Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Today's new toll road 'innovative financing' schemes are a colossal taxpayer rip-off that will price most Texans off their own public roads..."

Why the fuss about toll roads?

innovative financing


Terri Hall
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

Here's the short list of reasons why toll road policy under Rick Perry has caused a grassroots revolt: higher taxes, greater bureaucracy, and corporatism.

When I first learned that TxDOT planned to turn US 281, a freeway already built and paid for, into a tollway, it smelled like a DOUBLE TAX rip-off from the start. My fellow Texans felt the same way and a Texas-sized taxpayer revolt quickly ensued. Then when Perry's agenda to sell-off Texas highways to foreign corporations spread like a canker, it was like throwing gasoline on the fire and the grassroots exploded.

Runaway taxation without accountability
Tolls mean higher transportation taxes...more like runaway taxation and it's taxation without representation since unelected bureaucrats are making these multi-generational, multi-billion dollar tax decisions. This set-up is by design so politicians can blame bureaucrats for the tax increases and, ultimately, for their own failures.

We're told there's no money to build roads, yet last I checked, we still pay gas tax every time we fill-up at the pump. So what's the real story?

  • When nearly HALF of our gas taxes are siphoned-off for things that have nothing to do with transportation, herein lies a HUGE part of the problem.
  • Second, the money that does make it into TxDOT's coffers gets squandered on taxpayer-funded lobbying and ad campaigns or is used to prop-up toll projects that aren't even self-sustaining or financially viable.
  • Third, politicians, like Perry, have been paid millions in campaign contributions by the highway lobby to push for the most expensive transportation tax: privatized toll roads.

Simple non-toll solutions
Our politicians know the solution to this problem:

  • Quit cannibalizing the gas tax (end the diversions!)
  • Cut the waste and prioritize spending, including a top-to-bottom independent audit of TxDOT's books
  • Make TxDOT directly accountable to the taxpayers through elected leadership
  • Then if found necessary, raise the statewide gas tax.

Why they have failed to do ALL of the above is pure politics. Virtually every public opinion poll consistently shows massive opposition (as high as 80-90%) to gas tax increases. Politicians have been trained to think ANY increase in the gas tax is political suicide. The sale of Texas highways to foreign corporations in 50 year sweetheart deals certainly is as well! When taxpayers are actually given the choice between funding our public highways through gas taxes versus tolls, they will choose the cheapest solution: gas taxes, hands down.

Gas tax cheapest, fairest way to fund roads
We currently pay a penny a mile in state gas taxes today, or about 2 cents a mile on average when you add in federal gas taxes. Toll rates start at 25 cents a mile and 30% off the top goes to bureaucracy just to collect the tax (it perpetuates the same problem as gas tax diversions when 30% of the money gets eaten-up off the top). On deals being contemplated in Dallas and Ft. Worth, that cost balloons to 75 cents a mile when private companies like Spain-based Cintra seek to takeover our public highways.

That's $3,000 a year in new toll taxes to get to work versus $100 a year if the Legislature raised the statewide gas tax 10 cents. It's a no-brainer. Gas tax is the CHEAPEST way to fund our public roadways.

Corporatism, big government & big business team-up to steal our money
As you can see, the MOST expensive way to fund roads is privatization where politicians sell off our public highways, our lifelines for daily living, to private corporations. Many call it corporatism, others call them sweetheart deals, but Mussolini called it fascism. It's the marriage of the corporation with the state. Fiscally speaking, it's like taking out a second mortgage on our highway system. These deals are known as Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) or Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) in Texas.

This trend has spread like a cancer across the country, with more than half the states adopting laws to allow PPPs. To call them sweetheart deals is no exaggeration. They include non-compete agreements that forbid or financially penalize the highway department for building any "competing" free roads surrounding the toll road (ensuring congestion on the free lanes), guaranteed profits for a half century at a time, massive public subsidies (resulting in double and triple taxation), and multi-generational debt.

Read more here.

To sum it up...gone are the days of traditional turnpikes that were brand new roads, where the people got to vote on them, the money and control stayed with the PEOPLE, and the tolls would cease when the road was paid for. Today's new toll road "innovative financing" schemes are a colossal taxpayer rip-off that will price most Texans off their own public roads or suffer the doom of gridlock for generations. Join the revolution at

Terri Hall, a homeschool mom of seven turned citizen activist, is the founder of the San Antonio Toll Party and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. Learn more about Terri Hall.

© 2009 San Antonio Express-News:

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Texas Attorney General: "TxDOT's conduct has been inappropriate."

Legal dispute could delay North Tarrant Express yet again

- Spanish Inquisition -


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2009

The Texas Department of Transportation "is trying to get around the constitution" by committing to a 52-year deal with a private developer to expand Tarrant County roads, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said.

The dispute between the department and the state’s top lawyer could lead to yet another delay for the decades-overdue North Tarrant Express project, which includes expansion of Northeast Loop 820, Texas 121/183 and eventually Interstate 35W north of downtown Fort Worth.

"Their conduct is clearly putting the contract in danger," Abbott said in a phone interview, referring to transportation officials and their attorneys negotiating with a private developer on the project. "Their conduct has been inappropriate."

The same dispute will likely come up when it comes time to review the LBJ Managed Lanes project in Dallas.

At issue is language in a contract between the Transportation Department and NTE Mobility Partners, a team of private developers led by the U.S. branch of Spain-based Cintra. In January the group was conditionally awarded the $2 billion hybrid freeway/toll lane project, pending a legal review that was expected to take 60 days.

But more than 120 days later, the attorney general’s office said the agreement runs afoul of the Texas Constitution because the department wants to obligate appropriations beyond the current two-year budget cycle.

The Texas Legislature meets every two years and sets spending limits for state agencies.

Contract language

The attorney general’s office wants to insert language making it clear that the department’s financial commitment of $570 million is subject to biennial appropriations by the Legislature, but that language isn’t acceptable to the department, Abbott said.

And it could be a deal breaker with the developer, which has tentatively committed to spending nearly $1.6 billion on the project.

"For about a month now, TxDOT lawyers have repeatedly come back to our office with angles and attempts to get around the constitution," Abbott said. "At first we thought they didn’t understand the constitution. Then we thought they were trying to play games. Now we can’t understand what they’re doing."

Transportation Department officials declined to elaborate on the agreement’s status, but Maribel Chavez, the department’s Fort Worth district engineer, disputed the assertion that the project is being "held up."

"The attorney general is required to do a thorough review and thorough analysis," she said. "It won’t be concluded until we address whatever questions they have."

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley expressed frustration during a Regional Transportation Council meeting Thursday: "How long have they been 'thoroughly analyzing’ this?"

A Cintra spokesman, Robert Hinkle of Fort Worth, said all sides in the negotiations expected the unique arrangement to take time.

More delays

In Tarrant County, the North Tarrant Express project totals nearly $2 billion. It represents freeway work that has been planned for two decades but that the Transportation Department alone could not afford.

So, after a long bidding process ending in January, Cintra and the other members of NTE Mobility Partners agreed to put up $300 million in equity and $1.1 billion in debt in return for the right to build the North Tarrant Express and collect tolls on proposed new express lanes for 52 years.

In return, the Transportation Department would contribute $570 million in public funds to the project.

The delays could lead to yet another postponement of the expansion of Northeast Loop 820 in North Richland Hills and Haltom City, Texas 121/183 in Bedford and Hurst and eventually I-35W in north Fort Worth. Or, at the very least, it could lead to financial penalties that cost Tarrant County some of its highway funds.

The Transportation Department and developer agreed to extend deadlines to avoid financial penalties.

Business leaders along the I-35W corridor are flabbergasted that the long-awaited project is enduring yet another delay.

"Where has everybody been the last six years? For it to get all the way to the goal line, and the attorneys for all parties to not resolve this, is shocking," said Mike Berry, president of Hillwood Properties.

The company is developing the Alliance Airport area and considers I-35W its main transportation connection.

"It’s a fundamental premise of a business deal. They’ve been talking about it for six years, yet went ahead and awarded a concession and executed a contract and now they’re saying they don’t have language the parties can live with and the attorney general can bless?" Berry said.

GORDON DICKSON, 817-390-7796

© 2009 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wheels flying off N. Texas Spanish toll road deals

Attorney General says North Texas' private toll roads in doubt

Jun 11, 2009

Michael Lindenberger
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

Update: We will soon have a story on line but for now, here is TxDOT spokesman Christopher Lippincott's response:

Negotiations on both contracts are ongoing. We will not have any comment on the continuing negotiations. There is no reason to believe that the failure of HB 300 to pass during the regular session will stop either deal. We are confident that discussions will continue to be productive and everyone would keep moving in the right direction on both projects. It is important to remember that these are a new type of agreement for us, and everyone wants to make sure we get the deals done properly. One day, signing a CDA will be about as complicated as getting a contract completed for a resurfacing job for a RM road. That day just isn't here yet.

and, a follow up:

We are working to address their concerns with the contract, and we are confident that we can achieve a consensus on the unresolved matters. We are doing everything we can to address their concerns, and we are confident that this project will move forward.

Update: 5:00 p.m.Attorney General Greg Abbott called to say the North Tarrant Express private toll road deal could be in jeopardy, and the issues are identical to ones that are all but certain to entangle the LBJ Freeway reconstruction project in Dallas.

The issue: He says the Texas Constitution prevents any agency like TxDOT from committing funds from a future legislative session. The NTE toll road, which will be built by Spanish firm Cintra, will cost billions of dollars. TxDOT's portion is some $570 million to be paid over time, as stipulated in its contract with Cintra. That violates the constitution, Abbott said.

The fix? He said TxDOT merely needs to adjust the language in its contract to note that any future funds are subject to the discretion of the Legislature -- a clause that could give Cintra pause. Abbott said other fixes are also available, such as using a special fund or bonds to pay for the money that will be TxDOT contribution's to the project. But so far, he said, TxDOT has for weeks refused to compromise. The negotiations have already extended several weeks beyond their deadline, and TxDOT could be charged penalties if the delays interfere with the ultimate and design deadlines.

State law requires any long-term toll contract to be reviewed for its "legal sufficiency" by the Attorney General's office. Few thought back in January that such a step would be anything but pro forma. Abbott said the contract for the LBJ Freeway project, which would also be built by Cintra, has not yet been submitted for review, but it too calls for TxDOT to spend hundreds of millions toward a project that ultimately will be built and maintained by Cintra.

"To be honest, the review is rather perfunctory," Abbott said. "I have been crystal clear with TxDOT. They have simply refused to comply with the Constitution. Their interpretation of our legal analysis is itself perfunctory. The sticking point is simply this: The Texas Constitution says that one Legislature cannot financially bind a future Legislature. That's not my decision, that is what the Texas Constitution dictates. TxDOT clearly understands that.

Update: 6:08 p.m.: Where it stands is that we have made clear to TxDOT for weeks exactly what they need to do, and they have so far chosen not to comply with the Constitution. I am suggesting that they have contract that complies with the Constitution or they do not have a done deal."

"The ball," he added, "is entirely in their court."

I have asked TxDOT for comment, and will update when I hear from them.

We reported the big news earlier this year that the Texas Transportation Commission awarded a massive contract to Cintra to build the North Tarrant Express toll road.

We're hearing today that that project has not yet won approval by the Attorney General, which by law must review any so-called comprehensive development agreement, or long-term contract with a private firm to build a toll road. The project was approved in January, and Regional Transportation Council bristled Thursday at what they see as a delay.

"In light of the attention that CDAs have in the state, I believe the AG is doing due diligence," said TxDOT's Fort Worth District Engineer Maribel P. Chavez "I don't know if it is appropriate to characterize it as being 'held up.' But the Attorney General is required to do a thorough review and thorough analysis. It won't be concluded until we address whatever questions they have."

CDAs in general are under increasing scrutiny in Texas and elsewhere, and the same review will be given to the LBJ reconstruction project in Dallas.

© 2009 The Dallas Morning News:

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rick Perry's Bike Accident: "Many men could not pull this off, but...."

Perry injures collar bone

Letters from Texas exclusively has DPS incident report


Letters From Texas
Copyright 2009

Widely reported last night, Governor Rick Perry injured his collar bone during a biking accident yesterday afternoon. We here at Letters from Texas Worldwide Headquarters wish the Governor a quick recovery.

Meanwhile, our crack investigative team has obtained the actual DPS incident report on the mishap. Click on the image to enlarge it.

© 2009 Letters From Texas:

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

CAMPO's toll road 'stimulus' plan: Income taxes, gas taxes and toll taxes will be used to finance U.S. 290 Tollway

Stimulus transit plans OK'd

$29 million will go to projects including Texas 71 turn lane, I-35 overpass.

CAMPO toll road stimulis

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

Central Texas officials approved an additional $29 million in transportation projects Monday under the federal stimulus plan, including adding a center turn lane on a dangerous segment of Texas 71 west of Austin, building an overpass on Interstate 35 in Buda, and a variety of other minor road maintenance and improvement work.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board's approval will add the projects to $107 million in stimulus money for the area that the Texas Transportation Commission awarded three months ago, the bulk of it for the planned U.S. 290 tollway in Northeast Austin.

Capital Metro will get an additional $26.1 million in stimulus grants from the Federal Transit Administration, money that the agency intends to spend primarily to buy buses and add track for passing trains to its commuter rail line. And Central Texas will probably get more money in the next several months as state transportation commissioners decide how to divvy an additional half-billion dollars in stimulus money.

Overall, Texas will get about $2.25 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that President Barack Obama signed in February. The state transportation commission has to decide how to spend at least half of the stimulus money by the end of this month.

In March, it approved a $1.2 billion list of projects. Decisions on how to use an additional $500 million or so were left to local planning groups, such as CAMPO.

The 20-member body's vote Monday represented the final culling of about 250 projects submitted by area governments and the Texas Department of Transportation that would have cost more than $2 billion. Most of those projects fell off the list because they were not "shovel ready," that is, primed for construction in the next year or so. The final list had about three dozen projects.

The board accepted one project that involves no shovels, the Highway Emergency Response Operators program.

After TxDOT discovered a $1.1 billion accounting error in late 2007, it ordered its district offices to cut costs. In Austin, trims included the program through which a handful of workers in pickups patrolled major Austin highways to quickly assist disabled cars. TxDOT canceled the program in February 2008.

The board approved $1.4 million to reinstitute the program on the portion of I-35 in Austin that is within Travis County. The money will keep trucks on I-35 for 11 hours a day, five days a week for the next two years.

On Monday, the board also approved building an overpass at Cement Plant Road on I-35 in Buda and financed a proposed transit center for commuters in downtown Round Rock.

CAMPO stimulus highlights

$7.3 million: Add overpass on Interstate 35 in Buda

$7.1 million: Add center turn lane, widen outer lane for RM 1431 in Cedar Park

$3.2 million:Add center turn lane, widen shoulders for Texas 71 west of Bee Creek Road

$3.1 million:Add traffic signals to 20 Austin intersections; resurface various Austin streets

© 2009 Austin American-Statesman:

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Special legislative session needed to keep TxDOT alive

Perry: Special session is coming

Rick Perry Clown


Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday a special legislative session will be necessary to keep alive the state’s transportation and insurance regulatory departments but declined to say whether he also will include the contentious Republican-backed voter identification measure.

“We are to the point now where we can say there will be a special session. When is still a little bit up in the air,” Perry said.

The governor had hoped to avoid a special session to keep intact the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Department of Insurance, as well as three others that were not renewed, but calling lawmakers back to the Capitol proved to be the only option.

The other agencies are the Texas Racing Commission, which regulates horse and dog tracks; the Office of Public Insurance Counsel, which represents the public in insurance rate cases; and the State Affordable Housing Corporation, which links low-to-moderate-income people with potential home purchase lenders.

The five agencies are set to go out of existence on Sept. 1, 2010, because the legislation reauthorizing them did not pass. In the last hours of the session, all fell victim to a heated political divide over whether to require Texas voters to provide additional identification when casting ballots.

Republicans say the legislation — to allow voting only if voters present a photo identification or two other forms of printed identification — is necessary to protect ballot security.

Democrats claim there are no proven cases of voter impersonation and that the bill really is designed to suppress voter turnout by minorities and the elderly.

Only the governor has the power to call a special session and dictate its agenda.

Perry said lawyers last week investigated the possibility that the governor could extend the agencies by executive order.

“The biggest issue that’s out there floating around is that we could do that by executive order. We have researched that and that was blatantly bad information,” the governor said.

Perry is unlikely to call a special session before June 21, the deadline for a gubernatorial veto. The agencies begin a one-year wind-down process on Sept. 1, but Perry potentially could delay that process so that a session could be called next spring instead.

© 2009 Houston Chronicle:

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Texas Legislature's eminent domain reform: "A half hearted effort "

Eminent Domain: State's efforts to improve private property rights are half-hearted at best



The Lufkin Daily News
Copyright 2009

Both Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry's anticipated rival in the 2010 Republican primary, have indicated that private property rights will likely be an issue during that campaign.

One of a most serious concerns facing property owners will be decided in November by voters — the right of government to use the power of eminent domain to take private property exclusively for the purpose of economic development.

The action stems from a ruling by the Supreme Court in 2005 that upheld the right of New Haven, Conn. to take private property from an individual for retail development by a private company.

Even if voters were to approve the constitutional amendment, which will prohibit government from taking private property exclusively for economic development, the group that represented the property owner in the Connecticut case, the Institute for Justice, said in an Associated Press story Monday that it would still allow government to take land for economic development.

While we certainly aren't an authority on law, constitutional or otherwise, we can see how inclusion of the word "exclusively" could allow private property to be used for economic development.

We're thinking now of Perry's plans for the Trans Texas Corridor, which would have appropriated a quarter-mile swath of right-of-way using the law of eminent domain. While some of the right-of-way would have been used for the "public good," plans were to use some of it for private enterprise — motels, restaurants and retail outlets.

Language that prohibited the taking of private property "exclusively" for the purpose of economic development wouldn't prohibit the state of Texas, or another entity, from taking enough private property necessary to build a school, a courthouse or a 16-lane toll road. It also wouldn't prohibit taking additional acreage so that there would be enough land "left over" for retail development. Say, for example, a day care center next to a school, or a restaurant next to the courthouse, or any number of retail establishments along the toll road.

Although farm and ranch groups are heartened by the fact that lawmakers have made some effort to improve the state's laws on eminent domain, they realize that it was, at most, a half-hearted effort, or as the spokesman for the Texas Farm Bureau characterized it in an AP story Monday, "less than half a loaf."

The farm bureau and other cattle industry groups are hoping that Perry will call a special session and revisit the issue. Perry hasn't said whether he'll call a special session, much less whether he'd be willing to bring up the issues Texas cattle raisers are most concerned about — offers that represent fair market value, compensation for diminished access to property and the right to repurchase land if after 10 years the land has remained unused. If Perry is still harboring hope for a revival of the TTC, which many opponents believe is the case, we'd think it unlikely.

HRJ18 just puts the subject of eminent domain for economic development on the table. It doesn't take it off.

© 2009 Lufkin Daily News:

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

"Twisted pieces of transportation news."

Probing the legislative pileup for transportation news


Less money for TxDOT (if it survives!), a 'new' Cap Metro board and little money for moving rail, but not much else.


By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

After a post-sine die nap or two, I spent some time last week sifting through the now-cooling heap of wreckage that is the 81st meeting of the Texas Legislature, looking for twisted pieces of transportation news. Some of what I found:

$14 billion of spendable cash for the Texas Department of Transportation. Sounds impressive until you realize that's about $2 billion less than the agency had in the current two-year budget, thanks to the last-minute House-Senate snit over borrowing that Texas voters OK'd in 2007. And without the federal stimulus money, the falloff would have been $3 billion, or about 18 percent.

Unless Gov. Rick Perry decides to call a special session to fix the Proposition 12 problem (and, oh yes, keep the Texas Department of Transportation officially a going concern), it'll only get worse before lawmakers convene again. Gas tax revenue, which continued to grow a couple percent annually this decade because of population growth, has begun to drop. Higher gas prices, the recession and more fuel-efficient cars have finally combined to lower fuel usage. With the Obama administration mandating what amounts to a 50 percent increase in car and light truck fuel efficiency by 2016, the slide should steepen.

But with all the distrust by legislators of TxDOT, and the general anti-tax stance of the governor and a majority of the Legislature, no one was willing to even take a vote on increasing gas taxes or fees for transportation. Will they have a different mindset in 2011? Don't count on it.

John Carona may not be around next session to continue what to date has been a quixotic crusade for more transportation funding. The Dallas Republican, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, was infuriated in the session's final days after his bill to let counties raise the gas tax or fees for transportation died. In interviews, Carona had blunt and uncomplimentary words for a lot of colleagues, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Dewhurst, if he's still running the Texas Senate (he'll probably run for U.S. Senate instead), might not be in a mood to give Carona the chairmanship again. And Carona, Capitol talk has it, might decide to run for Dallas mayor in 2011 instead.

The Trans-Texas Corridor, Perry's 4,000-mile dream of tollways and rail lines cross-hatching the state, has been pronounced dead several times, but is still officially alive in statute. It was scheduled to be scuttled in the TxDOT sunset bill, but the bill died instead.

The Texas Transportation Commission,which runs TxDOT and controls its $8 billion-a-year budget, is still the same five folks, and they're still Perry appointees. The Texas Sunset Review Commission had recommended they be replaced by a single gubernatorial appointee. Some wanted an elected commissioner, others a 15-member elected body.

But no change happened in the end. And the Senate confirmed chairwoman Deirdre Delisi and three colleagues to serve several more years on the board.

Capital Metro will have a new, larger and presumably more competent board, thanks to a law passed by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. However, last-minute changes forced on Watson make it possible that several of the current members of the board could be on the new one as well, assuming they still want the gig and can persuade the appointers to appoint them. Change at the transit agency might be significant.

The Legislature put$182 million in a rail relocation fund meant to help move freight traffic out of metro areas. Potentially, the state might be able to use that money to borrow up to $1 billion for this purpose. The overall need is about $17 billion, so it's not certain Central Texas will get a piece of the pie.

Contact Getting There at 445-3698 or

© 2009 Austin American-Statesman:

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