Saturday, October 17, 2009

"State lawmakers let Perry and politics get in the way of protecting YOUR property rights, and as usual, settled for scraps from the master's table."

Vote NO on Prop's counterfeit eminent domain reform!


Terri Hall
San Antonio Transportation Policy Examiner
Copyright 2009

We've been down this road before...lawmakers write a convoluted amendment to the Texas Constitution that comes back to haunt us when we find out what politicians will do with it once we leave the polls.

Proposition 11 is one of those amendments. We witnessed Governor Rick Perry weaken this legislation all through the 81st Legislature to reduce the amendment to a virtually meaningless attempt at eminent domain reform.

You have to ask yourself, if Rick Perry vetoed REAL eminent domain reform in 2007 (HB 2006), why would Perry stage a photo-op ceremonial signing of this constitutional amendment in front of the Alamo in 2009 when it didn't even need his signature? Because it's not genuine eminent domain reform. His show-boating is because he's running for re-election, and he knows that veto of HB 2006 cost him the Farm Bureau's endorsement.

Why did Perry veto the bill? Because it would interfere with his Trans Texas Corridor that is slated to gobble-up massive swaths of private property (4 football fields wide, biggest land grab in Texas history) and give it to foreign corporations in sweetheart deals with guaranteed 12-19% annual profits by charging Texans hefty tolls to use what should be a public road!

The logical course of action by the Texas Legislature would have been to dust off HB 2006, introduce the same bill again, and pass it early in the session so the Legislature could override the expected gubernatorial veto. But that's not what the Legislature did.

They allowed Perry and his cronies to use eminent domain reform as a bargaining chip all session long (to re-authorize the controversial contracts called CDAs that sell our Texas highways to foreign companies). Meanwhile, he and the special interests chipped away at the strength of the private property protections originally found in HB 2006.

So Prop 11 is Perry's fabricated version of eminent domain reform to serve as penance for his veto. But once one examines the language, it's clear it doesn't remotely resemble genuine property rights protection as he claims it does.

So many flaws, so little time

What are the flaws of Prop 11? Economic development isn't defined. Public use isn't clearly defined nor limited. Good faith negotiations for offers of "adequate compensation" (the current constitutional language) aren't required. Urban blight isn't defined, and even though the legislative committees writing the bill couldn't accurately discern the voluminous entities that currently have eminent domain powers, Prop 11 continues to allow the Legislature the power to grant yet more undefined "entities" the power of eminent domain for "public use," which Perry ensured still included privatizing Texas roads to benefit foreign entities.

Proposition 11 says:

"The constitutional amendment to prohibit the taking, damaging, or destroying of private property for public use unless the action is for the ownership, use, and enjoyment of the property by the State, a political subdivision of the State, the public at large, or entities granted the power of eminent domain under law or for the elimination of urban blight on a particular parcel of property, but not for certain economic development or enhancement of tax revenue purposes, and to limit the legislature's authority to grant the power of eminent domain to an entity."

It states property cannot be taken using eminent domain UNLESS it's for public use for "entities" granted the power of eminent domain OR for the elimination of urban blight, but not for "certain economic development or enhancement of tax revenue purposes."

The loopholes in that language are so wide you could drive a truck through them!

Any true eminent domain reform that would protect us from the Supreme Court Kelo case would include:

  • Strong definition of public use limiting eminent domain for ANY economic development and tax enhancement purposes
  • Good faith negotiations (prevent entities from low-balling landowners and forcing them to hire expensive lawyers to get fair market value)
  • Compensation for diminished access to a landowner's property
  • Limit the granting of eminent domain to any further entities without a vote of the people
  • Relocation assistance for displaced landowners
  • Ability to buy land back at original cost after 10 years if the State doesn't use it
State lawmakers could have hit a home run and FINALLY delivered TRUE eminent domain reform. But they let Perry and politics get in the way of protecting YOUR property rights, and as usual, settled for scraps from the master's table.

The authors of the bill even admitted upon final passage that this amendment falls short, and that there's still a long way to go on eminent domain reform. They expect us to choke down a milquetoast amendment that's little more than window dressing so that they can claim some level of victory? Thanks, but no thanks!

If Texans vote for this amendment, it's likely no further private property rights reform will EVER happen, especially if Rick Perry remains the Governor. We must demand protection from the eminent domain abuse that the Kelo case wrought. We've been waiting for 3 years, and would have had it in 2007 had Perry not wielded his veto pen. When over half the states have passed laws or changed their constitutions to protect landowners from the eminent domain abuses of Kelo, our politicians have left Texans vulnerable.

Insist on authentic private property protection and vote NO on Prop 11. It's hazardous to your freedom!

© 2009

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

“Texas Farm Bureau has fought for years to enact meaningful reforms of our eminent domain laws, but for years political games have stood in the way.”

Let your voice be heard on Proposition 11



Texas Farm Bureau
Copyright 2009

(WACO) – Want to stop government from taking your property and transferring it to someone else? Texans have a chance to do that on Nov. 3 with a yes vote on Proposition 11, according to the president of the state’s largest farm organization.

The U.S. Supreme Court in the Kelo v. New London (Conn.) case in 2005 authorized eminent domain for economic development, but left the door open for states to make their own law preventing these kinds of takings. Proposition 11 is Texas’ response.

“For too long our eminent domain laws have favored the condemners and left those impacted most—our state’s private property owners—with few legal options,” said Texas Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke said. “Prop. 11 is a good step toward bringing the eminent domain reform Texans need and deserve.”

Proposition 11, the final constitutional amendment proposed on the Nov. 3 ballot, stops the government from taking someone’s land to benefit another’s economic gain or boost tax revenue.

In addition to banning eminent domain for economic development reasons, Proposition 11 will require new entities seeking condemning power in Texas to first obtain approval by at least two-thirds of the Texas Legislature, as well as force condemning entities to address each individual property involved in an urban blight condemnation, rather than simply rub out entire neighborhoods.

Although much of the proposal is already in Texas law, adding it to the Texas Constitution gives it teeth, Dierschke said.

“When it comes to safeguards protecting private property, Texas laws have been lacking,” he said. “Texas Farm Bureau has fought for years to enact meaningful reforms of our eminent domain laws, but for years political games have stood in the way.”

Bills reforming Texas' eminent domain law—including clauses demanding good faith offers from condemners, fair market value for property taken and reasonable compensation for items such as lost access to one’s property—were introduced in the last two legislative sessions.

The first, approved overwhelming in both houses of the Legislature, met with a veto by Gov. Perry. The second, approved by everyone in the Texas Senate, died with many other pieces of legislation as part of the political wrangling that ensued on the House floor. Gov. Perry refused to add the issue to the special called session.

“We can send a resounding message to all of our elected officials on Nov. 3,” Dierschke said. “The days of toying with people’s private property in Texas are finished. Our property is far too precious for political pandering, and our chance for change starts Nov. 3 with your support of Prop. 11.”

© 2009 Texas Farm Bureau:

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"The governor’s office has installed a crony as chairman who will urge the board to invest retirement system funds in toll roads..."

Cronyism and the Corridor


Paul Burka
Texas Monthly
Copyright 2009

This is a scary story. The Statesman reported yesterday that Governor Perry is removing Linus Wright, a former Dallas school superintendent, as chair of the board that oversees the $88 billion Teacher Retirement System and will replace him with a current board member who is also a member of Perry’s campaign finance team, Dallas real estate investor R. David Kelly. (Wright succeeded Jim Lee, who was one of three co-chairs of the Perry fundraising apparatus; Lee had resigned in the wake of news reports that he had run up six-figure gambling debts in Las Vegas.)

The removal of Wright occurred just a few days after Perry had announced the death of the Trans-Texas Corridor. The juxtaposition of events reminds me of the old Mark Twain line: “Reports of my death were greatly exaggerated.”

The concern is that the governor’s office has installed a crony as chairman who will urge the board to invest retirement system funds in toll roads as a means to pump money into funding-starved TxDOT. Perry appointees who don’t go along–as we have learned in the case of board of regents and the Forensic Science Commission–are likely to find themselves replaced.

I’m not just being an alarmist here. Remember, in the summer of 2008, Perry, Dewhurst, and Craddick signed a letter agreeing to work together to find a way to pay for new roads. An earlier Statesman story about the agreement said:

One prong of the plan would create a Transportation Finance Corporation to allow state investment funds — including the state employee and teacher retirement systems, among others — to directly invest in state transportation projects. Combined, the two state systems manage $135 billion in assets.

But TRS and ERS officials “took a cautious view of investing in state projects in testimony this year before the Senate Finance Committee, saying a mandate to invest in Texas infrastructure could conflict with their duty to find the best return on investment for retirees.”

Toll roads are highly questionable investments. Their success depends entirely on the accuracy of traffic forecasts, which can be influenced by consultants who tell roadbuilders (and pension funds) what they want to hear. The industry newsletter TOLLROADS NEWS reported on October 9 that a major toll road in South Carolina is insolvent and about to default:

US Bank, trustees for the bondholders of Connector 2000 Association, the owner of the Southern Connector tollroad in Greenville South Carolina have issued an official notice that they expect a default Jan 1, 2010 with insufficient funds being available from the pike to make debt service that’s due.

Here’s another story of a toll road that failed to make projections, also from TOLLROADS NEWS. This one is in Jackson, MS. It never even got to the starting gate:

Mississippi DOT (MsDOT) have announced “suspension” of the procurement process for a private sector concession to build the state’s first tollroad in the modern era – Jackson Airport Parkway. The concession financing depended on federal TIFIA loan support which is only provided if the rating agencies provide an investment grade rating to senior debt.

Three shortlisted potential concessionaires told MsDOT they couldn’t get the needed investment grade ratings for their loan financing, an official told us, so they were not able to make proposals which were formally due next week – Sept 15.

A statement from MsDOT quotes Executive Director Larry L (Butch) Brown as “disappointed” but saying that the parkway “project, like many other greenfield toll road projects, is suffering from general economic weakness and tight credit markets which limit the amount of credit and capital available for new transportation projects.”

Brown is quoted further: “The private sector needs to demonstrate that it can deliver meaningful savings versus a traditional MDOT financing and delivery plan. For example, unless private sector bidders can genuinely deliver construction cost savings, operational savings, or financing savings, the numbers just don’t work. In this economy, revenue projections are under pressure and investment grade ratings for the project’s senior debt are difficult to obtain.

Trust funds should be invested conservatively — or, at the very least, in ventures that are medium-risk, not in toll roads and startups related to the governor’s Emerging Technology Fund, which, along with the Texas Enterprise Fund, suffered a $200M decrease in funding as punishment for Perry’s questionable wheeling and dealing. It will be very tempting for the governor to get Kelly to back his pet projects from the Emerging Technology Fund. These startups are likewise high-risk.

I don’t believe for a moment that Perry or TxDOT have given up on the Corridor. This paragraph from a 2008 article in the Star-Telegram is all you need to know:

Speaking on a conference call from Iraq, where he is visiting troops with other governors, Perry said highways that would run parallel to north-south I-35 are still needed. The state’s commitment to building roads is what attracts many companies and jobs to the state, he said.

* * * *

The thing I find most interesting is that Perry removed Wright and replaced him with a crony in the middle of a governor’s race. What does that tell us? I think it says that he is supremely confident and he is going to do whatever he feels like doing and doesn’t care what the media (much less bloggers) are going to say about it. He had to know what people were going to say about his replacement of Wright, especially coming on the heels of his evisceration of the Forensics Commission, and he did not care. Rick Perry is one tough guy. Don’t think I don’t admire that.

© 2009 Texas Monthly:

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Monday, October 12, 2009

NCTOG says the reaction to TTC-35 was "irrational and emotional" and calls for a "cooling off period."

With the Trans-Texas Corridor kaput, what now?


Copyright 2009

The project is dead, but the problem still exists.

The Trans-Texas Corridor was supposed to be the roadway of the future, easing overcrowded North Texas highways. It was the key to ending congestion on Interstate 35 east and west.

Now that the project is dead, the North Central Texas Council of Governments will continue to focus on making minor improvements to I-35 and has stepped up its push for a high-speed rail.

Since emotions over the building of the TTC were so high, NCTOG said there needs to be a cooling off period. In the meantime, drivers will remain stuck in traffic longer.

Many drivers, like Paul Goggins, avoid I-35W in Fort Worth as much as possible.

"Thirty-five has been this way for 10 years, at least," Goggins said.

The planned 600-mile Trans Texas Corridor was supposed to relieve the bottlenecks on I-35W and I-35.

[Note: TxDOT's own projections showed TTC-35 would not relieve congestion on I-35: LINK.]

"There was an irrational, emotional initiative with regard to the Trans-Texas Corridor, largely because it was a surprise, typical reaction when things are talked about top down,” said Michael Morris, the director of NCTOG.

The Loop 9 project around the metro Dallas area is still moving forward, so is the Highway 360 extension in Ellis and Johnson counties

But, in Fort Worth, there is a desperate need for an outer loop and more lanes on I-35W. Neither project has gotten off the ground.

"As we go forward, we need to go to the state and the feds to get money so we can widen I-35,” said Sal Espino, Fort Worth City council member for District 2.

The I-35W bottleneck runs through Espino's district.

“Ideally, I would like to see it widened from the I-30 interchange all the way up to the Speedway,” he said.

The Texas Transportation Commission says there are four other options on the table:

- Double decking I-35 from San Antonio to Dallas

- Building a bypass loops around urban communities

- Widening the current right of way

- Or building a parallel corridor, like the failed Trans-Texas Corridor project

There are a lot of options, but commuters still aren’t optimistic about a real solution.

"They need to get off their butts and do something and make a decision and correct the problem,” Goggins said. “I mean, these two-lane highways are not going to cut it."

The I-35 Corridor Advisory Committee is going to start public involvement all over again. They will submit a plan for a new series of public hearings to TxDOT by the end of the month.


© 2009 WFAA-TV:

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

"It's a concern to us that the governor is developing a pattern...It's a put-down to teachers."


Perry to replace teacher retirement board chairman after less than a year


By Kate Alexander
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

Gov. Rick Perry plans to reshuffle the board leadership of the state's $88 billion teacher retirement system, an unexpected move that has reignited concerns among the members that Perry is meddling with their pension fund.

Linus Wright, a retired school superintendent who was appointed in January to lead the Board of Trustees of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, said he has been notified by the governor's office that he will soon be replaced as chairman. Wright said he was given no reason for the change.

He will be succeeded by Dallas real estate investor R. David Kelly, a board trustee since 2007, Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said.

Kelly is also a member of the finance team for Perry's re-election campaign, according to a June news release.

In the past, Perry has looked to the teachers' fund as a potential source of investment dollars for state transportation infrastructure and the Emerging Technology Fund, which invests in startup companies in fields such as biotechnology. The board, which sets the investment strategy for one of the country's largest public pension funds, has not yet backed an investment policy to do so.

Wright's predecessor, Jim Lee, was a forceful leader who muscled through decisions about hiring and investment strategy that created a rift on the board and prompted questions by some board members and teachers' groups about Perry's intentions for the fund.

The fund is undergoing a long-term shift in investment strategy to put more assets into alternatives to stocks and bonds, such as real estate and private equity, with the aim of increasing returns.

Wright has been a "very calming influence," which was needed after the contentious Lee era, said outgoing Trustee Mark Henry, the superintendent of the Galena Park school district.

He was "the perfect combination" of leader who had the trust of both educators and business people alike, Henry said.

The change is being made now because a transition is under way, with three new trustees soon joining the board, Castle said. The terms of Henry and two of the board's financial professionals, Dory Wiley of Dallas and John Graham Jr. of Fredericksburg, expired in August. The names of the new appointees have not been made public.

But the change comes on the heels of Perry's veto in June of a bill that would have added another retiree voice to the nine-member board. The governor appoints all of the members of the board, which is made up of five financial professionals and four retired or active Teacher Retirement System members who are nominated by the membership.

Together, these moves have retirees worried that politics is the real motivation, said Tim Lee of the Texas Retired Teachers Association.

"It's a concern to us that the governor is developing a pattern that really is minimizing the voice of retirees in their own pension fund," Lee said.

Castle said the change will not affect the balance of the board because Wright, who has been on the board for 10 years, will continue to serve until his term expires in 2011.

But Wright said he shared Tim Lee's concerns that educators are being overlooked to lead their own retirement system, which serves 1.2 million active and retired public school employees. The last time an educator led the Board of Trustees, before Wright's short tenure, was 15 years ago, he said.

"It's a put-down to teachers," Wright said.

Critics of the governor's decision to change the board's leadership are quick to add that Kelly is smart and talented and they have no issue with him. He could not be reached Saturday for comment.

Kelly, 45, is a partner at Carleton Residential Properties, a Dallas company that develops and manages multifamily properties. Before joining the retirement system board, Kelly served as chairman of the Texas Public Finance Authority, which provides financing for the construction and purchasing of state buildings.

The Legislature will hold confirmation hearings on Kelly when it convenes in 2011.

Perry tapped Wright when then-Chairman Jim Lee suddenly resigned shortly before the legislative session began in January. A pioneer of the day-trading industry and a Houston investor, Lee is now one of Perry's statewide campaign finance chairmen.

Jim Lee said he was stepping down to launch a new business. But Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, said at the time that a lawsuit claiming that Lee owed a $110,000 "gaming debt" to the Bellagio casino and hotel in Las Vegas would have been an issue at his confirmation hearings.

Wright was the "most reputable and dependable" trustee to help smooth over troubles within the board and with the Legislature during a contentious period, said Tim Lee, who is not related to Jim Lee.

"He got them through the legislative session, and now it just seems that we're abandoning the retiree to look for someone else," Tim Lee said.; 445-3618

© 2009 Austin American-Statesman:

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