Transportation have allowed it to become," Olsen said. "They have repeatedly had trouble explaining what was clearly his biggest initiative."

Hutchison is soliciting money for a gubernatorial run and has transferred nearly $8 million from her federal campaign account to a state campaign account. On Saturday, she is holding a private meeting in Austin with supporters from around the state to talk about strategy and issues important to them, Olsen said.

Another potential problem for Perry on the property rights front is his veto of a 2007 bill that rural property owners said would have protected them from eminent domain for private uses.

Perry said he rejected the bill because it was loaded up at the last minute with "personal interest legislation" and high costs for taxpayers. "I think I made the right decision then," he said.

At the time, he said one reason for his veto was the bill would have expanded damages a landowner could recover to include diminished access to property when part of a piece of property is condemned.

The Texas Farm Bureau wanted "diminished access" addressed and still does, said spokesman Gene Hall, though he praised Perry for appearing interested in a compromise during the current legislative session.

But if legislation passed this year doesn't deal with fair compensation for diminished access it won't go far enough, Hall said."We are pretty serious about diminished access being part of eminent domain reform," he said.

Perry said government shouldn't use eminent domain to take land without making a fair offer for property. "The government owes landowners a genuine good-faith negotiation, not a land grab," he said. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a separate meeting with news reporters Thursday said he has pledged to the Texas Farm Bureau to pass an eminent domain bill "that looks very similar or is similar to the one we passed out in 2007" that Perry vetoed. He said Perry wants to reach an agreement on the legislation.

Associated Press writer Jim Vertuno contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Dallas morning News

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

'Shovel ready' for the stimulus plan?

Stimulus plan could put I-69 on fast track

INDOT says project isn’t ‘shovel ready’ even if federal funds become available


By Mike Leonard
Reporter Times (Indiana)
Copyright 2009

Supporters of the national transportation plan to build out I-69 from Canada to Mexico are taking encouragement from two recent events.

One is the economic stimulus plan being put together in Congress, intended to give incoming President Barack Obama a large chunk of money to jump-start the nation’s slumping economy. With I-69 already listed as a national transportation priority, highway proponents are hoping that some of the $30 billion earmarked for transportation infrastructure could find its way to the interstate project.

The second event was the recent announcement by Texas transportation authorities that they were retooling the massive and controversial Trans-Texas Corridor. The $180 billion project envisioned a 1,200-foot-wide swath through the state, incorporating toll roads for passenger vehicles, dedicated lanes for trucks, light rail and freight lines and new utility infrastructure.

The ambitious corridor plan put forth by Gov. Rick Perry was met with furious opposition from environmentalists, the Texas Farm Bureau, taxpayers and politicians from both sides of the aisle. Early this month, the Texas Department of Transportation announced that it was dropping the tarnished, Trans-Texas Corridor name and moving toward a plan to build components in sections, as money becomes available.

The Texas news conference had barely ended before some parties hailed the stalled project as a boon to I-69. “The I-69 project has been named as one of the seven highways of the future,” Lufkin Mayor Jack Gorden told the Lufkin Daily News. “There’s new hope for the infrastructure with possible funding from the federal government that would include I-69. There is a lot more optimism for it.”

Gorden said he expects a major push for I-69 funding to come from Houston and the Port of Houston.

Texas transportation spokeswoman Karen Amacker said the optimism might be premature. “I don’t think this announcement jump-starts or sets I-69 back,” she said. “I-69 has been a priority for us, and it will remain a priority for us.”
I-69 currently runs from the Canadian border through Michigan and into Indiana, ending at I-465 on the north side of Indianapolis. Often termed “The NAFTA Highway,” federal officials envision I-69 becoming a 2,680-mile trade corridor from Canada to Mexico that would include 1,660 miles of new terrain highway, including the planned stretch from Indianapolis through the west side of Bloomington to Evansville.

Sections of new terrain highway and upgraded roads already have been built all along the route. Last year, Indiana officials broke ground on the first, small section of highway at the Vanderburgh-Gibson county line. About $700 million has been appropriated from Gov. Mitch Daniels’ Major Moves transportation initiative to pay for the work that is moving north from the Evansville area. Indiana Dept. of Transportation spokeswoman, Cher Goodwin, said that by 2014-2015, the state expects to have signed all of the construction contracts to build I-69 from north of Evansville to the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center in Greene County.

But Goodwin also sounded a skeptical note on whether I-69 might see an influx of money from the Congressional stimulus plan. “We’re hearing that there will be stipulations on that money and projects will need to be shovel-ready,” she said. “There is still work that needs to be done between Crane and Indianapolis.”

Goodwin said INDOT has contacted counties and municipalities to identify bridge and road repair projects that are ready to launch and simply lack funding. “We’ve contacted local officials to ask them, if a magic pot of money appears, what sort of projects could you envision you could accomplish?” she said.

Nationally, environmental groups criticized the $825 billion Congressional stimulus plan for not devoting enough money to existing infrastructure, keeping the door open for some new highway construction, and not putting enough money into alternative energy, public transit and rail.

On Friday, Gov. Daniels said Indiana could receive as much as $3 billion in federal stimulus money and it would be primarily devoted to education, Medicaid and “shovel ready” road and bridge projects. “It’s an astonishing amount of money,” he told the Louisville Courier Journal. “It will be really important to be prudent and careful with the way we spend it.”

© 2009 HoosierTimes Inc.

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Houghton: "True, the name 'Trans-Texas Corridor' has been retired....Nevertheless, many things remain the same."


Keep transportation at the top of the state and national agenda

See TxDOT Commissioner Houghton, TxDOT brass perjure themselves in 'Truth be Tolled'


Ted Houghton, Texas Transportation Commission
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

Much has been said about the "death" of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) — most of it true, some of it not. Though the Statesman's editorial board might have you believe otherwise, the decision to transform the vision of the TTC was based upon the feedback of Texans.

In the course of researching the feasibility of the 1,200-mile multimodal plan to relieve congestion along Interstate 35 and construct Interstate 69, the Texas Department of Transportation has spent more than $131 million.

These funds were prudently spent and would have been necessary even without the creation of the TTC concept.

True, the name Trans-Texas Corridor has been retired. Large projects have been broken into smaller, related ones. TxDOT has committed to reduce the width of the corridors where possible and work with committees of local residents to make key decisions about the projects. Nevertheless, many things remain the same.

Congestion along I-35 is set to worsen. An interstate highway connecting ports of entry in the Rio Grande Valley is needed to connect freight traffic with destinations in Texas and across the country. TxDOT remains committed to addressing each area's needs. Not only do Texas taxpayers need a safe, reliable transportation system — they deserve it.

Toll roads compromise safety on adjacent roads [LINK]

NTSB: "The most dangerous place on the highway is the toll plaza." [LINK]

Several other projects have benefitted from innovative thinking. In North Texas, the $3.2 billion Texas 121 and $458 million Texas 161 concession payments by NTTA will finance a variety of highway enhancements throughout the region in addition to supporting those projects' development. In Central Texas, Texas 130 segments five and six, a $1.3 billion asset, will yield a ten-fold return on investment.

Behind all of these toll road agreements, both public and private, is billions upon billions in debt [LINK]

Toll Roads Mean Billions in Extra Costs for Motorists [LINK]

Austin toll road schemes paved with bad projections [LINK]

Make no mistake, TxDOT will continue to pursue a series of related, multimodal transportation projects to develop I-69 and to address congestion along I-35. The preliminary work we completed and paid for on these projects is essential to solve our state's mobility problems.

"The mobility authority has confined itself to a 'unimodal' system consisting exclusively of toll roads." [LINK]

TxDOT's own projections show TTC-35 will not relieve congestion on I-35 [LINK]

So what have we paid for? The funds primarily supported planning and engineering work and environmental impact studies in each corridor. The environmental impact studies include an intensive public involvement process as well as an examination of the cost to communities and our environment of constructing a roadway through an area. This included town hall meetings and public hearings which resulted in tens of thousands of public comments and, in the end, spurred changes to the TTC vision.

Tax dollars pay for TTC developer's lobbying campaign [LINK]

Texas Commisson on Environmental Quality not involved in TTC-35 plans [LINK]

In all, expenses of $131 million toward the development of an estimated $50 billion in transportation assets for the state aren't bad. That work has tremendous value. TxDOT and local project advisory committees will depend on it to build segments of each corridor. And that isn't the end of spending on these projects.

Some portions of the projects may be operated by the private sector. All of the projects will be owned by the state. Every day we delay the development of I-69 or additional capacity along I-35, the construction cost grows.

Noncompete clauses ensure toll operators will be richly rewarded [LINK]

TxDOT hasn't always done the best job of explaining what it is doing and why. But with the department's announcement about major changes to the way the projects that comprised the TTC would be developed, we did the right thing. We listened to the concerns of Texans, reassessed our original plans and made some changes. We were responsive to both the needs of Texas taxpayers and the needs of the state.

Contractor sues to keep Trans-Texas details hidden [LINK]

Auditor questions TxDOT development pacts [LINK]

It is imperative to the continued economic prosperity of our state and nation that transportation, and the development of necessary and innovative projects, stay at the forefront of the public agenda for all of our leaders.

Houghton, who lives in El Paso, is a member of the Texas Transportation Commission.

© 2009 Austin American-Statesman

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