Saturday, February 28, 2009

National Geographic STILL won't acknowledge TTC threat to Blackland Prairie

Following up on our August 28, 2008, post about the September 2008 issue of National Geographic:

The cover article “Our Good Earth” reported dangers to soils around the world. Although their map showed the Blackland Prairie through the middle of Texas (and the nation) as one of the largest areas of the most highly fertile soil in the world, the article did not mention the danger to this valuable area posed by the Trans-Texas Corridor (and the NAFTA Supercorridor) which have been proposed to pave over a good bit of this land through the middle of our country.

Even though some of us wrote letters to the editor pointing this out, the letters published about this article (in National Geographic’s January 2009 issue) did not include any about the Corridor or the endangered Blackland Prairie.

One letter writer mentioned “the construction of new highways” generally as a problem. Another mentioned urban sprawl and criticized “using the best land for subdivisions,” although didn’t cover using the best land for highways. A third letter criticized “the replacement of arable soil with concrete.”

Why do the National Geographic editors refuse to recognize the biggest threat to one of the biggest areas of the most fertile soil in the world if they are concerned about threats to valuable soil? The letters were chosen and the January issue had gone to press well before some Texas officials started calling the Corridor “dead” during the first few days of January, so it couldn’t be that the National Geographic editors thought the Corridor was not a threat anymore.

Are some most highly fertile soils more valuable than others? Does National Geographic agree with Gov. 39% that Texas (and American) rural residents and their land are just not that important?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Changing Internet Providers

Due to internet access problems, we are changing providers and will return ASAP.

Monday, February 16, 2009


During the past few days, our wireless internet provider has been down.

Now, for the next few days, I will be out of pocket. Should be back here February 24.

New House Transportation Committee Chair

Up until this session, our HD 52 representative Mike Krusee was chair of the House Transportation Committee, from which position he authored and rammed through the legislation enabling the Trans-Texas Corridor in 2003. Very few people, including members of the House and Senate who voted for it, realized what a devastating bomb was included in this legislation. Once we did realize it, we were forced to spend the ensuing years fighting the durned thing. We could have spent that time otherwise.

The new chairman of the House Transportation Committee is El Paso Rep. Joe Pickett. As reported by the El Paso Times, Pickett has called TxDOT a secretive bully.

Pickett is called “an expert on transportation issues,” with “a thorny relationship with the Texas Department of Transportation,” filing in 2007 a bill to abolish the Texas Transportation Commission.

“Pickett has also chastised the Transportation Department for not being open enough about its spending and for having what he considers an insatiable appetite for toll roads.”

We shall see.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

WOAI Poll--Hutchison 52.7%, Perry 16.5%

WOAI has comments on the early sparring between Gov. 39% and KBH.

Beamer says the race hit a “new level with its first real insult.” Guess who threw that insult, saying that KBH “can’t even do the [job] that we’ve hired you to do.”

The site is running a poll focused on the two Republicans. You can add your vote to the results, which are:

Who do you support in the 2010 governor’s race?

Kay Bailey Hutchison (52.7%)
Rick Perry (16.5%)
Another Republican (2.7%)
A Democrat (22.0%)
An Independent (6.0%)

Can I now start calling him Gov. 16.5%? Just kidding. I know that online polls aren't official, but it does look encouraging for us anti-Corridor folks.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Eminent domain bill--maybe success this time

Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, has filed Senate Bill 18 to protect landowners against eminent domain, and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has helped by giving this bill a low number so it can be considered early this session. SB 18 would keep governmental entities from taking property from citizens solely to benefit other private entities. This might be a help in the TTC situation, where the state would seize the land, but then turn it over to CINTRA.

Supposedly, the provisions of SB 18 are similar to HB 2006, which was passed by the House and Senate in the last session, but was vetoed at the last minute by Perry. Possibly SB 18 can get through early enough for legislators to override a Perry veto this time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Not playing nice

Sharp words already flying--earlier than you'd think for a 2010 race.

Regarding the "ambush" in the Senate Finance Committee of UTIMCO's Rowling, orchestrated by Perry and Dewhurst, the Houston Chronicle reports the back-and-forth between Perry and Hutchison. Hutchison accused Perry "of playing politics to embarrass one of her supporters," and Perry responded that she should be in Washington instead of Austin.

KBH: “I think the letter that was written the night before the hearing was not well thought out and it might have spurred some insensitive remarks that were made. It was kind of a set-up. And I think it was wrong."

Perry: "I think it's pretty hard to explain to Texans that you want to come to Texas and do another job when you can't even do the one that we've hired you to do."

I think that for this campaign, we can definitely say that chivalry is already dead.

No final votes were taken on the stimulus package while KBH was in Texas. She voted against Senate passage, as did all Republican senators except Collins, Snow, and Specter.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Gov. 39% helping Hutchison's campaign?

Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka has some explanation on his blog that hasn’t appeared elsewhere about the resignation of Rowling, the chairman of UT’s investment organization, UTIMCO.

UTIMCO’s executive officer Zimmerman received bonus pay last year that was related to his contract based on the performance of UT’s fund in relation to other similar funds. The Senate Finance Committee members sharply questioned the fund’s employee bonuses. The questioning reached a point where Rowling considered that the committee was unjustly attacking Zimmerman. Rowling, whose position as chair was a volunteer one, abruptly resigned during his testimony to the committee and walked out.

After a presentation of some figures from former UT regent Charles Miller, defending UTIMCO’s performance, Burka concludes:

“Another way to look at this is that for every dollar paid out in bonuses, UTIMCO earned $133 million. Even the most ranting, raving populist can hardly complain about this rate of return—much less the governor and lieutenant governor.”

The possible beginning of this whole brouhaha was a letter to the Finance Committee from Gov. 39% and Dewhurst, pointing out the bonuses. New House Speaker Straus was not involved. It is speculated that Perry and Dewhurst wanted to put Rowling in a position to be attacked because he had switched his allegiance in the gubernatorial race FROM Perry TO Hutchison.

Burka observes about Perry and Dewhurst having “their fun at Mr. Rowling’s expense,” they will find out that “It isn’t smart to ambush billionaires.” He points out that Rowling was a volunteer contributing time and money on behalf of UT.

Burka’s conclusion about how this incident affects the balance in the upcoming 2010 contest:
“I think that Rick Perry will have a harder time raising money in certain circles–say, the Dallas and Houston ultra wealthy–and I think that he will lose stature. . . . Perry appointees who switched to Hutchison will redouble their efforts to see that she is elected. As for Dewhurst, who played his part in laying this ambush, he doesn’t have a lot of friends among the big donor crowd, and Rowling was one. Was. . . . Sure, he’s cozying up to Perry in the hope that Perry will appoint him to the Senate vacancy. Here’s what I think: There isn’t going to be any Senate vacancy. . . . She will resign her Senate seat effective at the ‘So help me God’ of the oath of office. And she’s not going to appoint anybody who endorsed Rick Perry against her, ever.”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Carona's integrated transportation approach--other methods over tolling

Patrick Driscoll, San Antonio Express News transportation writer, has a good analysis of Sen. John Carona's recent letter to legislators about his goals for this session's transportation issues, including an integrated transportation approach.

Driscoll says, "State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas, sized up the Legislature's milieu of transportation options this session and has decided that toll roads and privatization suck mud."

Carona advocates stopping the diversion of the gas tax to other uses, which also was advocated by many on the Sunset Commission.

Another Carona goal is "scrub TxDOT and cut jobs." Given the recent reporting that outsourcing projects rather than having them performed by TxDOT employees costs taxpayers MORE money, this does not sound like a desirable goal.

Carona also wants to index the gas tax to inflation, which has been touted by other legislators trying to find a way to get more money to highway construction.

Carona wants to "issue all allowable debt, such as $5 billion in road bonds approved by voters in 2007." This is another goal that I would question, in conjunction with reducing TxDOT employees. If allowed, this money SHOULD go toward TxDOT-performed construction, which the recent report showed is more cost-effective for taxpayers, rather than going to road contractors who have evidently been either over-charging or wasting money or both.

The recent Statesman article on outsourcing reported that vast sums in the campaign to get voters to pass the $5 billion road bond measure were provided by the road contractors. Do NOT reward over-charging and mismanagement by giving them $5 billion more.

Carona hopes that the above "measures would also reduce reliance on, though not eliminate the need for, less efficient and unpopular:"

toll roads
private investments (public-private partnerships)
leasing toll roads to private firms

Carona would implement his preferred measures, but would not yet take the unpopular toll-related measures off the table, in case they are eventually needed.

Driscoll says that Carona points out "that the options weave together, each affecting the others. So it makes sense to integrate this session's transportation legislation."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Perry's emergency response not as good as advertised

KLBJ-AM has been covering the story--Ike vendors still waiting for state to pay.

Vendors who provided relief supplies and services in response to Hurricane Ike are still owed $134 million from the State of Texas. Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee heard from Jack Colley, the state’s director of emergency management, who was trying to get payment from the state for these vendors.

Steve Ogden, the senator whose district includes Williamson Co. and who is chairman of the Finance Committee, seemed unhappy that these bills had not been paid since he believed that the state already has the authority to pay. He said, “We are not broke; why aren't we paying these bills?''

“That's a good question,'' Colley responded, implying that the answer needed to come from the Governor’s office.

According to the KLBJ on-air report, the hold-up was in the Governor’s office.
Hasn’t Gov. 39% been touting his response to hurricane emergencies as one of his big accomplishments?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Palin endorses Perry--oddly enough

In a very strange move, Gov. Sarah Palin has endorsed Rick Perry for re-election.

The report from the Dallas Morning News says that Palin calls Perry the "true conservative" in the race, without mentioning Kay Bailey Hutchison by name. An endorsement letter from Palin was distributed to 10,500 members of the Texas Federation of Republican Women by the Perry campaign. The DMN article describes the organization as an influential one "whose members have been an important part of Hutchison's political base."

Can the Palin endorsement at this point in the campaign weaken Hutchison's support from Texas Republican women?

"Hutchison spokesman Todd Olsen said the senator has broad support among Texas Republicans 'who know what is going on in Texas,' adding: "We look forward to having the [Alaska] governor's support after the primary.'"

"Taffy Goldsmith of Dallas, a past president of the Texas federation and a Hutchison supporter, said Monday that she doesn't think the endorsement will have much effect. 'But women in this organization are so state-oriented and so well-grounded they will base their decisions on what they know, not what somebody else recommends.'"

In the Pink thinks: "Score one for Rick Perry. The governor's been endorsed by Sarah Palin. Score one for Kay Bailey Hutchison. The governor's been endorsed by Sarah Palin."

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Keep high-speed rail on existing ROW

More on high-speed rail from Gordon Dickson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

It is encouraging that he reports, "The idea is to build separate railroad tracks dedicated for passenger trains in or near existing freight corridors," and then quotes Peter LeCody of Texas Rail Advocates who proposes double-tracking rail lines between Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio.

This plan could keep freight traffic where it is, while adding high-speed rail to an existing rail route, rather than tearing up small communities and valuable farmland for high-speed rail.