Saturday, June 06, 2009

"At best, the Texas Congress remains inept and special interest driven..."

These are times of desperation


Peter Stern
Somervell County Salon
Copyright 2009

Leaders in the Senate and House typify the process. Sen. Steve Ogden, powerful Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is considering his retirement.

An article in the Austin American-Statesman highlights a positive view of Ogden and of the Senate and House, whether or not those points of view are accurate, should be left up to Texas taxpayers and voters.

If Ogden and others work in the best interests of Texas, as they continue to claim, why are the urgent issues still paramount without resolution?

Why do Texans pay the highest property taxes PROPORTIONATELY in the nation?

Why to homeowners pay the highest insurance premiums in the nation bar none?

Why is the state still pushing toll roads for their special interests and not approving other more cost-effective means for building and maintaining our roadways?

Why does public education remain in such dire straits both in learning outcomes and in its financing, with the majority 70% of the financing coming from local property taxes and NOT from state taxes, as authorized and documented by the state constitution?

Why do lawmakers continue to develop, approve and pass into laws bills that clearly remain unfinished or distorted in some manner without ensuring the new laws remain in the best interests of the Texas community? In one case scenario, this time the House forgot $2 Billion in federal stimulus money that could have gone to transportation.

There is an alternate view that at best the Texas Congress remains inept and special interest driven and all the bi-partisan antics within the House and Senate are geared towards that end and NOT for what is best for the Texas community.

There seem to be very few heroes in our legislature, mostly fleas. So, is Sen. Ogden a hero or a flea?

Sometimes it is difficult to make a proper decision when so many doors to our legislative system remain closed to the public. Are lawmakers powerful people? Yes. Do they serve in the best interest of the Texas community? That response should be left up to your discretion.

Certainly, on many levels, changes are needed within our legislative system that offer more protection to the people of Texas.

© 2009 Somervell County Salon:

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Friday, June 05, 2009

"Public Private Partnerships are like fool’s gold. They only look good from afar.”

Politics and the Crisis Slow the Drive to Privatize



The New York Times
Copyright 2009

It was hailed as a win-win for Main Street and Wall Street — a way for states and cities, along with financiers, to make some money.

But now privatization, the selling of public airports, bridges, roads and the like to private investors, looks like a boom that wasn’t, The New York Times’s Leslie Wayne writes. Deals are collapsing. Airy hopes of quick profits are vanishing. And what was celebrated as a new wave in finance is, for the moment, barely making a ripple.

What happened?

The financial crisis, for starters. The easy money that Wall Street was counting on to finance its purchases has largely disappeared. Then the Obama administration unintentionally damped interest with its $787 billion economic stimulus package, a windfall that local governments are now racing to spend.

Bankers concede they got a bit ahead of themselves. When times were good, investment banks and private investment funds raised billions of dollars in the hopes of buying infrastructure. But many state and local governments resisted selling because of money, politics or both.

Some deals turned out to be less lucrative than these would-be sellers had hoped. Government officials also began questioning whether taxpayers would be better off if infrastructure were in private hands. After Chicago sold its parking system to a private operator, for instance, drivers had to feed meters with as many as 28 quarters to park for two hours.

“We will see a few transactions,” Fred Pollock, a vice president at Morgan Stanley Infrastructure, a private equity fund, told The Times. “But we know what we won’t see — a tidal wave of projects.”

Some big names still want to enter this business, among them Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. Such investors have raised about $180 billion for global infrastructure projects. Large funds have also been established in Australia, Britain and Bahrain, where such public-private partnerships are more common. More than 20 states enacted legislation in recent years to allow some form of private-sector investment that would help fill budget gaps and repair crumbling roads, bridges and even airports.

But now the deals are falling apart. In April, a much-anticipated $2.5 billion plan to privatize Midway Airport in Chicago collapsed after a group of investors was unable to obtain debt financing. The deal, which had been in the works for four years, was to have been the first in a Federal Aviation Administration project that would have allowed up to five major airports to move into private hands.

Midway was just the latest setback. There was also the failure last fall of the largest deal proposed to date — a $12.8 billion lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to an investor group headed by Citigroup and a Spanish investment firm. Postmortems into that failed effort show that privatization advocates vastly underestimated the political opposition the deal would stir up in the Pennsylvania legislature.

Late last month, plans to privatize “Alligator Alley,” a 78-mile stretch of Florida highway that connects Fort Lauderdale with Naples, collapsed when no bidders showed up. The failure has had a ripple effect — in Mississippi, state officials have pushed back the bidding schedule for a new 12-mile toll road.

Then there is the $1.2 billion privatization of 36,000 parking meters in Chicago. In the five months since the deal took effect, widespread complaints about poor service and rising parking rates have created a political firestorm for the Chicago City Council. Public opposition was so strong that on Wednesday the council approved a delay in voting on any future asset sales.

Chicago public officials have called the work of the private operator, Chicago Parking Meters, “simply unacceptable.” For its part, the operator has apologized and announced it would delay price increases at the meters.

Proponents of public-to-private asset sales point to the $1.8 billion lease of the 7.8-mile Chicago Skyway in 2004 and the $3.8 billion raised by Indiana through a 75-year lease of its toll road in 2006 as successful pioneering efforts.

In Indiana, the money went to pay for a 10-year highway infrastructure program, and Gov. Mitch Daniels was re-elected last year promoting the lease, despite bumper stickers that read “Keep the Toll Road, Lease Mitch.”

The stimulus money, as well as other infrastructure money promised by Congress, has provided temporary relief for cash-poor municipalities. But this situation will not last forever.

“They still have expenses, and revenues will not keep up,” Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, told The Times of state and local governments. “Some states will have to look at asset sales and decide. Once we step back from this crisis mode, I think they will be looked at again.”

If the market revives, the problems that scuttled recent deals may provide some lessons. In the case of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, politics clearly played a role in the deal’s collapse. A study by the Pew Center on the States found that proponents of the deal had overpromised what the turnpike could fetch and had failed to make it clear where the money would go.

After indicating that the turnpike might be valued at as much as $26 billion, when the winning $12.8 billion bid came in lawmakers felt it looked too small. Even more, there was concern that the money would be squandered and that the state was putting a valuable asset into foreign hands, since the top bidder included a Spanish company.

“It simply wasn’t a sufficient bid by a long shot,” Joseph F. Markosek, a state legislator and head of the Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee, told The Times.

Similar sentiments are coming into play in Florida, where few had expected Alligator Alley to be leased. “I believe the private partnership is like fool’s gold,” David Aronberg, a state senator in south Florida who has led the fight against privatization, told The Times. “It only looks good from afar.”

© 2009 The New York Times:

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Death Race 2010: Texas Republican Primary will be a bumpy ride

In governor's race, Rick Perry, Kay Bailey Hutchison will take different roads to victory

Break up2


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN – The Legislature had barely left town when the two biggest political names in Texas started sounding campaign themes – Rick Perry touting the state as a good place to do business and Kay Bailey Hutchison lamenting his lack of leadership.

Perry and Hutchison are on a collision course for the Republican nomination for governor in the March GOP primary, the most anticipated Texas political race in more than a decade.

They share blue-chip Republican pedigrees – an incumbent governor and veteran U.S. senator, both with high name identification, conservative credentials and the ability to raise big money. But each will take a decidedly different path.

"What he has to do is find some kind of campaign fire that elevates him by either mobilizing a group or in some way diminishing her – which is a risky strategy because of her popularity," University of Texas political scientist Bruce Buchanan said.

"What she has to do is not get down in the mud with him," he said, noting Perry's history of roughhouse campaigns.

Here are five things each must do to win:

Define the debate

Perry wants to cast the race as a contest between a conservative Texan and a Beltway moderate, a states' rights advocate from Paint Creek against a profligate politician from Washington.

Hutchison will challenge Perry's stewardship of the state, saying he's a divisive figure more interested in partisan politics than solving problems. Her campaign narrative: I can bring people together to do what he hasn't.

In the run-up to the race, Perry trumpeted social conservative themes, including states' rights and opposition to abortion. Hutchison supports abortion rights.

Perry has cultivated the support of single-issue evangelicals – traditionally at least a third of the GOP primary vote – and made the rounds of the anti-tax tea party protests in Texas.

In a recent conference call with federal bailout opponents, Perry bashed Washington and touted "Republican governors who are putting in place real conservative policies."

This week, Hutchison cited a "lack of leadership from the governor" in the just-completed legislative session. She pointed out that lawmakers didn't lower insurance rates, expand health care for children or tackle the high school dropout problem.

The buck, she said, stops with Perry.

Claim conservatism

Perry's appeal is to the GOP's social conservative base. During the legislative session, he supported bills to require pre-abortion sonograms, create a "Choose Life" license plate and require voters to show a photo ID. None passed.

East Texas evangelist Rick Scarborough, a social conservative leader, said Perry's advocacy on the issues gives him a stronger claim as the true conservative in the race.

"She's been snookering a lot of conservatives, especially the business community," he said. "But she is going to have a major hill to climb when it comes to her soft stance on abortion. She's not been a warrior on any of the social issues."

Hutchison, who opposes overturning Roe vs. Wade but supports many restrictions on abortion rights, hopes to frame conservatism in broader terms that appeal to suburbanites, soccer moms and "November Republicans" who traditionally don't vote in primaries.

"It's a balancing act," said GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak, a former Hutchison aide. "How do you convince the base you're conservative enough but not turn off those folks who are closer to the middle?"

A campaign mailer casts Hutchison as a "common sense" conservative, citing high ratings by the American Conservative Union, the National Rifle Association and Americans for Tax Reform.

In an interview, Hutchison called for a big-tent approach on social issues, saying "the core principles" of the GOP are smaller government, fewer regulations on business and a healthy economy.

"That can be the center of our party," she said

Win the turnout battle

GOP primaries in nonpresidential years typically total about 650,000 voters. Perry believes he can win a majority of those. Hutchison's hope is to increase turnout to 1 million by attracting moderates and independents.

A recent Rasmussen poll of Texas GOP voters found that Perry leads by 15 points among conservatives, but Hutchison leads by 35 points among moderates.

Jason Stanford, a Democratic consultant, said Perry's job for the primary is to "hone it down to make the Republican Party electorate a pure expression of ideologues."

In her 2006 re-election race, Hutchison got 627,000 votes when she ran unopposed in the primary. But 2.6 million Texans voted for the Republican senator in the general election.

Stanford said Perry's best strategy is to depress turnout with a negative campaign of wedge issues that will keep Hutchison's moderates at home.

"She has to make this a referendum on Texas," he said. "Then Kay Bailey's people, the people in the Chanel suits and the white wine will say, 'I'm showing up. What Rick Perry's doing, that's not my Texas.' "

Win the money race

Races for governor are always expensive because of the state's size and the cost of advertising in the state's multiple large media markets. But this primary will be costly even by those standards, at an expected $25 million for each candidate.

Hutchison goes in with an advantage. She has shifted $8 million from her Senate account to her gubernatorial treasury and has been actively raising money in recent months.

Perry had $6.6 million, according his last report in January. State law prohibits the governor from raising money during a legislative session, so Perry will have a small fundraising window to add to his total before candidates report their totals in July.

The reports will be the first indication of which big-money Republicans are picking sides in the race.

Perry has developed a list of $100,000 donors he calls the Century Council. Look for Hutchison to try to poach some.

Don't burn bridges

Republicans have dominated state politics for more than a decade, and whoever wins the Republican slugfest will be the odds-on favorite in the fall.

But a bitter primary could leave the nominee weakened.

Dave Carney, Perry's chief political consultant, said Perry is well-situated to win both in March and November.

"What's going on in Texas is really elitist vs. populist," said Carney, whose political strategy has seen Perry chant "states' rights!" at the tea party protests and appear with Rush Limbaugh and other talk-radio conservatives.

Republican consultant Rich Galen, who has represented Hutchison in the past, said that while loyalists are important in a primary, it takes a candidate with broad appeal to win a general election.

"A primary is like an onion. You keep peeling away at the layers until you get down to the people who are actually going to vote," he said. "The general [election] goes the other way. You pile everybody in the mosh pit and hope you get more guys than they get."

© 2009 The Dallas Morning News:

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

"TxDOT [on life support] is open for business."

Texas Department of Transportation may last, but how is unclear


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

Local officials are no more sure than anyone else in Texas on what to make of Monday night's meltdown in Austin, in which lawmakers managed to schedule the state Transportation Department for termination by 2010.

"You ask me where we stand in terms of transportation in the state of Texas? I can't tell you. I don't know," said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

The Transportation Department issued a statement to say it isn't going anywhere, yet.
"The Texas Department of Transportation is open for business," said spokesman Chris Lippincott.

"TxDOT staff is working with the Texas Transportation Commission and the Office of the Governor to identify options for the department following the adjournment of the 81st legislative session, but we remain focused on our mission. We will keep Texas moving."
By Monday night, lawmakers had killed a bill that would have overhauled TxDOT and were poised to pass a safety measure that would have continued it as is for two years. That bill died, too, and without it, the department must cease operations by Sept. 1, 2010, according to the state "sunset law."

Not even the department's fiercest detractors in the Legislature want that to happen. After all, its 14,000 employees maintain tens of thousands of highway miles across Texas, and it spends billions each year to build more.

To avoid it, Gov. Rick Perry may have to call a special session for lawmakers to try again. He said Tuesday he's still reviewing his options.

He has plenty of time, and there's no reason why those employees need begin searching for new jobs just yet.

State law says the department can continue operating normally until Sept. 1, 2009, and then has 12 months to prepare to go out of business entirely.

Sunset Advisory Commission director Joey Longley said a special session will be needed. Trying to run parts of the agency through executive order, or turning over its responsibilities to another agency, as the law requires, simply won't work with a department as big as TxDOT, he said. "I just don't believe there is a receptacle big enough to absorb TxDOT. That kind of wind-down period was never envisioned for something like TxDOT," Longley said.

Even if the governor plans to call a special session, those plans won't by themselves change the fact that until a new law is actually passed, the agency still technically will be scheduled to close.

Morris said he's busy trying to find out what that could do to big transportation projects in North Texas.

For instance, he said, even if the department is permitted to operate normally, will a firm like Cintra, negotiating with the state to rebuild the LBJ Freeway, want to sign a final deal if it can't know the department will exist in its current form two years from now? Lippincott said the agency is planning a statement for bondholders soon, but he would not provide details.

On the other hand, Morris said, there could be a silver lining: If Perry calls a special session, perhaps that will give lawmakers who want more transportation funding another shot to persuade their colleagues to support tax measures. It's a nice thought.

"It may be a long shot, but we'll take it," he said.

© 2009 The Dallas Morning News:

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"Land of the Lost"

Perry looking for ways to save agencies

Land of the Lost1


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday that he will huddle with lawyers and agency administrators and hammer out a way to salvage five state agencies – including the Transportation and Insurance departments – that were terminated by legislative inaction.

Rick Perry quipped about the meltdown: 'I thought I was watching an episode of Lost.' Legislative inaction snuffed out five agencies, including the Transportation Department.

While calling lawmakers to Austin for a special session is always an option, he said, there could be other ways to save the agencies, which the House and Senate couldn't agree on before their 2009 regular session ended Monday night.

Perry pledged that Texans would see no change in the government regulation of their roads and insurance policies.

"I want to ensure our citizens and the employees of those agencies that Texas will continue to build and maintain our roads, regulate the insurance industry and provide essential services while we work with those agency leaders in the coming days to chose the best of many options that are out in front of us," Perry said.

Under the state's sunset statute, the five agencies will cease to exist on Sept. 1, 2010.

More pressing is that they are required to start preparations to go out of business in September of this year. The clock has begun ticking.

House Speaker Joe Straus said there will be options to solve the problem. "I don't consider this a crisis," he said.

Partisan split

The governor was left to deal with the issue when some senators became irritated with the House for refusing to suspend its rules to take up last-minute, but important, business in the waning hours of the legislative session.

When the House, through imaginative rule-making, decided to reconstitute the agencies with a resolution instead of a law, Senate Republicans balked. In an angry partisan split, GOP senators pushed for the chamber to adjourn without considering the House resolution.

Perry, who thought the matter was settled, said he was surprised to see what the Senate had done.

"If I could tell you that I understood what happened last night, I would be an absolute genius," Perry said. "I thought I was watching an episode of Lost. I have no idea what they were thinking or why they did not want to pass that resolution that would give a safety net to those agencies."

The Texas Department of Insurance, the Office of Public Insurance Counsel, the Department of Transportation, the Racing Commission and the Texas State Affordable Housing Corp. were up for "sunset review," the process by which agencies are scrubbed every 12 years. Lawmakers must pass bills reconstituting the agencies to keep them operating.

The governor said that despite some senators' assurances, he can't keep the agencies running through an executive order. So he is faced with the possibility of calling a fractious special session when he would rather be touting accomplishments and preparing for a tough primary battle against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Perry has sole power over calling a special session and deciding what policy areas lawmakers can tackle. So if he calls a special session, he could throw in voter identification into the mix. Virulent Democratic opposition to that proposal is what pushed all the other legislation past the deadline.

Looking for solution

"I don't think I would ever at this early juncture lay out what I may or may not put into" a special session agenda, Perry said. "I would consider almost anything."

But he promised to find "a solution to keep government going."

"I don't think anybody is dying to come back into Austin and do the work that should have been done during a 140-day session," Perry said. "If we have to come back and address this, that's what we'll do."

Under the law, a "sunsetted" agency is given one year to wind down. The agency retains full regulatory and legal authority during the transition.

"The law does not reduce or limit the powers or authority of the agency during its concluding year," said Insurance Department spokesman Ben Gonzales. "This morning, the commissioner encouraged the staff to remain focused and continue conducting our regular duties while this is sorted out."

Staff writer Terrence Stutz contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Dallas Morning News:

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

"Without this grassroots army, the train wreck would have continued unabated with untold damage."



HB 300


Terri Hall
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom
Copyright 2009

It was messy, and full of drama, but the grassroots, with the help of infighting among lawmakers over the "local option" gas tax hike, managed to slay a beast of a bill that would have unleashed horrific provisions upon Texans for GENERATIONS to come.

Thank you for all the phone calls and emails to your legislators, and for your support and sacrifices to come to Austin to give testimony to these committees and hung in there when it felt like they weren't listening and would NEVER do right by the PEOPLE of this great State.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for sticking with us through these 5 months of hard-fought battles during the session and for many of us, years of uphill struggles to bring accountability and fix transportation policies that are outright rip-offs. Without this grassroots army, the train wreck would have continued unabated with untold damage.

Play by play...

The final version of the bill from conference committee wasn't even posted until 11:40 PM Saturday night. We had 24 hours to read a 1,000 page bill....IMPOSSIBLE! I was able to get a side by side report of the actual, final changes in text (that report was 178 pages!) and managed to inform lawmakers of the horrible provisions still left in HB 300 to give us ammo to KILL HB 300. Read them here.

We put out a call for supporters to meet us at the Capitol yesterday for a last push to prevent lawmakers from selling off Texas highways to foreign corporations and KILL HB 300. When we arrived, word got out that Senator John Carona announced he was going to filibuster HB 300 because his "local option" 10 cent gas tax hike was taken out of the bill.

Support in the House started to waiver as it appeared HB 300 was going down in the Senate. The House bill wasn't eligible for a vote until 11:40 PM, just 20 minutes before the clock ran out. If they couldn't pass it, they still had to pass the safety net bill before the stroke of midnight. It was going to be tricky!

An added wrinkle...

We found out about some chicanery with the safety net bill (after hearing we were trying to kill the sunset bill and push TxDOT's sunset to next session). HB 300 author Carl Isett magically changed TxDOT's sunset date in the safety net bill to 4 years instead of the 2 years as it was originally written. Apparently this was a move to force lawmakers to choke down his anti-taxpayer, anti-reform HB 300 under the guise that it was better than nothing. But rather it smacked of dirty politics to try and say, "you take our bill or get no change at TxDOT for 4 years."

After we made the rounds and staffers were tight-lipped about their reps position for or against the bill, Rep. Vicki Truitt threatened to filibuster HB 300 in the House (following Carona's footsteps, she wanted the 10 cent gas tax hike and was willing to KILL the bill over it).

Then, House Transportation Chairman Joe Pickett at one point threatened to "release the conferees" and call up the senate bill for a vote instead of the House bill hoping to vote it down handily to send a message to the Senate that the House didn't want their bill. School children behave better than these people. The Senate version was chalk full of the WORST provisions imaginable (worst case scenario), including the 10 cent gas tax hike. So I didn't find the move particularly funny. It was an awful scare until I figured out what Pickett was doing.

By the time the dust settled, it was 11:40 PM and they never called up HB 300 (already declaring it DEAD, for all the wrong reasons, but dead nonetheless) and went straight to the safety bill.

Now the safety net bill, having been hijacked and no way to change it since all the final version of bills had to have been filed by midnight Saturday, needed to DIE. We couldn't let TxDOT off the hook for another 4 years. But if the safety net bill didn't pass, TxDOT would be dissolved (many would cheer such a scenario, but not lawmakers who live and die by getting road projects built for their districts).

So Rep., David Leibowitz led the charge and stalled passage of the bill and midnight came and went and NO HB 300 and NO safety bill passed.

TxDOT ABOLISHED (for a few hours)

For about 16 hours, TxDOT was officially ABOLISHED! Oh, I slept well last night...

Today, the House was only to do technical changes (like remove conflicts within bills, mismarked section numbers and the like), but they AGAIN broke their own rules and managed to extend TxDOT for another 2 years (which was the original plan, just a lot more messy!) through a resolution. Lawmakers would do anything to avoid a special session, so they snuck the continuation of TxDOT into a resolution on stimulus funds (and where to deposit them).

The House officially adjourned, sine die only moments ago. While we didn't reform the agency and get the GOOD provisions passed, we averted disaster and CDAs, that sell our highways to foreign companies, sunset August 31. If CDAs die, TTC-35 dies with it. The TTC-69 was excepted OUT of the moratorium bill last session (which we vehemently opposed), so CDA contracts for that corridor can continue until 2011.

The local government 391 commissions we've been forming all over the state will now be the only thing (aside from litigation) standing between East Texas and a possible 1,200 foot wide Trans Texas Corridor!

CDAs may have been snuck into another bill somewhere...

With the "chubbing" over Voter ID, many bills died in the House. So the Senate started attaching their bills to House bills and there were a flurry of conference committee reports filed at midnight Saturday with no way to read them all to see if CDAs got snuck into a bill. Considering the House arrived at sine die before the senate today, and since both chambers routinely suspend their own rules, the Senate may have slipped CDAs into a bill today AFTER knowing for certain that CDAs will sunset this summer absent the passage of HB 300.

What's also uncertain is what happens to the bills that gave RMAs the authority to enter into CDAs if CDAs are going to sunset? Which law will take precedence over the other? So there are many open questions and disaster may be lurking around the corner. But for today, we can enjoy a BIG VICTORY #2!

© 2009 Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Special Interest Session" on launch pad

Legislature adjourns without resolving road issues



Associated Press
Copyright 2009

The Texas Legislature has adjourned its session without resolving a dispute over the Texas Department of Transportation and $2 billion in road-building bonds.

Monday's end of the session raises the likelihood that lawmakers will be called back to continue their work in a special session.

Gov. Rick Perry would have to call a special session, which could last up to 30 days.

The sticking point was $2 billion in transportation funding that the House failed to pass before gaveling out the 2009 regular session.

Angry Republican senators said it was preferable to quit and let Perry call them back to work.

Several Democrats argued against the move, saying it was dangerous to begin the shutdown process of major agencies.

© 2009 The Associated Press:

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"The controversial pet project of Gov. Rick Perry lives on."

Much ado about nothing: Texas transportation overhaul bill dies


By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
Land Line Magazine
Copyright 2009

Despite weeks of rhetoric from lawmakers about the importance of reaching agreement on a major transportation bill, the Texas Legislature wrapped up their regular session Monday, June 2, without a deal on the bill that once included a provision to overhaul the Texas Department of Transportation.

The biggest stumbling block for House Bill 300 turned out to be a provision that called for allowing local option fuel taxes to pay for transportation projects. Sen. John Carona, D-Dallas, said the language was essential to ease traffic congestion in urban areas.

A House-Senate conference committee recently met to work out differences in the bill. The lawmakers opted to remove the effort to permit counties to hold referendums allowing voters to determine whether or not the tax on gas and diesel should increase by as much as 10 cents per gallon.

The aftereffects of the bill’s demise are far reaching on transportation.

Despite calls from the House to give the Texas Transportation Commission an extreme makeover, the status quo won out. House lawmakers sought to replace the governor-appointed five-member board in retaliation for turning a deaf ear to public sentiment about tolls in recent years.

In its place, the House wanted to elect 15 board members.

Even with consensus from both chambers to remove the Trans-Texas Corridor from state law, the controversial pet project of Gov. Rick Perry lives on. At one time the corridor plan called for private contractors to build and operate billions of dollars of toll roads in the state.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has criticized the corridor plan since it was unveiled in 2002. The Association cited reasons that included the proposed toll rate of 50 cents per mile for large trucks.

OOIDA also opposes the private ownership of roadways by foreign companies. Texas officials had tapped the Spanish company Cintra to design and build the first leg of the corridor.

Several provisions to curtail private toll roads also won’t take effect. Controls included prohibiting non-compete clauses, limits on how long tolls can be charged, and a requirement that TXDOT submit non-toll options to the Legislature for evaluation. In addition, portions of public highways could be converted into toll roads only as long as the public highway consists of at least the same number of lanes that will not have tolls.

Also falling by the wayside was a plan to shift from TxDOT to a new Texas Department of Motor Vehicles duties that include motor vehicle titling, vehicle registration and oversight of trucking.

Abolishment of the Transportation Commission would have been a blow to Gov. Perry. House lawmakers voted to pursue changes following a state report that called for more accountability and responsiveness to lawmakers and the public.

All five current commissioners were appointed by Perry. The five highway chiefs have the final say on which roads to build, which companies to hire, and which policies to set for the agency.

Most Texans credit those commissioners with starting the state down the path toward toll roads. By 2007, state lawmakers tried to apply the brakes to those plans with a two-year moratorium. Those critical of the DOT point out that the agency was able to fend off the legislative efforts because of loopholes.

It could be a while before lawmakers get another crack at implementing changes at TxDOT. Short of a special session to address these issues, lawmakers aren’t scheduled to return to Austin until the next regular session convenes in 2011.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Texas in 2009, click here.

© 2009 Land Line Magazine:

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"Senators Carona and Watson have been richly rewarded by the lobbyists, who support photo enforcement..."

Traffic Camera Lobbyists Score Big Win in Texas Legislature

Copyright 2009

The companies that operate traffic enforcement cameras scored total victory in the Texas legislature late Saturday as key lawmakers not only ditched a plan to sunset the use of red light cameras and lengthen yellow warning times at intersections, but they also approved a number of brand new opportunities for automated ticketing firms. The ten members of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) reauthorization conference committee filed the final legislative text for House Bill 300. It cannot now be changed unless either the House or Senate votes to reject the 532-page bill in its entirety. Update: The legislature adjourned without passing this bill. The entire issue will be reconsidered next session.

Senator John Carona (R-Dallas) championed the cause of the automated ticketing companies by using a Senate-supported gasoline tax increase provision as leverage to convince tax-averse House members to drop their ban on red light cameras and the provision requiring longer yellow times. Carona had threatened to give local jurisdictions the authority to increase the fuel tax at a local level to boost government spending, as long as the increase was approved by referendum. The House had introduced the longer yellow provision as a safety measure in response to a Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) study that documented a 40 percent decrease in collisions after testing the benefits of increasing the yellow (view study), but photo enforcement companies and local jurisdictions opposed the provision because it would have reduced ticket revenue.

The only accommodation given to red light camera opponents in the final conference report was a provision allowing motorists to take an "intersection safety course" to avoid paying the $75 civil photo ticket. Local jurisdictions with camera programs do not have to offer such courses, and if they do, cities could legally charge more than the $75 ticket fee for the cost of the course. It is unclear why either a local jurisdiction or a motorist would seek this option.

The bill also recodifies provisions designed to make it a crime punishable by a $100 fine to have a license plate that cannot be read by an automated ticketing machine. This helps as the legislation creates a new "video billing" option offered by several automated ticketing companies for the purpose of collecting revenue on toll roads. The bill also encourages increasing the number of toll roads -- and consequently more video-based toll collection and enforcement systems -- by allowing "non-compete" contracts that effectively forbid improvements on free roads within a four-mile radius of any toll road.

Carona also succeeded in introducing a new high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane automated ticketing program that will mail $100 photo tickets to the owner of any vehicle accused of being in a carpool lane without the required number of passengers. It is unclear what automated technology will be used to peer into vehicles to count the number of occupants. Another TTI study found that safety would be improved if HOV lanes were eliminated. In Dallas, HOV lanes increased the number of injury accidents by up to 188 percent (view study).

Senators Carona and Kirk Watson (D-Austin) opposed the red light camera ban at every step of the process. Over the years, both senators have been richly rewarded by the lobbyists who support photo enforcement. For example, the firm Linebarger, Goggan, Blair and Sampson performs collection services for photo tickets and has handed Carona $24,500 in campaign cash and $11,912 to Watson. Watson took another $8000 from the lobbyists for American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and Redflex -- Hugo Berlanga and Michael Warner.

A controversial automated license plate surveillance program was dropped at the last minute. The final bill also dropped an amendment clarifying that an existing ban on municipalities operating speed cameras applies to county governments and TxDOT.

Relevant excerpts from the final conference report appear in a 900k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File House Bill 300 excerpt - Conference Report (Texas State Legislature, 5/31/2009)

© 2009

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Texas House throws TxDOT a lifeline at "Sunset"

House attempts to extend life of agencies


The Associated Press
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas House approved last-minute legislation Monday saving major state agencies from being wiped out, but inaction in the Senate threatened to derail the measure and possibly spark a special session this summer.

A midnight deadline loomed for the Senate to act.

Earlier Monday, the House adopted a last-minute "correcting amendment" allowing key state agencies, including the Texas Department of Transportation, to stay alive until the next regularly scheduled session in 2011.

But the House did not approve $2 billion in bond funding for transportation projects around the state. That prompted a furious response from state senators.

"Texans deserve to have these road projects built," said Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy.

The agencies are in danger of closing — or would have to be dealt with in a special session — unless the Senate approves the legislation passed earlier by the House.

Under Texas sunset law, the Legislature is required to regularly review and reauthorize state agencies. Along with the review, the Legislature must vote to continue operations or the agencies are abolished.

The House failed to meet a midnight Sunday deadline to pass a so-called "safety net" bill to postpone their "sunset" dates.

Some of this year's sunset bills did not make it through the 140-day legislative process.

House leaders were unable to wrangle two-thirds approval to suspend the rules and take up the catch-all sunset bill after the deadline. Critics argued that such a move would set a bad precedent for future lawmakers.

The stalemate sparked a morning of speculation about possible deals to entice critics and the threat of a special session. But, the issue was handled with a resolution, which only requires a simple majority to pass.

The move was criticized as a violation of House rules.

"This is an intentional attempt to circumvent the rules — using a resolution to do what can only be done by the passage of a bill itself," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston.

Still, Straus overruled the objections and moved forward with the resolution, which was filed as an amendment to correct a bill that deals with state financial accounts.

The resolution, which still must be approved by the Senate, includes the Texas Department of Insurance, the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Racing Commission.


The legislation is HCR291 and HB4583

Associated Press writer Jay Root contributed to this story

© 2009 The Associated Press:

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"If this amendment passes, anyone can come to the legislature and ask for the power to take their neighbor’s land."

Texas Eminent Domain Reform Weakened Minutes Before Passage

No Guarantees November Ballot Measure Will Prevent Kelo-style Takings



Institute for Justice
Copyright 2009

Austin, TX—An amendment to the Texas Bill of Rights that was supposed to stop governments from using eminent domain for private redevelopment was dramatically weakened minutes before it passed out of its conference committee last night, according to the Institute for Justice Texas Chapter, which has worked on eminent domain reform efforts at the Legislature all session.

House Joint Resolution 14, which emerged as the only remaining vehicle for reform this session, was heavily revised by the joint House and Senate committee, which crafted the final language.

HJR 14 began its life as the strongest constitutional amendment proposed this session, but the final version presents a troubling proposition to voters in November. HJR 14 originally passed the House 144-0 on May 11. The Senate substituted its own version, which passed the Senate unanimously on May 26. Differences between the two bills set up a conference committee showdown that raged all weekend.

A last-minute change allows the state to give any entity—including private entities—the power of eminent domain. “This was a very radical move,” said Matt Miller, executive director of IJ-TX. “It’s one thing to allow a power company or railroad to use eminent domain. Utilities and common carriers have long had this power because the things they build are public necessities. If this amendment passes, anyone can come to the legislature and ask for the power to take their neighbor’s land. As the last-minute maneuvering on HJR 14 itself shows, lots of mischief can occur before anyone realizes what has happened.

“HJR 14 provides absolutely no guarantees when it comes to addressing the problem of government taking property through eminent domain for private redevelopment projects,” said Miller. “In addition to the problem of giving eminent domain authority to private parties, the final language is far too vague. If it passes in November, we hope courts will interpret it in a way that is consistent with the legislature’s intent—to make sure that no home or business owner ever loses their property for a shopping mall, condominium or other private development project. But it is going to take years of litigation before we can be confident that this language actually protects property owners.”

One positive aspect of HJR 14 is that is closes a loophole that had allowed governments to take vast areas of well-maintained land based on “blight” by using the bogus argument that the taking is necessary because surrounding parcels are blighted. HJR 14 only allows a government to condemn for blight if the actual parcel being condemned is itself blighted. This prevents the use of blight as a carte blanche excuse to take entire areas for redevelopment.

Eminent domain reform has proven very popular with voters. In an August 2008 Associated Press/National Constitution Center poll, 87 percent of respondents said government should not have the power of eminent domain for redevelopment and 60 percent said they were opposed to the use of eminent domain for redevelopment even with fair market price for the property seized. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed opposed government taking private property and handing it over to a developer, and 88 percent of respondents said property rights are just as important as freedom of speech and religion.

Texas has seen its share of Kelo-style takings. An entire neighborhood in Hurst (a suburb of Fort Worth) was wiped out in the late 1990s to make way for the expansion of North East Mall. In Freeport, condemnation proceedings were instituted against a family owned shrimping business so that a Dallas developer could build a luxury marina. And in Arlington, homes were condemned in 2003 so that the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium could be built.

“We’ll have to wait and see whether this amendment stops the next North East Mall, Freeport Marina or Jerry Jones Stadium,” said Miller. “It was certainly a lot stronger in the way it passed the House on May 11. The new language allowing any private entity to be given the power of eminent domain will unquestionably be used to harm home and business owners in this state. That massive loophole, coupled with vagueness problems elsewhere in the bill, should give any voter pause on November 3.”

Wesley Hottot, a staff attorney at IJ-TX, said, “Texans have been demanding real eminent domain reform for years. This is just not good enough. It would be better to go back to the drawing board and start over.”

Media Contact:
Matt Miller (512) 480-5936

© 2009 The Institute for Justice:

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"Without a safety net, agencies go out of business. That could mean a special session."

TxDOT overhaul bill could be dead


By Ben Wear, Mike Ward and Corrie MacLaggan
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

In a chaotic display, the Texas House adjourned at midnight Sunday without approving a massive bill to overhaul the Texas Department of Transportation or a safety-net measure to keep the agency operating.

Failure to approve the safety net also means that at least three other state agencies could go out of business: the Texas Racing Commission, the Texas Department of Insurance and the Affordable Housing Commission.

"We have to pass a safety net," said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who had threatened to filibuster the TxDOT sunset bill in the Senate because it did not contain a local-option fuel surcharge to fund transportation projects.

"Without a safety net, agencies go out of business. That could mean a special session."

House leaders suggested that a special session on a safety-net bill was a likely option, if the House cannot suspend its rules today to make another attempt to pass House Bill 1959.

The safety-net bill passed the Senate earlier in the evening.

House Speaker Joe Straus said that he would assume that there's a risk of a special session but said that's the governor's call. He said he wasn't expecting the House to adjourn without passing the safety-net bill and that there "may be some options on the table."

"What's a little chaos before we go home?" Straus asked.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said that pending bills such as the expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program still stand a chance.

"Nothing's dead" until the session is over, Coleman said.

Just before midnight Sunday, the deadline for the House to pass bills, House members were locked in a parliamentary tussle over another bill. An attempt for a vote on the safety net was delayed, then died after the deadline passed. An attempt to extend the deadline failed. Then, the House adjourned.

Meanwhile, the House and Senate ran through a series of final votes, generally with little debate, on dozens of other bills that had passed both houses previously and then had differences reconciled by House-Senate conference committees. Reflecting the exhaustion of 139 days engaged in the effort of making laws, both bodies waited until midday to begin that effort and then took a leisurely pace.

Carona began the day with a thunderclap, issuing a press release with the provocative headline, "Why I will filibuster the TxDOT sunset bill."

He went on at great length about what he regarded as the "bad faith" involved in the final negotiations, twice turning to his ancestral language to make points.

"There is an old Italian saying: Dai nemici mi guardo io, dagli amici miguardi Iddio," Carona said in the release. "It means 'I can protect myself from my enemies; may God protect me from my friends!'"

The friend in this case is state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, the Senate sponsor of HB 300 and vice chairman of the Sunset Advisory Commission. Hegar had worked closely with Carona, who chairs the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, and other senators on the sunset bill when it arrived from the House.

That included sifting through 67 suggested Senate amendments and putting 33 of them on the bill. Among those was the "local option transportation act" by Carona, which had been a separate bill that passed the Senate but died in the House.

The local option transportation measure, in its final form, would have allowed county commissioners in metro areas to call elections and ask voters to either create a local gas tax or raise two existing fees for transportation projects.

Dallas-Fort Worth leaders have pushed for such a measure for years, hoping to use it to expand commuter rail. Other cities, with transportation needs of their own that TxDOT increasingly is having trouble getting to, picked up on the concept, and the measure was broadened to include them.

But some House members, abetted by conservative groups that opposed the Carona measure, made sure the House version of HB 300 did not have the local option and said they would not allow it into the final accord.

Carona charged that Hegar, who had voted against the local option measure on the Senate floor, in effect became an ally of the House on the measure and excluded Carona from conference committee deliberations.

Not so, Hegar said Sunday.

He and the other senators who sided with the House did so, Hegar said, because they were convinced that the House would vote down the TxDOT sunset bill otherwise.

Hegar, sticking with English in an answering press release Sunday, said he was disappointed by Carona's "harsh attacks" and "distortions" that were "patently false."

House Bill 300 is currently 344 pages long. If it dies:

• The Trans-Texas Corridor would remain legal under Texas law. However, the private toll road contracts that are at the heart of it would cease to be legal in September. State law carries some exceptions that would allow such contracts on some projects until 2011.

• New controls on private tollway contracts would not go into effect. Those controls would make it illegal to limit state improvements on nearby free highways.

• A plan to create a new Department of Motor Vehicles would fall away.

• A new law allowing the state to borrow up to $5 billion under Proposition 12, approved by voters in 2007, would die. The state had planned to borrow $2 billion of that during the next two years and much of that in the second year. Carona contended that elimination of HB 300 will delay projects about half a year, assuming that the next Legislature approves the necessary changes in state law.; 445-3698; 445-1712

© 2009 Austin American-Statesman:

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HB 300: Corruption Writ Large



HB 300


Terri Hall
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom
Copyright 2009

Many changes are outside the scope of conference committee guidelines, and will go “outside the bounds.” In many respects, the conference committee is re-writing parts of this monster bill on the fly…can ANYONE with confidence say they’ve read this bill and know what’s in it?

The anti-taxpayer, anti-reform TxDOT Sunset Bill contains:
  • NO Elected leadership at TxDOT (Sec 1.52) - Sunset committee recommendation bites the dust
  • Governor can still have commissioners serve in expired terms and skirt advice & consent of Senate
  • No Inspector General!
  • Removes prohibition on tolling existing highways
  • Expands TxDOTs lobbying to allow them to actually lobby for and against specific legislation in direct conflict with Texas Govt Code Chapter 556 anti-lobbying provisions, keeps TxDOT’s STATE level lobbying cloaked as “reports to Legislature and recommended statutory changes”
  • KEEPS TRANS TEXAS CORRIDOR ALIVE - Allows TTC-35 & TTC-69 CDAs to remain in effect attempts restrictions to highways and rail, which will still turn Hwy 77 & Hwy 59 into foreign-owned toll roads (moved from Chapter 227 into Chapter 223 of code), excepts out SH 130 from all restrictions (see specifics below)
  • ENDS the private toll moratorium & sells our highways to foreign toll operators (CDAs), SB 17 language in the bill, still contains WAIVER so can jump into CDA without following the steps, excepts out a whole list of projects excluded from the new restrictions, including 281
  • Contains controversial Revolving Fund (stated intent to raid public employee pension funds to invest in these risky CDA deals). Allows Texas Mobility Funds to be put in Revolving Fund to loan & invest money in toll roads (instead of freeways)
  • Allows an increase in speed limits UP TO 85 MPH on the TTC & toll roads (with the intent to lower speed limits on competing free roads like the SH 130 CDA)
  • Removes toll entities from ANY restrictions on CDAs that apply to TxDOT, sky’s the limit (p. 16 of side by side)
  • Removes many good provisions to prevent conflicts of interest with lobbyists/contractors influencing TxDOT/toll entities and elected officials who appoint the boards of these entities for things they have financial interest in (like disclosing political contributions that may curry favor for a contractor seeking a contract)
  • Removed ESSENTIAL funding formula restrictions (201.668) that would take the CLUB out of TxDOT’s hands (replaces with watered down Senate version, Sec. 201.988)
  • Weakened the Legislative Oversight Committee (LOC), nixes requirement to move GPA division under LOC - Sunset committee recommendation bites the dust
  • Weakens outside management audit, not under control of LOC
  • TxDOT’s research program still under its control not under Legislature so any research conducted by TxDOT will be biased in favor of what TxDOT wants it to say - Sunset committee recommendation bites the dust
  • Can use Prop 12 bonds for Revolving Fund that grants loans for toll projects!!!! (Raid public pension funds), changes to Subsections (g) and (h), Section 222.005, Transportation Code.
  • Expands best value bidding to non-tolled projects meaning taxpayers will NOT pay the lowest price for highways!
  • Allows payments to losing bidders to continue (caps at 1/2 percent of total bid (SECTION 4.05. Section 223.203(m))
  • Waters down requirement to certify CDAs, no AG signature, removes review by State Auditor! Excepts out some CDAs in progress.
  • Removes provisions to reinstate TxDOT to contracts to be investigated by Auditor
  • Waters down non-compete prohibition (Sec 1.43)
  • Removes 75% elected official mandate for MPOs! Removes requirement that MPOs adopt an ethics policy
  • Makes Transportation a utility by municipalities (SECTION 1.24. Subchapter Z, Chapter 311)
  • Allows TxDOT to pay for expedited environmental clearance, biases agency w/ oversight in favor of granting clearance
  • Removes provision to make TxDOT assess pavement condition and share with planning orgs
  • TRZ allows property tax to be used to build roads
  • Took out liquidated damages amendment for damage to businesses if extended delay due to construction
  • Repeals requirement of public hearing if project goes through a municipality (Sec 3.04, Chapter 203 subchapter B repealed)
  • Allows permanent tax increase on vehicle registration imposed in the valley w/o requirement of annual renewal, increase up to $50!
  • Creates rail division when can’t even afford to build roads, and prior to statewide rail study being conducted
  • Allows TxDOT to spend money on roads NOT on the state hwy system! (SECTION 1.13. Section 201.703) How much sense does this make when we don’t have the money to build the roads that ARE on the state hwy system???

TRANS TEXAS CORRIDOR: CDAs KEEP IT ALIVE (move to new chapter, call it I-69)
Tweaks but doesn't KILL the TTC...

SECTION 2.__. Section 227.034(a), Transportation Code, is amended to read as follows:
(a) A contract for the acquisition, construction, maintenance, or operation of a facility on the Trans-Texas Corridor may not contain a provision that limits or prohibits construction or operation of a highway or other transportation project that is:
(1) included in the project development program, or its successor document, [unified transportation program] of the department in effect at the time the contract is executed;
(2) a project of a local government; or
(3) constructed or operated for the safety of pedestrian or vehicular traffic.

SECTION 2.23. (a) The changes in law made by Section 371.151, Transportation Code, as amended by this Article, and Section 371.105, Transportation Code, as added by this Article, apply only to a comprehensive development agreement entered into on or after the effective date of this Act.
(b) A comprehensive development agreement entered into before the effective date of this Act is governed by the law in effect on the day the agreement was finalized, and the former law is continued in effect for that purpose.

All projects in the valley, first leg of TTC-69 still move forward under old code (Sec 26.07)

P. 73 of side by side -
Same as Senate version, but in SECTION 4.03, delete the reference to Section 227.001 in Subsection (2) and add the following language as the last Subsection of Section 223.201, Transportation Code:
(___) Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary,
(1) the department's authority to enter into a comprehensive development agreement and any related facility agreement, whether under this section or any other law, shall be limited to highway, road and rail projects, and in no event shall be deemed to extend to projects involving public utilities or any other facility that is not a highway, road or rail facility; and (2) except in connection with any existing rights granted to a private party with respect to the SH 130 project, the department may not charge any fee or grant to a private entity the right to charge or collect any fee in connection with a comprehensive development agreement or any related agreement pursuant to Chapter 227 or any successor law in connection with any facility that is not a highway, road or rail facility, including a public utility facility.

SECTION 4.11. The changes in law made by this Act to Sections 223.201(a), 223.208(e), and 223.208(f), Transportation Code, do not apply to the State Highway 130, Segments 5 and 6 project. An agreement entered into for that project is governed by the law in effect on the date the agreement was entered into, and the former law is continued in effect for that purpose.

SECTION 19.__. The changes in law made by this Act to Sections 11.11(j), 25.06(c)(1), and 25.07(c)(1), Tax Code, do not apply to any portion of a facility owned by the Texas Department of Transportation that is part of the SH 130, Segments 5 and 6 project, or to a leasehold or other possessory interest in a facility owned by the Texas Department of Transportation that is part of the SH 130, Segments 5 and 6 project. Those sections, as they existed immediately before the effective date of this Act, are continued in effect for those purposes.

1. Replace SECTION 23.17 with the following language:
SECTION 23.17. Section 370.040, Transportation Code, as added by this Act, does not apply to any segment, extension or expansion of the I-35/SH 130 project within the previously designated Interstate 35 corridor, a segment, extension or expansion of the I-69/US 77 project within the previously designated Interstate 69 corridor, or any project for which the Texas Department of Transportation has entered into a contract to construct the project prior to the effective date of this Act. Such a project, segment, extension or expansion is governed by the law as it existed immediately before the effective date of this Act, and that law is continued in effect for that purpose. Notwithstanding the foregoing, if there is, pursuant to a contract entered into after the effective date of this Act, a transfer of a leasehold interest in, or right to operate and retain revenues from, a project that is not a segment, extension or expansion of the I-35/SH 130 project within the previously designated Interstate 35 corridor or a segment, extension or expansion of the I-69/US 77 project within the previously designated Interstate 69 corridor, and the department does not continue to provide tolling services for the project, Section 370.040 shall apply.

Contact Info: Terri Hall, (210) 275-0640, terri@TexasTURF.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , Hank Gilbert, 903-570-3613, e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

TEXAS TURF is a non-partisan grassroots group of 100,000 Texans defending citizens’ concerns about toll road policy and the Trans Texas Corridor. TURF promotes non-toll transportation solutions.

© 2009 Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom:

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