Saturday, March 06, 2010

"A near majority of dedicated Republican primary voters cast ballots that would have ended Perry's leadership."

Conservative Texans want more than photo-ops

Davy Crockoshit


Jonathan Gurwitz
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2010

When the 2009 regular session of the Texas Legislature concluded, Gov. Rick Perry came to San Antonio to affix his signature to a major property rights measure. In front of the Alamo, Perry appeared to sign legislation putting a constitutional amendment on the November 2009 ballot that sharply restricted the circumstances under which state and local government could exercise eminent domain.

The ceremony presented a great photo-op: a conservative governor affirming an essential right, drawing a line in the sand on eminent domain in the shadow of the Cradle of Texas Liberty. The ceremony was also deceptive.

What Perry purported to sign was a joint resolution passed by a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Texas Legislature. Such measures circumvent the governor's office and automatically appear on the ballot in the next general election. Voters approved it in November with 81 percent support.

The decision of conservative Texas lawmakers to bypass the governor on eminent domain reform in 2009 was deliberate. Two years earlier, Perry had vetoed an even stronger affirmation of property rights drawn up in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo decision.

The ostensible explanation for Perry's 2007 veto was that a key provision would have vastly inflated costs for new road construction. Beneath this explanation lay additional bothersome issues that put him at odds with conservative Texans.

The 2007 eminent domain reform effort conflicted with Perry's plans — since abandoned — for the Trans Texas Corridor, a 4,000-mile multi-modal transportation network that would have necessitated the state's seizure of as much as 600,000 acres of private property. The project generated even greater controversy because of its heavy reliance on toll roads; because a former Perry staffer worked as a consultant for the Spanish company, Cintra, that won the rights to develop the corridor; and because Perry fought a ruling by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott that compelled the Texas Department of Transportation to lift a veil of secrecy on the contract's details.

Like the signing in front of the Alamo, Perry's victory in Tuesday's GOP gubernatorial primary looked impressive. He clawed back from a 25-point deficit in the polls to avoid a primary runoff, squeaking out a bare majority of 51 percent. But another way to look at Tuesday's results is to recognize that a near majority of dedicated Republican primary voters cast ballots that would have ended Perry's leadership.

Why would they do so? Start with property rights, toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor. Add in his executive order requiring that all sixth grade girls in Texas receive the Gardasil vaccine for a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer, an affront to parental rights that was rescinded by the Legislature. And, by the way, another former Perry staffer worked as a lobbyist for the vaccine's maker, Merck & Co.

Should Perry be concerned that a sizeable number of conservative voters might stay home in November? Preliminary polls suggest he has a comfortable lead over the Democratic nominee, former Houston Mayor Bill White. No Democrat has won a statewide election in the Lone Star State since 1994. It seems unlikely that record would be broken during a year in which a Republican prevailed in Massachusetts.

Then again, few people could have anticipated the tectonic shift in party politics over the last year. A similar shift could just as easily happen over the next eight months.

Perry is a good campaigner with even better political instincts. If his instincts are correct now, they'll tell him that it's not enough to look good in front of the cameras railing against the liberal excesses of Washington, bailouts and the stimulus. In considering their votes for governor, conservative Texans want more than photo-ops.

© 2010 San Antonio Express-News:

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Bill White: "Debt has almost doubled in Austin under Gov. Perry....They think you will not notice this!"

White says Texas debt has doubled under Perry



Politifact Texas
Copyright 2010

Race for governor, Round 2.

Gov. Rick Perry bested U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and underdog Debra Medina in the Republican primary while former Houston Mayor Bill White walloped businessman Farouk Shami for the Democratic nomination.

Celebrating separately Tuesday night, both candidates rallied their respective supporters.

For Perry, that meant warning Washington to "stop messing with Texas," a tenet of his primary campaign. White, meanwhile, started to niggle his new opponent — suggesting Perry and his consultants point to national debt to distract voters from Texas' record.

"Debt has almost doubled in Austin under Gov. Perry," White said. "They think you will not notice this!"

Game on.

Is White right?

We checked with the Texas Bond Review Board, which oversees the state's issuance of most bonds used to fund numerous activities, from helping local governments with economic development to building prisons to making housing loans to veterans. According to the board's annual reports, Texas had $34.08 billion in outstanding bonds and notes as of Aug. 31 — the end of the 2009 fiscal year.

Perry took office Dec. 21, 2000 — nearly five months into fiscal year 2001. At the end of that year, Texas had $13.7 billion in outstanding bonds and notes. Adjusting for inflation, that would have equaled $16.6 billion in 2009.

But there's a subset of state debt that hasn't surged, Perry's campaign pointed out — currently $3.07 billion to support parks and for construction of state facilities, among other activities. That debt has decreased by about 6 percent since 2001.

Then there's debt to be repaid with program revenue. For example, interest on student loans is used to repay the bond that funded it without the state having to commit general revenue. That "self-supporting" debt has increased by 173 percent since 2001.

Regardless, Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, noted that lots of things have probably doubled since Perry became governor. After all, he's held the office for nearly a decade.

Eva DeLuna Castro, a senior budget analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, also said it'd be a stretch to say Perry was solely responsible for all those debt decisions.

"Voters do that, and the Legislature," she said. "So we're all responsible."

Perry is one of four members on the Bond Review Board, which ultimately approves most state debt transactions. And over the years, we found, he was a leading advocate for expanding state debts to pay for transportation projects and to combat cancer.

It turns out that transportation is responsible for most of the added debt load under Perry, increasing from basically nothing in 2000 to $11.8 billion outstanding as of Aug. 31 2009. That's because before 2001, the Texas Department of Transportation lacked the authority to borrow money to pay for road projects. Voters gave it that power in 2001 when they approved a constitutional amendment that Perry supported.

Addressing transportation in his 2001 state of the state speech, Perry said, "I would like for both chambers to pass a bonding program to jump-start construction across our state."

In 2007, voters also passed a constitutional amendment to create and fund the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas with $3 billion in bonds over 10 years, starting in January 2010. Perry had championed the cause with cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong and others.

Where does that leave us?

It's clear the amount of state debt has more than doubled since Perry became governor.

We rate White's statement as True.

© 2010 Politifact:

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"The aversion to paying 75 cents a mile to a foreign company to simply drive on a public road hasn't faded, nor will it."

Elections come & go, but resistance to toll taxes continues


by Terri Hall
Texans United for Reform and Freedom
Copyright 2010

If there's one thing we've learned in the 5 years we've been fighting to keep our freeways toll-free, it's that elections don't matter near as much as the people themselves staying engaged in the ongoing battles against our own government.

We've passed the era where citizens could get by with complacency, we're in a new ballgame now. After years of neglect and trusting our elected representatives to do the right thing when no one's looking, it's obvious to even the casual observer that those days are long gone, and we now face the Goliath of entrenched special interests and lobbyists who really run the show.

As one of our supporters likes to put it, we need a permanent, grassroots lobbying class for "we the people."

One thing about elections remains the same...the same recycled candidates show-up in office year after year. Though on rare occasions the good guys and bad guys trade places, by and large, for a litany of reasons I won't go into here, it's those who have been corrupted and who have no qualms about ignoring and exploiting the taxpayers that remain the powerbrokers. The kingmakers simply won't tolerate the incorruptible being in charge. So we've learned to work hard for the good guys, but to expect the bad guys to still be there when the dust settles.

Issue-based activism works

The grassroots have shown that we can mount an offensive and successfully defeat toll-related issues one at a time, year after year, by constant vigilance. The bad guys only have to win once to get their pay-dirt, but the taxpayers have to win time after time, year after year to defeat the litany of bad legislation and policies that hit the pipeline at breathtaking speed.

The aversion to paying 75 cents a mile to a foreign company to simply drive on a public road hasn't faded, nor will it. The waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer money by an out-of-control transportation department can and must be fixed. With the taxpayers on high alert, we can return to a sensible, sustainable, and affordable transportation policy in Texas, one without the highest tax on the table...tolls.

One of the biggest challenges in unseating incumbents isn't so much the name recognition and hefty campaign coffers (though these things can be enormous obstacles) as it is the growing number of political favors and payback the politician doles out the longer he's in office. It makes for highly motivated voters beholden to incumbents who eagerly head to the polls to re-elect the guy who is the gift that keeps on giving to one's industry or pet program.

Corporate welfare

I sat down and read an issue of the Business Journal this week. A sizable chunk of the stories involved businesses who owe their success to taxpayer handouts. One business that experienced explosive growth (5,900 percent) exclusively provides services for the federal government. One article brazenly offered tips on how to secure contracts from local bond elections (and avoid pesky obstacles like competition) by positioning oneself early for favorable treatment by being a team player and helping the bond election pass.

For all the mudslinging about social welfare programs, corporate welfare costs the taxpayers dearly. The self dealings that often involve the revolving door between private sector and public sector positions, jumping between the two in order to secure government funding or land a government contract by being well-connected, often exploits taxpayers with backroom deals made in secret with lobbyists. Instead of standing in line at a welfare office, they have slick web sites that tell them of all the upcoming bond elections, how much taxpayer money is on the table, and what contracts are up for grabs. This ain't capitalism, rather, it nicely explains the origin of the phrase: "hogs at the trough."

The sooner we, the taxpayers, identify the enemy, the sooner we defeat the cronyism that grips the "system." With our freedom to travel at risk and the threat of a complete financial meltdown of the infrastructure bubble (that will be too big to let fail) our politicians are creating with massive, multi-leveraged toll road debt, we cannot and will NOT relent until freedom is secured.

© 2010 Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom:

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Perry primary win is a victory for corporate toll road profiteers

Perry win in Texas is one for tolls, P3s


Copyright 2010

Good news for the future of tolling and P3s in Texas is the decisive win by incumbent Governor Rick Perry over centrist US senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina, a fringe rightwinger.

Both his challengers for Republican primary for governor tried to demagogue against Perry on tolls. Both promised voters tighter restrictions on tolling, including P3s.

Perry won 51% of the votes to Hutchinson 30%, Medina 19% in polling yesterday. Local pundits had been predicting a Hutchison win early in the race.

The state legislature remains less friendly, but at least the GOP primary indicates that anti-toll talk in Texas as expressed by both Hutchinson and Medina is no sure means to political advancement.

© 2010 TOLLROADSnews:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE