Friday, December 18, 2009

Gov. 39%--NOT so proud of the Corridor anymore

The Dallas Morning News covers the Trans-Texas Corridor being taken off Perry’s website in a political blog entry, “Rick Perry’s bio: Now you see it, now you don’t.”
Wayne Slater reports, “Something's missing from the Texas governor's official state website. Gone from Rick Perry's biography is any mention of the Trans-Texas Corridor, the beleaguered toll-road project the governor once touted as a crowning jewel accomplishment of his tenure in office. . . . The changes on the official state website come as Perry is stepping up his reelection campaign against rival Kay Bailey Hutchison.”

“Hutchison has been critical of Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor idea. Although popular with construction interests, the project ran afoul of landowners espousing property rights and other opponents of toll roads.”

Presumably, Perry’s team thinks “out-of-sight, out-of-mind”-- that rural residents and their allies will forget all about Perry’s attempt to pull off the largest land grab in Texas history for the benefit of his “construction interest” pals. I guess we’ll see in the Republican primary results if what was a core part of Perry’s base will forgive and forget or if enough of them will have a memory like an elephant and forsake Gov. 39%.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Coupland Civic Organization holds first event at newly restored historic Depot

Halloween Party at Coupland Depot

Congratulations to the Coupland Civic Organization! Work on the historic Coupland Depot is completed, and the CCO was able to host a community Halloween party at the Depot. Next up will be repairing the caboose that sits next to the Depot. Eventually, the CCO hopes to build a pavilion for community gatherings on the Depot grounds.

The CCO is raising funds for the caboose work by selling personalized pavers that will become part of the sidewalk leading from the street to the Depot. To buy a personalized paver in honor or memory of a person, or in honor of a family or business, get a paver order form on the CCO website:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lone Star Rail hopes to move UP freight to Coupland area

The Statesman’s Ben Wear has provided an update on moving freight rail out of Austin to the Coupland area to make way for passenger rail on Union Pacific’s Austin line. Here’s the link to his column “A rail district by any other name still needs money.”

Recently, the Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail District held a news conference to announce that they have changed their name to the Lone Star Rail District.

Wear notes, “[T]he train service is still mostly a line on a map. As agency board chairman Sid Covington says, the main obstacles to creating a commuter line between Austin and San Antonio are now and always have been Union Pacific freights and money. . . . To make commuter rail viable, almost all of Union Pacific's freight runs would have to be moved to new or refurbished tracks east of the existing tracks.”

The 2008 Central Texas Rail Relocation Study shows two alternatives for the freight rail—expanding the rail line that goes through Coupland or constructing a new line from Taylor to San Antonio through the countryside west of Coupland. Wear points out, “Rerouting the Union Pacific trains from Taylor . . . would cost anywhere from almost $900 million . . . to $2.4 billion. The rail district last year was saying that construction of the line itself would take another $600 million.”

The Lone Star Rail District hopes that TxDOT and Union Pacific will pay for the alternate freight route.

Wear reports, “As for the passenger rail construction — 16 stations, trains, track and signal improvements, maintenance facilities — Lone Star officials see TxDOT paying half, the other half split roughly in thirds among governments in the Austin area, Bexar County and Comal and Hays counties.”

Right now, there is no money for this construction. What is new now is the Rail District will receive $40 million from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization for design work and the environmental process. Wear says that these studies will begin early in 2010.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Don't squander groundwater resources in Eastern Central Texas

Following the article in the Austin American-Statesman on November 10 that was the subject of our previous post, the paper ran coverage on November 18 of a second large pipeline planned to bring water from the east to the San Marcos area, “Looking east for a water supply.”

Yesterday, the Statesman ran a thoughtful editorial discussing these huge depletions of our area’s water resources and what sort of controls could be implemented so that the available water will be used for the good of the public. Here’s the link to the editorial “Can’t let it come down to the last straw.”

Some excerpts:
“The American-Statesman's Asher Price reported earlier this week that the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority is talking to a water developer firm about buying 45 million gallons of water per day from Bastrop and Lee counties for consumption in the San Marcos area.

Lee and Bastrop residents would have every right to question why ‘their’ water would be shipped elsewhere. Under Texas law, groundwater is a commodity, like any other, to be bought and sold to the highest bidder.

“’If they all ramp up in the next 10 or 15 years, we won't possibly be able to dish out that much water,’ said Pat Cooper, Lost Pines general manager. The amount Limmer [End-Op, the company directed by former Williamson County Commissioner Frankie Limmer] has applied to pump — if actually pumped — would ‘take us to our limit and beyond our limit when you look 40, 50 years out,’ Cooper said.

“That's a lot of pumps sucking up the water underneath Bastrop and Lee Counties with minimal objective oversight . . . Given the competition that already exists and the increased demand for water, the Legislature is going to be asked to referee. . . . Inaction risks exhausting the supply so that everyone loses.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Water profiteering on the backs of rural landowners

If you are in the Eastern Williamson/Travis area, another project to be aware of is the new water pipeline of Cross County Water Supply Corp. This project was covered by the Statesman on November 10: “Pipeline nearing approval to deliver water to Manor area—Project is part of race to bring water for development near Texas 130.”

At the time this article was written, approval by the Travis County commissioners had not yet been secured, but they have since approved the project. Up to $40 million in tax-exempt bonds would be used to build a 52-mile water pipeline from Burleson County through Lee and Williamson counties to the Eastern Travis County area. Please click on the link to the article to see a map.

The Statesman notes that the project “is part of a lucrative race to serve the semirural area around Texas 130. . . [T]he transformation of the land into subdivisions and shopping centers is contingent on the shipment of water, and whoever delivers it could profit handsomely.”

Cross County is set up as a non-profit. However, behind Cross County are for-profit entities hoping to “profit handsomely” on the backs of rural property owners. The Statesman says, “Cross County counts as its customer Blue Water Systems, run by Austin real estate investor Ross Cummings, which has developed wells in Burleson County, said Pat Reilly, a director of Cross County. Blue Water, in turn, has a deal to sell water to publicly traded Southwest Water Co., Reilly said.”

Burleson County landowners Terry and Linda Ausley have been sued by Cross County because they would not give permission for the company “to perform topographical, environmental and geotechnical surveys on their land as a prelude to acquiring an easement for the water pipeline.”

The Ausleys have countersued, saying that Cross County “was formed . . . as a Texas nonprofit corporation for the sole purpose of fraudulently providing a mechanism for obtaining easements below market rate via threat of condemnation for purposes of securing a pipeline location . . .”

Fraud is already connected with this project. The Statesman notes, “The water would come from groundwater leases in Burleson County originally acquired by Metropolitan Water Co., whose president and founder is William Scott Carlson. In 2004, Cummings put up $1 million to cover Carlson's bail after he was jailed for violating the terms of his probation in a fraud case.”

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Prop 11 passes overwhelmingly--analysis from Corridor Watch

Thanks to Linda and David Stall for all their work against the Corridor for many years and for their recent analysis of the passage of Prop 11. As they point out, Prop 11, with more protection against eminent domain, passed by the largest margin of any proposition on the ballot, with a four to one margin. Over 80 percent of the voters were for Prop 11.

Corridor Watch says:
"This vote provides Texas property owners greater protection from the kind of eminent domain abuse opportunities created by the United States Supreme Court ruling in Kelo vs. City of New London. It makes it harder for the state to expand the number of entities that can exercise eminent domain power. It limits excessive use of eminent domain in the name of eliminating urban blight. And, most importantly it sends a strong message to the Governor and Legislature that Texans take private property rights very seriously.

"With Proposition 11 passed, additional protections are still required to fully protect private property rights. The legislature needs to revisit the kind of protections that would have been created under House Bill 2006 as introduced, overwhelmingly passed and vetoed by Governor Perry in 2007. Property owners deserve full and just compensation for property seized by the government. Property owners also deserve compensation for diminished access that results from the use of eminent domain.

"In vetoing HB-2006 in 2007 Governor Perry said that it would cost the state too much. We believe that seizing private property should be hard, should be expensive, and should only be used as the last resort.

"Projects like the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) need to stand on their own merits and not on the state's ability to take land away from private owners at costs well below market value. And most importantly, state power should never be used to seize private property for the purpose of generating state revenue, whether it's by lease, sale, or toll concession.

"The TTC was always about generating revenue first and providing transportation second. Proposition 11 is another step forward in our effort to ensure that the threat on private property created by the TTC (no matter what new name it may be given) never returns."

Corridor Watch and other property rights advocates like the Texas Farm Bureau are ready to come back at the beginning of next session to try to get additional eminent domain protections. The passage of Prop 11 makes this job easier than it would have been if Prop 11 had not passed. If the voters had not passed Prop 11, it would have sent a message to our elected officials that the people were not really that interested in getting more protection against eminent domain.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Texas Farm Bureau--FOR Prop. 11

Regan Beck, associate legislative director of the Texas Farm Bureau, spoke to the Coupland Civic Organization at their October 26 meeting. He covered the issues of interest to farmers, ranchers, and other rural residents during the last session of the Legislature.

Regarding trying to protect property rights, he called it “all in all, a good session, but not a great session.” The TFB’s efforts were partially successful against eminent domain. Regarding the Trans-Texas Corridor, he said, “We want to take it off the books. We were so close at the end of the session in getting this [and other things that were in HB 300, the TxDOT Sunset bill], but it fell through.”

He noted that HB 300 would have repealed the Trans-Texas Corridor. It also included diminished access protection in eminent domain actions. Since HB 300 failed to pass, the Legislature had to extend the existence of TxDOT during the special session and will have to deal with TxDOT’s Sunset process during the next regular session.

The good news—TFB is pleased with $30 million in aid that passed for rural Texans, including funds for boll weevil eradication, feral hog control, and repair for earthen flood control dams. [Ed Komandosky, secretary/treasurer of Brushy Creek Water Control and Improvement District, spoke to the last meeting of the Coupland Civic Organization about the funding and repair work on the dams in our area.]

Beck calls SB 18 “a great bill that included good faith negotiation to treat the landowner as fairly as possible, by negotiating in good faith upfront before the property is condemned.” SB 18 also included more disclosures for the property owner and a ten-year buy-back provision, whereby if the condemning entity did not use the property within ten years, the owner could buy it back for the same price he was paid for it. Unfortunately, SB 18 was one of the bills left unpassed when time ran out at the end of the session.

Much of the problems that property owners have with condemning entities are not even with governments, but with others who have been given the power of condemnation, such as pipeline companies. There was a provision that the comptroller would be notified of all entities that have power to condemn. Then, if an entity does not sign up with comptroller, it loses its condemnation power. Unfortunately, this was not passed.

Beck said, “HJR 14 was passed and is Proposition 11 on the ballot. We still need to do more on eminent domain, but Prop 11 helps.” When asked if the TFB was prepared to start early next session to get more eminent domain protections, he said yes. He noted that this last session, it took too long to get more protections through the Senate--too long to get some Senators on board--and then the legislation failed in the last-minute gridlock. In this coming session, Beck hopes that the Senators already will be prepared to support protections, so that legislation can move through faster.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Proposition 11--a needed first step for protection against eminent domain

Some are against Prop. 11 because it does not contain strong enough protections against eminent domain. However, such entities as the Texas Farm Bureau and Corridor Watch are for Prop. 11 because it is a first step. The TFB and other advocates intend to go back next session of the Legislature and push for even stronger protections. Below are excerpts from Corridor Watch's David and Linda Stall:

"Proposition 11 strikes back against the Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo v. City of New London ruling that private property can be taken by the government for the private benefit of another for economic development purposes or increasing tax revenue.

"If passed, Proposition 11 would specifically prohibit the use of eminent domain power 'for the primary purpose of economic development or enhancement of tax revenue.'

"This was a very serious threat in the original Trans Texas Corridor plan. When that plan became law in 2003 it included the power to take land for ancillary facilities for the express purpose of generating revenue. Since then the legislature removed that sweeping authority. Proposition 11 would ensure that such power is never restored.

"Additionally, Proposition 11 would restrict the expansion of eminent domain authority to more public or private entities; and, would limit excessive use of eminent domain to eliminate urban blight.

"Even if Proposition 11 passes, additional protections will be required to fully protect our private property rights. In 2007 the legislature overwhelmingly passed law (HB-2006) that would have provided much needed protection. Unfortunately, our Governor objected to granting those protections and vetoed that law.

"What message will you send the Legislature? The votes cast FOR or AGAINST Proposition 11 will serve as an indicator of public interest in protecting private property rights. If the measure passes strongly it will signal a continued public demand for protection of private property. If the measure fails, it will signal a loss of public concern over private property rights.

"Those of us who still want to see strong protections(like HB-2006) adopted into statute need Proposition 11 to pass by a large margin."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Learn how you too can stop the Corridor from coming through your community

We have just witnessed a major blow against the Corridor--TxDOT chose the "no-build" or "no action" alternative for the TTC-35 Environmental Impact Statement, meaning that TTC-35 would NOT be built, at least as far as this environmental process is concerned.

A major reason that TxDOT was forced to choose the "no-build" option was the "coordination" action taken by the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC) in Bell and Milam counties. Sitting in the path of TTC-35, these five small cities and their associated school districts stopped the Corridor in its tracks. Dan and Margaret Byfield and their non-profit American Stewards of Libery were instrumental in forming the ECTSRPC.

Now, American Stewards of Liberty is holding its annual Call America conference in Denver, November 5-7, to teach others how to implement this "coordination" strategy. For further information, go to the website and click on Call America 2009.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Corridor--especially TTC-35--continues to be killed

This week, more of the building blocks enabling the Trans-Texas Corridor, specifically TTC-35, have been destroyed. Previously, in the special session, legislators killed the funding mechanism for the Corridor—the Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDA) with private companies. Also earlier this year, TxDOT announced it would not proceed with the overall Corridor plan and would consider it segment by segment. Now, TTC-35 has been terminated in two different ways.

First, TxDOT has canceled the contract with Cintra, the Spanish corporation, and its partner Zachry to build TTC-35. Cintra/Zachry had a CDA with TxDOT to plan and build TTC-35. In the special session, the overall CDA process was done away with, and now Cintra’s specific CDA has been canceled. Cintra has produced a plan, has been paid millions for planning, and may be paid more millions for the state to extricate itself from the complicated contracts negotiated by Giuliani Bracewell (the law firm of Perry pal Rudy Giuliani). However, Cintra will not do any building on TTC-35 except for the two southern segments of SH 130 that are underway and which will now be considered SH 130, not part of TTC-35.

Secondly, the environmental process on TTC-35 ends with a recommendation by TxDOT to the Federal Highway Administration to do nothing—called the “no-build option” or the “no action alternative.”

TxDOT, using taxpayer funds, spent years of time and energy and millions of dollars on TTC-35, reportedly $131 million for planning and environmental work. In addition to all of this wasted effort and money on the part of TxDOT, there are the untold volunteer hours, contributions, and worry on the part of residents in the threatened areas and supporters around the state.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the 4,000-page document showing a general TTC-35 route, was released in 2006, and the Final EIS was scheduled to be released in 2007. TxDOT officials said that the decision not to build TTC-35 was in response to comments from citizens received during the environmental process. Of course, during the entire TTC-35 ordeal, TxDOT has not cared at all about citizens’ opinions.


Even though citizen comments per se did not affect TxDOT, it was important that tens of thousands of residents attended the various levels of meetings and hearings, spoke against TTC-35, signed petitions, and submitted written comments. This effort formed the foundation of community organizations working against the Corridor and the process of influencing legislators and electing new legislators.

This, in turn, resulted in the legislature gradually turning against the Corridor and eliminating the Comprehensive Development Agreement tool.

The reason that TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration finally had no way to continue with the TTC-35 EIS was the action of the ECTSRPC in Bell and Milam counties. Five small towns and their associated school districts formed their Sub-Regional Planning Commission, and by state law, TxDOT was compelled to “coordinate” with their Commission. This meant that TxDOT had to take into account what the ECTSRPC citizens wanted and cover all required issues in the EIS process. TxDOT had not done this, meaning that the EIS was not legal and could not be recognized as legal by the Federal Highway Administration.

The ECTSRPC announced: “Selecting that option [no build] was exactly what the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC) forced TxDOT into choosing. . . . The planning commission began a series of what is called coordination meetings in the fall of 2007, by utilizing a little known state statute that forced the behemoth agency to come to Holland, Texas. . . . TxDOT came to Holland on three different occasions where they were asked to explain why they were going to destroy five towns and their school districts with a 1,200 foot-wide, 146 acre per mile toll road.

“‘Through coordination, we forced them to our table and then we used the federal NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) statute to box them in a legal corner out of which they could not escape,’ stated Ralph Snyder, a local Holland businessman and board member of the ECTSRPC. ‘That's what forced TxDOT to recommend 'No Build' to the Federal Highway Administration because we had shown how TxDOT, as the agent of the federal government, had violated the federal statute in at least 29 ways,’ Snyder continued.

“Fred Grant, president of American Stewards of Liberty, is the originator of the coordination strategy that brought TxDOT to their knees.”

Some more time and paperwork is required to complete the TTC-35 EIS process, at the end of which the Federal Highway Administration will issue its Record of Decision approving the “No Action Alternative.” This is what so many of us asked in our comments, never thinking it would actually happen--it hardly ever happens--but now it is the final result!

Even though the Legislature has gradually turned against the Corridor concept, the legislation enabling it is still on the books. In addition, the Trans-Texas Corridor began as Gov. Perry’s “vision,” and he has never renounced it. We have to remain vigilant as long as the Corridor statute has not been repealed, and as long as Perry or anyone else who supports the concept is in the governor’s office.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Texas Farm Bureau switches from Perry to KBH

KBH has just received the important endorsement of the Texas Farm Bureau. In the past, the TFB has endorsed Perry, even as it has issued strong statements against the Trans-Texas Corridor and in favor of stronger protections against eminent domain. Now, the TFB sees a viable alternative to Perry in KBH and has made the switch. Excerpts from their endorsement release:

When it comes to selecting the next governor of Texas, the choice boils down to one question for farm and ranch families in the Lone Star State: Which candidate can you trust?

"Time and again U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has earned both our trust and respect by listening to our concerns and acting on issues that matter," said Kenneth Dierschke, president of the Texas Farm Bureau.

Dierschke cited many examples of her support for Texas agriculture. Among them: her record in dealing with the Endangered Species Act, property rights issues, health care reform, the Farm Bill, the Clean Water Act and various trade issues.

On farm issues in particular, the senior senator from Texas has stood strong for farmers and ranchers from the Lone Star State, Dierschke added.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

TTC-35 Final Environmental Impact Statement STILL not released

The TTC-35 nvironmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which is expected to show that SH 130 will be the Corridor route through Williamson County, was due out in 2007. Now, in the last quarter of 2009, there is still no FEIS.

The Hillsboro Reporter noted in August that John A. Barton, TxDOT assistant executive director in charge of engineering operations, said that a ruling on the FEIS by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) “is expected by the end of the year, but there has been no decision on what to do with the study if it is approved,” because “the corridor system proposed by Governor Rick Perry fell by the wayside following political pressure from rural Texas residents.”

Standing Ground, published by Dan and Margaret Byfield, reports that the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission has filed a petition with the FHWA requesting that the study be rejected because “time has expired for [TxDOT] to complete the study under the Texas Administrative Code, the Texas Legislature denied authorization for CDA’s [the funding mechanism] for the TTC, and the entire project has changed significantly, making the current TTC environmental study obsolete.”

The Commission is awaiting a response from the FHWA, while preparing for the next step. The DEIS did not address some issues that should have been addressed, which can be challenged in a court of law. The Byfields conclude that “the once fast-tracked project is now at a standstill as TxDOT and the FHWA determine which direction to head, given the illegalities of the environmental study.”

Restrictions on eminent domain No. 11 on Nov. ballot

An eminent domain constitutional amendment will be on the November 3 ballot. Proposition 11 will help prevent in Texas what happened in the 2005 Kelo case, where the U.S. Supreme Court upheld taking property from one private owner and giving it to another private owner, for the purpose of economic development. This amendment to the Texas constitution will limit the taking of private property to a public use, not private development.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vince May files 290 E tolling lawsuit against TxDOT, others

Vince May has filed his lawsuit regarding tolling 290 East against CTRMA, CAMPO, TxDOT, and the Federal Highway Administration. The major points are below. Keep an eye out for media coverage as news of this suit spreads.

"Plaintiff will enter into a binding agreement with defendants, with surety, if defendants agree to build and operate the 290E project under the terms of the 290E Environmental Assessment, as presented to the public in August 2008, and further provided that defendants begin construction before February 1 2010 and complete the continuous 3-lane frontage roads from US 183 to east of Parmer Lane before commencing work on the main lanes, or main lane bridges, other than movement of earth, or removal of existing pavements and structures.

"If this agreement can not be amicably concluded, plaintiff prays that the Judge will order that the 290E Finding Of No Significant Impact is null and void, and that defendants may only proceed after completing an Environmental Impact Statement if they seek federal money or loans.

"Further, plaintiff prays that the Judge will enjoin defendants from denying access to public information requested by the public pursuant to any future Environmental Assessments or Environmental Impact Statements. This request pertains especially to 'Traffic & Revenue Studies,' no matter what stage of completion, whether Preliminary or Investment Grade."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Poll results against tolling 290 East

Here are the results of the poll on tolling 290 East from Jim Lutz. Thanks to Jim for undertaking this project. Respondents who live in the Manor area and who routinely drive 290 East were overwhelmingly against tolling 290 East and for financing highways with gas taxes instead of tolls.

Internet Opinion Poll Voters Reject Segment 1 of the Manor Tollway by a Margin of 83 Against to 48 In Favor (9-18-09)

An internet poll asking for citizen opinions for and against the tolling of US 290 was announced in the Manor Messenger issue of September 10th. During the 8 days of polling between 9-10-09 and 9-17-09 there were 185 opinions registered online.
The largest number of voters were from the East Travis County area.

The three polling questions included…
1. I live or work east of I35 and routinely use US 290 East ...Agree or Disagree
2. New construction of and improvements to existing major Texas arterial roadways should be financed by……choose A. Gas Taxes or B. Toll Roads
3. I approve of the tolling of US 290 East between 183 continuing east of the intersection of 290E/Springdale ….Agree or Disagree

Finally a box was provided for a signature and zip code.

A total of 185 entries were entered in the opinion poll. 54 respondents neither provided a signature and/or a zip code or were duplicate entries. These were rejected. The poll results reflect the opinions of the remaining 131 respondents.

In total 83 citizens voted against the US 290 toll road and 48 residents favored its construction.

East Travis County residents with zip codes in the Manor, Elgin, Coupland and Samsung areas totaled 91 voters of the total of 131 voters. Of these 71 votes were registered against the toll road and 29 votes favored the toll road construction as described in the poll. The remaining zip codes represent citizens in other areas. The designated zip codes were found in

35 votes were registered from the immediate 78653 Manor area code and included 28 votes against the toll road and 7 votes favoring the toll road.

Of the total 131 voters, 24 respondents didn’t use US 290 routinely. Sixteen of these 24 non user respondents also voted in favor of the US 290 toll road .

Nearly all of the voters against the US 290E toll road also voted in favor of gas taxes over poll taxes as a means of financing “major Texas arterial roadways”.

Thank you for your participation in this poll. Free poll software is available from Google at Google Docs.

Jim Lutz
Manor Area Citizen

Sunday, September 13, 2009

More misleading info from CTRMA about tolling 290 E

Fancy Fairchild, area resident and long-time opponent of tolling 290 E, has written the following letter in rebuttal to the CTRMA's Heiligenstein:

"Mike Heiligenstein, Exec. Director of CTRMA, and other people who work for that agency have given 'misleading public information' (a nice way of saying it) to the public on several occasions.
At the Environmental, Social, and Economic Impact Hearing on August 8, 2008, CTRMA spokesmen said that with their toll plan there would be 3 free lanes on 290 E with no charge for flyover bridges. They said it would cost an estimated 15 cents per mile in 2010 to drive on the toll road, with the rate to be raised 2.75% annually.

"A couple of months after this hearing, CTRMA asked CAMPO to approve a new plan essentially changing the number of free lanes from 3 to 2 and charges for using flyover bridges (with new bridges added to the plan). Their new plan also changes the way the rates are decided so that a higher percentage of rate can be charged. With the new plan, the costs of driving the toll road would greatly increase.

"The 'free lanes' Mr. Heiligenstein continually promises would not be like the freeway we currently use. Last year during a meeting at the Blackland Prairie citizen’s organization, ­­CTRMA’s Assistant Exec. Director Amadeo Saenz admitted that the speed limit on the 'free' lanes would average 35 mph and that several lights would be added in order to (and I quote) 'force people to drive on the toll road.'

"It’s too bad TXDOT, CTRMA, and other transportation agencies did not do what they should have done all along: create a viable, affordable plan to deal with 290 East traffic with the money they already have. A lawsuit is apparently the only way to get them to do that. The 290 East toll project is so frail it has to be propped up with federal stimulus money meant to provide aid to citizens. Federal stimulus funds should not finance an expensive and unnecessary toll road whose profits will go to perpetuate even more toll roads."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Take the poll about tolling 290 East

If you have an opinion on tolling 290 East, Jim Lutz has created a poll to register your opinion.
His poll is on his website bolaman. Just click on this link:

The poll asks for names and zip codes, but the names will not be published. A notice about this poll will appear in this Thursday's Manor Messenger.

Jim said, "I have had only a few comments about the proposed lawsuit in opposition to the 290 E latest toll plan. I thought it would be worthwhile to create an online poll similar to one created a few years ago about whether local citizens support or oppose the latest TxDot/CTRMA 290 toll plan. I am not personally a litigant but I think the results may have an impact one way or the other....The toll poll can be found at ...."

This toll poll announcement has been sent to the ACRE email list and the Blackland Prairie Concerned Citizens list.

Please see the previous post about donating to the lawsuit against tolling 290 East.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Donations requested for lawsuit against tolling 290 E

Vince May has begun the process of filing a lawsuit against the tolling of 290 East. Below is the most recent status. Please mail donations to support his suit to Jim Lutz at the address below; make checks payable to Vince May.

Here's Vince's update:

"Many of you know that a legal process was begun in April to stop the TxDOT/CTRMA 290E toll project. FHWA was asked to do an administrative review of everything that has happened and decide if the 290E Environmental Assessment (EA) should be redone.Andrew Hawkins (SOS attorney) and several others initiated this Complaint. FHWA has not responded and the Complaint will soon expire. That would let CTRMA sell bonds and commence construction.

"People who live in the corridor are determined to stop the toll project.Our only avenue at this point is to file suit in federal court. We will ask a judge to set aside the 290E EA. We prefer a parkway with 3 lanes be built instead of the current 2 lanes. This can be done with the federal stimulus money. Our plan would make it easy to retrofit bridges at major intersections (like Springdale Rd) when they are needed in 5 or 10 years. This can be done with gas taxes. (Congress will soon vote to raise the federal gas tax by 50%.)

"We attempted to find a pro-bono lawyer to take the case. None could take on an expensive case. Therefore, we will file pro se. I do expect that a lawyer may intervene on our side after the case is filed but first we must file the complaint in federal court. It will then likely take ~60 days before any court proceedings begin.

"We need $400 to file and would like to have $200 to spend on contingency. We need help to raise this sum. I am asking as many people who can to contribute $10 by September 14th. We would much rather have 60 people donate $10 each rather than one person bear the whole cost. If you can send more than $10, that would be great.

"Donations can be sent to:
Jim Lutz
14812 FM 973N
Manor, Tx. 78653

"If Andrew's process stops the 290E project, Jim will return any unspent donations as best he can. If your phone number is on your check he will call you and confirm that the check is torn up. Otherwise any cash received will be donated to one of the 3 food banks that serve poor people in Manor.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Burka analyzes WSJ "Perry Puff Piece"

Texas Monthly's Paul Burka comments on the WSJ interview with Perry that was the subject of our previous post.

Burka's is a lengthy post, and there are sure to be many interesting comments eventually. It was just posted at 8:25 p.m. Regarding the quote under discussion in our previous post, Burka says:

"Hmmm. In 1976 Perry was a Democrat. Maybe he was motivated by Reagan, but Reagan wasn’t really Reagan yet. This seems pretty self-serving to me."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Perry lies about being at '76 Republican convention, if WSJ quote is accurate

Thanks to Martha Estes for pointing out the info from the Hutchison campaign.

" . . .in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Rick Perry talked about the 1976 Republican convention and Ronald Reagan. Perry said that people at the convention "were looking around and saying 'we nominated the wrong dude.'" The problem is that Rick Perry was a Democrat in 1976, he voted for Jimmy Carter that year, and he remained a Democrat until 1989. Not only would he not have voted for Reagan in 1976 had he been the nominee, but Rick Perry remained a Democrat throughout the Reagan years."

If it's not lying from Perry about "looking around" at the Republican convention and "we" nominating the wrong dude, it is at least a huge misrepresentation. Paraphrasing the old commercial, "It's not nice to fool with the Wall Street Journal."

Can he get away with this? Does it make enough people mad enough to deprive Perry of enough votes to get re-elected? We'll see.

Monday, August 24, 2009

High-speed rail--bad idea for the U.S.

Interesting explanation from Real Clear Politics--the reasons that high-speed rail is not a good idea for this country.

The comments on public funds and subsidized tickets for a very few commuters and travelers also apply to Austin's venture into light rail.

A few quotes:

"The Obama administration's enthusiasm for high-speed rail is a dispiriting example of government's inability to learn from past mistakes. Since 1971, the federal government has poured almost $35 billion of subsidies into Amtrak with few public benefits. At most, we've gotten negligible reductions -- invisible and statistically insignificant -- in congestion, oil use or greenhouse gases. What's mainly being provided is subsidized transportation for a small sliver of the population."

"Given this, you'd think even the dullest politician wouldn't expand rail subsidies, especially considering the almost $11 trillion of projected federal budget deficits between now and 2019. But no, the administration has made high-speed rail a top priority. It's already proposed spending $13 billion ($8 billion in the "stimulus" package and $1 billion annually for five years) as a down payment on high-speed rail in 10 "corridors," including Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and Houston to New Orleans."

"President Obama's network may never be built. Its doubtful private investors will advance the money and once government officials acknowledge the full costs, they'll retreat. In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) cited a range of construction costs, from $22 million a mile to $132 million a mile. Harvard economist Edward Glaeser figures $50 million a mile might be a plausible average."

"What works in Europe and Asia won't in the United States. Even abroad, passenger trains are subsidized. But the subsidies are more justifiable because geography and energy policies differ.
Densities are much higher . . ."

"Distances also matter. America is big; trips are longer. Beyond 400 to 500 miles, fast trains can't compete with planes."

"Governments at all levels are already overburdened. Compounding the burdens with new wasteful subsidies would squeeze spending for more vital needs -- schools, police and (ironically) mass transit."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hutchison denounces the Corridor in her kick-off speech

The Trans-Texas Corridor was denounced by Kay Bailey Hutchison in her campaign kick-off speech today.

She criticized TxDOT, calling it:

“'the most arrogant, unaccountable state agency in the history of Texas,' saying she wants to expand it to represent more regions of the state. A proposal to do just that died in the Legislature this year."

She said that she would kill the Corridor:

“Then there’s the Trans-Texas Corridor. The biggest land grab in the history of Texas. And the governor wanted to turn it over to a foreign company to build toll roads. Well, they can call it the Trans-Texas Corridor. Or they can call it something different. But here’s what I will call it when I take the oath of office: dead, buried, history.”

Saturday, August 15, 2009

News from annual Texas Transportation Summit

TURF's Terri Hall is covering the Texas Transportation Summit on her San Antonio Express-news blog. See her coverage here:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hutchison makes Trans-Texas Corridor an issue in gubernatorial race

Thanks to Martha Estes for alerting us to the Trans-Texas Corridor popping up in the Perry-Hutchison race. As explained in the Dallas Morning News transportation blog

KBH has started a Corridor clock running on one of her websites.

"Hutchison's campaign team is betting that it [the TTC] will be an issue. They've been sending out messages in the past couple days highlighting what they say is Perry's stubborn support for his Trans Texas Corridor idea.

"Apparently, the Governor hasn't sufficiently disavowed the program. . . .
Still, the Legislature left town this year without extending the state's authority to make private contracts for toll roads. Without the ability to partner with private companies to build and operate toll roads, the TTC -- whatever it is called -- is as worthless as last year's bets on the Derby. Right?

"Where Hutchison's team is on firmer footing is in questioning whether Perry has ever truly disavowed the TTC. He never has. He bowed to the political reality that it wouldn't fly, but he has never apologized or retreated from his position that it was a good idea.

"What he has done . . . is say that he and TxDOT made mistakes in the way they presented the idea, essentially scaring the holy business out of farmers and ranchers who saw on the early corridor maps huge expanses of lands subject to eminent domain.

"[I]t is exactly those folks -- the landowners, and not so much the toll road opponents -- that team Hutchison is attempting to reach with its latest barrage of thrusts at Perry and the Trans Texas Corridor.

"Will transportation play a big role in your vote for governor next year? If so, are you sufficiently mad about tolls to hold Perry accountable?

"[H]ere is the gist of the Hutchison attack on Perry, from campaign spokesman Jeff Sadosky:
'Texans deserve a straight yes or no from Rick Perry on whether he still supports his controversial Trans-Texas Corridor plan to confiscate nearly 600,000 acres of land. His refusal to say is just another attempt by Rick Perry to cover-up his record of doing what's right for himself but wrong for Texas.'"

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"The 290 E project is falling apart"

Ben Wear's recent coverage of the shrinking plan to toll 290 E

has brought out varying ideas of what is really going on and what will happen on 290 E.

Vince May, Elgin-area resident, who has been fighting the 290 E toll plan for years, has sent out this message:

"The 290E project is falling apart.

"1) Notice that they have reneged on the promise of 3-lane frontage roads. This will mean only 1 lane going straight through at intersections. That is less than we have now, and violates state law.Why do I say this? Drive to Walmart on 183S. The frontage roads are 3 lanes. As you approach Cameron Rd the frontage road widens to 6 lanes. But only 2 lanes go straight through the light. No matter what time of day, there is always a queue in those lanes. You have to wait through 3 or more signal cycles during rush hour. TxDOT did this to force people to get on the proposed toll lanes and stay on the toll lanes. I have the map for the part of 183S that is still proposed for tolling. It has 2 lane frontage roads but the frontage roads narrow down to 1 lane at some intersections. I have to assume that they plan the same thing for 290E.

"2) Look at the $91 million that they plan to spend "buying right of way for the remaining several miles" while they have bridges missing on the first mile. This money will be spent on Kirk Watson's property and Green Line infrastructure, none of which is 290E ROW. I wonder if any of our other illustrious leaders are partners with Kirk?

"I don't think any of this will actually happen. But this is what they intended all along. Promise you a nice road for 15 cents per mile, then build an abomination and charge 50 cents per mile."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hope to be back soon

Have been hors de combat for the last three weeks due to an injury in the family and will still be gone for probably three more weeks. Luckily, it's a relatively slow season for Corridor news, although rail news is building, and the gubernatorial campaign is getting into full swing.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

CDA Corridor funding mechanism killed by the Lege

Today the mechanism that would have funded the Trans-Texas Corridor was not renewed by the Legislature. Gov. Perry had asked legislators to pass three things during the special session: (1) continuing the existence of a few state agencies including TxDOT until the 2011 session; (2) allowing the state to issue $2 billion in transportation bonds; and (3) extending the ability to fund toll roads through comprehensive development agreements (CDA’s) by public-private partnerships (PPP’s).

CDA’s to die on August 31

The House and Senate passed the bill to keep TxDOT alive until they can consider reforms in the 2011 session, and they allowed the $2 billion in transportation bonds. They did NOT extend the CDA’s, and the authority to do CDA’s will expire August 31.

TURF says, “Taxpayers want Perry’s controversial and virtually universally detested road privatization schemes to die a natural death August 31 as scheduled, which will also KILL the mechanism to build the Trans-Texas Corridor.”

Why did Perry try for CDA’s in the special session?

Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka says, “The governor’s fight for more toll roads and more Comprehensive Development Agreements makes no sense politically. It puts the spotlight directly on his most controversial policy.”

Since renewing the CDA’s was in trouble from the beginning in the Legislature, why did Perry include CDA’s as part of the call for the special session? What was in it for him to put CDA’s up to the legislators, only to be swatted down? Was it to show his major construction contributors that he was doing his best for them, and he couldn’t help it if the recalcitrant legislators wouldn’t go along?


The Statesman’s Ben Wear says, “For supporters of such contracts, which were touted earlier this decade as a way to bring in large upfront payments to TxDOT from private companies, the issue is not so much the next two years. Rather, if the existing authority in state law expires, reviving it may be politically impossible.”

He quotes our erstwhile representative Mike Krusee: "It means the potential loss of billions of dollars for road construction." It was Krusee’s legislation in the 2003 session that made the CDA’s legal, among other things,that started off the entire Trans-Texas Corridor fiasco, causing so many people to spend so much time and energy trying to save rural Texas from being paved over. Thanks, Mike! Can you stop talking now that the Corridor funding method is dead?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Overriding late Gov. veto fails--Gov. VETOES ban on toll advertising

Constitutional amendment to let the legislature return to override a Governor's veto fails

One of the things that didn’t make it through this last session was a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the legislature to come back after the regular session to override gubernatorial vetoes of bills that had been passed by both houses. As it is now, if a bill is passed toward the end of the session, time runs out before the legislature can try to override the governor’s veto, even if the votes are there to override.

The override amendment was introduced in both the House and the Senate. HJR 29 by Representative Elkins was voted out of the House State Affairs Committee, but didn’t pass the House. SJR 14 by Sen. Wentworth was voted out of the Senate State Affairs Committee, but was not allowed to be considered by the full Senate by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst. There is an informative explanation of this in the Statesman:

Governor vetoes the ban on promoting toll roads

A prime example of why we need the constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to come back to override a veto is the fate of HB 2142.

During the last few years, TxDOT spent millions in taxpayer money for advertising and lobbying to actively promote toll roads, including the Trans-Texas Corridor. The TURF organization sued TxDOT to stop this practice. While the lawsuit was pending, Representative McClendon introduced HB 2142 this session, which would have banned the use of our money in this way.

HB 2142 easily passed both houses and was on its way to protect us from having our own money used against us, when Gov. 39% vetoed it. As Sen. Kirk Watson said, “This shows so much chutzpah that I still can’t believe it, the Governor vetoed a bill prohibiting TxDOT from actively advertising their toll roads. The bill passed unanimously at nearly every step (it passed 132-1 on the House floor). And all it says is TxDOT can’t spend taxpayer money influencing public opinion about toll roads.”

TURF’s Terri Hall said that a judge had been on the verge of dismissing TURF’s lawsuit against TxDOT because it looked like HB 2142 had put this protection of taxpayer funds into statute. However, with Perry’s veto, TURF’s lawsuit now may have a better chance of proceeding.

Perry's vetoes show need for veto override

Perry’s veto of eminent domain protection in the 2007 session, and now his veto of the ban on using our money to promote toll roads, including the Corridor, are both reasons why legislators should be able to come back to consider overriding vetoes of bills that are overwhelmingly desired by the people and their representatives.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More between-session news--eminent domain; Perry signs non-existent document

As the end of the session approached, there were two pieces of eminent domain legislation that had a chance of getting through—SB 18 and HJR 14.


SB 18 was the bill desired by organizations like the Texas Farm Bureau. It called for more transparency in the condemnation process, compensation for diminished access, and the right for the owner to buy back property at its selling price if it was not used for the stated purpose within a certain time period.

SB 18 passed the Senate, passed out of committee to the full House, and was caught in the last-minute logjam caused by the delaying tactics on the House floor to avoid bringing up the voter ID bill.


Even though SB 18 died, HJR 14 calling for a constitutional amendment passed the House and the Senate and will appear on the November ballot. If approved by voters, it would prevent in Texas the situation that happened in the Kelo case, where the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the process of taking property from one private owner and giving it to another private owner. HJR limits the taking of private property to a public taking.


Some, including Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers, and the Texas Farm Bureau, are calling for stronger eminent domain protections to be addressed in a special session. Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke said, “We have to guard against the possibility that some may declare the job done on eminent domain reform. If there is a special session, we hope Governor Perry will add it to the call. If there is not, this has to be a top priority for the next regular session.”


There have been several news accounts of Gov. 39% signing the authorization in front of the Alamo for HJR 14 to be on the ballot this November. The only account I saw that explains that the whole ceremony was a sham is from Ken Herman in the Statesman.

“Who amongst us does not enjoy political theater? . . . The only thing better than political theater is the subcategory of political theater/fiction. This would be when a politician performs in a little show that is fully make-believe. . . .

“A real trouper, Gov. Rick Perry showed up at the Alamo, right arm in sling from a recent bike wreck, and used his left hand to sign House Joint Resolution 14, a proposed constitutional amendment concerning eminent domain. . . .

“Beautiful. Perfect. Inspiring. And as phony as they come.

“Here's why: Texas governors have nothing to do with proposed constitutional amendments. When a proposed amendment gets the necessary two-thirds vote in each chamber — as HJR 14 did this year — it goes to the secretary of state, who puts it on the statewide ballot. Unlike proposed laws, proposed constitutional amendments are not routed through the governor's office.

“No vetoes allowed. No signature required. No signing ceremony needed. . . . It's all about re-establishing Perry as a private property-rights kind of guy, a credential he covets as he heads toward a 2010 renomination battle against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. . . .

“Exactly two years ago Monday, Perry invited questions about his dedication to private property rights by vetoing a bill dealing with the concept of ‘diminished access.’ . . . the veto did not sit well with some, including the Texas Farm Bureau, holder of a potentially pivotal endorsement in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary.

“The 2007 veto came on the heels of Perry's ill-fated Trans-Texas Corridor highway project, one that also attracted the ire of folks who fear government taking of private property.

“Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, stood with Perry on Monday. After the ‘signing’ ceremony, the 21-year legislative veteran could not immediately recall previously attending a ceremony where a governor signed something a governor has no business signing.”

Since there is no provision for such a signing, I wonder what Perry actually signed. Did his office make up an official-looking document that would be a fake with no significance? Then what happened to the signed fake document? Maybe it will become a collector’s item.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Between regular and special sessions--recap of TTC and TxDOT bills

Now that we are between the end of the regular session of the Legislature and the beginning of a special session that Gov. Perry may call for later this summer, this is a good time to recap what happened to the main bills related to the Corridor and the TxDOT Sunset process (HB 300).

The last day of the regular session, the House acted to keep some state agencies, including TxDOT, in business by including them in legislation related to stimulus funding. This action would have caused TxDOT reorganization to be brought up in the 2011 session. However, the evening of the last session day, the Senate did not act on the House solution, thus leaving the future of TxDOT officially up in the air. Technically, if nothing further is done, TxDOT could begin a one-year process of shutting down on September 1 and go out of existence in September 2010.

Practically speaking, no one expects this to happen. Perry has said he will call a special session, although he has not said when or what issues would be included. Some expect that keeping the agencies going will be the bare minimum that will be in the special session.


HB 11 by Leibowitz (D-San Antonio) would have repealed TxDOT’s “authority for the establishment and operation of the Trans-Texas Corridor.” HB 11 received a hearing in the House Transportation Committee, but was left pending in committee. During the House debate on HB 300—the omnibus TxDOT Sunset bill—Leibowitz succeeded in adding repealing the TTC to HB 300. Unfortunately, with the death of HB 300, repealing TTC also died for the regular session.


HB 300, the TxDOT Sunset bill was voted out of the House and the Senate in two different forms. The House/Senate conference committee that was supposed to reconcile the two versions could not come up with a final bill that was readily acceptable by the membership of both houses, and HB 300 died when time ran out in the session.

Isett (R-Lubbock) authored HB 300, the TxDOT Sunset bill, and was the manager of it as it went through the House. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports: “Isett said that since Perry said he will call a special session, he hopes the lawmakers finish the entire legislative package left on the table when the clock ran out. . . . ‘My preference is that we give that agency legislative direction,’ Isett said. . . . I still believe that it is an agency that needs to be updated and reformed at many different levels.’”


HB 565, by McClendon (D-San Antonio) attempted to abolish the Texas Transportation Commission and replace it with an elected state Transportation Commissioner. This bill was left pending in the House Transportation Committee.

While the House was debating TxDOT Sunset, some representatives tried again for some sort of elected Transportation Commission, and the final language called for an elected state-wide Commissioner plus 14 commission members elected from districts around the state. The Senate’s version kept the five governor-appointed commissioners, but reduced terms from six to two years and mandated commissioners leaving when their terms are up.

With the death of the TxDOT Sunset bill, efforts to change the Transportation Commission are stalled for now.


Another bill from McClendon was HB 2142, which prohibits TxDOT from spending our taxpayer money to actively promote toll roads, including the Corridor. TxDOT spent millions on their Keep Texas Moving campaign, which used advertising and lobbying to advocate the building of the Corridor and other toll roads. Terri Hall’s TURF organization sued TxDOT, saying that Keep Texas Moving was an improper use of taxpayer funds. The suit is still pending. In the meantime, McClendon’s bill puts an end to this type of campaign statutorily. It does not forbid putting out neutral informational material. HB 2142 passed both houses and has been sent to the Governor.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ag Commish calls for eminent domain in special session

Many of you might have already seen the column from Ag Commissioner Todd Staples in today’s Statesman. In case you haven’t . . .

SB 18, the bill to provide more protection from eminent domain, the bill that was strongly supported by the Texas Farm Bureau, passed the Senate, although it was held up in the Senate far longer that it should have been. It reached the House so late that it was caught up in the end-of-session slow-down effort in the House, so never passed.

HJR 14 did pass both houses and will be on the November ballot as a constitutional amendment saying that condemnation proceedings must be for a public purpose.

Staples’ column asks that eminent domain protection be one of the subjects in a special session. He says: “The passage of HJR 14, a constitutional amendment that will be sent to the voters in November, provides much needed protection to ensure that, in the unfortunate instance that government must exercise condemnation powers, that it is for a clear public use and purpose.”

“Painfully absent from our laws in Texas . . . are fundamental protections to the owners of private property. A series of loopholes in the law and court decisions have eroded our rights. . . . [SB 18] would have established stricter penalties for not negotiating in good faith; demanded adequate compensation for loss of access; and clarified that eminent domain must only be exercised for public use. We know there are several matters that were casualties of the regular session that need to be tackled — eminent domain reform is without a question or doubt one of these essential topics.”

Monday, June 1, 2009

TxDOT Sunset dead; TxDOT lives until 2011; what about the Trans-Texas Corridor?

After the last several months of the TxDOT Sunset process and the 2009 session, it looks like both the good reforms and the bad additions have NOT made it through. Lots of time and energy expended for nothing, as far as TxDOT reforms go. TxDOT Sunset crept “in this petty pace . . . a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”


Not only did TxDOT Sunset not pass, but also TxDOT was not even saved by the usual method of placing TxDOT survival in the “safety net” legislation.

As reported by the Statesman political blog, the House added keeping TxDOT open “to a bill authorizing state agencies to receive federal stimulus dollars. Agencies have to be open in order to get stimulus dollars . . . So the House corrected the stimulus bills to say that the departments at risk [including TxDOT] would stay open.”


One interesting aspect of doing it this way is that if TxDOT had been continued by the usual “safety net” process, it would have been up for Sunset review in 2013. Now, the TxDOT Sunset Review will happen again in the 2011 session. See the explanation on the Star-Telegram political blog.


The Statesman political blog reports that the Senate may not agree that the House action is allowable.
“Word is there could be a problem with the House wording: It may not allow TxDOT to issue the $2 billion in bonds it needs to continue road-building projects. Big problem that would be. And a bigger one: The House adjourned sine die about 20 minutes ago. So they’ve left the Capitol for good, at least in this legislative session. No way to fix any mistake now.”


Of course, since HB 300, the TxDOT Sunset Bill, died in the House, there was no need for Sen. Carona to filibuster it in the Senate. The Dallas Morning News political blog says, “A smiling Sen. John Carona said Monday he didn’t have to bring his tennis shoes to the Senate floor on Monday after his filibuster threat . . . was made moot by the House decision . . . to let the proposal die.”


The Senate has just adjourned “without approving a key measure to keep five agencies in business—including TxDOT,” according to the Statesman political blog.
“Senate leaders said they expect Perry will call the Legislature back into session to deal with the new crisis. . . . Short of a special legislative session the agencies will begin shutting down in coming months.”


Unfortunately, since HB 300, the TxDOT Sunset Bill, is dead, the language that repealed the Trans-Texas Corridor is also dead. At the beginning the session, Rep. Leibowitz of San Antonio filed HB 11 that specifically repealed TxDOT’s authority to create the TTC which was left pending in committee. However, the language was added to HB 300, where it has died.

Fortunately, the Comprehensive Development Agreements/Public Private Partnerships may also have died. These CDA/PPP were the building blocks of the TTC “vision.” The TTC would have been built by private corporations like Cintra of Spain, who would have been working under comprehensive development agreements. These CDA/PPP’s were added to HB 300, thus allowing segments of the TTC to be built in this way, even if the name TTC was removed.

Without the passage of HB 300, these CDA/PPP’s are due to expire in September. So the language repealing the TTC did not pass. However, the foundational building blocks of the TTC, CDA/PPP’s, also did not pass, and this method of highway construction will expire.

All in all, at this point, we have made further progress against the TTC during this session.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

HB 300 TxDOT Sunset Bill--filibustered?

Patricia Kilday Hart reports on the burkablog

that Sen. Carona is considering filibustering HB 300, the TxDOT Sunset Bill, because earlier today the House-Senate conference committee stripped out of it Carona's local option transportation tax. Hart says the final committee report "was not shown to Transportation Chair Carona or Vice-Chair Kirk Watson, but signed and filed by Senate conferees Glenn Hegar, Chuy Hinojosa and Robert Nichols." How does this happen? Did the rest of the committee just wait until the chair and vice-chair of the Senate Transportation & Homeland Security Committee were both out of the room at the same time, sign the thing real quick, and then take off at a run to file it? I'm having trouble picturing this.

In addition to Hegar, Hinojosa, and Nichols signing for the Senate, Linda Harper-Brown, Joe Pickett (Chair of the House Transportation Committee), Wayne Smith, and Carl Isett (author of HB 300), signed for the House. The only House conferee not to sign was Ruth Jones McClendon.

Previously, Carona has said he will not accept the TxDOT Sunset Bill if it does not contain his local option plan. From this point, the signed bill without his local option plan will be printed and distributed to the Senate and the House to be voted on by all members. It is not clear how soon the 1,000-plus-page bill call be printed and distributed, so it is uncertain when the votes in both houses will occur. It has to be before the session ends on Monday, June 1. Is it feasible for a Carona filibuster to prevent a Senate vote and thus kill HB 300? If this happens, TxDOT will have to be continued for two years by the "safety net" bill and its Sunset process taken up by the next session

SB 18 eminent domain protection is dead

While we are breathlessly awaiting word from the HB 300 TxDOT Sunset conference committee, let's use this time to consider some instructive insights from Martha Estes about another bill that we had high hopes for this session--SB 18, more protection from eminent domain.

See the most recent ACRE post on this issue:

For other ACRE eminent domain posts, click on the "eminent domain" tag at the bottom of that post.

Re SB 18, Martha laments:

"IT IS DEAD: About the EMINENT DOMAIN bill & SB 18 by Estes.. IT IS DEAD

". . . the Eminent Domain BILL was used as a 'bargaining position' to exact support for other bills. SO... holding it up in the Senate State Affairs Cmte. & Senate was necessary to maintain the upper hand in the backroom deals.

"RULE: What you FIRST see is OFTEN NOT what you get.. it is likely disguised or likely to undergo transformational surgery through amendments or committee substitutes & often BOTH.

"STRATEGY: Sending bills through CERTAIN committees guarantees their outcome & controls their "speed". Obvious Example: Rep. Mike Krusee as Chair of the Transportation Cmte. until this session.

"TEASER: The Eminent Domain bill was hyped statewide MORE than any OTHER transportation related bill (to 'please or appease the masses') with the Local Option having a big, COSTLY public relations roll-out (HillCo lobby firm) at first & then growing quiet (but working feverishly behind the scenes) when there was some loud opposition.. as WE well know.

"KEYHOLE MOMENT on a resolution of interest to the masses: The revelations in the Dallas paper related to the VETO OVERRIDE resolution HJR 29 is a good example of what you DON'T ordinarily SEE behind the scenes."

[See the end of ACRE post
which discusses HJR 29 and Wentworth's unusual candor.]

Martha concludes, "Senator WENTWORTH's candor WILL cost him dearly in his next Republican primary. I'll take any bets on it.. and I am NOT a gambler."

TxDOT Sunset HB 300--down to the wire

According to leaders in the lege, if conferees don't reach agreement on HB 300, TxDOT Sunset, by about noon today, TxDOT will have to be continued under "safety net" legislation for the next two years, to be dealt with in the 2011 session. The latest from the Newspaper Tree doesn't sound like an agreement is immenent:

Sen. Carona still won't accept HB 300 in the Senate if it does not include the local transportation tax option. Both Pickett, House Transportation Chair, and Isett, author of HB 300, say the House will not go with HB 300 if it does include the local option.

We should know the outcome later today.

Friday, May 29, 2009

TxDOT Sunset HB 300--internal and external attacks

House and Senate conference committee members are now negotiating to see if the two different versions of the TxDOT Sunset bill can be reconciled. Given some issues that it seems that they will never agree on, will this HB 300 collapse from its own weight? A good explanation in the Star-Telegram:

The House has declared that it will never accept the local option transportation tax plan desired mainly by the DFW area, and the Senate has declared that it will not accept HB 300 without this plan.

The Star-Telegram reports a possible compromise: "Senate negotiators are offering to reduce two proposed fees on motorists and delay countywide elections by two years in a proposed compromise to keep a local transportation funding plan alive . . ."

While negotiations go on behind closed doors, there will be a very public rally and press conference: "Several hundred business and community leaders from Arlington, Burleson and other area cities planned to descend on the state Capitol today to show support for the local-option transportation provision, regarded as crucial to resolving worsening traffic congestion in North Texas."

In addition to the local option tax plan, the other major point of disagreement is red-light cameras. The House has placed a phase-out of the cameras in its version, but it is not in the Senate's.

Senate Transportation & Homeland Security Chair John Carona says that "local-option provisions are not negotiable." House Transportation Chair Joe Pickett says, according to the Star-Telegram, that he is "concerned that a provision widely opposed by the House membership could endanger the entire bill."

TURF, Liberty Matters, Texans Against Tolls, Independent Texans, and others are working to kill HB 300. They argue that the current version does not contain the desirable changes developed during the Sunset process and does contain most of the undesirable provisions that could not stand on their own and have been added under the table at the last minute. It could be that their efforts, plus the inability of the House and Senate to agree, will accomplish what seemed unlikely until recently--the death of HB 300, resulting in a TxDOT Sunset re-do, to be tackled in the 2011 session.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Kill HB 300 and start over

Analysis of the current HB 300, the TxDOT Sunset Bill, by Liberty Matters, TURF, Texans Against Tolls, Independent Texans, and others leads to the conclusion that the many amendments added to the original HB 300 by the House and the Senate have destroyed the original Sunset provisions that were carefully developed by the Sunset Commission staff and legislators that made up the original HB 300. These organizations are asking citizens to call their representatives and ask them to kill HB 300, pass "safety net" legislation that will allow TxDOT to continue for the next two years, and then prepare to do a new, clean TxDOT Sunset Bill in 2011.

Here are TURF's directions for contacting your Representative.

Contact your Texas STATE representatives and tell them:"KILL HB 300, and pass a safety net bill."

Find your STATE Representative here...Call the Capitol switchboard (512) 463-4630 between 8 AM - 5 PM. Most are there late into the evening, to get your reps direct phone numbers, go here...

You can also email your STATE Representative by using this formula: Plug in the name of your STATE Representative to:

You can also email your STATE Senator by using this formula: Plug in the name of your STATE Senator to:

Phone calls are best at this stage of the game...if you can't get through, keep calling and email.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Has time run out for eminent domain protection and veto override?

Last night, time may have run out on two important bills.
First, the Statesman’s Jason Embry reports on eminent domain legislation. SB 18 was passed by the Senate and was before the House when it shut down at midnight with many bills left on the calendar.

Embry says, “Many thought the chubbing might ease up enough Tuesday for some big non-voter ID bills to pass, such as the bill authorizing the state to get federal stimulus dollars for unemployment insurance and the eminent-domain legislation. But Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, had other ideas, launching his own talk-a-thon that ate up most of the day . . .

“So there are six days left in the session and some major Senate bills are (at best) in serious jeopardy because they did not pass the House: . . . eminent domain . . . If any of this is going to be salvaged, there is going to have to be major triage in the Senate . . . "

Let’s hope some “major triage” can save SB 18--stronger protection against eminent domain for landowners.

The second good bill in danger is HJR 29 that would allow the Legislature to come back after the regular session to override a governor’s veto. As reported by Christy Hoppe, Dallas Morning News, Sen. Jeff Wentworth says that Gov. Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst “are conspiring to kill” this constitutional amendment.

From Hoppe’s article: “Sen. Jeff Wentworth, speaking with unusual candor against powerhouses in the Capitol, said Dewhurst betrayed a trust as the Senate's presiding officer to deal fairly and address bills that have the support of two-thirds of the 31-member Senate. Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said he had collected the signatures of 26 Senate supporters for the constitutional proposal, but Dewhurst told him that at the behest of the governor, he would not call up the bill for debate."

Wentworth said, "[Dewhurst] made a deal with the governor and gave his word he'd kill the bill. He told me that the governor has talked to him 20 times about it." The veto override passed the House easily and has been sitting in the Senate since May 15—more than enough time for it to be debated and passed by the 26 Senators that have signed up for it.

To allow Texans to vote on this amendment is overwhelmingly favored by their representatives in the House and the Senate. It is being killed by Perry and Dewhurst. What does this tell us about the need for this amendment?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Senate has passed TxDOT Sunset Bill--what might happen next?

The Statesman's Ben Wear discusses where TxDOT Sunset stands now and its possible future.

HB 300 started out in the House as a huge bill and it has grown. Wear says:

"The thing had gotten so big by the time it reached the Senate floor that staffers printed it in an unusual single-spaced, legal-size paper format just to keep the height of the stack down. . . . The rough estimate is that in normal format HB 300 was a 700-page bill at least when it hit the Senate floor."

There are important differences between the House and Senate versions, and Wear discusses what might happen now and the timing:

"First, the 15 or so Senate amendments have to be incorporated and it has to be printed. This alone could take 24 hours. But we’re told that in the meantime, or perhaps after this is done, the bill would then go back to the House for concurrence.

"[S]tep two, the House declines to concur and appoints its five conference committee members. The two leaders of this almost surely will be Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, the bill sponsor, and Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, the House Transportation Committee chairman. . . . [The Senate] will then appoint its own conference committee members. The leaders there will be Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, the Senate sponsor, and Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

"Both the House and Senate must vote for final bills emerging from conference committees by midnight Sunday, the session’s penultimate day. . . . Realistically, then, negotiations have to be done by sometime Friday."

Some sort of measure to keep TxDOT going, rather than Sunset it, must be passed. It sounds like it will be difficult to go through all these steps in time to complete all the reorganization contained in HB 300. If the House and Senate can't get this bill out in time, or if they complete their work, but Perry vetoes it, I assume there will be some mechanism to keep TxDOT going the way it is for two more years and start the whole Sunset process over again for the 2011 session. If this is the case, untold hours of work by the Sunset staff, legislators, and citizens giving input will have been for naught, at least at this point.

Monday, May 25, 2009

HB 300--TxDOT Sunset Bill--what if it doesn't pass?

A very clear explanation by Michael Lindenberger of the Dallas Morning News about where the TxDOT Sunset Bill started out in the House, how it was changed and weakened in the Senate, and where it stands now.

He concludes that it is even possible that the House and Senate are at an impass on this HB 300 and that it will not pass. If it does not pass, being a Sunset Bill, it could mean that TxDOT would cease to exist. Since that is not something that legislators would allow, they might pass something that would kick the can on down the road--continue TxDOT for only two years and try for reorganization again in two years.

I would hate for HB 300 to go down the drain, since it does now contain language that repeals the Trans-Texas Corridor. However, this could be taken out before final passage, if any, so everything is up in the air.

Thanks to Roger Baker for sending this around.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Yes to SB 18 for more protection against eminent domain

SB 18, the eminent domain bill by Estes is now on the House’s Major State Calendar. It was expected that it would go before the House today, but because the House has been clogged up for most of the day with delaying actions, this bill has not been acted on yet.

SB 18 has been changed somewhat since it was introduced. Some are saying that it has been fatally weakened, but others believe that it still gives property owners more rights than we have currently, including compensation for “diminished access” without using that exact phrase and providing for more transparency in the condemnation process.

The Texas Farm Bureau has been working on behalf of more protection against eminent domain throughout this session, and the Bureau is still strongly in favor of SB 18. To find your representative to ask him or her to vote for SB 18 go to

TURF alert about SB 17 and SB 404

See many more details below about SB 17 and SB 404 enabling the Trans-Texas Corridor even though legislators have tried to repeal it through an amendment in the TxDOT Sunset Bill. This letter from TURF's Terri Hall is a guest post on Eye on Williamson County.

Oppose SB 17 and SB 404

Liberty Matters, TURF, and Indy Texans have sent messages asking us to contact our representatives to vote against SB 17 and SB 404. Taken together, SB 17 by Nichols and SB 404 by Carona would enable Comprehensive Development Agreements/Public Private Partnerships and allow some of the Trans-Texas Corridor and other toll roads to be constructed, even though the TxDOT Sunset Bill still contains the amendment to repeal the TTC.

Right now, the House is bogged down with other matters, and as far as I can tell, has not gotten to these bills. Please contact your representative and ask him or her to vote against SB 17 and SB 404.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rep. Maldonado issues report on legislative session

As the session draws to a close, our HD 52 Representative Diana Maldonado has issued a legislative round-up.

She said, "I am proud to have moved several key pieces of legislation through the House that will benefit District 52." She passed a bill to fund the Eastern Williamson County Higher Education Center in Taylor. She also passed legislation to help schools get electronic materials returned by students.

Rep. Maldonado passed a bill to allow Taylor and Hutto to use money from their hotel-motel tax revenues to fund recreational facilities, including the Eastern Williamson County Park in Taylor. She also succeeded in passing a "green" bill, that would require TxDOT to use recycled glass in new road projects. She said, "This will help reduce the amount of glass that goes into our landfills, and provide contractors with an environmentally friendly alternative."

She coauthored several bills to benefit especially her rural constituents. She was a coauthor on HB 11 to repeal the Trans-Texas Corridor. It was left pending in committee, but a similar measure made it into the TxDOT Sunset Bill, which passed the House and is before the Senate.

She also coauthored HB 13, which would have prevented free land to toll lane conversions, which was left pending. She was a coauthor on HB 1483 which provided greater protection from eminent domain. HB 1483 was left pending, but a similar Senate bill is still under consideration

Rep. Maldonado has achieved a large body of work this session, especially for a freshman legislator. She said, "I greatly appreciate all of the input and suggestions that have come in from thousands of constituents during this session. Your correspondence keeps me informed on your views and helps me to make decisions each day."

To see more information about legislation or to contact her office, go to her House website at

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Gov. 39% not the brightest bulb . . uh, the brightest political future

Yesterday, the National Journal asked their group of Republican insiders "Who among your party's current crop of governors has the brightest political future?"

Winning with 21 % was Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, followed by:

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour 20 percent
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty 17 percent
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist 13 percent
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford 8 percent
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. 6 percent

National Journal noted, "Also receiving votes: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, 5 percent each; no one, 2 percent; California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and "Pawlenty and Sanford," 1 percent each.

Rick Perry received no mention whatsoever.

Perry has been busy with more important things

. . . like having his spokesman criticize Kay Bailey Hutchison's bumper sticker contest. As reported by the Houston Chronicle

"You might think the winners of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's bumper sticker contest would be of little interest to Gov. Rick Perry's camp as the legislative session enters its final days with major issues still up in the air.
You'd be wrong on that."

Mark Miner, a Perry spokesman, found fault with the contest and the winners. He is quoted as saying, "They should apologize to the three other people who may have participated in this questionable contest."

For the Hutchison campaign, Hans Klinger asked: "Why is Rick Perry's taxpayer funded mouthpiece more concerned about bumper sticker contests than he is the work of the legislature?"

It seems to me that people on the Governor's staff should be working on the business of the people of Texas, not officially commenting on Hutchison's contest that was solely a function of her campaign and that did not make any mention of Perry whatsoever that might have necessitated a response from his office.

Meanwhile, the Governor was busy writing his op-ed

First, I'll never believe that Rick Perry actually writes anything. Let us say that one or several ghostwriters came up with the piece that is in today's Statesman:

I think it's interesting that this explanation appears so long after the fact. Does he write very slowly? As a work by committee, did it take this long for it to go through several drafts and approvals?

Given Perry's attempt since the creation of the Trans-Texas Corridor in 2003 to disempower the rural landowners of Texas, he has a nerve talking about the powers reserved to the people.

He criticizes the federal government for "passing trillion-dollar bailouts [think $183.5 billion for the TTC, according to Corridor Watch], bullying states [think bullying of Texans by Perry's TxDOT], and even taking control of private companies [think taking the land of Texans FOR Cintra, a private company].

Then he praises "the concept of limited government," and he claims that "citizens and taxpayers should be outraged" by what the federal government is doing.

Do you think that he still doesn't know what we are outraged about? It is Perry and his friends, the big government/large private corporation partnerships that are working against the landowning citizens of Texas, the small businesses, the farm and ranch families, the people who are the backbone of the state. Perry has tried to institute a corporative state where large private concerns are able to take over and use the power of government to oppress the individual and take his private property.

With his op-ed, Perry is not going to win over the voters who know his true colors, and he's lost some of the folks who thought he WAS speaking favorably about secession and agreed with him. Now, as far as they're concerned, he's "gone wobbly" on the issue. As Peter Stern comments, "Confucius once stated, 'Beware of the man who blows hot and cold with one breath.' He must have been speaking with Gov. Rick Perry in mind."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Legislative update--some Corridor and Rail bills

The deadline for the House to pass House bills was reached at midnight last night. If a representative’s legislation was not passed by then, it is dead, unless the representative can attach it, or pieces of it, to appropriate Senate legislation.

An update on some bills we have been following:

HJR 29 by Elkins proposes a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to override a veto of the governor following a legislative session, thus making sure that the governor can’t solely override the will of the people and their legislators after a session—too late for the veto to be overridden, no matter how many votes it might have--which is what happened to eminent domain legislation in the 2007 session. HJR easily passed the House and is on the calendar for a second vote by the Senate on Monday, May 18. Hope this amendment passes and is put on the ballot for us to vote on.

SB 1923 by Watson would use certain fees to put money into the Texas Rail Relocation Fund. Since many of the officials and lobbyists who want to fund rail relocation want to expand the rail line through Coupland or build a new big route through the Coupland area, I hope this bill does not pass the Senate. It is on the Senate calendar for second reading.

HB 2142 by McClendon would prohibit TxDOT from using taxpayer money to promote the Trans-Texas Corridor and other toll roads. You may remember the annoying multi-million- dollar Keep Texas Moving advertising campaign. TxDOT also used our money for lobbying for toll roads. This campaign resulted in TxDOT being sued by TURF—case still pending. HB 2142, which forbids such campaigns, has passed the House and heads to the Senate, where the same legislation (by Sen. Carona) has already passed. Looks promising for this good legislation.

HB 300, the large TxDOT Sunset Bill that passed the House WITH an amendment repealing the Trans-Texas Corridor has gone to the Senate, where it is scheduled for a public hearing on May 18, in Transportation & Homeland Security Committee. Pundits are saying that the final form of HB 300 will be determined by the upcoming House and Senate conference committee.

Thanks to Martha Estes for helping us follow what is going on at the Capitol.