Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Texas teachers unite, Perry's messing with your retirement!" Pension funds to feed risky toll road privatization schemes in Texas

Teachers beware of Perry’s plan


Neal Morgan
The Port Arthur News
Copyright 2010

If there are any former school teachers in the Texas Teacher Retirement System (TRS) or any active teachers who monthly pay into TRS, who read my column, I pray you read this one.

A former teacher, I am a member of TRS and have said for decades now that teachers could unite and run the entire State of Texas if a majority of them so decided. They proved that when they fired Mark White.

Now teachers, retired or not, beware for your retirement money if you don't defeat Rick Perry. Please read on...

Texas Gov. Rick “Goodhair” Perry, on June 22, 2003, signed into law House Bill 3588. It was the HB that created what came to be known as “The Trans-Texas Corridor” that would stretch some 800 miles, from Mexico to Oklahoma. The bill included a provision that allowed existing highways to be converted into toll roads.

HB 3588 also made a provision that Texas could turn such a toll road over to a private entity. Therefore, under Rick Perry's provisions, an existing state highway, that was already built using your tax money and mine, could be turned over to a private company that would charge us a toll for driving on it. But it wasn't very long after 3588 became law that people, especially those in Central Texas, saw what widespread effects the law would have.

It was one of those bills that pass easily, under relative obscurity, because our legislators have their attention focused elsewhere. Or because they might receive campaign donations if they slip it through quietly.

Central Texans jumped on it early and fought Perry's attempts to turn part of US 183 into a toll road when it was already near opening up as a free highway, paid for by taxpayers.

Then there was the “seven-way plan” in Central Texas, which would come on top of five other toll roads already under construction. Texans didn't like it in the least. But the Texas Senate Research Center said, “current law authorizes the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) to convert an existing non-tolled highway or segment of a highway into a toll road. It could be done if the county commissioners court in which the road exists consents and the conversion is approved by the voters of the affected county or municipality.

Perry's idea for a Trans-Texas Corridor Tollway, it was obvious, did not appeal to Texans. It cost too much, it was too big, it would take up too much private land, break up family farms and ranches, and would be owned by private companies.

Furthermore, in the case of the Trans-Texas Corridor, it would be built and owned by a Spanish company. It was three years after the corridor was dreamed up that TXDOT went out of its way to form a close relationship between the State of Texas and Cintra, a company based in Spain. Cintra agreed to build a 316 mile section of the TT Corridor for the right to collect and keep the tolls for 50 years.

As before mentioned, it would also mean that almost 600,000 acres of private property would have to be seized under eminent domain laws. If that happened, the land taken could have included homes, churches, schools, and businesses, not to mention thousands of acres of ranch land. So it isn't too tough to imagine how the idea was received by Texans.

Then, after Cintra and Perry's appointees at TXDOT agreed, it became known that a top aide of Governor Goodhair had been Cintra's lobbyist before he went to work for Perry! Dan Shelley, Perry's aide, who was called a “Legislative Director” (whatever the hell that means) worked for Cintra up until three months before it was selected for the $7.2 billion Trans-Texas project. Shelley also, while he was a Cintra lobbyist, met five times with TXDOT for Cintra before the multibillion-dollar road contract.

So, after digesting all that, TEACHERS AND RETIRED TEACHERS, read the following quote from “Texas Monthly” magazine (12/09)...

“...The removal and replacement of board members to achieve a political end is happening throughout state government. One of the most troubling examples occurred (in October '09) at the $88 billion Teacher Retirement System of Texas. Perry ousted chairman Linus Wright, a former Dallas Independent School District superintendent, and replaced him with a board member who has served on his campaign finance committee.

“Earlier, the governor's allies on the board appointed a Perry staffer to be the agency's deputy director. These things don't happen unless there's a purpose, and the likely purpose in this case is to achieve a board majority in favor of investing the trust funds of retired teachers in new toll roads, a high risk policy that Perry and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst have advocated.”

Texas teachers unite, Perry's messing with your retirement!

Neal Morgan of Nederland is a retired educator.

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