Thursday, July 08, 2010

"Mismanagement, special interest pandering, corruption, hidden agendas, misuse of tax dollars and abuse of power..."

Some things never change

Toll Roads Planned for MoPac (LOOP 1)


by Peter Stern
Somervell County Salon
Copyright 2010

Mismanagement, special interest pandering, corruption, hidden agendas, misuse of tax dollars and abuse of power continue to run rampant in Texas. It is politics as usual.

There are plans to build 2 adjacent "managed" lanes, a.k.a., toll lanes, that will tax Texans to drive on the new lanes. Here we have another stupid and costly idea to benefit the wealthy. We need fewer roadways, not more. We need legislators to use available tax dollars more wisely, NOT provide private roadways for the wealthy and to generate more revenue to spend foolishly on other special interest issues.

This is just pandering to the wealthy who can afford to drive on their own private roadway, while TxDOT continues to let the "free" (already paid for with taxes) MoPac roadway crumble into further ruin and additional overcrowding.

This simply is Texas politics as it has been for the past several decades. We are being told that the planned toll lanes MAY alleviate congestion in the near future. Toll costs will be "manipulated" to higher costs during hours of increased traffic. Will the tolls be removed after the new lanes have been paid for, say in 100 years? Currently there is no plan to eliminate the tolls and no idea when the lanes will have been paid for.

There are better ways to improve, maintain and repair MoPac and to widen it. It is time to stop diverting gas tax revenues to other special interests and to allow the gas tax to increase proportionately with cost of living adjustments. The gas tax has been frozen for more than 1 decade and legislators continue to divert the gas tax revenue to other interests instead of using the tax dollars to build and maintain our roadways, as was intended.

Too many priorities remain askew here in Central Texas. Soon, there will be many more toll roads built throughout Texas.

© 2010 Somervell County Salon:

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Unelected toll tax authority hopes new MoPac 'managed lanes' will bring them Mo' Money

Lawmakers look to ease MoPac congestion


by Andrew Horansky
Copyright 2010

It is an artery so often clogged, the name is notorious. On Wednesday, state transportation leaders talked about ways in which the congestion along MoPac could be eased.

“Time is lost, fuel is wasted, air quality is degrading and drivers are increasingly frustrated,” said Ray Wilkerson, Chairman of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

Part of their plan is to add toll roads along MoPac between Parmer Lane in North Austin and Slaughter Lane south of the city. The cost to use the lanes would go up when traffic is heavier, and down when it is lighter.

“And if you need to pick up your child from daycare, or whatever you need to do, you will now have a choice to go down an express lane without an impeded flow,” Wilkerson said.

Leaders may be taking their cue from cities like Houston. The city recently added special toll lanes where, depending on time of day, drivers pay anywhere from 30 cents to several dollars to avoid bad traffic.

Yet other changes will happen along MoPac first. Repaving has begun between 2222 and Cesar Chavez. Later this year, re-striping will begin near the Enfield and Cesar Chavez exits. Another project under discussion is the addition of new sound barriers along MoPac.

A two-year environmental study must also be completed before toll roads open. An early estimated cost for the entire project is $250 million.

© 2010 Somervell County Salon:

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"There's no law preventing governors from holding phony signing ceremonies..."

Political tractor pull: Ag endorsement could be up for grabs in Texas gubernatorial race


Ken Herman
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2010

We delve today into a curious subplot in a curious Texas gubernatorial race (i.e., one in which Dems might have an actual chance of winning).

GOP Gov. Rick Perry, a rancher before he got into government work at an early age, and Democratic challenger Bill White, a city boy whose saddle time has been accumulated on a bike, will participate in a jointish appearance today at a Texas Farm Bureau conference in San Marcos. Their speeches are separated by lunch and come right after Wizzie Brown discusses fire ant control.

At stake, though it won't happen today, is the endorsement of the agricultural group that claims to represent more than 400,000 rural Texans. The endorsement comes through Texas AgFund, the bureau's political wing.

This will be the sixth gubernatorial election in which AgFund has endorsed. So far, it's five for five, backing the GOP nominee every time (loser Clayton Williams in 1990 and winners George W. Bush in 1994 and 1998 and Perry in 2002 and 2006).

So, you might think, easy call here for the ag crowd: Perry the ex-rancher Republican from rural Paint Creek over White the lawyer, energy businessman and ex-Houston mayor Democrat who does not exude farm boy. Nope, not that easy. The Farm Bureau backed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in her ill-fated bid against Perry in this year's GOP gubernatorial primary. After endorsing Perry in four of his five statewide races, the Farm Bureau (which backed Democrat John Sharp in the 1998 lite governor race won by Perry) looked elsewhere this year due largely to Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor project, an ambitious, aborted highway-building effort. Ag interests feared the project would include aggressive use of the state's eminent domain power, which they viewed as a threat to their land.

In 2007, Perry, a former two-term state ag commissioner, vetoed an eminent domain reform bill backed by the Farm Bureau. During this year's campaign, Hutchison promised to make the topic an emergency item in the 2011 Legislature. It remains the Farm Bureau's priority issue for next year's legislative session.

Last year, Perry, in a political rehab effort, backed a proposed constitutional amendment — on last November's ballot as Proposition 11 — barring government from taking private land for private economic development. Voters overwhelmingly approved it.
In a fine bit of political grandstanding, Perry went to the Alamo to sign the proposed amendment last June. It was an inspiring ceremony filled with Perry rhetoric about the importance of private property.

But the whole thing was a phony deal.

In Texas, governors don't sign, nor can they veto, proposed constitutional amendments approved by lawmakers. Such proposals go directly to the ballot for voter review.

But there's no law preventing governors from holding phony signing ceremonies at major state landmarks. To remember the Alamo event, see my video at

Perry's support for the amendment didn't sway the Farm Bureau.

"We all know that while Prop 11 was important in preventing property from being taken for private use, it does not address the needed reforms Governor Perry vetoed pertaining to good-faith offers, fair market value and compensation for diminished access," the bureau said in kicking off its efforts to defeat Perry in the GOP primary.

Further complicating Perry's bid for Farm Bureau backing could be his campaign spokesman Mark Miner's assertion that the Hutchison endorsement was "political payback" for her support for the government bailout of financial and insurance industry interests. Miner, noting the Farm Bureau's insurance operation, said, "We're not surprised that an insurance company who supported the bailout would endorse somebody who voted for it."

Despite that, Farm Bureau spokesman Gene Hall assured me a Perry endorsement is possible.

"I've been instructed to repeat we have three possible positions. We could endorse either or remain neutral," Hall said.

"It's always, up till now, been a Republican. That, however, doesn't mean anything," he said.

White's banking on that. He's been making personal pitches to Farm Bureau leaders.

"I oppose use of eminent domain to benefit private companies and ill-conceived land grabs such as the Trans-Texas Corridor," he said in a personally signed letter to those folks in advance of today's conference.

Will the Farm Bureau endorsement swing the election? Unlikely. But the battle for it is another reminder that this gubernatorial contest offers some things out of the ordinary.

In endorsing Hutchison, Texas Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke said, "For the future of Texas, we call for new leadership. We call for new ideas and a new vision."

Doesn't sound like a guy looking for a governor who's been in office since December 2000, does it?; 445-3907

© 2010 Austin American-Statesman:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE